Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA

Please note: this page is intended for quick printing of the entire issue. Some of the links may not work when clicked, and some images may be missing. Please go to the article's permalink if you require working links and images.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

A Call To Our Readers

The Occupy protests have raised the hopes of millions in this country and worldwide. Profound discontent with the inequality and injustice in this society has burst to the surface. The atmosphere and discourse in society is changing, and millions are thinking about and asking big questions about the ways things are—and whether and how a different future would be possible. Over the last few weeks, this movement has been repressed in what appear to be coordinated attacks to savagely evict encampment after encampment across the country. This movement stands at a crossroads—in the largest sense. Where to now? What is the essence of this crossroads and how are we to understand it? What direction should this movement take? And with what understanding and orientation? How will the injustice and inequality this movement is targeting actually be overcome? What kind of leadership is needed to bring that about?

Bob Avakian addresses these questions and more in "A Reflection on the 'Occupy' Movement: An Inspiring Beginning... and the Need to Go Further." It is critically important to read, distribute and deeply discuss this statement. And let the ferment and debate spread and heighten in every corner of society. We published this in Revolution #251 (November 27) and #252 (December 11). Discussions will be held in Revolution Books stores across the country in the coming days. (Check with your local bookstore for announcements of these discussions.) Printable PDF's of BA's Reflection are posted at; these can and should be downloaded, printed and broadly distributed far and wide... not only to those in the movement, but to all those who have been awakened and touched by these actions. Get this Reflection out to all those who have been spurred to think about the nature and state of this society and to consider how to bring into being a far better world and future. And forward to Revolution correspondence about your experience and discussions!

Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

U.S. Threatens Another War

Who Is the REAL Aggressor in the Middle East?

The U.S., along with Israel, France and Britain, are ratcheting up a multi-pronged offensive against Iran. A U.S. drone of the type used to collect detailed information to prepare military attacks recently crashed in Iran, and numerous news reports are speculating on the likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iran, justified as a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear program.

The U.S. and its allies portray Iran as a dangerous, aggressive, and lawless rogue state intent on obtaining nuclear weapons. The Islamic Republic of Iran regime, which brutally oppresses women and the masses of people within its borders, has aspirations to be a regional power. But the question people must ask is: Who is the real aggressor in the Middle East?

Examine the facts: For over 50 years, since they became the dominant power in the Middle East, the U.S. imperialists have employed enormous violence to maintain their stranglehold on this region—where 60% of the world's oil reserves are located, and where three continents intersect, making it a strategic-military linchpin.

Here is a brief overview of just a few of the terrible crimes committed by the U.S. over the past six-plus decades in Iran and the Middle East.


Backing Israel's Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and Invasions of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The U.S. backed, and continues to back, Israel's ethnic cleansing of the land of the Palestinian people. Palestinians have been confined to refugee camps and a few territories surrounded by Israel's huge military, funded with billions of dollars a year in U.S. aid and including an existing and ready-to-use arsenal of nuclear weapons. The 2009 Israeli war on Gaza killed over a thousand civilians. Israel has launched war after war in the region to strengthen its position and serve U.S. imperialism: against Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan in 1967 and again in 1973; against Lebanon in 1982 and again in 2002. All of this has taken place with unwavering and unquestioned backing by every major political figure in the U.S.

1950s and '60s:

Installing Despots in Iran...and Across the Region. In 1953, the CIA orchestrated a coup in Iran to overthrow Prime Minister Mossadegh, who had loosened Britain's stranglehold on Iran and its oil, and put the Shah (King) Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in command. The Shah ruled through terror and what Amnesty International called "a history of torture which is beyond belief," carried out by the U.S.-trained secret police, SAVAK. Across the region during these decades, the U.S. backed or installed autocrats in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, and the Gulf states—some of the same tyrannies the people in the region are now rising up against.


Fueling the Rise of Islamic Fundamentalists in Afghanistan. Next door to Iran, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and the U.S., already involved covertly in that country, expanded its activities there. The Soviet Union at the time was the main imperialist rival of the U.S., and a top American official said the aim was to "give the Soviet Union its Vietnam." The U.S. funneled more than $3 billion in arms and aid to the Islamic Mujahideen through the 1980s, helping create a global network of Islamist fighters. By the time the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, more than a million Afghans had been killed, a third of the population driven into refugee camps, the country shattered, and the ground laid for a decade of civil war and the rise of the Taliban.


Orchestrating the 8-Year War Between Iraq and Iran. The Shah was overthrown in 1979, and the fundamentalist Islamic Republic of Iran led by Ayatollah Khomeini took its place. The U.S. immediately started working to isolate and weaken the Khomeini regime and regain its influence in Iran. The U.S. gave Iraq's Saddam Hussein a green light to invade Iran, and then worked to turn the Iran‑Iraq War into an eight-year bloodbath. U.S. allies supplied Iraq with billions in weapons and material while also supplying Iran, playing both sides against each other to prevent either from winning. The death toll from the war is estimated to be at least 262,000-367,000 Iranians and 105,000 Iraqis. An estimated 700,000 were injured or wounded on both sides, bringing the total casualty figure to over one million.


Murdering a Million Plus in Iraq. When Iraq became an obstacle to U.S. designs in the Persian Gulf following Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the U.S. launched a massive war. In 1991, a U.S. Census Bureau demographer estimated that 158,000 Iraqis died as a direct and indirect result of the U.S. war, including 70,000 civilians. The end of the war marked the beginning of murderous economic sanctions lasting until 2003, blocking the flow of food, medicine, and other vital materials. A 1999 survey by UNICEF and Iraq's Ministry of Health found that 500,000 Iraqi children died as a result of sanctions between 1991 and 1998—5,000 children under five were dying each month. That is more than a World Trade Center catastrophe every 30 days.


Invading Afghanistan. After 9/11, the U.S. launched a so-called "war on terror," which is in reality a war for greater empire, aimed at defeating the Islamic fundamentalist forces who pose obstacles to U.S. aims to more directly control and exploit the region. In October 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan—and continues its brutal war and occupation today. The U.S. troops carry out night raids on villages, covert assassinations, massive detentions and torture, and all-around terror.


Invading Iraq. In March 2003, under the pretexts that have been proven to be outright lies about Iraq having "weapons of mass destruction," the U.S. invaded Iraq. A 2006 survey published in the British medical journal Lancet found that there had been more than 650,000 "excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war" up to that point. Over 4.7 million Iraqis were driven from their homes.



"UN condemns 'war crimes' in Gaza," BBC News, September 16, 2009.

"Rights Group Puts Gaza Death Toll at 1,284," CBS/AP, November 4, 2009.

William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II (Zed Books, 2003).

Larry Everest, Oil, Power and Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda (Common Courage Press, 2003).

Roger Hardy, "The Iran-Iraq war: 25 years on," BBC News, September 22, 2005.

"CIA's Decades of Criminal 'Service'," Revolution #191, February 7, 2010.

"Timeline: Soviet war in Afghanistan," BBC News, February 17, 2009.

"Toting the Casualties of War," Bloomberg Businessweek, February 6, 2003.

"UN Says Sanctions Have Killed Some 500,000 Iraqi Children," Reuters, July 21, 2000.

"Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey," Gilbert Burnham MD, Riyadh Lafta MD, Shannon Doocy PhD, and Les Roberts PhD, The Lancet, October 12, 2006.


Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy

by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA

Editors' note: The following is an excerpt from Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, in 2006 and published as a pamphlet in 2008. This excerpt begins with a reference to the previous excerpt, "Capitalist Society, Bourgeois Democracy and Dictatorship," in Revolution #250, November 13, 2011. Earlier excerpts were published in Revolution #248-#250. All of these excerpts, and the work as a whole, address important questions that are on many people's minds in the situation today.  The pamphlet is available for purchase online at or The text is available at; audio available at

Dictatorship Does Not Mean Unchallengeable Power

But all this does not mean that the ruling class of imperialists has everything all sewn up. There are profound contradictions in their system which, these days especially, are posing themselves in rather acute terms. And especially at those times when these contradictions become intensified and assume acute expression, this sharpens divisions within the ruling class itself and provides much greater openings for mass resistance to develop and to have effect. It also poses more sharply the need for revolution; and the further intensification of these contradictions may even lead to an opening for revolution.

Now, at the present time, this may not appear to be so true, because for reasons that I've analyzed before,1 one section of the ruling class (as represented generally by the Democratic Party) faces real difficulties in formulating and fighting in a consistent way for a systematic and coherent program that would really represent an alternative to the dominant program represented now in a concentrated way by the Bush regime.

Still, there are today significant conflicts within the ruling class. The fact that there are real difficulties for the ruling class—and, especially in the face of that, some real differences among them—is the reason that someone like Congressman Murtha, for example, could get a hearing in his criticism of the Iraq war. Of course, Murtha is in no way a representative of the people, and certainly he is not speaking on behalf of the oppressed people of the world, but he is speaking with great concern about serious problems that he sees arising already, and potentially much greater problems, for the U.S. ruling class. Murtha may get attacked, he may get shoved to the side, but he still has gotten a certain hearing, because there is enough conflict within the ruling class that arguments like his are treated as within the scope of "legitimate discourse," on ruling class terms (and Murtha has certain particular credentials and connections—long-time association with the military, and so on—which make it more possible for him to say these things). I saw Murtha not long ago on Paula Zahn: he was talking about the murders of civilians carried out by U.S. soldiers in Haditha, Iraq, and Zahn went after him with her fangs bared. But what happened was interesting. He actually got angry and responded accordingly, rather than backing away from this—this turned into a rather sharp confrontation, which I don't think was mainly staged. But someone like Murtha's being able to express his views and to be taken seriously in a certain context, even while also being marginalized to some degree, is an expression of the fact that there are significant conflicts within the ruling class at this point; and the warnings being voiced by Murtha, along with some other ruling class figures, represent concern over much greater contradictions that could emerge and erupt.2

So, we shouldn't look simply at the way contradictions within the ruling class are posed at this point, and see only the significant aspect of paralysis on the part of one section of the ruling class (grouped around the Democrats). We should look further, at the deeper dynamics and at the potential for all this to assume much more acute expression. This, of course, will have very contradictory effects. On the one hand, this can (to echo Lenin's phrasing) provide further cracks, fissures and openings for mass outrage to erupt on a large scale. On the other hand, it will quite likely lead to even more vicious repression, including of any such mass eruptions and outbreaks of political resistance and concerted efforts to affect and change government policy.

But, just as we recognize, and emphasize, the profound point that (to paraphrase Marx) what is important is not what the masses of people are thinking and doing at any given time, but what they will be confronted with by the actual workings and dynamics of the system—and the ways this can impel them in the direction of thinking and acting differently—this also applies to the ruling class and to divisions and conflicts within the ruling class. What expression those divisions and conflicts take is not dependent primarily on what appears on the surface at any given time, or on the will of individual representatives of the ruling class, but on what are actually the underlying and driving dynamics. And if you go back to what is the larger grand strategy of the dominant force within the ruling class at this time (grouped now in and around the Bush regime) and look at what that is going to run up against as they pursue that and seek to go from one offensive to the next, you can see the potential for contradictions in the world and in U.S. society itself—including within the U.S. ruling class—to greatly sharpen and intensify, and you can, in turn, get a sense of the potential dialectic—the back and forth relation and mutual interaction—between that and what goes on among the masses of people.

This is a very important point: While the ruling class exercises dictatorship, it is not the case that it has absolute freedom and has no problems and no difficulties, is confronted with no necessity. In fact, at this time, the U.S. imperialist ruling class faces great necessity, and further necessity for it is being created by the way in which the core in power now (the Bush regime, for short) is aggressively pursuing its program (what we have referred to as its juggernaut of war and repression). We should keep in mind that those grouped around Cheney, and others aligned with them, first formulated a decade or so ago the grand strategy which has since become articulated as a national security strategy, after Bush took office. These forces have been arguing for this strategy since the early '90s—insisting, on the one hand, that there is an opening to make a leap in imposing American hegemony on the entire world in an unprecedented way, in a way that they believed would be unchallenged and even unchallengeable, but warning, on the other hand, that this opening will close after a certain period of time—other regional, and world, powers will emerge, and (they argue) if we don't seize the initiative now, we won't be able to continue the kind of momentum that will be necessary to do this. In formulating and advocating this strategy, they acknowledged that it would be hard to get the American people behind it—not that they let the people decide, but they do want to do this with the people deluded and following behind them to the greatest degree possible. This wouldn't be so easy to do, they recognized, absent something like a new Pearl Harbor—which then happened on September 11, 2001. This does emphasize that the question of whether these ruling class forces might have played some role in the 9/11 events is something which should not simply be dismissed, but does need to be looked into, in a serious and scientific way. Yet, whatever the story is with that, September 11 provided them with their "new Pearl Harbor."

But even that has turned into its opposite in significant aspects. It is not now the same situation it was when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, shortly after September 11, 2001. The Bush regime ran into much more massive political opposition when it turned its focus from Afghanistan to Iraq. A lot of people were confused: What does that have to do with the "war on terror"? Well, if you think it's actually a war on terror, maybe it is confusing; but if you understand that, in fundamental and essential terms, this is a war for empire, then you can see that the war in Iraq has everything to do with it. But the Bush regime—as the driving force of the ruling class as a whole—ran into a very acute contradiction, because they were waging a war for empire in the name of a "war on terror." That contradiction significantly rebounded in their face—it didn't stop them from aggressively pursuing the war in Iraq, and the "war on terror" overall, but it created all kinds of difficulties for them, even within the U.S., besides the difficulties they've had in actually imposing their will "on the ground" (and from the air) in Iraq. And along with this, there are the continuing, and mounting, difficulties they have had in "pacifying Afghanistan" after their initial success in toppling the Taliban: There is a growing resurgence of resistance in Afghanistan which, unfortunately, still consists largely of the Taliban and other reactionary forces allied with it. At the same time, there is the real possibility of a U.S. attack on Iran, which is fraught with great danger not only for the people of Iran, and that whole region, and indeed for the people of the whole world, but also for the U.S. imperialists themselves.

So they don't have everything all locked up. It is the nature of reality, and it is the nature of their system as a particular expression of reality, that it is full of and driven by contradiction; and even if certain contradictions are dealt with—either resolved or partially resolved or mitigated—this gives rise to new contradictions (or old contradictions in new forms). You go into Iraq, and then you've got the "cut-and-run" problem, the way things have turned out—the reality that, even if things are not going the way you planned, now that you have committed to this, and made it a major front of your so-called "war on terror," you can't simply pull out, without causing even greater problems for yourself. This is why there is a strong pull—and not just a pull on the Bush regime, but on the ruling class overall—to aggressively pursue that war, even with the difficulties they've encountered as a result of waging this war in the first place. So they had a certain necessity not to lose what they saw as a "window of opportunity"—particularly with the collapse of the Soviet Union and "the triumph of the U.S. in the Cold War"—and then they've created new necessity for themselves—not just for others, but for themselves as well—by going ahead and pursuing this course, including the war in Iraq.

It is very important to understand these dynamics in this way and not to simply see, as many people do spontaneously, how powerful these imperialists are. Otherwise, even a recognition of the way the ruling class dominates society can lead to defeatism: "OK, I agree with you, they run everything, they control everything, they dictate everything—there's not a fucking thing we can do." No. They do monopolize everything, dominate everything, dictate everything—but this is all riddled with contradiction which has the potential—and not just in some abstract historical sense—to become extremely acute.

To be continued

1. See, for example, "The Pyramid of Power and the Struggle to Turn This Whole Thing Upside Down," in Revolutionary Worker #1231, March 7, 2004, & #1237, April 25, 2004, also available at; see also Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian. [back]

2. At the time of this talk—prior to the congressional elections in 2006—John Murtha, a veteran congressman from Pennsylvania, was one of a very few members of the Democratic Party who was then not only raising serious criticisms of the U.S. war in Iraq but was declaring that this war could not be won and that the U.S. needed to pull back (at least its main forces) from Iraq. Since that time, and in particular with the emerging candidacy of Barack Obama, leaders of the Democratic Party have been calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of at least most U.S. forces from Iraq—although this has been coupled, including on the part of Obama, with caveats about how it is important not to be precipitous, or careless, in pulling out U.S. forces from Iraq, and to listen to the concerns of the "generals on the ground" in Iraq about when U.S. troops could be withdrawn, and/or what kind of "residual force" should be left in Iraq, even after the withdrawal of (most) U.S. forces there. These Democratic Party leaders, and again Obama in particular, have also insisted that the war in Afghanistan must be more vigorously fought, including through the transfer of significant U.S. forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, while Obama has spoken of the possibility of launching direct attacks within Pakistan, in relation to (or as an extension of) the war in Afghanistan, and he—along with the Democratic Party leadership in general—has consistently insisted that it may be necessary to go to war with Iran, and possibly even to use nuclear weapons in attacking Iran ("all options must remain on the table"), if Iran does not bow to U.S. demands to stop its enrichment of uranium, even though, according to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a right to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes, and there has been no conclusive evidence that Iran has been developing nuclear weapons.

The Obama candidacy, and the Democratic Party approach overall at this point (in 2008), embodies some notion of "course correction" in regard to the program that has been very aggressively pursued by the Bush regime, but it does not represent any kind of fundamental departure—it is not a "systematic and coherent program that would really represent an alternative to the dominant program represented now in a concentrated way by the Bush regime." As mainstream, bourgeois commentator Andrew Sullivan has pointed out, in arguing in favor of the Obama candidacy, it is "generally minor policy choices" that are "on the table" in the current (2008) presidential election. (See "Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters," in the December, 2007 Atlantic Monthly, emphasis added.) Obama's candidacy is not about changing American society, or its role in the world, in any essential way—which Obama could not do even if he wanted to, which he does not—but it is, secondarily, about making certain tactical adjustments in the course set by the Bush regime, and is principally about attempting to change the way in which people around the world, as well as in the U.S. itself, perceive this country and what it is doing in the world—to "put a better face on this," and carry it out with a different style and tone, "rounding off some of the rough edges" of the way in which Bush and his regime have antagonized much of the rest of the world in pursuing a program which, to a very large extent, is shared by all sections of the ruling class and their representatives, even with certain secondary differences among them. [back]

Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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


A Mass Campaign to Raise Big Money to Get BA's Vision and Works Into Every Corner of Society

The editorial in the November 6 issue of Revolution, "BA Everywhere... Imagine the Difference It Could Make!" made an important and exciting announcement: A Mass Campaign to Raise Big Money to Get BA's Vision and Works Into Every Corner of Society.

And to do just that, it said:

We are launching a major, multi-faceted fundraising campaign to project BA, his voice and his work way out into society—far beyond what it is today. A fundraising campaign which will raise the necessary major money to make this possible. A fund drive that unleashes and develops imagination, defiance and community in everything it does.

Imagine what we could change... and imagine how we could change it.

The plan for the last weeks of the year has focused on raising the funds to get 1,500 copies of BAsics to prisoners, making a splash with BAsics with people giving it as a gift for the holidays, raising $23,000 to fund the production and release of the film that will be made about an incredible cultural event last spring inspired by BAsics, and kicking off the fundraising for a BA bus tour in 2012. Meeting these goals will be the first phase of this campaign to raise major funds. The idea is for each of these to accomplish three things: spread the word about BA; raise the needed money; and involve more and more people in this movement. So each focused effort should put us in a stronger place than before, with more capacity...and taken together, these should help lay the basis to really come out roaring when the new year begins.

We'll learn as we go...building up experience, forging a community, getting the word out in important ways, and raising funds to make important things happen.

For information and organizing material on the BA Everywhere fundraising campaign, go online to


Party to Fund the BA Bus Tour!

End the year right with year-end or New Year's parties to fund the kickoff for the BA Bus Tour in 2012. (See "BA Everywhere... Imagine the Difference It Could Make! A Mass Campaign to Raise Big Money to Get BA's Vision and Works Into Every Corner of Society" at to read about the bus tour.)

Come together to celebrate the debate and engagement we're getting going with a radically different and far better vision of how the world could be... to celebrate the coming together of different perspectives and different walks of life... to really do something meaningful in the world. And raise funds while doing so.

Ask a DJ or a band to play, get a space... a rec room, community center or church... or people who want to open up their homes. Local businesses or artists might volunteer door prizes that can be raffled off at the party. And ask for a $10 contribution for tickets.

This should happen in cities and towns all across the country—parties in the neighborhoods of the oppressed, as well as parties hosted by people with more means, and parties bringing together people of different backgrounds—all during the same week, December 26 to December 31, so that whatever is raised from one party contributes to the whole effort to get BA Everywhere.


Give a Gift That Matters

BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, is a book of quotes and short essays that speaks powerfully to questions of revolution and human emancipation. "You can't change the world if you don't know the BAsics."

The Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund has sent over 700 copies of BAsics to people imprisoned in the U.S. $13,000 is needed to send 1,300 more. Many prisoners have taken up BAsics as a lifeline to the world and shared it with others. They have written about its impact on how they view the world and their desire to be part of changing that world, and transforming themselves in the process.

As part of the "BA Everywhere Campaign," contribute $20 and get a copy of BAsics for you, a family member or friend. Your gift will also buy a copy of the book for a prisoner. 

This gift package includes a beautiful hand-drawn card that will let your family member or friend know that this same book is reaching one of the 2.3 million people held behind prison bars in the U.S.

Get your gift pack in time for the holidays from Revolution Books/Libros Revolución. BAsics for prisoners can be purchased individually at or from PRLF (see p. 14 of this issue).


Fundraising for Occasioned by the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World

As we go to press, the fundraising for the film Occasioned by the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World is in its final hours. Thanks to everyone for participating. Check online at for online reports of how we did, what we learned, and plans going forward.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

Film Concept
Occasioned by the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World

Last April in Harlem, a range of artists, musicians, dancers and actors came together from a diversity of perspectives in a unique cultural event: On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World. BAsics is a book of quotations and short essays from Bob Avakian, the revolutionary leader who has developed a new synthesis of communism. This event brought people together who hadn't shared a stage before, and a remarkable connection was forged between these artists and the hundreds in the audience that night.

This film will tell the story of what those artists did and why they did it.

The film will answer what brought together some of the top jazz musicians today, a cutting-edge "tropical punk" singer, a former member of the Black Panther Party, poets with their roots in the '60s and poets who shaped the more recent spoken-word movement.  And it will get into the significance of why all this was occasioned by the release of a book from the leader and thinker who has re-envisioned revolution and communism.

The film will be structured into the same four acts as the original event: Roots; The Whole Globe In  Mind... Dedication; A Different Way to Think, Feel and Be; A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World. 

It will weave together footage from the event performances with interviews from artists and people who were part of the host committee for the event.  The interviews will explore all the themes that were on the stage that night – brought in through poetry, dance, theater, music and video footage.  The revolutionary character of the '60s through poetry, dance, archival footage of the Black Panther Party and Avakian speaking in 1969... and a fiery statement from a former member of the Black Panther Party.  None of this was with the nostalgia of looking back but through the words and culture, making you feel that revolutionary spirit and pointing it towards the future.  Voices from around the world were brought in – through a theatrical piece about going home to Bangladesh, a dramatic reading of a poem from an Iranian revolutionary and a bilingual musical performance that rocked with celebratory defiance.  A range of voices spoke to what it means to dedicate oneself to a struggle that is larger than themselves.  Archival video from Avakian from 1976 on not selling out and voices of people in prison responding to Avakian's words on living a life of meaning.

The event explored questions of morality, and of the relations between different sections of people... both explicitly but also in the ways in which all kinds of musical and artistic genres shared the stage in a way that never happens in our society.  The role of women in society was brought in both through Avakian's words being read poetically to music, and in the way women performers danced and played defiantly throughout the night.  A range of abstract music was played – that made people think, got butts moving and made their hearts soar. 

All the participants have different views on all these themes, and bringing all this together was part of the richness of the night... all contributing to the largest theme of celebrating revolution and the vision of a new world.

The film will also explore what all the participants felt in being part of something that was occasioned by the release of a book by the revolutionary leader, Bob Avakian.  Some were very familiar with his work; many had just been introduced to him.  Some had read several books and been following him for years; others had just checked out BAsics and were engaging Avakian's work for the first time.  In a time when revolution and communism are considered off the table, what made these artists feel that this is what was needed in the world now?  What compelled them to celebrate this occasion, even as they have their own and sometimes very different views on the content of Avakian's work?  What kind of revolution and vision of a new world was being, in a very real and engaging and contradictory way, being previewed that night?

The interviews will draw out what these artists are trying to accomplish in their work, and how they saw participating in this event as part of that.  We will dig into their thinking on the state of the world, what they think is required to transform it, and their views on BAsics in that light... again, involving a diversity of perspectives. 

We will also intersperse video that was aired on the stage – a welcome message from Cornel West, archival footage of Avakian speaking in 1969 and 1976, as well as a more recent video from 2003 and other video messages sent that night, including a short piece from a young revolutionary who has since passed away from cancer, a message from artist Richard Duardo and others.

At this event – the artists and audience – carved out new space.  New ways of relating, and together were stirred in ways they didn't expect and didn't think possible... a door was opened to the potential for another way the world could be.  This film will open that up further in society, spreading and sharing that "different way to think, feel and be."

Who is the audience for this film?
This is a film for anyone who has dreamed of a different and better world or wondered how art and culture can be part of creating it.  This film will contribute to changing the culture in our society, to bringing into being a culture that is uplifting instead of degrading, to tapping into people's highest aspirations in opposition to a me-first ethos, and to opening up mental space to engage and explore ideas of fundamental change.  This film is for those who are curious to see how and why an incredibly diverse range of artistic voices respond to the revolutionary vision of Bob Avakian in these dangerous times.

This is for young artists who are trying to figure out how their work can be part of contributing to that different culture, students who want to be part of forging a counter culture that is a harbinger of the new, professionals sick of the status quo but cynical as to whether people can come together to bring something positive into being.  And it's for those who suffer most from the brutality and immiseration in our society, but too often think they're alone and think people from other sections of society care not for their future.  It's a film for anyone who likes the idea of celebrating revolution and the vision of a new world through art, dance, theater and music and thinks a wide range of people from different perspectives need to be part of that.

What is the plan for release and distribution?
This will be released in late winter/early spring.  Part of the funds being raised is for release parties and screenings in several cities – Oakland, New York, LA and Chicago.  Fans of the film would rent or get donated small theaters, invite artists to play and release the film with a splash. 

It will be submitted to local and grassroots film festivals nationally, art houses and cinematheques and efforts made for it to be aired on public access in every region of the country.  The film will be made available on iTunes, and sold on DVD nationally.  Promotional work and outreach will be done for screenings in high schools and college campuses, in the projects and community centers. 

This film will be a significant contribution to the discourse and a source of inspiration to those lifting their heads and asking about the future.  After leaving the event, a young woman described it this way, "It feels like hope. That's honestly what it feels like..."

some quotes from BAsics, quotes from participants and attendees

A few of the QUOTES FROM BAsics read or shown on screen throughout the night at this event:
BAsics 1:1
"There would be no United States as we now know it today without slavery. That is a simple and basic truth."

BAsics 5:7
"American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People's Lives."

BAsics 4:15
"The truth will not set us free, in and of itself, but we will not get free without the truth."

BAsics 3:31 (excerpt)
"...Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution..."

BAsics 2:8
"Let's imagine if we had a whole different art and culture. Come on, enough of this 'bitches and ho's' and SWAT teams kicking down doors. Enough of this 'get low' bullshit. And how come it's always the women that have to get low? We already have a situation where the masses of women and the masses of people are pushed down and held down low enough already. It's time for us to get up and get on up.

"Imagine if we had a society where there was culture—yes it was lively and full of creativity and energy and yes rhythm and excitement, but at the same time, instead of degrading people, lifted us up. Imagine if it gave us a vision and a reality of what it means to make a whole different society and a whole different kind of world. Imagine if it laid out the problems for people in making this kind of world and challenged them to take up these problems. Imagine if art and culture too—movies, songs, television, everything—challenged people to think critically, to look at things differently, to see things in a different light, but all pointing toward how can we make a better world.

"Imagine if the people who created art and culture were not just a handful of people but all of the masses of people, with all their creative energy unleashed, and the time were made for them to do that, and for them to join with people who are more full-time workers and creators in the realm of art and culture to bring forward something new that would challenge people, that would make them think in different ways, that would make them be able to see things critically and from a different angle, and would help them to be uplifted and help them to see their unity with each other and with people throughout the world in putting an end to all the horrors that we're taught are just the natural order of things. Imagine all that."

a young woman:
"It feels like hope. That's honestly what it feels like. Growing up I've always had these sort of ideals and then in high school I was really trying to push them forward and everyone would always try to shut me up or ignore me because everyone either dismissed it completely and said the system that we lived in was fine or just didn't want to get in trouble. But just being around everyone, and hearing and seeing, I just felt immense hope. This is just a small room and a small group of people, but in the wider America and the wider world there's people just like us. And the point is to connect and unite and to bring the word forward."

Black woman, college student:
"I was blown away [by the event]. Blown away! I feel really excited about getting involved with the... revolution. I came here already feeling that I wanted to be involved. But now I feel really, really motivated."

Black woman:
"I think that, my generation, unfortunately, has become quite passive, and not involved and not active. I grew up in a very active, aggressive, progressive household. So it's difficult to be part of a generation that's not, that's lacking care and concern. But I guess it's gonna take someone like Bob Avakian to get the light under them, you know?"

"And what I think we're trying to do tonight, is to kind of inspire people to look at another way of attacking a situation that may seem dire, but there is a way out... I've always felt that art really is a way to inspire people. The beauty of art, whatever the genre, whether it's music, theater, film, dance, spoken word, art has a way of just really connecting with an audience, especially live performance. Live performance, the audience is really sharing that moment with the performers. Tonight is a very diverse, eclectic group of performers. And I think one thing these performers have in common is that we have a burning desire to really communicate with our audience and really express their frustration, and the pain and the suffering. And all good art really comes from that. So to really have a group of artists come together to express that is—it's amazing!"

reg e. gaines:
"... the artists here... got something constructive for this. Kind of like something that's really going to speak to the issues and what this event's about. But the improvisational aspect of it is all based on emotion of us being here doing this event. It isn't so much about, OK, I'm going to be brilliant tonight here, or she's going to sing this, and they're going to play that, it's going to be brilliant. But it's like, are your emotions being fueled by the theme? Can you comment on the theme in a way that's more beautiful than it is in the real world? Because that's what we're supposed to do as artists. So can we talk about revolution, each one of us in each one of these vignettes that we are involved in, can we speak about revolution in an artistic/cultural way that opens somebody's mind in the audience who's like, wait a minute, that's kind of dope... there's got to be a connection. And it'll make them listen."

Leo Mintek:
"I think a lot of people understand that the world is in a very bad place right now, and I don't think we have to discuss that right now. What we need to discuss is what do you do about that? Is there a way out? How does that look and what is that? I've looked at a lot of different things and Bob Avakian's ideas make more sense in the world more than anything I've ever heard before."

Moist Paula Henderson:
"I'm all about making anything more fun. This is fun. So I kind of predict that everyone who's concerned is going to have a positive experience here tonight. And that will affect whatever happens tomorrow, next week, three months from now, as far as we're all concerned. I feel like a lot of serious political issues, movements, are devoid of celebration and so they get a bad rap in the world because it just seems like a drag, you know, honestly. And it doesn't have to be. People are people are people and everyone all over the planet likes to laugh and sing and dance and have music and like, you know, that's a real human thing. Throughout the ages of the human race everywhere. This thing, celebration. And maybe it's important to consider that it should always be included as the flip side of like more serious thought, as well. Because we are all humans."

Matthew Shipp:
"... what impressed me about Bob's work was an openness and a non-doctrinaire attitude. He always talks about a firm center and elasticity, and the fact that he talks about how revolutionaries have to have a poetic spirit. So I think freeing imagination is one reason we go into music, poetry, dance or whatever, and I really feel that the way he approaches things leaves a lot of things open for all kinds of possible syntheses and things to happen that you can't maybe pinpoint, but if we have a situation where people's imaginations can be unleashed, lord knows how things can evolve and come into being... So many different angles, through rhythm and dancing and through spoken word, which actually, even though poetry has an abstraction, so it's actually concrete language. And also I'm really touched by the letters from prisoners, because that's getting to the heart and soul of what the system can do to people, and how people can see some hope at the end of the tunnel or not, and what we're trying to speak to. So that type of letters from the prisoners is its own special type of poetry."


Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

READ why some people are contributing

Donate at and leave a comment to be shared.

Robert Young, film maker, on why he contributed to the online fund campaign to produce the film, Occasioned by BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World:

I'm on the same page with all who see the need to raise money to help bring about an understanding of what is happening to us and the need for change. And I agree about getting the word out on Bob Avakian. The time is getting ripe for revolutionary change. So many people are finally speaking up about the inequality in society and their realization that they are not being represented in the Congress. I've donated to this film project and I urge other people to donate and help raise the needed funds by them urging others to donate. Even though times are hard and money is tight for most of us, we mustn't forget that we are all connected and need to be involved in the struggle for justice.

The following are comments from some of the other contributors:

From a former "military man"

I used to be a military man proud and indoctrinated into the ways of this system. The promise of coming home to a life where I would be able to sustain myself was a lie. Eventually, I got into the Occupy movement, still thinking some of the way I did. Then one day, I had a discussion with someone and that person asked me, if I knew that I was responsible for the deaths of many innocent men, women, and children abroad in immoral wars waged by our government. I had never thought of it that way. Not being the person that actually put my hand on a trigger, I didn't think that I was impacting anything abroad. Then soon enough I learned about BA and BAsics. That experience completely turned around and changed the way that I thought about society and the role that I play in it, and one that I can play in a revolution. To sum things up, it is imperative that people that want to change this world get their hands on this book. There is a film being made about a celebration of revolution and the vision of a new world, that took place when the book came out and a fundraiser going on to get this film made. I think this film is definitely what the world needs right now and donating to get it made is paramount to helping change the culture.

Revolution House Party with Poets and Occupiers

"On December 10th, we came together to raise money for this film, it is a celebration of human emancipation. Be part of something larger than yourself. We challenge you. A message from some occupiers coming from a variety of different views who all want to see this film made."

Last night at the party with occupiers and poets about 20 different people from different backgrounds and ideologies came together to party and support the fundraising campaign for this film. These people, mainly occupiers, found this fundraising drive compelling enough to help contribute. We raised $30. To give a sense of the meaning of this I'll tell you that a lot of occupiers have very little money right now, for example, last week three people had a total of $14 between them for food.

After viewing the trailer and promos—poetry, chicken wings, wide ranging discussion, and debate around questions of horizontal democracy and vanguard leadership, we collectively came up with this message around 1:15 a.m.

David Zeiger, film maker:

I want this film to not just celebrate, but to challenge. I want, at the end of the film, to question what I thought was true coming in to it. I want it to give me a hint of that better world. I want to know why Communism, as developed by Bob Avakian, is being celebrated and embraced by these wonderful artists. Is it real? Truly a new vision, or nostalgia for a forgotten and lost past? I want all of those things and more, and that’s why I am contributing to this film and hope you will too.

Erin Aubry Kaplan, journalist and author

Revolution used to just be a nice idea to me, but in these desperate an dangerous times it’s become an imperative. Supporting the humane, forward-thinking and musically engaging work and message behind ‘BAsics’ is not only the right thing to do, it’s a great deal for the money! Satisfaction highly likely and no bailout required.

Harry Lennix, actor and producer

With you in struggle!

This is the $ I’m matching from [a friend], who gave me $10 because I said I’d match what he gave. [My friend] gave because he said, “I want to see this film made.” I’m matching it because I want to see it made as well, so that YOU can see for yourself what the Revolution can look like.

I am very excited to be helping promote this kind of culture—a culture that reflects the better world we are trying to build!

Supporting art, culture and the new paradigm.

I am a teacher in the inner city of Detroit. I want to help contribute towards Revolution to bring about a better future for my students!

I was there. After it was over, I said to those with me: dang, I hope they make that film, 'cause I need to watch that over again a few times!!! Got to say, it was somethin' different and good. About a whole new world and stuff. I think it's a good thing and I'm supporting it for sure.

I just contributed $1,000 to this effort and am asking you to join me in making a significant contribution to this project. In the swirl of the "Occupy" movements going on here and all over the world, it's especially critical to have the ability to inject Bob Avakian and his vision into the mix. People newly awakening to political life and activism need to learn about and be challenged by his enlightened and refreshing ideas. Give as generously as you can.

I was at this event back in April. The amount of talent in the room and on the stage was unbelievable—I'll be spreading the word!

It was a great pleasure to be in the audience on April 11th at the Harlem Stage. I want many people to get to know Bob Avakian and his work through seeing the performers interpret and engage with BAsics on the stage that night. I hope my friends working for a better world, including those who are inspired by Bob Avakian's vision of a radically different, liberating society, will also donate. We've got to get this film finished and into the world in join me in giving $100, or more.

This was a really cool event, it contained so much it was hard to take it all in, so I really want to see a movie of it.

These are important ideas that cannot disappear from our conversation about our responsibility to create a just society. They are not the only ideas worthy of discussion but they must be part of it. It is equally important to understand the dynamics that caused people like Marx and Engels, Lenin, Mao and now Bob Avakian to analyze our misbehavior and dysfunction from this point of view. We cannot deny what lead them to this point nor be in denial about the cruelty of unfettered, unregulated capitalism.

Help get this film made and the message within so needed... out to the people.

Excited for people who weren't there getting a chance to experience such a special night. I have a feeling this film & BAsics will inspire even more art & nights like this in the future. 

This hits on so many levels. Nice to be a part of it.

Support a revolutionary movement that is thoughtful of all humanity!

It was an amazing night, but an even more important message was being brought forward. Let's make sure we get this film made so more can learn and enjoy.


Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

We made the goal and then some!

$25,002 raised to fund the film Occasioned by the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World

   About this film: April 2011 marked the release of BAsics, a book by Bob Avakian, the revolutionary leader who has developed a new synthesis of communism. This book of quotations and essays speaks to essential questions of revolution and human emancipation. On this occasion, a range of artists, musicians, dancers and actors from a diversity of perspectives came together in a unique cultural event to celebrate revolution and the vision of a new world.

This film will tell the story of what those artists did and why they did it. It is a film for everyone who has dreamed of a different and better world or wondered how art and culture can be part of creating it.

Through the diverse efforts of hundreds of people across the country, we exceeded the goal of $23,000 to fund the production and release of the film Occasioned by the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World.

The contributions were large and small, and collective efforts ranged from bake sales and house parties to benefit events. In Chicago there was a jazz and spoken word event with jazz cellists Fred Lonberg-Holm and Tomeka Reid; in LA there was an event at Revolution Books with members from the revolution rock band Outernational and Revolution correspondent and radio host Michael Slate. Hundreds shared it online and sent out emails. And hundreds of people were reached out to by phone, many who were learning about this film and BAsics for the first time. And whether or not people were able to give, they were reconnected with, and many, many people thanked us for taking the time to call.

There is much more to learn about all of what took place and what's been learned. We look forward to hearing from the broad range of experience, why people contributed to this film and the larger discussions that were opened up in the process. A few things can be said about this now.

People were inspired by the substance of what this film is going to be about and what it could mean in the culture today. Some people from the perspective of wanting this cultural engagement with Avakian's voice made further known... others because they want to see a culture that is pointing the way towards a better way humanity could live, however they see that coming into being.

   David Zeiger, filmmaker:
I want this film to not just celebrate, but to challenge. I want, at the end of the film, to question what I thought was true coming into it. I want it to give me a hint of that better world. I want to know why Communism, as developed by Bob Avakian, is being celebrated and embraced by these wonderful artists. Is it real? Truly a new vision, or nostalgia for a forgotten and lost past? I want all of those things and more, and that's why I am contributing to this film and hope you will too.

Erin Aubry Kaplan, journalist and author:
Revolution used to just be a nice idea to me, but in these desperate and dangerous times it's become an imperative. Supporting the humane, forward-thinking and musically engaging work and message behind BAsics is not only the right thing to do, it's a great deal for the money! Satisfaction highly likely and no bailout required.

Robert Young, filmmaker:
I'm on the same page with all who see the need to raise money to help bring about an understanding of what is happening to us and the need for change. And I agree about getting the word out on Bob Avakian. The time is getting ripe for revolutionary change. So many people are finally speaking up about the inequality in society and their realization that they are not being represented in the Congress. I've donated to this film project and I urge other people to donate and help raise the needed funds by them urging others to donate. Even though times are hard and money is tight for most of us, we mustn't forget that we are all connected and need to be involved in the struggle for justice.

One person who co-hosted a house party commented that hearing the artists in the trailer, clearly coming from different views but all engaging this concept of fundamental change, was particularly inspiring. One donor commented on the IndieGoGo fundraising site, "I am very excited to be helping promote this kind of culture—a culture that reflects the better world we are trying to build!" A group of Wall Street occupiers had a fundraising party that raised $30, and they wrote this statement: "On December 10th, we came together to raise money for this film, it is a celebration of human emancipation. Be part of something larger than yourself. We challenge you. A message from some occupiers coming from a variety of different views who all want to see this film made." You can read other comments at

Another very important point to learn from is the importance of community in what was accomplished. In a society that fosters a me-first ethos and where people are so atomized, the fundraising itself—for something that could make a positive and radical difference in the world—brought people together. Through all our efforts—we had a big collective impact and enabled this important film to be produced and released... on a scale that will itself have further impact.

This community involved a whole range of people: artists, revolutionaries, students, professionals, people in the housing projects and others. This included people who have been fighting the power in the Occupy movement and in the movement to stop mass incarceration. And it included people who are concerned about the state of the world but not super involved in other ways.

People attended house parties because they wanted to find out about this film project, learn about BAsics and BA, connect with old friends and get the chance to meet new people. A number of people who came and contributed don't normally come to political events but felt they could connect through this form. The phone calling also forged or reforged personal connections. Lots of people who were called were glad to find out about this project, to hear from people they may have met ages ago. And those who were doing the calling got to find out what people are up to, how they want to help and learn their thinking in these changing times.

In this process, big questions were opened up... bigger questions that people don't normally have an opportunity to discuss—questions about Avakian's new synthesis of communism, about the movement for revolution he is leading and the possibility of revolution in a country like the U.S., the history of socialist revolutions, human nature and whether a radically different world is viable, discussions about the concept of horizontal movements vs. the need for vanguard leadership... and people who came together got to learn about each other's lives and experiences.

This—and the efforts around Thanksgiving and Black Friday where money was raised to send copies of BAsics to prisoners—represent a significant beginning to what is being kicked off with this major campaign: BA EVERYWHERE... IMAGINE THE DIFFERENCE IT COULD MAKE! A Mass Campaign to Raise Big Money to Get BA's Vision and Works Into Every Corner of Society. We've begun to have an impact with this, and begun to see some of the significant things this mass campaign can unleash.

Along with taking time over the holidays to get together with all the people that have been reconnected with and to get together with friends and family, we're going to take everything we've learned and build for year-end parties to raise money for the BA bus tour which will kick off in 2012.

Imagine buses with eye-catching decorations touring the nation, spreading revolution and BA's voice to those hungry for it in outlying areas. People on a mission rolling through community centers, high schools, Ivy League and community colleges, from mountains to valleys, suburbs to rural areas. Showing the film of Bob Avakian's talk Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About in classrooms and community centers. Getting Avakian's memoir, and other key works, out all over the country. Reaching the youth, visiting the Occupy encampments that have sprung up all over [and finding the people who have been kicked out of those Occupy encampments but ARE still finding the ways to fight the power], going to where there is outrageous oppression going down, taking a week in an inner city...and then another inner city... "The BA bus is coming to your town."

Ask a DJ or a band to play, get a space... a rec room, community center or church... or there may be someone who wants to open up their home. Local businesses or artists might volunteer door prizes which can be raffled off at the party and ask for a $10 contribution for tickets. These will happen nationally all on the same week from 12.26-12.31 so whatever is raised from one party contributes to the whole effort.

Write in to Revolution newspaper with your plans so these can be publicized and learned from. Also, stay tuned to Revolution newspaper for more reporting from the efforts over the last week and for updates on the film itself.


from Bob Avakian's BAsics 2:8:

"Let's imagine if we had a whole different art and culture. Come on, enough of this 'bitches and ho's' and SWAT teams kicking down doors. Enough of this 'get low' bullshit. And how come it's always the women that have to get low? We already have a situation where the masses of women and the masses of people are pushed down and held down low enough already. It's time for us to get up and get on up.

"Imagine if we had a society where there was culture—yes it was lively and full of creativity and energy and yes rhythm and excitement, but at the same time, instead of degrading people, lifted us up. Imagine if it gave us a vision and a reality of what it means to make a whole different society and a whole different kind of world. Imagine if it laid out the problems for people in making this kind of world and challenged them to take up these problems. Imagine if art and culture too—movies, songs, television, everything—challenged people to think critically, to look at things differently, to see things in a different light, but all pointing toward how can we make a better world.

"Imagine if the people who created art and culture were not just a handful of people but all of the masses of people, with all their creative energy unleashed, and the time were made for them to do that, and for them to join with people who are more full-time workers and creators in the realm of art and culture to bring forward something new that would challenge people, that would make them think in different ways, that would make them be able to see things critically and from a different angle, and would help them to be uplifted and help them to see their unity with each other and with people throughout the world in putting an end to all the horrors that we're taught are just the natural order of things. Imagine all that."


Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

Call for volunteers to transcribe interviews for the film, Occasioned by the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World

Calling volunteers to transcribe interviews for the film, Occasioned by BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World. We're halfway through the interview process with artists and others who took part in the event last April which this film is based on. These are fascinating explorations of why this range of artists took part in this important event. In order to develop the film further, we need your help! We need volunteers who can transcribe these interviews. You can be anywhere in the country, but need some basic typing skills and Internet access. If you're interested, or know someone who might be, contact

Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

From the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund:

700 BAsics Sent to Prisoners, Donate to Send 1,300 More

The Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund has now mailed 700 copies of BAsics to prisoners and thanks all who participated and contributed during the Thanksgiving weekend bold outreach. Now PRLF is calling on everyone to donate generously and double their efforts to spread the word to reach the total goal of 2000 BAsics for prisoners. The remaining 1,300 copies will cost $13,000.  YOU CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE.

This California prisoner expresses the sentiments of many: "I have just received my copy of 'BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian'! I have been looking forward to receiving the book, since I first started hearing about it in 'Revolution'! I first off want to thank all the donors for their contributions! Their support makes it possible for people like me to keep that flame in our hearts ablaze and our minds sharp to fend off the oppressors! Words cannot convey the gratitude I feel! Know that your contributions make a huge difference in our lives..."



How to Donate

[Important note from the PRLF website ( On Jan. 16, 2012, PRLF's fiscal sponsor, International Humanities Center through which it had 501(c)(3) tax-deductible status, declared financial insolvency and ceased to function. While PRLF searches for a new fiscal sponsor, we encourage you to support PRLF's important work by making non-tax deductible donations online or by mailing checks or money orders to PRLF, 1321 N. Milwaukee Ave, #407, Chicago, IL 60622.]

(773) 960-6952

Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

The Cornel West – Carl Dix Dialogue at UC Berkeley:

Thousands Turn Out For Unprecedented, Transformative Evening

by the Bay Area Revolution Writers Group

 "Carl Dix and Cornel West tonight... Even from the 99th overflow room, this is so incredibly powerful."


"Fantastic, the best event ever at UCB. It was well-timed with what's happened, it was intellectually challenging, emotionally touched people and relevant."

UC Administrator

"Students emailed their lives will never be the same."

UC Professor

Word had spread throughout the University of California, Berkeley campus and among many in the Bay Area—via leaflets at Occupy rallies, emails on department and student organization list serves, class announcements, and word of mouth—in the weeks leading up to the December 2 dialogue between Carl Dix and Cornel West—In the Age of Obama... Police Terror, Incarceration, No Jobs, Mis-Education: What Future for Our Youth? So the students, faculty, Revolution Books supporters and others organizing the event expected a full house of 1,000 in Pauley Ballroom, and had reserved two overflow rooms seating another 800. But in the hours leading up to the event it became clear something else—new and extraordinary—was happening.

In October and November, UC had been the scene of an awakening and uprising unlike anything the campus had seen since the 1960s—a national focal point of student struggle against budget cuts, the Occupy movement, outrage over police abuse, and racism on campus—with students, faculty, and people from the community gathering in the thousands and waging sharp, uncompromising struggle against the administration and police—and weeks earlier against a racist campus Republican "bake sale" against affirmative action. So a lot of different kinds of people—from the Occupy movement, African-American student groups, students studying mass incarceration and police violence, and others had been working in various ways to bring the dialogue to UC. Twenty UC Berkeley academic departments, centers, and student and student government organizations, as well as several community groups, were sponsoring the dialogue.

One administrator emailed that the dialogue would bring unique voices to campus and enrich the discussion about "the criminal justice system, structural racism, economic justice." A Black student told Revolution, "There's been no other event at UCB that even came close to this one: an important whole evening with two Black intellectuals speaking to a very large crowd, let alone speaking about things like revolution."

On December 2, people were lining up hours before the event to get in, with the line stretching as far as the eye could see. Some said it went from Pauley halfway across campus past the library, others that it went all the way across to Hearst—probably a half mile. People had come from campus and around the Bay Area. Some came in organized groups—like 30 high school students and teachers from San Francisco. There were students from Mills, Laney, SF State, Cal. State East Bay, and San Jose State. There were activists and prominent figures from the community, and many who'd been active in the Occupy movement. Folks came from LA and even Las Vegas.

"Holy cow! A HUGE line of people for CARL DIX, CORNEL WEST—WHAT FUTURE FOR OUR YOUTH, mind blowing," one person tweeted. Hundreds and hundreds were still lined up after more than 1,800 people packed into Pauley and two overflow rooms.

Pauley Ballroom was charged. After a welcome by an Associated Students UC Senator, two spoken-word performances by UC students, and introductions by the two moderators—one a UC faculty member, the other a UC graduate student—Carl Dix took the stage.

Carl Dix: "Revolutionary greetings Berkeley!"

Carl Dix started with a revolutionary shout-out to Berkeley—"the home of the free speech movement... where Huey and Bobby founded the Black Panther Party... There's another part to the importance of Berkeley for me and that's that the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Bob Avakian, his roots are here in Berkeley... all of this comes together in the specialness of Berkeley to me."

Then he jumped right into what are we up against, what kind of liberated society and world we can bring into being, and how we can make revolution.

Dix painted a vivid picture of people around the world up against the horrors of this global system—people in central Africa ravaged by conflicts driven by intensified imperialist rivalry for control of Africa's resources, 2.5 million women from South Asia and Eastern Europe being trafficked as sex slaves. He also focused inside U.S. borders, referencing horrific things like Nazi-like anti-immigrant laws, the attacks on homosexuals, and digging into the brutal oppression Black people have faced ever since being dragged here. He analyzed the roots of the New Jim Crow, underscoring that it is not the fault of the youth that they have been born into a world where in many cities "fully half of our youth will never find employment—that is the future our youth are up against." He stressed that these are due to the workings of the capitalist system but also the result of conscious policies and laws that amount to a slow genocide.

Dix drew all of this together, to broad applause: "So this is what we are up against and what it comes down to that there ain't no way that you are going to deal with this short of making revolution and getting rid of this system once and for all. That's what it comes down to, sisters and brothers. That is what we are up against and that is how we got to move on it."

Then Dix emphasized that "The most important message I want you to get is that things do NOT have to be this way—that through communist revolution we can change all this. That Bob Avakian has done deep study and brought forward a new understanding—a socialist society both viable and moving to communism." And in response to the conventional wisdom that communism has failed, Dix said, "Consider what is the source of that, and that it's the same people who don't tell you the truth about history, about the current state of society here in this country and around the world. And who don't tell you about how it got that way. Those are the people who are telling you that communism has failed. And they are lying to you about that too, sisters and brothers."

As one example of what socialist society would make possible, Dix compared the lack of—and mis-education—youth get in this country with how education would be dealt with in the new socialist society. Where people would be taught critical thinking and be able to learn the true history and nature of things. Dix called people's attention to the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) and urged people to buy and read it. As an example of what people do not learn about in this society, Dix walked the audience through why Haiti is so poor—not because the Haitian people are messed up, but because the country has been strangled by colonialism and imperialism ever since the people rose up in revolution. In contrast, in the new society people would learn the truth of history and all of reality. They would be taught different values and encouraged to think critically and use their knowledge to change the world. He stressed that this would only be possible by making revolution to change the system.

He got into the strategy for revolution, citing the document "On the Strategy for Revolution," giving emphasis to the need to Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution, and then the "need to spread revolution everywhere, and you need to spread the pathbreaking leadership, work and vision of Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Here you have a leader who has developed a framework and a guide that goes at that question in an all-around and comprehensive way, that brings to you in a basic sense an understanding of why the world is like this, but also a vision of how it could be different and far better. Now think about the impact this has for people who are standing up and questioning stuff to have this framework they can bounce off of or that they can debate with, that they can develop points of agreement and points of disagreement with....

"In light of what we see as the importance of getting Avakian's work and vision everywhere, the Revolutionary Communist Party has embarked on a campaign to raise big money, the money that is needed to get that work and that vision everywhere."

Dix described what he and Cornel West had been doing around stopping stop-and-frisk in New York City, and how they were taking this effort everywhere, including into Occupy Wall Street. The audience broke into applause twice during this part of the speech.

Dix ended with a quote from BAsics 1:13 in a call and response—answered and energetically taken up by most of the audience: "Mic check. Mic check. 'No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death or a life of misery and brutality, who the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born. I say no more of that.' And having said no more of that, we must act to make it real."

Cornel West: "Young people are hungry and thirsty for truth and justice"

Dr. West then stepped to the podium. He quickly went into core themes: "If you are committed to truth, and the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. If you are concerned about justice—and justice is what love looks like in public—so, if you love poor people... you can't stand the fact that they are being treated unjustly. That's what we're here for."

West drew repeatedly from Black culture, peppering his speech, as the Daily Californian put it, "with humor and jazz references," addressing "issues ranging from the lack of accountability from Wall Street executives ... to the 'warped' political priorities of the federal government. 'Young people are tired of lies ... and weapons of mass distraction.'"

West cited Sly Stone's anthem from the '60s: "Stand! You've been sitting much too long," contrasting this with how "too many of our young folk are tied into this culture of superficial spectacle where they are told that to be human is to be titillated and stimulated so they become addicted and self-medicated to keep them sleepwalking."

He repeatedly spoke about the Occupy movement—first, drawing from the way the Occupy movement has been a crucial awakening—and contrasting that with 30 years of an "ice age" in this country "where it is fashionable to be indifferent to poor people" and to the wretched of the earth. "What we need to talk about is oligarchic power, plutocratic power. Billions of dollars at the top. Trillions given to those at the top because they are too big to fail."

He did a biting analysis of the kind of society gangsta rap came from: "Where does gangster rap come from? Looking at old folk and saying you're acting gangster-like. They looked to Wall Street and saw gangster activity. They looked at the White House and saw selections rather than elections. The Supreme Court deciding against popular votes. They looked at politicians and said, 'My God, Congress seems to be a site of legalized bribery and normalized corruption with 26 lobbyists for every Congressman or Congresswoman.' They said that everyone is concerned about the 11th commandment: thou shall not get caught." This brought knowing laughter from the audience.

He hammered at the hollowness of this culture and its standards of morality: "For the last 35 years we've told young people in every corner of this nation to be successful. What does success mean? Material toys, title, wealth, power and being well-adjusted to injustice." This point got widespread applause.

West then raised a crucial theme of his speech and of the dialogue: "Like my dear brother Carl Dix, we refuse to accept the notion that there is no alternative to the present. We will not defer to the truncated public discourse that says the only limit of our politics is the choice between a mean-spirited, mendacious Republican Party and a milquetoast and spineless Democratic Party. We refuse to confine ourselves to that kind of limit. We want something else. We want another world! We want a better world! We want more imagination. We want more empathy. They say, 'Oh, that's just utopian. You're just dreaming.' What's wrong with dreaming?"

West raised the importance of differentiating between justice and revenge (which was then followed up in the dialogue between the two of them). "When I give a critique of oligarchy, I'm not talking about hating oligarchs, I'm talking about the use of oligarchic power, which is a choice. It is a decision. We're not demonizing anybody; we are demonizing systems. ... There's a qualitative difference between justice and revenge and you don't have to read Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice to know the difference."

He raised that given the Occupy movement and the repression of it, "We're at a fork in the road. You can either go toward anger, revenge and bigotry or you can go toward love, justice and equality."

Dialoguing About Love, Dreaming, Communism, Courage and More

When Cornel West finished, he sat down next to Carl Dix, center stage, for an extended, wide-ranging, and deeply engaging dialogue. Dix kicked it off by referencing West's point about being motivated by love for the people, and the importance of dreaming of a radically different world, and how all this is very different than being motivated by revenge. West responded that the question of love and hatred "has to be tied to a systemic analysis of power" and emphasized the importance of political courage and acting based on principles—noting the importance of Avakian's distinction between "righteous indignation and revenge."

There was deep, shared unity on key points, as well as sharp disagreement, including over religion and how to evaluate Stalin, Mao and the first wave of communist revolution. Throughout there was a sense of "an engagement, not just a clash," as one student put it, between two people who loved and respected each other and each other's ideas while arguing passionately for their beliefs.

Talking to many people afterward, it was clear that the evening had been tremendously inspiring and uplifting. "Most were very enthusiastic, using words like incredible, brilliant, amazing, inspiring, awesome, very empowering, powerful, truthful, wonderful, invigorating, fabulous, and absolutely stunning," one Revolution reporter summed up. "They were astounded." Students and faculty—at UC as well as from other colleges—described the evening as "life-changing." One academic said it was "fantastic," and the "best ever event at UC," and added, "It was well-timed with what is happening, it was intellectually challenging, it emotionally touched people, and it was relevant."

Some were literally in tears describing how they felt afterward. Others remarked on how seriously people were listening to the lengthy and substantive speeches and the dialogue. Some of the themes that emerged from talking to dozens of people included hope that things could be different, joy at seeing so many different people come out for an event featuring these speakers on these themes, renewed energy and commitment to the struggle against injustice and oppression, a sense that new ground for engaging big ideas had been carved out, and among a significant section of the audience, a desire to learn more about revolution, communism and Bob Avakian.

Hope, building off the Occupy upsurge, was a big theme. One Black woman, a toxicology undergrad from San Jose State, told Revolution, "Really I feel empowered." Another person said, "The future of our youth can be unlimited if we stop sleepwalking and pay attention and realize we have power and can change and dismantle the system." A local teacher said, "The dialogue further deepened my urgency to teach with a greater energy to wake my students up!"

"I really liked the whole thing," one Cal student said. "It was like these were social revolutionaries of their time, well, while currently as well... No passing on the torch. This is the time for us. The Occupy movement and reinvigorating our democracy and that stimulation and empowerment from them. Believing in us. That's incredible, hearing that from such great leaders." Her friend, asked about the theme of the future for the youth, responded, "It doesn't have to be this way, that the status quo can be changed. That's really inspirational."

"The dialogue is inspiring and optimistic on the goodness of a protesting community," one Black youth remarked.

"This event came at the right time," a UC sophomore told the Daily Cal. "With the Occupy movement on the rise and it being visible even on our own campus, Cornel West and Carl Dix seemed to fuel the spark of passion for the movement."

"The first thing that was surprising is when I got here and the line extended a quarter of a mile or something? It was astounding," one man in his 30s, who is somewhat familiar with Carl Dix and the RCP, told us. "But still I just wasn't prepared. It was like being born again or something like that. It's a weird religious metaphor to use but it was just so reinvigorating and hope-instilling. And just to see all these young people—sharing all this commitment. It's just amazing. I almost felt close to tears at some points."

The way the two speakers dialogued and related to each other also made a deep impression, and seemed to have created a new space for people to think, imagine, and engage different perspectives and really big ideas. "Just by the way two men who have strong disagreements on religion and certain history, by overcoming that difference to speak up for truth united them together for a beautiful brotherhood," one person said. "I feel like I've found my spiritual brothers and sisters!"

"They were talking about the truth," a Latino youth told us, "and every time you talk about the truth I can't help but be shaken."

A Black man in his 40s who brought a youth he's mentoring, said, "I saw Dr. West at Cal State East Bay a few weeks ago. It was good to hear some of the same message, he tweaked it a little for the audience. But to hear him combined with what Dix had to say, I liked that because they are on opposite ends but they still had a common thread in the middle. Right? I talk to people all the time and I always say that we can have a discourse and not agree. To me this is an example of that. To me this is invaluable."

A significant section of the audience was intrigued by Dix's discussion of revolutionary communism and Bob Avakian and wanted to learn more. "I especially like the communism part," a Black high school student said. "I have researched about communism, the old kind. So it was interesting to hear how they revised it, to make it in a different kind of situation, how it applies to now."

The San Jose State toxicology student Revolution talked to loved Cornel West, and also said, "I actually really enjoyed [Carl Dix] because he's a communist and I really don't know that much about communism, so [pointing to BAsics and the Constitution she had bought] I'm a go home and I'm a read about it and find out. I know that Americans have this idea that it is not that great but whatever, I'm going to figure out for myself and I'm going to stand by that."

Dix's remarks about communism and his promotion of Bob Avakian also raised a lot of sharp questions and controversy. One student told us, "Cornel West was amazing—it was inspiring. I loved Cornel—he's about love and justice. Carl Dix was too absolute—to say that socialism and communism is the only way to solve the problems of capitalism. I'm no capitalist, but why is he saying revolution is the only way—it's too black and white. Where has socialism made for a better society?"

The event ended around 11 pm, but knots of people stayed in the room, like they couldn't get enough, and wanted to keep drinking in the atmosphere. One Korean-American UC student Revolution talked to was outwardly exuberant. She wanted to take the poster for the event, which had been taped to the podium, home as a souvenir—like it had been a kind of Woodstock. What stood out to her? Carl Dix's point about fighting through for the truth and living by that. "That resonated so much with me."

It's clear that much more from this unprecedented evening will continue to resonate in many different ways, with many, many different people.


This event was filmed by C-SPAN for national broadcast, probably in December. Stay tuned to for details. For more information and to bring this dialogue to your campus, people should contact:

A Dialogue Between Cornel West & Carl Dix
PO Box 941 Knickerbocker Station
New York, New York 10002-0900
Ph. 866-841-9139 x2670

Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

A Talk by Colin Dayan at NY Revolution Books

The following is an edited excerpt from a talk by Colin Dayan given at Revolution Books in New York on November 22, 2011. Dayan is the Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University, where she teaches American Studies, comparative literature, and the religious and legal history of the Americas. Her op-ed piece, "Barbarous Confinement," appeared in the New York Times on July 17, 2011, during the California prison hunger strike. Her most recent book is The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons.

During the past 25 years the Supreme Court has limited not only the rights of prisoners, but redefined these persons in law. That redefinition—the creation of a new class of condemned—has introduced an amazingly extensive and endlessly adaptable strategy of domination and control. Degrading forms of confinement, the psychological torture and excessive force ask us to reconsider the meaning of "cruel and unusual" punishment.

Part 1: The Cruelty of Supermax Confinement

I began my project with the so-called "return to chain" in Arizona in the summer of 1995— politicians thought this was a very good way to show they were tough on crime. I was fascinated that this degradation was coming to Arizona, since it reminded me very much of the South I grew up in. Now it was no longer just a southern thing, but the trappings were moved to the contemporary Southwest. The turning point for me was when I began to speak with the wardens and the prison director himself. This was what turned me around. I had no idea what was actually happening within the prisons. And I did not know, for example, what it meant to suffer under supermax confinement, 23-hour lockdown, no human contact and complete sensory deprivation. It was surreal when the spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Corrections said, "You know, you don't want to look at the chain gangs, that's just for the guys who don't want to work. But what you want to see is the clean state-of-the-art places for the 'worst of the worst.'" And of course we now know that these labels are applied to persons all over the world: "the worst of the worst," the "incorrigibles." He wanted me to see these clean well-lighted places, where all basic needs are met.

Now the irony is that SMU I [Special Management Unit] in Arizona was the model for Pelican Bay. Before 60 Minutes went into Pelican Bay in 1995, they wanted to see SMU in Arizona and the warden said, no way, you're out of here. So they went to Pelican Bay. I don't know if any of you saw the 1995 60 Minutes show on Pelican Bay, but that's what began the case Madrid v. Gomez against cruel and unusual conditions of confinement. No one from the outside was allowed into the supermax units in Arizona. And I posed as... well, being a professor and speaking with a southern accent which I can do still pretty well, I was able to kind of pass as someone who wanted to write a history of the prison system. "I'm so fascinated about what y'all are doing in Florence, oh god, these Bluetick hounds, it reminds me of home." I really put on an act that summer in 1995.

So the project that became The Law Is a White Dog began as fieldwork. What are these men doing to other humans? How is this possible? What is their language like? So I spent a great deal of time talking with them about their philosophy of supermax confinement, punishment and isolation. And they were ready, especially the warden of SMU II, which is still I think the harshest supermax prison in the United States, in Florence, Arizona. I write a great deal about it here because it has a special section called the Special Security Unit, or SSU, and it has on its walls not just the shanks and the weapons that are made by prisoners who are on 23-hour lockdown, but also photographs of their self-mutilation. And it's a special room, a museum of torture within the SMU II. There was a way in which my brain couldn't get around practices called "lawful" that were nothing less than torture. I'm just going to read you these two paragraphs. This is right from the original work in '95-'96, it changed a great deal but, "On one of my first visits a correctional officer explained, 'we razed the desert, bulldozed it, tore up anything that looked green. Now you see these cell doors? Don't they look like a regular shaped Swiss cheese? I want you to know that the stainless steel mirror, the sink and toilet are fastened with adhesives that cannot be chipped. Nothing inside the cells can be moved or removed. They sleep on a poured concrete bed. They have no control over the water. We control it all. If we turn off the water for just a few seconds in the morning we can discipline them real good.'"

But the real surprise when I first walked down the hall in SMU II was the immaculateness. And I began to wonder about that, since all I knew about solitary confinement at the time was the "hole," like Alcatraz, the kind of thing you see in Murder in the First. And I was so interested in these very, very large, technologically advanced, tremendously expensive units that were containing more and more groups of people under the label "security threat." So in my early interviews I was interested in who ends up here. And I think it was very telling that they were not persons who, for the most part, had committed major infractions while in prison. They had not actually committed any violent acts. You might have had one or two, as you know many very, very psychologically disabled persons end up in the SMU units. But the majority of people in the SMU units were alleged gang members, marked as security risks. And what I found hard to comprehend, was how did this happen? How do you end up in a solitary confinement unit indefinitely, how is it legally possible?

And the big thing that happened that year was meeting Dan Pochoda, who is now Legal Director of the ACLU in Phoenix. He was one of the Attica lawyers, and I was put in touch with him because there was a very important case going on at the time, also in Arizona, called Casey v. Lewis. It eventually reached the Supreme Court as Lewis v. Casey (1996) and it was about meaningful access to the courts, and Dan was bringing this case forward. The upshot of it all was that the law libraries were judged not to be necessary for meaningful access to the courts, and they were destroyed. But Pochoda introduced me, after we had had many conversations, to Judge Carl Muecke, who was the only liberal judge in the District Court in Arizona. He was retiring, he had had death threats, he was in his 70s, and conservatives in Arizona wanted him out. So he decided, with his wife's urging, to retire. He turned over this office to me that summer of 1997, and I began to read case law. It was then I realized that law-making was the kind of demon underbelly to the abhorrent practices I had witnessed.

So though I am not a trained lawyer, I wrote a book that I hoped would give flesh and blood to the abstractions of law. It's about case law, about how, for example, something as torturous as a supermax unit in the United States of America could have become constitutionally legal. How is it that a place that drives prisoners mad and pushes suffering beyond the limits of what is endurable, how is it that it can be legally possible? Why is this not an Eighth Amendment violation? So the course of my work really changed. This is the story of the making and unmaking of persons over time, about how law and certain kinds of legal language begin to do the very things we think the law is there to prevent or prohibit. As I move through the book I'm interested in the way in which we could not have had a supermax unit, there could have been nothing called indefinite solitary, if it hadn't been for a few legal cases (building on a real legal history), which I deal with in Chapter 3 and Chapter 5. And those cases, surprise, surprise, were part of the Rehnquist court (1986-2005). What had to happen was that what used to be seen as solitary confinement, with the legal limits of duration, say 30 days, could suddenly become indefinite, prolonged, with no end in sight.

And there are two very unique cases, which I won't go into now. We can talk later if you're interested in how it happened. But the supermax is the materialization of a certain kind of legal logic, and that legal logic has to do with a sharp separation between two kinds of pain. One that is physical—that shows visible injury, a scar or wound. The courts will recognize that as an Eighth Amendment injury. But what could not be recognized after the Prisoners Litigation Reform Act, which Clinton passed into law in 1996—will never be recognized—is psychic injury, what happens to the mind and the spirit of prisoners. And the idea that the solitary confinement building, whether you call it security housing unit, supermax unit, special housing, special management, whatever euphemism you choose, they all share a complete absence of anything that you can see or hear. There is nothing in your cell, you can attach nothing in your cell, and you can have no mail. The mail problem is the subject of great litigation. But, most of all, you have no human contact. You only see the hand of a guard when "you feed," as officers put it, through the cell slot in the door, or through often violent cell extractions.

Part 2: Foundation for Legal Torture

I was interested in how the history of the law over time began to shape a certain kind of person who was just flesh and blood, without mind, spirit, or intelligence—and no rights that the state was bound to recognize, except the most minimal human needs. It was all legal when this country began to really work hard at warehousing and containing large groups of people who were political activists, jailhouse lawyers, who were some form of threat. It is shown, a number of psychiatrists who have testified in these cases have said that even two weeks in this kind of lockdown can drive anyone mad. And it is the forms of law, as I tell the stories of legal fictions that make this book rather strange, I think, especially for the guild of lawyers. I'm a woman who worked very long and hard in Haiti. I'm a woman who knows about practices that some call primitive, backward or supernatural. I lived through the ways in which anti-Vodou, anti-superstition campaigns were carried out in the '80s after Baby Doc left, and I was always interested in the way in which those who hold on to power could only hold on to the power, if they projected their own fears and beliefs onto those they disdained. They held on to power by making divisions between the so-called civilized and the so-called barbaric. And of course, Vodou and African-based spirit religions were always on the side of barbarism.

I was very interested in demonstrating in this book how the law—which is supposed to be highly rational, the height of enlightenment—traffics in weird and occult and ghostly propositions, meaning that some of the cases as I describe them, really do project and depend on creating a space that is steeped in magic, where one is dead-alive, civilly dead in the eyes of the law. It is this life in death, this zombification that I became very interested in, especially when lawyers I knew, when I was part of this program at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, would question me, saying, after I spoke about one of Justice Antonin Scalia's really shocking and precedent-setting cases, Wilson v. Seiter (1991).

I describe it here, since it is the foundation of the torture memos*. It's where Scalia spells out the contours of injury, and when someone can be judged guilty of harm. To prove an Eighth Amendment violation, the injured must demonstrate that the official who injures had the intent to harm. If the official does not intend, had no deliberate indifference, no malicious intent, then you can't prove a violation. In other words, the person who has been injured must go on an impossible chase to prove the state of mind of the officer: was it malicious, did he have a malicious state of mind? But the thing that I was saying to these lawyers that year in 2000 is that a decision like this contained a philosophy of personhood, that legal language created an anomaly in law. And I guess if I have to describe anything about this book, it is that the law really has a near preternatural power, and those who are most oppressed and those who are in prison know how forceful the law is. They comprehend it. You do not have to be a lawyer to know what its effects are. And I began to really think about legal opinions over time as having certain formulae, certain repetitions, nearly incantatory, that carry a great deal of power in creating, for the larger public, the way in which groups of people are seen as unfit, expendable, and beyond the pale of human empathy.

Once we get to Guantánamo, then you understand that something called "security threat" has now been expanded to something called a "terrorist," because, again, I cannot stress strongly enough that the real problem, as the Pelican Bay prisoners understand, is that there is no proof involved. There is no necessity for guilt to be proved. There is no redress there for them, since we are dealing with preemptive justice. What matters is the status the detained possess in society: not what they have done, but what they are like. In prison, for example, if someone happens to say, you're a member of the gang, that's it. You've got to debrief. They call it "blood in, blood out." And how do you debrief, if you're not a gang member? And if you do debrief, you end up in protective segregation, so you're still in complete isolation so it's basically a death sentence. But there is a way in which, and I think Obama recognized it, Obama of all people.... In the very first chapter of my book I describe the uncanny way in which he decided the solution to Guantánamo. It was the supermax—to move alleged terrorists to the mainland and put them in supermax prisons. And he presented this as the only common sense thing to do. But, of course, many Americans did not want the Guantánamo prisoners moved to the mainland. But what's fascinating is the way legal thinking or legal logic crosses borders—inside and outside the borders of the United States. The global export of our prison practices demands that we recognize the hyper-legality of what we think of as lawless.

And again I'm making an appeal here to read the law and think through it, because I'm very angered by most constitutional lawyers who pay no attention to prison cases. Let's just take Ronald Dworkin, a brilliant man, who can write book after book about justice without attending to any prison case, not one. It's because there is an alternative law for prisoners, just as there was an alternative law for slaves. It's not that the language is different; it's that the words no longer mean the same. So a slave could be beaten until death, but that was just a "correction." So it was not murder, it was not legally legible as criminal. And then you have slaves who don't exist, they have "no legal minds," no "legal personalities." Thomas Jefferson said famously that slaves, those he called "that race of men," do not think. But it was the law that took that racism and made it permanent, made it stick, made it part of an undying cultural, social and political agenda. The origins of stigma and hate are not just private beliefs. People like to think, you know, if you could just correct how people think about others. But I'm trying to discuss a larger structural transformation that occurred in slavery and it could occur, it could only occur, through legal decisions, and it was always the law that created the forms that the most consummate exclusion would take.

And again the thing that's rather uncanny, certainly in reading the writings of Guantánamo prisoners, the writings of prisoners here under horrific conditions of confinement, that is beyond anything we can imagine, the kind of torture that is occurring in our prisons.... But if you read the writings, the incredible writings of prisoners, written to me or published, and those, especially, in supermaxes—and then if you read slave writings, you realize the tremendous resilience and resistance. Not only do they know what is happening politically, but they know the law, and they are its sharpest interpreters. Perhaps that's why the possibility of reading—what can be read—in supermax units is so severely restricted. Although some cases treat them as if they can't read, they can't think, and, hence, they are in conditions that make them less than human, what we find, again and again, is how prisoners might now be this country's most incisive critics and commentators. What solitary confinement does is not just degrade, but it also causes depersonalization—you can no longer know yourself as you. And, yet, with all the money spent, and all the horrors inflicted, many of these prisoners fight back with strength and determination, as we saw in the recent hunger strikes.

Part 3: Creating the UnPerson

The law goes to great lengths to construct a person who is un-personned, who is less than a thinking being. Take a look, for example, at one of the great cases that I deal with in Chapter 5. It's the case Bailey v. Poindexter (1858). The entire case is as if it is being decided not by court justices sitting in Richmond, but as if they're ethnographers, creating a field for discussion about whether or not slaves can inherit. And in order not to decide in favor of testamentary trust for slaves, the lawyers have to prove that they cannot choose. So the entire case is about how legally you demonstrate that there is no mind, no legal mind here. And once you do that, you have created a being who is something anomalous, not quite an animal even, but instead a husk of a human who doesn't have anything inside any longer, anything like free will or choice or opinion.

This case stands in my mind as a kind of haunt because I think one of the most powerful cases I deal with is a very recent one, decided by the Supreme Court in 2006. It's called Beard v. Banks, and this is a First Amendment case about reading. And for those who are in special management or secure housing units, a behavioral adjustment strategy was decided, the prison officials argued, that depended on their choice of reading: they could read romances, Harlequin romances. They could read what officials called "leisure books." But no newspapers would be allowed. Nothing about current events, nothing that could educate or keep prisoners informed. Justice Stevens said in his dissent, what you're doing here is taking a prisoner and turning him into a mere slave, or worse.

And I want to quote David Fathi who many of you might know is the head of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project. It's about words behind bars and what you can actually allow behind bars. I think one would want to look at the case this way: How much can you take away from a prisoner for it still to be legal. How far can you go before something becomes illegal? Of course the key people in the prison cases to really watch for are Scalia and Clarence Thomas. It is their language that demonstrates how hard they are trying to return the prisoner to the way in which prisoners were thought of right after the 13th Amendment. I don't know how many of you know the wording of the 13th Amendment, but it has a very horrible loophole in it: slavery is abolished except for prisoners who have been convicted of a crime. So you always had this loophole, that's how you had convict lease, etc. But these justices are returning to the idea that once you've committed a crime, you have no capacity, it's not just you have no rights that the state is bound to respect—you have no capacity to use rights. And that's what I mean about how the law is creating persons who are seen as disabled, seen as not quite able. And here, at last, here is Fathi: "The prison policy at issue here is unique and unprecedented. A long-term and indefinite deprivation of virtually all news from the outside world. It is a deliberate attempt to strip prisoners of the fundamental attribute of citizenship and even of personhood—the right to know, to learn, and to think about what is happening in the community, the country, the world."

And Justice Thomas, however, believes that the private experience, or as he calls it, subjective mental states, when it comes to prisoners, are irrelevant to the law. So I do think that one has to say to themselves, well, this must be a different kind of law. And when I said it's not that in, let's say cruel and unusual punishment, the words are not the same, or with due process, the constitutional idea of due process, the words are the same but they do not mean the same for prisoners. As Rehnquist said famously in another case, Sandin v. Connor, there is no difference between administrative confinement and solitary confinement. And there is no liberty interest here, why? Because solitary confinement, and again, the phrasing is great, because solitary confinement in Connor's case did not create the kind of "atypical and significant hardship in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life" that created a liberty interest, that called for due process protections. But what is atypical or significant? It's the kind of dangerous language that becomes more imprecise the more you try to define it. As the dissenters, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and John Paul Stevens asked: What is this? What design lies behind these words? Who's going to know what atypical and significant is when we don't even know any longer what we mean by "ordinary" when it comes to imprisonment. So Rehnquist really raised the bar, and you have to ask yourself: well how extraordinary does something have to become before it is recognized by law; when is something not ordinary? And then Rehnquist hits the point home by suggesting that "ordinary" is anything that prisoners are bound to expect.

I'm putting lots of emphasis on these cases because the U.S. places a lot of emphasis on these cases. And all you need to do is look at the March 6 torture memo* of 2003 and look at the footnotes and see which cases are quoted. It's quite a few of the cases I've discussed, quite a few of the prison cases of the Rehnquist court, concerning conditions of confinement, due process, and cruel and unusual punishment. Because they are the cases that allow the perpetrator of harm against those who are defenseless to not be charged with crimes. Those are the cases that remove all proof from the table and base everything on the idea of either security on one hand, and intent, on the other. Did they act, did the torturer act in good faith, did he have the intent to harm? You know there is a great line in the Bybee memo about torture unto death, very much like the slave memos. How much of the brain is left to be working? But again it doesn't matter, it is not legally, or even now, federally possible to make any kind of claim against a perpetrator of torture because of these intent requirements.

Let us think about the ways in which under cover of law and under cover of legality, things that we understood to be constitutionally illegal can continue. Guantánamo is not a legal black hole, after all; instead, its practices were prepared for by our very own local cases here, and taking them to the Nth degree. So, again, it's a hyper-legality that we're dealing with, not lawlessness. These are not pockets of lawlessness, but something that is systemic within the system that we call the law. And I think that prisoners really understand this, and that is why jailhouse lawyers who are brilliant interpreters of constitutional law are such threats. Every jailhouse lawyer that I have ever known has ended up in a special management unit.

Some people would say to me when I lecture about this, but wait, why? Why do you think people want to be so mean, why do they want them to suffer? And I really do, as I try to describe here, see this, as I said, as a much larger project. And suffering is crucial as long as those who are suffering can be identified clearly as part of a specific group. And then you've got these pockets that don't affect you at all and you can forget about them. I think this is increasingly powerful and important because the people who are, the whole global movement of money and men and materiel across borders, they want to be free to keep doing this. So on one hand, you take people who are really threats, who are thinking, definitely movement people, people who are trying to move out from the degradation, you want to really make sure that they are contained. But you also want these containers to be very visible to the other people in the public who are still privileged and who are not yet there. Because that is the other part of all this. The worse you're treating large groups of people, the more afraid your neighbors will be and you will be.

I mean it is no accident, although nothing is written about it, that the Patriot Act, which has been renewed with Obama, it makes no bones about it—anyone who is suspected of abetting activities against the government of the United States will be deemed a terrorist and can be detained. So the point is that there is this deep, large cloud hanging over people as we begin to see pockets of deprivation, unmerited punishment. And I believe that what we might call a kind of sadistic illogical hurting of those who haven't really done anything violent because two thirds of the prisoners in our prisons are not in there for violent crimes. It's a display, it's a performance, and it's a terrifying spectacle of what might happen to you. Because as we're seeing with the movements that are happening now, the slippages are very, very easy. The students getting sprayed. And I think a lot of that is not just police losing control.

This is a moment, a teaching moment for the public. The police are telling us: "We are going to be brutal, we're going to do it quickly and we're going to do it hard." And then your voice is going to be silenced. So it's running that two-way thing: it's both to silence within but also to stop action from without. And the more you do, the more you make a spectacle of large groups of some people, the more other groups learn fear. It's really quite deliberate.

* For more on the torture memos, see "The Torture Memos... and the Need for Justice," Revolution #164, May 17, 2009. The torture memos themselves are available at the ACLU website: yoo_army_torture_memo.pdf.


Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

Stories from Harlem

Life in the Projects: Prison-Like Conditions Outside of Prison

by Li Onesto

There's something about elevators and stairwells in high-rise housing projects. If the walls could speak they'd tell a whole lot about what generations of poor Black families have had to endure. Not just the daily reality of living in substandard housing, but the whole way you're treated by the authorities, like you're somehow a criminal.

In Harlem some of the projects are over 20 stories high, with several thousand residents. Lack of adequate city services means basic repairs don't get made, trash cans are always overflowing, there's rat infestation. But it's not just this. Horrible and demeaning living conditions are just one part of what people here have to put up with.

There's another kind of infestation and invasion. Something way more dangerous to people's health. There is the constant knowledge that the housing authority, child services, and other government officials can come down on you at any time. There are the Viper cameras, installed in the entrances and hallways, which mean people are under constant surveillance. It feels a lot like prison. And then there's the POLICE—who serve as a frontline in a concerted and conscious effort by the powers-that-be to repress, control and contain a whole section of society. These armed men roam about, in ones and twos or in packs, sweating people on the streets and in the playgrounds. And for them, a favorite stalking ground is the housing projects where they target especially the youth.

Just look at the reality of the NYPD's official stop-and-frisk policy. The NYPD is on pace to stop and frisk over 700,000 people in 2011, or more than 1,900 people each and every day. The authorities argue this is about stopping crime and "keeping the streets safe." But check out the facts: More than 85 percent of those stopped and frisked are Black or Latino. More than 90 percent of them were not even alleged to be doing something wrong when the police stopped them. All of this is totally and blatantly illegitimate and illegal under the stated laws of this country. And it's not just in New York City that this kind of thing goes on. Throughout the U.S., they might not call it stop-and-frisk, it might not always be a stated policy. But for millions of Black and Latino people, especially the youth, getting stopped, harassed, and made to "assume the position" is a basic fact of life—where if you're "lucky" you won't end up being brutalized or killed. But if you're not, the police report chronicling the last moments of your life might say you were shot because you made a "furtive movement," "looked like a suspect," or doesn't list any reason at all.

This is one step in a pipeline that has locked 2.3 million people in prison. This is one of the "entry points" for a whole repressive trajectory—where the cops, the courts, the whole legal system—feeds mass incarceration.


Anyone who reads the basic statistics on stop-and-frisk should be horrified and outraged. But these facts only tell a scrap of the whole story. When I talk to Jessie, who has lived in one of the projects in Harlem, she gives me a vivid picture of what this means for people. Jessie [not her real name] has a teenage son who has been a constant victim of stop-and-frisk police harassment and brutality. When we knock on her door she is literally packing up her apartment, getting ready to move. She is being kicked out of public housing because she has been deemed an "undesirable tenant." Why? Because her son has been arrested too many times by the police.

At first Jessie says she can't talk right now, she's too busy getting ready to move. But then, within five minutes, the stories start pouring out.

She starts talking about how the police are always jacking up her son and other youth, just 'cause they're hanging around outside the buildings. The police come up with all kinds of pretexts—there was a robbery, they found a gun in the trash can; usually nothing that has anything to do with the kids they're harassing. Jessie says she has actually been banned from the precinct. She says:

"They banned me, said if I didn't leave they were going to arrest me—because I was saying you're dirty, you're fucking corrupt, you're trying to murder our children and they didn't like the words coming out of my mouth. They trying to take our kids from us. And now they're trying to threaten them, take them into the staircase and go in their clothes. They touch their personal parts, they pull their pants down. They bring them up in the elevator and take them into the staircase cause they can't do it any other [legal] way, and they take off their clothes to make sure they don't have anything on them. So they do it the illegal way. This has happened to my son twice. When they don't find anything they give them a loitering ticket. And then you have to go to court, you got to answer these tickets cause if you don't answer these tickets, once you get like two or three, then a warrant comes out. Then they come get you.

"If I have to go to jail, I'll go to jail. They can't tell me I can't be there for my son. I get very belligerent because I want everybody to know that they're trying to kill our children, they're trying to destroy our children. So now, 'cause they can't catch them for something they're taking them into the staircases and stripping them naked.

"My son has had a case since 2009, there's no reason a case should be in court from 2009, we're going to 2012. But they keep that case open so they can catch him for something else and then they can charge him like that, adding on when he goes to court for a serious case, which was actually a school fight..."

And she tells me about how this has really badly affected her son getting a job and staying in school.

"My whole thing about this case is the fact that he can't go get a job nowhere cause he has an open case. Close it—either you charge him or let him go. The job thing is he has a record and that's going to stand against him, as long as that case is open. [When he goes for a job] they have asked him if he has any cases open and he says yes."

Jessie tells me she has lived in these projects since she was five years old. She's now 50 and being forced out.

"They keep harassing me and because with the harassment and the arrests, Housing [Authority], they said to me you need to put your child out of your house, because he's been arrested, he has a record. You're not allowed to be in this housing if they feel you're 'undesirable.' I'm considered 'undesirable.' One of the big things was my son was arrested when he was visiting somebody. They busted down the door and they found guns, they found weed in the house. They arrested everybody in the house. And I had to fight, fight, fight. I had to get a lawyer. Because they tried to charge my son. No, my son was not participating, he was just there. They took me to housing court—they got me for that. They made a decision, they took me to court, they voted against me... The housing court took me up on charges too, for him being there [in the apartment that was raided]."

"I'm deemed undesirable too. Housing court decided against me. What they did was they said your lease is terminated. But mind you, the kicker is, I took my case to the state Supreme Court and they backed housing up."

We've been standing out in the hallway this whole time and Jessie goes back into the apartment, then quickly comes back out holding what looks to be about a three-inch-thick pile of paper. She says:

"See this. This is my case against the New York City Housing Authority. I have so many pages it just drives me crazy. This has been going on a year and a half. But my thing is, my son has never been to jail. So how would you come to that decision when he has never been to jail. He's never been convicted."

I say, and even if he had been convicted of something, why does that give them the right to deem you "undesirable," to kick you out.

"Because I refused to put my child in the street."

And if you had kicked him out would they have let you stay?

"No, they still wouldn't let me. At the end of the time, I took him off the lease and let him go somewhere else. But it didn't matter."


Jessie has a lot of stories—she's just telling me a few. There was the time they came banging on her door, looking for her son. She tells this one with an ironic, comical edge.

"One time they came to my house. Boom, boom. Boom, boom. My son is in jail [at the time], mind you. 'Open the door, open the door.' I'm looking through my peephole. 'Open my door for what? I'm not opening my door, not me, you're not coming in my house.' [They say,] 'Open the fucking door.'

"I finally opened the door. They got a sergeant because he had on a white shirt and he was like, 'you need to open the door now.' So when I opened the door I yelled to my neighbor to come out cause I had to have a witness. The police said to me, 'your son just robbed somebody.' And my son was in jail! If my son would have been home, he would have been arrested and charged with robbery. They said they saw him. I said how could my son have robbed someone when he's in jail, motherfucker."

This whole time I was talking with Jessie, her next door neighbor, Marleen [not her real name], has been popping in and out of her apartment, getting in on the conversation, adding detail to these stories. She too has a son who's a victim of police harassment. Marleen starts talking about how people are not allowed to walk up and down the stairs, that they have to take the elevator. The VIPER surveillance cameras are up all over the entrances and hallways, but not in the staircases. She says they can't even just use the staircases to go up or down a couple of stories. And when I ask her why, she shrugs her shoulders and says, "They just tell us what we can't do."

She tells her own horror story of how her apartment was raided by the police.

"They busted the door down. And they never found nothing but they ripped up the house. They lined everyone against the wall in the hallway. People heard the commotion and came out and they told everyone to go back inside. They dragged one person out [of my apartment] with a gun pointed to his head."

Jessie recounts, "I opened the door and saw the whole family lined up in handcuffs."

Then Marleen says something that kind of concentrates in a way, the absolute outrageousness of the almost matter-of-fact, daily, fascistic repression they're subjected to.

She tells me that when the kids go out to the store, mothers use binoculars to watch them because they're afraid of what might happen to them with the police.

Just think about that for a moment. Mothers are buying binoculars. They're standing at the window, looking down, watching in anticipation, as their sons and daughters go outside to get something at the store. They need to know that their kids are all right, that they are going to come back—and not just disappear after being stopped and frisked. They know that if something bad does happen, they need to be a witness.


One of the things that keeps coming through in all these stories is how the police not only brutalize you, but they seem to make a sport of really trying to do everything they can to humiliate the people, especially the youth. And the people know it and deeply feel this. Jessie tells of one time when the police chased down her son and were beating him. She came out to try and get them to stop and Jessie says, "That's when they made the remark, go the fuck back to the projects where you belong."

Jessie tells the story of how the police take the youth into the staircase and make them take off their clothes. She said, "My son told me, they humiliate you when they catch you. That's the word he used. And if you run from them they might shoot you."

"They don't want a loudmouth. But now I know it's my time to move because my son said, 'Ma please be quiet. I love you.' He told me that they always talk shit to him. He's like, 'When I'm outside I got to deal with them telling me about you. [They say,] your mother is a bitch, your mother better keep her mouth shut and then they harass him some more.' So when I see them I don't want to say nothing because I don't want to cause him shit."

Jessie has to get back to packing. But before we leave she makes clear to us that, even though she's being forced out, she isn't giving up. In fact she says, now she will have time to get more involved in things like the struggle against stop-and-frisk.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

State Gives Up Attempt to Legally Execute Mumia Abu-Jamal

by C. Clark Kissinger

December 9 marked the 30th anniversary of the night that Philadelphia police shot, beat, and arrested the revolutionary journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. He was accused of shooting a police officer and was swiftly convicted of murder and sentenced to death in a flagrantly unjust trial. He has now been sitting in solitary confinement on death row for 29 years. But two days before this anniversary, Philadelphia DA Seth Williams announced that he was finally dropping the 30-year campaign to legally execute Mumia.

The DA's decision comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to hear any more appeals from the State of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has been trying for a decade to overturn a 2001 decision by a federal district court that Mumia's death sentence was unconstitutional because of misleading instructions to the jury by his trial judge.

While this means that Mumia will soon be transferred to general population in the state prison system to serve life without parole, the massive injustice of his conviction and incarceration remains. To millions around the globe, even one more day in prison for Mumia is an intolerable injustice. The political battle must continue to be waged to free Mumia from his unjust imprisonment. While the threat of a legal execution has now been lifted, it is important to be vigilant and keep up the fight to protect him and ensure that his voice continues to be heard. The authorities could try to make the situation worse for him behind bars, and even the threat of an extra-legal execution staged behind prison walls remains. The urgency of this was underscored by a thinly veiled threat from the wife of the slain police officer, reported in the New York Times and other major media, that, "I am heartened by the thought that he will finally be taken from the protected cloister he has been living in all these years and begin living among his own kind—the thugs and common criminals that infest our prisons." This bloodthirsty threat was delivered in the language of the armed enforcers of this system, who view the 2.3 million people warehoused in America's jailhouses and prisons—many victims of "the New Jim Crow"—as sub-humans unworthy of common decency and respect.

The Framing of Mumia

On December 9, 1981, Mumia was driving a cab on a downtown Philadelphia street. He saw a cop viciously beating his brother with a metal flashlight. Mumia rushed to the scene. He was shot in the chest by the cop, and was found sitting on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood. The cop lay nearby, dying from a bullet wound. Arriving police attacked Mumia, who was well known to them as a revolutionary journalist and a former Black Panther, and arrested him for murder of the cop.

Mumia was carrying a gun for self-protection as a late night cab driver. But the bullet taken from the slain officer was never matched to Mumia's gun. His gun was never tested to see if it had been fired, nor were his hands tested to show if he had recently fired a gun. In fact, the medical examiner's report listed the fatal bullet as a different caliber than Mumia's gun, but the jury never saw this report. Police claimed that Mumia stood over the fallen officer, firing repeatedly at him but hitting him only once in the head. Yet photographs that surfaced years later showed no marks on the sidewalk from the bullets that allegedly missed the officer.

In his 1982 trial Mumia was denied the right to serve as his own attorney and was barred from the courtroom for half his trial. Racial bias in jury selection resulted in an overwhelmingly white jury. And a court reporter overheard the trial judge saying that he was going to help the cops "fry the n****r."

Witnesses who told of seeing a different person commit the shooting and flee the scene were ignored and never heard by the jury. The prosecution claimed that Mumia had confessed—a confession that cops only "remembered" months after the incident. Yet the jury only heard the phony confession story and never saw the official police report that stated Mumia had made no statement. Not surprisingly under these circumstances, Mumia was convicted and sentenced to death.

The Movement to Free Mumia

Documents obtained for Mumia's appeal process in 1995 showed that he had been under government surveillance since he was 14 years old. A protest leader in high school, he soon became the Minister of Information for the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia. In following years he attended college and became a respected radio journalist in Philadelphia.

Undeterred by his incarceration and never bending to the pressure of the state to back off his revolutionary politics, Mumia actually developed his career as a journalist behind bars, writing a weekly syndicated column and authoring a half-dozen books. A surging mass movement in his support quickly developed and prevented his execution in 1995, when a death warrant had been signed. Even so, Mumia continued to sit alone 22 hours a day in a cell the size of a bathroom, allowed to see his family and lawyers only through a plexiglass window. His refusal to capitulate in the face of all this exemplifies the courage, the dedication, and the revolutionary potential of the millions held in this country's prisons, and this has been an inspiration for broad numbers of people.

The struggle to free Mumia, which has been waged worldwide, brought forward a whole generation of students who were radicalized. This movement played an important role in changing many people's minds not just around the death penalty, but in looking at the injustices of the system as a whole. Today's growing movement against police brutality and the mass incarceration of people of color owes much to the continuing example and writing of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

All this, along with other recent developments, may have factored into the state's decision not to pursue Mumia's death sentence. When Troy Davis, who had been on death row in Georgia for 22 years, was executed in September this year, there were protests around the country and deep outrage among many people who saw the execution as totally illegitimate. This year has also seen the courageous struggle of prisoners in California and elsewhere against the torture in isolation prisons, and the general mood of opposition against the powers-that-be that is being expressed through the Occupy movement.

"The Struggle Continues"

Reached by phone by Philadelphia radio station WURD, Mumia's first response was, "I'm strong. I'm well. I feel surrounded by a sea of love. And the struggle continues." When asked what it was like to live on death row under constant threat of death, Mumia described his conditions, but then pointedly remarked that Oscar Grant and Sean Bell also lived on death row—only they didn't know it.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

Philadelphia: Hundreds Mark 30-Year Anniversary in Mumia Battle

On December 9, a program was held in Philadelphia on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the railroading of Mumia Abu-Jamal. The program was marked by a combination of exuberance over forcing the DA to back off of pursuing the death penalty in the case and a fierce determination to continue the struggle until Mumia is freed from prison. An 800-seat auditorium in Constitution Hall in downtown Philly was standing room only for the event.

An array of speakers, including Pam and Ramona Africa, Vijay Prashad, Johanna Fernandez, Mark Taylor, Mark Lamont Hill, and Lennox Hinds, expounded on the two themes. Ramona Africa called on people to remain alert to the continuing threat to Mumia's life as he remains in the government's clutches, and spoke to the long, bitter history that the masses of people in the U.S. and around the world have suffered at the hands of the U.S. rulers. She pointed in particular to how revolutionaries like George Jackson have been murdered in prison.

Immortal Technique performed four well-received songs. In a video message, author Michelle Alexander drew the connections between the need for continued struggle to free Mumia and the fight to end the New Jim Crow—the mass incarceration of Black and Latino people. International participation has long been a feature of the struggle to free Mumia. This was much in evidence on December 9. There were demonstrations and meetings held in Mexico City, Paris, London, Copenhagen and four cities in Germany in the week leading into the anniversary. Representatives from France, Haiti, and Venezuela were in the Philly hall.

Cornel West ended the evening with a rousing speech in which he spoke to the contrast between the dominant ethos in society of being "out for me" vs. Mumia's shining example of revolutionary love—being concerned about others—and called on the youth to be inspired by and follow that example. A highlight of the evening was when Mumia called into the event from prison and urged the crowd to continue to struggle, not just to free him but to oppose all injustice.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

From the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund:

A Shout-out and Thank You to All Prisoner Subscribers and Correspondents

Your many contributions this year have made a major difference. Many of your letters appear on the PRLF website,, and PRLF emails, and have traveled from conferences to classrooms. Your correspondence has opened up and enriched debate in the pages of Revolution about newsworthy events, about the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), BAsics and much more. You have spoken directly to the youth in the 'hood, college students, the Occupy movement, etc., probably even more than you know. In addition to the letters you see in the print version of Revolution, many more have been printed online. A heartfelt thanks from everyone you have challenged and inspired!

NOTE: If you have not yet received a copy of BAsics, please write to request your copy. Also tell your friends who want a copy they should write to: PRLF, 1321 N. Milwaukee, #407, Chicago, IL 60622.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

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

From A World to Win News Service

Shell and the Other Oil Companies: Serial Killers

December 5, 2011. A World to Win News Service. Current investment in exploring for gas and oil in Nigeria is expected to reach 45 billion dollars this month, according to a November 30 report in the industry newsletter Sweetcrude. By coincidence, in a statement cosigned by numerous European film stars and other public figures issued the day before, Amnesty International France called for the major oil companies to be "compelled" to fund a massive proposal to clean up the damage they have already caused during the last half-century of oil drilling in the Niger River Delta. The initial cost of this plan drafted by the UN Environmental Programme would be a billion dollars.

The amount of oil spilled in the region is the equivalent of 7,000 tankers, Amnesty France said. It pointed out that while BP had been obliged to allocate about 40 billion dollars for dealing with the aftermath of the 2010 oil rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil companies have contributed little to rectify the damage they have done to Nigeria and accomplished nothing.

The Nigerian government is always ready to send its soldiers to protect oil installations from perceived threats, Amnesty France continued. To that same end 16 years ago, the statement bitterly added, that government hung six men, including the writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who called for the same kind of cleanup programme the UN agency has outlined.

In June 2009, Shell Oil, the company that dominates Nigeria's petroleum industry, paid 15 million dollars in an out-of-court settlement with the executed men's families rather than face trial for responsibility in these judicial murders.

Shell, a UK-Netherlands company, had a legal monopoly on the exploitation of Nigerian oil and minerals when the country was a British colony, until 1960. Since then it has been joined by France's Total, Italy's Agip and American firms. These companies provide almost 80 percent of the Nigerian government's funding and almost all of the country's foreign exchange, Amnesty France said in offering an explanation for the Nigerian government's complicity in the country's permanent oil disaster.

The Amnesty France statement was meant to draw attention to the UN Environment Program report issued last August, as well as the mid-2011 Amnesty International report entitled "The True 'Tragedy'" about the aftermath of two oil spills in the Niger River Delta town of Bodo. Shell took responsibility for the spills, calling them a "tragedy" caused by a pipeline weld defect. The "true tragedy," Amnesty argues, was not just the spill itself but the fact that Shell allowed oil to gush out for weeks before taking action and refused to undertake any serious cleanup measures.

The UN report is based on an investigation into the damage left by 50 years of oil operations in the Delta. The 14-month survey on an "unprecedented" scale included examination of more than 200 locations, 122 kilometers of pipelines and 50,000 medical records, as well as local community fact-finding meetings involving a total of 23,000 people. Its conclusion is that the damage is both far more serious than previously acknowledged by Shell and the government, and ongoing. The report found that contrary to claims, the underground layer of clay that supposedly protects groundwater from oil spills on the surface is not continuous. As a result there is an eight centimeter layer of refined oil floating on the groundwater, contaminating the wells that were supposed to provide safe drinking water when visible oil slicks turned creeks and ponds toxic to humans, animals and vegetation.

Carcinogen concentrations reach almost a thousand times the safe level in some villages. Oil has inundated creeks and swamps, killing the mangrove leaves and coating these trees with tar. This has destroyed the fish habitats that people depend on for food. On land, "a crust of ash and tar has been in place for several decades," killing plants or making them inedible. Hydrocarbons extend as much as five meters down into the soil. Close to a million people have been affected, losing their livelihoods and health.

It is true, this report says, that local people use artisanal methods to refine oil found on the ground or siphoned off from pipelines, causing more environmental damage. How else can they survive amidst such devastation?

An August 5, 2011 article by the Reuters news service quotes spokespersons for Shell and the Nigerian state oil company as saying that the UN report contains nothing new that would make them take action. "The shelves are filled with reports... the fact that the devastation was caused by oil exploitation is something that all of us already knew," responded the head of Ken Saro-Wiwa's Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People.

The Amnesty France initiative is an attempt to arouse public opinion so that the UN and Amnesty International reports do not remain dead letters.

Oil production is declining in Ogoniland (the area inhabited by the Ogoni people) and the rest of the Niger Delta. Shell and other foreign companies have ceased operations there. But the cumulative effects of the damage they have done to the environment and the people are increasing. According to the UN report, the only cleanup measure implemented so far, an attempt to use bacteria to eat up the oil, has been ineffective.

Shell and other oil companies, however, have not finished destroying the lives of Nigeria's people and the planet. They have merely moved their operations offshore. Deepwater drilling provides considerable economic advantages to the oil companies, and allows them to keep a distance from the populace they fear. (Whether in drilling on land or at sea, whatever jobs result are rarely held by Delta people, even in the government and its agencies.) Although this kind of drilling eliminates the need for the long pipelines and pumping stations that criss-cross the Delta, it is potentially much more dangerous, as the blowout at BP's Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrated. For the oil companies deepwater drilling for gas and oil represents the future. For their planned sites in West Africa, Brazil and other countries, it represents an unprecedented threat.

(For more analysis, see "The Gulf of Mexico and the Niger River Delta: oil spills worlds apart" in the June 21, 2010 AWTWNS dispatch [available at]. The Amnesty France statement, Amnesty International report and United Nations Environment Programme report are available on the respective websites of those organizations.)

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.

Send us your comments.