Revolution #264, April 1, 2012

A Reflection on Piggery—Then and Now

To the editors:

The article “Outright Piggery from the Camp of Counter-Revolution,” in issue #250, is extremely important. As the article alludes to, these kinds of attacks have, in the past, done a great deal of damage to the revolution. One problem we face is that all too many people are ignorant of just how this went down. So this is part of what I want to go into in this letter. There’s also another form of ignorance we’re dealing with—and that’s that most people today simply have no idea of the whole way in which the powers-that-be have gone after Bob Avakian. And then there’s the whole way in which they—the oppressors—look at leaders who have the potential to rally masses to revolution. So these too are things I want to address here.

COINTELPRO and the Case of Malcolm X

There is, among many conscious people, a vague sense—if that—that the government was somehow involved in the killing of Malcolm X, for instance, or that the repression of the Black Panther Party included “setting people against each other.” What is not understood much at all is how the state deployed counter-revolutionary individuals and organizations as a crucial part of this repression and how they were able to take advantage of low standards in the movement to get away with it.

Let’s take the case of Malcolm X. Malcolm originally awoke to political life through the Nation of Islam. Over the course of about a decade he thrust that organization into the national consciousness. But as things developed, Malcolm came to increasingly disagree with many of the fundamental tenets and principles of NOI. NOI voiced militant talk against “the white devil,” which attracted many Black people like Malcolm who burned with rage against the oppression of Black people. But its actual program was profoundly conservative: build up Black-owned business, reinforce the traditional (and oppressive) patriarchal relations between men and women, and generally promote “respectability” among Black people. But what was initially most galling to Malcolm was their stance of refusing to participate in and distancing themselves from the growing movement of protest and resistance that was building up and beginning to burst out from the Black masses. These differences intensified over several years, and during this time Malcolm increasingly promoted a much more militant line and stance against the system, and on that basis came to be seen as an important figure in his own right. These differences led to Malcolm’s silencing by the head of NOI, Elijah Muhammad, and then to his eventual break with the organization.

During this same period, the FBI had undertaken a super-secret program called COINTELPRO (short for counter-intelligence program ). The program targeted groups that were generally resisting the U.S. government’s various and many crimes and it especially went after those who opposed the oppression of Black people. J. Edgar Hoover, the infamous long-time head of the FBI, said that he aimed to prevent “the rise of a Black messiah.” The FBI and other police agencies sent infiltrators into groups, corrupted people into becoming informers, surreptitiously invaded the homes of activists to gather information, and fomented personal antagonisms within and between different groups. They specialized in spreading personal rumors about people and making other ad hominem (personal) attacks. Malcolm X was a prime target of this program. This program overall was utterly illegal and extremely vicious, and was known about by at least hundreds of people in the government for many years; but it only came to light in the early 1970s, when some activists managed to obtain some of the files and exposed them very broadly.

One aspect of these times that is important to understand: Black people in the U.S. were relentlessly defying the system in many different forms, taking mass political action and outright rebelling—and this won the sympathy and support from literally hundreds of millions of people all over the world. This put the U.S. ruling class on the political defensive and challenged their pose as the “great defenders of people’s rights.” If they had to openly crush this movement, they certainly would; and the hundreds of times that they directly used police, federal agencies, the National Guard and even the Army to go after people proves this. But they much preferred to conceal their role. Why? Because they were really worried about losing their democratic cover in the eyes of the world, as well as losing legitimacy within the U.S. To put it differently: one reason they need to use underhanded programs like COINTELPRO is precisely to keep people blinded to the fact that this democracy that they preach about is essentially a dictatorship of the capitalist-imperialist class.

To return to the case of Malcolm X: when Malcolm left the Nation of Islam, NOI launched a vicious personal slander campaign against him. This included all kinds of vitriol, as well as Louis Farrakhan—then a major figure in NOI and now its head—directly saying that Malcolm was “worthy of death.” More generally, Farrakhan and others stirred up a great deal of personal animosity against Malcolm X, running all kinds of slanders and encouraging all kinds of personal grievances against him. This took a toll. Malcolm did not, at that point, have an organization which could take care to protect him; in early 1965 his house, the location of which was publicly known, was firebombed in the middle of night, and Malcolm and his family barely escaped death. Threats mounted. Finally, on February 21, 1965, Malcolm was assassinated. On the day of his assassination, the regular police suddenly left the scene, and thereby provided a clear field for the killers. At the same time, at least five FBI informants were in the room when Malcolm was killed and Malcolm’s main bodyguard was an agent of the New York Police Department (NYPD). Whether the NOI members who carried out slanders against Malcolm X were directly employed by the FBI or not is irrelevant; they created an atmosphere that allowed this kind of thing to go down and that enabled the police agencies to claim that their hands were clean.

To this day, doubt remains about who killed Malcolm. To this day, nearly 50 years later, thousands of FBI and NYPD files concerning their surveillance of Malcolm and other information on their possible roles in this assassination are locked away. To this day, the exact role of the police agencies of the ruling class remains unclear. But what is very clear is that their design of “preventing the rise” of Black leaders while concealing their role in doing that was greatly aided by the campaign of personal slander against Malcolm X.

This COINTELPRO program continued for many years, targeting all kinds of people, but focused especially on revolutionaries. It was a major tool used to go after the Black Panther Party, for instance—again, using the methods of rumor, of personal attack, of distortion and outright lies. COINTELPRO-type slanders and fomenting played a big role in the murder of Black Panther leader Bunchy Carter in L.A. (along with Panther member John Huggins); and the FBI attempted to do something similar in Chicago, forging letters in an attempt to get someone who was alleged to be a major figure in one of the main gangs among Black youth to go after Chicago BPP leader Fred Hampton. (In the latter case, the forgery did not work because the alleged gang leader refused to fall for it; and so the FBI assisted the Chicago police in directly murdering Hampton while he slept at home, utilizing a map that an FBI informant had made of the apartment.)

Dangerous Naivete and Low Standards

These kinds of bitter experiences enabled people coming out of that period to understand that while struggle—even sharp struggle—over differences of political and ideological principle is essential, ad hominem attacks and stirring up personal animosity must have no place in the revolutionary movement. They only serve the enemy. The government now claims that COINTELPRO has been ended—but one would have to be very naive indeed to believe that the ruling class police agencies no longer work to disrupt and destroy movements that raise the specter of mass resistance, let alone revolution; and that, as part of that, they no longer make use of people who bear grudges against revolutionary organizations or leaders to pollute the atmosphere and lower standards, or that they no longer aim to manipulate people who may feel they have personal grievances against revolutionary groups or leaders into doing their dirty work.

Yet, as the article “Outright Piggery” makes clear, it is just these kinds of attacks on the RCP, USA and in particular on Bob Avakian that have become a major focus of the Kasama website and of Mike Ely, including attacks that he launches on other websites. There are the ad hominem attacks on BA; and there is the general way in which any standards of revolutionary integrity—including the integrity of revolutionary organizations and the necessity and right of those organizations to maintain privacy on confidential matters—are shredded by Ely and his minions.

There’s a further lesson to draw from the assassination of Malcolm X. There was not back then a major concerted effort by others to stand up and say “STOP” to this stuff. There was not a major effort to insist on a principled airing of political and ideological differences rather than personal attacks. There was not a wall of people willing to stand up before Malcolm was killed to say that this must stop and that this man must be allowed to do this work as a leader, to function as a human being, and to live. There were plenty of people who valued Malcolm, or who thought he played an important role, even if they may not have agreed with some or even much of his message. But there was not nearly enough stepping forward from such people. Eulogies may be inspiring, but a firm public statement calling on NOI to stop this madness and pledging to have Malcolm’s back would have counted infinitely more than after-the-fact regrets. This underlines the importance of the point in the article (“Outright Piggery From the Camp of Counter-Revolution”) that “There is a need for those who are serious about fighting to bring about a different world to set and insist on some standards for the movements that will not tolerate this kind of counter-revolutionary activity.”

Again, we must emphasize: the problem in the case of Malcolm X was not that Malcolm and the Nation of Islam fully set before all their differences. The problem is that instead of doing that, the NOI turned this whole thing into a vendetta against Malcolm as an individual.

Some Facts on Bob Avakian

It is also important, in thinking about the situation that the “Piggery” article points to, to recall the history of this government against Bob Avakian. Much of this is documented in BA’s memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond. Here you can see actual FBI memos of minute-by-minute surveillance of Avakian, a photo of his house taken from FBI files, and a note from the FBI director in 1972 that “this is the kind of extremist I want to go after HARD and with innovation.” Here there is described the way in which one particular agent drew up a diagram of Avakian’s house—a diagram similar to the type supplied by an FBI informant to the Chicago police to enable them to carry through the murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in 1969, while he slept in his bed. Here you can learn about how BA was targeted after a demonstration in Washington, D.C. that had become an “international incident,” exposing the counter-revolution in China at a time when the U.S. was intent on forging an alliance with these counter-revolutionaries. In reaction, the government brought charges against Avakian that carried a potential jail time of over 200 years! (Let us note here that there was no basis stated other than his being identified as “the leader” for these outrageous charges.) The memoir recounts how a journalist set Avakian up for Secret Service harassment and extremely serious legal charges by totally fabricating a quote; this required a sharp battle in the political and legal arenas to force at least a partial retraction and make the government back off. And during this time there was also the murder of Damian Garcia, a publicly known member of the Party who had courageously raised the red flag at the Alamo, right in the middle of carrying out revolutionary political work—another one of those murders which the government was able to murk up, even as it later came out that an undercover pig of the Los Angeles Police Department was on the spot when the assassination went down.

At the same time, there is the significance of the work that BA is doing. Avakian has not only never given up on revolution, he has insisted on carrying it forward—and for this the rulers of this country will not forgive him. He has continued to tackle the biggest questions that face our movement—and humanity—about how to get free of exploitation, and all forms of oppression. He continues the work of going thoroughly over the revolutions of the past and getting deeply into the problems and obstacles and most vexing questions of the present, and future. This work has created the foundation for a new stage of communist revolution—coming back in the face of defeats first in the Soviet Union and then in China, at a time when the world more than ever needs a revolution. And there’s his whole role in leading a party that is actually setting its sights on leading the masses to make revolution, when the conditions emerge to do so, and doing all it can today to prepare the ground for that.

As we said, the powers-that-be don’t forgive this. And it seems that there are also those who either once were revolutionaries or who otherwise claim to be radical who also won’t forgive this... and who have taken up a methodical campaign of vicious personal attacks, along with a campaign to lower standards of organizational integrity, in response.

What Hasn’t Changed— What Has Changed
for the Worse—and What Must Now
Be Transformed

If anybody thinks that the powers-that-be have somehow “changed their spots” on this, please. It was just a few years ago that Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense under Bush, invoked the example of the great revolutionary communist leader V.I. Lenin in justifying extraordinary government powers to go after individuals—after all, he so much as said, wouldn’t imperialism have been better off if they had taken out Lenin before he got a mass following? And now there’s Obama—whose Attorney General has just claimed extraordinary powers for the executive to assassinate people whom he decides are threats, and justified this with the outlandish claim that certain people are not entitled to judicial process—two claims that even Bush did not invoke. This system has not changed its fundamental character.

At the same time, some things have changed since the ’60s and ’70s—unfortunately, for the worse. On the one hand, the lessons of that period have grown blurry for many who lived through it, and are unknown to many who didn’t. On the other hand, there is the rise of the Internet—this makes it possible for someone like Ely, who makes it his mission to destroy BA, to do a great deal more damage today simply due to the way the Internet can amplify the voice of someone like Ely. Haven’t we seen, through horrible incidents like the murder of the abortion doctor George Tiller, the damage that can be done by the kind of ad hominem attacks and incitement that go on in this realm?

There is also the tabloid culture which, combined with the way that relativism permeates the culture (nobody can say what’s true or not, it’s all a matter of personal narrative), has seriously corroded people’s understanding of what is important, and what is garbage, leading them to slaver at the prospect of innuendo and rumor and so-called inside information, all of which is unsubstantiated and unsubstantiable, and to fail to get into the actual debates over principle which are essential.

What is urgently needed is something different: a culture which says NO to all that, and insists on focusing on questions of principle. A culture which calls out the likes of Kasama—making clear that there is no place for this kind of shit, whether it comes from them or others, in the movement. A culture which will protect revolutionary leaders and enable them to do their work, to function and to live.

The fact is that the other side is NOT all-powerful—and one thing that we can and must do proactively is to create and insist on and fight for a movement culture that does not descend into gossip and personal attacks, or into trading in and revealing supposed “secret information.” By doing so, we deprive these oppressors of one of their favorite weapons in going after the movement and demoralizing the people. And again, it should not need repeating, but I’ll repeat it anyway—this should go along with, and actually facilitate, a robust atmosphere of lively, hard-hitting struggle over principle, over ideological and political differences.

Fighting for this is not something that can wait; it is essential. And fighting for this is not “the thing” of a few people, or just one force; it matters for everyone. It is a question of either objectively assisting the repressive forces of all kinds, or resisting; there is not a middle ground.

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From Ike to Mao and Beyond