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Revolution Revolution Online Edition, September 8, 2008
From A World to Win News Service
The following is from A World to Win News Service.
September 8, 2008. A World to Win News Service. On August 22 the U.S.-led coalition forces announced that in an operation the night before they had killed 30-35 Taleban fighters in the villages of Azizabad-Nawabad, Shindand district, in the north-western province of Herat, close to the Iran border. According to their statement, the clash started when coalition troops were ambushed as they were heading to arrest a Taleban commander called Mullah Saddiq. The American military authorities said their troops responded with light weapons and RPG fire and then called in "close air support" in self-defence. They called it a "successful operation," and even 24 hours later claimed they "remained confident" that there were no civilian casualties. (BBC, August 27)
But it didn't take long before this story proved to be a lie, as the next day relatives pulled the bodies of the dead and injured from the rubble. Among them were many children. The infuriated villagers expressed outrage, shouting "Death to America" and other slogans and threw stones at the U.S. and Nato-led Afghan army soldiers stationed in the area. Afghan Army troops shot and killed at least one demonstrator. Later, villagers showed journalists the demolished buildings and the belongings of the victims, mostly toys, teddy bears, children's clothing and others such items. As the news of the many dead and injured spread, the anger of the people grew and anti-occupier sentiment started to boil all over the country.
On other occasions in the past, Hamid Karzai, the Western-installed president of the puppet government, has criticized coalition forces and then set up a commission to investigate the matter, generally without a result. For instance, on July 6 Americans bombed a wedding party in Nangarhar province in the east, killing 47 people. Two months have passed, and the commission has still not issued a public report or even said when it will. With this new massacre dominating media coverage, he could not simply repeat this ploy. Pretending to be more serious, he dismissed two top commanders of the so-called Afghanistan National Army who had taken part in the operation with the coalition forces. Also he appointed a commission to investigate the matter and report quickly – and this time it did.
This Kabul commission said that the U.S. air attack had caused the deaths of as many as 96 people, among them "60 children aged from 3 months to 16 years olds, killed while they slept." (International Herald Tribune, August 27)
Still the U.S. authorities refused to admit the facts and shamelessly made indirect use of the discredit they themselves have helped bring on Karzai – as their flunky – to impugn this report, while Karzai, for his part, tried to use the report to distance himself from this operation and the occupiers.
The strongest challenge to the U.S.'s attempts to deny the whole thing, at least as far as the Western media and public opinion are concerned, came from the United Nations. On August 26, the UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide issued a statement based on a UN Mission on-the-scene investigation. Citing physical evidence, meticulous eyewitness interviews and video footage from mobile phones, the envoy, an internationally well-known Norwegian career diplomat, concluded that at least 60 children, 15 women and 15 men had been killed by an air strike during an operation in which coalition and Afghan army soldiers entered in the village. (Reuters, August 26)
Still the U.S. refused to accept this report. American military authorities eventually said that they had conducted an investigation and admitted that "five-seven" civilians had died. For the next two weeks they continued to insist that the villagers were "spreading Taleban propaganda": that they had "fabricated evidence" and "duped" the UN investigators. (The New York Times, September 8)
Finally, amid serious political turmoil in Afghanistan and rising discredit, in at least a few Western eyes, due to the circulation of the videos and the work of reporters who came to the scene in the wake of the UN report, the U.S. took a step in response. On September 7, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, David McKiernan, asked that the American investigation be reopened.
In fact masses and revolutionary forces inside Afghanistan believe that the number of people killed is far greater than reported by the Afghan government or the UN. A statement issued by the Revolutionary Youth Movement of Afghanistan August 28 describes what happened in the Shindand area, where the village is located:
"The bombardment started at 2 am on Friday morning August 22 and continued until 7 am. The result was enormous damage. As of 10 am that day, 120 bodies were taken out from under the ruined houses and this work continued until 3 pm that day. The extent of the destruction was so immense that people could not carry out these rescue efforts without the help of bulldozers and other mechanical equipment belonging to a construction company from the regional airport. Soldiers from the puppet regime's National Army and the imperialist occupiers completely surrounded the whole region. The army closed all entrances to the region. Nato and U.S. Special Forces troops blocked the roads to Shindand airport.
“In an interview, local people who had tirelessly helped their neighbors said that they were completely astounded by the number of villagers killed. According to the figures collected from the site, the known dead include 168 people, mainly children and women, and 240 were wounded…. However the puppet regime shamelessly announced the number of dead as 96."
Contradicting the claims by the U.S.-led coalition forces that the incident occurred while they were trying to capture a Taleban leader, this leaflet describes the circumstances as the following: "It was the first anniversary of the death of a local influential commander named Taimoor. Since the night before, his brother had been preparing that Friday as a day for his memorial. As the cooks and other aids and servants were preparing the commemoration, U.S. aircraft arrived and demolished the nearby houses."
The account later given by New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall, who visited the village, says substantially the same thing about the circumstances of the killings. (September 8). A villager told her that an Afghan civilian accompanying the American soldiers sought out and killed the brother. A man claiming to be Mullah Sadiq, the alleged target of the U.S.-led raid, called a radio station after the attack and said he had not been in the village. Since many relatives of the brother, "the most prominent family in the village," work for a private U.S. security firm and the Afghan police, an implied possible explanation is that the U.S. had taken sides against the family in a struggle between warlords. Her article concurs that almost all of the dead were asleep on rooftops or under mosquito netting in yards when they were hit by not just one but several airstrikes.
So many people have been killed in so many American air raids few people in Afghanistan believe U.S. and Nato claims that these are simply "mistakes" – as a Human Rights Watch report unfortunately put it – committed in the pursuit of Taleban fighters. Karzai himself knows that growing numbers of people have lost patience with the brutality of the occupiers, not only in the Pashtun areas of the south and east where the Taleban emerged, but also in other ethnic regions where the U.S. and its allies were counting on some popular support or at least tolerance for the occupation.
That is why Karzai and other Afghan government officials have been making critical gestures against American air raids and promising various sorts of measures to reduce the killing. For example, the Afghan government announced that it would hold talks to renegotiate the terms of the international presence in the country.
"'The presence of the international community in Afghanistan should be re-regulated based on bilateral agreements,' a statement said, adding that limits should be placed on military forces and 'air strikes on civilian targets, unilateral searches of homes and illegal detentions must be stopped immediately.'" (BBC, August 27)
But since Karzai's position depends on the guns of the U.S. and its allies, not much is likely to come of this. His government has little real authority: "The government commission met with the commander of the United States forces in Herat province but he declined to answer their questions, saying the United States military was conducting its own investigation." (International Herald Tribune, August 27).
There are over 70,000 foreign soldiers in Afghanistan from 40 countries. But if a soldier or officer does anything wrong even according to the occupiers' standards, let alone in violation of international law (such as the Geneva conventions), they will be tried according to the law of their own country. The overwhelming majority of cases have never reached the stage of any kind of trial. This is the real law of the occupation: the occupiers are the law. So Karzai is just barking.
The U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan are killing civilians in horrendous numbers and at an accelerating rate. Civilian deaths from U.S. and Nato airstrikes nearly tripled in 2007 over the previous year, according to a September 8 report by Human Rights Watch, with 321 Afghan civilians killed in 22 bombings, "while hundreds more were injured." At least 119 civilians were killed in 12 airstrikes during the first seven months of this year, the group said, with another 54 civilians killed by U.S. and Nato ground troops. (hrw.org)
In July 2007, after similar though smaller-scale mass murders by bombing, the Karzai government also filed a complaint and the U.S. promised to change its "rules of engagement" governing combat operations to avoid such incidents. Instead, the killing is increasing. The Human Rights Watch report links the increased civilian deaths to the military strategy the U.S. is pursuing, called "economy of forces," in which relatively small ground units maraud around the countryside calling in air strikes, which are the main way the occupiers get their killing done, both of suspected Taleban and civilians. In fact, the use of this approach makes large numbers of civilian deaths inevitable. Since the U.S and its allies have announced plans to step up their war, many more such civilian deaths can be expected, even if the occupiers might prefer to limit civilian casualties so as to avoid rousing the people against them.
There are several factors pulling in that direction. Faced with a critical situation in Afghanistan, where the occupiers are losing control over many different regions to the Taleban who were hated by the people until recent years, the U.S. and its allies are in no position to step back. Further, some instability in Afghanistan would give the occupiers an excuse to stay there for years to come, but they want to have this instability under control and not allow it to spread into Pakistan, for example. None of the imperialist countries or governing factions are talking about reducing their forces there; in fact, most of the talk is about how much to increase them. In the U.S, the two presidential candidates accuse each other of not wanting enough war in Afghanistan, and the heads of the European governments are generally emphasizing the need for more war as well. This tendency can only gain momentum as tension between the West and Russia increases. This region has historically been an important battleground between the Western colonialists (notably the British Empire) their modern imperialist successors, and old and now new Russia.
So overall this is the kind of peace and prosperity the imperialist forces have brought for Afghanistan's people: More war, more killing, more poverty, and more misery and so on. And the only way people of Afghanistan can undo this is to drive out all these imperialist occupiers.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution Revolution Online Edition, September 8, 2008
If you thought, in the wake of the nightmare of the Bush years, and the euphoria of the Democratic Convention, that the political pendulum in the USA was swinging to the “left”…
If you thought that the Bush regime was so widely and bitterly hated that a repackaged version couldn’t seriously contend for the presidency…
If you thought that the Christian fundamentalist theocrats were passé…
Then you got a shocking wake up call from the Republican National Convention.
As the RNC opened in St. Paul, it appeared in danger of being a dud, or even a fiasco. There was the awkward issue of a widely and deeply hated incumbent president whose name is synonymous with lies, endless war, and torture. Then there was Hurricane Gustav, threatening to remind the world of, and perhaps even provoke a rerun of, the hell that the people of New Orleans and the Gulf region were put through by the arrogant neglect of the government before and after Hurricane Katrina. On top of all this, the “Evangelical Community,” (read: fundamentalist Christian theocrats) were threatening to sit things out, unsatisfied with their role in a potential John McCain presidency.
But in a stunning turn-around, the Republicans came out at the RNC with big guns blasting. The sparkplug was the selection of Sarah Palin as the vice presidential candidate. But the whole event was a coordinated barrage of venomous attacks on liberals, crude pandering to and promotion of “resentment” of the white middle class, and calls for unquestioned support for endless war. And as a defining subtext, the convention marked the insertion of the Christian fascists much more deeply into the '08 election.
The run-up to the convention took a startling turn with the announcement that Sarah Palin would be McCain’s running mate. The announcement was a shocker because there had been no indication that Palin was being seriously considered by McCain. The New York Times wrote that “Ms. Palin had no strong advocates” among McCain’s advisors.
And there are other clear indications that McCain was not seriously considering Palin. She did not go through the kind of serious vetting process and investigation that all the other candidates on McCain’s list of possible running mates went through. The Washington Post reported that “Palin was not subjected to a lengthy in-person background interview with the head of Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential vetting team until last Wednesday in Arizona, the day before McCain asked her to be his running mate” (our emphasis). And McCain officials told the Washington Post that they were not even informed of the potential scandal involving Palin’s pregnant unmarried daughter until that last-second background interview, even though this is the kind of thing that would normally be revealed well in advance during the usual protracted vetting process for a vice presidential candidate.
In fact, McCain wanted Joseph Lieberman, his co-cheerleader for “staying the course” in Iraq, or former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge to be his vice presidential candidate. But the nominally pro-choice Lieberman and Ridge were deal-breakers for powerful forces of the Christian right. James Dobson (of Focus on the Family) announced before the convention that he “cannot and will not vote for Senator John McCain.” And, speaking after the Palin announcement, Dobson said that if McCain would have “come up with Lieberman or Tom Ridge or somebody like that, we’d be back in a hole again.”
Dobson and those he represents essentially made McCain an offer he couldn’t refuse. While all the channels are not clear, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Christianity Today that he had “recommended” Palin to McCain’s people. And after the announcement of Palin as the VP candidate, Dobson said in a radio interview, “If I went into the polling booth today, I would pull the lever for John McCain.” He added, “When I look at the choices that are ahead and what the implications are for this country, and now especially with this selection, with just an outstanding V.P. candidate as a running mate, I tell you what I am relieved and very excited.” (Dennis Prager show, 8/29/08)
And so, as it turned out, Senator “Maverick,” the guy who supposedly listens only to his independent set of values, had to bow down and take a vice presidential candidate he had not selected, and hardly knew, in order to feed the Christian fascists.
Palin herself is both a Christian fundamentalist and a product of the Christian fascist political machine. She aims to ban all abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. She believes in “young earth” creationism, a literalist reading of the Bible’s mythology of the history of the planet that claims the earth is thousands of years old in opposition to the scientific fact that it is billions of years old, and has argued that this theocratic dogma should be taught as an “alternative” in public school science classes. As mayor, she tried to ban books from the library and fire the librarian when she opposed that. In a video available at YouTube, Palin tells a youth group at an Alaska church that not only is the Iraq war “a task that is from God,” but even declared that a potential gas pipeline she wants built from Alaska to the lower 48 states is “God’s will.”
Coming on the heels of the pilgrimage by McCain and Barack Obama to Christian fundamentalist Rick Warren’s church for what was essentially the first debate between the two, the vetting and selection of the vice presidential candidate by religious fundamentalists—in a manner not that different from the way the Islamic theocrats in Iran approve political candidates—was a chilling exercise of, and strengthening of, the power of Christian theocrats in the United States. And the promotion of Palin to the status of “political superstar”—by the same media that the Republicans accuse of being biased against them(!)—alone amounts to a major advance for these fundamentalist fascists.
While the insertion of Palin pumped energy into the RNC, the whole event was a synchronized and bellicose call for unquestioning loyalty to aggressive, endless war, to hyper-chauvinism, and for the social base of the Republicans, a call to prepare to tough out hard times. All accompanied by incessant bashing of Hollywood liberals, “the mainstream media,” and others who are served up to the angry middle class as scapegoats for their problems.
That message was delivered as a one-two punch from Rudoph Giuliani and Palin.
“Senator McCain was the candidate most associated with the surge,” declared Giuliani, who attacked the Democrats for having “given up on Iraq.” And, Giuliani continued, “ladies and gentlemen, when they gave up on Iraq, they had given up on America.”
Giuliani, who invokes 9/11 every time he speaks, lashed out at “the left-wing media” and the “Hollywood celebrities.” He skewered Obama for his “Ivy League education” (never mind that Bush went to Yale) and his background as a community organizer. And the former Mayor of New York City lashed out at those who think the small Alaska town that Sarah Palin came from “isn’t cosmopolitan enough.”
Palin saluted McCain as the man who “refused to break faith with those troops in Iraq who now have brought victory within sight.” And she derided Obama as someone who “can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting and never use the word ‘victory,’ except when he’s talking about his own campaign.”
The angry “hockey mom,” the self-described “pit bull with lipstick,” also lashed out at the very idea that being a “community organizer” was a legitimate thing. She pandered to and promoted small-town narrow-mindedness, and resentment of any enlightened ideas: “[I]n small towns, we don’t quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they’re listening and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren’t listening. No, we tend to prefer candidates who don’t talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco.”
Both speeches had the smug, bullying tone of an episode of the O’Reilly Factor on Fox—lashing out at the “cosmopolitans,” the “Hollywood liberals,” those who are concerned about whether detainees get “read…their rights.”
When Adolf Hitler rallied the angry “volk”—the “common people” in Germany—against the “cosmopolitans”—(which in Germany, at that time, took extreme concentration in his attacks on the Jews)—it was called fascism.
What do you call it in the USA?
While Palin and Giuliani provided the drama and dynamism at the RNC, McCain’s speech concentrated a key element of the Republicans' message. It might have appeared that the finale of McCain’s speech was simply one more self-serving installment of his endlessly invoked experience as a prisoner of war (McCain was shot down while flying high above Vietnam, part of an air war that contributed to killing millions of Vietnamese people in the Vietnam war). But there was a specific message here, concentrated in McCain’s self-described evolution from someone who “didn’t think there was a cause that was more important than me,” to someone who learned to “fight again for my country….” Someone who “fell in love with my country”—and, he pointedly added, “not just for the many comforts of life here.”
McCain’s speech was a call to rally around and fight for traditional American values, even through hard times, military challenges, and personal sacrifice. And it converged with the elevated role of the Christian fascists, who provide a coherent morality and organization for just such mobilization.
Barack Obama has positioned himself as the candidate to “bring us together.” And there are ruling class voices arguing that Obama would be the best possible “face” on all the things that will have to be done in the service of American empire. As Revolution analyzed last week: “Obama would not rule in precisely the same way as McCain. That is not our point. What IS essential is that he would serve the same fundamental interests, and obey the same fundamental imperatives, as McCain. In line with that, Obama is also making the case to these rulers that his particular mix of aggression and negotiations, combined with his ability to ‘appeal to’ people internationally and pacify the political scene at home, would be more effective than that of McCain in serving those interests and imperatives.”
Obama and McCain do not differ over the basic direction of society. Nor do their differences arise in any fundamental way from competing “interest groups” that tend to be aligned with the Republicans or the Democrats. The sharply contending programs they are bringing forward both start from the overall interests of U.S. imperialism. They both agree on the terms set by the so-called “war on terror,” with all the terrible suffering and death that is bringing to the world. But the differences they do have represent contending forces and agendas within the ruling class over how to navigate through the minefield of contradictions confronting the U.S. rulers. Through the RNC, the Republicans, with their slogan “Country First,” put forward their solution to reforging national unity and charging forward globally in troubled times.
Bush himself was hardly mentioned and only spoke to the convention by video, where he himself promoted McCain as an “independent” agent of change. The fact that the RNC had to go to great lengths to distance the Republican Party and McCain (who, after all, are the dominant force in the “status quo” right now) from Bush reveals the sense among the ruling class of how deep and wide is the anger at Bush and the sharpness of the challenges they face in the period ahead.
In the face of real centrifugal pulls tearing U.S. society apart, and real global challenges to the U.S. empire, the message from the RNC was an unapologetic appeal to traditional “small-town” American values—ignorant arrogance, intolerance, hyperpatriotism, and old time religion. The Republicans maneuvered to trump Obama’s calls for “change” with their own version of “change”: a reactionary populist rebellion against the “elite,” the “Washington insiders,” and the “mainstream media,” led by a supposed maverick senator and a crusading, anti-insider hockey mom from Alaska. Representative Marsha Blackburn pretty much summed it up when she told the crowd, “We are the gun totin’, God fearin,’ flag wavin’ Americans who are excited to see two crack shots on the ticket with the status quo in their sights.”
This message from the RNC was ominous. It was a call to the faithful to rally behind, and be ready to sacrifice for, the USA in its global wars for empire. It whipped up a section of society to support domestic repression and tough out and blame people with less for economic hard times already here and down the road. And the undertones and overtones in all this represented a continuation of the outlook of the Bushites: that they represent the only legitimate path for this country, and that any opposition to what they are doing, and how they are doing it—even from other ruling class forces who share their basic outlook but differ on approaches—is unacceptable and illegitimate.
The RNC presented a message of Bushism without Bush. Still here was the openly aggressive, “go it alone” if necessary foreign policy in service of empire; heavy on force, and at least publicly disdainful of diplomacy. And still here but ramped up, a promise of a powerful place at the White House table and throughout society for Christian fascists. What was new was the populist edge, foreshadowed by the Huckabee candidacy, and a call to “suck it up,” like McCain did in a Vietnamese prison, and put the country ahead of personal comforts.
In addition to what happened inside the convention, the extreme, fascistic repression against dissenters and the attacks on independent and even mainstream reporters unleashed in St. Paul in the period up to and outside the convention, were another dimension to the message from the RNC—the intolerance of opposition, dissent, or even uncomfortable questions (see "The RNC’S Outrageous Assault on Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, and Alternative Media...This is What Imperialist Democracy Looks Like" at revcom.us.
A sober look at the RNC should be a wakeup call. But it should not be cause for passivity or despair, including in the form of adapting oneself to the “politics of the possible.” The so-called “alternative” posed by Obama is one of “conciliation” with these bloodthirsty, uber-chauvinistic, dark ages, self-proclaimed pit bulls (with or without lipstick), who are politely referred to by the mainstream media as the “neocons” and the “Christian right.” Obama’s calls to “bring us all together” are, in essence, calls for capitulation to the reactionary agenda that has been brought forward by Bush and revitalized and updated at the RNC.
Instead of accepting the “politics of the possible,” what is very urgently needed is a completely different polarization of society, based not on accommodation to or acceptance of the current terms of “acceptable debate,” but on the basis of bringing forward and fighting for the real needs and aims of the great majority of people in this country, and around the world. That is the standard by which every person of conscience should judge who and what they support, and by which they should judge their own actions. There is a great need, now, for political resistance that is not bound to, and is independent of, the terms of “choosing” between the fascistic agenda of the RNC and conciliation to that represented by Obama.
In tumultuous and politically charged times like this, people look for answers. Even if they enter into political life on the terms of one or another ruling class agenda, they can be open to radical solutions—solutions that get to the root of the problem. Through all the confusion and challenges of the election season, and through whatever path events take, Revolution newspaper will continue to expose those roots. And Revolution will connect people with Bob Avakian’s re-envisioning of communist revolution—a source of real hope and daring for all who refuse to accept the “choices” this system offers.
There are a million ways to hook up with, and contribute to this revolutionary movement, even as you check it out. Drop in at the Revolution Books location in your area, or write or email Revolution, c/o RCP Publications, Box 3486 Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654, email@example.com.
Revolution Revolution Online Edition, September 8, 2008
Sunday, August 24, at the Cleo Parker Robinson Theater in Denver, 300 people gathered to hear speeches by prominent representatives of the movements against the war, repression, and torture of the Bush regime. The following is an edited transcript of a talk given by Sunsara Taylor at this Evening of Conscience.
I want to start by giving everyone who came out and protested today a shout out. People had to go up against a lot and this needs to be appreciated. There was the “freedom cages” with barbed wire that the police built for the protesters, the storm troopers in the streets, there was all the media hype about protesters being dangerous. And then there is all the Obama hype (the Obama “hope”) that is being built up and that people are being sucked into. To go out in the face of that and to stand true to principle, against the war, against theocracy, against everything this Bush program has brought, and everything that Obama is not challenging, is very courageous and very heroic and very precious.
At the same time, our numbers were smaller than they need to be, than they should have been and than many of us were hoping they’d be. I want to talk bluntly and honestly about this and what we should make of this. I write for Revolution newspaper and this is something I’ve been writing about. I did an article recently, “The Dangerous Logic of Blocking Protests in the Name of Getting Obama Elected.” This has been going on. People maybe have heard some of the groups talk about having an “inside/outside strategy.” As World Can’t Wait was working to help build these protests we talked to a lot of people who said, “Oh yeah, we’re glad you’re organizing street protests against a new war on Iran, against the war in Iraq. We’ll be there too—and we’ll be doing our inside strategy.” That is, trying to influence the Democratic Party from within the convention and by appealing to delegates.
But in reality what’s been happening is that a lot of these so-called “anti-war” groups and “anti-war” leaders have been demobilizing protest. They have been working on their “inside strategy” but they have done nothing to mobilize protests out in the streets to oppose this direction that can be seen by the world.
I know Recreate ’68 had to go up against this. I’m going to be really blunt because it matters. United for Peace and Justice, Leslie Cagan, she said maybe we should call off the protest today and advocated instead that we should mingle with the delegates. I’m all for going and talking to delegates…in order to get them to join us in the streets, okay? But Code Pink, Progressive Democrats of America, where were they today?
A lot of people are deeply angered and are getting disaffected with Barack Obama. Why? Like Jeremy [Scahill] just said, Obama is not an anti-war candidate. He wants to send ten thousand more troops to Afghanistan. He threatened nuclear weapons against Iran repeatedly. He threatened to go unilaterally into Pakistan. That’s not an anti-war candidate. He voted for Bush’s FISA bill to legalize massive spying on the American population and render retroactive immunity to everybody who broke the law in the Bush administration and in the telecom industry so that people will never know how far that crime went. This is a man who has come out and said that he wants to expand Bush’s Faith-Based programs. We have a move toward theocracy in this country, and he wants to expand the Faith-Based program. We have a fascist assault on women’s reproductive rights—the right to abortion, the right to birth control—and he’s saying what? “We have to reduce abortions. We have to seek common ground.” He’s featuring Bob Casey, a fanatical anti-abortion candidate, to speak at the DNC. These are the reasons people are growing disaffected with Barack Obama. Frankly it’s a good thing, but it’s not enough.
I want to say something else, because this has had a real impact. We have to confront this. The Nation came out with an open letter to Barack Obama. And a lot of very courageous people who have rightfully earned the respect of the people for their stands against the war and the Bush program signed this letter and this was a mistake and it’s done harm. This letter says, among other things, that there are many, many people who gave grown alienated from politics-as-usual who have found hope again in Barack Obama, and the letter casts this as a good thing. This is not a good thing. People are right to get disaffected. The question is not how do we get people to believe and how do we use our anti-war credentials to make Barack Obama more palatable. The question is, how do we go out to people and tell them the truth about what it’s really going to take to stop all the things that made them alienated in the first place.
Including the fact that Obama is not going to stop this program. Sure, he’s different in some flavors or varieties than McCain. I’m not contesting that. But those differences are about how to run an empire, that’s what he’s auditioning to do. And it’s time for people to confront this reality. We do not bridge this gap by going with the grain, appealing to the false hope that he’s capturing people in. We deal with this by going against the grain, by telling people the truth that they need to hear: that Obama doesn’t represent the change you need, he represents the change that the system will allow you to believe in.
We have to be out there in the streets. This is why I think it’s so important what people did today and why we need to persevere in this. There is nobody up in the halls of power listening. There is no referee up there. There is nobody saying, “What does the public really want; let me give that expression.” This is the dictatorship of a ruling class of a capitalist system. And the only people who are going to stop this program are people who are going to go in the face of that, who are going to work outside of official politics, who are going to go outside of the mainstream, who are going to go into the streets, who are going to shut down their campuses, who are going to blow the whistle in defiance of the halls of power, who are going to risk all the things they are bringing down on journalists now who report the truth, who are going to pass resolutions in their professional organizations that they won’t participate in torture, that they won’t go along with spying and covering up—people who are going to risk something.
I know a lot of people got demoralized. They think protest doesn’t work, that maybe this is unrealistic. But look, there is nothing less realistic than thinking that somebody in one of these two parties or in this whole framework is going to listen.
It is on us.
Yes, this is harder. It is riskier. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to confront this. But, frankly, it’s uncomfortable to have your home raided, to have your sons dragged out in Iraq, to have them rounded up and disappeared, to have five million people displaced. Nobody asked them, O.K.? Nobody asked the people in New Orleans if they were going to be displaced while they are standing on rooftops and George Bush is making jokes. And they take troops off on rescue missions and send them in with orders to shoot to kill. That’s what this government did.
And if you want this to stop, you have to take it upon yourself, we have to take it upon ourselves, and, yes, there is risk involved.
But if you look back in history and you look at what happened in Nazi Germany, how people went along with one outrage after another and they got cowed and intimidated. Pastor Martin Niemoeller came out after that. He’s the one who said, “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up… Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up… and by the time they came for me there was no one left.” That’s his most famous quote and I think it’s very relevant now. But he also said something else which I think is worth upholding. He said, look, if we had stood up when it was still early enough, while we still had our convictions, while we still had the ability to do so, perhaps 30,000 people would have been rounded up or killed, but think about what we would have stopped.
I’m not going to prettify this. We are in the belly of an empire. It is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. They have legalized torture and both parties, the whole system, is involved in that. History is going to judge us by how we act.
If your allegiance to the Democratic Party is bigger than your allegiance to the people of the world then you have foreclosed your right to call yourself an “anti-war leader.” [applause]
I really want to say this because I know it can be demoralizing. We can hype ourselves and say, “Oh, we were really militant out there...” And we were and it was righteous. But I don’t want to hype us. We are smaller than we need to be. But here, right now, it matters a lot if we get demoralized or if we get firmer in our conviction. The fact that we are smaller means that there is more responsibility on our shoulders. We are still right and there are still tens of millions of people in this country who do not want to live in a new Rome, who do not want to live in a torture state. They may be deluded right now by Barack Obama, by the illusion that they are going to get change through this election. And this may be being facilitated by a huge section—and it’s an embarrassment—of the anti-war movement and the so-called pro-choice movement and you name it. This may be being facilitated but those people are disaffected and the reality will assert itself whether Barack becomes president and escalates this war, whether McCain becomes president and people feel that their hopes were dashed, there are going to be people looking to what comes next. And they are either going to get demoralized and paralyzed—or they will get radicalized and active. And the difference between the two depends disproportionately on what we are doing now. Whether we tone it down and half-step on the truth of things, or whether we’re going in the face of people’s illusions and telling the truth about what it’s really going to take, the kind of struggle and sacrifice, and yes, upheaval, it takes to change the course of history.
I really want to encourage people to not lose our bearings. This is a time for strategic nerve, for bold truth-telling, for going out to the people in a mass way, not being intimidated or disoriented by all the hype that’s going on for Obama, or by our small numbers.
This is a time to get more radical.
I want to talk about this for just a minute. They try and scare people when they talk about radicals—"Oh the radicals…" Radical just means getting to the root. It means you’re not just dealing with the symptoms any more, you’re dealing with the root of the problem. I think it says something about American culture that they try and scare you with the idea of being radical. That’s a problem. [Applause]
It’s not just this election and it’s not just these candidates, although it is, and this is a historic moment. Elections in this country—we live in a capitalist society—and elections are controlled by the bourgeoisie, by the rulers. They are not the means through which decisions are made. That’s why they give you two options to continue the war. Elections are not how decisions get made. They are primarily for the purpose of channeling people’s political energies, confining them, and running them into the ground. And they are a way that whoever becomes president is able to claim a mantle of legitimacy, of a popular mandate, so when they do their crimes people think, “Oh, maybe I’m the only one, everybody else supported them.” It’s a way to confuse people. It’s a trap. It’s a bamboozlement. And it’s time to get very radical and look at how it’s rooted in a system and we actually need a different system. We need a different world. We need a revolution. [Applause]
A lot of people say, “You guys criticize and criticize but what would you do instead?” I’m a supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Party and I am very proud to say that the Revolutionary Communist Party just published its new Constitution. We communists don’t just want to criticize. We want state power. We know we could run things far better if we had state power in our hands. I invite people to get your hands on this and engage this. We need a radical solution. We need a new world. We need socialism. We need communism. And if we had state power there would not be imperialist wars. There would not be an epidemic of police murder—twelve men shot in four weeks by the Chicago P.D., not to mention Sean Bell, Amadou, the names and the tears and the outrage goes on and on. To be a young Black man in this country in 2008 is to have a target on your back. How much longer is this going to go on? If we had state power, that’s over. No longer a situation where half of humanity, women, are terrorized walking down the street and the most dangerous place in their lives is in their own homes. A quarter of women will be raped during their lives. This is a sick system and we need a different world. [Applause]
We need a whole different culture. Think about the energy, the creativity, the audacity that young people get into and they endlessly come up with new cultural expressions and then how—because of this system and the culture it gives rise to—all this gets twisted into new ways to degrade women or get over on somebody else. It doesn’t have to be this way. If people could live differently, and I think you see this all the time, bursting up against the constraints of this system. You see it in the songs that don’t get played on the radio. And you see it in the people trying to become teachers in the inner cities. You see people trying to become doctors to spread HIV medication around the world. But they’re up against the fact that the system is bigger and the problem is bigger. But if you had revolutionary state power all of that could be given the backing of the state. It could be unleashed. People could live a different way.
Or think of what it means that in the face of massive intimidation, of all the repression and the legalization of torture and all this “watch what you say” that’s coming down, that people go out in the face of this anyway, not just for their own narrow self interest, but because they care about the lives of people in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Iran, in Palestine. People they have never met. That’s a sentiment that a lot of people share, deep in their hearts, and we can bring to the surface and if we had state power, you would not be caged for giving that expression. That would be given the backing of the state. We would open the airwaves to dissent and debate.
The world could be radically different and it’s time we start talking about real change, fundamental change, radical change. We’re doing a program on Wednesday night at the Unitarian Church at 7 pm on the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party. I invite everybody to come out to it and engage in this discussion and to talk about how we’re going to really bring about a different world. And for people, whether you’re ready to get with that, to debate that, or if you’re not ready for that, we are going to be in the streets with people, this week all week long and going forward.
And all of us—we all have to go back where we’re from and not lose our bearings and go and challenge people because history will pivot on what we do.
So I want to give another shout out to everybody here. It can seem like the storm has blown over, that maybe Americans have calmed down, that maybe the world has settled in, and that it’s all supposed to end with Barack, but that’s not the reality. In reality we’re likely to be at the eye of the storm and bigger storms are coming and what we do in this period really matters.
Revolution Revolution Online Edition, September 8, 2008
Right now, in Black and Latino neighborhoods all over this country, children are being robbed of their childhoods, afraid to go to the corner store or outside to play or to ride the bus to school. Some studies have shown that the number one fear among school children is getting shot. 36 Chicago Public School children have been killed since last September as a result of violence among the people. These shootings come on top of (and are largely used as a justification for) widespread terrorization and brutality on the part of the police, including a recent murderous rampage by the Chicago police who shot 12 people in 4 weeks this summer, 6 fatal and at least 6 shot in the back.
How did we get into this hellish situation where parents watch young children shot down in crossfire, kids grow up haunted by nightmares of gunfire, sure they won’t make it past 18? This is a horror for the people—with a feeling of desperation that comes from knowing it’s your neighbors, cousins and friends doing this to each other. And it gives rise to a deep despair that this is an endless spiral with no way out.
People from different perspectives are seeking out answers and solutions to this, from research projects to marches to intervention groups. In a New York Times article last May, “Blocking the Transmission of Violence” (5/4/2008), Alex Kotlowitz makes one such argument, likening violence to an epidemic disease plaguing many communities.1 Kotlowitz clearly has great concern for the lives and conditions of the people locked to the bottom of society. But despite his best intentions, his argument concentrates a dangerous logic that reverses cause and effect.
While it is beyond the scope of this article to speak to everything Kotlowitz raises, we want to speak here to his central argument—that stopping the violence among the people is the necessary first step to changing the larger economic and social conditions among the oppressed masses. An underlying assumption in the article is that this can be done without changing the fundamental economic and political relations of society which, as we will go on to show, is the brutal source of this whole situation. This same line of thinking is echoed by many people who hate the ways in which they’re forced to live but feel the answer to this is for us to “clean up our own backyard” before there can be any positive change for the communities.
In discussing the position of epidemiologist Gary Slutkin (who, as the founder of the Chicago-based CeaseFire organization, is largely the focus of Kotlowitz’ article), Kotlowitz uses an analogy between stopping violence and curing an infectious disease which has a big source in a community’s water supply:
“Slutkin says that it makes sense to purify the water supply if—and only if—you acknowledge and treat the epidemic at hand. In other words, antipoverty measures will work only if you treat violence. It would seem intuitive that violence is a result of economic deprivation, but the relationship between the two is not static. People who have little expectation for the future live recklessly. On the other side of the coin, a community in which arguments are settled by gunshots is unlikely to experience economic growth and opportunity.”
Kotlowitz himself begins to explore some of the limitations of this argument on one level, but does not go further to examine what is “poisoning the water supply” in the first place. In talking about people who are trying to get out of the logic of gang retribution, he writes, “Leaving town is not an option for most. And for those who have walked away from a shooting…if there are no jobs, or lousy schools, or decrepit housing, what’s to keep them from drifting back into their former lives? It’s like cholera: you may cure everyone, you may contain the epidemic, but if you don’t clean up the water supply, people will soon get sick again.”
Kotlowitz does not pose the basic, and necessary question: why are the schools concentrated in the Black and Latino neighborhoods disproportionately “lousy,” why is the housing “decrepit,” or at this point, nonexistent? And to step even further back, why are Black people concentrated in urban slums in the first place? How did this develop, and what gave rise to a situation where there are now several generations of youth who have been criminalized—killed by the police, killed by each other or warehoused in prisons in the tens and tens of thousands? The violence people commit against each other is the symptom of a larger problem—but if you don’t diagnose the problem correctly and if you don’t know what caused it, then the treatment you attempt to come up with will actually make it worse.
The oppression of Black people, and other minorities, has been a feature of the development of capitalism in U.S. society from its founding—on the bones of slavery and genocide against Native peoples. After the Civil War and the short period of Reconstruction, instead of being integrated into the larger American society, a wave of terror was unleashed against Black people—they were in the main confined to the plantations in a new form of slavery, and African-American people were formed into an oppressed nation in the south within the larger, dominant Euro-American U.S. In the early 1900s, heavy industry began to greatly expand. In the North, especially with the gearing up for World War 2, the defense industry was booming, creating a demand for labor, while in the South, the mechanization of cotton production (and tobacco before it) made sharecropping less profitable. There was a push and a pull from the South that sent millions of Black people migrating to the North—the push of poverty, Jim Crow racism and KKK terror and the pull of work and hopes for a better life. But while the forms of oppression were different in the North, the fact of the oppression remained. Black workers who were brought into the workforce, on the basis of their oppression as a people, were put into the dirtiest and most dangerous, lowest paying jobs, they were the “last hired” and “first fired.” Black people were refused the housing subsidies that white people received to buy suburban homes and even when they had the money were prevented, either by unspoken agreements or straight-up mob violence, from buying homes in “white” neighborhoods. Instead they were shunted—by government policy—into poorly built high rise housing projects in the inner cities. Black people of all classes and strata faced segregation and discrimination everywhere they turned, and Black workers were super-exploited to give the capitalists extra profits.
The effects of all this—along with the situation internationally, where there were uprisings against imperialism and colonial domination and where socialist countries like China posed the prospect of a revolutionary resolution to oppression, and the U.S. was also locked in contention with other powers for a bigger share of the plunder of the formerly colonial world—gave rise here to the earth-shaking revolutionary movement of the 1960s. With this upsurge and especially with the powerful urban rebellions in over 100 U.S. cities, some barriers Black people faced did fall. Black people were brought into some better jobs, affirmative action enabled thousands of Black students to enter college and professional careers, social programs like welfare and early education programs were provided.
Many people, especially among the younger generation, began to see themselves differently in relation to the world. Through struggle, people were trying to figure out how to forge new ways of relating. There was broad unity among many that they weren’t going to fight and die for the oppressors, but to bring a whole new future for people all around the world into being. In fact, one of the most inspiring accomplishments of groups like the Black Panther Party and Young Lords Party (a revolutionary group based mainly among Puerto Ricans) was the way they got many former gang-bangers out of that life and into making revolution and serving the people, and the ways in which many prisoners (like George Jackson) went over from “criminal-minded” to “revolutionary-minded.”
But all of this ran up against limitations. Even the most advanced forces for revolution didn’t have a deep enough understanding of what a different future would or should be all about or how a revolution could be fought and won in this country against such a powerful enemy. There was not a leadership with a developed strategy of how to unite the many streams of resistance and radical sentiments politically, culturally, and ideologically into a powerful force behind that revolution. Or with an understanding of how to not just withstand, but advance through the brutal repression that came down with a vengeance from the state—over 20 members of the Black Panther Party (including leaders like Fred Hampton and George Jackson) were assassinated, hundreds of revolutionaries were jailed, the National Guard was called out against the righteous rebellions, students were shot down in the street and the movements broadly were surveilled and harassed. In addition, there were major changes and challenges going on in the revolutionary movement internationally and the global high tide of the ’60s was ebbing, which also had a powerful effect. It was in the face of the real limitations in understanding how to meet all these challenges, and of the brutal repression by the ruling class, that the majority of the movement of that time turned away from revolution.
By the early ’80s, most of what had been the movement of the ’60s had either been crushed, was directionless or co-opted. At the same time, there were tremendous changes going on in the world politically and economically. The revolutionary leadership of China had been overturned in a coup after Mao Tsetung died, and this demoralized and disoriented many who had seen in revolutionary China a source of hope and support. Meanwhile, many jobs were relocated to the suburbs or shipped overseas where people could be exploited even more brutally. The inner cities became economic wastelands. This was a result of both policy (including the conscious decision in many cases to locate jobs away from the now more rebellious and defiant Black workforce) and more fundamentally, the drive of the restless, never-ceasing compulsion on capital to constantly expand or die—to seek out higher rates of profit or go under to competition.
The concessions that had been wrenched through the struggle of the ’60s were being reversed—the end of affirmative action, integration to all intents and purposes dead and welfare was soon to be entirely gutted. Today, more than one generation faces conditions where many have never had a job and there is no prospect (through no action of their own) that they ever will. The government flooded the ghettos with drugs which became the main economic life in these neighborhoods, a certain foundation which “set the terms” for all other economic and social activity. At the same time, the so-called “war on drugs” was unleashed, which was nothing but a war on the people—with arrests and imprisonments skyrocketing. 330,000 were in prison in 1970 compared to 2.3 million in prison today. Today, nearly half of the people in prison in America are Black. In fact, the incarceration rate for Black people is the highest in the world.
Understanding all this, it becomes clear that these conditions were not caused by violence among the people. Nor is the violence among the people a “virus”—it is a reaction to conditions of relentless oppression where there seems to be no real hope of change. It is the system, with its dog-eat-dog mentality, that creates and perpetuates these conditions. This whole capitalist-imperialist setup is propelled by an endless drive for profit and more profit, with systematic super-exploitation and the oppression of Black and other oppressed peoples as a key dynamic element. Those two things—the capitalist system at the foundation of this country, and the white supremacy which runs all through this society and has been inextricably interlinked with it since Day One—are what caused the problem, not some make-believe “virus.”
And, these conditions don’t just “exist” in the air. They are brutally enforced by a whole state apparatus of cops, courts, and prisons. Some people out there tell us the cops are “just another gang.” No they’re not! Some individual cops may be in gangs, but as an institution, they are the hired enforcers of a whole system of exploitation and oppression.
Step back once again, what comes through is the utter criminality of this system, which keeps people in the inner city penned in and locked down, left to rot and kill each other off, and then to be killed and imprisoned when they walk into this trap.
Kotlowitz’ and Slutkin’s argument will not make anything better. And even worse, whatever the intent, it justifies and strengthens the hand of an oppressive state with its brutal, murdering police and prisons.
We have two questions we’d like to ask Kotlowitz: First, if every young Black man in a gang in East St. Louis, or Chicago, or Harlem, or Oakland quit their gang affiliation, renounced violence and crime, and showed up at a community college to enroll in a digital design program or a computer networking certification program, what would happen? The simple fact is that there would not be work for the vast majority of them. In fact, a recent study showed that the rate and numbers of Black people in information technology declined relative to eight years ago—not because people were unqualified, but because, according to Gina Billings, president of the National Black Data Processing Association, globalization has led to outsourcing to third world countries, and Black professionals once again found themselves caught in the “last hired, first fired” trap.
So even if you were to suddenly qualify every gang member for a good job, they would only be hired if employing them would be profitable for capital. And those jobs are not out there—not because society doesn’t need them, but because they are not profitable. And precisely because the ruling class of capitalists knows this, they do NOT offer training programs, etc. in any serious way because they do not want to raise people’s expectations and risk social rebellion when those expectations are not satisfied.
And, second, conversely, what would happen if, after a revolution, with a new socialist economy that was based on transforming conditions to overcome the age-old oppressive divisions of society and meeting the needs of the people, while rendering support to revolution worldwide, society DID offer every young Black person a chance at education and a job with meaning that they could live on? In a revolutionary society, there would be no unemployment because employment would not be based on whether it was profitable for capital; people would immediately be given work, to deal with the many pressing problems facing society. In that totally new society, the violence that people lash out with against each other would rapidly diminish as a whole new ethos and view of one another took root.
Only if we correctly understand the source of the conditions that people find themselves in, which Slutkin and Kotlowitz leave out, can we understand that the relationship between people’s conditions, ideas, and actions aren’t “static,” as Kotlowitz states, and even more fundamentally, that things do not have to be this way! It is in the process of confronting the real problem and radically changing conditions that people can transform qualitatively and in a liberating way.
Under this system, people are forced to live based on “what’s in it for me” and they are thrust into competition with others. This is the logic and dynamics of capitalism overall, and gets sharp when people are fighting over crumbs in a situation where every crumb counts. People are forced to hustle to survive, and while there are important examples of the ways in which people come together to help each other, how things are set up with people set against each other works to undermine even that.2
Just like in the larger society, there’s a whole culture and outlook bound up with this—“I got to get mine, I got to get what I can get within this.” And this logic has a pull and coherence.
A youth from Chicago's south side, who's been agonizing about the violence all around him, has been arguing that it's not just the economic necessity that leads youth to get into the gangs—this is also a deeply felt aspiration.
Yes, many do aspire to not just be part of, but to be on top of this game, and those aspirations are shaped by and confined within the larger material conditions that people are presented with.
The gangs and “the life” is just that—a whole way of life, with economics and morality which infuses whole neighborhoods with a “code of the streets” ethos and outlook. This divides sharply into two because on the one hand, this is a reflection writ small of the larger relations and dog-eat-dog dynamics and morality in society. But it has an “outlaw fuck the world” element—where people desire to be and are seemingly up against the system as a whole.
Within these dynamics, mirroring the dominant capitalist ethos of society, you’re prey or a predator—someone takes down one of yours, you have to take down one of theirs. In this gangster logic, if you don’t, you haven’t stood up for your people and you come out looking weak. The “code of the streets” comes with a “kill or be killed” mentality and a vicious cycle of seemingly never-ending shootings against others in the same conditions as you.
There’s also the attraction that you can “be somebody” in a way you can’t in any other part of American society. Besides making it in the NBA or in hip-hop (which is about as likely as winning the lottery), how else can you make your mark on the world? One youth on Chicago’s west side described “the life” as just another form of “chasing the American dream.” They see someone with a nice car and they want it because that’s how they can say something about who they are and “what they’re worth.” Again, reflecting a society where people’s value is measured by the commodities they do or don’t own.
All this is enforced and maintained a million times in a million ways by the broader culture and the workings of the system. In There Are No Children Here, Kotlowitz describes a young kid who gets arrested for nothing except for the fact that he’s Black, he goes on to talk about his experience with lawyers and unjust courts and the impact this has on him—“fuck it, they treat me like a criminal, I may as well get something from it too.” In the culture, this has been promoted in movies like Superfly in the ’70s and then Scarface in the ’80s which has an ongoing impact today. Along with this, the promotion of gangsta rap with the message that one should aspire to “get rich or die trying.”
This whole way of life and the outlook that comes with it is a trap. Even where people do “make it to the top,” this is still only the top of a game that’s been given to them by this system, which is at the expense of, and dripping with the blood of others who this system has cast off.
Kotlowitz is correct in saying “[p]eople who have little expectation for the future live recklessly.” Now once again, let’s ask, what kind of system, what kind of society is it which provides little or no expectation for the future to generations of youth?
There is a way out of all this today—sweeping this system aside once and for all, through revolution and bringing into being a radically different system—socialism on the road to a communist world.
With state power in the hands of the people, society can be reorganized based on meeting the needs and unleashing the creativity and potential of millions of people that is destroyed by the kind of system we live under today. In this new society, the state—rather than being a force for exploitation, oppression, and repression—will back people up in working to solve all kinds of problems, not only for themselves but for all of humanity and as a part of the world revolution. As opposed to the society in which we live, which provides nothing but a hellish future or no future for the youth, in a socialist society, the youth will be a dynamic force for shaping the future. What they think and how they struggle will be valued, learned from, further unleashed…and led, with the aim of continuing to revolutionize all of society and bring a communist world, free of all exploitation and oppression, into being.
This is what is worth living and dying for. But it can only be based on FIGHTING the power, and not “working with it” to somehow keep a lid on things. There is an urgent need right now to bring forward a revolutionary movement which breaks out of the killing confines of the way things are, challenging the terms in the neighborhoods and society more broadly, and with it, leading the masses to forge a revolutionary movement and culture that can actually begin to change the tide.
The enormous potential for this must be wrenched from the horrors of today. The fact that these youth are largely alienated from this system and the whole “American way of life” and the very real sense that there is no future for them—is both part of why we need a revolution to sweep all of this away once and for all, and a critical part of where the basis for that revolution lies. All of these factors that especially young people are responding to—the fact that these youth really have nothing to lose, under this system—are the very same driving forces that could compel them in a whole other direction if that anger, alienation, and rebelliousness were channeled at the source of the problem and tempered and transformed with revolutionary science and a morality of liberation. Such a revolution can only take place when conditions radically change—when all of society is in a profound crisis and a revolutionary people emerge on to the scene, in the millions and tens of millions—but there is urgent work to carry out now, to hasten while awaiting such a situation, working now to bring forward a revolutionary people through waging political battle and carrying out ideological work, and transforming the current unfavorable political polarization in society through struggle.
This means that a minority has to be the first to step forward today. Even a relative handful with substance and revolutionary backbone can have an electrifying effect — not only in a neighborhood but in society overall. And it is in this process—of fighting to change the larger circumstances while learning about the underlying dynamics that gives rise to those circumstances, that people transform themselves.
The leadership, vision, science and organization necessary exists right now in the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. This Party came forward through the struggles of the ’60s and it persevered in building a revolutionary movement and seeking answers to the vexing questions. Its leader, Bob Avakian, has led the way in “charting the uncharted course” of how to make a revolution in a country like this—and more, he’s further developed the scientific theory and liberating vision of communism, deeply summing up the experience of the past, learning from the great achievements of previous revolutions, deeply interrogating their shortcomings and mistakes, and in doing all of this, he’s taken communism to a whole new place. And Avakian is leading a Party that is serious about revolution, serious about protecting its leadership, and seriously taking responsibility to lead the masses to make revolution in the real world.
Whether revolution will once again be in the air in this society (and around the world) in the way it needs to be, depends on people taking it up. The time is urgent for people from all walks of life to step forward. To all those who dare to dream of a better world where all of these horrors have been left behind for all of humanity: get down with the revolution, become an emancipator of humanity.
Fight the Power, and Transform the People, For Revolution
1. Kotlowitz is well known for his important book, There Are No Children Here, where he exposed the brutal living conditions for youth in Henry Horner Homes, one of the many since demolished housing projects. He wrote with great compassion about what it was like for two young Black children to grow up in these conditions and the ways in which the whole system was set up for these kids to fail—from the schools to the courts. [back]
2. For an inspiring example of where people help each other in brutal conditions, the film Trouble the Water shows how rival gang youth in New Orleans joined together to save people during Katrina, at the risk of their own lives. [back]
Revolution Revolution Online Edition, September 8, 2008
This week in St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S. authorities unleashed a vicious, orchestrated, and fascistic assault on alternative media covering the protests outside the Republican National Convention.
These attacks included the manhandling and arrest of internationally known journalist Amy Goodman, the brutalizing and arrest of two producers on the Democracy Now! team, pre-emptive raids—at gunpoint—on the I-Witness Video collective, the confiscation of media equipment, and many other arrests and mistreatment of journalists, both alternative and mainstream.
Goodman said, “This week, police are systematically targeting journalists.... Here on the streets of St. Paul, the press is free to report on the official proceedings of the RNC, but not to report on the police violence and mass arrests directed at those who have come to petition their government, to protest.”
These attacks mark a serious escalation of police state measures against critics of the government, taking place in the context of the rightward march of official U.S. politics generally and the fascist tone of the RNC in particular. All this has big implications for everyone who wants a more just world.
The authorities’ attacks on independent journalists began even before the protests started. On Saturday, August 30, two days before the first march, some 30 heavily armed police surrounded a private home where members of the I-Witness Video collective were staying. I-Witness had come to St. Paul to document police actions during the RNC protests, as they had during the 2004 RNC in New York City. Seven members of the group were detained for over two hours while the police tried to get a search warrant. A lawyer who came outside the house to liaison with the police was arrested.
According to I-Witness video’s blog (http://iwitnessvideo.info/blog/108.html), once police obtained a warrant, they “stormed in, pointing an automatic handgun at the people inside. They handcuffed all the individuals inside, collected their personal information, and corralled them in the back garden.... After completing their search, the police finally uncuffed everyone and departed.” (All this even though the warrant didn’t have their address on it.)
The attack on I-Witness escalated on Wednesday, September 3, when the building’s landlord forced I-Witness to move out after police deployed a battering ram and again forced their way into the house, claiming they were investigating reports that anarchists were holding hostages.
This was a blatant attempt to prevent I-Witness from documenting the protests and police actions. (Following the 2004 RNC, 400 of the 1,800 arrests were eventually thrown out because video footage shot by I-Witness proved police were lying and trumping up charges against protesters.)
“Here we have a situation where if the cameras are all quieted, the police can get away with doing what they want,” Gena Berglund, of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, told Democracy Now! (September 2). “They can lie in their police reports, and no one can hold them accountable. And we believe that happens regularly.”
Eileen Clancy of I-Witness Video said, “I mean, this is an extraordinary amount of pressure to put on us. What happened yesterday really ratcheted up the stakes, because, you know they came in with a warrant, even though it had the wrong address, the other day. We had guns pointed at us. And then yesterday... they had loaded handguns.” (Democracy Now!, September 4)
Democracy Now! is broadcast on over 700 radio and TV stations, primarily in North America but also globally.
Here is Amy Goodman’s description of what happened to her and the Democracy Now! team when they tried to report on a break away march from the main protest on Labor Day. (“Why We Were Falsely Arrested,” http://www.truthdig.com/, September 4)
“The police—clad in full body armor, with helmets, face shields, batons and canisters of pepper spray—charged. They forced marchers, onlookers and working journalists into a nearby parking lot, then surrounded the people and began handcuffing them.
“Nicole [producer Nicole Salazar] was videotaping. Her tape of her own violent arrest is chilling. Police in riot gear charged her, yelling, ‘Get down on your face.’ You hear her voice, clearly and repeatedly announcing ‘Press! Press! Where are we supposed to go?’ She was trapped between parked cars. The camera drops to the pavement amidst Nicole’s screams of pain. Her face was smashed into the pavement, and she was bleeding from the nose, with the heavy officer with a boot or knee on her back. Another officer was pulling on her leg. Sharif [producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous] was thrown up against the wall and kicked in the chest, and he was bleeding from his arm.
“I was at the Xcel Center on the convention floor, interviewing delegates. I had just made it to the Minnesota delegation when I got a call on my cell phone with news that Sharif and Nicole were being bloody arrested, in every sense. Filmmaker Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films and I raced on foot to the scene. Out of breath, we arrived at the parking lot. I went up to the line of riot police and asked to speak to a commanding officer, saying that they had arrested accredited journalists.
“Within seconds, they grabbed me, pulled me behind the police line and forcibly twisted my arms behind my back and handcuffed me, the rigid plastic cuffs digging into my wrists. I saw Sharif, his arm bloody, his credentials hanging from his neck. I repeated we were accredited journalists, whereupon a Secret Service agent came over and ripped my convention credential from my neck. I was taken to the St. Paul police garage where cages were set up for protesters. I was charged with obstruction of a peace officer. Nicole and Sharif were taken to jail, facing riot charges.
(The YouTube video of Goodman’s arrest is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYjyvkR0bGQ. At last count, it had been viewed over 750,000 times.)
Other journalists, both mainstream and alternative, were targeted or arrested. The Glass Bead Collective, a video documentary group, was detained and its equipment confiscated. Two journalists with Pepperspray Productions were imprisoned for two days. AP photographer Matt Rourke, a New York Post freelance photographer, and three journalists from the University of Kentucky were also arrested, the latter charged with “felony riot.” On September 4, the last day of the protests, 18 media workers, along with some 400 protesters, were arrested.
These attacks on accredited journalists, alternative journalists in particular, are a serious leap in government efforts to censor news, smother broad popular discontent, and crush expressions of organized protest and resistance.
Journalists—whether mainstream or alternative—are supposed to be legally protected to report the news. Brutalizing and arresting them sends the chilling message that no one— not even nationally-known and accredited journalists—are safe, so what rights do ordinary people have?
“It was very clear who I was,” Goodman told media after her release. “I had all my credentials hanging from my neck. ‘Look -- these are my credentials,’ I said. A Secret Service agent walked up to me and said, ‘Oh really?’ and ripped my credentials off my neck”... Kouddous told the Committee to Protect Journalists that the same agent also confiscated his daily press pass.” (Jeffrey Allen, “RNC Media Intimidation Condemned,” OneWorld.net, September 5)
Assaulting journalists is also aimed at suppressing coverage that ventures outside the increasingly narrow confines of mainstream reporting, including coverage of resistance against the U.S.’s crimes and outrages.
This IS what bourgeois democracy looks like.
The assaults on journalists, which the media reform group Free Press called, “an orchestrated round up of independent [media] covering the Republican National Convention,” were directed from the highest levels of government.
According to Gina Berglund from the National Lawyers Guild (Democracy Now!, September 2), the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security were all involved in the attacks on journalists; that there was a unified command, because it was a national security event and “there are joint powers agreements between Minneapolis and St. Paul that allow the Minneapolis police to operate under this unified command.” Even the kidnapping “complaint” that prompted the September 3 raid on I-Witness Video apparently came from the “RNC part of the policing.”
St. Paul Chief of Police John Harrington more or less openly argued that anyone covering protests—and not “embedded” with the police—was not really a journalist any more, they were criminals:
“In terms of the policy, reporters have rights, and what we have tried to do is try and create a balance of that. If we announce, if there is an unlawful assembly or we are in the midst of a riot, that if reporters fail to do that, if they are in the midst of the riot, we can’t protect them... But what I would say is that if a reporter is committing a crime while they’re there under their credentials, I think they become regular citizens... But, in general, what we’re trying to do is give reporters access. We have tried to give them, in fact, I think extraordinary access by embedding reporters in our mobile field force.”
It is crucial to defeat these attacks on journalists, by both exposing the criminal nature of the assaults and their arrests, and by demanding all charges against them be dropped. Media organizations including Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union have all issued statements condemning the attacks on journalists and calling for investigations.
The media reform group Free Press is circulating an online petition demanding an end to the attacks on journalists that gathered over 50,000 names in two days: https://secure.freepress.net/site/Advocacy?JServSessionIdr012=i06ym8gso2.app44b&cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=281
Democracy Now! (http://www.democracynow.org/) has also issued a call for people to phone and email St. Paul authorities to demand all charges be dropped.
Revolution Revolution Online Edition, September 8, 2008
August 29, St. Paul, Minnesota. Police in full riot gear raided the “RNC Welcoming Committee” (which described itself as “an anarchist/anti-authoritarian organizing body preparing for the 2008 Republican National Convention”) This raid, referred to in the media as a “pre-emptive strike,” marked the beginning of a weekend of terror and intimidation brought down by the state on activists, organizers, protestors, and journalists throughout the four-day span of the Republican National Convention.
Leading up to the anti-war protests planned during the convention, police raided several houses in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area, surrounding them, and breaking down doors. The police told people to get down on the ground and shoved guns in their faces in the middle of the night while they were sleeping in their beds. Over the course of the weekend, five people were arrested in these raids, at least 100 were put in handcuffs and then questioned by police. At the Welcoming Committee’s convergence center, the police photographed people and held them for over an hour—no arrests were made, but materials were confiscated and the police issued a fire code violation.
Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI, Minneapolis and St. Paul police, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies were involved. Police confiscated normal household items claiming they were going to be used for illegal activities. They searched through the houses and the welcoming center, taking computers, laptops and video cameras.
In the face of this outrageous harassment and intimidation thousands of people came out to protest. At Monday’s protest, police surrounded and detained hundreds of protestors arresting around 175 people including progressive journalist Amy Goodman and two of her producers (see “The RNC’s Outrageous Assault on Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, and Alternative Media…This is What Imperialist Democracy Looks Like”). Tuesday police attacked a protest of over a thousand people, overwhelmingly youth, and which included children and disabled people. Eleven people were arrested that day, some targeted and searched out after being identified in video footage confiscated by the police. Wednesday night, 102 people leaving a Rage Against the Machine show were arrested.
More than a dozen medics have been arrested, as well as legal observers. On Thursday, police moved in and swept people up off the capitol lawn for no apparent reason, later claiming they were involved in breaking a window earlier that week. Then Thursday’s rally of over a thousand people was shut down, hundreds marched to the convention center and protestors sat-in at a bridge. Police blocked off the area with bulldozers, and after an intense stand-off, the police arrested 396 people. Over a dozen of these were media, including AP photographers and people from the local TV station. By Friday, according to the authorities, 818 people had been arrested during the week.
Police came wearing helmets, padded vests, and shin guards; they used tear gas, pepper spray, Tasers, plastic handcuffs, billy clubs, and rifles that fired projectiles and “flash bombs.” The National Guard was present throughout the week in full riot gear.
Two minors who had been arraigned refused to give their names in solidarity with people in jail; they were charged with contempt on the spot and given a 30-day jail sentence without any trial. The Coldsnap legal collective reported brutality and abuse occurring in the jail including multiple police officers assaulting people, people being put in solitary confinement, and sick people not receiving medical attention. Over 24 people in prison began a hunger strike demanding that medical attention be provided to those who need it.
There has been ongoing harassment aimed at intimidating protestors and sending a message that political protest will not be tolerated. The anti-war group Code Pink reported that about 150 police surrounded a group of 10 Code Pink activists who were displaying banners against the Iraq war. Throughout Tuesday’s outdoor concert police cars lined the streets and officers arrogantly milled about the capitol.
On Tuesday riot cops lined the street at a Poor People’s march near the capitol. Later on, the police gathered three deep near the capitol where the Rage Against the Machine concert was scheduled. Rage arrived and wanted to play, but the power was shut off a half hour before the permit ended. Zack De La Rocha jumped into the crowd and started singing a cappella. People were chanting, “Let them play, let them play,” with their fists in the air. They turned toward police and chanted “Fuck You We Won’t Do What You Told Us.”
The march organized by the Poor People’s Campaign arrived at the capitol, people at the concert joined in and the whole atmosphere was energized. The march went to the Xcel Center (where the RNC was going on) and the Poor People’s Campaign presented a citizens arrest on the Bush administration for crimes against humanity.
At one point the police lined up with batons and started walking slowly toward the protestors, chanting, “Move. Move. Move.” A protestor described when the police moved in to attack: “People were walking back to the state capitol to get to their cars and go home and police said their presence walking back was an ‘unlawful assembly, you all need to keep moving’ and then opened fire with tear gas and concussion grenades. I saw clouds of smoke go up and I thought it was concussion grenades, then I saw the blue hint of the smoke and people started running and leaving very quickly and in front of us, another line of cops started firing....”
People were yelling out, “Don’t Run, Don’t Run,” helping each other get down the street, they were trying to get out and there were smoke bombs and mace. Loud explosions and screams punctured the atmosphere, people were screaming and running and others tried to help people stay calm, then more National Guardsmen in camouflage came in, sneaking out of a dark parking lot and threw tear gas into the crowd of people trying to run. One woman told Revolution, “There was a fucking asthmatic woman shouting ‘Medic,’ and the police guy was just like, ‘Get away from the sidewalk!’ and he shot a fucking tear gas, not at her, but past her, he was just like ‘Get away!’ She fucking couldn’t breathe.”
There were shoes and eyeglasses in the street. A woman in her twenties looked back at a line of police in the park and said, “I have never felt more unsafe in my life.” People were agitating that what the police were doing was illegal and unconstitutional; people were outraged.
The St. Paul Police Department has declared to the public repeatedly that their plans have been a success. At a press conference on September 3, Police Chief John Harrington repeatedly claimed that “rioters” and “anarchists” were targeted because of their alleged plans to disrupt the convention. Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said in a statement that the “Welcoming Committee is a criminal enterprise made up of 35 anarchists who are intent on committing criminal acts before and during the Republican National Convention.” Testimony and eye witness accounts from medics, legal observers, journalists, and protestors, as well as hours of video footage posted on YouTube and all over the internet, reveal a different story. What has actually occurred is targeted attacks on event organizers, legal observers, medics and journalists, as well as police indiscriminately coming down on protestors, as well as bystanders.
Many diverse youth and progressive people have been a part of mobilizing to protest at the RNC. The statement at the website of the RNC Welcoming Committee is endorsed by several chapters of the Students for Democratic Society, Campus Anti-War Network, and a number of anarchist organizations and grassroots groups like the Queer Action Network and Milwaukee Anti-racist Action. In addition, anti-war activists, unions, Iraq war veterans, and many others across the country mobilized to come to St. Paul to politically protest the crimes that have been committed by the Bush regime.
An affidavit filed by the police with the Ramsey County District Court states that police have infiltrated the RNC Welcoming Committee since August of 2007, employing both undercover investigators as well as informants. A May 2008 article in a local St. Paul weekly, City Pages exposed that FBI was seeking out informants to attend “Vegan Potlucks” in the Twin Cities. The article recalls how this occurred in the lead-up to the 2004 RNC in New York City, pointing out that “the NYPD’s Intelligence Division infiltrated and spied on protest groups across the country, as well as in Canada and Europe. The program’s scope extended to explicitly nonviolent groups, including street theater troupes and church organizations.” Similarly, surveillance and profiling occurred in Denver leading up to the DNC, carried out by what’s called “fusion” groups, consisting of federal as well as state authorities collecting information. An article on worldcantwait.org, titled “Gitmo on the Platte,” details this and other similar police state measures taken in Denver for the DNC this year.
The Minnesota Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild has pointed out that given this kind of history, the allegations towards organizers, which rely entirely on covert operations and no material evidence at this time, are highly questionable. They said in a statement, “Evidence read to date does not corroborate these allegations with physical evidence or provide any other evidence for these allegations other than the claims of the informants. Based on past abuses of such informants by law enforcement, the National Lawyers Guild is concerned that such police informants have incentives to lie and exaggerate threats of violence and to also act as provocateurs in raising and urging support for acts of violence.”
At the same time, new norms are being established. The Ramsey County prosecutors charged eight of the people arrested in the raids with second-degree furtherance of terrorism, conspiracy to riot, conspiracy to commit civil disorder, and conspiracy to damage property. This is the first time that charges have been issued under the Minnesota version of the Patriot Act, which was passed in the state in 2002.
This repression and police terror has been opposed by City Council member David Thune as well as Congressman Keith Ellison. Petitions and statements in support of protestors and those arrested have gone up on the Internet; one gathered over 35,000 signatures overnight. Many are demanding that people in jail be provided with medical care and the legal support they are entitled to, that they be released and charges be dropped.
Revolution Revolution Online Edition, September 8, 2008
The next few months will be highly charged politically. In the context of the election campaign, big questions are being posed:
What kind of society do we want to—and are we willing to—live in?
What kind of future will we have?
And what kind of change is required?
Is it a matter of making adjustments to what already exists—tinkering, to be blunt, with the blood-soaked arrangements of empire? Or do we urgently need fundamental and radical change? And is a better world—a future really worthy of human beings—possible?
Do we still dare dream of revolution?
And is there a viable vision of what that is, and a leadership to point the way?
The recent publications, the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, along with the soon-to-be-available-online Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, a major new work by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, are essential to addressing these questions. We strongly encourage all our readers to study, and correspond on, these works, and to find ways to circulate them in all corners of society.
This summer/fall, Revolution is publishing four special two-week issues:
* * * * *
People throughout society, people who hate what the U.S. is doing in the world and dare to dream of a different and far better future, need to get and get out these issues of Revolution. All these issues of Revolution need to reach out far and wide…on a significantly greater scale than usual, corresponding to the extraordinary times...unleashing a movement that is spreading the word, debating the communist analysis and view on these issues, and drawing in and involving many more people. And through this, building a movement that is preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution, with this paper as its hub and pivot—a movement of emancipators of humanity.
There are great stakes in what we do right now:To make and carry out creative and daring plans. To really maximize the potential in these four special issues. And as we get these issues of Revolution out far and wide, we should seize on every opportunity to engage people with the new Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and the work of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party.
Check in at your nearest Revolution Books for discussions, bundles of Revolution, and plans to make this happen in your area. Or contact RCP Publications, Box 3486 Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654, or call (773) 227-4066.
Note: In addition to these special print issues of Revolution, stay tuned to revcom.us for additional articles posted online, starting 8/27, and 9/1, 9/8, and 9/15, as well as ongoing new articles in between issues, including ongoing analysis of the election. And throughout the next two months, we encourage and will be posting feedback from readers, posted online at revcom.us, or sent to RCP Publications (see below).
Revolution Revolution Online Edition, September 8, 2008
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