Revolution #127 April 20, 2008

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Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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The Subprime and Credit Crisis


by Raymond Lotta

The past 10 days will be remembered as the time the U.S. government discarded a half-century of rules to save American financial capitalism from collapse.”

—David Wessel, economics editor, Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2008

“Be greedy when others are fearful.”

—Warren Buffet, leading investment capitalist, quoted by The Economist, April 5, 2008

[To the possessor of money capital] “the process of production appears merely as an unavoidable intermediate link, as a necessary evil for the sake of money-making. All nations with a capitalist mode of production are therefore seized periodically by a feverish attempt to make money without the intervention of the process of production.”

—Karl Marx, Capital, Volume II, “The Circuit of Money Capital”

The U.S. economy is experiencing the most wrenching financial turmoil since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Global markets have been reeling—as massive loans have turned bad, speculative bubbles have popped, and giant financial institutions have tottered.

Financial turbulence originating in the U.S. has slowly expanded and worsened. There is now a global credit crisis. Banks and financial institutions are weighed down by huge losses caused by “non-performing loans.” Lending channels are choked up, as lenders are being called to pay back their loans, to clean up their balance sheets, and fearful that they are “throwing good money after bad” and won’t be paid back. There is real danger of a breakdown of the financial system. The new president of the International Monetary Fund has stated that the current turmoil poses the greatest financial crisis since the 1930s.1

The U.S. has been at the center of what is now a global financial storm. Bear Stearns, one of the largest and oldest investment banks in the U.S., collapsed in mid-March. The Federal Reserve Bank—which regulates and lubricates the U.S. banking system, and which also plays a special role in the world capitalist economy—has stepped in on an unprecedented scale.

The Federal Reserve took responsibility for $30 billion of basically worthless assets held by Bear Stearns. This paved the way for another financial titan, JP Morgan Chase, to take over the firm. In addition, the Federal Reserve has injected huge amounts of funds into the financial system to ward off additional bank failures and to restore international confidence in the U.S. economy…and to prevent the financial crisis from becoming a total financial breakdown.

Fortune magazine in its April 14 issue analyzes the stakes this way:

“The fear—a justifiable one—is that if one big financial firm fails, it will lead to cascading failures throughout the world. Big firms are so interlinked with one another and with other market players that the failure of one large counterparty, as they’re called, can drag down counterparties all over the globe. And if the counterparties fail, it could down the counterparties’ counterparties, and so on.”2


The financial tornado gathered force in the spring of 2007, starting in the housing sector. The housing boom of the last few years was a boom in mortgage finance. Lenders, and these were not neighborhood finance companies or street-corner usurers but big corporate financial giants, were seeking to make big profits from their ability to tap into foreign capital flooding into the U.S. over the last decade. The Federal Reserve accommodated and encouraged this by keeping interest rates low.

A. Subprime Lending

Enter the world of subprime lending. Subprime loans are loans made to borrowers who would not qualify for a prime mortgage—because they might have “bad credit histories,” etc. And these loans were aggressively marketed, pushed on people through all kinds of deceitful means, with Black and Latino households disproportionately targeted and victimized (see Revolution, “Subprime Mortgage Crisis,” April 13, 2008).

The originators of these subprime loans, along with various financial middle-men, then “securitized” these loans. This means they combined these loans into larger groups of loans, turned them into complex financial products, and then sold them on financial markets. They sought to maximize fees and to “transfer risk” by quickly selling off these loans to other banks and institutional investors (like mutual and pension funds, university endowments, etc.).

But as housing prices turned down and as interest rates went up, homeowners (or those who thought they were homeowners) found themselves strapped with adjustable mortgages requiring larger payments. And many could not afford payments. This triggered a wave of defaults. Investors and institutions that had purchased these mortgage securities (loans that had been grouped into bonds returning interest) found themselves with billions of dollars of near worthless assets. The financial insurers of these loans, yet another layer of “financial middle-men,” could not cover the risks and damage.

B. Global Financial Shocks

In the summer of 2007, fears of big financial losses caused stock market indexes around the world to plummet, including those in the rapidly growing regions of the Third World.

A financial contagion was taking hold.

Over a trillion dollars of funds from around the globe—with much of this from Asia and oil-exporting countries—were invested in the U.S. subprime market. The collapse in the value of mortgage and credit instruments originating in the U.S. weakened the financial balance sheets of banks and other overseas holders of these investments and set off tremors. For instance, in Great Britain, there was a run on the Northern Rock bank; a German bank required a bailout; and a leading French bank was hit hard.

At the same time, financial institutions in the U.S. and elsewhere holding securities of crumbling or dubious value sought to strengthen their overall financial positions. They not only had to “write down,” that is, greatly reduce the value of the bad (“nonperforming”) loans they held. They also had to sell off “healthier” holdings in other parts of the world (investments unrelated to the subprime activities) in order to meet immediate financial commitments. And these sell-offs have had their own destabilizing global repercussions. This was especially the case last year in the stock markets of the Third World.

C. New Dangers and New Risks

By March 2008, the prices of stock of the big Wall Street players involved in this investment activity, firms like Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, had fallen by some 40 percent. And since the onset of the credit crisis, financial institutions in the U.S. have “written down” more than $230 billion in mortgage loans and other assets.3

The Federal Reserve has moved to head off financial panic and to stimulate growth. But these moves have aroused new fears in the still unsettled world financial markets. Why?

There are concerns about the Federal Reserve’s and U.S. Treasury’s ability to absorb what might amount to be hundreds of billions of dollars in bad investments. There are concerns about the ability of the Federal Reserve to pump huge amounts of funds into the U.S. financial system to keep it afloat. There are concerns that short-term and ad hoc efforts to slash interest rates and bail out financial firms may stoke inflation and further weaken the dollar.

This dimension of the crisis, the fragility of the dollar, looms large. It has everything to do with empire. The international role of the dollar—as the world’s leading currency for settling transactions, clearing debts, and holding foreign exchange reserves—is a linchpin of U.S. global supremacy. It is also a linchpin of the whole current global economic order.

But the dollar has been battered in international currency markets. In the last few months, it has sunk to new lows against the euro (the currency used in most of Western Europe), against the Japanese yen, and against the Swiss franc.

Now the dollar has declined considerably in value relative to other major currencies since 2000. But this has been cushioned, managed, and kept functional by the ability of the U.S. economy to attract huge amounts of foreign exchange and foreign capital into financial markets, especially to finance U.S. Treasury debt.

And one of the “disaster scenarios” most worrisome to U.S. imperialist policy makers is the danger of a global run on the dollar: private investors and central banks of other countries unloading their dollar holdings for stronger currencies.

D. A Reflection: Transparency and Anarchy

In early April, on the eve of a gathering of the world’s finance ministers and treasury officials, the International Monetary Fund issued a report on the financial damage caused by the collapse of the housing and credit markets. It warned that financial institutions worldwide might face losses approaching $1 trillion over the next two years.4 This calculation is far above what had been previously estimated. And according to some financial analysts, even this is a gross understatement.

The free market is extolled by bourgeois ideologues for its “transparency.” This is the idea that markets, prices, and interest rates convey all necessary information: about supply, efficiency, choice, and reward.

But one of the distinguishing features of this crisis is the incredible and pervasive lack of knowledge among lenders, borrowers, traders, and insurers about the quality and backing of what they borrow from others…and even of what they lend to others! Things are obscured, covered up, and very opaque.

* There is the anarchy of capitalism, as giant agglomerations of capital battle others for market share and profits, and pursue competitive strategies that have unforeseen effects on the larger system.

* There is the emergence of a newer banking system operating parallel to the older commercial banks. These are the so-called hedge funds, private equity firms, and investment banks. They move huge amounts of capital in and out of financial markets to take advantage of momentary and slight changes in bond prices, interest rates, and currency exchange rates. They borrow against assets that have a shadow existence, far removed from the actual production of value. They have led in creating new financial instruments, in which all kinds of loans of varying risk are bundled together into interest-yielding bonds and the like. And this newer banking system operates in a more unregulated environment than do the commercial banks.

* This is a highly competitive, turbo-charged financial world, where huge blocks of capital seek quick gains at the expense of others. In this setting, speculation, fraud, and deception become part of survival strategies. One example of this in the unfolding of the financial crisis: financial agencies that rate the risk of things like mortgage-backed securities earn higher fees for providing favorable ratings on these new “financial products.” So they lied and deceived investors about real risk. This led to mis-pricing and to baseless expectations of return on investments.

E. A Reflection: A House…Is Not Always a House

As we descend from the skyscrapers of finance to ground level, the human toll comes into clearer view. At the start of 2008, nearly 1.3 million homes in the U.S were in some phase of foreclosure. That works out to more than one in every 100 U.S. households. According to Moody’s : “not since the Depression has a larger share of Americans owed more on their homes than they are worth.”5

Think about it. Something as basic and essential as shelter is commodified. A house becomes an investment; its purchase underwritten by tradable financial instruments; and the lure of homeownership then engulfed by the devastating trade winds of the market. And what happens? People’s savings are wiped out. Their creditworthiness is damaged if not destroyed. And many face the prospect of homelessness.

The problem is not that people don’t need houses. Nor is it that society doesn’t have the resources or knowledge to build houses. The problem is that capital stands as a barrier to meeting human need.



Where all this financial turmoil might lead cannot be predicted. A gigantic, speculative credit bubble has burst. Problems in U.S. lending markets and the U.S. banking system have brought on an economic slowdown in the U.S. This in turn is triggering a global slowdown. Consumer goods exporters of Asia that have relied heavily on trade with the U.S. are especially vulnerable. And so too are countries in Eastern Europe that have borrowed heavily to finance growth.

Here is one tiny snapshot of the fallout and pain from the financial crisis. The U.S. housing slump has led to the loss of some 100,000 construction jobs, many that had been filled by undocumented immigrants. That has dramatically slowed the growth of money sent back home by these workers. After nearly quadrupling to $24 billion in 2006 from $6.6 billion in 2000, these earnings sent home grew only 3 percent in 2007, the slowest rate of growth in 20 years.6 Families in Mexico have come to depend on these remittances for food and clothing and other basic essentials.

The buildup and collapse of this latest speculative bubble, and intensifying financial fragility that could lead to massive breakdown, are in fact outward expressions of deeper processes and transformations at work in the world capitalist economy.

We need to take a step back.

A. Globalization and Financialization

For the last 15 years, world capitalist expansion has pivoted on a particular international dynamic and structure. This has involved heightened financialization and parasitism in the advanced capitalist countries —with the United States at the epicenter of this process; and the fuller integration of low-cost, export-producing countries of the Third World into the world capitalist market —with China at the epicenter of this process.

The turning point in this process was the collapse of the social-imperialist Soviet Union in 1990-91. With the implosion of the Soviet bloc, the main geopolitical obstacle to U.S. imperialist freedom of action was removed. At the same time, and very much in connection with this, imperialist globalization accelerated. (This is analyzed in considerable depth in Notes on Political Economy: Our Analysis of the 1980s, Issues of Methodology, and the Current World Situation, 2000, RCP Publications.)

Over the last 15 years, a globally integrated cheap-labor manufacturing economy, with huge labor reserves from China, India, and other parts of the Third World, along with labor from the former Soviet bloc, has been forged. The globalization of production has had enormous effects on world accumulation: raising profitability for imperialist capital, acting to compress wages, and lowering inflationary pressures. The integration of cheap-labor manufacturing into world production is now so deep that in the U.S., fully half of imports (mostly consumer goods) come from the Third World.

A revealing statistic: a University of California study looked into who gains when an iPod manufactured by national firms in China is sold in America for $299. Only $4 stays in China with the firms that assemble the devices, while $160 goes to American companies that design, transport, and retail iPods.7

When we speak of capitalist accumulation, we are referring to the competitive production of surplus value (the source of profit) based on the exploitation of wage labor; and the investment and reinvestment of profit on an expanding, cost-cheapening, and technologically more productive basis.

When we speak of “financialization,” we are referring to three particular features of the larger structure of capitalist accumulation in this period of imperialist globalization: a) the growing political and economic power of the financial layers of the capitalist class; b) the vast expansion of financial activities and of financial services, like organizing and financing corporate takeovers, insuring investments against risk, creating new financial instruments, etc.—activities in which profit-making involves the siphoning, centralization, and reinvestment of surplus value through financial channels; and c) the increasing separation of finance from production.

This process of financialization has gone the furthest in the United States, and it is a major factor in U.S. imperialism’s ability to preserve and extend its dominance in international financial markets.8

Financialization is also a means through which wealth, and effective control over productive forces, is centralized by the imperialist countries—even as production has grown more geographically dispersed and increasingly carried out within subcontractural networks in the Third World.

Financialization involves efforts to squeeze out more “value” from already created value. One measure of this is that in 2006, the daily volume of trading in foreign exchange markets and in derivatives (financial instruments) added up to $11.4 trillion—which almost equals the annual value of global merchandise exports that year. In terms of the shifts in the structure of the U.S. economy, the financial sector’s share of total corporate profits has risen from 8 percent in 1950 to 31 percent last year.9

B. Financialization and Production

As far removed as finance may be from processes of production, and as elaborate and multi-layered as its operations have become, finance cannot break free of the sphere of production. Even as it objectively seeks to do so—and even as the disjuncture between the two spheres (production and finance) grows—it is the underlying conditions and profitability of production that set the overall conditions for the accumulation of capital.

Imperialism is a worldwide system of production and exchange. It is the structure of social production—it is the global production of surplus value based on exploitation of people—that is at the foundation of this whole system. And in relation to the production of surplus value, “financialization” is both parasitic and functional. It is parasitic in the sense that financialization drains value from production.

But financialization is functional to the workings of global capitalism in the sense that it facilitates the gathering of money capital into ever-larger agglomerations of capital and finds new profit-yielding channels in which to rapidly invest it…and just as quickly to withdraw it! Global capital faces all kinds of financial uncertainties and risks on its competitive global playing field as it moves through different channels, or circuits, of production. And the “risk-management” techniques provided by the global financial system are actually vital to the accumulation of capital, to the success of “risk-taking,” in the turbo-charged globalized economy.10 That’s why, for example, money jumps into Thai real estate markets one day, and pulls out and goes into ethanol production in Brazil the next… and then back to mortgage securities.

And there is something else: the inflows and outflows of short-term and speculative capital also act as a perverse means of imposing discipline on and restructuring capitals—a major manufacturing firm can be starved of credit or threatened with a leveraged buyout. And this kind of “financial discipline” has been imposed on whole countries in the Third World—aided, abetted, and orchestrated by the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund.

All this is part of the reason that financial instability is a constant feature of capitalism in its more globalized and financialized forms of existence.

Financialization and the globalization of production have been tightly bound up with each other. It can be put this way: there is a relationship between sweatshop labor in Guangdong province in China, the recycling of China’s export earnings into the U.S. Treasury and U.S. financial markets, and the credit-financed expansion in the U.S. of the last decade. Or, to put it more graphically, there is a link between the agony of superexploited labor in the bowels of the new industrial zones of the Third World, the feverish search for high and quick returns at the top of the financial pyramids, and the chaos of the housing markets with people losing their homes in the U.S.

This is an extreme concentration of the nature of world capitalism. This world is highly bound together by production, trade, and finance. The requirements of life (consumer goods) and the requirements of production (machines and raw materials, etc.) are socially produced, that is, they involve the collective and interconnected efforts of wage-laborers in factories, warehouses, and so forth. But this wealth, the technology and means of producing it, and knowledge itself—all this is privately controlled and deployed by a small capitalist class.

C. Barriers, Contradictions, and Shifting Tectonic Plates

What we are witnessing now is that a particular dynamic of growth, marked by intensified financialization, is generating new contradictions and new barriers to sustained accumulation.

The level of debt to economic output in the U.S. is at an all-time high. The financing of the trade and government deficits of U.S. imperialism (that is, providing credit for purchases of imports and having investors buy Treasury debt) depends on a steady and growing inflow of capital from abroad. But the weakening of the dollar and the emergence of competitor currencies, like the euro, increasingly threatens these mechanisms. And very crucial to this has been the process where dollars earned by countries like China through trade with the U.S., are then recycled back into the U.S. economy through purchase of Treasury bonds and other investments.

In the U.S., the financial sector is seriously strained and is a flashpoint of heightened global financial instability, if not breakdown, leading to a major economic slump.

Here we come to a basic point of this analysis: A financial crisis has broken out because of the severe imbalances built up between the financial system—and its expectations of future profits—and the accumulation of capital, that is, the structures and actual production of profit based on exploitation of wage-labor.

The imperialist state is intervening to head off further damage and to discipline and restructure the financial system. But the very complexity of the “financial packages” created during the speculative boom—with their bundled-up loans and long strings of finance—are producing new challenges for policy-makers. As one Yale economist put it, perhaps unintentionally echoing a phrase from Marx: “like the sorcerer’s apprentice, we have created things we do not understand and cannot easily control.”11

This explosive uncertainty is developing against a larger international canvas. Major shifts are taking place in the world capitalist economy. The European market recently eclipsed the U.S. market in size. China’s growing demand for raw materials to fuel its export economy is making it a new player in the scramble for resources and control over them. And China’s increasing importance as a supplier of capital to the U.S. is giving it new leverage. Russia is reemerging as a world imperialist player, owing in part to its vast energy reserves and rising oil and gas prices.

At the same time, and at this very moment of financial crisis, U.S. imperialism’s freedom of maneuver is severely hobbled—and this includes its ability to stimulate the economy through fiscal and monetary policy. The United States has never run such large current account deficits and no single country’s deficit has ever bulked as large relative to the global economy.

D. The Military Fix

Which brings us to one of the “dirty little secrets” of the financial crisis: the military needs and the military costs of empire…and “greater empire.”

There is a brute fact of imperialist accumulation. The whole imperialist system rests on the domination of vast swaths of the globe through savage force, with the U.S. military colossus playing a special role. The U.S. military helps “create the conditions” for U.S. domination, pro-U.S. client regimes in the Third World, and conditions for investment by U.S. corporations.

In the Bush era, U.S. imperialism has been attempting to parlay its military might into a new world order. This involves a restructuring of global political and production relations that will enable it to resolve or mitigate some of the problems and tensions it faces—and to lock in its global supremacy over rivals and potential rivals for decades to come.

The U.S. share of world production has declined to about 20 percent, down from 30 percent forty years ago. But U.S. imperialism is compensating for this by pressing its military advantage as sole imperialist “superpower” (since the collapse of the Soviet Union).

In a recent study, Chalmers Johnson has calculated that defense-related spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history. Leaving out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense spending has doubled since the mid-1990s.12

Militarization is also embedded in the U.S. economy. It is a key structural component of growth, scientific research, and technological prowess of U.S. imperialism. And because of its sheer size, it also plays a role in the attempts of the U.S. imperialist state to “manage” and stimulate the economy.

But the recent wave of militarization has put enormous financial strains on U.S. imperialism. It has produced huge deficits that cannot be sustained without the inflow of capital into the U.S. And the wars for “greater empire” are incurring astronomically greater costs than military and government planners had anticipated. Not least because of the setbacks and difficulties U.S. imperialism has encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is a sharp contradiction for U.S. imperialism—because in many ways it is staking the future of empire on these wars; but these wars have become more costly to wage. And it is the height of hypocrisy for Democrats to now blame the Iraq war for financial crisis—as they consistently voted for war-spending authorizations, to the tune of $500 billion.


This is a financial crisis of historic proportions. And like many other events in the world, this crisis points to the fundamental irrationality and cruelty of the system. It also shows the vulnerability of imperialism to sharp turns that could open up new possibilities for revolutionary advance.

But things unfold in complex, unpredictable, and historically conditioned ways. And as serious and potentially destabilizing as this crisis may become, it is also possible that U.S. imperialism could turn this crisis to its advantage.

We live in an age of “endless war” and environmental devastation. We live in an ever-more globalized capitalist system that thrives on the toil and agony of the great bulk of humanity but that cannot escape the anarchy that lies at its very foundations.

There is necessity and freedom for the imperialists. And so too for the people.


1. Quoted in Steven R. Weisman, “Financial Regulators Suggest Tighter Controls,” The New York Times, April 12, 2008. [back]

2. Allan Sloan, “On the Brink of Disaster,” Fortune, April 14, 2008, p. 82. A useful discussion of derivatives, hedge funds, and the like is found in “The Predators’ Ball Resumes: Financial Mania and Systemic Risk,” Interview with Damon Silvers, Multinational Monitor, May-June 2007. [back]

3. S. Tully, “What’s Wrong With Wall St. and How to Fix It,” Fortune, April 14, 2008, p. 72; Reed Abelson and Louise Story, “G.E. Earnings Drop, Raising Broader Fears,” The New York Times, April 12, 2008. [back]

4. Sean Farrell, “Financial turmoil could cost $1trn, warns IMF as global growth comes under threat,”, 9 April 2008. [back]

5. Data from, January 29, 2008; Moody’s, February 21, 2008. [back]

6. The New York Times, January 24, 2008. [back]

7. Cited in Charlemagne, “Winners and losers,” The Economist, March 1, 2008, p. 56. [back]

8. Among informative studies of financialization, neoliberalism, and dollar hegemony are David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (London: Oxford, 2005); Andrew Glyn, Capitalism Unleashed (London: Oxford, 2006); Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy (New York: Viking, 2006); Ramaa Vasudevan, “Finance, Imperialism, and the Hegemony of the Dollar,” Monthly Review, April 2008; and C.P. Chandrasekhar, “Continuity or Change? Finance Capital in Developing Countries a Decade after the Asian Crisis,” Economic and Political Weekly, December 15, 2007. [back]

9. See Chandrasekhar, “Continuity or Change,” pp. 37-38; The New York Times, December 11, 2007. [back]

10. On financialization as a means to contain financial disorder and to impose neoliberal discipline, see Christopher Rude, “The Role of Financial Discipline in Imperial Strategy,” in Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, eds., Socialist Register 2005: The Empire Reloaded (London: Merlin Press, 2004). [back]

11. David Dapice, “Bad Spell on Wall Street,”, January 24, 2008. [back]

12. Chalmers Johnson, “Why the US has really gone broke,” (English edition), February 5, 2008.  [back]

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Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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Pope Benedict Visits New York

Christianity, Communism and Real Hope

“Christianity did not bring a message of social revolution like that of the ill-fated Spartacus, whose struggle led to so much bloodshed. Jesus was not Spartacus, he was not engaged in a fight for political liberation. Jesus. . . brought something totally different: an encounter with the living God and thus an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life from within, even if the external structures remained unchanged. ” [emphasis added]

—Pope Benedict XVI, in the Papal Encyclical Saved by Hope

Benedict’s statement comes as part of a larger polemic against atheism and Marxism and, generally, against any attempt to rationally understand and radically change humanity’s conditions of oppression and—as Benedict makes very explicit in the above quote—enslavement. While being part of this general polemic, the statement cited here is also aimed in part, at least, at “liberation theology.” Liberation theology is a trend which arose inside the Catholic Church in the ’60s and ’70s. Followers of the trend formed what they called “base communities,” which often organized the masses to resist the power structure and to attempt to win reforms, and which tried to use the Bible and in particular the story and example of Jesus—instead of science and reason—as a source of inspiration and sustenance.

With the coming of John Paul II to the papacy in the late 1970s—and with the intense contention between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in Latin America, contention in which the “base communities” often found themselves at odds with U.S.-dominated regimes and, in one way or another, allied with Soviet-backed movements and insurgencies—the Church cracked down hard on this trend. Benedict was the chief theoretician justifying this crackdown, and he remains on a mission against any sort of ideas or efforts which attempt to draw on Jesus to justify struggling against oppression.

In terms of opposing enslavement and oppression, Benedict is obviously wrong—he is nothing but a highly sophisticated justifier of oppression and the status quo. And the liberation theologians, generally speaking, are on the side of the people, decrying injustice and often making great sacrifices in the struggle.

But in terms of theology and accuracy, in contrast to those who try to take the life and teachings of Jesus as a basis for some kind of “social revolution,” Benedict is actually correct—he is correct in arguing that “Jesus was not Spartacus” and more specifically that Jesus “was not engaged in a fight for political liberation.”

What Jesus actually “brought” was the illusion, or delusion, of “an encounter with the living God” and the illusory and false hope of something “stronger than the suffering of slavery,” which directs people inward, and away from transforming and abolishing the real conditions of enslavement, and which offers them nothing but the “consolation” of “a life transformed from within.” Such a life in fact will be, and can only be, a life still conditioned and continually assaulted by the real world conditions of enslavement and oppression.

This stands in sharp contrast to the need, and possibility and basis, to actually transform the real world through communist revolution—abolishing all systems and relations that enslave people, and the corresponding ideas that reinforce that enslavement, and transforming oneself, in a revolutionary way, not an illusory and ultimately reactionary way, in the process.

What Benedict offers is like telling someone who has been unjustly imprisoned in a “Supermax” prison for their entire adult life, and who is not only longing for but searching desperately for a way to break out of this imprisonment, “Well, you’re going to have to stay in here, in these horrific conditions, for the rest of your life; but here’s a way you can change yourself from within—and that’s so much more important.”

Thanks, but no thanks!!—especially when there is the possibility of actually breaking out and breaking free of all this, by uniting with others to take on and radically change—in fact to eliminate and move beyond—the “external structures,” that is, the system of exploitation and oppression that imprisons people in this society and under this system.

Benedict’s visit should be a further occasion to contrast the false hope of Jesus with the real and living hope of communism. And it should also provide a further impetus to get out broadly with Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, by Bob Avakian. There one finds a different road—a road of breaking free of superstition and mental enslavement of any kind…of understanding the world ever more sharply while fighting to transform it, and ourselves, in the process. As we said last week, this book deeply exposes the philosophical underpinnings and political role of religion—“and all this is marshaled to even more clearly bring forward the vision of a truly emancipated society—and to more sharply lay out and convey the truly emancipatory method people absolutely need to get to that society.”

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Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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Two Views on Spartacus

Pope Benedict XVI will soon be visiting New York—and, as it happens, at the very time when the Party will be making major efforts in promoting Bob Avakian’s new book Away With All Gods! In an even further coincidence, both Benedict in his latest encyclical and Avakian in his new book cite the example of Spartacus and contrast it with what is represented by Jesus and Christianity.

It is quite interesting—and very worthwhile—to note the profound difference in how this is treated by Benedict, on the one hand, and by Avakian on the other, representing two fundamentally opposing worlds and worldviews.

First, from Benedict:

“Christianity did not bring a message of social revolution like that of the ill-fated Spartacus, whose struggle led to so much bloodshed. Jesus was not Spartacus, he was not engaged in a fight for political liberation. Jesus…brought something totally different: an encounter with the living God and thus an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life from within, even if the external structures remained unchanged.”

Now, Avakian:

“Why is it that the cross associated with Jesus, and the crucifixion of Jesus which that cross symbolizes, is a central icon and major point of reference (and reverence) in this society, but the cross on which Spartacus was crucified does not play that role? In fact, many people don’t know whom I’m referring to when I talk about Spartacus. Spartacus was a slave who, less than a century before the time of Jesus, led a rebellion of slaves in the Roman Empire that threatened that Empire to its foundations before that rebellion was finally drowned in blood. And, as a result of being finally defeated, Spartacus and thousands of his followers were crucified on crosses, lining the main road from Rome out toward the provinces, for miles and miles and miles. Why is that cross and that crucifixion not a big symbol in our society, and why is it not in other societies in the world today? The answer is simple and basic: because what is represented by Spartacus, even in his defeat—that is, the slaves rising up—is not something the ruling classes in the societies we live in, and the ruling classes down through the ages, have wanted to promote. Yes, a movie got made about Spartacus, but that’s nothing compared to the continual barrage of propaganda about Jesus, the life of Jesus, and the crucifixion and supposed resurrection of Jesus. Because, again, the people who rule over us don’t want us to have symbols that call to mind slaves rising up in rebellion. They want us to believe that such rebellions are pointless and that we are bound to, and have to, live the way we live because that’s the way God wants it to be, that’s the way God made the world and all you can do is accept God’s will.” [ Away With All Gods!, pp. 53-54]

And later, in speaking to the role of religion in providing a false hope, Avakian writes:

“Many people, feeling that their hopes have been crushed for a better life in this world, have fallen back on hoping for a better future in another, future existence, and seek to organize their lives around preparing for that supposed ‘future life.’ The problem, once again, is that this is an illusion. And this quest for happiness, or relief from suffering in this way, cannot bring about the satisfaction that people are seeking. Like a narcotic, the relief or escape provided by this kind of religious belief is never sufficient. You always need another ‘fix,’ and this soon turns into yet another chain on people.

“And, more fundamentally, the point is that we do not want—and, beyond that, we no longer have any need—to be imprisoned within a heartless world. We need and can bring into being a world with heart: a world freed of the oppression and misery that is imposed and enforced by the way human society is structured and controlled. A world in which people do not think of each other—and do not treat each other—as mere objects to be used and profited from. Religion, at least as practiced by more truly compassionate and progressive-minded people today, may aim at providing consolation—a salve for people in their agony and torment—but we can bring into being a world in which people no longer need this kind of consolation, because poverty and oppression, and all the needless suffering bound up with that, will have been eliminated and uprooted forever, along with the ideas and culture that reinforce this.

“But in order to do that, we need to confront reality as it actually is. We need to engage and transform reality, the reality of human society as well as nature, with a consciously and consistently scientific outlook and method. And the point is this: For the first time in human history, there is the possibility to do that. Measured against that, religious doctrine and tradition, and the religious way of conceiving reality, fall way short—and, in fact, lead away from what, for the first time, has become possible for humanity.” [pp. 224-25]

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Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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Response to Obama’s Speech “On Race” Part II:

“Separate But Equal”…and the Myth of “We the People”

In Part I of our response to Barack Obama’s March 18 “speech on race,” we spoke to Obama’s claim that, while slavery was a “stain” on “America’s improbable experiment with democracy, the “answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution—a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law.” In reality the Constitution represented a pact between southern slavery and northern wage slavery. That this compact burst apart in a Civil War was a product of both developing antagonisms between these two systems of oppression and exploitation, and the resistance and the rebellions of Black people and others. Some 200,000 Black people joined the Union Army and 40,000 of them died in the Civil War fighting to end slavery. After the end of chattel slavery, the Constitution continued to be a framework for enforcing different modes of exploitation, and for promoting a shared “we the people” mentality and sense of community between white people of all classes.

Obama’s speech revolves around the claim that that the “two-hundred and twenty-one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia… is where the perfection begins.”

In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about “democracy”—without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves—is meaningless, and worse. So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no “democracy for all”: one class or another will rule, and it will uphold and promote that kind of democracy which serves its interests and goals. The question is: which class will rule and whether its rule, and its system of democracy, will serve the continuation, or the eventual abolition, of class divisions and the corresponding relations of exploitation, oppression and inequality.

Bob Avakian

To make that case, Obama’s speech fast forwards past, and covers up, formative decades in U.S. society—from the end of slavery up to the post World War 2 era. In order to reveal what is being covered up, we need to briefly examine this period of history.

For ten years after the Civil War (the Reconstruction period), U.S. troops backed up the struggles of Black former slaves and some poor whites for political and economic rights. Black people and poor whites were given some land, and the right to vote. But these changes were not part of a program challenging the whole setup, and were short-lived.

To actually overturn the whole set of relations in the South—the plantations, the caste-like status of Black people, the entrenched racism…the whole structural subjugation of Black people—would have taken a profound revolution. Doing that would have required digging up the roots of the whole setup, something that would have been a tremendous thing. But that did not happen. After just ten years, Federal troops marched west to slaughter Native Americans (and were used as well to crush workers’ strikes in the late 1800s).

What followed was four generations of the sharecropping system in the South, where Black people continued to work in slave-like conditions (or even in significant numbers as literal slaves through the southern prison labor system). Former slaveholders in the South re-emerged as plantation owners for whom Black people continued to work the fields, this time in return for a “share” of the crop they raised—a share that, when they even got it, kept them in abject poverty and subject to a whole set of laws, oppressive social relations, and culture that arose on top of this structure and subjugated Black people, as a people.

Plessy v. Ferguson

At the turn of the century, the Jim Crow system in the South began to break up under pressure of the rapid growth of capitalist industry and the mechanization of agriculture. As this happened, segregation was enforced in the South with new virulence. In 1896, in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the United States Supreme Court ruled by a 7-1 vote that overt, legal segregation was constitutional under the legal doctrine of “separate but equal.”

A reading of the Supreme Court ruling is revealing: “The object of the [14th] amendment [that supposedly declared equality for Black people] was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but, in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.” [emphasis added]

What was being referred to by the Supreme Court as “the nature of things” was a whole set of social relations and ideas that arose on an economic base of capitalism and still existing sharecropping agriculture in the South. The Court’s logic demonstrated that formal (“political”) equality promised, but in reality rarely delivered, by the Constitution masks real and profound and systemic inequality rooted in the very nature of this exploitive system. The reality of “separate but equal” was Black people being forced to drink from “colored” water fountains that were often dirty or broken. It was Black children walking miles to school, past “whites-only” schools blocks away from their homes. Or—and this was not a rare event—Black people dying after being turned away from whites-only hospitals.

In Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Supreme Court adapted the Constitution to the requirements of capitalism in that era: Keeping Black people locked into subordinate, caste-like oppression in the South, and defining legal segregation throughout the country. That ruling defined the legal status of segregation for decades.

Immigrants Become White, Black People Stay Oppressed as a People

Obama’s speech is built around the claim that the U.S. Constitution is “a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.” No it did not. And specifically, during the period between 1900 and World War II, it was interpreted exactly to uphold and enforce segregation.

At the turn of the century, as segregation was being hammered down and upheld by the Supreme Court, big changes were happening in the U.S. In the North, capitalist industry was expanding rapidly. It drew on a massive influx of immigrants from Europe. At the same time, Black people were being driven from the Jim Crow South into the ghettos in the cities of the North in search of work—1.6 million Black people were part of this migration between 1900 and 1940.

The European immigrants who were driven to America in search of work were brutally exploited in sweatshops. Women garment workers, for example, worked 16 hours a day and took extra work home at night to make ends meet. Fierce struggles broke out between these workers and the capitalists. And these European immigrants brought revolutionary ideas to the U.S. at a time when the whole world was profoundly impacted by the 1917 communist revolution in what became the Soviet Union. Out of the struggles of the largely immigrant working class in this period came International Women’s Day, a revolutionary holiday celebrated in struggle around the world ever since. And May First, too, arose out of the struggles of workers in the U.S.

During this period, the powers-that-be singled out and viciously attacked radical and revolutionary movements; some 15,000 radicals were rounded up in the Palmer Raids of 1917 and many were deported or jailed. Especially targeted was the International Workers of the World (IWW)—a union that organized white and Black workers together and consciously opposed capitalism and racism. Federal troops attacked their strikes. Company goons killed their leaders. IWW organizer and songwriter Joe Hill was hung.

But the struggles of immigrant workers were taking place within a structure in which Black people continued to be oppressed as a people. The forms this took in the northern cities were not the same as in the Jim Crow South, but they were all-pervasive. Black people were “last hired and first fired.” They worked in the most dangerous jobs. White people, even exploited white workers, could relax in a public park that was off limits to Black people. Neighborhoods and schools were segregated, and schools for Black students were conspicuously inferior. Police, judges, and public officials were drawn from the ranks of white people. And all this had an effect on how white people of all classes saw themselves—it tended to obscure the real position of white workers in society and their real interests. Even though, in a fundamental sense, they had more in common with Black people than with the capitalist ruling class, white workers got petty privileges, and were enlisted to fight to defend those privileges.

Through this whole complex and contradictory period, white workers in general found their place within the white supremacist setup. Along with the suppression of anti-capitalist and revolutionary movements, the very terms of fighting for unions, and better wages and working conditions, tended powerfully to channel the sights and outlook of white workers into how they could advance—in opposition to others—within the system.

Meanwhile, the ideological poison of white supremacy got pumped through the veins of U.S. society, including very broadly in culture. Minstrel shows popularized degrading stereotypes of Black people. The movie Birth of a Nation— that glorified the rise of the KKK to “defend” white people—had profound impact in the North as well as the South in the year 1915 (and this movie is still treated as a “classic” today).

And through a whole complex of interweaving of factors, white workers in general, as well as other strata of white people, were being won to the outlook that Black people—people who were even more exploited than themselves—were a threat to their privileges.

This got expressed in very ugly ways. In May of 1917, in East St. Louis, rumors circulated at a meeting of white workers that Black men were hanging out with white women. Some 3,000 whites from the meeting rushed downtown, beating up every Black person in sight. A month later, violent racists attacked the Black community in East St. Louis. Black people were lynched. When the National Guard arrived, many reports say that they joined the attacks. Ditches and creeks filled with the bodies of Black people. Other such pogroms occurred in this same period, like in Chicago where 23 Black people and 15 whites were killed.

Throughout this whole period, Black people waged persistent and heroic struggle in every realm of society. In the first few decades of the 1900s, in the face of brutal repression, Black sharecroppers organized throughout the South, sometimes joined by poor whites. In defiance of both systematic mis-education and for many the outright denial of education, a Black middle class and intelligentsia developed (the movie The Great Debaters gives a sense of both the sharecroppers’ struggles and the emergence of the Black intelligentsia).

What emerged out of the workings of capitalism; conscious policy on the part of the ruling class; the promotion of racism in every sphere of society; struggle and repression of those struggles—especially suppression of revolutionary movements—was the forging of a shared “we the people” mentality and sense of community between white people of all classes.

In every sphere of society, white people were given privileges, and on that basis were mobilized to fight to maintain those privileges. And all this took place, again, within a framework of “that document in Philadelphia…where the perfection begins,” the U.S. Constitution.

The Rise of the White Suburb and the “Resentment” of Whites

The United States emerged from World War 2, a war that laid waste to much of Europe and much of Asia and Africa, as an unprecedented global imperialist power. As it moved into the former colonial empires of Britain and France, the U.S. confronted the rival Soviet Union (which until the mid 1950s was a socialist country). And U.S. imperialism was challenged by the world revolution in the vast regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

After essentially skipping over the era of lynch mobs and Jim Crow, Obama’s speech starts back up at this historical moment. He paints this post World War 2 period as part of “the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.”

Yes, at this point in the process of the development of U.S. capitalism-imperialism, some of the forms of overt Jim Crow segregation were being challenged and transforming into new forms of subjugation of Black people. That was not because constitutional scholars suddenly discovered that Jim Crow laws were unconstitutional, but because they were no longer essential to the workings of the system. Jim Crow laws and lynchings were now an international embarrassment. Further, they served and enforced forms of exploitation of Black people that were being superseded.

And the struggle of Black people continued. The Second World War (like the First World War before it) dragged hundreds of thousands of Black people into segregated army units, exposing them to the world, to people like themselves, and to new ideas. Black GIs returned from both these wars angry, and feeling particularly betrayed by claims that they were fighting for freedom and democracy. In this period, there was increasing struggle by Black people against segregation.

After World War 2, massive changes took place in the U.S. society. These changes were not the product of any kind of special ingenuity of Americans, but were built on a system that was sinking its tentacles deeply into the whole world. And those changes were driven—in complex ways—by contradictions that system faced.

For example, white suburbs, with their “good schools” and the “quality of life” so foundational to “the American dream,” were a product of a tremendous growth of middle class jobs and the bourgeoisification of a significant section of the working class on the basis of a share of the spoils of this global empire. This gave great impetus to the growth of the suburbs, and the suburbs became ideological bastions of racism.

In this same timeframe, five million Black people were driven from the South into the factories of the North. The plantation system was breaking down in the South, and there was the promise (often not met) of jobs and a better life in the “Promised Land” (the North). When they arrived, Black people encountered strict segregation in every sphere. And all this was enforced by conscious government policies, and reinforced by the promotion of racism.

To take but one example: Segregated housing. Obama’s speech acknowledges “black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages.” But policies like this were not missteps on the “long march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.” They were foundational to how U.S. society developed in this period.

The U.S. government subsidized home loans for huge numbers of white people, including better-off workers and middle class people after World War 2. At the same time, the form of government-subsidized housing for Black people was the inner city housing project, located in the already established Black ghettos of the Northern cities. This reinforced white privileges— by federal policy. And this overt, government-enforced segregation in housing fell well within the way the Constitution was being interpreted.

A whole upside-down mythology developed among white people that they worked hard for their homes, while Black people lived in slums because they did not. As Thomas Sugrue observes in The Origin of the Urban Crisis, “Residence in the inner city became a self-perpetuating stigma. Increasing joblessness, and the decaying infrastructure of inner-city neighborhoods, reinforced white stereotypes of black people, families, and communities.”

And that in turn led to a vicious, often violent culture of attacks on Black people who attempted to move into suburbs, or who entered “whites-only” jobs. In June of 1943, three Black workers integrated the final assembly line at the Packard factory in Detroit, and 20,000 whites walked off the job. Later that month, a racist riot broke out in Detroit as mobs of whites attacked Black people escaping the heat at the Belle Isle Bridge. Police stood by when whites attacked, and then moved into Black neighborhoods with “shoot-to-kill” orders. The official death toll was 34.

Equating White “Resentment” with the Struggle for Equality

Obama’s speech does acknowledge forms of discrimination that Black people have faced, and still face. But he presents this framed by the mythology of a “long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.” He claims that this inequality has been and is in contradiction to the “more perfect union” promised by the U.S. Constitution.

And Obama goes on to equate the anger of Black people at their continuing oppression with what he calls “a similar anger [that] exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience—as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch…. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.”

But as we’ve seen so far, white “resentment” of Black people, and the struggle against the subjugation of Black people are completely different things. When Obama equates this white “resentment,” on the one hand, with the outrage and struggle against the oppression of Black people on the other, he is defining terms that concede that white people’s privileged position in society has been earned. In fact, that position of privilege is a product of, and serves the whole setup of exploitation in this society, including the subjugation of Black people (and other oppressed nationalities).

Through this whole era, the U.S. Constitution, what Obama insists is the “path of a more perfect union,” was invoked to uphold inequality and the oppression of Black people. In fact, that very Constitution was a perfect framework for the capitalist system to keep masses of people of all nationalities in a subordinated and exploited position. And within that, to enforce the continuing political, economic, and cultural oppression of Black people in different forms, under different conditions, even after the abolition of slavery.

And as we will get into in the next installment of this response, the road forward, the road to freedom, is not through the U.S. Constitution.

* * *

During the upheavals of the 1960s, the whole system, including barriers to equality for Black people and other oppressed nationalities came under siege. This struggle was taken up by many people of all nationalities, particularly youth. Though not broken, those barriers began to bend under pressure. Racism too was challenged and began to break down in unprecedented, and very good ways. Revolution was in the air.

Obama argues that “we the people” need to put the legacy of that era behind us “if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union” promised by the U.S. Constitution. We will address the implications of this in the next installment of this response.

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Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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A Clear-Eyed Understanding of the Constitution

Obama maintains that the history of America is one of people making a “more perfect union”—overcoming injustice—on the basis of the Constitution.

In fact, the Constitution has proven to be the best framework in which to carry out exploitation—providing ground rules for the struggle between competing sections of the ruling class, and enabling that ruling class as a whole to keep the masses in a subordinated and exploited position. For over 80 years, the Constitution upheld slavery. Then, after slavery was destroyed by the Civil War, the “amended” Constitution first found racial segregation of Black people to be constitutional—and then, 60 years later, in the face of massive struggles and international necessities, to be unconstitutional. And today, as they move to reinforce new—and in many ways even more nightmarish—conditions of oppression onto African-Americans, the ruling class (through its Supreme Court) is once again finding segregation to be “constitutional.”

The belief that this Constitution somehow holds the key to liberation or justice is no more founded in material reality than belief in the virgin birth of Jesus, or the notion that the suffering of the oppressed will be “redeemed” in heaven. The interpretation of the Constitution—especially in regard to the rights of Black people—changes drastically from one generation to the next, based on the strategic needs of capitalism-imperialism.

As in confronting religion, we need to really face reality as it is, understanding where this belief in the Constitution actually comes from and whom it serves, and—on the basis of that clear-eyed understanding—set about radically transforming the world through revolution.

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Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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Away With All Gods!

Help Make This Book a Major Social Question


There are many people who need this book, and many sectors of society which it must penetrate. In the communities of the oppressed and in the truly hellish prisons, where people are force-fed the high schools and universities, where atheist and agnostic clubs are beginning to emerge...among the educated and progressive, and among those hungering for enlightenment...this book must reach.

April should be a time when this book emerges onto the scene with great impact. Several important programs and debates have already been scheduled around its content; these can help highlight the urgency of the themes in this book and should be built for maximum impact.

Of great importance is a special effort being mounted on Sunday, April 20, to get word of this book out everywhere. Every communist, every radical, and every progressive-minded person should find the ways to be part of this. The weeks going into this should be witnessing talks in classrooms, salons, serious study groups, and contingents of people going out into the community and challenging people to detox from the most damaging, slavish narcotic of all—religion...challenging them to unchain their minds and radically change the world. Bring your annotated Bibles and Qu’rans, take out plenty of copies of Away With All Gods!, and take on all comers. And the weeks following this effort should be weeks where new openings are seized and all this gets carried further.

—From the Revolution editorial, “Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World — A Challenge to Take Up, Engage With, and Promote Away With All Gods!” Published in issue No. 126 and available online at

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Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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Programs Around the Country

Engaging With Bob Avakian's New Synthesis

Imagine a Different Kind of World…

Coming Soon!

Text of the presentation given at a series of recent programs around the country:


Imagine a different kind of world. A world where the masses of people actually think about, struggle over, and take up revolutionary theory to change the world. Imagine a world where artists, intellectuals, and workers; students and professors; people of different nationalities, ages, and experiences—come together to discuss the big questions facing humanity, debate philosophy and why it matters, struggle over the politics and strategy of how to revolutionize society, wrangle with the positive, as well as negative, lessons from previous socialist societies—and figure out how we have to do things better if we want to emancipate all of humanity.

We got a beginning glimpse of this at the programs: “Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism: What Is Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis?”

We got a taste of how exciting it is when human beings come together to grapple on a high level with revolutionary theory, to pose and consider, ponder and debate, big questions that have to do with the possibilities of a whole new world.

All together, in New York, Chicago, Berkeley, and Los Angeles, some 800 people heard this presentation of Bob Avakian’s new synthesis—what Avakian himself has called his “recasting and recombining of the positive experience so far of the communist movement and of socialist society, while learning from the negative aspects of this experience.”

Now we’re very excited to announce that the text of this talk will soon be available. And there are programs planned in other cities (see box). So those who missed this first round of programs will now get a chance to read and/or hear this important speech.

Serious Engagement

These presentations addressed Chairman Avakian’s synthesis of the methods and experience so far of communists leading people to understand and revolutionize the world, on three levels: philosophy, or how we understand the world; politics, especially but not limited to the political conception that guided the first attempts at socialist transformation; and strategic conception, which focuses on how one would actually make revolution in a country like this.

There were lots of different kinds of people who came to these programs—some hearing about this new synthesis for the first time, some who only recently started reading and studying Avakian’s work, as well as long-time followers of Bob Avakian. There were people from many different walks of life—including professors and other intellectuals, artists, workers, immigrants, youth and students, and political activists.

At every program, people commented on how there was a palpable seriousness in the air, along with a real feeling of urgency—a recognition that the questions being addressed, the revolutionary theory being offered, really matters in terms of what will and what won’t happen in the world. People were really challenged with a different way of thinking and approaching the world, and of transforming it.

The two-hour presentations were followed by another couple of hours of Q&A, followed by informal mingling and discussion…which then stretched into the night at local restaurants and living rooms.

How People Think Matters

Since Revolution wrote about the March 9 program in New York (see “A Journey into Possibilities of a New World,” issue #124 at we have heard about the programs in Chicago, Berkeley, and Los Angeles held on March 22.

A college professor in Los Angeles sent an e-mail to one of the organizers after the program which said (in part): “I came in not sure if the billing that this was a new synthesis was appropriate, but I do think now that it was. I was particularly personally impressed with the argument that apres [post] revolution there would still be a civil society and that the party’s leadership was not seen as monopolizing the truth and that the solid core was not synonymous with the party but with the most advanced elements at any given point. I had misgivings about the role of the party in an apres revolution situation based on the past experience of socialist revolutions. Bob Avakian’s thinking on this was very notable and relieving.”

The part in the presentation on philosophy was very demanding—and it was noted in the emcee’s introduction how it takes hard work in the realm of theory to make revolution. And as the presentation put it, “Philosophy matters…to what you DO.” A number of people noted that while they found this part of the presentation difficult, that they really liked it and wanted to get clearer on the different philosophical concepts that were put forward.

A young guy in his mid 20s who attended the program in L.A. said he really liked how the speech took on other philosophies, like the thinking behind the book The Secret, promoted by Oprah Winfrey, that basically says you create your world by the thoughts you think. He said he knows a lot of people reading the book, like his cousin who told him, “I use it when I want to get a parking space, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.” He had thought this was BS but, until he heard the presentation, had not been sure why.

A young woman who grew up in a middle class suburb also really liked the philosophy part of the presentation and took notes so she could go back over them later. Referring to the part of the speech that identified different philosophical outlooks, she said the people she works with have an empirical outlook and base everything on their own experience and have a narrow “heads down” view. She said she agrees with the point about how there is just one reality, but argued that you can’t confront people about their deeply held beliefs because “that’s their reality.” In fact, religion was a big point of controversy at most of the programs.

Religion was taken on in the speech as a philosophical form of idealism that really hinders people’s ability to get to the truth of things and know the world and change the world. This led to a lot of lively and sometimes heated debate. And many people left that day with a copy of Bob Avakian’s new book, Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World.

In Los Angeles the question got sharply posed in the Q&A when a Muslim woman got up and argued that religion actually helps women. A revolutionary Iranian woman countered this, exposing how Sharia law brutally oppresses women. And this sparked off a whole round of debate about religion, women, and the family—including how the role of women, the family, and sexual relations would be radically transformed under socialism.

Challenging, Controversial Questions

People came with a range of questions about what a new socialist society would be like and how to get there. And the presentation gave rise to many more questions and opinions. Dozens of written questions were submitted and people also spoke from the floor. In every city it was notable how most people stayed for the Q&A and how there was such a range of well-thought-out and serious questions—far too many to address in a few hours—but that gave people a lot of food for thought and fuel for further discussion and study.

There was also a lot of back-and-forth discussion over the crucial role of dissent and debate under socialism, which is a very important part of Bob Avakian’s new synthesis. In Berkeley, a longtime political activist got up to speak, prefacing her remarks by saying she loved the sound of the phrase, “emancipators of humanity.” But then she said, “You talk a lot about dissent but wouldn’t the Party or the solid core be the one calling the shots?” A similar question was raised in Chicago by a young student who asked if allowing this kind of dissent and debate was just another way of letting people vent, but not really giving people real power to effect things.

A lawyer who has been part of the battle to get Marine recruiters out of Berkeley said she was new to communism and revolutionary theory but “looking for more” and “open to revolutionary theory.” She said that the idea of a society being very revolutionary yet wanting dissent against its own state power was “fascinating.”

People posed and grappled with the real contradictions and problems in a socialist society truly aimed at emancipating all humanity, debating how you would handle different things, how you would apply Bob Avakian’s new synthesis.

A sample of the written questions in Chicago gives a sense of the range of questions, debate, and controversy: Thinking about what’s going on in Tibet, how does the new synthesis apply to things like religion and nationalism, struggle versus national oppression? What will happen to private, single-family homes and family farms after a socialist revolution? Isn’t there a crying need to develop a deeper understanding of epistemology in a fast-paced world, particularly in an imperialist country, the psychology of capitalism and how it affects people’s thinking, the enormous amount of privatization occurring and how that impacts the revolutionary struggle, etc.? Mass media and advertising are powerful forces that shape/control opinion and social consciousness—how does the new synthesis propose to work with or against this powerful social force? How does the new synthesis propose to create checks and balances against a communist ideology that becomes another imperializing force—ignoring the specificities of local cultures?

This is only a snapshot of the kind of stimulating discussion and debate that went on at these programs as people seriously engaged with Bob Avakian’s new synthesis. All this shows the great potential for communists, and revolutionary-minded people more generally, to take this new synthesis out in the world in a BIG way and engage many more people with this revolutionary theory that really does matter in the world.

Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism:

Presentation followed by discussion

Cleveland - May 3, Saturday, at 1 pm

Presented by Revolution Books and Black Studies Program at
Cleveland State University
Fenn Tower Ballroom, third floor
Cleveland State University, E. 24th St. and Euclid Ave
For info, contact Revolution Books or Black Studies Program at 216-687-3655

Atlanta - April 19, Saturday, 2-6 pm

Presented by Revolution Books/Libros Revolución
Little Five Points Community Center, 1083 Austin Avenue. Entrance faces Euclid.
Suggested donation $5

Philadelphia: To be announced.

Call for information: 215-519-6112

Send us your comments.

Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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It’s the System…

Why Do Immigrants Come to the U.S.?

In the early hours of dawn or in the plain light of day, massive immigration raids at factories, fast-food chains, and neighborhoods have swept up thousands of people. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security) “removed”—that is, deported—276,912 undocumented immigrants just in 2007. These are the actions of a modern-day Gestapo, the fascist police that rounded up Jews and others in Nazi Germany.

This major intensification of raids has torn parents from their children. There are approximately five million children in the U.S. who have at least one parent who is considered an “illegal” immigrant by the government. Many of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants being rounded up and deported have children they were forced to leave behind. One recent study of ICE raids at three work sites where 900 adults were arrested found that 500 children were affected. (National Council of La Raza, “Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America’s Children”)

Why did these immigrants end up in the U.S. in the first place?

Manuel was 18 when he left his small town in the countryside of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. He traveled to northern Mexico. And then he risked his life to cross the border through the desert—where the heat and lack of water can mean painful death. He now works in a garment sweatshop in Los Angeles, living life in the shadows as an undocumented immigrant, wary every minute of being picked up in one of the raids by armed government agents.

Manuel didn’t want to leave his home. “I love the countryside and being among my people. But it was time for me to think about my mom and my younger brothers and sisters. It’s impossible to make a living off the land anyway, so I came here to make money and send money to my family and to build a little house in my town.” He said most of the guys his age had already left his town by the time he, too, left.

There are countless stories like Manuel’s—he is one of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., exploited in farm fields, sweatshops, meat-packing plants, restaurants, construction, and so on. Why have so many made that dangerous trek across the border, where hundreds die each year?

Let’s look at that border. It wasn’t always where it is. The United States seized huge chunks of Mexican territory in the mid-1800s. And as U.S. capitalism developed into a worldwide imperialist empire, it has dominated, oppressed, and distorted the economy and development of the whole country of Mexico, feeding off its people and its resources.

Then in 1994, this domination took a new leap with the so-called “free trade” agreement (NAFTA)—which gave the U.S. imperialists more “freedom” to squeeze even more profits out of Mexico. The results have been disastrous for the masses of people in Mexico.

Why does Manuel say “it’s impossible to make a living off the land”? Because NAFTA knocked down what protection there was for small farmers in Mexico. And they could no longer compete with the cheaper corn and other crops, produced by huge U.S. agribusiness corporations, that flooded Mexico. More than six million peasants have been driven from the countryside since 1994 because they can no longer feed themselves and their families by farming. And the shantytowns around Mexico’s cities, already swollen with the very poor and the displaced, offer no way out.

So that is why millions of immigrant workers have ended up in the U.S. as “illegals.” It’s not a matter of “choice.” It’s not that these immigrants want to willfully “break the law” or “freeload” off social services or “steal American jobs” or any of the other lies that the rulers of this system tell about them—and that too many people are taken in by.

The truth is that the immigrants have been forced across the border by the workings of the capitalist-imperialist system and the policies of those in power.

Once in the U.S., these immigrant workers are super-exploited—working the most low-paying and dangerous jobs. Again, the immigrants do not “choose” to work such jobs. Those are the only kind of work offered to them under the U.S. capitalist economy, which has become so dependent on the super-exploitation of immigrant labor that it cannot function without it. The immigrants have to work those jobs, or face starvation for themselves and their families.

And the capitalist rulers use the immigrants’ “illegal” status—which is the result of this system’s workings in the first place—to keep them suppressed and under control. “Step out of line,” the immigrants are told, “and you’ll not only lose your job—you’ll be arrested, deported, separated from your children.” Immigrant communities are being terrorized by a fascist crackdown—widespread immigration round-ups, massive deportations, racist vigilantes, more militarization on the border, etc.

The rulers of this country, aided by the mass media, work hard to keep the people ignorant of the truth, in order to use the immigrants as scapegoats for all the insecurities and problems that this capitalist system has forced on the majority of people. Many in the middle class feel their living standards and quality of life under attack, and they are being misled by the mouthpieces for the capitalist-imperialist system that is actually responsible for the bad shape things are in.

The ruining of Mexico’s economy that has driven millions into desperation…horrors for millions of immigrants forced into slavery-like conditions in the U.S….the prejudice against immigrants that is fanned to keep people divided…the fascistic roundups and cruel break-up of families… all of these are the products of this capitalist-imperialist system.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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Hook up with the revolution

Coming Events at Revolution Books

New York


A new store! A new world! Revolution Books is moving…
(Details to be announced)
Volunteers urgently needed to help move and renovate the store. Stay in touch and check our website for more information and announcement of future events. During this period our regular events will be held at other locations (see below).

April 21, Monday, 7 pm
"Resistance Through Ridicule": An Evening with Political Cartoonists Ted Rall and Stephanie McMillan
@ Idlewild Books, 12 W. 19th St., 2nd floor

April 23, Wednesday, 7 pm
“Atheism, God and Morality in a Time of Imperialism and Rising Fundamentalism - An Exchange."
w/Chris Hedges & Sunsara Taylor at Cooper Union's Wollman Auditorium (Engineering Bldg), 7 E.7th St. @ Third Ave. Chris Hedges will speak about his new book I Don't Believe In Atheists, and Sunsara Taylor will speak on behalf of Bob Avakian's new book Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World.


1103 N. Ashland Avenue

April 16, Wednesday, 7 pm
“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian. How can you make a revolution, how can you build a revolutionary movement, with a newspaper as your main political weapon?

April 17, Thursday, 7:30 pm
Jam Session: An experiment in directive musical improvisation. Everyone is welcome to join in or just enjoy the music and explore Revolution Books.

April 22, Tuesday, 7 pm
Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body. Slide Show, discussion, book signing.

April 24, Thursday, 7 pm
Bimonthly movie showing: Moolaade

April 26, Saturday, 2 pm
Discussion: "There is not an immigrant problem-There is a capitalism problem"


2425 Channing Way near Telegraph Ave

Every Sunday at 10 am
Discussion based on Bob Avakian’s book Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World

April 15, Tuesday, 7 pm
Discussion: “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian.
What is freedom? What is power? And what is the relation between the two?

April 17, Thursday, 7 pm
Revolution Newspaper Discussion

April 20, Secular Sunday, 10 am
Discussion and mobilization around Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World

April 22, Tuesday, 7 pm
Discussion: “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian.
What is truth? What is science? Can you scientifically understand society? Does such an understanding mean that there is no role for "free will" and human ideals and actions?

April 24, Thursday, 7 pm
Revolution Newspaper Discussion

April 29, Tuesday, 7 pm
Discussion: “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian.
What is wrong with religion? And how would/should a new society deal with religious belief and religious institutions? Does a god exist? Don't people need a god in order to "be good" or to have hope and purpose?

Los Angeles

Libros Revolución
312 West 8th Street  213-488-1303

April 16, Wednesday, 7 pm
Cinema Revolución - Remember the Titans, the true story of a newly appointed African-American coach and his high school team on their first season as a racially integrated unit.

April 17, Thursday, 7 pm
Bilingual discussion of the current issue of Revolution/Revolución newspaper.

April 20, Secular Sunday, 12 noon on
Join us to take out book tables featuring Bob Avakian's Away With All Gods, as part of a nationwide mobilization to popularize this essential and timely new book.

April 22, Tuesday, 7 pm
Spanish language roundtable discussion of Bob Avakian's Liberación Sin Dioses.

April 23, Wednesday, 7 pm
Cinema Revolución - Jesus Camp : documents the shocking mobilization of a Christian fascist movement working to convert the U.S. into a Christian state (see Revolution newspaper review in Issue No. 66, 10/22/06).

April 24, Thursday, 7 pm
Bilingual discussion of the current issue of Revolution/Revolución newspaper. Make plans for the special panel discussion at the Milnitz theatre and the LA Times Festival of Books listed above.

April 26, Saturday, 3 pm
UCLA's Academic Advancement Program and Insight Press present: "Religion, Atheism and Black People" at the James Bridges Theater, Melnitz Hall, UCLA (north campus area) - a panel discussion featuring Dr. Obery Hendricks of the New York Theological Seminary and author of The Politics of Jesus, Clyde Young of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and Erin Aubry Kaplan, writer/ LA Times op-ed columnist. The panel will be moderated by actor/instructor Harry J. Lennix.

April 26-27, Saturday and Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm
L.A. Times Festival of Books at UCLA - Libros Revolución will be in Booth No. 429, Dickson Plaza all weekend, featuring the works of Bob Avakian, and highlighting his new book, Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. Volunteers needed throughout the weekend to connect with the over one hundred thousand people drawn to this major book festival.



2626 South King Street

p> Every Monday, 6:15 pm
Revolution newspaper reading and discussion group

April 20, Sunday, 3 pm
Book Launching/Reading, followed by a reception.
Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World —A newly released book by Bob Avakian

May 1, Thursday, 6 pm
May 1st Celebration with poetry, readings and testimonials. Supper at 6pm ($8 minimum donation). Program from 7-8pm



2804 Mayfield Rd (at Coventry)
Cleveland Heights  216-932-2543
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 3-8 pm 

Every Wednesday, 7 pm
Discussions of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity—Part 2: Everything We’re Doing Is About Revolution” by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA

April 17, Thursday, 7 pm
Book discussion: Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian

April 20, Sunday, 11 am
Gather at Revolution Books to fan out across the city and make this Away With All Gods Sunday!
Call or email for further info.

May 3, Saturday, 1 pm
Revolution Books and Black Studies Program at Cleveland State University present:
Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism:

Presentation followed by discussion
Fenn Tower Ballroom, third floor
Cleveland State University
E. 24th St. and Euclid Ave
For info, contact Revolution Books or Black Studies Program at 216-687-3655


1833 Nagle Place

Announcing a New Revolution Books in Seattle!
Join us in making plans for a major revitalization and expansion in our new location. Contact us to get involved.

Announcing a New Revolution Books in Seattle!
Join us in making plans for a major revitalization and expansion in our new location. Contact us to get involved.

April 18, Friday, 7pm
Iraq Moratorium Day Film Showing: Sir! No Sir!

April 19, Saturday, 6:30pm
Film Showing: Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial
Followed by discussion: How do we engage with people over questions of God and religion using science and substance?

April 20, Sunday, 12 Noon
Calling all communists, radicals and progressive-minded people!
Join us for a full day as we boldly promote the book Away With All Gods! and challenge people to unchain their minds and radically change the world. Details to be announced.

Thursdays, April 24, May 1, May 8, May 15, 7pm
Join the Revolution Books Book Group as we discuss Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian
April 24: Where Did God Come From…and Who Says We Need God?; May 1: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—Rooted in the Past, Standing in the Way of the Future; May 8: Religion—A Heavy, Heavy Chain; May 15: God Does not Exist—We Need Liberation Without Gods.

April 25, Friday, 7pm
Film Showing: Monty Python's Life of Brian

April 27, Sunday, 2:30pm
Reading & discussion of this week's Revolution newspaper

May 3, Saturday 7pm
Celebration of May 1st 2008: International Workers Day

May 10, Saturday, 3pm-5pm
At the Douglass-Truth Branch of the Seattle Public Library, 2300 E Yesler Way
Revolution Books Presents: Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian
Book Reading and Discussion
The author will not be present.

Dates to be announced
Group outings to Bring Revolution to the Movies! Hook up with people from Revolution Books to see and discuss great and controversial movies and get out Revolution newspaper, orange ribbons, flyers, etc to other movie-goers. Upcoming movies to see are Taxi to the Dark Side and Battle in Seattle.

Future Book Group titles to be announced.


406 W.Willis
(between Cass &2nd, south of Forest)

Every Sunday, 4 pm
Discussions of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity—Part 2: Everything We’re Doing Is About Revolution” by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA

April 20, Sunday, 12: 30 pm
Secular Sunday, a Roundtable Discussion on Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, held at Atoms Java & Juice, 15104 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe Park.

Date and location to be announced
Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian. Discussion of Chapter 1.

Upcoming Films at RBO:
Yesterday, a young South African woman struggling with HIV; Nothing But a Man, a rebellious young man and the conservative role of the Black church.


1158 Mass Ave, 2nd Floor, Cambridge  

Every Monday Night, 6:30 pm
Revolution Books hosts an ongoing discussion series on Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian.

April--To be announced
Book release event for Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian



4 Corners Market of the Earth
Little 5 Points, 1087 Euclid Avenue
404-577-4656 & 770-861-3339

Open Wednesdays & Fridays 4 pm - 7 pm,
Saturdays 2 pm - 7 pm 

April 19, Saturday, 2-6 pm
Revolution Books/Libros Revolución presents:
Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism:

Presentation followed by discussion
Little Five Points Community Center, 1083 Austin Avenue. Entrance faces Euclid.
Suggested donation $5

April 20, Sunday
Away With All Gods! Sunday
Watch our blog for what's going on.

April 27, Sunday, 3:30 pm
Join us as we continue our discussion of Bob Avakian's "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity."



Send us your comments.

Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us


Dahr Jamail: Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq


A special feature of Revolution to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.

In late 2003, angry at the failure of the U.S. media to accurately report on the realities of the war in Iraq for the Iraqi people, Dahr Jamail went to Iraq to report on the war himself. Jamail has spent a total of eight months in occupied Iraq as one of only a few independent U.S. journalists in the country. He has also reported from Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. His dispatches have been published in newspapers and magazines worldwide, and they can be read on his website (

Dahr Jamail’s book, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, was published in late 2007 (Haymarket Books). Historian Howard Zinn said, “Jamail does us a great service, by taking us past the lies of our political leaders, past the cowardice of the mainstream press, into the streets, the homes, the lives of Iraqis living under U.S. occupation.”

Revolution recently talked with Dahr Jamail.

Revolution: You’ve written, “If the people of the United States had the real story about what their government has done in Iraq, the occupation would already have ended…” What does the occupation mean to the Iraqi people?

Dahr Jamail: The occupation has meant the total evisceration of the country. There are between 1.1 and 1.3 million dead. There are at least 4.4 million Iraqis displaced from their homes and, according to Oxfam International, another 4 million in need of emergency assistance. Meaning that if they don’t get access to safe drinking water, food, and medical attention when necessary, they are literally at risk for their lives. When we consider that Iraq’s overall population was 27 million five years ago when the war was launched, now it’s just under 25 million; when we add those numbers up, that’s 9 million people out of 25 million people—well over a third of the total population of the country—are either displaced, in need of emergency aid, or dead. And this is against a backdrop of between 40% to 70% unemployment. Seventy percent of the country does not have access to safe drinking water. There is 70% inflation. The medical infrastructure is in total shambles. Childhood malnutrition has increased 9% even compared to the sanctions, a period that killed half a million Iraqi children. That’s the state of the country today and that’s the result of five years of occupation. And there’s certainly no reason for us to think that this is going to change.

Revolution: The U.S. talks a lot about the success of the large increase in U.S. troops in Iraq that they call the “surge.” What is the real impact of the “surge,” especially for the Iraqi people?

Jamail: The number of people displaced from their homes has quadrupled under the “surge.” We’re looking now at the endgame of a U.S.-backed sectarian strategy of divide and conquer. Sectarian warfare between the Sunni and Shia has intensified to the point where in Baghdad, a city of 6 million people, one out of four people is displaced. And that’s also thanks in large part to the surge in addition to U.S.-backed death squads and other policies encouraging and promoting sectarianism.

Also as part of the “surge” we have the U.S. backing the so-called “Awakening groups,” which now are an 80,000-strong Sunni militia that is now an effective counterbalance to the Shia-supported government. One of the goals of the “surge” is supposed to be to promote reconciliation, but I would argue that it’s having the opposite effect. Instead of being closer to reconciliation, we are closer to all-out civil war between various sects and political groups now than we ever were before the “surge.” And that’s a direct result of U.S. policy.

Revolution: What about U.S. claims that the “surge” has decreased the deaths in Iraq?

Jamail: I would also have to note that last month saw an increase of 33% in Iraqi civilian casualties. So there’s that hard reality to contradict the propaganda of the Bush administration.

But it is a fact that American troop deaths have decreased. They started to decrease about seven months ago, at about the same time that Muqtada al-Sadr put his militia on stand-down. So there’s that factor. And the Awakening groups I talked about earlier are also another factor, where the U.S. is literally paying off former resistance fighters, some of them known Al Qaeda members. They are paying them $300 a month to stand down and not attack Americans.

So the great irony is that we have once again the U.S. with Al Qaeda on the U.S. payroll, just as was the case in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Revolution: What role has the United States played in the growth of sectarian violence in Iraq?

Jamail: In order to understand the growth of the sectarian violence in Iraq, you have to go back to Central America in the 1980s when John Negroponte was the U.S. ambassador—Reagan’s ambassador—to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. It’s widely documented now that he was instrumental in forming and backing the right-wing death squads there. He couldn’t have done that without the help of Colonel James Steele, who came on toward the end of his tenure there and also helped set up these paramilitary death squads.

Fast forward to Baghdad in December 2004, and who is the U.S. ambassador there? It’s John Negroponte. And we have a retired Colonel James Steele, whose title is Counselor for Iraqi Security Affairs. And these two men again go at it, setting up sectarian-based death squads, running them through the U.S.-funded Ministry of Information, pulling them directly from the Shia Mahdi Army and the Badr organization and the Kurdish Peshmurga, and sending them out to target leadership and key sympathizers of primarily Sunni resistance. There were already strains and divides, to be sure, between Shia and Sunni in political struggles, but the death squads set in motion the wanton sectarianism and killing, the segregation of the neighborhoods that we’re looking at the end result of today, where Baghdad is now a city that is set up primarily by “are you Shia or are you Sunni?”

Revolution: You describe yourself as an “unembedded journalist.” How do you contrast the role that you play with mainstream reporters that most people rely on for their coverage of the war?

Jamail: The embedded journalists act as informants for the government side of the story. You’re always going to get that perspective and you’re never going to really get the Iraqi side of the story or even a true view of the U.S. soldier’s side of the story. For example if you talk about embedded journalism—and I don’t spend too much time on this because I think it’s pretty clear to people now, across the political spectrum, that embedded journalists are a fraud and nothing but propagandists—but I want to underscore what I’m saying

by pointing to the events last weekend [March 13-16] in Silver Spring, Maryland, where we had the Winter Soldier event put on by Iraq Veterans Against the War. We had 50 Iraq War veterans and Afghanistan War veterans up there on stage talking about atrocities and things that they did while they were in Iraq, showing photos and footage. And again, with few exceptions, where was the mainstream media? Instead, reporters ignored it. In the week leading up to Winter Soldier, if you listened to National Public Radio you heard stories with soldiers in Iraq talking about how great things were. Where was NPR covering the Winter Soldier event? That’s my point, that it goes on not just in Iraq but right back here as well.

Revolution: Where did the policy of embedded journalists come from?

Jamail: You’ve always had embedded reporters. In its current form, it really started in the 1991 war when the Pentagon, as a means of information control, set up the embedded program to keep reporters under their wing and control where they went, what they saw, and how they reported it. They did a trial run with the embed program. It went great. Ninety percent of the reporters wanted to come back and do it again, so the military felt this was great, let’s run with it.

And they did. They greatly augmented it and applied it to this war. And again with great success, because if you’re going to embed as a journalist you have to sign forms giving the military control over what you write, and they’re going to control, of course, what you photograph, when you take pictures and when you don’t, etc. That’s the embed program. It’s specifically set up by the Pentagon to control information, and it’s been quite effective.

Revolution: When the Iraq war started five years ago, you were working as a ranger and a guide on Mount Denali in Alaska, with no journalistic experience. How did you end up going to and reporting on Iraq?

Jamail: I was against the war when it started, and as I watched the way the media covered the war, I felt completely lied to and betrayed. I knew enough about journalism to know that what I was seeing was not journalism, that it was propaganda. I was so outraged that I kind of went for my own mental health. I felt that I needed to do something other than the usual things that we are supposed to do to express dissent, like write letters of concern to our elected representatives. I felt then and I feel today more than ever that we’ve long since passed that point. It’s going to take more than letters of concern to so-called officials to change things here. And I felt that controlling the information was a very powerful and effective tool, if not the most powerful, that the government has; and that one thing I could do to fight against that was to go to report on things. So that’s what I decided to do.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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U.S. ratchets up fighting in iraq, threats Against Iran

Regular readers of Revolution know the U.S. has been threatening the Islamic Republic of Iran and may be preparing a military attack. (See “Alert: U.S. Escalates Moves Against Iran”, issue #126, at Now, this past week, there have been further, and particularly sharp, expressions of how the U.S. is both escalating fighting in Iraq, and at the same time, ratcheting up public opinion in favor of attacking Iran. It’s very important that people continue to be alert to this dangerous situation.

The 2003 invasion and the occupation of Iraq was and continues to be a criminal war of imperialist aggression—aimed at securing Iraq as a U.S. neo-colony and deepening U.S. domination in the whole region. After five years this war has brought horrific destruction, death, torture, and devastation to the Iraqi people. (See Dahr Jamail interview, this issue)

Now, major ruling class figures are making clear that at this point the U.S. is not planning on withdrawing troops. And they are also arguing that Iran is the main obstacle to the U.S. agenda of defeating Islamic fundamentalist forces that pose obstacles to unfettered American dominance and the restructuring of the entire Middle East region more tightly under imperialist control.

U.S. ruling class threats against Iran this last week:

• April 8-9: When General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, testified before Congress, he painted Iran’s support for Shiite extremists as the biggest long-term risk to Iraq’s stability (CNN, 4-11-08). After the hearings, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters that Iran was one of the factors in U.S. plans to halt troop withdrawals at least until mid-September. Gates said, “I think that there is some sense of an increased level of supply of (Iranian) weapons and support to these groups” (referring to what the military has termed “special groups” of Shiite militants). Gates also claimed that Iranian support had a large role in attacks on U.S. forces by the Iraqi Shiite militia called the Mahdi Army during the recent fighting in Baghdad and Basra. Meanwhile, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker claimed that Iran continues to “undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government to establish a stable, secure state.”

• April 10: President Bush said, “Iraq is the convergence point for two of the greatest threats to America in this new century: al Qaeda and Iran.” In the same speech, he endorsed the call from Petraeus for a halt in further withdrawals of U.S. troops from Iraq after July, when troop levels will reach 140,000, the number before the “surge” that began last year. And then, speaking like a Mafia godfather making “an offer you can’t refuse,” Bush said: “The regime in Tehran also has a choice to make: They can live in peace with its neighbor, enjoy strong economic and cultural and religious ties, or it can continue to arm and train and fund illegal militant groups which are terrorizing the Iraqi people and turning them against Iran. If Iran makes the right choice, America will encourage a peaceful relationship between Iran and Iraq. If Iran makes the wrong choice, America will act to protect our interests and our troops and our Iraqi partners.” Put this together with recent reports that three U.S. warships now sit off the coast of Lebanon.

• April 10: On the right-wing talk radio show hosted by Sean Hannity, Vice President Dick Cheney ratcheted up the level of fear-mongering against Iran. He did this by talking about how Ahmadinejad (the president of Iran) is “a man who believes in the return of the 12th Imam; and that the highest honor that can befall a man is that he should die a martyr in facilitating the return of the 12th Imam.” Cheney then said, quoting pro-imperialist Middle East “scholar” Bernard Lewis, “Mutual assured destruction in the Soviet-U.S. relationship in the Cold War meant deterrence, but mutual assured destruction with Ahmadinejad is an incentive.”

To be clear. Iran did not invade Iraq. The U.S. did. Iran didn’t run Abu Ghraib prison. The U.S. did. Iran didn’t start the recent fighting in Basra and Baghdad—the U.S. did. And the U.S. bears the overwhelming brunt of responsibility for the towering horrors inflicted on the Iraqi people, not Iran. So by what right does the U.S. complain that Iran is “interfering” in Iraq—this is gangster logic aimed at justifying furthering U.S. domination in Iraq and the whole Middle East.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a reactionary theocracy that has murdered thousands of communists and progressives and enforces medieval strictures on women—among other things. And we support the struggle of the Iranian people to throw off their oppressors. But the reactionary character of the Iranian regime is not what the U.S. rulers consider a problem. The U.S.’s problem with Iran is that it’s standing in their way of unfettered imperialist exploitation and political-military hegemony across the Middle East, including in the ways Iran represents and fuels Islamic fundamentalism and challenges Israel as the U.S.’s regional bully on the block.

These are very serious developments. War with Iran—no matter the pretext—would bring potentially staggering consequences to the people of the region and devastating reverberations across the planet. This raises once again the urgency of building mass resistance to the war and reversing the whole trajectory the Bush regime has set in motion.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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From A World to Win News Service

Iran: “Fight to save the life of workers’ leader Mahmood Salehi”

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, 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.

April 7, 2008. A World to Win News Service. The people of Iran are going through very hard times right now, perhaps the most difficult situation in decades on several fronts. The Islamic regime has moved to fiercely repress protests and demands for change. Two dozen university students have remained in prison in the wake of the Student Day demonstrations last December. According to their families and other sources, they have been undergoing torture to force them to express a more “Islamic” attitude. Several young women are said to have been raped and killed or driven to suicide. After a young Kurdish nationalist activist was arrested, the regime rounded up a number of his family members and executed him in front of his sister. International Women’s Day activities could not be held even semi-publicly in Iran this year due to a round of pre-March 8 arrests and the threat of more. At the same time, most of the population is also suffering from economic hardship on a scale not seen in many years. Official inflation is 19 percent, but the price of rice, chicken, fruit and other basic foodstuffs is rising so fast shopkeepers complain that they sometimes have to change the stickers three times a day. Rents have doubled over the last year. So many women have been forced into prostitution to support their families that the phenomenon has become a national scandal.

Following is a statement by the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist). (Web site:, contact at

Iran today, while groaning under brutal rule of a theocratic regime, is also the site of intense super-exploitation mixed with Islamic fundamentalist “legitimization” that has created horrendous conditions for the working people in Iran. This gives rise to uninterrupted workers’ protests. As the bureaucrat-capitalist regime of Iran carries out ever deeper and wider destructive, globalization-driven neo-liberal policies, mills, factories and agricultural enterprises are shut down one after another. Each passing month thousands more find themselves laid off and with no income to survive on. Unemployed workers join the ranks of millions of unemployed youth who will never get a chance to work in a meaningful job.

The Islamic Republic receives backing and support not only from international centers of capitalism, but also the so-called International Labor Organization (which would be more truthfully called the International Anti-Labor Organization). Every year this UN body reconfirms the representatives of the Islamic Republic as the “legitimate” representatives of the workers’ interests!

In its mad drive to make Iran super-profitable for the world capitalist/imperialist system, the Islamic Republic of Iran does anything to force the workers to accept inhuman levels of exploitation and a humiliating life. The number of workers who commit suicide is increasing rapidly. When workers and the hungry in working class townships protest, they face military repression, on the ground and from the air. The regime’s Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) are there to guard the super-exploitation and super-humiliation of the workers. For many years the IRI divided the workers along Islamic fundamentalist lines. Today the regime itself is hated and isolated. The workers have increasingly seen how religion has been used to legitimize brutal exploitation and humiliation on earth while offering rewards in the “next” world. The Islamic Workers’ Councils or Houses of the Workers have been discredited and left to operate on the basis of certain criminal Islamic gangs who are paid by their bosses in high office to feast on the workers’ flesh. It is these gangs who are recognized as “representatives of the Iranian workers” in the ILO!

As a warning of how it will deal with resistance, the Islamic regime has kept a popularly loved workers’ leader, Mahmood Salehi, in jail to rot and die. Mahmood, who has been in and out of prison, is now in danger of losing his life in prison because his kidneys are failing and the IRI regime is refusing to give him medical treatment. Mahmood had served his “legal” prison term and “legally” was due to be released on March 25, but he was not released. The authorities say this is because he sent solidarity messages for the students on Student Day and for March 8, International Women’s Day.

Mahmood Salehi became well known in 2004 when he and other workers dared to openly celebrate May First, International Workers’ Day, in the city of Saghez in Iranian Kurdistan. According to the IRI, this is a crime to be punished by imprisonment and torture. These workers were attacked by the police and arrested. When their case became internationally known and the ILO was exposed as having cooperated with the IRI to pass off criminal gangs as “legitimate representatives of the Iranian workers,” the regime had to back off and release them.

At a time when the U.S. is threatening to attack Iran and is posing as the “liberator” of the Iranian people, Mahmood took a clear position against both U.S. imperialist war and the IRI and has refused to call for “national reconciliation” with the Islamic regime.

Mahmood has also rejected the ILO-proposed dubious “trilateral commission” schemes and instead has insisted on the workers’ inalienable right to organize their resistance and unity through independent workers organisations and not through state-sanctioned “workers’ organizations.”

But the IRI considers the struggle of the workers for this basic right as a political act of revolt and rebellion to be punished as a threat to its existence.

This is a testament to the fact that the Islamic Republic is profoundly isolated and hated in Iran. Its “anti-imperialist” sloganeering on the international stage is mocked by the people in the streets of Iran, who consider it nothing but an act aimed at cutting sweet deals with the imperialist-capitalist bosses of the world. This phoney show should not fool anyone about the true nature of the Islamic Republic state and the brutal reactionary ruling class which has woven Iran intrinsically into the international web of the capitalist system and intensified the super-exploitation and poverty of the people of Iran.

Show your outrage against this anti-people regime and your solidarity with the workers and peoples of Iran – fight for freedom and life of Mahmood Salehi. Mahmood is a fine and courageous worker who must be supported by all toiling masses and progressive people around the world.

Take local initiatives to bring this case to the public opinion of the world. Organize protests in front of IRI embassies throughout the world!

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Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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Do Something Really Worthwhile with Your Tax Rebate

At a moment when much of humanity finds itself in a living hell, when the horror of the U.S. occupation of Iraq threatens to escalate into a war against Iran, and when the future of the planet itself is threatened, Revolution newspaper must be out there much more boldly and much more broadly—exposing what is going on, revealing why, and pointing to a revolutionary solution in the interests of the vast majority of humanity.

from “Truth…in Preparation for Revolution!” (available at

Important things were accomplished in Revolution newspaper’s expansion and fund drive. People from all walks of life came forward and participated in raising funds for Revolution. Now, we are challenging people to donate “economic stimulus” tax rebate checks to something really worthwhile—the Revolution expansion and fund drive.

Much is at stake. If people are going to really understand what is going on, and if something good is to be pulled out of the current storms, a greatly expanded Revolution newspaper must be at the heart of that process.

Send checks or money orders to: RCP Publications, Box 3486 Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654 or donate online at

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Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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Some Points to Consider about the Efforts to Boycott the China Olympics

Dear Revolution,

This past week, we have seen days of headlines about protestors trying to stop the Olympic torch and politicians like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi have suggested some kind of boycott of the opening ceremonies.

In light of all this I’d like to offer these points to consider as some basic points of orientation:

1. China is NOT a socialist country today, but a society ruled by a new capitalist class dependent on imperialism.

2. In the Maoist years, when China was a revolutionary and socialist society (1949-1976), the old feudal system of oppression and exploitation was uprooted through revolutionary struggle and enormous strides were made in overcoming the legacy of national oppression and social and economic backwardness. This real history of Tibet has been terribly distorted and misrepresented, especially in the western press.

3. There is a just struggle against the oppression of the Tibetan people and against the punishing consequences of capitalist development in China.

4. The U.S. has a long history of backing reactionary forces in Tibet—the CIA has worked with and directly supported the Dalai Lama. And far from being a force for progress and social justice, the Dalai Lama is tied into Western imperialism, particularly the United States. Sections of the U.S. ruling class are championing the Dalai Lama and his movement to try and pressure, destabilize, and even tear China apart because they consider it a long-term strategic, economic, political, and military rival to U.S. global power.

5. The high-level efforts to organize a boycott of the Beijing Olympics in the name of Tibetan people’s rights is, in its principal aspect, a maneuver by western imperialism, and the U.S. in particular, to advance geo-strategic advantage against China. This is true, even though there are many progressive forces and sentiments involved in the boycott efforts.

The current conflict in Tibet is complex, involving different class forces and interests and different political forces, including religious reactionary groups tied to U.S. imperialism. And this is all happening within a bigger international framework. I encourage people to read the article, “The Protests in Tibet and the Discontent Below” (Revolution #125, available at which discusses this and helps clear up confusion people have about the history of Tibet and the various class forces involved in this current struggle.

Li Onesto, writer for Revolution Newspaper

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Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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Sean Bell Trial Closing

The trial of the three NYPD cops indicted for the November 2006 shooting death of Sean Bell and the serious wounding of his two friends is coming to a close. The judge has said he will deliver his verdict on April 25. During the trial, testimony by survivors of the attack and others brought back the horrors of that night when the police unleashed a 50-bullet barrage against the three young men. And the arguments by the cops’ lawyers in defense of their clients made clear that murderous violence against Black and Latino youth are what the armed enforcers of this system are supposed to do and trained to do.

Spread this poster all over! Available for download here and at

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Revolution #127, April 20, 2008

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The Catholic Church...

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