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Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
Updated February 1, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
This fall, people saw the possibility of a radically different world begin to come to life. Thousands of people took to the streets, putting themselves on the line, to demand that police murder stop. During this same period, more than 1,900 people heard a Dialogue between revolutionary communist leader Bob Avakian and the revolutionary Christian and truth-teller Cornel West on REVOLUTION & RELIGION: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion—a Dialogue at which BA powerfully put forward the need and possibility of revolution.
The emergence of an actual opening for revolution from the "mix" that began to develop should NOT be ruled out. Great potential was opened up by all this, and greater things could happen. At the same time, even as people continue to heroically battle, the powers are trying to suppress and close this out, through very sharp repression and through confusing right and wrong in people's minds. The movement for revolution, as well as the struggle against the "slow genocide" being enforced by the police, face a crossroads. What people do in February could be pivotal in preparing to rise to and meet the current challenges and working to hasten such an opening.
If you took part in the struggle against police murdering our people in the fall, or if you wanted to take part, or if you burn at the injustice and horror that keeps happening and happening and happening again... then come to a mass conference in Atlanta on February 7. Be part of organizing something that builds on last autumn’s defiance, actions that are even more massive, more powerful, and more effective. If you are part of an organization, bring your organization; if you are not, bring yourself and your friends; if you have to come alone, then do that. But come. The Stop Mass Incarceration Network is organizing for a massive outpouring on April 14 to really stop business as usual on that day. And for that to happen on the scale it needs to, the scale that can really change everything, you and people like you need to be part of that organizing. So definitely, definitely come to Atlanta! (For more on this, contact the Stop Mass Incarceration Network: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Facebook: stopmassincarcerationnetwork; Twitter: @StopMassIncNet; Phone: 347-979-SMIN (7646); www.stopmassincarceration.net.) And as you build for this, be part of getting out and getting into the RCP’s statement on the situation: “The Cold but Liberating Truth About the Police, the Struggle for Justice, and Revolution.”
If you were at the Dialogue... if you watched it online, or were inspired by the trailer for the new film of the event coming this March... or if you just heard about it and want to know more... then get with the BA Everywhere campaign. BA Everywhere is making the vision and plan that Bob Avakian (BA) has developed for bringing about a radically better world through revolution known by raising funds and spreading his work. The campaign has a way for you to learn more and a place for you (go to the BA Everywhere page at revcom.us).
Step one: Be part of getting deeper into this Dialogue by watching the video of the simulcast and spreading it throughout society, and building for a major breakout of the new film of this Dialogue in March. This Dialogue not only gets into the deepest questions... it not only highlights a rare public appearance by BA, full of revolutionary fire and vision, going back and forth with Cornel West... it also gives you a living feel for the possibility of revolution and a whole different way that society could be, including through the interaction between the speakers and what they took up and how they took it up. Learn more about Bob Avakian and the emancipating vision he’s developed: the new synthesis of communism. Learn more about the strategy for revolution, right here in the U.S. as part of a global revolution, and how people could think, feel, and be in a whole different, liberated way. Come to dinners in major cities on February 15; and if you’re not in a major city, contact the BA Everywhere Committee to learn how to get into this. And get with the committees that are now starting to organize these dinners.
Both these efforts work together and complement each other. And both of them in turn work together with the struggles that people are waging against the patriarchal degradation, dehumanization, and subjugation of all women everywhere (as seen in the demonstrations around abortion rights in January), and all oppression based on gender or sexual orientation... against the capitalist-imperialist destruction of our planet... against the demonization, dehumanization, and deportation of immigrants... and against wars of empire, armies of occupation, and crimes against humanity. Something very fresh and important is building, and there is a synergy and contagion between these struggles that, if built and fostered, will strengthen them all.
The BA Everywhere campaign provides a framework and a context for all of them. People rising up to fight the power is crucially important; what the work and leadership of BA brings is an understanding of why these injustices and outrages and horrors are absolutely unnecessary and how it could be possible to do away with them. And if this vision is not brought forward, then people will inevitably settle for less and accept just a few small changes, if that, that leave this meatgrinder of a society intact.
If you are a revolutionary, or radical-minded, or active in the fight for justice, or used-to-be-active-and-looking-to-go-there-again... then know this: there are thousands right now who were awakened in the fall and who want to be inspired and contribute to making real change. But they must be reached, and they must be organized. If you are a revolutionary communist—a “revcom”—give people the whole picture of revolution as you bring them into this movement. Let them know about the importance of the Party, led by Bob Avakian, that has taken responsibility for leading this revolution. Let them know about this website, revcom.us, and the importance of coming here to stay connected and oriented and able to understand and act, as world events twist and turn.
Be part of doing that. Be part of radically changing everything. Make February a pivotal month to involve thousands in the movement, going back on the offensive and preparing for big leaps forward in the spring. And right now, build these two efforts in a massive way.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
From Stop Mass Incarceration Network:
January 16, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
If you took to the streets in outrage after police murdered Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, Mayra Cornejo, Akai Gurley, and so many others in the past few months alone...
If you live in the communities targeted by brutal, murdering police, or are a young person, or a student, or someone who believes in justice...
If you are in an organization, new or old, or a faith-based group, or not in any organization at all...
If you stood up in the fall or winter against police murder, or if you felt you should have stood up...or if you are just someone who feels that all this is INTOLERABLE..
If you want to see what began this summer and fall go to a higher level...
If you are determined to make this STOP...
Then YOU are Invited!
The Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN) invites you to participate in a meeting to map out plans to build on the powerful, beautiful and very necessary outpourings of people all across the country calling for an end to the system putting its stamp of approval on police murdering people. This meeting will be held in Atlanta on Feb 7 & 8.
If 1000's of people across the country hadn't stood up and said NO MORE in response to the grand juries refusing to indict the cops who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner, those murders would've been swept under the rug. But because we stood up, millions of people were challenged to look at how police kill people all the damn time and how the system never punishes cops for their murderous acts.
The authorities have worked desperately to recapture the offensive from the movement of resistance. They have arrested 100's of protesters and tried to demonize the protests. They seized on the killings of 2 police officers in Brooklyn on December 20 to call for the protests to stop. We must not back down in the face of their offensive. The police haven't stopped killing people, and the system hasn't stopped giving killer cops a pass. So we must continue to take to the streets and call for these horrors to end. People have been doing this. But we must take our resistance to a higher level.
To that end, SMIN has issued a draft Call for a Shutdown Day on April 14, a day of massive resistance all over the country, with students at 1000's of schools going on strike, taking over buildings and more; and people gathering in cities nationwide to disrupt America's business as usual. And SMIN is developing a plan of resistance to build up to April 14.
If you want to see the horror of police wantonly murdering people STOPPED and are ready to get down to serious work to STOP it, come to this planning meeting in Atlanta. Be part of enriching and further developing the plans for the Shutdown Day in April. And be part of developing a plan for resistance that builds up momentum to a powerful day of resistance in April.
The authorities have declared that the normal routine of this society will continue to include wanton police murder of Black and Latino people. This normal routine must be disrupted.
Come to Atlanta on February 7 & 8, & be part of planning out how to do that!
Contact the Stop Mass Incarceration Network at:
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
Updated February 5, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Revolution interviewed people around the country who are planning on attending the meeting the Stop Mass Incarceration Network has called for February 7-8 in Atlanta to make plans for how to take the resistance to police murder to a higher level.
Someone in Ferguson who has been active with SMIN for a few months:
The reason why I’m going to the Atlanta National Meeting is because—the MLK workshop where we’re meeting up—to learn how to shut the country down on April 14. I’m really interested in that. We need to make a step forward. We are going to prepare to shut the country down.
What has changed? Nothing. I don’t see any outlet for Black and Latino people. Nothing has changed. They didn’t prosecute Darren Wilson or the cop that killed Eric Garner. Haven’t done anything to any of those cops. That’s why I’m going to Atlanta to bring about a change.
What would you tell other people about why they should come to the Atlanta meeting?
They should because it’s preparing us for what is going on now. Those cops didn’t get indicted. Nothing been done to any cops who killed people, killed kids. No justice. Come to Atlanta to prepare to wake the country up. Prepare to let everyone know all over the world. Not just Ferguson. Listen and come forward. Nothing has been done. Nothing like this [the upsurge of resistance] has happened since back in the ’60s. There has been thousands of Rodney Kings since the Rodney King incident and still nothing been done. Learn how to shut this country down. Protest without progress is a nuisance. Doing this for nothing. Don’t go down like this.
Dorothy Holmes, mother of Ronald Johnson, killed by police October 2014 in Chicago:
I’m going to let people know what happened to my son on October the 12, 2014 and support other families that are going through the same thing that I’m going through.
It’s getting the word out, letting the whole world know what’s going on with the police brutality and the support from the marches and the protests.
So if there is anything about police brutality they can find out how to get justice and how to get organized and to support the next person who is going through the same thing that they have us in.
Student in Southern California:
[I’m going to the Atlanta meeting because] I feel like it would make me a stronger leader. The Atlanta meeting will inspire me to get more people active. And, the knowledge gained from this meeting will help me take responsibility for mobilizing my campus. I see the importance of this conference in leading people to stand up against police brutality and not accepting it. Not everybody understands that police brutality can happen to anyone. And, most students don’t care about police brutality until it happens to them. Students should start caring and be informed about these topics that oppress people.
There’s been a new form of resistance against the system and police brutality; and this is part of the liberation of humans. We’re going against the system that keeps us oppressed. By protesting we’re telling them that we’re conscious and that we’re not gonna let this continue to happen. And, that we’re going to continue shutting it down until it stops. I feel like it has shaped the U.S. and the whole world to say that we can’t just let police brutality and murder continue to happen. Our resistance is viewed by other countries (a lot of countries) and even as a lot of countries don’t like the U.S.—people see others trying to go up against this system and that compels people to stand with. I do it as a stance for humanity. We’re making younger generations more aware of what’s going on. We can be role models. When I first saw people stopping freeways in Atlanta it was inspiring—although we marched on our campus we could do more and have a much greater impact. Protests can inspire better protest and higher ways of thinking.
It’s really important to go to this meeting because this is a current issue because police brutality continues to happen daily. This needs to be relatable to a lot of students: a lot of students on my campus have not participated in protests and have said, “I haven’t done anything about protesting because I want to get informed but I really want to help.” They tend to be more focused on their education but they need to resist. I feel like time can be a concept. There’s always time for everything else, but this meeting and plans are going to shape society and the future. Police brutality is oppressing people: and while folks try to stay out of trouble—the police continue to oppress people (it’s a way of keeping people in a factory line). So, the more people resisting, the better. We have to take power into our own hands. And act now. Nothing is going to be done if we just wait for justice to happen (nothing is going to change); and the police will continue to murder people. We have the capability of getting stronger and connected with one another. And, this meeting will get us more informed, more inspired to take initiative, to build central leadership, to take control of our lives, and to break the chains of this system.
Person from St. Louis who has been involved with SMIN for a few months:
Why are you going to the Atlanta meeting on February 7-8?
To lend my support and opinion about taking the national movement and the national shutdown to another level. And to say we are not standing for police brutality anymore.
What do you think has changed in society (and in how you yourself see things) through the upsurge of society wide protests in the last several months?
I have always been aware of what’s going on because I was part of the history of struggle against police brutality, discrimination, and taxation without representation. In terms of people around the country and in St. Louis, it’s meant awareness. They became aware of what’s going on. Truth was uncovered. People are now more acceptable to protest and speaking out about something that’s covered up and is now out in the open.
What would you tell other people about why they should come to the Atlanta meeting?
I’ve told others that they should voice their opinions. People have died and fought for them to have a voice. So voice your opinion. I’m telling people that to be silent is worse than being for it. If you’re silent, that’s as bad as being for the system.
From a 34 year old Black woman and college student in the SF-Bay Area
Why I want to go to Atlanta - A request, and a challenge to others
A call has been made. To the activists, the students, the mothers and fathers as well as their children, to the teachers and preachers, to the revolutionaries, to the thug, the homeless man, to the drug dealer, the pimps and the prostitutes, the vagabond, the worker, the dreamer, the realist, the sleeper, the one who is wide awake, to the fighters as well as those who think they have no fight left in them. A call has been made to the people. What will our answer be?
I am answering this call, though I know I am not alone. The other day, after leaving school I met with an activist working with the stop mass incarceration movement. After discussing the current situation of the movements in the Bay Area and how it is slowly subsiding, I was asked to attend this meeting. Immediately though, I thought of how tired I was and how I just got home from a long and tiresome trip through the South. My mind began to flood with present and future homework, and classes I have and about the life I was so happy to get back to. Then my thoughts shifted to Marissa Alexander, a mother sentenced to 20 years for standing her ground against her abuser and that I had spent almost 3 weeks driving through the South marching, teaching, shouting , postering and singing on her behalf. I thought of her life and the life of her 3 children being changed forever because of this system of mass incarceration and I immediately straightened up.
Some people have acquired the gift of forgetfulness. It is amazing to me how one can hear stories about people like Mumia or have the pleasure of reading his books and their eyes travel through the pages and forget the sentiments that should follow. We see Marissa Alexander fighting for her life by standing up to her batterer and then the system. We cheer for her until the news cast is over, and she is no longer relevant. We see neighborhoods shifting constantly with the young men and women who society has thrown away, who we have thrown away. All this and we still forget, or maybe we don’t know the power in remembering or better yet the action that may follow when we unite, and strategize and fight, with courage and strength and wisdom. Because I can no longer forget. I can only remember.
A call has been made and I believe we should answer it with a mindset of changing the status quo. There is a sense of urgency we must have as well as a knowledge that we can sustain this movement. We can change things for the better. I believe that and that’s why I am going. That’s why I think everyone is going. May we all answer that call.
Member of the SMIN steering committee in New York City:
I’m going to Atlanta and I want to meet up with people from all over the country involved with this resistance. We need to keep the momentum going. The feelings about righteous outrage are not just in New York City, but across the country, about the police murdering people of color and getting away with it. We need to keep this momentum going, build national outrage and a day of no business as usual.
What do you think has changed in society (and in how you yourself see things) through the upsurge of society wide protests in the last several months?
Well, since the decision or lack of an indictment in the Michael Brown murder in Ferguson, the people stood up. The outrageous decision by the Ferguson grand jury was an outrage and a sham. We were led by people in Ferguson who said NO MORE. We need to show our outrage. A young Black man was murdered, and people protested under trying circumstances. They were besieged by a military onslaught, and people still stood up. This outrage reached a broad spectrum of society. And there was another non-indictment of the cop, Daniel Panteleo, who choked Eric Garner to death on Staten Island. And the whole world saw the video. And there was no indictment. People were fed up, and they came out in numbers we’ve not seen since the ’60s. This was really striking cuz it crossed all ethnic and racial lines and people were out there!
People need to be part of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network’s call for a national day of shutdown on April 14. We need people who are not just outraged, and people who are not just for justice to come forth, but to have a powerful day on April 14. A powerful day is needed. We’re not having it; in fact we need to ramp it up. We all need to be there in Atlanta—a planning meeting to ramp it up all across the country. We Say NO MORE! No Business as Usual! Shut It Down!
Middle-aged African-American health care professional in Los Angeles:
I am going to the Stop Mass Incarceration National Meeting in Atlanta because I want to get an up-close perspective, get a deeper sense of the atmosphere and climate, on how people from around the country are looking at mass incarceration and police murder and everything that started in Ferguson and spread. I want to learn the level of support, about the strategy for stopping this violence against the everyday people, and what people are thinking. What has changed these past months is that people are becoming more conscious of the violence being perpetrated on everyday people. And people are fed up, quite frankly, and looking for answers. Everyone who wants to get a feel for how people, Black and brown people especially, and how youth see their future in America... should grab the opportunity and be in Atlanta.
Young man in Southern California whose brother was beaten to death by cops several years ago, and whose sister just recently was shot multiple times and murdered by the police:
This is like a monster that keeps attacking your family—and we can’t do anything to this monster. They keep taking your family away. You don’t know when they will take another life from your family—another family member who is close to you. I’m going to Atlanta to support my sister. She’d do the same and more for me. It happened to her, so I will take her place. I’ll represent my sister. I’m going to the Atlanta conference because we need to plan more protests, bigger protests, to stop these monsters from killing more people. These monsters killed two of mine, and I know there are many others.
Chicano artist in his mid-20s in Houston:
I heard about the meeting in Atlanta through a mutual acquaintance who’s been part of the protests here against police brutality. He told me about the meeting and invited me to it. He goes to UH [University of Houston] and is big on this group, the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. So I told him great, I’m definitely interested.
I’m going because I support everything the Stop Mass Incarceration Network is doing. I read the Call for the meeting and for April, and want to be part of figuring all this out. We’ve been talking about it, during meetings and other places. I’m a graphic artist, I want to make a piece about what we’re doing, what this is about. Me, I want to help spread a message through art. I think I can do it best that way. Also, I have a couple of friends in Atlanta I hope to catch up with.
People have different preferences of what they can do. I’ve been part of a Hispanic Council, but these protests this year were different. I’m having a hard time putting into words what I think is different. I really didn’t know anything about Michael Brown and that case until it got onto the social media and in the news and you really couldn’t ignore it. Everything that’s gone on has changed things, but in a small way, a beginning way. We’re trying to make it much bigger, even bigger, so no one can ignore it.
I’d tell people, I am telling people, get involved in making a stand if you want these things to stop. I’ve always stood for the Hispanic community. I’ve gone to meetings in New York, and I think this meeting will really add to what’s going on. It makes a statement about how important we think this is, people going all the way from Houston to Atlanta for this. We think it’s important, we want to be part of it. Imagery wise, I want to make an impact with my art, whether it’s posters, T-shirts, whatever. The point is making an impact and changing things.
African-American woman whose younger brother was brutally beaten by Los Angeles sheriffs and left for dead, but was saved by people who found him; he now faces felony charges.
I’m going to Atlanta because I want to support, I want to help stop incarceration, beatings, and killings by police. And I want to hear what’s going on elsewhere across the U.S. and help everyone come together. It’s very important to go to Atlanta! We are not going to stand for what they are doing! The protests all across the country opened a lot of people’s eyes and there is more awareness. But it is not enough. We need to let everyone know: We are here and we are not going away! What I have gone through with my brother—all the violence and corruption—the police keep getting away with it. I say to everyone, join in whether it has happened to you or not. You could go through it, but we have to stop the brutality before that—because if they get away with it, it keeps happening. This is why it’s important to come together, support each other, and shut down business as usual. We got to interrupt their business so it’s clear we are serious. People need to come out—come to Atlanta—before this happens to others. It has to stop.
Marie Martin in Los Angeles, who has a relative who has spent over 30 years in a California state prison:
I am going to the Atlanta SMIN meeting to meet people from other states in the U.S.—people who know police brutality and police murder and mass incarceration is detrimental to people’s rights and citizens’ rights. As many people as possible should come to Atlanta, including from the South of the U.S., where there is a lot of police brutality and murder. Sometimes police murder is more publicized in the North, but it goes on a lot in the South, even if not as widely publicized. It should get out in the media that we are going to the Atlanta meeting to stop the extermination of Black and brown people.
I think a lot has changed because of all the cell phones, cameras, and tablets. People are finding out that people are being killed and incarcerated in alarming numbers. We proved that the protests have changed some laws, like stop-and-frisk in New York. This is a beginning.
Eric Garner was murdered by police, he was stopped and he was innocent. I think it’s a continual thing that has been going on since the Emancipation Proclamation, killing Black people without probable cause. The protests enlarged when more, and more people found out about all the murders and incarceration. And many white people are brutalized and murdered by police too. You can see it online. And as a retired nurse and teacher, I know all colors are murdered by police. The masses of people’s determination is making a difference. It’s been going on all over the world. People are being relentless. Things have to change.
Young Black revolutionary activist in Cleveland, in the movement against police murder:
I’m going down to Atlanta because I’m tired of people getting killed by the police, harassed and beaten just for the color of their skin. This has to stop, I believe. This meeting is going to push things forward and help bring in a new wave of resistance to overthrow this oppressive system. I think people are more aware of the police’s oppressive role against Black people and Latino people. People stood up and said no more and actually are fighting back. Me personally, I see that people don’t listen to the bullshit these cops say or the government say. People are ready to stand up and fight and actually bring about change. I would tell people if you’re tired and sick of this and you want justice, come to this meeting and help plan and build for it to be really about breaking these oppressive chains that shackles people down.
Black revolutionary in Cleveland:
“I want to go to be part of what is being planned for April 14 and what we need to do to get other people involved in the 14th. I see there is no change coming through reform and what the police do is a systematic practice. I see no change of how the police do their job of murdering Black and brown youth. I see no change coming through the system. People need to know about the inner workings of the system and why these practices go on. The only change is for more people to stand up against police brutality and mass incarceration. People should come to understand why this happens and why we need to stand up for this cause. People should go to Atlanta because they need to know what this system is doing and what needs to be done to make revolution. People should go to interact with others in this fight.
Dougie, founder of the Georgia Coalition to End the New Jim Crow and an organizer of the SMIN meeting in Atlanta:
We’ve all been aware of the extrajudicial killings of young Black men and Latinos by the police and I’m tired of living in a nation that is, as Dr. King said, the greatest purveyor of violence in the world and that has a general disregard for human life.
You know, Free Thought Project has been trying to record [police] killings since 9/11. They’ve recorded over 5,000 murders, more death than any other industrialized nation.
It [people being killed by police] has become so commonplace that people have lost their motivation to fight back. It’s not normal! I’m sick of living under a system that has, especially over the last 40 years, de-industrialized, leaving no jobs, and considers poor people insignificant so it has under-funded education. There is no future for the youth. I’m tired of 80 million people living with criminal records and the New Jim Crow’s tied 2.2 million in prison. I’m tired of structural racism and white supremacy. It’s time for people to get serious and take a stand—cause just like Carl [Dix] said, this is a slow genocide. We’ve gotta wake up. We don’t want to wake up 10 years from now and there’s 3.5 million or 10 million or whatever living in prison. This has to stop!
Jasiri X, he came out with that song called “212,” which is the point when water gets to the boiling point and I think that song kind of reflects the emotion—I mean, we’ve seen all of these murders and there’s a complete disrespect for Black life and character assassination that follows. People’s level of consciousness has risen and they’re finally realizing what’s been going on. You went from slavery to peonage to sharecropping and Jim Crow and segregation and then we’ve gotten to 50 years after Dr. King. Many of the people over the past 20 years have started to believe that we are in a post-racial society. People, especially after the election of Obama—people weren’t taking the initiative. Our communities felt inspired and they thought that if they voted they could change things, but I think people are realizing that 50 years after Dr. King’s speeches of “I have a dream” and all that post-racial society stuff, they’re waking up and realizing that we’re in the same position that we were 50 years ago and that the powers-that-be have put a program in place, just like Michelle Alexander describes, the New Jim Crow. People are waking up and realizing that we have to stand up. We’re not going to let our young people be racially profiled, targeted, and people murdered in the streets... and no job opportunities and no future for people. People just aren’t going to take it anymore; we’ve reached the boiling point.
What about you? As far as where you were before Ferguson and the people rising up... how has your thinking changed?
My feelings have changed in that I don’t... five months [ago] I felt kind of isolated and self-alienated and thought that young people were distracted with like what Cornel [West] says, the Weapons of Mass Distraction. I felt like they weren’t engaged, but now I feel inspired. The young people realized after Trayvon [Martin] the injustice of it all. I’m inspired to know that the youth are more engaged and there’s been a whole movement that’s been built just over the last five months and they [the youth] are the future of this movement. In my mind, I thought these young people weren’t in the game or caring about what’s going on, but they completely changed my whole mentality. I thought that they didn’t care, but they care more than we could’ve imagined.
What Carl Dix has said is really true and he’s been at this for a long time. We’re in a critical moment and we could either go one way or another. And I think that too much has been exposed for us to turn around now. It has been too frequent that we get together and mourn [those] that’s been killed by the police and we stay in the streets for a little while and the cops get off and then we go out in the streets about that... It’s gotten to the point where we have no choice, we’ve got to continue to stay in the streets. We’ve got to continue to build up this movement to stop mass incarceration and the murder of young people or it will continue to get worse. If we back down now, the movement could dissipate. And we just can’t allow that to happen.
Aurielle Marie, 19-year-old co-founder of #itsbiggerthanyou:
[I’m going to attend the meeting on February 7-8 because] I think the level of engagement has been emphasized, in terms of how people are willing to be action oriented. In the past, people have been more education and awareness oriented. They know there are these significant problems, but now people are willing to use that knowledge for action.
I originally thought that community building and being involved and engaged in your community might be able to shift things, but now I think maybe that was a minute way to look at systemic oppression. Since Ferguson, I hear this is happening in St. Louis and Chicago, etc. and I realize that’s the same thing that’s happening to people here—people’s oppression is systemic. Since Ferguson I see that the total system is corrupt, you have to attack the system in its totality to get change.
We won’t know all of our possibilities unless we discuss them together, so people should come [to the meeting] and be a part of this to really find out which possibilities actually exist and be a part of contributing to that.
Revolution Club member in Chicago:
Well, I’m going to the meeting in February because, naturally, I go to all the meetings but this is something I feel like I could go to and participate in because I’ve been to Ferguson, I’ve been to New York with the same subject of police brutality. This subject needs to be worldwide and me being a teenager and in the social media as much as I am, I’ll be able to carry the information from there—to all the social media websites and get people to understand because I think as a teen who understands NOW I could really translate to other teens who don’t understand until someone explains it in a better way to them.
A LOT—a LOT has changed. I feel like a lot of people actually woke up and realized that everything is so messed up. There is a lot of police brutality and they finally see that there are a lot of cops that are out here and they are killing people and they are getting away with it. And it’s like it has been covered up for so many years and they felt like, well, “maybe it’s the other person’s fault” and now they see—with everything that is going on, people are finally submitting videos—police killing. It’s waking them up like a fresh batch of coffee.
I would tell people to come because this is something that they really need to know. If you’re not understanding, you need to see it, hear it in person. I know a lot of people can learn by being there—being active in it and they should come down.
Blackson, radio host in Atlanta, The Arena Uncensored:
[I’m coming] number 1, to support and number 2, I want to network with different organizations, so we can support each other. I think coalitions are important.
What do you think has changed in society (and in how you yourself see things) through the upsurge of society wide protests in the last several months?
It added to and maybe questioned the end game... my end game. You know, friends of mine and commonality... I don’t know if that makes sense. I’m trying to find where different organizations that have different agendas... I want to come up with new strategies and work with organizations that can benefit all of this [stopping police brutality, murder, and mass incarceration].
To me, people that can provide—you know, key organizations... because a lot of people are seeing injustice and wondering what they can do, and I think by them coming to the conference they can find organizations with different goals and work towards making a change around police brutality.
Young man from the ’hood in Chicago:
I’m going to the meeting in Atlanta to learn more about the system and why they are treating minorities wrong. Police can do things to you and get away with it but they should be criminalized and have to pay for their crimes like everybody else.
What is changed is I think that Black people are standing up for equal rights and they demand that police should be treated just like everybody else and get just as much time when they commit a crime.
I think people should come to the Atlanta meeting to learn more about how Black people are always being mistreated and why do minorities always end up getting killed and police always get away free-handed.
Young Black high school teaching assistant in Cleveland:
I want to go because I would like to see who and what types of people are involved, what the collective conscience looks like and the people fighting for this issue. I want to see whatever I can do personally and collectively. There will be some interesting materials to pass out to the youth I work with. I think on either side of the spectrum people are pissed even if they don’t know why. I noticed because of the killing of Black people, it has been disorienting to people and the issue of revolution has more focus. My own thinking has changed because I was more angry and not more analytic about it. I am asking people to come to meet like-minded people in this issue and this meeting will help. We can meet with people who are not complacent.
SMIN activist in Ferguson:
I’m excited and honored to roll up my sleeves as a participant in this national effort. The people and organizations committed to this “working” conference are willing to share ideas, strategies, and implementation. We all desire to escalate the struggle to the next level; launching in solidarity upon return to our local communities.
Society wide protests has proven to be more than activities to date since the civil rights movement. International attention and support for change has been echoed on our behalf. It’s ripened opportunity for “advanced” action and historic collaboration.
We can and should do this—Together. Diversity among contributing voices are needed. YOU are the key. There is much to learn and a place for everyone at the table ready to work.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
by Travis Morales | February 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Over the last week or so we have been going out to people and struggling with them to come to the February 7 and 8 meeting in Atlanta called by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. The meeting will focus on making real the Draft Call for "APRIL 14—STOP BUSINESS AS USUAL! WE WILL NOT GO BACK! NO SCHOOL! NO WORK! SAY NO MORE TO THE SYSTEM GIVING A GREEN LIGHT TO KILLER COPS!" We have been going to people with the need for this national movement that erupted after the murder of Michael Brown in August to retake the initiative, get people back out in the streets in a more massive way with determined resistance, and build off the real advances that began in August and took a big leap for five weeks after the grand jury refused to indict his killer and continued through the end of the year.
Many activists really do want to stop the outrage of police killing our people and go forward with a movement of many more people to stop these crimes. But way too many are not facing the reality that the movement that burst forth across the country against the police murdering people and walking free has taken a big hit. It is being suppressed with both repression and the lies and threats that went into high gear after the killing of two NYPD cops on December 20, lies that blame the protesters for these killings! The great majority of people stopped protesting.
Some activists are telling us that the reason that people got out of the streets is that the weather is too cold, people are tired, or people do not see that the protests were doing any good. Many are acting like we can just continue what we have been doing as if December 20 and the ensuing barrage from the media, police and government officials never happened. All kinds of proposals are being floated out for what to do next: demanding civilian review boards, community control of police, body cameras, special prosecutors, etc. To be frank, these are the easy way out that do not confront how to stop these outrages and deal with the central demands that drove people into the streets. We want justice for all the people murdered by the police, the killer cops to be sent to prison, and the police to stop murdering Black and Latino people.
We are struggling with people to confront reality. The uprisings across the country shook this country to its core and scared the shit out of the people who run this imperialist system. Beginning with the youth in Ferguson, these uprisings opened the eyes of millions to the systematic murder of Black and Latino people with impunity at the hands of the police and for them Black lives did matter. People poured into the streets. Something like this has not happened since the 1960s—taking on the brutal and horrific oppression of Black people with those that are the targets of these murders standing up. The rulers flipped out as the reality of these brutal murders was exposed around the world and they could not stop this outpouring with arrests, threats, and a massive show of militarized police as much as they tried. But they seized on the killings of the two cops to spread lies, confusion, and misinformation to paralyze, demobilize and get people out of the streets.
The great majority of people that had been with us got out of the streets and we must confront this. We cannot go forward by refusing to confront and figure out how to deal with this setback, hiding our heads in the sand. And we can do this. All the people that poured into the streets and the millions that supported them have right on their side. The overwhelming majority did not stop thinking that Black Lives Matter. And we have the truth that the police must be stopped from murdering our people and the barrage that hit us after December 20 is all lies. People can understand and act on this through struggling for what is true and acting on the need to retake the streets. And this is exactly why people need to come to Atlanta and be part of determining how to do exactly this.
We have been struggling with people over the stakes of the critical crossroads where we are. The current trajectory is for this movement to be suppressed, for these lies to shut down the thinking of millions that had their eyes opened and were compelled to act, to go back to the business as usual of the police killing Black and Brown people with impunity. But, now, it will be even worse. People in their masses will be led to think they can do nothing about these murders, "we tried protesting and it didn't do any good," there is no point to resisting, and that they must just accept this. The youth in Ferguson that stood up and set off this whole struggle and all those that are the target of these murders will feel abandoned. We have a responsibility to them to call all those that still want to act back out into the streets, as we wage a campaign to counter all the lies, building off the tremendous upsurge of last year and going forward to bring forth a movement of millions that will not stop until the police murder of our people stops. And we have a basis to do just this.
The imperialist rulers have a big problem on their hands. They are dealing with an antagonistic contradiction that has the potential to tear this country apart, unravel the whole thing and give rise to revolutionary possibilities. They cannot and will not give up the role of the police in protecting and serving the system that rules over the people, enforcing the relations of oppression which, in part, means brutalizing and murdering Black and Latino people every day. But in the last few months, millions have been outraged and tens of thousands, maybe over 100,000, were out in the streets demanding justice, that these killings by the police stop, and that these killer cops be punished. These two aspects of this contradiction cannot be reconciled. This is why the government, the media and the police went on a tear after December 20, demanding the protests stop, both because the horrific crimes were being exposed to one and all, and because their needs to defend and protect the role of the police were on a collision course with the increasingly determined resistance of the people and their demands for justice. This is an explosive contradiction that could, right now, if people retake the initiative and get back out in the streets, bring even bigger waves of people out to demand that these murders by the police stop now. The whole thing could begin to unravel, and out of this set of contradictions a whole process could very well begin leading to a revolutionary situation and the opportunity to actually make a revolution.
And now is the time to retake the offensive. The rulers cannot be allowed to take us back and force us to accept the business as usual of the police murdering our people with impunity. We must act! You are needed. Come to Atlanta. Be part of forging the plans for April 14 to be a day to STOP BUSINESS AS USUAL! across the country and the plans for how to get from here to there.
I wanted to share this with others that are out struggling to bring people to Atlanta.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
You're Invited To:
Updated February 6, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Sunday, February 15, 2015
For information about a BA Everywhere dinner in your area, see below or
contact nearest Revolution Books.
Be part of an inspiring, fun, and important fundraising dinner hosted by BA Everywhere—the national campaign to raise funds to make Bob Avakian (BA) and the work he has done known throughout society, so that the sights of millions are raised to see the possibility of a revolution for a radically different and better world.
Break bread with and experience a community of many different kinds of people who feel that the world today is intolerable and must change. We will watch advance clips from the new film that’s coming next month of the historic Dialogue Between CORNEL WEST and BOB AVAKIAN on REVOLUTION AND RELIGION: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion.
This film has the potential to make a huge difference in how hundreds of thousands of people think about the world and the struggle to change it—opening eyes to the basis, possibility, and vision of an actual revolution that could bring about a world free of oppression.
Imagine the difference this film can make this spring as people rise in righteous resistance to police brutality and murder, when the hopes are raised for a world where Black lives really do matter, a time when people need to hear what it will take to make that hope and much more—the emancipation of all humanity—a reality. Big plans will be made at the February 15 dinners to make a national impact with the launch of the film in March.
See you on February 15—bring your family and friends, your crew, your colleagues! Join us for dinner and together let’s change the whole world!
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
Draft Call from the Stop Mass Incarceration Network
January 27, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The people have stood up. Beginning in August and continuing through the end of the year, all across the country, thousands and thousands of people took to the streets to stop the murder of Black and Latino people at the hands of the police. People blocked highways and bridges, marched through shopping malls, did die-ins everywhere, walked out from school, and shook this country to its core, opening the eyes of millions around the world to the brutal reality that time and time again police kill Black and Latino people with impunity. For many people, this was the first time they had ever marched and demonstrated. This outpouring was long past due and was a real advance in the people’s struggle to stop this horror.
Now we are at a crossroads: will the authorities succeed in suppressing our resistance, or will we go back on the offensive and bring even more massive waves of struggle to STOP the murder of Black and Latino people by the police?
WE WILL NOT GO BACK!
On April 14, we will take our movement to STOP wanton police murder to a whole new level. NO SCHOOL! NO WORK! STOP BUSINESS AS USUAL!
On this day, thousands of students must walk out of school, take over buildings and go on strike at colleges and high schools nationwide. People must gather and march in cities all across the U.S. The normal routine of this society includes wanton police murder of Black and Latino people. Everyone must disrupt that normal routine.
Our demands are clear:
The business as usual of police killing our people and never being punished is a concentration of an overall program of mass incarceration and all its consequences that has tens of millions of people living their lives caught up in the criminal “injustice” system of this country. Will our righteous protest and the people’s determination to STOP this be suppressed with threats and empty promises? Will that business as usual continue? Or will we retake the initiative to lead, YES, millions back out into the streets, not stopping until the police murder of Black and Latino people stops? This is the challenge we face. All of us must act on April 14 to loudly declare we will not go back, stop the police murder of our people.
* * * * *
The Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN) has issued this draft Call for a day of massive resistance all over the country on April 14. You are invited to participate in a national meeting to map out plans to build on the powerful, beautiful and very necessary outpourings of people all across the country calling for an end to the system putting its stamp of approval on police murdering people. This meeting will be held in Atlanta on February 7 & 8.
Contact us for more information:
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
by Carl Dix | February 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
It’s time for some straight talk about what’s going down now. The system has doubled down on unleashing its cops to wantonly murder Black people and refusing to punish them when they do. Anyone who has any doubts about this only needs to look at the reports planted in newspapers that the U.S. Department of Justice will not bring any charges against Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown.
Think about this. Cops gun down Black people who have their hands up. They choke Black men to death because they suspect they may have sold untaxed cigarettes. They murder Tamir Rice, John Crawford, and Andy Lopez because they have toy guns. They murder Dontre Hamilton, Mayra Cornejo, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and many other people of color for any damned reason they come up with, and the system will do nothing to punish these killer cops.
This happens again and again because this is the role cops play in society. Not the “protect and serve” BS they put on the side of their cars, but the real role they play: enforcing a whole system of oppression and exploitation. As long as we’re living under this system, the police are going to keep doing this, and the system will keep backing them up in doing it.
What’s the system’s answer to the problem of police murder? Body cameras on cops? So they can ignore the video evidence of police murder like they did in the Eric Garner case? The Justice Department dealing with brutal, murdering cops? The Justice Department has done hundreds of investigations of cops who brutalize and murder and almost never indicts them. The system’s only answer to this horror is more of the same and worse. The murder of our youth is the spearhead of a whole genocidal program that is essential to this system, and to keep this program in effect, the people who run this system resort to mass arrests and demonization of our resistance.
But things don’t have to be this way. Thru revolution we could bring into being a whole different way for people to live. We could create a society where those entrusted with ensuring public security would sooner lose their own lives than kill or injure an innocent person. We in the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) are working on making the revolution needed to bring this society into being. We have the leadership needed for doing this in Bob Avakian, the leader of the RCP, and people need to engage that leader and get with this Party and the movement for revolution it is building.
Beginning in Ferguson in August, and spreading all over the country, people stood up and said NO MORE in ways we haven’t seen in decades. These powerful and beautiful actions forced a change in the thinking of millions and set new dividing lines in society. This growing movement of many thousands opened up new ideas about who has right on their side—the murdering police or the people who are victims of these murderous conditions and refuse to accept them AND those who stand with them because they refuse to live in a world where these horrors happen and nothing is done about it.
This struggle grew even more powerful in late November and December. Combined with other struggles and developments, it could possibly lead to a situation where a real chance to go for revolution could open up. The Party I am part of, the Revolutionary Communist Party, is dedicated to and working to hasten that possibility, to win at the soonest possible time.
People have begun to stand up and say NO MORE to the horror of police murder. They have started to challenge the legitimacy of the system, and we can’t allow the system to succeed in pushing things back to society’s normal routine, a routine that includes police wantonly murdering people.
To break out of this normal routine, we need to take this movement that has begun to a higher level. Everyone who wants to see the system STOP giving a green light to killer cops, who wants to stand up against what the system is doing to the people, needs to join me in Atlanta on February 7 & 8 for the meeting the Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN) is hosting.
If you see the need for revolution, or if you're not sure but you’re one of those of us who refuse to accept the horror of police murder—we all need to be part of coming back stronger with even more determined resistance, drawing in broader sections of people who refuse to stand by while these horrors are being inflicted on people. We need to draw forward an even more powerful force to say that these horrors must STOP!
If you want to see this happen, you need to be in Atlanta on February 7 & 8 to help plan a day of powerful resistance on April 14. You need to be in the house, helping to flesh out the vision for what this day must be, and can be. You need to be there helping to forge the plans to involve students in doing walkouts nationwide; to manifest resistance in communities all across the country; to involve the religious communities in challenging its congregants to join this resistance and more.
Families shouldn’t have to bury children whose lives have been stolen by those who are sworn to protect and serve. No parent should have to tell their children what they must do, and not do, in order to have a chance to survive an encounter with a cop. Whether people live, and how they live, shouldn’t be determined by the color of their skin. If you want to see these horrors and the whole genocidal program of mass incarceration and all its consequences that they concentrate STOPPED, then you need to join me in Atlanta and be part of forging plans to retake the offensive and build off the powerful resistance that’s been mounted so far to build a movement, numbering ultimately in the millions, that can STOP these horrors!
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
February 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Five months since the country erupted in determined protest, against police brutality and murder... This system has NO real answers:
“Body cameras are the solution...”
People courageously risk their lives to document police brutality and murder on video, and doing this shines a light on the crimes carried out by the police and makes it possible to mobilize people in the struggle for justice. But the police continue to kill – even on video: 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland was killed by police two seconds after they rolled up on him playing on a playground. Eric Garner was choked to death in New York City while the pig who killed him smiled at the camera. And if the body cams are on police, all they have to do is “forget” to turn them on or discover that the cameras “malfunctioned” after they brutalize and kill. Body cameras will not solve the problem of police killing people.
“Police need better training...”
Carl Dix asks “How much training do you need to not murder people?” When the police murder someone’s child, usually Black or Latino, when those police are applauded and hailed as heroes, when the legal system does not prosecute them for the real crime of murder... this IS training.
“Civilian Review Boards are the answer...”
In response to anger over police brutality, and in some cases in the face of opposition by police, city after city set up some kind of Civilian Review Board that is supposed to check police brutality.But where these review boards exist, the bitter truth is they have very little impact at all on the epidemic of police violence. When they find police guilty of brutality and crimes, those findings typically lead to either a slap on the wrist or no penalty at all.
“We need more federal investigations...”
At times the federal Department of Justice shows up in cases of police murder—usually when people’s anger at police murder threatens to get out of control. But the police keep killing people with impunity. Example: On November 15, 2006, Sean Bell was gunned down in a hail of 50 bullets by plainclothes and undercover NYPD cops. Sean Bell was an unarmed Black man. After years of protest, and after a judge found the murdering cops not guilty, the Justice Department conducted an “investigation” and announced there would be no charges because “Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence or bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation." In other words, police can kill a Black man and claim it was an “accident,” a “mistake”, they were afraid, or they used “bad judgment,” and that’s enough to get a license to kill Black people renewed by the Justice Department. There is no justice from the Department of Justice. For more background on what the Department of “Justice” is all about, see “Lessons of the People’s Struggles: The FBI and the Feds—Not Friends but Vicious Enemies.”
“They need to hire more Black and Latino police...”
A Black woman cop supervised the murder of Eric Garner. That did not “take race out of the equation.” What it did was demonstrate, once again, why more Black police are not the solution to the police murder of Black people.
The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness.
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, BAsics 1:24
The revolution DOES have answers:
Editor’s note: Tyisha Miller was a 19-year-old African-American woman shot dead by Riverside, California police in 1998. Miller had been passed out in her car, resulting from a seizure, when police claimed that she suddenly awoke and had a gun; they fired 23 times at her, hitting her at least 12 times, and murdering her. Bob Avakian addressed this.
If you can’t handle this situation differently than this, then get the fuck out of the way. Not only out of the way of this situation, but get off the earth. Get out of the way of the masses of people. Because, you know, we could have handled this situation any number of ways that would have resulted in a much better outcome. And frankly, if we had state power and we were faced with a similar situation, we would sooner have one of our own people’s police killed than go wantonly murder one of the masses. That’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re actually trying to be a servant of the people. You go there and you put your own life on the line, rather than just wantonly murder one of the people. Fuck all this “serve and protect” bullshit! If they were there to serve and protect, they would have found any way but the way they did it to handle this scene. They could have and would have found a solution that was much better than this. This is the way the proletariat, when it’s been in power has handled—and would again handle—this kind of thing, valuing the lives of the masses of people. As opposed to the bourgeoisie in power, where the role of their police is to terrorize the masses, including wantonly murdering them, murdering them without provocation, without necessity, because exactly the more arbitrary the terror is, the more broadly it affects the masses. And that’s one of the reasons why they like to engage in, and have as one of their main functions to engage in, wanton and arbitrary terror against the masses of people.
BAsics 2:16 by Bob Avakian
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
January 14, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The TRUTH is this:
The 1000s who took the streets against the police murdering people and walking free were RIGHT...
The police are NOT heroes...
They are NOT “serving and protecting” the people...
They function like an occupying army against Black and Latino people in this country: harassing, brutalizing and murdering people...
And if we want this to stop, we have to build up our movement to re-take the streets, even more massively than before, and even as we learn more deeply how to get at the root of this madness and end it once and for all. WE HAVE TO ACT.
For four short months, beginning in August with the rebellion in Ferguson, MO, and especially in the five weeks after the grand juries in Ferguson and then New York freed the cops who murdered Mike Brown and Eric Garner, Black lives actually did matter in this country.
No, not to those who run and enforce this system; Black lives never have and never will matter to them, except to be exploited or as a source of potential threat to their system. But to the millions who generally just go along with things and don’t allow themselves to think about the horror right beneath the surface—yes, suddenly they were forced to confront the reality of what happens to Black and other oppressed peoples in this society day in and day out, and what has been going on in one form or another since Day One of this country.
And what IS that reality?
In case we forget, we can go on YouTube and look at the latest video to come out of Cleveland, Ohio where not only did police murder a 12-year-old Black boy, Tamir Rice, for allegedly playing with a toy gun at a playground, but it has come out and can be seen that they shot him less than 2 seconds after they came on the scene and then not only tackled and detained his sister who ran to help him, but stood there while he bled out and died, refusing to come to his aid! Where is the humanity?
In case we forget, we can just look in the newspapers and find out that, far from being an “isolated” incident, the chokehold that the New York police used to murder Eric Garner—another case where these cops stood around and did nothing to aid a man who was dying in front of them, due to their vicious and monstrous actions—is actually the first thing that many cops resort to when arresting someone. Not only is this supposedly forbidden by their rule books, but it has also come out that when they are caught and the so-called Civilian Review Board recommends punishment, nothing is ever done! Where is the justice?
In case we forget, we can read the author Isabel Wilkerson who, like many others, has recently compared the numbers of police murders of Black people to the numbers of lynchings of Black people during the height of Ku Klux Klan terror—and found that the police murders are even more frequent. These murders and this all-around harassment, abuse, intimidation and violence by police serve the same social function as the Klan lynchings: to terrorize an oppressed people, to “keep them in their place.” Where, really, is the so-called progress?
But—again—these last few months were different. People did NOT forget and they did NOT block this out from their minds and they began to actually confront this and think about it. Why? Fundamentally because in August, when the police murdered Michael Brown, people in Ferguson rose up—and in large part, those at the backbone were the people on the bottom of society, who are so often demonized and hounded. This rallied others and made it impossible for the powers-that-be to put things back in a box. All eyes were kept on Ferguson and New York. Would there be justice?
Then, when the grand juries allowed the cops who murdered Michael Brown and Eric Garner to walk, tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of people blocked traffic and in many other ways disrupted “business as usual.” People in Ferguson again rose up and in dozens of other cities people of ALL nationalities and skin colors came into the streets, night after night. Millions were inspired, and tens of millions were forced to take notice, here and all over the world. Millions said or chanted or whispered “I can’t breathe” and in doing so broke a suffocation that had been locked down on people for decades. The thinking of millions was changed, and this was a huge accomplishment of the struggle.
It took massive disruptive action to do this. These actions were part of reaching into the deepest suppressed feelings of millions, opening people up to new ideas, and beginning to change the thinking both of those who acted and those who watched. This has been a great beginning, even as it is just that—a beginning.
But in the past few weeks, even as people have in many places bravely continued to fight and even as writers have continued to expose the reality, this new movement faces a big challenge. After trying—and failing—to suppress the movement with arrests, with demonization, and through many other means, the powers-that-be seized on the killings of two police in New York to take the offensive. Overnight, any criticism of police was ruled out of bounds. All kinds of distortions and lies were put out, all kinds of threats were made, and the police and their defenders—none of whom ever once came forward to say that what they and their fellow cops had done and do every day to Black and Latino people was in any way wrong—dominated the airwaves.
Because there have been so many lies put out there, it’s important to clear the air with some truth.
These lies are thin and paltry, but if they go unchallenged then the thinking of millions of people will again be shut down. And these murderers and their masters will again get away with these horrors—unless and until people once again rise up and take the streets. THAT—new waves of struggle, even more massive and defiant than before (including struggle over how people are understanding things)—is a necessary part of shining a light through the fog of lies to get the truth out and more deeply changing the thinking of the millions who have been programmed to go along with all this madness.
So that is definitely one huge challenge before the people right now: to go back on the offensive and bring forward even more massive waves of struggle to STOP these outrages. Not mitigate them, not tone them down—but STOP them.
Right now the Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN) is joining with others to host a national meeting in early February to develop plans that will re-take initiative on this front. Everyone who has been fighting this, all the different groups who want to see this stop, should be part of this, sorting out differences and uniting more strongly.
At the same time, our Party and the Revolution Clubs are organizing people FOR revolution in the communities and campuses all over. We are mobilizing people to fight the power, in very active and determined ways, and at the same time working to transform people’s thinking... FOR revolution. This is critical... and you can and should be part of this, going up against the powers while learning more about the revolution.
This gets to another big challenge that has to be met: getting to WHY this goes on, and what must be done to STOP it once and for all.
Why do the police do this? Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, has put it this way:
The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and order that enforces all this oppression and madness.
Think about it. THIS is at the heart of what goes on in the ghettos and barrios all over the country. “Relations of exploitation and oppression” are being “enforced.” And these relations go far beyond the ghetto. Think about what goes into just the daily functioning of this system, in addition to the killing discrimination and slow genocide now coming down on African-Americans, and Latinos, and other oppressed peoples within the U.S.:
These horrors are a big part of what we’re talking about when we say “relations of exploitation and oppression.” This is what is enforced by their cops, their armies, their prisons, their courts and all the rest. This is what is defended and covered over by their media and their politicians. A system that not only produces these horrors, but feeds on them and requires them to keep going, is a system that must be done away with. And the only way it can be done away with is through revolution.
Revolution is not just a catchword. It means something, something real. As we have said:
An actual revolution is a lot more than a protest. An actual revolution requires that millions of people get involved, in an organized way, in a determined fight to dismantle this state apparatus and system and replace it with a completely different state apparatus and system, a whole different way of organizing society, with completely different objectives and ways of life for the people. Fighting the power today has to help build and develop and organize the fight for the whole thing, for an actual revolution. Otherwise we’ll be protesting the same abuses generations from now!
We, our Party, has taken responsibility not only to take up this fight today but to build this as part of getting organized for an actual revolution. And listen—this is not something that has to be way far off—a lot depends on what all of us do, right now and in the immediate future. Our Party has developed a strategy to make revolution. Our Party has developed a vision of what is to replace this system. Our Party is developing the theoretical fighting doctrine through which people could actually meet and defeat these imperialists, even with all their power, once conditions change and the all-out struggle for power comes on the agenda.
AND: we have in Bob Avakian (BA) a leader who has given his heart and soul to the masses of people and who has developed a visionary new synthesis of communism, a deeper understanding of human emancipation. A leader like BA is something rare, and this is a great strength for our movement. “If you are serious about an actual revolution, you have to get seriously into BA.” Our Party is made up of revolutionary fighters dedicated to leading masses of people to get free of this madness, applying science to the problems we face, and organized into the structure of our Party to do that. And we have a way for you to get with this, to learn about this as you are fighting back, to get organized to actually make a revolution.
The time is now. The challenge is there... the leadership is there... what is needed, very urgently right now, is YOU.
Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution!
Get Organized for an Actual Revolution!
To learn more, explore this website, www.revcom.us. And check out the dialogue between Bob Avakian and Cornel West, “Revolution and Religion: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion.”
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
In his book A Slaveholders' Union, Slavery, Politics, and the Constitution in the Early American Republic, George William Van Cleve captures, with biting and incisive irony, a contradiction which in fact gets to the very essence of this country and its posturing as the champion and model of freedom. Here is what Van Cleve writes about the very foundations, and "founding fathers," of the United States of America:
Consider, for example, the conduct of Richard Henry Lee, the Virginia leader who moved the formal congressional resolution declaring American independence in June 1776. There is no evidence that Virginians thought it ridiculous for Lee to conduct a public parade in Virginia against the Stamp Act's "chains of slavery" while literally using his slaves to hold his protest banners. ...leaders such as Lee and Patrick Henry, like [American] Revolutionary leaders in other major slave colonies, saw their state's untrammeled ability to control slavery as a central part of what the Revolution was about.
Think about this: Patrick Henry issues the cry, since made famous, "Give me liberty or give me death!"—while himself owning slaves, and vigorously defending and fighting for the "rights" of slaveowners. Another leading figure in the American revolution, Richard Henry Lee, champions the move for American independence and freedom, while forcing his slaves to carry his banner denouncing British taxation on people such as himself (the Stamp Act) as "chains of slavery"!
What is captured in these contradictions can stand very well as a metaphor for the nature and role of the United States of America—from its very founding, and down to the present day. This is a country ruled by forces which have always approached "freedom" most essentially in terms of the "right" to accumulate wealth as private property. Under this system, and through its dominant relations and institutions, masses of people have always been regarded and treated as above all instruments to be utilized by a relatively small ruling elite precisely to accumulate wealth as private property: wealth as capital—which means control over, and exploitation of, the labor of others, who are in effect wage slaves—and, for a long period in the history of this country, wealth as human property, literal slaves.
In terms of political philosophy, what has prevailed in this country, from the time of its founding to the present, is a peculiar and a confined and constricting view of "freedom," corresponding to the outlook and interests of exploiters and oppressors, whose system and whose philosophy have long since become outmoded and a direct barrier and hindrance to the emancipation of the masses of humanity, and ultimately humanity as a whole, from all relations of exploitation and oppression.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
Updated February 16, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
This year's Black History Month comes at a time when we've seen a massive struggle for justice--beginning with the rebellion in Ferguson, Missouri, in August--unlike anything since the Black liberation struggle of the 1960s. Big questions are posed. Why—more than two centuries after the founding of this country and 50 years after the events depicted in the film Selma—are Black people still oppressed, still brutally discriminated against, and still brutalized and murdered by the police?
On the occasion of Black History Month, we have gathered here a selection of material for those who really want to dig into these questions. This material—including a syllabus that teachers can use for their classes or for other group discussions—speaks to the foundation of this country in slavery, the oppression of African-Americans which has continued throughout the history of the U.S. while taking different forms, and the present-day reality.
by Bob Avakian
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
On the Anniversary of Legalized Abortion:
February 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Editors’ note: This year, on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide in the U.S., there were powerful protests against the war on women that is raging, in defiance of the huge mobilizations of anti-abortion forces which take place every year on this anniversary. We talked to Sunsara Taylor, a correspondent for Revolution, a leader of Stop Patriarchy (stoppatriarchy.org), and an organizer of these protests.
Revolution: Can you sketch out what happened this January when the so-called “right-to-lifers” rallied in DC and across the U.S.?
Sunsara Taylor: This January, for the first time in a long time, there was politically confrontational, in-your-face protest right up against the fascist anti-abortion woman-haters. This took place in cities around the country—Chicago, Austin, Cleveland, San Francisco, and elsewhere—but with particular defiance in Washington, DC.
In DC, Stop Patriarchy took over the street in front of the Supreme Court and stayed in the street—despite intimidation by the police and screaming harassment from anti-abortion fanatics—for about half an hour. Eventually the police arrested eight brave protesters, but the March for “Life” was halted for over an hour, completely unable to march in front of the Supreme Court. This was the first time in 42 years their march was brought to a halt.
We were dressed in all-white with “bloody pants,” representing women who died from botched abortions. The whole thing made clear that this fight has never been about “babies,” it has always been about women. The anti-abortion fanatics are marching for women’s enslavement, but we are standing up for women’s full liberation.
Our basic message was: The days of these Christian fascists being able to claim the moral high ground in the public square are over. The time for passively waiting for these attacks to go away is over. The days of politely lobbying, or waiting for a politician or court to save the right to abortion, have to be gone. Standing up is the order of the day! This kind of defiance hasn’t happened in a long time—and much, much more of it is urgently needed.
Revolution: The theme of the March for “Life” this year was “Every Life Is a Gift.” But they are not talking about how precious the lives of actual living human beings are, right?
Sunsara Taylor: They are not talking about the lives of the children in Afghanistan or a Black person murdered by police. They are not talking about women who find themselves pregnant and need abortions. They mean every fetus—or even embryo—is a “gift.” In other words, every time a woman is impregnated—even in the case of rape or incest—this is supposedly a “gift from God”! And women should be forced to bear children against their will even in these circumstances! Even if her life is at risk, she is supposed to risk her life for the so-called precious “gift” of a fetus. So that gives you a sense of why we say these people are woman-hating fascists, that’s not just rhetoric.
While in the street we held up huge, beautiful enlargements of the faces of real women who died because of lack of safe, legal abortion. Also a bright orange banner: “Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!” which made it into national and international news.
Revolution: Talk about the context for these protests.
Sunsara Taylor: In huge parts of this country, there are no abortion clinics. More and more repressive laws—231 in just the last four years—are putting women through all kinds of demeaning and unnecessary hoops to make the simple decision whether to have a child. The right to abortion is hanging by a thread, and momentum against it is escalating. And let’s be clear—if women cannot decide for themselves when and whether to have a child (or when to have an abortion, or access to birth control), then women cannot be free. Forcing women to have children against their will is a form of enslavement. This is a fight over the position of women in society—will women be liberated or enslaved—and women are half of humanity.
Revolution: There were actions in Washington, DC, Austin, San Francisco, Chicago, Oakland, Atlanta, and New York City. (See “Women’s right to abortion is in a state of emergency. This January 22 WE FIGHT BACK.”) Talk about the particular significance of the protest you and Carl Dix led in Oakland.
Sunsara Taylor: In Oakland, some reactionary Black preachers held a rally pushing the lie that abortion is genocide against Black people. Well, first of all, a Black woman, a Latino woman, any woman who chooses to terminate a pregnancy is not killing a baby because fetuses are NOT babies, a fetus is a subordinate part of the woman’s body. (See “What Is an Abortion and Why Women Must Have the Right to Choose.”) If women don’t have the right to determine for themselves when and whether they will have children, they are not free. In reality, the way these reactionary Black preachers see Black women is no different than the way the slave masters back on the plantation saw Black women—they look at them as nothing more than breeders. That is just vicious and horrific and it had to be opposed.
Now there is a whole legacy and present-day reality of the horrific and brutal oppression of Black people and Latinos and Native Americans and other oppressed peoples right here within these borders (and the subjugation of whole nations and peoples by the U.S. around the world), and that has included forced sterilization of Puerto Rican, Black, Native American, and other women. That is racist and genocidal. But that is a world apart from women among the oppressed deciding for themselves which pregnancies to carry to term and which ones they do not want to continue.
And today there is a real genocide going on—concentrated in mass incarceration. These Christian fascists never talk about that! But they blame and shame Black and Latino women as part of demonizing and assaulting all women and their right to decide their own reproduction. So Carl Dix, the Bay Area Revolution Club, folks with Stop Patriarchy, some others, and myself actually marched right up onto their stage and drowned out their lies with truth that Black women—like all women—are not incubators. We took on their lies and their shaming, and really this became the main thing that went down that day.
Revolution: Anything to add about the whole week of struggle?
Sunsara Taylor: Stop Patriarchy put out a statement in the wake of all this that made clear, no positive change for the oppressed has ever come forward in this country without struggle. Now is the time to stand up, get off the sidelines, to join in the urgent battle for the future of women. Stop Patriarchy is currently developing plans for International Women’s Day, March 8th. We need people everywhere to take up the responsibility of getting involved and making International Women’s Day an even more powerful and major leap towards the revolution we need and towards ending all this oppression.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
February 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
It is a huge injustice that while the cops who killed Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and others walk free, those who are stepping out—acting on their outrage and conscience, and protesting these police murders—are under heavy attack from the powers-that-be. Ferguson, Missouri was put under a State of Emergency declaration days before the grand jury announced they were not indicting the cop who killed Michael Brown. In cities across the country, police have made mass arrests and violently attacked protesters. Prosecutors are bringing heavy charges against some protesters. Revolutionaries are being singled out for persecution. Police have released videos, photos, and addresses of people for alleged crimes related to the protests, and these have been broadcast in the media, in attempts to sow divisions among protesters and to send a message broadly that protesters better “behave” (or even not protest at all).
In this article, we point to some recent examples of how this repression against the protests is going down. But more needs to be learned and understood about this repression. What is going on in different cities? What are the patterns and trends? How are different sections of the people and different groups and organizations responding? We call on readers to send reports on attacks on the movement to email@example.com
These attacks are part of a counteroffensive by the powers-that-be to suppress and kill the massive and inspiring movement that rose up, first in Ferguson and then across the country, as people stepped out into the streets in thousands and tens of thousands and acted in many different ways to stand up and speak out against the intolerable oppression of Black people and the brutal police that enforce that injustice. Meanwhile, the outrage of police murder and brutality, especially against people of color—and the official sanctioning of those crimes—continues. As we have said, there is a huge challenge before the people right now “to go back on the offensive and bring forward even more massive waves of struggle to STOP these outrages. Not mitigate them, not tone them down—but STOP them.” (See “The Cold but Liberating Truth About the Police, the Struggle for Justice, and Revolution“)
Fighting against the repressive attacks on the protests is crucial to going back on the offensive. When brave freedom fighters are targeted and hit with serious charges, they need to be upheld and defended, in the courtroom and widely in society, as part of drawing forward even more people into the movement of resistance. When the police, government officials, and the media use threats and lies to try to intimidate and silence protests, it needs to be exposed and opposed. When entertainers, artists, and others in the public eye are retaliated against for speaking out about “Black lives matter,” people need to have their backs.
In mid-January, the St. Louis County police began releasing surveillance videos and photos that they claimed showed stores being looted during the protests that broke out after the announcement that the grand jury had decided not to indict the cop who killed Michael Brown. The police said they were going to track down and arrest the alleged looters—and called on the public to help identify the people in the videos and photos. The videos and photos, and the police call for people to become informants, were broadcast widely in the media. The St. Louis County police said they will be releasing more such videos and photos every week, showing hundreds of “suspects.”
Let’s be clear: This has nothing to do with righting wrongs. It’s about the powers-that-be trying to divert attention and anger away from the real outrage of the cold-blooded murder of a Black youth—and the official green light given to this crime. The police have created further “justification” to go after people in the oppressed communities in Ferguson and nearby areas, where they already act as an occupying army. In a situation where many people are already caught up in the web of mass incarceration and may have a “record,” another arrest may mean heavy charges and long prison sentences. The broadcasting of the “Wanted” videos and photos is also a means of training people to think—falsely—that they have a common interest with the police. And it is meant as a message that people had better stay within officially sanctioned boundaries of protest—because the eyes of the police will be on those who don’t.
This move by the St. Louis County police is similar to the way the New York Police Department released “Wanted” pictures of people accused of trying to free a protester from the clutches of cops during a march across the Brooklyn Bridge in December, and how this was blasted out on the front pages of the tabloid papers. (See “The NYPD and the Whole Damn System Are Guilty—Not Protesters!“) The police in Seattle also posted pictures of two people they said were wanted for allegedly trying to prevent another protester from being arrested.
There are a couple of very important cases in Chicago of people facing heavy charges for taking part in protest.
On November 23, Grant Newburger—who is well known and respected in the South and West Side neighborhoods of Chicago for bringing the revolution to people and helping to form the Revolution Club of Chicago—was charged with felony aggravated assault on a cop, simply for carrying, with two other people, a banner saying “Justice for Mike Brown” into a downtown street on a green light during a protest march. Grant was deliberately assaulted by cops on bicycles; the cops knocked him to the ground. There were no injuries to the cops. In an article on the protest, the Chicago Tribune printed a picture of Grant’s face and the location of the block where they say he lives—a dangerous move given how the police retaliate against those who oppose and expose them, and also in the context of fascistic forces making threats against revolutionaries.
This was a total outrage in itself—but then, at a December 17 court hearing, the prosecutor added two more counts of felony assault on a cop for the same incident! These charges carry a possible total 21-year prison sentence. (For more on Grant Newburger’s case, see the leaflet from the Chicago Revolution Club.)
On December 13, at a march of hundreds in the heart of Chicago’s upscale shopping district, 23 people were arrested. Just stepping off the sidewalk would result in an arrest. Particularly vicious was the arrest of a member of the Revolution Club, “Iggy,” a young Black revolutionary and street musician from the South Side. He was among the protesters outside the Nordstrom store, where others were staging a die-in. The police attacked the protesters outside, hitting people and knocking them to the ground. Iggy sustained facial injuries—yet he was the one charged with felonious assault on a cop. Another protester, Alfredo, was also arrested and charged with a felony during the same police riot. At the same time, a young woman from the Revolution Club was singled out for arrest and charged with misdemeanors.
At the December 14 court hearing, Iggy and Alfredo were given $75,000 bail each—very high for first-time offenders with jobs and ties to the community. As in the case with Grant Newburger, the Chicago Tribune ran an article with both mens’ mug shots and the location of the blocks where they say they live. (See “Chicago: Oppose the Vicious and Outrageous Charges Against Those Who Protested Police Murder!“)
Noche Diaz is well recognized by friends, as well as foes, as a leader of the NYC Revolution Club, and for being on the front lines of the battle against police murder and brutality. After the murder of Michael Brown and after the announcement of the grand jury decision to let the murdering cop free, Noche was singled out in protests by the NYPD—threatened, assaulted, and arrested. As Noche describes it, at the November 25 march, the cops were saying things to him like, “I know you, you already have a case, you better go home, cuz when we get you, you ain’t going nowhere for a long time, we’re gonna put you away.” Other people in the march could hear the police threats and, Noche points out, “It was clear to a lot of people they had my number, so to speak.” A police supervisor had grabbed him by the throat during a protest the previous night. And when the cops grabbed Noche during the November 25 protest, they slammed him to the ground and took him behind the police line, where one said, “Let’s take him behind the truck where no one can see.”
Noche is now facing multiple charges and, if convicted, could receive a two-year sentence. His trial is scheduled for March 19. (For more on Noche’s case, see “New Developments in the Persecution of Noche Diaz of the NYC Revolution Club.)
On December 15, protesters courageously stepped onto Interstate 93. The protest organizers intended to “disrupt business as usual”—and they shut down traffic in and out of Boston at the height of the morning commute. Some protesters attached themselves to 1,200-pound barrels filled with concrete. Others had signs with slogans like “End White Supremacy.” One of the protesters said, “We must remember, Ferguson is not a faraway Southern city. Black men, women, and gender-nonconforming people face disproportionately higher risk of profiling, unjust incarceration, and death. Police violence is everywhere in the United States.”
Twenty-nine people were arrested in the action—most were charged with disorderly conduct, trespass, and resisting arrest, while several people were charged with conspiracy and “carrying a dangerous weapon.”
On January 19, as the annual MLK Day was marked by different events across the country, a new spirit of resistance was evident as people defiantly took to the streets in determined resistance against police murder and brutality. (See revcom.us coverage of those protests here.)
One of the notable actions was the shutting down of the nine-mile-long San Mateo Bridge over San Francisco Bay by Stanford University students and others. The protesters said they were blocking the traffic on the busy bridge for 28 minutes to symbolize the fact that a Black person in the U.S. is killed by police or vigilantes every 28 hours. Silicon Valley Shutdown, a collective of students, said that the action was “in defense of all Black lives. We stand with Black men and women. We act when Black Queer and Trans lives are threatened. We defend the rights of our Black family when we are poor, disabled and incarcerated.”
According to the Stanford Daily, 68 people were arrested at the action—and the county DA is considering what charges to file against them.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
On the Justice Department “Leak” That Michael Brown’s Killer Will NOT Be Prosecuted on Civil Rights Charges Either...
January 29, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader
Assuming the reports that have been recently published that no charges will be filed by the (in)Justice Department against Darren Wilson for violating Michael Brown’s civil rights prove to be accurate, this is not at all surprising. But the lack of surprise does not remotely diminish the outrage represented by such a decision. I think it is important to recognize this as a compounding, reinforcement, and escalation of the original outrages of the murder of Michael Brown and the Ferguson grand jury’s subsequent decision not to indict Darren Wilson for that murder. In other words, I do not think the reaction to this news should be "ho hum, what else did you expect?"
This is the system, and ruling class, giving a further green light to genocide against Black people at the hands of the police. It is an unmistakable middle finger to the family and loved ones of Michael Brown, to all those who have defiantly and courageously demanded justice for him over the last few months and who have stood up against police murder and brutality more broadly. This apparent decision not to file federal charges against Darren Wilson is an attempt to demoralize the masses and to convince them that it did—and does—no good to raise their heads, stand up, and demand justice, an attempt to get people to just accept a towering crime and injustice and "move on," and likely also an attempt to convince at least some among the tens of thousands of people who took to the streets directly—and the many others who supported and were inspired by these freedom fighters—to question whether people were right to stand up and demand justice. This cannot be allowed to get over on people.
At the same time, this latest decision not to file charges is also a glaring exposure of something that there is a heightened urgency—and a heightened basis—to lead people to understand: The fact that, yes, there really is a whole system at work here, and that whole damn system is guilty as hell. The question needs to be directly, and explicitly, posed to people: If the problem were just a question of "bad apples," of "poor training," or the "decline of community policing," then how do you explain not only the Ferguson grand jury and the "prosecutor" in the Darren Wilson case, but now the federal Justice Department letting Darren Wilson walk free? And how do you explain the fact that the major media in this country are working repeatedly to confuse, disorient, and pacify people, and to present what is indisputably the police killing of yet another unarmed Black youth as a supposedly "complex" matter of "dueling narratives"? And how do you explain the fact that all of the above happens in just about EVERY ONE of the thousands of cases of Black and Latino people murdered by the police? Yes, there IS a whole damn system at work here, and that system doesn’t need to be "fixed," it needs to be gotten rid of through revolution at the earliest possible time. Now, more than ever, people urgently need to know—and be led to understand—this basic reality.
In the immediate aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown and ever since, the masses were told—as they always are by this system after its police murder the masses—to "let the system work," and to channel their efforts into demanding a federal investigation. Eric Holder personally came to Ferguson and did his "everybody calm down" and "I feel your pain" routine.
To state an obvious and very heartening fact: The system’s efforts to get people to calm down and go home, and their calls to "be patient" and "wait for the system to work" did not get over this time! Still, the point needs to be emphasized: This latest decision is exactly what "the Justice Department intervening" looks like. Look how that turned out. No, seriously! People need to confront this reality and its implications. And then people need to confront a further question: Is the Michael Brown case an exception in this regard? Or is this, in fact, the rule? Let’s get real here.
Right now is a really critical juncture in the struggle against police murder and mass incarceration, and the Justice Department refusal to bring charges only further highlights the significance of this juncture. To anyone wondering whether it makes a difference that people have taken to the streets and stood up against police brutality and murder, ask yourself this question: If people standing up didn’t—and doesn’t—make a difference, then why have the powers‑that‑be felt compelled to put so much effort and energy into repressing, attacking, diverting, distracting and disorienting people in the wake of this resistance? Clearly, the powers‑that‑be don’t think it makes no difference when the people stand up! Otherwise, they wouldn’t be desperately trying so many different methods to suppress and divert this struggle.
The ruling class will continue to relentlessly look for and attempt a whole gamut of ways to get people to calm down, back down, give up, and move on from this struggle for justice. We have seen that movie before, whenever there is righteous struggle that stands up to the system’s crimes and exposes its illegitimacy, and especially when this happens in the sustained, determined, widespread and defiant way that we have seen these past few months. But, again, it is critical that these efforts on the part of the ruling class to get everybody to "move on" and go back to business as usual not succeed, and that they instead be met with determined political resistance.
Unless someone wants to argue that the outrages and horrors that originally propelled people into the streets have somehow been addressed, or that justice has somehow been served, the only moral and rational conclusion is that not only must the resistance witnessed in the past few months not die down, it must grow deeper, broader, stronger, more defiant, and more determined to get to the real root of the horrors being fought against.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
February 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
There have been important developments in the political persecution of Noche Diaz. A January 29 hearing in his case at the Manhattan Criminal Court points to the need to step up support for Noche heading into his March 19 trial for six charges stemming from protests against police murder.
Noche, a young revolutionary working with the Revolutionary Communist Party and the Revolution Club, has been on the front lines of those standing up in Harlem and citywide against this oppressive system, and is a leader in the movement for revolution. Since the struggle that rose up after the August 9 murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the NYPD has singled Noche out for blatant persecution. On the night of August 14—the first major protest in New York City to protest Brown’s murder—Noche was targeted by the police and slapped with six misdemeanor charges, carrying the potential for a year sentence. Then on November 25, when people took to the streets the day after the Missouri grand jury failed to indict the cop who killed Brown, Noche was picked out of a crowd of thousands marching on Manhattan’s west side and hit with another five charges, with potential for another year sentence.
At the January 29 hearing, the prosecutors dropped charges of “inciting to riot” and “resisting arrest” as well as “unlawful assembly” and one count of “disorderly conduct.” Then they turned around and issued new charges—“obstructing government administration” (one year) and “harassment.” So while some outlandish charges have been dismissed, Noche still faces up to two years—one year for each instance of leading people to oppose police terror.
These outrageous charges for totally justified mass protest are not random, they are not legitimate, and they are not simply the result of individual cops acting piggishly towards someone known to stand up fearlessly for the people that the cops prey on. There are two things going on here: First, the system is hitting back hard at the movement for justice, and as part of that trying to put a known and respected leader behind bars. And second, the system is sending a message to people in an attempt to chill out protest: standing against them, and definitely getting with the revolution, will just bring down even more oppression.
Noche and his supporters have responded with bold revolutionary spirit. According to NewsOne.com (part of the largest African-American media company):
“Diaz and supporters held a brief press conference outside the courthouse after the hearing, where he discussed his case in detail. He also revealed that prosecutors offered him a plea deal.
“‘Before they said that they were gonna drop all these charges, they offered time served if I pled to all the charges,’ he revealed.
“After a short pause, he reassured supporters, ‘I didn’t do it.’”
On March 19 Noche is scheduled for trial for all the charges stemming from the August 14 arrest. He and his supporters will be at Manhattan Criminal Court, demanding all charges be dropped. Put it on your calendar now—be there, and call on others to come, to defend this revolutionary and the struggle against police terror.
See the revcom.us/Revolution interview with Noche Diaz.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
Hearings for New Attorney General:
February 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Under Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder...
And now that Holder is resigning, Senate hearings over his successor have been an orgy of attacks on him from Republicans for, in their eyes, being too soft in implementing fascist repression. And Obama’s nominee to replace Holder, Loretta Lynch, is sucking up to them—distancing herself from whatever symbolic nods Holder gave to civil rights and civil liberties (repeatedly insisting “I’m not Eric Holder”). She told the Senate that the death penalty—a human rights outrage in its own right and overwhelmingly used unjustly against African-Americans—is “an effective penalty.” She called illegal NSA spying “certainly constitutional, and effective.” Democrats in the Senate called this shameless catering to the RepubliKKKans “a flawless performance” and “among the most accomplished and impressive that I’ve seen as a member of this committee.”
Let’s face it: There never have been, and never are going to be any answers from the Department of IN-Justice to genocide, police murder, and repression.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
February 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Revcom.us/Revolution received the following statement:
The Department of Justice (DOJ) decision on whether to bring civil rights charges against Darren Wilson is expected any day. Indications are Wilson will NOT be charged. If so, such a decision whitewashes and gives a stamp of approval to the police murder of Michael Brown. It gives a green light to killer cops everywhere. It is a slap in the face to Michael Brown’s family, to all who stood up against this injustice, and to the millions whose hopes were raised when people defiantly rose up and said, “Not this time!”
If the DOJ brings down this outrage, we must take to the streets across the country. The murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson was where the struggle began 6 months ago. Darren Wilson is a racist murdering thug, and now a symbol of white supremacist Amerikkka’s targeting of Black youth. This must stop. Wilson must go to jail.
We were told, “Cool down and let the system work.” Yet cops murdering Black and Latino people, and then protected by the (in)justice system, IS the way the system works again and again. That’s why “The Whole Damn System is Guilty As Hell!” echoed in streets across the country. People were RIGHT to rise up and refuse to wait on justice that never comes even as the system continues to kill, criminalize and incarcerate at a staggering rate. The cold and liberating truth is this: there is no justice in this (In)Justice system, and it is up to US, and people who can be won to join us, to stop the genocide against Black people.
The DOJ “signing off” on Darren Wilson’s murder of Mike Brown intends to help turn things around. To pump up pro-police forces, to put back asleep those who have begun to open their eyes, and to send a message that “protest doesn’t work.” NO, protests over the last 6 months changed what millions think is tolerable and intolerable. That Black Lives Matter. This has created new conditions for resistance to grow stronger and wider. That is why those in power work overtime to repress and discredit us.
The DOJ decision on Darren Wilson comes at a crossroads. People all over will be watching. Get organized NOW to take to the streets across the country on the day of, or the day after, the DOJ decision is announced. We won’t go back.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
by Larry Everest | February 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
I saw Clint Eastwood’s movie American Sniper the other night. It is the story of U.S. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, based on his autobiography. Kyle fought in Iraq between 2004 and 2009 when the U.S. was occupying the country. (In February 2013, Kyle was killed at a gun range by another former soldier, reportedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).)
American Sniper has been nominated for six Oscars, including best film and best leading actor; it has broken box-office records for war movies, and it’s generating heated debate.
Many who are praising the film say the movie is about him, not about the politics of the Iraq war. “It’s a movie about a man, a character study,” said lead actor Bradley Cooper. “The hope is that you can somehow have your eyes opened to the struggle of a soldier, as opposed to the specificity of the war.” Others argue American Sniper is “both a tribute to the warrior and a lament for war,” as the Associated Press reviewer wrote.
Bullshit. Regardless of the intentions of those making these claims, bullshit.
This is a profoundly reactionary movie. American Sniper humanizes and glorifies Chris Kyle, an unrepentant Christian fundamentalist mass murderer who killed 160 Iraqis (supposedly the most “kills” by any U.S. soldier in history). Meanwhile, the movie demonizes and dehumanizes every single Iraqi (with the possible exception of one family), portraying them as evil terrorists and “savages” who deserve to die.
By telling this story through Kyle’s eyes and purported experience (and prettifying that story), American Sniper weaves a fable about the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its role in the world: America is a force for good. Whatever its mistakes, the U.S. sends its military to places like Iraq to try to protect the innocent and destroy evil. It promotes the outlook that only America and American lives count and anything goes to “defend” them. This is the big lie on the big screen.
Chris Kyle is shown growing up in Texas, a good-old boy from a traditional white, patriarchal, and patriotic Christian family, who hunts. According to the film, the arc of Kyle’s life is defined early on by his father. There are three kinds of people, he tells his sons: most are sheep who are afraid and go along; then there are wolves who prey on the sheep; and then there are the sheep dogs who protect the sheep from the wolves. And his kids better damn sure be the sheep dogs, or they’d get the strap.
Kyle starts out as a wannabe cowboy, but he’s adrift. Then—according to the film—he’s jolted into supposed clarity by the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by al-Qaeda, Islamic jihadists, which killed hundreds of people. He enlists in the Navy SEALs. His resolve is hardened when he and his wife watch the Twin Towers come crashing down on 9/11. He’s going to be the “sheep dog” protecting America and its sheep from the terrorist Islamic wolves.
His unit is deployed and American Sniper cuts directly and wordlessly from 9/11 to Fallujah, Iraq, around 2004. The clear impression is that the two were directly linked. Kyle says the people the U.S. is fighting in Iraq are the ones who attacked the U.S. on 9/11. And the Iraqis are pretty much all portrayed as terrorists out to kill Americans.
The theme that Kyle and the U.S. military are “sheep dogs” in the world runs throughout the whole movie. But sorry—the U.S. and its military aren’t sheep and they aren’t sheep dogs. They are, as Malcolm X put it, like “bloody-jawed wolves,” with the blood of the people of the world dripping from their fangs.
American Sniper is an exercise in training people to see the world through the eyes of the empire. First, the story that it chooses to tell is one of a particularly fanatical and murderous soldier. Why not one of the antiwar Iraq vets who threw their medals away and condemned the war crimes they carried out? Second, telling the story of the “warriors”—the soldiers—is not the most valid and truthful way to understand what a war is about. You can’t truthfully tell the story of one individual detached from (or by falsifying) the context they’re in; and the story of one individual can’t serve as an overall summary of historical events.
In American Sniper, Kyle jumps from his wedding to the battlefield in Iraq. The film’s explanation is that this is in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. But what the hell was the U.S. doing in Fallujah? What the hell has it been doing in Iraq? And what the hell was—and is—it doing in the Middle East, long before 9/11? Pretending the story starts in 1998 or on 9/11, and that the thing you really need to know is the “heroism” of Kyle and his comrades, is telling a story alright—a reactionary fable.
Before the 2003 U.S. invasion, Iraq was ruled by a tyrant, Saddam Hussein. But Iraq was not involved in 9/11. There was no Islamic jihadist presence in Iraq to speak of. And Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons), as the Bush-Cheney regime claimed it did. These were all deliberate lies to justify invading and conquering Iraq.
Why, then, did the U.S. attack Iraq? Because the U.S. imperialists wanted to strengthen their stranglehold on Iraq and the whole Middle East. The U.S. has controlled this region since the 1950s—through invasions, coups, assassinations, bombings, despotic torturers like the regime in Egypt, and turning Israel into a regional attack dog. The U.S. imperialists have used Middle Eastern oil to dominate the world economy and other powers dependent on it, and have made untold billions in profit off it as well. Controlling the Middle East means controlling vital trade routes and a strategic military crossroads between Africa, Europe, and Asia. It is a key pillar of their whole global empire of exploitation. Millions and millions of lives have been crushed to enforce this order—including at least 500,000 Iraqi children, who died as a result of the U.S.-UN sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s. (And the U.S. has been intervening in Iraq since the 1920s.)
But the U.S. grip on the region was fraying and Saddam Hussein had gotten in their way, so he had to go. The U.S. planned to take over Iraq and turn it into an outpost for advancing their grand plan for an all-powerful global empire.
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq wasn’t some noble effort to get justice for 9/11. It was an unjust, immoral, and illegal war of naked imperialist aggression. It resulted in the murder of over 120,000 Iraqis and the deaths of over 600,000 more. It has devastated Iraq and driven more than five million people from their homes. It has put vicious oppressors in power and fueled reactionary Islamic fundamentalism. The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was a towering war crime. One person’s “narrative” about his own experience doesn’t trump this history and reality. And how could anyone make an honest or truthful movie about the U.S. war in Iraq without in some way at least touching on, recognizing, or acknowledging this broader picture? (See “The U.S. Legacy 10 Years After Invading Iraq: Death, Disease, Devastation, Displacement,” Revolution, March 31, 2013.)
While one person’s story cannot define the goals and nature of a war, Kyle’s story does tell you a lot about the immoral and predatory nature of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In an early scene set in the city of Fallujah, Kyle is setting up on a rooftop in a battle zone. The streets are full of rubble, many buildings are destroyed, and most everyone left seems to be a jihadist combatant. The message many people will take away—especially since the U.S. ruling class and its media have carefully censored and suppressed real pictures and real coverage of what the U.S. has done in Iraq—is that this is just how Iraqis live, that Iraq is just a disgusting, fucking mess. In fact, this is what Kyle and other U.S. soldiers say repeatedly. Kyle: Iraqis are “savages.” His brother, also deployed to Iraq, as he’s leaving: fuck this place.
But American Sniper doesn’t show why Fallujah was devastated. Beginning in April 2004, the U.S. laid siege to the city, forcing most of the population to evacuate, then shelled and bombed it—including with white phosphorous and cluster bombs. White phosphorous can melt skin and flesh right down to the bone. U.S. soldiers called it “shake and bake.” Its use is generally considered a war crime because it’s an indiscriminate killer. “I need another heart and eyes to bear it, because my own are not enough to bear what I saw. Nothing justifies what was done to this city. I didn’t see a house or mosque that wasn’t destroyed,” a member of Iraq’s Red Crescent Society told journalist Dahr Jamail in 2004 after visiting Fallujah. (Democracy Now!, November 8, 2005)
Kyle zeros in on a mother and her young son in his sniper scope. They’re coming into the street in front of a U.S. convoy. He thinks he sees a grenade, but he hesitates to make sure and then get the OK. As portrayed in American Sniper, he clearly doesn’t want to shoot women and children. But then he has to execute one, then the other—because it turns out they really did have an explosive and were intent on killing American soldiers. Later, in one scene U.S. officers question Kyle about complaints from Iraqis about their relatives being killed. But Kyle dismisses it; he shoots people when they have weapons. The implication is that these complaints are just lies by a bunch of lying Iraqis, and that the bureaucrats who believe them are putting the troops in harm’s way.
In reality, according to eyewitnesses, American snipers in Fallujah shot anything that moved. They shot ambulance drivers and medical workers. They shot people trying to claim the bodies of relatives lying in the streets. “They try to kill anybody who works in humanitarian aid. They attack any humanitarian aid worker, doctor, or ambulance to kill him,” a Fallujah resident told Inter Press Service. A doctor told Jamail, “I remember once we sent an ambulance to evacuate a family that was bombed by an aircraft. The ambulance was sniped—one of the family died, and three were injured by the firing.”
There is an extensive record of U.S. military savagery in Iraq, far beyond the scope of this article. In a 2007 trial of U.S. snipers operating in Iskandariya, south of Baghdad, it was revealed that the U.S. had a strategy of “baiting” Iraqis by placing out detonation cords, plastic explosives, and ammunition so snipers could then kill them, and that sometimes the snipers planted such evidence on the bodies of those they shot down—like U.S. cops sometimes plant guns on their victims. The video Collateral Murder, based on video leaked by Chelsea Manning (who is now serving a long prison term for that heroic act) shows a U.S. helicopter murdering civilians and journalists. Two courageous soldiers who were part of that unit, unlike Kyle, later apologized to the Iraqi people for their actions.
When an occupying power carries out collective punishment and murders civilians, these are war crimes and crimes against humanity. Google “war crimes Fallujah” and you’ll find entry after entry, including YouTube videos of U.S. forces in action.
These aren’t the actions of a “sheep dog.” Again, they are the actions, as Malcolm X put it, of a “bloody-jawed wolf,” with blood dripping from its fangs as it yammers on about “freedom,” “democracy,” and “good and evil.”
American Sniper hides and rewrites the true history of the U.S. in Iraq with a fog of imperialist propaganda, myth-making, and lies.
What kind of a military would use such weapons, and carry out such atrocities? What kind of military would joke about using weapons like white phosphorous—calling firing these horrific weapons “shake and bake”? An oppressive, imperialist occupation force which considers the local population as its enemy and aims to terrorize and suppress them.
The way the U.S. fought the war in Iraq, and the way it indoctrinated its troops, reflects the totally unjust nature of the war.
In American Sniper, Chris Kyle embodied this “America is good, everyone else is evil, only American lives count” outlook. He’s totally unapologetic about killing scores of Iraqis. American Sniper deceitfully portrays all his victims has having had it coming. After he is “forced” to shoot down the mother and her son who are fighting the U.S. occupation, he sums up that he’s never seen such evil as he’s seeing in Iraq. There is only one Iraqi in the whole film who’s shown having a shred of humanity. The rest are terrorists or collaborators with the terrorists.
Kyle’s autobiography is even more revealing (director Clint Eastwood’s film prettifies him). Kyle wrote that everyone he killed deserved it, that he hated Iraqi “savages”, that he didn’t give a damn about Iraqis, and that he loved what he did—killing “bad guys.” He had a cross tattooed on his arm because he wanted people to know he was a Christian. He bragged about going to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and killing 30 “looters”—in other words, desperate people in New Orleans, Black people in particular, trying to survive. (Apparently this and other claims he makes in the book are lies.) Why would anyone not only choose to make a movie about someone who spouted this racist shit, but sanitize him on screen as well?
When NBC correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin dared criticize American Sniper, he received hundreds of vicious and racist death threats. Others who’ve spoken out against the film have received similar threats. This reaction points to the outlook, values, and social base being whipped up by the film.
American Sniper concentrates a key way the U.S. rulers have undercut the widespread unease and opposition to the ever-shifting mosaic of wars the U.S. is fighting in the Middle East, first Afghanistan and Iraq, then drones in Pakistan and Yemen, now back into Iraq and Syria, with upheaval and instability continuing to grow by leaps and bounds with no end in sight. They are working at this by focusing attention on the suffering, sacrifices, and “valor” of the troops carrying out their wars. Kyle is portrayed as complex and a humanitarian in many ways. He is willing to sacrifice himself for his buddies, to protect others. He even goes on patrols against the wishes of some in the chain of command; he doesn’t just hide in buildings and on rooftops. He’s shown having qualms about executing women and children.
The wrenching emotional, and humanizing, scenes are those between Kyle and his wife and Kyle and his buddies—never of any Iraqis—they’re just ciphers (dehumanized objects). In the warped and twisted logic and immorality of this movie, the tragedy isn’t that literally millions of Iraqis have either been killed or have had—and are continuing to have—their lives destroyed! It is that those who carry out this slaughter have their lives shattered. The tragedy is supposedly the suffering of the military occupying Iraq.
The message: Whatever one thinks of the war, the U.S. troops are good guys and everyone should support them. But this is just putting a human face on mass murder for empire. War criminals may love their families (or their pets). So what?
Let me pose it this way: A rapist may also love and “protect” his family—does that justify rape?
What does “supporting the troops” mean? It means supporting what they do. Why should anyone with a conscience support people who carry out war crimes in service of the obscene goal of violently maintaining a system of global exploitation, including the very system that shoots Black and Latino youths down in the streets and degrades and abuses women in a thousand ways?
Whatever their background or personal lives, these are not “our” troops—they’re cogs in a global military machine, the troops of the U.S. imperialist system. Whatever the soldiers thought they were doing—and no doubt the military hierarchy forcefully breaks down and brainwashes the troops and no doubt many are crippled mentally and/or physically by the war’s toll—the fact is they were carrying out an unjust and bloody war of conquest, suppressing any opposition, installing a new reactionary regime, and trying to turn Iraq into a neo-colony.
Those who, for whatever reason, have become part of that military machine should learn about its actual history and purpose, and repudiate and oppose it. Some heroic veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have done this. They’ve spoken out against and exposed the crimes committed by the U.S. military, and repudiated the war, including by some throwing their medals away. Why aren’t major movies being made about them? There are fleeting glimpses of antiwar sentiments in American Sniper, but the focus is on Eastwood’s portrayal of Chris Kyle—and he’s the polar opposite of the vets who’ve spoken out against the war and who’ve had real feelings for the people of Iraq.
Eastwood’s movie comes at a time of the explosive rise of reactionary Islamic fundamentalism and great peril and difficulty for the U.S. imperialists, in the Middle East in particular. Whatever his intent or understanding (in one interview he claimed showing the suffering of American soldiers is antiwar), American Sniper is a movie that whips up ideological and political support for America’s ongoing crimes against the peoples of that region.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
January 20, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On Wednesday, January 7, two gunmen associated with Islamic fundamentalist forces stormed into a meeting of the editorial board of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. They sprayed the room with bullets. Within minutes, a dozen editors, cartoonists, and others lay dead. Eleven more people were wounded in the attack, and four people died in an incident two days later where someone identifying with Jihadist forces took hostages at a Jewish store in Paris.
Millions of people—a collage of backgrounds and beliefs—took to the streets in outrage over the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. Jews, Muslims, Christians, and atheists marched together.
Profound questions are posed: Who, and what, is so afraid of parody that they would carry out a massacre of writers and editors in broad daylight? How can this kind of thing happen in this day and age? How can it be stopped? And what threads weave together the bloody conflicts that wrack so much of the world with the deaths in Paris? And what class outlooks—what underlying forces and interests—are behind the contending programs and solutions being proffered to the world.
Let’s not pull punches here: Any worldview that burns heretics at the stake, that issues fatwas against non-believers, or that murders those who ridicule it or its leaders and symbols is utterly illegitimate. Such outlooks cannot reveal, but can only obscure, the root sources of this planet’s cruel oppression and obscene inequalities, and do not offer any real alternative. They are thoroughly reactionary. The actions Islamic jihadists carry out—and the draconian fundamentalist religious law they impose where they are in control—are of a piece with a worldview born in the era of slavery, reflecting the outlook of slave masters and various feudal strata adapted to and, ironic as it might seem, given new life by a world dominated by tremendous social upheaval and misery churned up by modern forms of exploitation and oppression.
It is another bitter irony that Islamic fundamentalism, which arose with and represents exploiting classes, today appeals to and attracts some of those whose most fundamental interests—as a class of people—lie in overturning all forms of exploitation. Islamic fundamentalists find a hearing and attract followers from some of the most oppressed peoples in the modern-day ghettos of Europe, where immigrants are isolated and subjugated, and in the desperately poor slums of Third World megacities from Cairo to Kabul, because they appear to oppose oppressive powers that have dominated, exploited, plundered, and killed people for years, even centuries. But seeking order, solace, and some kind of pride in these old ways, which are rooted in oppressive relations between people, cannot emancipate anyone—not the most oppressed and downtrodden, and not humanity as a whole.
And the reality is that there is ANOTHER WAY to understand the world, and ANOTHER WAY the world can be that actually COULD liberate the oppressed, a way that corresponds to the interests of those in this world who have nothing, and corresponds to their collective—class—interest in getting to a world beyond exploitation and oppression of any kind. This is communist revolution—specifically the new stage of communism brought forward by Bob Avakian (BA). Get into what that is all about at www.revcom.us/avakian. Our Party is working hard to support efforts around the world to build a movement among these masses, and beyond, based on this.
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That’s one side of the equation. But also at work are the interests of the rulers of “The West”—essentially the representatives of Western imperialism. They are working hard to twist and warp correct outrage at the killings in Paris into agendas, and outlooks, that will tighten the chains of oppression around the world, and unleash new and worse rounds in a vicious clash of reactionary forces that will only tighten the chains of oppression and suffering.
And they are moving quickly to seize on the confusion they are promoting to implement vicious repression against immigrants in Europe, to justify new invasions, assassinations, and torture around the world, and to use this incident to rally people around the grotesque assertion that theirs is the best of all possible worlds.
In response to the killings at Charlie Hebdo, the leaders of the world’s “great powers” and their representatives placed themselves in the front row in the march in Paris. They are the greatest source of exploitation, oppression, misery, and repression on the planet. They brand themselves as global defenders of dissent, tolerance, and secularism, of the separation of church and state, and as the global champions of “democracy.”
Bob Avakian, who has brought forward a new, vital synthesis of communism, cut to the heart of what that democracy is all about:
The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism. (BAsics 1:3).
What the rulers of countries like the U.S. and France preach, practice, and impose is facilitating and enforcing the functioning of a global system of exploitation and oppression (capitalism-imperialism). A system of sweatshops and child labor, obscene inequalities, racism, oppression of women, and environmental devastation. What countries like the U.S. and France bring to the world is exploitation of the billions by the few, and the prisons, murdering police, and global military operations that enforce that exploitation, ideas that justify it, and structures (like the kind of elections they stage) that facilitate it.
The hypocrisy is obscene. These global powers embrace the fundamentalist rulers of Saudi Arabia—where creating a liberal blog is punished with 1,000 lashes of a whip and ten years in jail, and where, on January 19, a woman was publically beheaded by authorities—one of the policemen involved posted a video of the gruesome killing on YouTube (it was taken down by YouTube). The “outrage” expressed by rulers of countries like France over girls kidnapped by Boko Haram or religious minorities massacred by the Islamic State are contingent on if and how this or that outrage serves their economic, political, and military interests. Sometimes the interests of the imperialists lead them to integrate and operate through Islamic fundamentalists, sometimes those interests cause them to oppose the Islamic fundamentalists, but those calls are, again, based on their interests as capitalist-imperialist exploiters. Despite what the imperialist rulers claim, these decisions are never made on the basis of “freedom of expression.”
Look at who they linked arms with in Paris: the Saudi rulers, the Egyptian military tyrants, and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who is promoted by these “champions of tolerance and freedom” as the leader of the “sole democracy in the Middle East,” but who heads a state carrying out violent ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Palestinian people, and who last year directed the slaughter of 2,000 Palestinian people in Gaza—hundreds of them children.
The Western imperialists—those who rule countries like the U.S. and France—are seeking to rally people around their banner, to reinforce and influence people’s thinking in line with the notion that, with whatever flaws it might contain, theirs is the best of all possible systems, in particular in the way it allows for dissent and provides for the free expression of ideas, even unpopular ideas, in contrast with various Islamic fundamentalists and other “totalitarian” forces and regimes. But what is the reality of what their system is, and what it actually is grounded in?
In the eyes of capitalism, the capacity of human beings to build, to create, to think, to innovate... is simply a commodity to exploit, or to cast aside if those human beings can’t be integrated into the gears of exploitation. How much freedom of expression is there for a child picking her way through a garbage dump in a Third World megacity looking for food? For a young girl forced into prostitution? For sweatshop workers burned up in Bangladesh or whose youth is robbed from them in a Mexican maquiladora? (For more on the actual nature of what the rulers of countries like the United States and France bring to the world and enforce in their home countries, see “The Shameful Hypocrisy of ‘World Leaders’ Parading Around as Champions of Free Expression.”)
In short, the rulers of countries like France and the U.S. represent a global system of capitalism-imperialism that is the biggest source of misery, dehumanization, oppression, white supremacy, oppression of women, and oppression in general on earth. They enforce that system with massive militaries, invasions, prisons, killer cops, and torture chambers. They have no problem supporting, and carrying out repression and terror when it suits their interests, which is indeed almost all the time!!
And they are not a positive alternative to anything.
There is a deeper and more sinister dynamic at work between the “democracies of the West” as they proclaim themselves, and the forces of Islamic fundamentalist Jihad. The two reinforce each other, even as they are in conflict.
As capitalism-imperialism churns through vast swaths of Africa, the Middle East, and other regions, it uproots people from the land, from traditional communities and ways of life that at least seemed to be coherent and viable. Driven into megacities and slums, forced into sweatshops or prostitution, bombarded with the Internet but deprived of food, water, and shelter, and in the absence of a REAL alternative to the forces churning up their lives, people in what is called the “Islamic world” are driven to traditional values that seem to be in opposition to the forces of madness and oppression.
And in a world where the choices seem to be confined to McWorld/McCrusade vs. Jihad, every move to enforce structures and values that facilitate the operation of global capitalism-imperialism, every drone strike, every child murdered by an Israeli soldier, every “night raid” where U.S. soldiers murder, rape, and spread terror in an Afghan village feeds and serves to recruit new fighters for what seems to be the “opposite” force.
Conversely, every attack on iconoclastic journalists, “heretics,” or innocent people like the attacks in Paris, provides fuel for the rulers in “The West” to pose as champions of freedom of expression, opponents of theocracy. They invoke such incidents to supposedly justify intensified racial profiling, police-state raids, censorship, clampdowns, deportations, invasions, and to unleash virulent fascist forces.
Yes, every move by either side in this deadly equation strengthens the whole equation, and every time people on either side of the equation are suckered into identifying with or aligning with either side of this conflict, it strengthens both sides in this toxic clash.
Between these two utterly outmoded forces, it is Western capitalism-imperialism that is the primary instigator of the current situation—both through the “unconscious” workings of their system as it brings devastation, destruction, and, yes, literal slavery to the world; and through conscious policies in service of exploitation—particularly wars for empire—McCrusade to enforce a global system of imperialism.
This whole dynamic—with the clash of these “choices”—is insane. Really, the best anyone can aspire to is a world envisioned by, and enforced by either of these forces? It is long overdue that humanity burst out of the chains of both of these modes of organizing society, and thinking, and into a whole different kind of world!
For that to happen, starting right now, we must resist moves to manipulate entirely justified outrage into complicity or silent acquiescence to crimes being carried out by the very powers most responsible for the whole hellish situation the planet finds itself in. NO wars for empire! NO roundups and repression! NO racial profiling and unleashing of fascist dogs to attack immigrants or people from the Middle East.
And we must speak clearly: NO, your way of life is NOT the “best of all possible worlds.” It is a way of life that sucks the life and spirit from billions, is devastating the environment, and is enforced by drones and nukes, torture chambers and killer police. It is insanely and murderously ridiculous that THESE are the supposed choices, when humanity could actually be organized to end all exploitation, uproot all forms of oppression, and move to live in harmony with the environment?
There IS a REAL alternative: communist revolution. This communist revolution, as envisioned by BA, not only will “tolerate” dissent and “other voices,” it will encourage and value dissent, as it is only through dissent, struggle over what is true and right, that people can get to the truth and consciously change the world in the interests of humanity. You want a world where dissent and critical thinking are really valued? Then that’s one more reason to get with the communist revolution—to check out the work BA has done on this, to engage with it, and to work to bring it into being. You’ll find that work, and you can connect with it, at revcom.us.
A genuinely emancipating revolution—a communist revolution—involves millions and millions of people who are determined to bring about a radical change in society and the world. This communist revolution aims to overturn the grotesque and horrific systems and relations in the world that cause such untold and unnecessary suffering for literally billions throughout the globe, and which themselves also give rise to and are ultimately responsible for grotesque forms of opposition to this. The nature and aim of this revolutionary struggle is nothing less than the conscious and determined struggle of millions and ultimately billions, throughout the globe, to bring into being a whole new world without exploitation, oppression, and social inequalities.
A WHOLE VICIOUS CYCLE needs to be broken through—politically, morally, and on the ground. The events in Paris can in no way be seen as justifying yet more acts of aggression or repression—yet more drone bomber strikes against civilians, or other forms of aggression that take the lives of more innocent people, more repression against immigrants, more spying and surveillance—all or some of which is already being implemented “in response” to the Paris killings. People courageously taking a stand against all this can throw a wrench into attempts to channel people’s outrage in ways that will only make things worse. And people taking these stands will send out a message to people on the “other side” of the McWorld vs. Jihad divide that not everyone is going along with the program, and that something new and different must and can come forward in the midst of this madness.
As we wrote in the immediate aftermath of the killings and the French response: “What is urgently needed right now—in opposition to these kinds of harmful acts—is, in countries like the U.S. (and France) and all over the world, the building of massive political resistance and opposition to what the imperialists, led by the U.S. imperialists, are doing—the many crimes they have committed and are continuing to commit—and to the way in which they will seize on this incident to seek to justify and carry further these crimes. This should include resistance against repressive measures directed at immigrant communities and opposition to demonization of immigrants—measures and demonization which had been gaining momentum well before this incident.”
Such resistance can begin to create and contribute to a new situation, where people of the whole world see an alternative to the deadly “alternatives” of Islamic fundamentalism and Western imperialism, and conditions that make it possible for another way for humanity to become a powerful force, a real alternative to the world as it is. A world without exploitation, oppression, and social inequalities of any kind. A world where there are no borders between “have” and “have not” countries, no more degrading people because of what part of the world they live in or come from, no more oppression of women—either in violent degrading pornography or wrapping them in burqas—and where humans never again need to, want to, or do resort to bloodshed to enforce “might makes right,” but a global community of humankind—diverse and unique individuals doing their best to contribute their ideas and actions to a better world, without fear of reprisal or repression—working together to address the great challenges humanity faces.
Let’s start from that in how we understand, how we feel, and how we act in relation to the terrible events in France. And challenge others to do the same.
As you reflect on and share this article, send your thoughts and experiences to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
January 20, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On January 11, more than three million people took to the streets of France in sorrow and outrage to protest the massacre of journalists at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo by people identifying themselves as Islamic fundamentalists. This was a massive manifestation of a broadly felt and very justified sentiment: Nobody should be killed for journalistic or artistic expressions, even outrageous ones.
But when the leaders and representatives of France, the U.S., and their allies placed themselves at the head of the march of hundreds thousands in Paris, they had a very different agenda. Behind their rhetoric about “dissent” and “democracy,” was, and is, an outlook and agenda in service of capitalism-imperialism, a global system of exploitation and oppression. (See “Outrage in Paris, a World of Oppression, a Crying Need for Another Way.”)
That is why—ironic as it might seem—their immediate reaction to the attacks in France was to ban dissenting literature, lock people up for thought crimes, unleash the most ugly racism against immigrants, and institute police-state terror in the immigrant communities in France.
These “world leaders” represent governments responsible for censoring, blacklisting, driving into exile, jailing, and killing all kinds of dissident journalists and suppressing artistic and political expressions in their own countries and beyond. The imperialist rulers in the U.S. and other allied countries are seizing the moment to try to channel people’s legitimate outrage into support for the idea that their system—capitalism-imperialism and its “democracy”—is supposedly the best of all possible systems, in particular because it allows for dissent and free expression of ideas, even very unpopular ideas, in contrast to Islamic fundamentalism and other “totalitarian” forces and regimes.
British Prime Minister Cameron, for example, declared in his statement on the events in Paris, “We stand squarely for free speech and democracy. These people will never be able to take us off those values.” But it’s blatant hypocrisy for those like Cameron to parade around as champions of free expression. Cameron himself is the head of the government that forced the Guardian newspaper to destroy computer hard drives that stored the files from Edward Snowden, who had exposed the massive spying conducted worldwide by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), with close cooperation from Britain’s security agency.1
In France, in the name of “security,” the government has launched a sweeping crackdown on unpopular viewpoints—including the arrest of a well-known comedian for a Facebook post along with dozens of others for statements deemed “hate speech” or supporting terrorism.2
Another official at the head of the Paris march was Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, the main enforcer for U.S. imperialist interests in the Middle East. The Israeli state has systematically murdered journalists who expose or simply report on Israel’s genocidal attacks on Palestinians. In summer 2014, for example, Israeli troops killed at least seven journalists and media workers who were covering Israel’s massacre in Gaza that killed over 2,000 people.3
Two other key allies of the U.S. and European imperialists, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, rank near the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index published by the group Reporters Without Borders.4
Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill (in his book and film Dirty Wars) has exposed how U.S. President Barack Obama himself issued direct orders to the U.S.-backed government in Yemen that led to the four-year imprisonment of Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye for having reported on secret U.S. drone strikes that killed scores of civilians.
And there is a long history of vicious repression to silence dissent and suppress oppositional political and cultural expressions within the U.S. Just to cite a very few examples among many, many outrages:
Books can be filled with example after example of such suppression of speech and activity supposedly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. And the same thing is true in all the other imperialist democracies.
So it is incredibly hypocritical for the U.S. and its allies to proclaim to be upholders and guarantors of freedom of the press and expression. But this is not just a matter of hypocrisy or the result of “rogue” government officials or police/FBI/CIA “running amok”—there is something deeper at work.
The reality is that the system that exists in the U.S. (and in France, Britain, etc.) is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie—the class of exploiters and oppressors who control the economy and the state (the military, police, courts, and laws) and who sit atop a whole global empire. As Bob Avakian analyzed in his work Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? (cited in a more recent work, Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy):
the much-vaunted freedom of expression in the “democratic countries” is not in opposition to but is encompassed by and confined within the actual exercise of dictatorship by the bourgeoisie. This is for two basic reasons—because the ruling class has a monopoly on the means of molding public opinion and because its monopoly of armed forces puts it in a position to suppress, as violently as necessary, any expression of ideas, as well as any action, that poses a serious challenge to the established order. What Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto is more true than ever in today’s conditions: “The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.”
As shown by the police crackdowns against the Occupy movement and the current nationwide protests against murders, and by the other examples cited earlier—the powers-that-be bring down the repressive hammer whenever they face opposition that pose a challenge to their rule and legitimacy. Aside from police attacks on protests, it is very heavy and serious that especially after 9/11, the rulers have been openly trampling on what are supposed to be basic Constitutional rights—such as the ban on “unreasonable searches”—to fortify their repressive machinery. And for those at the bottom of society, especially Black and Latino people, “normal” life—let alone when they speak out or step out in any way against the way things are—means constantly facing the threat of incarceration and being under the gun of the police, La Migra, and racist vigilantes.
The U.S. and its imperialist allies have had relative social stability within their “home countries,” and in connection with this there has been allowance for certain forms of dissent, oppositional viewpoints, and political protest. The imperialists point to this, and the separation of church and state that generally exist in their countries, as proof of how qualitatively “freer” their system is in contrast to societies based on the doctrines and tenets of Islam.
But first of all, this separation of church and state is relative—fascistic Christian fundamentalists are a powerful force at the top levels of the U.S. ruling class, within the structures of the military, and in society generally. And this relative separation of church and state is tied in with the historical development of the U.S. and a handful of other countries into imperialist powers that dominate, exploit and oppress the majority of the world’s countries and people. The allowance for expressions of opposition is also within very definite limits—as we pointed out earlier.
And the relative stability of the imperialist “home countries,” in particular for the U.S. rulers, rests on their position as the top-dog power in the world capitalist-imperialist order—on the most ruthless exploitation and political repression of people worldwide. It rests on the imperialist globalization that has caused massive dislocation and social upheaval, like the expulsion of millions of people from their land in Mexico as the U.S. more thoroughly dominates that country—resulting in many of those millions being forced to make the dangerous border crossing into the U.S. where they are ruthlessly exploited in the factories, fields, and restaurants... It rests on enormous profit-making enterprises like the mining of coltan, a mineral essential to manufacture of cell phones, in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, where miners work under deadly slave-like conditions... It rests on totally unnecessary outrages like the deaths of 10 million children a year from hunger and preventable diseases... It rests on the degrading subjugation of and intensifying violence against half of humanity, including the international “trade” in women and child sex slaves... It rests on U.S. assassinations by drones (and murder of children and others counted as “collateral damage”), invasions, and occupation around the world, as well as backing for murderous regimes that carry out torture and other crimes on behalf of the imperialist godfather...
These and countless other horrors—causing immense suffering for billions of people in the oppressed countries as well as within the imperialist citadels—are what lie at the foundation of the capitalist-imperialist system. This is the reality behind the shameless posturing of the U.S. and its fellow imperialist godfathers as “champions of free expression.”
It would be deadly for people to allow their sorrow and outrage at the attacks in Paris to be steered into support for these imperialist monsters. The world today is marked by highly lopsided relations, dominated by these imperialist countries (with the U.S. as the most powerful among them), while the great majority of the countries and people in the world are caught in a web of extreme poverty as well as dislocation and upheaval.
Bob Avakian (BA) has analyzed that one key expression of this situation is the mutually reinforcing opposition between imperialism and its globalizing effects on one hand, and Islamic fundamentalism on the other. (See, for example, Away With All Gods!, in particular the section titled “Religious Fundamentalism, Imperialism, and the ‘War on Terror’”). And as BA points out:
What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these “outmodeds,” you end up strengthening both.
While this is a very important formulation and is crucial to understanding much of the dynamics driving things in the world in this period, at the same time we do have to be clear about which of these “historically outmodeds” has done the greater damage and poses the greater threat to humanity: It is the historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system, and in particular the U.S. imperialists.
1. “Smashing of Guardian hard drives over Snowden story ‘sinister’, says Amnesty,” The Guardian, August 21, 2013 [back]
2. “France Arrests a Comedian for His Facebook Comments, Showing the Sham of the West’s ‘Free Speech’ Celebration,“” Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, January 14, 2014 [back]
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
Excerpt from AWAY WITH ALL GODS! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian
October 7, 2007 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Editors' Note: The following is an excerpt from the book AWAY WITH ALL GODS! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, by Bob Avakian (available from Insight Press). The book was published in 2008.
Here it is important to answer the argument that is not infrequently made—including by people whose stance is to oppose religion in general—that while all religious fundamentalism is bad and harmful, there is something particularly evil and dangerous about Islamic fundamentalism. This, for example, is the position of Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation; and it is the stand rather obviously and quite aggressively insisted on by Christopher Hitchens, whose recent book, and in a concentrated way its title, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, encapsulates the contradiction I am speaking to here. On the one hand, as expressed in the secondary part of the title, Hitchens' book is a broadside against religion in general; but the first, and main, part of the title involves—and is no doubt meant to involve—a very definite salvo directed against Islam in particular: it is a "negative echo," so to speak, of the common Islamic invocation: God is Great. It is not hard to see how this position dovetails rather neatly with that of the Bush regime and the U.S. imperialists in general with their "war on terror" and its declared target of "Islamic extremists."
To begin with, from what has been shown so far, it should be very clear that, with regard to the scriptures and the religious tradition of Christianity there is no basis for arguing that it is, in any fundamental or essential sense, different from or better than Islam. Any attempt to take this up and apply it—and still more to impose and enforce it—in a literalist sense, insisting that it is the "inerrant word of God" which must be followed to the letter, as the Christian fundamentalists do, can indeed only lead to horrors of the greatest magnitude. Once more, all this is something which humanity needs to move beyond and forever leave behind.
Perhaps in recognition of the reality that there is nothing to choose between Islamic fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism, as such and on the level of the literal word, a common component of the position that somehow Islamic fundamentalism is worse than fundamentalist Christianity is the argument that, yes, the latter may be just as awful in its content, but particularly in a country like the U.S.—where it is increasingly hard to ignore or deny that Christian fundamentalism is a major phenomenon—the effect it can have and the danger it poses is restrained and mitigated by the fact that one of the pillars of Constitutional government in this country is the separation of church and state. Well, first of all, that separation, while real, has always been anything but absolute; and, moreover, it is a separation that is under concerted attack by the Christian fundamentalists and powerful forces in the ruling class representing, or allied with, these fundamentalists (while the sections of the ruling class that are not themselves advocates of this religious fundamentalism are at great pains to compromise and conciliate with it and to promote religion in public life—witness, as just one example, the repeated professions of profound religious faith on the part of every major candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination). The danger posed by theocratic Christian Fascists—and the lack of any real ruling class opposition to this—is very real. And this assault on the separation of church and state has not at all been rendered toothless, or strategically weakened, by the fact that Bush has become an extremely unpopular president.1
Generally speaking (although not uniformly so) it is true that in the parts of the world where Islam is the dominant religion, there has not been the same phenomenon of a bourgeois-democratic transformation of society that has occurred in countries like the U.S., in which one of the main aspects of that transformation has been a (relative) separation of church and state. The prevailing, and institutionalized, doctrine and tenets of Islam reject a separation between religion, on the one hand, and politics and the law, on the other hand, as well as between religion and what is generally referred to as "civil society". But that has been true of Christianity, and the states where Christianity has been the dominant religion, for most of their history—and it is only a relatively recent period, historically speaking, that has seen a change in this, through the kind of bourgeois-democratic transformation to which I have referred. And it is important to recognize that, as a rule, it is those countries which have undergone such a bourgeois-democratic transformation, as part of the emergence and triumph of the capitalist system, which have developed into imperialist powers, and whose imperialist conquest and domination of countries throughout the Third World, including those where Islam is the dominant religion, has been a major factor in obstructing, in those countries, the kind of transformation that would involve the separation of church and state. The relative "backwardness" of those Third World countries has repeatedly been invoked as justification for colonialism and imperialist conquest. And, in turn, this imperialist conquest and exploitation, with all the consequences it has led to, including the installing and backing of corrupt and tyrannical "local governments" and the devastation of much of the way of life and the living conditions of the large majority of the population, has actually strengthened tendencies which identify ideas associated with "the West"—such as the progressive aspects of the Enlightenment, with its spur to critical thinking, its challenging of religious dogma, and its contribution to the separation of politics from official religion—as alien and antagonistic to the needs of the people.
This speaks to the argument that is also frequently raised that, even if it is true that the ideas embodied in Christian fundamentalism are every bit as bad as those of Islamic fundamentalism, there is a great difference in that Christian fundamentalists do not go around blowing up people and buildings and generally engaging in terrorist activity, while such activity is common among Islamic fundamentalists. Besides the fact that Christian fundamentalists have indeed engaged in acts of terror, including within the U.S.—such as the bombing of clinics where abortions are performed and the murder of doctors who perform abortions—and that Christian fundamentalist forces are being "primed" to carry out reactionary violence on a much greater scale, should that be deemed necessary by those for whom they are in fact being readied as shock and storm troops—there is the reality that, up to this point, violence which serves ends that are passionately supported by the Christian Fascist fundamentalists has been carried out on a massive scale by the imperialist ruling class of the U.S., utilizing the armed forces and police of the imperialist state—with more of that violence currently being threatened (such as an attack on Iran, in addition to the wars presently being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan). And one of the distinguishing features of those armed forces in this period is precisely that they are being increasingly influenced by, and even indoctrinated with, a fundamentalist Christian Fascist outlook, from the top levels of the military on down.2 Therefore, up until now at least, there has not been a need or compulsion among Christian Fascist fundamentalists to engage in terrorist activity and reactionary violence on a large scale, separately from the "official" armed forces and police of the ruling class—although, again, it has certainly been carried out by Christian Fascists on a smaller scale and there is definitely the potential for this to be carried out on a much wider scale.
All this, once again, is a reflection of the "lopsided" relations of a world which is dominated by a handful of imperialist countries, and one imperialist superpower in particular at this time, while the great majority of countries, and of people, in the world, and particularly in the Third World, endure extreme conditions of poverty, exploitation, massive dislocation and upheaval—all enforced on the basis of imperialist rule.
In today's world, a particular expression of these contradictions is the mutually reinforcing opposition between imperialist globalization and its effects, on the one hand, and Jihadist Islamic fundamentalism on the other hand. Utilizing a phrase (actually a book title) from Benjamin R. Barber, who refers to the phenomenon of "Jihad vs. McWorld," and expanding on this to include the element in which Christian Fascist fundamentalism is in fact a significant element within the prevailing program and ideology of the imperialist ruling class of the U.S., I have put it this way:
What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these 'outmodeds,' you ended up strengthening both.
This speaks precisely to what is wrong with the position that somehow Islamic fundamentalism is worse than Christian Fundamentalism and to how that position lends support to the "historically outmoded ruling class of the imperialist system." And, as I have also emphasized in relation to these "two outmodeds":
it is important to be clear about which has done and continues to do the greater damage, which has posed and does pose the greater threat to humanity. Clearly, and by far, it is "the ruling strata of the imperialist system."
It is interesting, I recently heard about a comment that someone made relating to this, which I do think is correct and getting at something important. In relation to these "two historically outmodeds," they made the point: "You could say that the Islamic fundamentalist forces in the world would be largely dormant if it weren't for what the U.S. and its allies have done and are doing in the world—but you cannot say the opposite." There is a profound truth captured in that statement.
As a matter of general principle, and specifically sitting in this imperialist country, we have a particular responsibility to oppose U.S. imperialism, our "own" ruling class, and what it is doing in the world. But, at the same time, that doesn't make these Islamic fundamentalist forces not historically outmoded and not reactionary. It doesn't change the character of their opposition to imperialism and what it leads to and the dynamic that it's part of—the fact that these two "historically outmodeds" do reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. And it is very important to understand, and to struggle for others to understand, that if you end up supporting either one of these two "historically outmodeds," you contribute to strengthening both. It is crucial to break out of that dynamic—to bring forward another way." (See Bringing Forward Another Way)
1. Besides what I, and our Party generally, have been doing to call attention to and build opposition to Christian Fascism, a number of others have also, from various points of view, been giving emphasis to the dangers posed by right-wing Christian fundamentalists. See, for example, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, by Chris Hedges; The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us, by Rabbi James Rudin; The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege, by Damon Linker; Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, by Michelle Goldberg; With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy, and Democracy in George W. Bush's White House, by Esther Kaplan; and Contempt: How the Right Is Wronging American Justice, by Catherine Crier. [back]
2. Regarding the influence of Christian Fascism within the U.S. military (and in particular its higher ranks), in addition to the continuing exposure and analysis of this which is found in Revolution newspaper (available at revcom.us), see for example Making the Corps, by Thomas Ricks (Scribner, 1997), and Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, by Mark Bowden (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999)—both of which were written before the advent of the Bush Presidency which has been marked by an increasing growth of and support for Christian fundamentalism within the U.S. military. Also, a very relevant phenomenon in regard to all this is the emergence of “private” military organizations, such as Blackwater, which has played a very significant, and very brutal, role in the U.S. occupation of Iraq, as well as within the U.S. itself—for example, New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And it is worth noting that Blackwater itself is characterized by a fundamentalist Christian Fascist worldview and ethos. [back]
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
November 4, 2013, originally published October 14, 2007 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
We are highlighting this week the following excerpt from Bob Avakian's book Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, Chapter 2, "Christianity, Judaism, and Isla—-Rooted in the Past, Standing in the Way of the Future." The book was published in 2008.
Among the most distinguishing features of today’s situation are the leaps that are occurring in globalization, linked to an accelerating process of capitalist accumulation in a world dominated by the capitalist-imperialist system. This has led to significant, and often dramatic, changes in the lives of huge numbers of people, often undermining traditional relations and customs. Here I will focus on the effects of this in the Third World—the countries of Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East—and the ways in which this has contributed to the current growth of religious fundamentalism there.
Throughout the Third World people are being driven in the millions each year away from the farmlands, where they have lived and tried to eke out an existence under very oppressive conditions but now can no longer do even that: they are being thrown into the urban areas, most often into the sprawling shantytowns, ring after ring of slums, that surround the core of the cities. For the first time in history, it is now the case that half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, including these massive and ever-growing shantytowns.
Being uprooted from their traditional conditions—and the traditional forms in which they have been exploited and oppressed—masses of people are being hurled into a very insecure and unstable existence, unable to be integrated, in any kind of “articulated way,” into the economic and social fabric and functioning of society. In many of these Third World countries, a majority of the people in the urban areas work in the informal economy—for example, as small-scale peddlers or traders, of various kinds, or in underground and illegal activity. To a significant degree because of this, many people are turning to religious fundamentalism to try to give them an anchor, in the midst of all this dislocation and upheaval.
An additional factor in all this is that, in the Third World, these massive and rapid changes and dislocations are occurring in the context of domination and exploitation by foreign imperialists—and this is associated with “local” ruling classes which are economically and politically dependent on and subordinate to imperialism, and are broadly seen as the corrupt agents of an alien power, who also promote the “decadent culture of the West.” This, in the short run, can strengthen the hand of fundamentalist religious forces and leaders who frame opposition to the “corruption” and “Western decadence” of the local ruling classes, and the imperialists to which they are beholden, in terms of returning to, and enforcing with a vengeance, traditional relations, customs, ideas and values which themselves are rooted in the past and embody extreme forms of exploitation and oppression.
Where Islam is the dominant religion—in the Middle East but also countries such as Indonesia—this is manifested in the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. In much of Latin America, where Christianity, particularly in the form of Catholicism, has been the dominant religion, the growth of fundamentalism is marked by a situation where significant numbers of people, in particular poor people, who have come to feel that the Catholic Church has failed them, are being drawn into various forms of protestant fundamentalism, such as Pentecostalism, which combines forms of religious fanaticism with a rhetoric that claims to speak in the name of the poor and oppressed. In parts of Africa as well, particularly among masses crowded into the shantytown slums, Christian fundamentalism, including Pentecostalism, has been a growing phenomenon, at the same time as Islamic fundamentalism has been growing in other parts of Africa. 1
But the rise of fundamentalism is also owing to major political changes, and conscious policy and actions on the part of the imperialists in the political arena, which have had a profound impact on the situation in many countries in the Third World, including in the Middle East. As one key dimension of this, it is very important not to overlook or to underestimate the impact of the developments in China since the death of Mao Tsetung and the complete change in that country, from one that was advancing on the road of socialism to one where in fact capitalism has been restored and the orientation of promoting and supporting revolution, in China and throughout the world, has been replaced by one of seeking to establish for China a stronger position within the framework of world power politics dominated by imperialism. This has had a profound effect—negatively—in undermining, in the shorter term, the sense among many oppressed people, throughout the world, that socialist revolution offered the way out of their misery and in creating more ground for those, and in particular religious fundamentalists, who seek to rally people behind something which in certain ways is opposing the dominant oppressive power in the world but which itself represents a reactionary worldview and program.
This phenomenon is reflected in the comments of a “terrorism expert” who observed about some people recently accused of terrorist acts in England that, a generation ago, these people would have been Maoists. Now, despite the fact that the aims and strategy, and the tactics, of genuine Maoists—people guided by communist ideology—are radically different from those of religious fundamentalists and that communists reject, in principle, terrorism as a method and approach, there is something real and important in this “terrorism expert’s” comments: a generation ago many of the same youths and others who are, for the time being, drawn toward Islamic and other religious fundamentalisms, would instead have been drawn toward the radically different, revolutionary pole of communism. And this phenomenon has been further strengthened by the demise of the Soviet Union and the “socialist camp” that it headed. In reality, the Soviet Union had ceased to be socialist since the time, in the mid-1950s, when revisionists (communists in name but capitalists in fact) seized the reins of power and began running the country in accordance with capitalist principles (but in the form of state capitalism and with a continuing “socialist” camouflage). But by the 1990s, the leaders of the Soviet Union began to openly discard socialism, and then the Soviet Union itself was abolished and Russia and the other countries that had been part of the Soviet “camp” abandoned any pretense of “socialism.”
All this—and, in relation to it, a relentless ideological offensive by the imperialists and their intellectual camp followers—has led to the notion, widely propagated and propagandized, of the defeat and demise of communism and, for the time being, the discrediting of communism among broad sections of people, including among those restlessly searching for a way to fight back against imperialist domination, oppression and degradation. 2
But it is not only communism that the imperialists have worked to defeat and discredit. They have also targeted other secular forces and governments which, to one degree or another, have opposed, or objectively constituted obstacles to, the interests and aims of the imperialists, particularly in parts of the world that they have regarded as of strategic importance. For example, going back to the 1950s, the U.S. engineered a coup that overthrew the nationalist government of Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran, because that government’s policies were viewed as a threat to the control of Iran’s oil by the U.S. (and secondarily the British) and to U.S. domination of the region more broadly. This has had repercussions and consequences for decades since then. Among other things, it has contributed to the growth of Islamic fundamentalism and the eventual establishment of an Islamic Republic in Iran, when Islamic fundamentalists seized power in the context of a mass upheaval of the Iranian people in the late 1970s, which led to the overthrow of the highly repressive government of the Shah of Iran, who had been backed and in fact maintained in power by the U.S. since the ouster of Mossadegh. 3
In other parts of the Middle East, and elsewhere, over the past several decades the imperialists have also consciously set out to defeat and decimate even nationalist secular opposition; and, in fact, they have at times consciously fed the growth of religious fundamentalist forces. Palestine is a sharp example of this: Islamic fundamentalist forces there were actually aided by Israel—and the U.S. imperialists, for whom Israel acts as an armed garrison—in order to undermine the more secular Palestine Liberation Organization. In Afghanistan, particularly during the Soviet occupation of that country in the 1980s, the U.S. backed and provided arms to the Islamic fundamentalist Mujahadeen, because it was recognized that they would be fanatical fighters against the Soviets. Other forces, including not only more secular nationalists but Maoists, opposed the Soviet occupation and the puppet governments it installed in Afghanistan, but of course the Maoists in particular were not supported by the U.S., and in fact many of them were killed by the “Jihadist” Islamic fundamentalists that the U.S. was aiding and arming.
In Egypt, going back to the 1950s, there was the whole phenomenon of the popular nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, and of “Nasserism,” a form of Arab nationalism which wasn’t limited to Egypt but whose influence was very widespread after Nasser came to power in Egypt. In 1956 a crisis developed when Nasser acted to assert more control over the Suez Canal; and Israel, along with France and England—still not fully resigned to the loss of their large colonial empires—moved together in opposition to Nasser. Now, as an illustration of the complexity of things, in that “Suez crisis,” the U.S. opposed Israel, France and Britain. The U.S. motive was not to support Arab nationalism or Nasser in particular, but to further supplant the European imperialists who had previously colonized these parts of the world. To look briefly at the background of this, in the aftermath of World War 1, with the defeat of the old Ottoman Empire, centered in Turkey, France and England basically divided up the Middle East between them—some of it was allotted to the French sphere of influence, as essentially French colonies, and other parts were under British control. But then after World War 2—through which Japan as well as Germany and Italy were thoroughly defeated, and countries like France and Britain were weakened, while the U.S. was greatly strengthened—the U.S. moved to create a new order in the world and, as part of that, to impose in the Third World, in place of the old-line colonialism, a new form of colonialism (neo-
colonialism) through which the U.S. would maintain effective control of countries and their political structures and economic life, even where they became formally independent. And, as part of this, Israel was made to find its place in relation to the now more fully realized and aggressively asserted American domination in the Middle East.
But, out of his stand in what became the “Suez crisis,” and as a result of other nationalist moves, Nasser and “Nasserism” developed a widespread following in the Arab countries in particular. In this situation, the U.S., while not seeking overtly to overthrow Nasser, worked to undermine Nasserism and generally more secular forces—including, obviously, communist forces—that were opposed to, or stood in the way of, U.S. imperialism. And, especially after the 1967 war, in which Israel defeated surrounding Arab states and seized additional Palestinian territory (now generally referred to as the “occupied territories,” outside of the state of Israel which itself rests on land stolen from the Palestinians), Israel has been firmly backed by and has acted as a force on behalf of U.S. imperialism.
Defeat at the hands of Israel in the 1967 war contributed significantly to a decline in the stature and influence of Nasser and Nasserism—and similar, more or less secular, leaders and trends—among the people in the Middle East; and by the time of his death in 1970, Nasser had already begun to lose a significant amount of his luster in the eyes of the Arab masses.
Here again we can see another dimension to the complexity of things. The practical defeats and failure of Nasser had the effect of undermining, in the eyes of increasing numbers of people, the legitimacy, or viability, of what Nasser represented ideologically. Now, the fact is that “Nasserism” and similar ideological and political trends, do not represent, and cannot lead to, a thorough rupture with imperialist domination and all forms of the oppression and exploitation of the people. But that is something which has to be, and is in fact, established by a scientific analysis of what is represented by such ideologies and programs and what they aim to achieve, and are actually capable of achieving; it is not proven by the fact that, in certain particular instances or even over a certain limited period of time, the leaders personifying and seeking to implement such ideologies and programs suffer setbacks and defeats. In the ways in which masses of people in the Arab countries (and more broadly) responded to such setbacks and defeats, on the part of Nasser and those more or less representing the same ideology and program, there was a definite element of pragmatism—the notion that, even in the short run, what prevails is true and good, and what suffers losses is flawed and bankrupt. And, of course, a spontaneous tendency toward such pragmatism, among the masses of people, has been reinforced by the verdicts pronounced by the imperialists and other reactionaries—not only, of course, in relation to secular forces such as Nasser but, even more so, in relation to communists and communism, which represent a much more fundamental opposition to imperialism and reaction.
In all this it is important to keep in mind that over a number of decades, and at least until very recently, the U.S. and Israel have worked to undermine secular forces among the opposition to them in the Middle East (and elsewhere) and have at least objectively favored, where they have not deliberately fostered, the growth of Islamic fundamentalist forces. During the “Cold War,” this was, to a significant degree, out of a calculation that these Islamic fundamentalists would be much less likely to align themselves with the Soviet camp. And, to no small degree, this favoring of religious fundamentalists over more secular forces has been motivated by the recognition of the inherently conservative, indeed reactionary, essence of this religious fundamentalism, and the fact that, to a significant degree, it can act as a useful foil for the imperialists (and Israel) in presenting themselves as an enlightened, democratic force for progress.
Now, one of the ironies of this whole experience is that Nasser, and other Arab nationalist heads of state, viciously and murderously suppressed not only Islamic fundamentalist opposition (such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) but also communists. But, with what has taken place on the world stage, so to speak, in recent decades—including what has happened in China and the Soviet Union (as discussed above) and the widely propagated verdict that this represents the “defeat” of communism; the seizure of power in Iran by Islamic fundamentalists, with the fall of the Shah of Iran in the late 1970s; the resistance to the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, which by the late 1980s forced a Soviet withdrawal and contributed significantly to the downfall of the Soviet Union itself; and the setbacks and defeats for more or less secular rulers like Nasser (and more recently someone like Saddam Hussein) in the Middle East and elsewhere—it has, in the short term, been the Islamic fundamentalists, much more than revolutionaries and communists, who have been able to regroup, and to experience a significant growth in influence and organized strength.
Another example of this whole trajectory, from the 1950s to the present time—which illustrates, in very stark and graphic terms, the points being made above—is the country of Indonesia. During the 1950s and 1960s Indonesia had the third largest communist party in the world (only in the Soviet Union and China were the communist parties larger). The Indonesian Communist Party had a massive following among the poor in the urban areas (whose slums, in the city of Jakarta and elsewhere, were already legendary, in the negative sense) as well as among the peasants in the countryside and sections of the intellectuals and even some more nationalist bourgeois strata. Unfortunately, the Indonesian Communist Party also had a very eclectic line—a mixed bag of communism and revisionism, of seeking revolutionary change but also trying to work through parliamentary means within the established government structures.
The government at that time was headed by the nationalist leader Achmed Sukarno. Now, an important insight into this was provided as part of a visit I made to China in the 1970s, during which some members of the Chinese Communist Party talked about the experience of the Indonesian Communist Party, and they specifically recounted: We used to struggle with comrade Aidit (the head of the Indonesian Communist Party during the period of Sukarno’s government); we warned him about what could happen as a result of trying to have one foot in communism and revolution and one foot in reformism and revisionism. But the Indonesian Communist Party persisted on the same path, with its eclectic approach; and in 1965 the U.S., through the CIA, working with the Indonesian military and a leading general, Suharto, carried out a bloody coup, in which hundreds of thousands of Indonesian communists, and others, were massacred, the Communist Party of Indonesia was thoroughly decimated, and at the same time Sukarno was ousted as the head of government and replaced by Suharto.
In the course of this coup, the rivers around Jakarta became clogged with the bodies of the victims: the reactionaries would kill people, alleged or actual communists, and throw their bodies, in massive numbers, into the rivers. And, in a phenomenon that is all too familiar, once this coup—which the CIA led, organized and engineered—was unleashed and carried out, all kinds of people who were involved in personal or family disputes and feuds would start accusing other people of being communists and turning them into the authorities, with the result that a lot of people who weren’t even communists got slaughtered, along with many who were. Once the imperialists and reactionaries unleashed this blood-letting, this encouraged and gave impetus to, and swept many people up in, a kind of bloodlust of revenge. The CIA openly brags about how they not only organized and orchestrated this coup but also specifically targeted several thousand of the leading communists and got rid of them directly, within this larger massacre of hundreds of thousands.
The fundamental problem with the strategy of the Indonesian Communist Party was that the nature of the state—and in particular the military—had not changed: the parliament was to a large degree made up of nationalists and communists, but the state was still in the hands of the reactionary classes; and because their control of the state had never been broken, and the old state apparatus in which they maintained control was never shattered and dismantled, Suharto and other reactionary forces were able, working together with and under the direction of the CIA, to pull off this bloody coup, with its terrible consequences.
In this regard, another anecdote that was recounted by members of the Chinese Communist Party is very telling and poignant. They told a story about how Sukarno had a scepter that he used to carry around, and the Chinese officials who met with him asked him, “What is this scepter you carry around?” And Sukarno replied: “This scepter represents state power.” Well, the Chinese comrades telling this story summed up, after the coup “Sukarno still had the scepter, they let him keep that, but he didn’t have any state power.”
The Indonesian Communist Party was all but totally wiped out, physically—its membership was virtually exterminated, with only a few remnants of it here and there—a devastating blow from which it has never recovered. And the decimation was not only in literal and physical terms but also was expressed in ideological and political defeat, disorientation and demoralization. Over the decades since then, what has happened in Indonesia? One of the most striking developments is the tremendous growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Indonesia. The communist alternative was wiped out. In its place—in part being consciously fostered by the imperialists and other reactionary forces, but partly growing on its own momentum in the context where a powerful secular and, at least in name, communist opposition had been destroyed—Islamic fundamentalism filled the vacuum that had been left by the lack of a real alternative to the highly oppressive rule of Suharto and his cronies that was installed and kept in power for decades by the U.S. 4
All this—what has taken place in Indonesia, as well as in Egypt, Palestine and other parts of the Middle East—is a political dimension which has been combined with the economic and social factors mentioned above—the upheaval and volatility and rapid change imposed from the top and seemingly coming from unknown and/or alien and foreign sources and powers—to undermine and weaken secular, including genuinely revolutionary and communist, forces and to strengthen Islamic fundamentalism (in a way similar to how Christian fundamentalism has been gaining strength in Latin America and parts of Africa).
This is obviously a tremendously significant phenomenon. It is a major part of the objective reality that people throughout the world who are seeking to bring about change in a progressive direction—and still more those who are striving to achieve truly radical change guided by a revolutionary and communist outlook—have to confront and transform. And in order to do that, it is necessary, first of all, to seriously engage and understand this reality, rather than remaining dangerously ignorant of it, or adopting an orientation of stubbornly ignoring it. It is necessary, and indeed crucial, to dig down beneath the surface of this phenomenon and its various manifestations, to grasp more deeply what are the underlying and driving dynamics in all this—what are the fundamental contradictions and what are the particular expressions of fundamental and essential contradictions, on a world scale and within particular countries and regions in the world—that this religious fundamentalism is the expression of, and how, on the basis of that deeper understanding, a movement can be developed to win masses of people away from this and to something which can actually bring about a radically different and much better world.
There is a definite tendency among those who are “people of the Enlightenment,” shall we say—including, it must be said, some communists—to fall into what amounts to a smugly arrogant attitude toward religious fundamentalism and religion in general. Because it seems so absurd, and difficult to comprehend, that people living in the 21st century can actually cling to religion and in fact adhere, in a fanatical and absolutist way, to dogmas and notions that are clearly without any foundation in reality, it is easy to dismiss this whole phenomenon and fail to recognize, or to correctly approach, the fact that this is indeed taken very seriously by masses of people. And this includes more than a few people among the lower, deeper sections of the proletariat and other oppressed people who need to be at the very base and bedrock of—and be a driving force within—the revolution that can actually lead to emancipation.
It is a form of contempt for the masses to fail to take seriously the deep belief that many of them have in religion, including religious fundamentalism of one kind or another, just as tailing after the fact that many believe in these things and refusing to struggle with them to give this up is also in reality an expression of contempt for them. The hold of religion on masses of people, including among the most oppressed, is a major shackle on them, and a major obstacle to mobilizing them to fight for their own emancipation and to be emancipators of all humanity—and it must be approached, and struggled against, with that understanding, even as, at any given time, it is necessary, possible, and crucial, in the fight against injustice and oppression, to unite as broadly as possible with people who continue to hold religious beliefs.
Another strange, or peculiar, expression of contradictions in the world today is that, on the one hand, there is all this highly developed technology and sophisticated technique in fields such as medicine and other spheres, including information technology (and, even taking account that large sections of the population in many parts of the world, and significant numbers even within the “technologically advanced” countries, still do not have access to this advanced technology, growing numbers of people actually do have access to the Internet and to the extensive amounts of information available through the Internet, and in other ways) and yet, at the same time, there is the tremendous growth of, let’s call it what it is: organized ignorance, in the form of religion and religious fundamentalism in particular. This appears as not only a glaring but a strange contradiction: so much technology and knowledge on the one hand, and yet on the other hand so much widespread ignorance and belief in, and retreat into, obscurantist superstition.
Well, along with analyzing this in terms of the economic, social and political factors that have given rise to this (to which I have spoken above) another, and even more basic, way of understanding this is that it is an extremely acute expression in today’s world of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism: the contradiction between highly socialized production and private (capitalist) appropriation of what is produced.
Where does all this technology come from? On what basis has it been produced? And speaking specifically of the dissemination of information, and the basis for people to acquire knowledge—what is that founded on? All the technology that exists—and, for that matter, the wealth that has been created—has been produced in socialized forms by millions and millions of people through an international network of production and exchange; but all this takes place under the command of a relative handful of capitalists, who appropriate the wealth produced—and appropriate the knowledge produced as well—and bend it to their purposes.
What is this an illustration of? It is, for one thing, a refutation of the “theory of the productive forces,” which argues that the more technology you have, the more enlightenment there will be, more or less directly in relation to that technology—and which, in its “Marxist” expression, argues that the greater the development of technology, the closer things will be to socialism or to communism. Well, look around the world. Why is this not the case? Because of a very fundamental fact: All this technology, all the forces of production, “go through,” and have to “go through,” certain definite production relations—they can be developed and utilized only by being incorporated into what the prevailing ensemble of production relations is at any given time. And, in turn, there are certain class and social relations that are themselves an expression of (or are in any case in general correspondence with) the prevailing production relations; and there is a superstructure of politics, ideology and culture whose essential character reflects and reinforces all those relations. So, it is not a matter of productive forces—including all the technology and knowledge—just existing in a social vacuum and being distributed and utilized in a way that is divorced from the production relations through which it is developed and employed (and the corresponding class and social relations and superstructure). This takes place, and can only take place, through one or another set of production, social and class relations, with the corresponding customs, cultures, ways of thinking, political institutions, and so on.
In the world today, dominated as it is by the capitalist-imperialist system, this technology and knowledge is “going through” the existing capitalist and imperialist relations and superstructure, and one of the main manifestations of this is the extremely grotesque disparity between what is appropriated by a tiny handful—and a lesser amount that is meted out to broader strata in some of the imperialist countries, in order to stabilize those countries and to mollify and pacify sections of the population who are not part of the ruling class there—while amongst the great majority of humanity there is unbelievable poverty and suffering and ignorance. And, along with this profound disparity, we are witnessing this peculiar contradiction between so much technology and so much knowledge, on the one hand, and yet such widespread belief in, and retreat into, obscurantist superstition, particularly in the form of religious fundamentalism—all of which is in fact an expression of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism.
This is an extremely important point to understand. If, instead of this understanding, one were to proceed with a more linear approach and method, it would be easy to fall into saying: “I don’t get it, there is all this technology, all this knowledge, why are so many people so ignorant and so mired in superstition?” Once again, the answer—and it is an answer that touches on the most fundamental of relations in the world—is that it is because of the prevailing production, social and class relations, the political institutions, structures, and processes, and the rest of the superstructure—the prevailing culture, the ways of thinking, the customs, habits, and so on, which correspond to and reinforce the system of capitalist accumulation, as this finds expression in the era where capitalism has developed into a worldwide system of exploitation and oppression.
This is another important perspective from which to understand the phenomenon of religious fundamentalism. The more this disparity grows, the more there is a breeding ground for religious fundamentalism and related tendencies. At the same time, and in acute contradiction to this, there is also a potentially more powerful basis for revolutionary transformation. All of the profound disparities in the world—not only in terms of conditions of life but also with regard to access to knowledge—can be overcome only through the communist revolution, whose aim is to wrest control of society out the hands of the imperialists and other exploiters and to advance, through the increasingly conscious initiative of growing numbers of people, to achieve (in the formulation of Marx) the elimination of all class distinctions, all the production relations on which these class distinctions rest, all the social relations that correspond to those production relations, and the revolutionization of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations—in order to bring about, ultimately and fundamentally on a world scale, a society of freely associating human beings, who consciously and voluntarily cooperate for the common good, while also giving increasing scope to the initiative and creativity of the members of society as a whole.
1. For many of the same reasons that have been touched on here, religious fundamentalism has also been strengthened in recent decades among sections of the poor, oppressed and marginalized within the U.S. This includes the fact that there is a conscious strategy, on the part of powerful sections of the ruling class in the U.S., aimed at promoting religious fundamentalism among masses of people whose conditions of life cry out for radical change, and ensnaring them in the reactionary ideology and political program of which this religious fundamentalism is a concentrated expression.
The growth of fundamentalism among significant numbers of people within the broad category of the “middle class” in the U.S. is largely due to other factors, including: a heightened sense of anxiety owing to an economy and a culture which promotes and provides seemingly ceaseless consumption on the basis of expansive credit and debt; a sense of volatility and insecurity in the economy and in society overall; a feeling of losing control even over their children in the face of technological changes (cable and satellite TV, the Internet, etc.); a sense of loss of “place” and community in a society and culture which produce atomization and promote extreme individualism. But what is very important to understand is that, especially among the “middle class” in the U.S., this phenomenon of growing fundamentalism is also a product of the parasitism of imperialism—of the fact that U.S. imperialism in particular is the world’s dominant power, which lives off, and could not do without, the super-exploitation of masses of people throughout the Third World, and that people in the U.S., particularly within the “middle class,” are “high up on the food chain” among the world’s peoples. And, it is important to note, what is involved in the religious fundamentalism that finds adherents particularly in the suburbs and exurbs of America is a deep-seated sense of the role of America as “God’s chosen nation,” accompanied by an aggressive assertion of American chauvinism, as well as of traditional relations and values which embody white supremacy and male supremacy.
The phenomenon of fundamentalism, and in particular Christian Fascist fundamentalism, in the U.S. will be returned to in a later section of this book. [back]
2. In addition to what is contained in a number of writings and talks of mine that speak to this subject, an analysis of important aspects of the actual experience of socialism in the Soviet Union and in China—including very real mistakes and shortcomings as well as historically unprecedented achievements—and answers to the slanders and distortions of this experience, is provided by the project Set the Record Straight. This can be accessed, and more information about this provided, online at thisiscommunism.org. [back]
3. An important source of information and analysis in regard to these events in Iran and their consequences is All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, by Stephen Kinzer, John Wiley & Sons, 2003. [back]
4. In addition to brutally oppressing the people of Indonesia itself, the regime of Suharto carried out a genocidal reign of terror in East Timor, massacring a huge section of the population there—and in this, too, it was backed and assisted by U.S. imperialism, through successive Administrations, including that of Bill Clinton. [back]
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
January 27, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader
I’m writing to share some notes and thoughts on what was represented by country music performer Garth Brooks’ decision to cancel appearances all over mainstream media in the wake of the Grand Jury in Ferguson refusing to indict the cop who murdered Michael Brown, and the wave of protests that erupted. Explaining why on Facebook, Brooks posted: “To spend the day promoting our stuff like nothing was wrong seemed distasteful to me.”
A bit of context for those who don’t follow him: Garth Brooks is by far the best selling country music artist of all time. He is the second best-selling solo albums artist in the United States (ahead of Elvis Presley), and his current tour—his first in over a decade—is phenomenally successful—potentially the largest grossing tour of any musician. The media appearances he canceled were to promote the tour, and his new album, and it's no small deal to skip the Tonight Show when you’ve got a world tour and album dropping.
I’m not breaking any new ground in analyzing popular culture to note that, while there is a range of trends and styles and scenes within country music, it is overwhelming music speaking to, listened to, and performed by—white people. Which provides the context for all the shit that hit the fan when he cancelled these appearances—using the term “civil unrest” to describe the protests (instead of more hostile terms).
Reactions in social media included vicious pro-cop fury aimed at Garth Brooks. No need to repeat any of that hate here, but it was serious and fascist. Then there was anguished disagreement from people who have bought the brainwash about Black people in general and lies and slanders about Michael Brown specifically (“Respectfully, Mr. Brooks, it is not civil unrest. It is rioting, looting and disruption of commerce and travel. Mr. Brown was a strong arm robber, preying on weaker folks and businesses. He attacked a police officer who was lawfully doing his job.”).
And, then there were responses, typified by: “Garth, if everybody listened to and lived by ‘We Shall Be Free’ and ‘People Lovin’ People’ the world would be so much better off. Love ya, brother!”
“People Loving People” is a song Garth Brooks released coinciding with his current world tour. If you search YouTube for “Garth Brooks People Loving People live AMA” you can watch one of the various live versions there. The message and spirit of the song is captured in the lines:
We fear what we don’t understand
And we’ve been scared since time began
All the colors and the cultures circle ‘round us on a spindle
It’s a complicated riddle, the solution is so simple...
It’s people loving people
That’s the enemy of everything’s that’s evil
The other Garth Brooks song the Facebook post refers to, “We Shall Be Free,” was co-written by Garth Brooks in response to the Los Angeles rebellion in 1992 after the police who brutally beat Rodney King within an inch of his life were exonerated by the legal system:
When the last child cries for a crust of bread
When the last man dies for just words that he said
When there’s shelter over the poorest head
We shall be free
When the last thing we notice is the color of skin
And the first thing we look for is the beauty within
When the skies and the oceans are clean again
Then we shall be free
(My favorite version of the song is the cover done by Sam Moore on his album “Overnight Sensation” with Paul Rogers). “We Shall Be Free,” also, interestingly—especially for its time (1992)—includes the line “When we’re free to love anyone we choose....” A call for equality and respect for same-sex relationships. It is only in the last few months that, for the first time, successful male country artists have come out as gay.
* * *
There is a sharp and sharpening polarization in society—a great chasm in public opinion—in the wake of Ferguson. When the oppressed rose up, they provoked people very broadly—and not just Black people—to confront and challenge white supremacy and police brutality. And on the other side of the spectrum, frenzied fascists from “rank and file” NYPD pigs staged protests against the mayor, and white racists rushed to gun stores, egged on by fascist “mainstream” media like Fox News.
In this context, Garth Brooks refused to feed the frenzy of racist hate and took a good stand—one that everyone who knew the whole story understood as being at least in some ways sympathetic to those rising up. Good for him. We should have his back on this.
And here’s a challenge to Garth Brooks, and those who relate to his music: If you believe in a world where nobody goes hungry, where nobody is killed “for just words that he said,” and where “the last thing we notice is the color of skin,” then go where this understanding takes you. Don’t back down, and don’t shy away from coming to grips with what it will take to make that happen, no matter how far out of your comfort zone that takes you. And make revcom.us a big part of that experience.
* * *
Back in the sixties, I wasn’t the only white suburban youth listening to (not just, but yes) country music, with a poster of Black Panther leader Huey Newton on my wall. Which sheds light on the basis for a revolution, and the work to do to further repolarize broad sections of society right now around a question (the oppression of Black people) that goes to the heart of what this country is all about. And to intensify work for an actual revolution. The more the real revolution becomes a factor on the scene, the more the revolution can set terms in society as a whole, and be a pole of attraction for the best coming forward from all over including what might seem to be surprising places.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
February 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On January 22, 17-year-old Kristiana Coignard, who was white, walked into the otherwise empty lobby of the police department in Longview, Texas. Kristiana went to a red wall phone to talk to a police dispatcher. The Longview News-Journal reported that she told a police phone operator that she “needed an officer.” She hung up the phone and waited in the lobby.
Longview cop Glenn Derr walked into the lobby soon after Kristiana hung up and initiated the murderous series of events that ended her life. The Longview Police Department released a video of Kristiana’s murder-by-cop about a week after she was killed. It shows that Derr got in her face as soon as he came into the room. He backed her into a far corner of the lobby and shoved her onto a chair. He seemed to put his knee on her abdomen or chest while grabbing at her neck or head.
Derr then yanked Kristiana upright, only to grab her by her head, violently throw her to the floor, face down, and get on top of her. As soon as Derr got to his feet again, he pulled his gun and pointed it at Kristiana. Two other cops entered the lobby separately to this scene. Kristiana got to her feet after Derr got off her, and began moving towards him. The three pigs immediately unloaded their weapons at her.
Less than ten minutes after Kristiana had asked for help, she lay on the floor, shot “multiple times,” her life bleeding out of her. Kristiana Coignard came to the Longview Police Department looking for help; she found a death squad.
Longview police spokeswoman Kristie Brian initially told reporters that “When police arrived to assist her that’s when she confronted them. She did brandish a weapon. I don’t know what kind it was. She came at the officers and was shot.” The only truth in that statement is that Longview police shot the 17-year-old woman.
Brian claimed she could not “confirm the type of weapon” Kristiana Coignard supposedly had. Days later, Longview’s mayor and police chief said that Kristiana had a butcher knife tucked into her waistband and came at Derr with it. They also said Kristiana showed Derr that she had the words “I have a gun” written on her hand. As of this writing, no weapon of any type has been produced by the authorities. The pigs who gunned down Kristiana Coignard have been put on paid administrative leave.
Longview is a city of about 80,000, a couple of hours drive east of Dallas. A wave of murder by police has convulsed Longview and the East Texas area around it in the past year. In August 2014, 23-year-old Regan Marshall Wagner was on his way to work as a cook when he was stopped for an alleged traffic violation, shot, and killed by Longview police. In July, a sheriff’s deputy in nearby Cass County shot and killed 33-year-old Charles Alver Jones while serving an arrest warrant. In March 2014, 15-year-old Justin Aguilar, a football player who wanted to join the military when he got out of high school, was killed by Longview police, who claimed he tried to rob a quick mart. Candace Jackson and José Sifuentes were shot and killed in separate incidents in May, and in August Shawn Antonio Thompson was severely wounded by police and then charged with assault against a public servant.
And now, Kristiana Coignard has been added to the toll of people whose lives have been annihilated by the Longview police.
Heather Robertson, Kristiana’s aunt, told a reporter that Kristiana’s mother had died when Kristiana was four. Robertson said Kristiana had been struggling with severe depression, but “was only violent with herself.” She said Kristiana had tried to kill herself twice. Robertson said that Kristiana going to the police department “was a cry for help. I think they could have done something. They are grown men. I think there is something they are not telling us.”
Across this country, in large cities, small towns, and rural areas; in ghettos, barrios, and reservations; in playgrounds, on street corners, and in their police stations and jails, police routinely beat and murder people. Just as routinely, they get away with it—put on paid leave, not charged with anything, and provided counseling for their “stress.” These pigs “serve and protect" a system that thrives on the misery it brings to millions of people: a system that provides these killers not only with badges and guns but the “right” to murder and brutalize.
It is an unjust, illegitimate system.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
by Li Onesto | February 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The RESPOND Exhibit at Smack Mellon gallery in Brooklyn, New York, January 17-February 22, underscores how extraordinary the last 6-7 months have been in this country. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets protesting the epidemic of police murder and the refusal of the government to prosecute the killers—sparking debate among and challenging the thinking of millions more. After a grand jury refused to indict the NYPD cop who choked Eric Garner to death, the directors of Smack Mellon, Kathleen Gilrain and Suzanne Kim, immediately felt the need to find a way to make their space available to artists and members of the community to respond.
A call went out announcing the gallery would be used “to present events, performances and artworks that affirm that black lives matter, express frustration and anger with the institutional racism that enables law enforcement to kill black members of the community with impunity, and imagine creative solutions and visionary alternatives to a broken justice system.” The response was tremendous—with over 600 submissions of artwork, videos, and proposals for various events.
Hundreds of people came to the opening of the show on January 17, many more have seen the show since and RESPOND has been reviewed, discussed and given favorable recognition in and beyond the art world, with news coverage and major article, including in the British newspaper The Guardian and the New York Times. It is almost unheard of for a gallery to put together a show this quickly—Gilrain says they, like other art galleries, usually work on a show a year in advance. But for this show, Smack Mellon felt the urgency of the moment.
As soon as you walk into the 5,000 square foot gallery, it strikes you how much the call for this show struck a felt need among so many artists—who had been doing work on this theme more recently as well as over the years. Most of the artwork is up on the gallery’s two-story high wall, six pieces deep. You can stand way back and just take it all in as a whole and then walk up to appreciate each individual piece. The installation gives you a feeling of how these works are all part of a collective and ongoing RESPONSE to such a great injustice—and at the same time, each work contributes a different artistic and cerebral reaction.
A video by Melissa Rose Cooper of the opening captures the excitement many felt at this unique exhibit. Shawn Carrie, an artist, said, “America wants to forget and put aside the injustice that’s been happening for hundreds of years and people are standing up and saying that Black lives matter and something’s gotta change. And I think this is just one way that the art community, a space that is really dominated by white privilege and by established privilege, is really intervening in a way that makes Black lives visible and the subject matter of this exhibition.” Another artist, Partricia Brace, who has a piece in the show ["Black Lives Matter"] said, “It was just so inspiring to be part of an art show that has a political impact, because so often our exhibitions feel like they’re full of fluff.” Savior Elmundo, who has a piece in the show called “Peanut Gang—Can’t Breathe,” said, “The wall is so powerful, to me it’s balance and all the artists are great, all mixed media. And it tells you when I’m looking at the wall, it’s like I keep staring at it and it’s getting me emotional, just seeing all what we go through in history, from back in the day until now and it’s still happening now.” Nora Segar, a visitor at the opening, said, “I think art can be a powerful force for social change. All these people from all different walks of life are coming together to kind of stand behind these issues. I think it sends a message that even though some of the sort of daily protests have died down, that people are still thinking about these issues, that it still matters.”
Artists in the show range from those having their work shown in an exhibit for the first time and those who don’t consider themselves professional artists—to more well-known names like Dread Scott, whose work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Mel Chin who has shown at the Museum of Modern Art, and Heather Hart whose work is currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum.
Most of the work has been done in the last couple of years, and especially in response to the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. There are also work referencing police murders going back over the decades, like Amadou Diallo, Renisha McBride, and Nicholas Heyward Jr. Some of the work ranges beyond the borders of the U.S., like the 1985 painting of a vicious, lunging police dog in South Africa by Jerry Kearns. And there are the ones that remind you just how long such genocidal crimes against Black people have been going on in America: There is an image of the huge banner that was hung outside the window of the NAACP’s Fifth Avenue headquarters between 1920 and 1938 that read, “A Man Was Lynched Yesterday” [Nicky Enright].
The exhibition resonates with the slogans that have come to symbolize these last months of protests. One painting is of a woman with the words, “Hands Up, Don’t’ Shoot!” [Molly Crabapple]. “I Can’t Breath” is incorporated in some of the works, like the painting of a newspaper on a chair [Sandra Koponen] and the mixed media art on canvas by Savior Elmundo of the Peanuts Gang. There is a banner with the words, “NYC Solidarity with Palestine.” Dread Scott’s piece, “Sign of the Times,” done in 2001, features a yellow street sign with the stick images of a cop shooting someone with their hands up with the words: “DANGER—POLICE IN AREA.” There are images of Michael Brown [Albert Areizaga, Mensa Kondo, Ashleigh Sampson, Rudy Shepherd, Megan Tatem] as well as Trayvon Martin [Amanda Barragry].
Some of the works communicate the pain of parents whose children have been stolen. There is a 2004 film still by Tami Gold of the mothers of Anthony Baez, Amadou Diallo and Gary Busch, standing with photos of their loved ones; and the photo of Nicholas Heyward Sr. [David Joseph Jr.] whose 13-year-old son, Nicholas Heyward Jr. was killed by the NYPD 20 years ago, in 1994. And some of the artists themselves have had their own horrible experiences with police brutality.
Roseta DeBerardinis, who did the piece "Strange Fruit, 2011," told the Guardian of what happened one time when her boyfriend came to visit her in New York City: “He was crying, and he told me something bad had happened. His clothes were torn, his lip was busted. He was waiting for the train. He had a ticket. He wasn’t doing anything unlawful. And when he showed the police his Vassar College ID, the cops said, ‘This nigger can read and write.’ Charlayne Hunter-Gault broke that story in the New York Times. He was sodomised. It changes your whole perception of justice, of the police. When I was a kid you went to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and you were taught to respect them. As you become older, you learn to fear them. When this show came, I wanted to respond. The noose, I wanted to make it beautiful, but I wanted to show the weakness of the noose at the bottom, because whatever their intention, it failed. It’s called Strange Fruit—Billie Holiday did a song. It’s about the black people who were lynched from trees. This is kind of a modern-day lynching.”
Nina Berman’s photograph, "Funeral for Jose Luis Lebron," is from 1990. On the gallery’s website Nina gives some background to this image. She tells the story of how a NYPD officer chased and killed 14-year-old Jose Luis Lebron, who was unarmed. The cop claimed Lebron reached for a gun. Four days earlier another cop shot and killed 17-year-old unarmed Louis Liranso and these two shootings touched off protest marches in Brooklyn. Both officers were cleared of any wrongdoing. Berman says: “The 2014 killings of Eric Garner and Akai Gurley, currently in the news, top a long list of similar shootings by the NYPD that have been going on for decades. With each new killing, old cases fall deeper down the list, and are quickly forgotten except by family members and loved ones. Jose Luis Lebron is one of those cases.”
RESPOND is an important exhibit—right on time and of the times.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
Interview with Kathleen Gilrain
February 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
A significant exhibit is now at Smack Mellon gallery in Brooklyn, New York, from January 17 to February 22. RESPOND, a display of artistic answers to the epidemic of police murders and the refusal of the government to prosecute the killers, includes the work of 200 artists. Revolution correspondent Li Onesto recently talked with Kathleen Gilrain, the executive director and chief curator of Smack Mellon, about the exhibit and the work of the gallery.
Revolution: To begin, could you just talk about how this exhibit came about, how the idea came about and then how the show came together?
Kathleen Gilrain: I think it was December 3 that the grand jury came out with its decision not to indict the police officer who killed Eric Garner. And the city had erupted in protest and I was just feeling like we as an organization have a very large space where we could do something. I wasn’t sure exactly what that would be, an exhibition, or just public meetings, using the gallery for another kind of response in addition to protest. So I thought about it that night and came in the morning and spoke with Suzanne Kim, who is the deputy director, about the idea of making our space available to artists and members of the community, not only artists, to respond. And so we decided together that we wanted to do it.
We needed to ask the artists whom we had already scheduled for exhibitions for December and January. So the first thing we had to do was get in touch with them and see if we could postpone their exhibitions and reschedule their dates for a time in the future, which they were willing to do. And then the staff met, which is really just three people, Suzanne and I and Erin Donnelly. And we talked about what are the different things that we could do. And we talked about an open call for exhibiting work that would give artists an opportunity, and it could include artwork and some of the visuals people were using in the protests, photos taken during the protests, it could be anything related to what was happening.
So we decided to do that and that we would also open up the space for community organizers and people who might want to lead a workshop, have a poetry reading, show a film or have a panel discussion, or really anything that people in the community, in the broad community of New York City, would need a space for because when things like this happen people don’t necessarily have the space where they can house a number of people to get involved. So with an exhibition and public programs, we pretty quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to organize this on our own, so we invited the artists who are currently in our Artist Studio Program to help us. The Smack Mellon Artist Studio Program awards six studios a year to artists for free so that they can create new work. Artists apply and are selected by a panel of curators. They get the studio for one year. Esteban del Valle, Molly Dilworth, Oasa DuVerney, Ira Eduardovna, Steffani Jemison, and Dread Scott worked with us as lead organizers. They helped us select the artwork for the exhibition and they helped us promote this idea of opening up the space for other organizations or people to submit a proposal for an event. So we put everything on a website called “submittables” and people could apply to be in the show or to organize an event.
Revolution: This was quite ambitious. From the beginning to when the show went up, how long did this take?
Kathleen Gilrain: Well, we met on December 4 as the staff and a few days later we met with the artists. We met for a full day to plan how it would all come together. On December 15 we opened the website for people to apply. We promoted it broadly to art organizations as well as community organizations, and each of us promoted it to our own lists and through Facebook, etc. So very quickly the opportunity was out there in the world. I sent it out to a lot of art organizations that also sent it out to their lists. And people started submitting.
Revolution: And you got a tremendous response, right?
Kathleen Gilrain: We had a little over 600 artists submit an image of artwork, and a lot of events as well that people submitted. So we went through everything and selected the artwork. That was the first thing we got done because we needed the artists to drop off their work by January 5. So there was very little time for them to apply, get a notification that they were accepted in the exhibition, and then drop off their artwork.
Revolution: I’m just curious, how does this compare to how an exhibition is usually done?
Kathleen Gilrain: Well, we’re usually planning an exhibition a year in advance. So this was completely insane.
Revolution: This was really commendable; it seems you felt a certain urgency...
Kathleen Gilrain: Yeah, well it wouldn’t have made sense to plan an exhibition about this to happen next year. That would be more like a “this is what happened last year” exhibition. I mean, it’s not like the issue is going to go away. I mean, it’s still going to be an issue but it just seemed that if we’re going to do it, we felt like we had to do it right away, because artists and others wanted a space to express themselves in another way, in a different way.
Our email list is about 10,000 and it’s a broad mix, mostly people who are interested in art, artists, people who go to museums. I mean, we are an art organization so that’s mostly who our list is. But when we were promoting this exhibition we made an effort to reach out to other organizations that are not art organizations, like community organizers. So people who got information about this exhibition are not just people on our list. We specifically reached out to other kinds of organizations that have different kinds of lists so that it could be a broad range of people who would find out about the show.
Revolution: I understand that a broad range of artists contributed to the exhibit.
Kathleen Gilrain: We had a response that was really worldwide. We had artists from different countries and artists across the country. And many of them are artists who don’t really have an exhibition record. There were a lot of artists for whom this was their first exhibition in New York City and a lot of artists for whom this was their first exhibition ever anywhere. So that tells you a lot about who the artists are. And then of course all the artists who have shown with us in the past or who have come to our shows got the information too, so there are certainly artists who are well known and somewhat known in the show and who are participating as professional artists in the art world in New York City.
I don’t know what the percentage is, but there are a lot of artists in this show who would not be considered professional artists, who might be just starting out or who don’t make artwork all the time, but maybe just needed to make something in response to this. When they proposed work, we didn’t even ask for a resume, we weren’t looking at who’s the most well known, who’s got a reputation, or who has been shown where, we don’t even know that. We just asked for an image of their work and a brief statement about the artwork they were submitting and their address so we knew where the work was coming from. I did send out an email to all of the artists in the show asking them to let me know if this was their first time showing in New York, so that’s how I know there were a lot of responses to that email, that for a lot of the artists, this is the first time showing in New York; over 35 artists replied that this is the first time showing in New York.
Revolution: What kind of responses have you gotten to the show?
Kathleen Gilrain: People have really been appreciative of the fact that we were able to change our exhibition schedule, which is pretty unheard of. We work really far in advance, we raise money to fund the exhibitions, and there is a lot to do to get ready for an exhibition. So this is something that most organizations would just not be able to do. So people understand that and are really appreciative that we made the effort to free up the space and free up the opportunity.
Revolution: Maybe you could talk some about the overall mission of Smack Mellon.
Kathleen Gilrain: Smack Mellon’s mission is to nurture and support emerging, under-recognized mid-career and women artists in the creation and exhibition of new work, by providing exhibition opportunities, studio workspace, and access to equipment and technical assistance for the realization of ambitious projects. We do this through our exhibition program, our Artist Studio Program, and we have an education program called Art Ready where we are working with teens. Art Ready is an after-school program that runs from October through May. In the fall we take the students on a series of studio visits, and then January through May the students work with one of those artists in their studio. The student is mentored by that artist not only in making art but also helping them with college applications, portfolios, and giving them an idea of what it is to be a professional artist. We accept 20 students in that program; it’s a great program and they get a real look at what it is to be an artist in NYC. What we want them to get out of it is an understanding of what a professional artist’s life is like. We have a range of artists we work with, including architects, designers, painters, and filmmakers. So it’s a range of what they get to see, and we want them to see that if they are going to major in art in college, what the reality is, so they can have the information to decide if they really want to pursue a career in art.
Through our Artist Studio Program, we give artists a free studio space for one year, a fellowship and technical support, meaning access to equipment and technical assistance to make new work. Our current group of artists, and this is one of the reasons we asked them to help us with this exhibition, are making works that address current issues, politics and power structures, and/or are working within communities. I knew before I asked them that they would want to be involved in this exhibition, they would be interested in it. Had we had a different group of artists in our studios when this happened, I may not have asked them to help us; I may have asked some other people to help us. But I knew this group would be interested and would want this to happen and would want to make it happen.
Very specifically part of our mission is to promote the work of artists who are under-recognized and women artists. So we always have at least 60 percent, usually much more than 60 percent of women artists in our exhibitions, in our solo shows and in our studio program.
Revolution: Any last things you’d like to say, in general or about this show?
Kathleen Gilrain: Well, just to say, come to the show, and come to some of the events because that’s when there will be the most people here and conversations can happen. The idea is that we want to get conversations going between people who are interested in changing the trajectory. You will find people here to talk to and continue the conversation.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
From The Michael Slate Show:
February 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The following is a transcript of a January 30, 2015 interview with Edward Baptist on The Michael Slate Show, KPFK Pacifica radio.
Michael Slate: Every now and then you get the opportunity to read a book that really, really stuns you, that gives you a glimpse of the world as it is, and it's in a way that you never even imagined before, or that you didn't understand thoroughly enough before. That's how I felt when I read the book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. It was a mind-blower. It's a book by Edward Baptist. He is a professor of history at Cornell University.
Michael Slate: What compelled you to write this book?
Edward Baptist: I was writing a dissertation, a kind of standard scholarly production, and I kept running across these accounts from formerly enslaved people, which of course had been written about by historians before, but I felt that there were layers to that story that hadn't been told, specifically the process of the expansion of the South and the way that linked into the development of American and in fact global capitalism. I think there's probably a bigger story which has to do with life experience and early education and what I saw as a child and a teenager in the 1970s and ‘80s. But the narrow version takes me right to that experience of reading those accounts that were left behind by formerly enslaved people, survivors of slavery.
Michael Slate: The way we're taught to look at it is that there was slavery and there was capitalism. There were the “good guys” and there were the “bad guys.” I remember going down to a beach in Maryland when I was a kid, and you'd see Confederate flags, and you had no idea what that was. But nobody ever told you this. Or we got my kid a “Dukes of Hazzard” pedal car when he was a kid, and he was incensed when we wouldn't let him put the Confederate flag stickers on it. I realized that at six years old, he was being given a different and untrue history of the relation between what they've often portrayed as two different, separate systems and not any kind of link together.
Edward Baptist: In a way, the fact that those Confederate flag decals are available when you’re buying a kid this car, I guess that was 1979 or 1980, something like that, the fact that that's available is a relic. It's a piece of evidence of the bargain I talk about, and lots of historians have talked about, that happens between 1875 and 1900, where northern whites and southern whites agree that they’re going to essentially forget that the war was over slavery. They're going to allow southern whites fully back into the leadership of the United States. And they're going to pretend like what happened didn't happen.
What happened, of course, was mass treason, a rebellion against the government for the purpose of insuring that slavery would be able to expand. And white people agreed not to remember it that way. On the other hand, African-Americans remembered it a different way. That's really obvious in the interviews with the formerly enslaved people. It's also obvious in the scholarship that African- Americans created over the 150 years since the Civil War. I've been rereading W.E.B. Du Bois recently, and I keep saying, “Wow! On some levels I'm not sure I've added anything new to what Du Bois said.” I mean, I've done my best, but this sort of analysis, that slavery and capitalism were linked, that slavery was the cause of the Civil War, this was deeply embedded in African-American history at every level, from the sort of told level that formerly enslaved people understood, to the academic level.
Michael Slate: The assumption that slavery was not part of the American legacy was something that was critically important for the way the U.S. portrayed itself both internally to its own people, but also throughout the world as sort of the bastion of freedom. These kinds of things wouldn't happen in a country like the U.S.
Edward Baptist: I think that's certainly true. We see sometimes in our history that the portrayal of the United States as a land of freedom is crucially important to what the United States is trying to do overseas, as well as to what the government is trying to do and what the economic leadership is trying to do in terms of building international coherence. We even see this in the 1950s and the 1960s with the Cold War. We see that there's a conscious effort to portray the United States as a land of interracial harmony, of African-American access and opportunity, whereas we know that that was not actually the truth.
Michael Slate: You said that the reality of all this is that the changes that shaped the entire world began on a slave auction block in the U.S. Let's talk about that.
Edward Baptist: This in some ways goes back to cotton, and here I've got to give a shout-out to Sven Beckert's new book about cotton which talks about cotton from a global perspective [Empire of Cotton: A Global History]. I'm much more interested in talking about it, or at least starting the story in the nitty gritty of people's everyday lives because I think that's where we see the transformations that reshape the world in the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism. That's where they really begin. And in the United States, those transformations began with the production of cotton, the most important raw material of the 19th century, the petroleum, the oil, of the early industrialization of the West. They really start with the expansion of slavery into areas where cotton can be grown, and the purchase of individual enslaved people who could be driven at a faster and faster pace to produce that cotton more and more efficiently for that thirsty world market that's eager to consume more cotton.
Michael Slate: From the very beginning, U.S. slave labor was actually crucial to building the economy and the political strength of this country, right?
Edward Baptist: Not just the United States, but I think Western economies in general, but certainly most specifically, most obviously, the United States. If you look at that scene you just described which is repeated a million times or more in the history of the South leading up to the Civil War, the scene of an individual person being sold, whether in a showroom or on an auction block, you can see all the connections between that and American economic development. Specifically, there's a financial connection, because individual enslaved people were expensive. They were expensive to move, transport and resell. The price in today's equivalent could probably be about $200,000 to $250,000. so these purchases had to be financed. There were huge financial networks that helped to finance the movement of a million people from the older states of the South to the newer cotton states of the South.
Once they're there, once all those slices of profit have been taken in the process of financing the movement and the sale and the resale and so on – once they're there, they are forced to generate more profit. Tremendous profit, in fact, with an ever-increasing production of cotton. This cotton, as I said before, has a ready market. In fact, enslavers are incentivized to drive people to work faster and faster because they've got these big debts to pay back.
Michael Slate: As we opened up this interview, you said that some of the source material that you used were the stories that were recorded from ex-slaves. I was really surprised that you were able to include and actually frame your book in these stories, and reading about how the WPA [Work Progress Administration] sent people out to canvass the South and to find ex-slaves to tell their stories in the 1930s. Can we talk about what pushed you in that direction, because it was a very powerful way to begin, where these stories actually unfolded from voices that people don't generally conceive of even existing at a time when you could gather information from them.
Edward Baptist: It's a reminder that, first of all, slavery is a long time ago. It ended officially 150 years ago. But then on the other hand, in historical time, that's not that long. A lifetime ago, there were thousands, maybe tens of thousands of survivors of slavery still living. And they could be interviewed. They were in many cases happy to talk about what they'd experienced. Now in some situations they couldn't talk openly. They had to sort of disguise some of the things that they were saying, because some of the WPA interviewers were members of locally-powerful white families, and this was the Jim Crow South when it wasn't necessarily safe to say exactly what you thought about white people.
But other interviewers were African-American. I opened the book with the story of Lorenzo Ivy who's interviewed in Danville, Virginia. He's actually interviewed by an African-American master's student from Hampton University. His interview always struck me as incredibly powerful because he frames the story of slavery, and in some ways of American history, by talking about the coffles, the chained gangs of enslaved people being marched from Virginia on down to Alabama and New Orleans and so on for sale, as the key memory that he recalled from his own growing up.
He tells the story. He says, this is what I remember about slavery most clearly: separation of families by sale and forced migration, the movement of people in chains, how all of that fed into the cotton economy. And then he says to his interviewer, “Truly, son, the half has never been told.” And I read that, and I said, I have to frame the book around this interview. It absolutely has to happen this way, because we owe so much to those voices. We have to open with those voices and go backwards in time from there.
Michael Slate: There's a method that runs through your entire book. In telling the story of one of the most grotesque, dehumanizing events in the history of humanity, you frame everything with a very deep concept of humanity, of really needing to portray the humanity of the enslaved people.
Edward Baptist: Yeah. I try to do that. And again, I think lots of other historians try to do it that way as well. But specifically in my book, I lay it out in a series of chapters named after body parts. And there are two reasons why I do this. One is that I was reading an essay written by Ralph Ellison and thinking about that essay. In that essay, he says, we should really think of the history of America as a drama enacted on the supine body of a “Negro giant.” He's writing in the 1950s. And this person, who's tied down like Gulliver, as he puts it, is central to all the action, the frame of all the action, part of all the action, but not able to fully act as he or she would want to act. That's the metaphor that really struck me and I started thinking about it. Then I started thinking about the ways in which enslavement as it was practiced and brought in some ways to its highest level in the American South in the early 19th century, literally tried to turn African-Americans bodies against African-Americans as persons, as people.
So when people were chained and forced to walk south, their feet were not chained, but their arms were chained. They could not resist. They couldn't fight back. In fact, they were all chained together to make it harder for them to run away. And we could continue with the ways in which bodies are turned in certain ways against personhood.
And yet, African-Americans also, as enslaved people, found ways to re-appropriate, to take back their bodies, even if only for moments, as ways to struggle against slavery. So that the simple act of survival and helping one's family members to survive was a kind of resistance to the deepest, cruelest things that slavery was trying to do. I tried to enact that in the structure and in the writing of my book.
Michael Slate: You open the book up with a section on the rapid expansion of slavery in the Deep South in the 1790s. When you're talking about the coffle, one of the things that struck me about the book is that you portray, in the grotesque dehumanization and torture of the people who were actually locked up, chained together and forced to walk, this massive migration to the Deep South, this enforced migration. But you also talk about how this coffle was about more than just chaining the slaves together, that it was actually chaining the early republic together. Let's talk about that.
Edward Baptist: One of the questions that the framers of the country and of the Constitution had to face in the 1780s, is how they can get local elites and migrants, settlers who are going to be expanding westward, how they can get them to actually participate in this new republic, how they can link them together as the size of the country expands. This expansion was seen as a big problem, because most countries were not as big as the United States was even in 1783, and if you're talking about moving to the Mississippi and beyond, you're looking at a continental scale of a country.
So one way to do it would be to create relationships of credit and debt, financial networks that would link people in disparate places together, and give them a reason to support each other's interests, a reason to work together to help the country to prosper economically. So the fact that enslaved people can be moved, can be moved by force and can be forced to labor at the production of valuable commodities by force, actually ends up linking New England and the Deep South together very effectively by 1800. Because these credit networks are set up in which New Englanders invest in the purchase of land and slaves by entrepreneurs who were moving from South Carolina or Georgia, western Alabama or Mississippi, or even in some cases from places like Pennsylvania or New England itself, into those new cotton areas.
So both of these regions of the country have a tremendous interest in seeing the other region succeed. The entrepreneurs in Mississippi and Alabama want New Englanders to be able to lend money to them. And the New Englanders, on the other hand, and there are also people in New York and Philadelphia in the same boat – they want to see these individuals, these entrepreneurs down in Alabama and Georgia and Mississippi selling commodities to the world market so they can pay back the debts. So this massive investment in the expansion of slavery actually ends up linking the United States together pretty effectively by the early 1800s.
Michael Slate: You talk about how the economic and industrial expansion in the world also depended on slavery in the U.S.
Edward Baptist: In terms of the expansion of the world economy, probably the single biggest factor is the way that the expansion of slavery in the United States, and the intensification and the innovation within slave labor in cotton, actually brings down the price of this crucial commodity, cotton, even as world demand for it is increasing.
So in the 1780s, raw cotton is pretty expensive. It's expensive for two reasons. It's hard to pick, and it's also hard to process. It's hard to get the seeds out of the cotton. Most of what is coming to Britain from the world market and is being used in its early factory system is coming from India and from the Middle East. Some is coming from the West Indies. Some is coming from China. Very little is coming from the American South, and it's pretty expensive.
The cotton gin helps to solve one of those problems. It makes the processing part of cotton production much easier. But cotton still has to be picked. The speed of picking cotton becomes a limiting factor in all production of cotton. It's the bottleneck in the production process. What enslavers are able to do as they take individuals and groups of enslaved people, they move them to new places, they break up their families, they dissolve their networks of resistance that enabled some 18th century slaves to slow the pace of labor. As they move them, they also discover a new system of measuring enslaved people's labor every day, assigning them quotas based on what they've been able to pick in the past, and then slowly raising those quotas over time.
So over the period from 1800 to 1860, the amount of cotton the average enslaved person picks per day rises 400%. So the price of raw cotton on the world market declines, even as the demand for it is increasing. It's as if, as we use more oil, the price was getting rapidly cheaper and lower all the time. That wouldn't necessarily be good for the planet, but it would produce a higher raw economic growth rate. So the increase in the speed of production of slave cotton enables the world market and the early capitalist economy to expand much, much more quickly.
Michael Slate: Let me ask you about Thomas Jefferson and his role in this, because here he is, the guy who is universally promoted as the father of democracy, true democracy, Jeffersonian democracy. Yet he played a very important role in this whole development of capitalism and slavery together.
Edward Baptist: Yeah, in some ways Thomas Jefferson is a tragic story, although the tragedy you see with his compromise of his own principles is minuscule compared to the tragedies that he personally inflicts on families that he breaks up as a slave owner. He sells people off repeatedly to pay his own debts. He doesn't free the mother of his own children, etc. But more broadly, some of his other choices end up having tragic consequences.
Specifically, as he shifts into recognizing, certainly implicitly, that the expansion of slavery is good for the expansion of the American economy and the unity of this expanding country as a whole – as he makes that shift over time, and as he moves into higher and higher positions of political power in the new republic, eventually becoming president, he becomes a more and more active agent for the expansion of slavery. Nowhere do you see this more clearly than in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, in which he acquires nearly a million square miles of land, if I've got my figures correct, from France. And he does it knowing full well that slavery is going to expand into this new territory, and it's going to link together a new slave empire.
Michael Slate: I'm thinking of people like Andrew Jackson as well, if we go down the line, all these people who were presidents and actually were advocates of slavery. It's not one of those things that's hurled into grade school history books: Presidents: slavery lovers! But each one of them, in the interest of developing the country and its place in the world, and the entire economy and the relationship between capitalism and farming and slavery, they weren't saying, “I've really got to go up against this. This is really immoral. It's inhuman.” They were actually facilitators of this.
Edward Baptist: Absolutely. Up until Abraham Lincoln, you do not have a single president who comes out and says, “We should stop the expansion of slavery,. That should be our policy, to block the expansion of slavery.” The one asterisk you can put in there is there's some suggestion that Zachary Taylor didn't want to see slavery expand, certainly he tries to ensure that California does not enter the Union as a slave state. But every other president presides over the expansion of slavery in some way, shape, or form, and some are particularly active agents of it, Jefferson and Andrew Jackson most obviously. But even people like James Buchanan are presiding over the expansion of slavery, into new territories, and in some cases into territories that had been more or less or sometimes explicitly declared free. Up until Abraham Lincoln, that is the unending story of American presidential politics.
Michael Slate: This is about the Louisiana Purchase. One of the things that you brought out, and I hadn't seen it brought out before, is the revolution in Haiti and what happened there, the most radical revolution in the world at the time, and the most radical definition of citizenry, and yet it also opened the door for the most massive expansion of the inhuman slavery in the U.S. with the Louisiana Purchase and all this. Can we talk about that?
Edward Baptist: It's one of the powerful ironies of history. As you say, the Haitian revolution is in some ways the most radical revolution in human history by some measures. Up until the late 1790s, the expansion of a certain kind of sugar slavery was one of the big engines of the Atlantic economy. Typically this depended on the importation of enslaved Africans, most of whom did not have children, so you have a continual die-off and turnover of enslaved populations, particularly in the Caribbean islands and northeastern Brazil. This is very profitable for the world economy, and nowhere is it more profitable than in the western part of the island of Hispaniola, the French colony of Saint-Domingue, which becomes Haiti ultimately. It's a tremendous reversal in human history, where this very powerful, very valuable in its most prosperous incarnation, this one colony which is the leading sugar colony in the world, probably the most valuable real estate in the world, in August of 1791, 100,000 enslaved people rise up and start to burn sugar plantations. They almost capture the capital. And that launches a 13-year process which ultimately ends in the defeat of Napoleon's armies as he tries to recapture Saint-Domingue and turn it back into a slave colony, and the declaration of an independent country.
Haiti's had a tragic history before, during and since the Haitian revolution for all kinds of reasons, but I think we can certainly celebrate the revolution as a moment in human freedom. And yet that revolution also convinces Napoleon to sell Louisiana to the United States, which he was not planning to do. And that sale opens up the entire Mississippi Valley to the expansion of a brand-new kind of slavery, a second slavery, some historians have called it, I think in a really evocative phrase. We have the first slavery which is that on the islands primarily, and it's driven first and foremost by the importing of slaves from Africa. And then you have a second slavery which is tied indirectly to the industrial expansion of the capitalist economy in a brand-new way.
Michael Slate: You have around the same time the 1811 Rebellion in New Orleans. I'd like you to tell people a little about what that was and what its significance was.
Edward Baptist: The 1811 Rebellion was one of these events in U.S. history which at least until very recently, definitely has not made its way into the textbooks. But it's probably the largest slave revolt up until the Civil War in U.S. history. Ultimately, as many as 500 enslaved people were gathered together in a sort of impromptu army. But clearly the revolt was also planned as well by a group of insiders who start about 50 or 60 miles from New Orleans on sugar plantations there and attempt to kill enslavers and gather more forces as they march towards New Orleans, which is the capital of the New Orleans territory as it's called at that time, and really is the most important city in the American West.
Had they captured that city, and had they been able to hold it, which are of course big “ifs,” you don't know what would have come about as a result of that and as a result of the spreading use of the success of that revolt throughout the South. The fact is that enslavers in the United States had learned lessons from the Haitian Revolution, and they perhaps had skill sets that the whites in Saint-Domingue had not mastered. They were better armed; they were better organized. They had the federal government behind them. Federal troops helped to participate in putting down this rebellion. And they ultimately do put down this rebellion.
The fact of the failure of the rebellion, and the success of those who put it down, points to something very important that we need to understand about slavery in the U.S. South, which is that it's fine to ask the question, why wasn't there a rebellion? Why didn't enslaved people overthrow slavery if it was so bad? The reality is it was impossible in the U.S. South to do this because it was so bad. Whites were a majority in virtually every southern state. They figured out the problem of how to maintain white unity. They were very well-armed. They were on the alert most of the time. And above all they had the cooperation of the federal government in maintaining slavery. What was increasingly one of the most powerful governments in the world was fully committed to putting down slave revolts. It's only in the Civil War, when the power of enslavers is really severely threatened by their own rebellion against the government, that enslaved people are actually able to find situations in which revolt is not suicide.
Michael Slate: Let's go back to the idea of naming the chapters after body parts. I was struck with, in reading about the 1811 revolt, the ferocious, barbaric response that the system made to the rebellion: the beheading of people, the posting of people's heads on poles all up and down the levees. After you talk about this, you get into chapters that you call “the right hand” and “the left hand.” What's the significance of that? Why the right hand and then the left hand? Because I think they do go together in a way.
Edward Baptist: The religious reformer, theologian, whatever you want to call him, Martin Luther, really fruitfully lays out, when he's talking about what his idea of god is, a definition of different kinds of power. He talks about right-handed power and left-handed power. Right-handed power is the god who comes in and smashes bad people and stomps all over Israel when Israel is doing bad things or stomps all over Assyria when Assyria is trying to conquer Israel. But left-handed power for Luther, and I think for a lot of people, is more interesting, because in his theological conception, left-handed power is the quiet god, the god who works in the dark, the god who works through people who society sees as weak, and through sort of secret pathways, and things we don't see, the power that is the seed lying in the cold ground that's going to sprout unexpectedly just when it seems like winter is going to last forever.
What human societies had been composed of for a very long time by 1800, I would argue, is a balance between right-handed power of the state and organized religion that told people they had to act like they believed X, Y and Z – and then left-handed power on the other hand, which would be peasant traditions, secret beliefs, secret peasant societies in some cases that resisted organized power. And in the workplace, the solidarities that people had, the ways of slowing down together so that nobody got in trouble but also nobody got super-exploited, the ways of passing down secret crafts from father to son or mother to daughter, so that oppressors always had to negotiate with the oppressed in order to get what they wanted out of the skills that craftsmen and peasants possessed.
This was the balance in human society. It's even the balance in some forms of slavery that you see, even in the 18th century South. And that balance is broken in the 1800s. You can see this most clearly in the expansion of cotton slavery. On the one hand, enslavers’ right-handed power is clearly expanding as the American state comes to conquer more and more territory, as they're able to muster the military power to intimidate enslaved people so they don't revolt, as they're able to forcibly move people from place to place.
But the enslavers are also conquering the terrain of left-handed power. In the American rice swamps, the rice plantations of the 18th century, enslaved people were able to establish limits. They were able to negotiate limits to the amount of work that they did in the course of a day. And part of that was because enslavers didn't always know how to do all the work that was done on the rice plantation. Part of that was also because over time enslaved people were able to establish customs, were able to convince enslavers to follow those customs, and were able to, together, effect a slowdown in work, if enslavers pushed back against those customs and tried to speed up work.
When enslaved people are moved, separated from their families, often as young teenagers – most of the people who were moved by the domestic slave trade are under 20. They're between 12 and 20. And as they're moved and they're brought into new places, and they're confronted with terrifying power, they're also confronted with technology, the technology of measuring their work, inflicting daily punishment if they don't meet a daily quota, and then forcing them to speed up that work over time. What is happening in effect is also that their left-handed power is being taken away from them. It's much harder to figure out a way to slow down work together in those kinds of conditions. It's much harder to hold secret the knowledge that you could pick a little faster if you had to, if you're being forced every day to pick faster, and then to learn a new way to pick even faster than that.
That's why I lay out those two chapters, right hand and left hand. I'm showing the expansion of both right-handed power on the part of enslavers, and the way that they conquer this terrain of left-handed power.
Michael Slate: You already started talking about the invention of the cotton gin, and how that was going to be a big advance and make things go much faster. But you point out that the key element is the enslaved people who are working it. You talk about the pushing system, the use of torture, the whipping machine, all that as ways that the enslavers found to force the people to actually step up their output in murdering ways. Just the immense torture it must have been on the body, both figuratively and literally. And people should understand: this was all crucial to the industrial revolution as a whole and the birth of the new world as a whole.
Edward Baptist: Remember the figures that we now have which show that there's a four-fold increase in the amount of cotton enslaved people are picking per day from 1800 to 1860. And a little bit of that might come from improved seeds or other sorts of changes in the biology of the cotton plant. But the cotton still has to get picked. It has to get grown, and it has to get picked. So enslavers have two separate innovations. The first is called by survivors of the system, it's called in some places the pushing system. This happens in the part of the production process running up to the harvest. Actually plowing, planting, cultivating the soil, using a hoe, in other words, to chop out all the weeds. What enslavers start to do, and this is not the system in rice and it's not the system in tobacco, is line up everybody, or sometimes they break them up into groups of 10, take the fastest person in each group, and tell that person, “If I see you slow down, you're going to be in for a whipping at the end of the day,” or sometimes directly in the field. And then they just have to tell everybody else, you've got to keep up with the fastest guy, or else you're going to get whipped on the spot. They concentrate on driving the faster people, the captains, and they force everybody else to keep up with them. This is what's called the pushing system. It allows the amount of land cultivated by each “hand,” as enslavers start to call enslaved people, to increase dramatically. And this puts more cotton in the fields.
Cotton, on the other hand, still has to get picked at the end of the year. And this is, as I said before, the bottleneck to the system. It's the slowest part of the production process. I read a WPA interview with a guy named Henry Clay. He was named after the perennial presidential candidate from Kentucky, this famous American politician. And he was born in North Carolina and moved to Louisiana in his teens. He was asked by his interviewer, and remember, Henry Clay is in his 80s or maybe early 90s by now – he's asked what that was like, and he said, well, my enslaver was a very clever man. He had something he called the “whipping machine.” The interviewer asked, what was the whipping machine? And Henry Clay said, well, it was a whole contraption. It included a board where somebody who didn't work fast enough was tied face down on this board, and above the board was suspended a wheel that had a lot of long leather straps attached to it. And that wheel in turn was pumped by a sort of pulley and treadle system. So if somebody pumped a treadle with their foot, just like an old-fashioned sewing machine, this would turn the wheel, and it would beat the enslaved person faster than any one human being could do.
It's possible that this machine – this instrument of torture – actually existed. Enslavers were very creative. In my research I ran across dozens if not hundreds of different kinds of tortures: everything that you read about from Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, it already happened at some point or another in the American South. But it's also possible that this was a metaphor. It was a metaphor for another system that I discovered. This system I sometimes refer to in the book as the whipping machine using Henry Clay's technology. And this was the system of measuring people, measuring their output each day, and then whipping them if they don't meet their quota – and then raising the quota.
One person, Israel Campbell, who was moved from Kentucky to Mississippi, reported that, when he got to Mississippi and he was put into the cotton fields, he was told he had to pick 100 pounds a day. And he could never pick more than 90. So the enslaver started saying, well, you owe me a debt of 10 pounds. I'm going to account it in this way: one lash for each pound short. So I'm going to give you 10 lashes at the end of the day.
The systematicity of this, the way in which everything was linked: measurement, the recording of output, the accounting system which underlies all of this, and then of course the torture which drove the system, pushed people to continually find ways to pick faster and faster, but sometimes in extremely difficult, personally painful ways, whether physically or psychologically painful. The idea of having to pick as fast as you can all day, knowing that you may face something really horrible at the end of the day if you cannot do it, obviously spurs innovation, but is in itself a form of constant psychological trauma.
Michael Slate: All of this leads to something really important in your book: the slave response to all this, the enslaved people building community. How can you out of millions of people thrown together with completely different experiences, oftentimes different languages, traditions, all that? You talk about two things. The role of music is first, and then the idea of storytelling, and even the creation of an oral history that incorporated the word “stole,” which hadn't been used in relation to this. It really set a whole new spin on the character, the essence, of what was going on. Can we talk about that response?
Edward Baptist: In a situation like the situation that enslaved people found themselves in, particularly when they’re ripped out of their communities of origin, still communities that are enslaved, but communities that are quite different, and in certain ways much richer, with much more heritage and so on, and put into these individualistic situations, potentially individualistic situations, where they don't know the people who are around them. They don't necessarily trust the people who are around them, where every day brings a new kind of threat, and potentially a new kind of betrayal or danger. When you're put in that situation, it seems to me you have two choices. One is that you can go into yourself, try to protect yourself, and another is that you can reach out to other people. And obviously, there's a whole array of individual responses for the enslaved people who go through this process. We can find lots of people who behave individualistically, self-destructively, others destructively. You can certainly find that. But you also find this astonishing response that I think was probably the majority response, and that's the response of actually building community.
We see this in a lot of different ways. We see this in the development of literally a new dialect, a new accent. What we understand today as sort of the main, central stream of African-American dialect, in certain ways, scholars of linguistics tell us, is found in the mid-South region, stretching from Kentucky and Tennessee, down into Alabama, west Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi – exactly the area to which enslaved African-Americans from all over the United States had been brought and put together in the early 19th century. It's pretty obvious to me that what they do is they figure out a way to talk to each other. And over time that is enriched and reproduced. And of course, African-American language continues to change rapidly in this country. But that's a key origin point, and it lies in the decision of people to literally talk to each other, form a common dialect, form a common new vocabulary and so on.
Music, as you said, is also crucial to that. Music is something in particular that always resists our attempts to intellectualize it, and it's constantly changing, and we cannot really put on paper the ways in which it animates life and brings people together or pulls them apart. But it's pretty obvious from the history of world popular music that African-American popular music, and maybe especially the genres which either originate or have significant contributions from that Mississippi Valley area, that these are tremendously successful and influential musical genres in the history of the world. From blues and country, which of course has African-American origins, jazz, rock 'n' roll, R&B, and even hip-hop, which to a large extent is founded by migrants or the children of migrants from that region.
These have tremendous influence. And there are a lot of reasons for this, and not all of them have to do with the fact that a million people were brought there, and they were told to figure out a way to survive or else die. But it seems clear to me, and there are a lot of sources that I think confirm this, that the process of survival required, as a lot of African-American authors and scholars have pointed out, continual innovation, even in music. So that's another thing that brings people together and helps them to survive.
But you talked about this use of language and the interpretation of history that develops in the slave labor camps of the cotton South, and this I think is in certain ways the most historically significant of all of these processes of survival. Enslaved people get together. They talk about, at the end of the workday – we've got a lot of sources that confirm this – they talk about how they got to where they are. In some point in that process, in community after community, they start to understand that what's happening to them is something that's very big, that it's transforming not just their own lives, but it's transforming the world. And even though it's being justified by whites, it is powerfully unethical. It's criminal. They come up with a vocabulary drawing on African roots, on African-American roots, on religious roots, on political roots, and on their innovation. They come up with a vocabulary for describing the process as one of theft. They identify some of the key points of it, some of the key crimes that are involved in this larger crime of theft, and they come up with a sort of canonical way to describe it. This is very crucial. It's very crucial to say, we're all going through the same thing. There's no individual escape from this. This is a collective process. This is something which forces us all to think about it in more or less the same way, if we're really going to identify what's going on and figure out how to survive and push back against it.
It's important for two reasons that enslaved people do this. And again, I'm not saying that everybody thought the same thing. But there are an awful lot of people that contribute to the process of coming up with this critique of slavery. It's important for two reasons, as I said. First of all, for African-American unity. If you compare African-American political unity to the political behavior of the descendants of enslaved Africans in other countries in the western hemisphere, what you see is that there's a difference between those countries like the U.S., where the descendants of formerly enslaved people tend to identify with each other, and those countries where there's identification with other aspects of identity. If you look at Brazilian identity, for instance, there's not a coherent Afro-Brazilian identity in the same way that you have a coherent African-American identity. This produces different political behavior. Afro-Brazilians do not all vote for the same presidential candidate. Of course, not all African- Americans vote for the same presidential candidate, but they do so to a much greater extent than other ethnic groups in the United States. That is a product, I would argue, of this process of producing a unity through understanding one's history, and understanding one's history as a collective process which is inescapable. There's no way out of this common identity, so we have to find a way to work together to make the outcome better.
The outcome is better because when people do escape from the Deep South, and there's only a few of them every year, but they bring this very powerful story, this story which is almost unanimous in its shape and its form and its key points. That radically shapes, it transforms the abolitionist movement in the United States. Formerly enslaved people repeatedly push white abolitionists to abandon the idea of “colonizing,” that is, sending all African-Americans out of the United States, to abandon the idea of gradual emancipation, and convince them that what is going on in the Deep South is so horrific that it has to be opposed whole cloth. It has to be taken down and destroyed. The radicalism of the abolitionist movement eventually splits the American political system open and leads to Lincoln's election, and to the southerners' reaction to Lincoln's election, which in turn brings about the Civil War and emancipation. So there’s that process of developing a political unity and a powerful, relentless, uncompromising critique of slavery as a crime, as a theft. That is absolutely essential to ultimately the end of slavery, bringing about emancipation itself.
Michael Slate: You've described the 1830s as a hinge of U.S. history, that by the mid-1800s, slavery is driving the expansion of U.S. industry, you have the role of the banks in that, you have all this stuff that's going on, the impact of 1837 and 1839, the economic crises that developed there. You had this really close relationship between slavery and industry, capitalism. But something happens in that period from the 1830s on that actually pushes things to the extreme where a Civil War does have to break out.
Edward Baptist: The 1830s are crucial both to the expansion of slavery in the U.S. and to the development of capitalism more broadly, because on the one hand, it's a decade where you see this furious, absolutely rapid expansion of cotton production in the United States and forced migration. Probably a quarter of a million people are moved in this one decade into the new states. You see the enslaved population of Mississippi multiply two or three times over. The production of cotton also doubles.
All these things happen in part because the United States and more broadly western capitalism make a massive investment, a massive bet on the expansion of cotton. In some ways it pays off. You have this flood of investment flowing in. It's attracted in part by the chartering of all these new banks, the deregulation of the American financial economy by the cotton planter Andrew Jackson which then allows all these banks to expand their lending massively. British lenders, western European lenders, northern lenders, these are all crucial to the expansion of the domestic slave trade in particular.
But the only catch to all that is, as enslavers are able to borrow all this money, buy all these individuals, move all of these 15-, 16-, 18-year-olds into Mississippi and Louisiana, put them in the cotton fields, force them to pick faster and faster – the only catch to all of that is that the production of cotton doubles. And this slowly brings down the price of cotton over the course of the 1830s. And of course, all of these enslavers are relying on revenue from cotton to pay back the mortgages that they owe. It's sort of like in 2008 when everybody was depending on that house that they planned to flip and resell for a quarter of a million dollars when they paid $125,000 or whatever – they were relying on that to pay back the mortgages that they had taken out in 2004. The consequence in some ways is very similar. You see a financial-market collapse in 1837, which is driven by the collapse in the price of cotton. Then there are all sorts of efforts made to re-inflate the market. And these bring about another crash in 1839.
Two things come out of that process. The first is that for about five or six years after 1839, the southern economy is in the doldrums. It's really suffering. There's a lot of what people today would call debt overhang. There is a lot of what people today would call zombie banks that are still carrying on. There are many, many attempts to collect the debts, to foreclose on the debts. Often those come from outside the South. This pushes southerners, I think, to greater hostility towards the North because they're constantly getting dunned for debts. Nobody particularly likes the collection agency that's bugging them and threatening them. It also leads to a sense of psychological doubt, anxiety, weakness, a sense that we may not be able to prosper inside this nation-state forever. So it's no surprise that it's at this point in time, in the 1840s, that the call for a separate southern nation really began to get a little bit of traction among enslavers. That's going to grow and grow and grow until 1860.
On the other hand, in the North, what you see is that even with the losses, the bad debts, there's tremendous profit-taking that comes out of the 1830s. In fact, the collapse of all these southern banks allows full control of the national financial economy from New York. This is really the period when Wall Street emerges from the wreckage as the center of the American financial economy. And all those profits, and the financial strength of the North relative to the South, enables, slowly, maybe even accidentally, the development of a northern industrial economy that doesn't depend on cotton. You see that in 1830, the northern industrial economy was growing, but it depended directly on cotton. It was almost completely based on cotton factories and factories that produced goods that were used to produce cotton: axes to clear the land, hoes to chop the ground, cotton gins, etc.
By the 1840s, a different kind of northern industrial economy is growing. It's developing. It's increasingly selling to a northern market. So you have the development of a northern economic leadership that no longer feels as directly connected and as directly tied to the South. The cotton manufacturers are going to stick around. Wall Street is going to continue to have tremendous interests in the South, and is not going to want to see the South knocked around or bullied or leaving the country. But these other industrialists are not going to have the same kind of connection to the South. In fact, they're going to see the South as the land of bad debts and the people who can't pay them back. So you have increasingly the development of a situation of conflict between the economic and political leadership of the South, and part of the North's economic and political leadership – part, but not all. That helps to lead toward 1860.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
February 4, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
February 4, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
There is something new afoot in the country.
When people at the bottom of society rose up in Ferguson, Missouri, against the police murder of Michael Brown, their spirit spread around the world. Whether you stood with the people in demanding that police murder stop, that there be justice, became a dividing line. Which side were you—ARE you—on?
When the killer of Michael Brown was not even indicted, and when the same thing happened in the equally notorious case of Eric Garner, the spirit of resistance... of shut it down... roared through society, and onto the campuses, and then back out again. The thinking of millions of people was challenged, and began to change—worldwide.
This in turn gave heart and militancy to fights against other outrages where they were already taking place. This new spirit has to grow, and has to go back on the offensive and spread. Many people want to break out of seeing these struggles as things unto themselves—they want to find the links and take up the fights on many fronts. On every campus, in every part of society, there needs to be a movement to actually STOP the systemic outrages and horrors that millions—no, billions—of people face.
STOP—GENOCIDAL PERSECUTION, MASS INCARCERATION, POLICE BRUTALITY AND MURDER OF BLACK AND BROWN PEOPLE!
STOP—THE PATRIARCHAL DEGRADATION, DEHUMANIZATION AND SUBJUGATION OF ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE, AND ALL OPPRESSION BASED ON GENDER OR SEXUAL ORIENTATION!
STOP—WARS OF EMPIRE, ARMIES OF OCCUPATION, AND CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY!
STOP—THE DEMONIZATION, CRIMINALIZATION AND DEPORTATIONS OF IMMIGRANTS AND THE MILITARIZATION OF THE BORDER!
STOP– CAPITALISM-IMPERIALISM FROM DESTROYING OUR PLANET!
The broader and deeper that each of these struggles spreads and the more determined they grow, demanding that the outrages STOP, the more that millions will be driven to question what they once assumed or never thought about, and the more that new possibilities for a society in which justice is possible will become debated and possible. The more organized that people become around STOPPING all this, the more powerful will be the movement. The more that people fighting on one front become fighters on every front, the stronger each of these battles becomes... and the chance for basic, fundamental change throughout society becomes more real.
Revolution #372 February 2, 2015
As Part of Retaking the Political Offensive...
February 5, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Editor’s note: Ferguson. A small suburb of St Louis comes to stand for the refusal to accept the murder of a young unarmed Black youth at the hands of the police. When you ask youth from other parts of the country, they might not immediately recognize the name Ferguson but they all know “Mike Brown.” They know the people stood up—“Hands Up Don't Shoot!” The people of Ferguson, in particular those cast off and trapped at the bottom of this society, especially the youth, stood up in resistance and awakened hundreds of thousands of people. They changed the political and moral landscape in this country. They concentrate and symbolize the urgency and potential to wake up society to the epidemic of police murder and brutality that is daily lives of Black and Brown people everywhere in this country. The authorities are scared at what they see in embryo—a potential force for revolution.
February 5, 2015
Letter from a reader:
I want to call people's attention to heightened repression, including physical attacks against people active in the movement in the Ferguson/St. Louis area. By the end of 2014, there were already over 600 people arrested in Ferguson/St. Louis, a significant number of whom face serious felony charges. These attacks have continued to intensify. People everywhere need to have the backs of the courageous people of Ferguson.
Last November, when the grand jury refused to indict Darren Wilson after months of struggle, there was understandably a ferocious response to this outrage in Ferguson. Soon after, the authorities started an open-ended investigation of Mike Brown's stepfather for inciting a riot. Right around the time that the NY Times floated out that the federal government would not charge Darren Wilson for any crime, the local authorities released videotapes—videos taken from stores that were damaged the night that Wilson walked and which purportedly showed “looters.” The public is being urged to identify and turn those people in to the police. In a highly publicized case, a 19-year-old activist, prominently associated with the defiant ones, was arrested and charged with arson. The people who “step outside” the bounds of acceptable protest, especially among the youth are demonized and criminalized while police who commit cold-blooded murder walk.
There are other attacks where who or what is behind the attack is not obvious. On MLK Day, there was a march from Canfield Green memorial for Mike Brown to the Ferguson Police Department. Afterward, back at Canfield Green there were multiple shots fired from an unidentified source toward a group of people who had been part of the protest. Bullets struck a car which has been very visible in the protests for months in Ferguson. Others reported being narrowly missed. A young woman activist in the car was struck but not critically injured. People are left with questions and a bad taste afterward. Was this a wrong-headed attack from among the people who think people are somehow disrespecting them? Or is there something more sinister at work? Does the state and its operatives, of different kinds, have a hand in these attacks?
The point is not to speculate about who/what is involved in these recent attacks on activists. The point is that we should understand that the authorities use all kinds of ways to attack the resistance. People who bravely stood up to tanks and phalanxes of police can become confused and demoralized when the attack appears to come from among the masses, and that is exactly the point! (See the www.revcom.us article "Important Lessons on Political Piggery: How FBI COINTELPRO Targeted Radical Groups")
The police and other authorities like the FBI have a long, bloody history of behind-the-scenes maneuvering and dirty tricks that are aimed at fanning differences and creating antagonisms among the people, and people need to be alert to this and not let them get away with it.
The authorities historically have done everything in their power to break down gang unity truces like those forged in the wake of the LA Rebellion in 1992. The gang turf mentality itself can lead people into doing what the system wants us to do, fight among each other. (One of the most inspiring things about Ferguson was the pictures of the youth with signs saying “Guns down for Mike Brown” and youth sporting red or blue colors standing shoulder to shoulder defiantly in the face of pigs with armored vehicles and machine guns trained on them.)
The authorities can instigate or turn a blind eye to the operatives of pro-police fascist and racist forces, including ones that have already been active in Ferguson like the Oath Keepers. Police also utilize informants and operatives from among the oppressed themselves, including people who they coerce into carrying out their dirty work.
Historically and down to today, the rulers have gone after both the organized forces for revolution and people who are newly gravitating to the movement for revolution in order to send a message loud and clear: “don't you dare think about getting rid of all this once and for all.” (See the www.revcom.us article "The Ominous Attacks Against the RCP and Bob Avakian")
The enemy does all this to make people afraid, to divide and demoralize people, and to derail the resistance.
What can we do in response to all the enemy can throw at us? We need to transform the situation into one of deeper and stronger unity among the people in resisting the outrage of police murder in Ferguson/St. Louis and throughout the country. We need to build principled unity and draw in a growing number of people (not just in Ferguson but throughout the country) to take on and beat back the heightening repression and any attempts to sow dissension and foment disunity among those who have stepped forward to protest and resist police brutality and murder (and other outrages bound up with this). This in turn must be developed as one key front of the larger effort to more fully re-seize the political and ideological initiative and retake the political offensive, to have this protest and resistance become even much broader, deeper, and more determined. For revolutionaries, this also means working to win people to see how this interconnects with all the other oppressive outrages of this system and the solution to this through an actual revolution.
As an integral part of this, adopting some basic principles (standards) that the movement embraces could be very valuable in forging deeper unity that can stand up to all the various ways that the enemy will attack and in enabling those who are part of the resistance to sort out contradictions among the people and resolve them on the right basis and prevent them from being turned into or being used by the enemy to intimidate, derail and demoralize the movement. If people widely adhere to these and struggle for them, then it will be clearer if someone is doing the work of the enemy, and it will be possible to expose and keep it from causing havoc.
This is a proposal for adopting such principles. (I would urge that they be considered for adoption at the Stop Mass Incarceration Network's national meeting in Atlanta [or in its immediate wake], as well as shared with and adopted by others.)
As part of building the fight to STOP the outrage of police murder and brutality right now, many different people and political forces from different perspectives come together and make plans on how to unite in common struggle against a common enemy. And within that, there should be a spirit of lively wrangling over differences. If done in the right way, with largeness of mind and generosity of spirit, this kind of wrangling actually deepens the unity of any group or community of people working together.
At the same time, there should be and must be a few simple principles of what does NOT go in this movement. We recognize that the police and other authorities like the FBI have a long history of behind-the-scenes maneuvering and dirty tricks that are aimed at fanning differences and creating antagonisms among the people, and people need to be alert to this and not let them get away with pitting people against each other. (Learn about COINTELPRO.) By adhering to principles, it makes it much harder for the authorities to get away with such attacks.
We urge these principles be widely adopted:
Differences among people and groups should be struggled out in a principled way.
* There must not be physical threats, let alone physical attacks, against anyone in the movement to end these outrages.
* Do not make accusations that someone or some group is working with the police—being a provocateur or informant—without actual evidence.
* There are times when "working with the police" is necessary to negotiate permits, etc.; but in no instance is it ever permissible for people in struggle to finger, or turn over, others to the police or to speculate to the press—who often work closely with the authorities—about someone else in the movement. Such activity should actually be cause for barring people and individuals from the people's movements, until they renounce and change these practices.