In Defense of Fighters and Dreamers
Revolutionary Worker #1206, July 6, 2003, posted at rwor.org
"First they came for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist."
This is the first line of a 1945 quote that seems more relevant every day.
Pastor Martin Niemoeller, talking about the emergence of Nazi Germany, went on to say:
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Many are alarmed at the creeping--or we should say leaping--government attacks on people's rights in the name of "the war on terrorism." Ashcroft's Homeland Security has ushered in a suffocating, repressive atmosphere where political dissent is threatened, spied on and equated with "the enemy."
And with the roundup and detention of Middle Eastern and Muslim immigrants, mandatory registration based on racial profiling, and thousands targeted for deportation--Niemoeller's quote could certainly be amended to describe the current situation as, "First they came for the Arab immigrants..."
In such a situation it must also be said that when "they come for the communists," all the people have to speak up and resist.
The RCP is proud to be a part of building and leading a powerful anti-war movement in this country and the Party continues to unite with a broad array of forces to oppose the whole juggernaut of U.S. war and repression.
A number of articles have appeared in both liberal and conservative publications, attacking the participation of the RCP in the antiwar movement.* The "liberal" critics seem to want people to distance themselves from Party activists and supporters, while the outright reactionaries have openly called for the government to investigate the Party and its activities.
One common theme of these attacks--both liberal and conservative--has been pointing out that the RCP supports the Maoist people's wars in Peru and Nepal--and then using this to say the Party "supports terrorist movements."
Such criticisms are usually full of buzz words, distortions, and crude characterizations of serious revolutionary movements--echoing the lies of the mainstream media, for example, describing the Communist Party of Peru as "fanatically brutal terrorists" and the people's war in Nepal as a "bloody insurgency."
Such attacks are especially dangerous given that the U.S. has officially branded the Maoist forces in the Philippines, Peru and Nepal "terrorist." And that in the name of "the war on terrorism" communist leaders are being targeted, and the U.S. and other powerful countries are arming, financing and providing training to the reactionary regimes trying to crush these Maoist insurgencies.
In Peru, the Communist Party of Peru--also known as Shining Path, or Sendero Luminoso--is slandered and vilified, and secret trials with hooded judges have imprisoned many Maoists under unbelievably cruel conditions.
In the Philippines, the U.S. joins and organizes local military operations which all involved know will increasingly be turned against the long-standing, growing popular insurgency led by the Communist Party of the Philippines. And the founding chairman of the CPP, José María Sison, now a political leader living in Europe, has been put on terrorist lists and his previously established legal status abroad has been brought under sharp attack.
In Nepal, in the name of the "global war on terrorism," the U.S., U.K., India, China, and other countries are providing money, military aid and training to the Royal Nepalese Army which has already killed thousands of people in its efforts to defeat the Maoists.
Let's look at the U.S. State Department's 1983 definition, recently cited by Attorney General Ashcroft, which defines "terrorists as those who perpetrate premeditated, politically motivated violence against noncombatant targets."
The U.S. is the only country to use atomic bombs--killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. During the Vietnam War over two million noncombatants were killed by the U.S. and its puppet ARVN government. In one of the most well-documented cases of CIA complicity in state-sponsored slaughter, the U.S. trained, armed, and funded the military apparatus in Guatemala, which engaged in the wholesale torture and killing of 200,000 people in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. Between 1980 and 1994, the U.S. provided massive amounts of arms, training and funding to a puppet government in El Salvador that killed an estimated 75,000 people in its efforts to crush a popular uprising.** And today there are the still growing numbers of civilians being killed by U.S. troops in Iraq.
So if you want to nail someone for being "terrorist" according to the State Department definition, you could start with the State Department itself, both for its own record and for its support of governments that "perpetrate premeditated, politically motivated violence against noncombatant targets."
But what about the accusation that Maoist people's wars are "bloody insurgencies," that have "killed thousands of innocent people"?
The Human Rights Watch estimate that 30,000 civilians have died in the two decades of people's war in Peru is routinely reported as "the insurgency has cost the lives of 30,000 people," implying that the insurgents have killed everyone. But even HRW, which is no friend of the Communist Party of Peru, says that 90% of those people were killed by the government .
In Nepal, human rights groups report that over 8,000 people have died since the Maoist insurgency began in 1996. But here too, the overwhelming majority have been killed by government forces--even though news reports continue to imply that the Maoist guerrillas are responsible for all these casualties.
In both Peru and Nepal, almost all of those killed by the government were murdered in "sweeps" through peasant villages when no battle was going on. This is generally how governments suppress popular insurgencies--by terrorizing and suppressing the people who support the revolution. Sometimes this is done by putting villagers in concentration camps, thereby denying guerrilla fighters intelligence, food and recruits. More often this is done through assassinations, massacres and disappearances.
In contrast, the people's wars rely on the politically conscious support and mobilization of the masses of people. As part of winning this support, and flowing from their aim of a just social order, the targets of their fire are the armed enforcers of the established reactionary order--the police, the army, the paramilitary death squads and local goons--and the representatives of the state. In Nepal, the Maoists and government both report that the People's Liberation Army has established control in most of the rural areas which make up 90% of the country. There is no way this could have happened without the Maoists having widespread support among masses--a fact the government and mainstream press constantly admit and bemoan.
There are also many outright lies told about the Maoists in Peru and Nepal. For example, in Nepal, under the state of emergency in 2002 journalists weren't allowed into battle zones and could only get information from government officials. This laid the basis for a steady stream of dis- and mis-information aimed at demonizing the Maoists. All kinds of untrue "facts" were reported--that the guerrillas take drugs before going into battle, that they have ties with CIA-type forces in Pakistan, that they target teachers and use children as "human shields," that they routinely cut off the hands of people. There is little, if any evidence for these accusations. But this hasn't prevented these reports from making some people think the Maoists in Nepal should not be supported.
It is important to understand that these people's wars are civil wars . One section of the population is fighting to eradicate a reactionary social order--in which the masses of people are subjected to the violence of the system every day. And others are fighting to defend this status quo. If this way of bringing about change sounds unreal or unrealistic--consider the U.S. Civil War, which not only involved millions of people fighting on both sides but also included quite a bit of violence, including against non-combatants. This struggle to go from a mixed capitalist-slave system to an entirely capitalist system without slaves involved a huge social convulsion. But few progressive people would argue this was any less needed just because it involved violence.
The RCP's political support for the people's wars in Nepal and Peru stems from the experience and analysis of the Maoist movement--that the only way the masses of people in the oppressed countries of the Third World can achieve real liberation is to rise up in a new democratic revolution, wage a people's war, seize power, and build a new society.
People see the gigantic gap between life in the U.S. and impoverished conditions in the Third World. Peasants living in 19th-century conditions. Urban shantytowns where children sleep and play near open sewers and mountains of rotting garbage. Twelve-year-old girls sold into sexual bondage for the price of a goat. Nike sweatshops grinding up lives for $1.56 a day. Women killed for breaking feudal and religious traditions. U.S.-backed regimes tied to death squads and drug barons. Intolerance, war and ethnic strife.
Especially the youth are asking: Is another world possible? Can humanity ever get rid of the inequalities between countries, nationalities, men and women, and different religions? Is there a path for the planet other than McWorld globalization and the jihad of religious fundamentalism?
Defenders of capitalism may answer this question by declaring that "communism is dead" and that the path taken by Mao Tsetung is passé. But the fact is, genuine Maoist people's wars actually address the real, deeply embedded and many-sided aspects of the oppression the masses face.
In Nepal over 85% of the people are peasants living in the countryside. Most cannot feed their families on their small plots of land and are constantly ripped off by landlords, corrupt officials, dirty politicians and moneylenders. Under the rigid and highly discriminatory caste system, many of the 70 different castes and ethnic groups are denied their culture and religion. Women are suppressed and treated as inferior and unequal in every facet of society. A king controls the army and an oppressive monarchy is embedded deep in the ruling structures of society. The whole country is subordinate to, dependent on and dominated by India and imperialist countries like the United States. A corrupt and reactionary government has done little, if anything, to address basic problems of food, water, sanitation and health care.
Addressing any one of these problems requires tearing up and discarding all the economic, social and political relationships within Nepalese society and between Nepal and other countries.
For example, what would it take for women in Nepal to get real liberation?
Like in other semi-feudal Third World countries, women's oppression in Nepal is deeply woven into the whole fabric of society. Feudal traditions like arranged marriages, dowries, polygamy, and widows banned from remarrying are upheld and enforced in many different ways and tied to other aspects of society. A mixture of feudal and capitalist rules provides the ground upon which women's bodies are owned, controlled, and bargained over in everything from marriage to the selling of women to sex traffickers. Everyday life in the village is ruled by religious and cultural practices that promote and perpetuate male domination. In such a setup, everywhere a woman turns, her freedom and independence is policed and smothered.
So, in a country like Nepal, in order for women to emancipate themselves--to have land, education, freedom to choose their own husbands--to have real equality--the basic economic relations of land ownership in the countryside would have to be upended. Control would have to be taken out of the hands of powerful religious, political and military forces which back up the tyranny of local landlords, corrupt politicians and moneylenders. The social and cultural institutions which provide a foundation for the patriarchal control of fathers, brothers and mother-in-laws would have to be done away with. The whole education system would have to be revolutionized. And domination by India and other foreign countries would have to be ended.
Those who have seriously looked into what is happening in the liberated base areas where guerrillas have control in Nepal, have seen that this people's war is about building the new as well as destroying the old.
The Maoists in Nepal are already beginning to implement the kind of fundamental changes they want to fully bring about when they come to power. Poor peasants are benefiting from the redistribution of land and there are some beginning forms of collective farming. Women own land for the first time. Oppressed minorities have the right to practice their own languages and culture and participate equally in the new revolutionary governments. Laws and social practices that discriminate against lower castes have been done away with. Arranged marriages, polygamy and other feudal traditions oppressive to women are no longer practiced. Wife beating and rape are severely punished by the people's courts. Women are given the right to divorce, inherit land, go to school, and fight in local militias as well as the People's Liberation Army. And women are equal participants in the new economic, political, and social life of the villages.
This is a real, living example of how a Maoist people's war mobilizes the masses to fight with the aim of taking power into their own hands and building a whole new society that really digs at the deep economic, social and political inequalities laid down and enforced by feudalism and capitalism.
People may argue that such changes could be made without waging a people's war. But the fact is that none of this could have been accomplished in Nepal without an armed struggle that allowed the revolutionary forces to seize political power in the liberated base areas--which then allowed them to establish new forms of people's government. And in order to fully implement such revolutionary changes throughout Nepalese society it will require an armed struggle that overthrows the current ruling class and seizes nationwide power. This is the only way the forces of liberation can really shatter the grip of the monarchy, wrest control of society from the current corrupt ruling government and completely break the exploitative relations with India and other foreign powers.
The monarchy, the whole ruling class in Nepal, India, the U.S. and other foreign powers are not going to allow the Maoists to peacefully implement their program. They will not hand over power, even if they are forced to admit that the guerrillas now have control of most of the country. The U.K. and the U.S. have already stated that "the Maoists must not prevail in Nepal."
When they come for the communists...
The fact that genuine and mass liberation movements--in Peru, Nepal and the Philippines--have been branded by the U.S. as "terrorist" is a stark example of how "terrorism is whatever the U.S. says it is."
In today's situation, where the U.S. is attempting to label as "terrorists" any movement that dares to challenge their domination--or rises up against a regime they support--people really need to seriously discuss and understand the right of the people of the world to make revolution.
The system has worked hard to get people to embrace facile verdicts on people's wars--which in essence condemn the masses for daring to fight against their oppression.
There is an old saying among the Chinese people that "The emperor can burn down villages, but the people are forbidden to even light a candle." The oppressors claim the right to commit huge crimes against the masses, but come down with brutal violence when the people respond in any way. The U.S. government condemns anyone who takes up arms against their system anywhere in the world as terrorists. But the people need to distinguish between the unjust violence of the oppressors and the just violence of the oppressed.
Maoist people's wars are secular. They are about redistribution of land with the goal of socialized ownership and collectivized farming. They are about equality between men and women. An end to globalized sweatshops and cross border trafficking of women. An end to the whole caste system. An end to the discrimination of minority nationalities.
Maoist people's wars are aimed at building a whole new society where the masses of people consciously work to get rid of all forms of oppression and inequality. A whole new world free of classes and free of all the relations, institutions and ideas that go along with class exploitation.
There should be enthusiasm and support for such struggles!
Even those who have questions about Maoist people's wars should oppose how the U.S. has branded these revolutions "terrorist" and is providing political support, money and guns for the reactionary regimes trying to crush these movements.
And even those who don't support people's wars cannot allow the government to attack those who do.
It is sad that in some circles, lowered sights and pessimism prevail. The world is a complicated place where it is not so easy to figure out how to bring about a better world. But there is a history of struggle by the people of the world that can be cherished--mistakes can be learned from, lessons can be built off.
We cannot let the cynicism of the system blur and bury our vision. We need to reopen and seriously discuss--not close off--the idea of changing all of society , of getting rid of all oppression . We need to extend the vista of our goals. And at the very least, we need to say that people have the right to do this without being attacked and persecuted by the U.S. government which has brought so much suffering to people all over the world.
What is at stake here?
If the U.S. is allowed to attack real liberation struggles and call them "terrorist." If those who politically support people's wars are attacked and called "supporters of terrorists." If those who say we need revolution are targeted and persecuted. If the government succeeds in distancing the most radical elements from other activists. If red-baiting tactics succeed in dividing the movement....
If the powers-that-be get away with all this-- it will affect all the people . It will put an even deeper blanket of repression on all progressive organizations, movements, thinking, and actions.
"First they came for the communists..." and then they came for others.
The Nazis went after the communists because of everything the communists represented and struggled for and because they represented the most powerful force fighting against the Nazis' program of war, bloody suppression and genocide.
Today serious attacks on communists and radicals in the U.S. will be--and already are--a very important aspect of the government's whole war on civil liberties.
There is already a bad moon rising in this country...
They want to crush our dream that a better world is possible. If we let them attack the dreamers, everyone will be affected by the chill.
Millions of people are dying of poverty, disease, hunger and senseless wars. But in some corners of the planet, the oppressed are fighting and dying for a whole new and really liberating world order.
They are dreaming of a better world. And we should too!
* In "Setting the Record Straight" ( RW #1178, December 8, 2002, online at rwor.org), we responded to an attack on our party that appeared in Salon.com and was echoed in the mainstream press. In that article, we discussed the role of radicals and communists in the anti-war movement and how our party's participation in the "not in our name" movement had, in fact, led to profound new alliances and efforts to unite millions in opposition to the war on Iraq; we clarified false information and discussed the view of our party on dissent in revolutionary society; and we refuted crude characterizations of our party's views on a number of important international situations--including our support for the Maoist people's wars.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online