Revolution #176, September 13, 2009
Young Brothers and Sisters:
How often have you been told that, in America, you can be anything you want to be? That this is a free country? That as long as you work hard and make the right choices, the “sky is the limit” on what you can achieve? That if you don’t make it in this society, it’s your own fault?
But is any of this really true? For you, and for the vast majority of people on this planet?
Let’s look way beneath the surface...
In the weeks leading up to the publication of this issue, a crew of youth from all over the country came to New York City to put revolution and communism on the map. Since understanding the world more deeply is essential to changing it, one key element of our revolutionary work involved interviewing male and female students of many different races and backgrounds, in parks and on street corners, to get a better sense of how you view the world, how you envision your future, and what the burning questions on your mind are. These interviews served as the basis and the inspiration for the content of this special high school and middle school issue.
In the course of our conversations, some of you said you aspired to be a major league baseball player, fashion designer, marine biologist, mathematician, or pilot. Many of you told us that you wanted to work hard, earn a college degree, and be successful, surrounded by friends and family who love you.
Others of you spoke to the profound inequalities in our society, and said that the odds were stacked against you, and against entire groups of people.
However, many of you said there were no obstacles in the way of reaching your goals.
“It just takes a lot of hard work,” said X, a Black high school student, “and you can be mostly whatever you want.”
But the truth is, tens of millions of people in this country and billions more around the world cannot be whatever they want—no matter how hard they work.
A Few Words About “Choices”
For starters, if you are a Black or Latino youth in this country—especially if you are a Black or Latino male—you do not have the choice to walk down the street or sit in front of your own home without fear of being harassed, brutalized, or even killed by the police. Recent studies have shown that the pigs—yes, they are pigs, and it’s time to start calling them that again—stop and frisk hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino men every year in New York City alone.1 The vast majority of them are neither arrested nor given a summons, because even the pigs eventually have to admit they are doing nothing wrong. And those are the “lucky” ones; just ask Sean Bell, a 23-year-old Black man who died in a hail of 50 bullets fired by the NYPD and killed on the night before his wedding, or Oscar Grant, Jr., a 22-year-old Black man executed by pigs in the San Francisco Bay Area as he lay face down on a subway platform. Both men were unarmed.
When we asked Anthony, a high school student of color, if he thought there were limitations on his choices in this society, he answered that he could not walk down the street after 12 o’clock. It wasn’t robbers that he was afraid of. “I would be looked at as I’m probably up to no good or something,” Anthony said. “Police will most likely follow me wherever I’m going, just to make sure.”
In fact, this is a fear that Anthony must live with regardless of the time of day. “A couple of days ago, me and [Anthony’s friend] Vic were just sitting in the park, regular, waiting for one of my friends,” he continued. “Cops came and stopped us, thinking that we were robbing people.”
What kind of freedom, or choices, do Anthony and his friends have? They can stay inside their homes, or they can risk being harassed every time they step outside the front door. They can stand up for their basic rights to walk down the street or sit in a park, thereby risking the wrath of pigs who resent them for being “uppity,” or they can submit to humiliation and abuse in silence—and even that might not save their lives. Just ask Amadou Diallo, a West African immigrant who did nothing more than pull out his wallet to show identification before the NYPD struck him down in a hail of 41 bullets.
But if you’re a person of color in America, it’s not just the police that you’re up against. The majority of you also do not get to choose what kind of education you receive, what kind of housing you live in, and what kind of job you will be hired for, all of which have a profound effect on your quality of life and your career options. Studies have repeatedly shown that Black people with no criminal record are less likely to get a job than white people with a criminal record.2 A recent study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that American schools have become more segregated every year since 1991.3 If you’re a youth of color in this society, odds are that you are condemned to overcrowded, separate and unequal schools starved of funding and then threatened with closure if standardized test scores are deemed too low. And there’s a decent chance that you have to pass through metal detectors every morning, as though you were an inmate in a prison.
So what options are there in this society for you, and for millions more like you, who are denied access to decent education, employment, housing, health care, and other necessities for survival?
You have a “choice” between selling drugs or engaging in other forms of crime in order to earn the money needed to survive... or accepting a life of poverty and starvation. And what happens to you if you “choose” the first option? Almost certainly you will be locked away in jail, sometimes for years at a time.
Actually, there is one more option our society offers you: you can join the U.S. military and dedicate your life to murdering and torturing men, women, and children in other parts of the world who are even worse off than you are.
As the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP)’s new statement—“The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have” puts it: “This system has robbed so many youth of the chance for a decent life and has got far too many living, dying, and killing for nothing—nothing good—nothing more than messing up people and murdering each other on the streets of the cities here... or joining the military, being trained to be murderers on a mass scale, massacring people in countries across the globe.” (Check out the short version of this statement on page 7.)
The fact that we now have a Black president has not changed any of that.
Or, let’s look at what choices this society offers—or doesn’t offer—hundreds of millions of girls and women. If you’re a female in this society, you cannot choose to live without fear of being raped, as a woman in this country is every 6 minutes, or battered, as a woman in this country is every 15 seconds.4 You cannot choose to turn on the television or the radio, or open a magazine, without seeing yourself portrayed as a servant or sex object. In 87 percent of the counties in this country, you cannot even choose to do as you please with your own body; there is no access to abortion in these counties,5 and if the anti-abortion movement has its way, that 87 percent will soon become 100.
If you are one of millions of immigrants in the U.S. who chose to come to this country to escape desperation and poverty in your homeland, you are not given a choice about whether or not Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) kicks down your door in the middle of the night; whether or not the authorities come to your job and take you away in shackles; whether or not you rot in prison conditions too barbaric even for wild animals; whether or not you are deported and separated from your family.
If you have a different sexual orientation than the heterosexual “norm,” you are not able to choose your romantic partner without fear of being outcast, beaten, or even killed; in most states, you can’t even choose to get married.
So, for huge numbers of people in this country, there are enormous obstacles standing in the way of “being what you want to be.”
And then, there is the question—no matter what your ethnicity, economic background, sexual orientation, or gender is— of what happens even if you do achieve your goals.
You Live Under an Imperialist System
You might get to be a scientist, but you won’t get to control whether your work is funded, or how the results of your work are used. You might become a teacher, but what happens when you depart from the curriculum and tell your students the truth about the history of this country, what it does around the world, and how its wealth was built? You might become a doctor, but you can’t make your hospital give life-saving surgery to one of your patients who can’t afford it.
And, even more than that, no matter your occupation, and no matter what type of life you lead, this society does not offer you the choice of what kind of world you want to live in.
The rulers of this society do not ask you whether or not billions of people on this planet should live in slums, digging through garbage dumps for food... or whether or not your government should murder and torture millions of people in Afghanistan or Iraq... or whether or not the pigs should terrorize Black and Latino men on a daily basis. These are not “choices” they give you.
Why? Because of the system of capitalism-imperialism that we live under. A system where a tiny handful of people hoard and control land, natural resources, housing, and medicine at the expense of the overwhelming majority of people on this planet. This system depends on billions of people living in slums, available to work for almost nothing. It depends on subjugating entire peoples for profit. It depends on murdering and torturing in wars launched to maintain control of land, markets, and resources.
And it depends on you accepting the idea that the system we live under today is the best we can hope for.
Fortunately, this is bullshit. Radically different societies have existed before, in the recent past, and they can exist again in the future. And despite what your parents, your teachers, your friends, and your textbooks might have told you... you can be a part of bringing those societies into being.
Referring again to our statement, “The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have”: “The biggest lie of all is that there is no other way than this system—or that attempts to really make a different way, through revolution and advancing towards communism, have brought about something even worse.”
There is a Pathway Out of This Nightmare...
While the choices promoted by this system are false—and sickening—there are real—and crucial—choices that you can make, starting now: You can choose to resist the many horrific crimes of this system. And you can choose to fight for a radically different society and system, and for the emancipation of all humanity.
Fundamentally changing society, on the road to liberating the people of this whole planet, is going to require a revolution. It is going to require, when the time is right, seizing state power from the imperialists in order to create a radically new system of socialism—a system in which the people, through the leadership of a vanguard party, own the land, resources, and factories and run society in order to meet people’s needs and break down oppressive relations and ideas. Socialism, in turn, is a transition to the ultimate goal of communism—a society completely free of classes and exploitation.
Within the lifetime of your parents, there was a real socialist society on this planet. A society where prostitution, drug addiction, and domestic violence were all but eliminated within a few short years... where women went from being sold as slaves and having their feet bound to playing a full role in every sphere of society, including dancing in revolutionary ballets... where children were encouraged to challenge their parents... where youth organized, with the backing of the state, to fight those in power who wanted to restore and maintain oppressive relations... where students who graduated from college were sent to the countryside to interact with, learn from, and serve the impoverished masses... where the leading morality of society was “serve the people,” not “get over” or “get rich.”
This society happened in China under the leadership of Mao Tsetung, who was in power from 1949 until his death in 1976. Mao led the socialist transformation of China, which had as its ultimate goal the system of communism. Tragically, after Mao died, capitalists came back to power in China and turned it into the nightmare of sweatshops, prostitution, and government repression that it is today. And presently, there are no more socialist countries in the world.
This means that you, together with the rest of the planet, are confronted with yet another critical choice: You can accept the verdict that, because the first few attempts at socialism were defeated, socialism could never be revived and it isn’t even worth trying. Or, you can make it your mission to learn as much as you can about the massive accomplishments of past socialist societies, and how humanity could make revolution again—one that builds on these accomplishments... and goes even further, all the way to communism.
With that in mind, there is a leader you need to know. His name is Bob Avakian.
Avakian, the chairperson of the Revolutionary Communist Party, worked alongside the Black Panthers during the 1960s, and then founded the RCP in the ’70s. He has deeply studied and upheld the experience of socialist China and its many staggering achievements, and he has also confronted its weaknesses. He has summed up that, in order for humanity to get all the way to communism, there needs to be significantly more space for debate and criticism under future socialist societies... and more room for intellectuals, scientists, and artists to pursue their fields, and to experiment, even as more and more people in society are drawn into these fields—in an overall process that serves all of society getting to a deeper understanding of what is true, and what is not. All this is part of bringing bigger and bigger numbers of people into running and continuing to transform society, including by breaking down inequalities left over from capitalism. And Avakian has reached even greater heights than Mao in understanding that communism is an international system—that making revolution in the United States, or any other country, must be carried out as part of emancipating the whole world.
Because of Avakian, revolution is real. His leadership and vision points the way towards a world where we will have the freedom to serve the people on a level that can barely be conceived today. People will be free to overturn, and abolish, racism, sexism, and all forms of oppression; we will be free to provide health care, education, and meaningful jobs to everyone in society; we will be free to create music, poetry, and art that speaks to people’s hearts and their imaginations, without having to worry if it will “sell.”
Which brings us back to choice. And back to the present. And back to you.
Here’s What You Can Choose to Do Right Now
First, as soon as you put down this special issue, you can show it to five of your friends, and shatter their assumptions about what kind of change is necessary or possible. Next, you can distribute the statement on page 7 throughout your school and discuss it with your friends and teachers, thereby becoming an active part of building this revolutionary movement and introducing many more people to revolution and communism. Then, you can start reading this newspaper regularly, getting deeper into the revolution we are calling for, and into the leadership and work of Bob Avakian. Deepen your knowledge and understanding of past revolutionary societies, and our vision of an even more liberating future. Come to discussions at Revolution Books throughout the country (see page 15), and ask the toughest questions you can think of.
And, as you are doing all of this—and whether or not you immediately agree with all of what we are putting forward—here is something else you can and must do right away: RESIST. FIGHT BACK.
Dress in black, and come to an October 22 protest against police brutality in the city closest to you (see back page). Gather a few of your friends and classmates and wear orange jumpsuits and black hoods in front of your school to call attention to the ongoing torture and indefinite detention committed by our government. Organize a walkout to protest the continuing genocide committed by the U.S. against the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. Be part of demonstrations against these wars and against torture that World Can’t Wait and other groups have called for October 5-6 (see worldcantwait.org).Be part of protests on October 11 demanding full rights for gay people.
Oh, and one more thing: Don’t forget to laugh in the face of anyone who tells you to accept the world as it is.
"And, despite the good intentions of many teachers, the educational system is a bitter insult for many youth and a means of regimentation and indoctrination overall. While, particularly in some 'elite' schools, there is some encouragement for students to think in 'non-conformist' ways—so long as, in the end, this still conforms to the fundamental needs and interests of the system—on the whole, instead of really enabling people to learn about the world and to pursue the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity, education is crafted and twisted to serve the commandments of capital, to justify and perpetuate the oppressive relations in society and the world as a whole, and to reinforce the dominating position of the already powerful. And despite the creative impulses and efforts of many, the dominant culture too is corrupted and molded to lower, not raise, people’s sights, to extol and promote the ways of thinking, and of acting, that keep this system going and keep people believing that nothing better is possible."
— From Revolution #170, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have"
1. New York Civil Liberties Union, cited by Bob Hennelly, WNYC, August 14, 2009. (wnyc.org/news/articles/138787) [back]
2. To cite just one example of such a study: Devah Pager, “The Mark of a Criminal Record” in American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 108, Number 5 (March 2003). (northwestern.edu/ipr/publications/papers/2003/page-rajs.pdf) [back]
3. Gary Orfield, “Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge,” UCLA Civil Rights Project, January 2009. (civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/news/pressreleases/pressrelease20090114-report.pdf) [back]
4. Amnesty International, Stop Violence Against Women Campaign (amnestyusa.org/violence-against-women/stop-violence-against-women-svaw/page.do?id=1108417) [back]
5. S.K. Henshaw and L.B. Finer, “The accessibility of abortion services in the United States, 2001” in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2003, 35(1):16–24, cited by Guttmacher Institute, “Get ‘In the Know’: Questions about Pregnancy, Contraception and Abortion,” July 2008. (http://www.guttmacher.org/in-the-know/providers.html) [back]
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