Welcome Ferment on “Elite” Campuses

From programs and debate over the crimes of the Bush regime, to exposing attacks on evolution, to engaging around the actual experience of socialism and the nature of communism, fresh air is circulating in the ivory towers of “elite” U.S. universities. This is a heartening development.

Starting in late March, a national campus speaking tour inspired by the testimony and findings of the Bush Crimes Commission connected in important ways with students at universities such as Harvard, MIT, Berkeley and Stanford. The tour, “Speaking the Unspeakable: Is the Bush Administration Guilty of War Crimes and Other Crimes Against Humanity,” features panels of prominent whistle-blowers, eyewitnesses, victims and experts, most of whom testified and played a key role at the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration held October 2005 and January 2006 in New York.

On April 26 at Harvard University, 175 people—mostly Harvard law students—filled Langdell Hall at the Harvard Law School Library to hear panelists expose the truth about U.S.-inflicted and -sponsored torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and elsewhere. Endorsed by Harvard Law Students for Peace and the student chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the program included C. Clark Kissinger, convener of the Bush Crimes Commission; Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who powerfully exposes the vicious human rights abuses by the U.S.-funded regime in that nation; Janis Karpinski, the former head of the military police brigade in charge of 17 prison facilities in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib; and Harvard Law School student Stephan Sonnenberg, who focused his remarks on the infamous memorandum endorsed by Attorney General Gonzales and passed along to President Bush that justifies the use of torture. Following the panelists' presentations, there was a lively Q&A session, with law students and others asking about such issues as the role of private contractors in Iraq, including in regard to torture, and the stealth CIA installations in Europe and their ghost detainees who don't exist on record. The next day, Harvard students staged an action on campus to challenge students to take a stand against torture on the 2nd anniversary of the Abu Gharib torture scandal.

On April 27, the Bush Crimes tour went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where Revolution newspaper correspondent and author Larry Everest joined Murray and Karpinski for a session attended by 225 people. The Bush Crimes Commission speaking tour also held events at the University of California at Berkeley on May 3 and Stanford University on May 4. Future stops include the University of Chicago and Northwestern University on May 9, UCLA on May 18, and the University of Washington on May 19.

On Friday, April 21, George Bush was scheduled to meet with fellows at the Hoover Institution—a high-powered, reactionary think tank at Stanford University. More than 1,000 protesters forced him to change his plans and move his meeting to the outskirts of campus. Outside the Hoover Institution, students chanted, “Hey-Hey-Ho-Ho-Bush is here, he’s got to go” and “1-2-3-4-We don’t want your fuckin’ war, 5-6-7-8-Stop the killing, Stop the hate.” The protest drew a wide range of students, support from parents and visiting prospective students, and even the participation of the Stanford marching band—“infamous” for its antics at football games.

On the front of the societal battle over suppression of science, The World Can’t Wait- Drive Out the Bush Regime! presented An Evening with Niles Eldredge, Curator of the Division of Paleontology and the Darwin exhibition at New York City's American Museum of Natural History on May 2, at Columbia University. Dr. Eldredge discussed the battle over evolution as a microcosm of the state of affairs in society.

Another vital component in all this has been the Setting the Record Straight tour, a talk by Raymond Lotta on “Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be a Far Better World.” The tour has been to UCLA, UC Berkeley, Columbia, and Harvard. At Harvard, the audience included students from diverse fields, including economics, anthropology, and Romance languages. There were students from Eastern Europe and visiting scholars from other parts of the world. A member of the Harvard Medical School faculty emceed the program. (For a full report, see “Set the Record Straight Tour Comes to Harvard University,” Revolution #41, April 2, 2006. For more information on the Tour, visit www.thisiscommunism.org. See “PART 15: The Cultural Revolution: Health Care and the Economy” for the current installment of the serialization of the talk in Revolution; the entire talk is at revcom.us)


Taken together, something important is happening on the “elite” campuses. There is resistance against the program going down in many different dimensions, and there is also ferment on key questions that have been ruled out of order. This is no small thing and something of potentially great strategic importance.

Schools like Harvard, Stanford and so on play a very important role in the system. Students there are groomed to be overall leaders of society in the different spheres (including the arts and sciences, as well as politics and economics). And to do that, they need to have some ability to deal with challenging ideas, and to think creatively. So there is a degree of autonomy and intellectual ferment at these institutions, within their overall role as servants of the system.

Again, this is kept within certain limits—and today, those limits are being drawn much tighter than usual. This is seen very sharply with the campaign of David Horowitz and the attacks on Ward Churchill, but there are other attempts as well to constrain certain professors and certain ideas, including in the “elite” institutions—for instance, the attempt in recent years to straitjacket teachers of Middle Eastern studies at Columbia with student spies, commissions of inquiry and so on; the attack by former Harvard president Lawrence Summers on Cornel West, which led to his leaving; the “dis-inviting” of a prominent European poet who opposed Israeli policies from a Harvard appearance; and others as well.

All the more reason to welcome and foster what is bubbling up at these schools. For one thing, precisely because these campuses are intellectual “flagships,” when the students there take up “dangerous ideas” it has an impact on the entire “national debate.” The terms of that debate right now badly need to be further opened up and shifted, and these students and professors can play a vital and even indispensable role in that process. For another, and deeper if still connected reason, in order for there to be revolution, you actually need a section of intellectuals to shift their allegiance away from the ruling class. That won’t happen spontaneously—communists need to be in the midst of the ferment, listening to people, engaging with them, and responding on a high plane. And finally, yes—we WANT ferment; we WANT intellectual debate and critical thought; we want the clash of ideas; we want the rigorous, scientific, uncompromising search for the truth; the more the better, for otherwise how can we ever hope to know the world in all its complexity and change it (not to mention what a dreary world it would be without such ferment!).

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