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Revolution #043, April 16, 2006, posted at revcom.us
The unprecedented upsurge of protest for immigrant rights sweeping across the U.S. is a great and tremendous thing! From New York to L.A., from Chicago to Houston, millions of people in cities throughout the country have taken to the streets, demanding justice and basic rights.
These immigrants face the daily terror of living as “illegals,” subject to being suddenly snatched away, locked up, and deported across the border, or being targeted by vicious anti-immigrant vigilantes. But instead of being paralyzed by fear and driven deeper into the shadows, people are raising their heads, asking why things are the way they are and what can be done about them—and they are taking action!
The basic demands of the people are clear, just, and reasonable—and they must be met. These include:
Various demonstrations are being planned for the coming weeks that in the main express these demands. People should come out to these demonstrations, and the demands listed above should be brought to these protests, supported, and fought for. People especially need to come to the support of the youth who have been defiantly walking out of school in their tens of thousands. It's b.s. for anyone to preach to these youth to “stay in school”—when they are contributing, and learning, and teaching others so much by fighting for what is right.
Right now, various representatives of the capitalist-imperialist ruling class are feverishly trying to hammer together a bill that would create a new repressive order around immigration. As our article “Update on the Immigration Bills: They're All No Good” on this page points out, while there's infighting among the rulers over different elements of their immigration set-up (and they haven't been able to agree on a Senate bill as we go to press), none of these bills in the Congress will satisfy the just demands of the people. In fact, all of them, in different ways, will make things worse for the masses of immigrants.
We can't let the terms of debate among the ruling elite constrain and channel the direction of this great upsurge. Any concession to the idea that "the border must be defended" will end up accepting these reactionary terms. We can't accept the best of bad alternatives. Instead, we must persevere in fighting for what people actually want and need—and not get caught up in the deadly trap of choosing one or another “lesser evil.”
The capitalist-imperialist class that runs this country slander the immigrants as “parasites” and “criminals.” But let's look at the reality. For the ruling class, the immigrants are essential to their system of exploitation. Many of these immigrants come from countries whose economies have been plundered by the U.S. imperialists—places like Mexico and the Central American nations, China, Nigeria, and Egypt. In the world today, two hundred million people have been driven from their homelands because they can no longer make a living to support themselves and their families in these countries ruined by imperialist exploitation, and they come to the imperialist countries in desperate search for work.
The imperialists then take advantage a second time, shunting these immigrants into the lowest-paid and most back-breaking jobs and superexploiting these workers. Then yet a third time, as the money that these workers send home to their families makes up a big part of the income of these oppressed nations, which helps the imperialists to keep these countries “stable” and to maintain control over them. And the imperialists take advantage a fourth time, as they demonize the immigrants and make them scapegoats for the problems created by their own system. There are huge social and economic changes in American society that are driving the imperialists' moves toward a fascist order. And as part of this, media figures like Lou Dobbs and politicians like Tom Tancredo are trying to whip up a fascist, nativist frenzy among middle class and working class people around the idea that America should be a white, Christian, highly militarized country—and that somehow this is an answer to the fears, desperation, and insecurity that are rocking their lives. And there is a particular effort directed at Black people—to mislead them into blaming their oppressive conditions (which arise from the capitalist-imperialist system) on immigrants, with whom Black people actually have much in common.
But even as they ruthlesslessly take advantage of immigrants, these exploiters and oppressors also fear those they mess over. These immigrants are crucial to their economy, but the rulers also see these immigrants as a potential source of instability and upheaval for their system. Many of the immigrants have bitter experience with and hatred for Yankee domination and plunder—like the one and a half million peasants in Mexico who lost their means of livelihood after the Mexican government signed the NAFTA “free trade” agreement with the U.S., opening the door to massive imports of cheap agricultural products into their country. The rulers are afraid that such immigrants will strain the fabric of “national unity” within their imperialist home base that they rely on to get people to go along with their wars and aggression around the world.
So the imperialists are compelled to keep intensifying the repression against immigrants. They want to prevent immigrants from joining together with the oppressed masses and workers born in this country and bringing their understanding and experiences with imperialism and struggle against it to bear. This is a big part of what's behind all these bills, which are all designed to tighten things up against immigrants. And while George Bush is portrayed as being "in the middle" in the immigration debate among the ruling elite (because as the representative of the strategic interests of his class, he is not at this point pushing the most draconian anti-immigrant measures), the overall Bush agenda—a concentrated expression of this system of naked imperialist aggression globally and quickening steps toward fascism at home—has set the stage and created the climate for shameless liars and demagogues like Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly, Tom Tancredo and the rest, who spread virulent anti-immigrant hatred and aggressively promote the “white, European, English-speaking” identity of the American nation.
The proletariat approaches this question in a totally different way. The proletariat is the class that owns nothing—that has nothing to lose but its chains and a world to win. It's a class made up of people around the world whose labor, collectively, is the foundation of society and produces tremendous wealth, which is stolen by a small number of capitalist exploiters who turn that product of collective labor into “private wealth” and a means for further exploitation.
The proletariat has every interest in digging into and uncovering the truth, and acting to transform the world on that basis. And the truth is that the millions of immigrants in this country, “legal” or “illegal,” are victims of the imperialist system. And they are totally justified in demanding full rights and to live and work without being hunted down like animals or labeled as "criminals" and "aliens."
The proletariat wholeheartedly embraces the immigrant brothers and sisters and says, "Bienvenidos! Welcome!"
There is a multinational proletariat in the U.S., numbering in the tens of millions and including Black, white, Latino, and other oppressed peoples. The revolutionary proletariat as a class does not identify itself with any particular nation. The proletariat renounces the chauvinistic identity of the American nation—that serves imperialism. Its identity is that of the international proletariat, and from that standpoint the proletariat insists on the equality of nations, including equality of culture and language.
The capitalist rulers fear the immigrants as a threat to their "national unity," but the proletariat welcomes the diversity brought by immigrants from around the world—and especially the wealth of knowledge among them of the brutal reality of U.S. imperialism and their experience in fighting against it. We welcome these immigrants as a great and vital source of strength in the revolutionary struggle against this monstrous system. And we value the diversity of languages, music, literature, art, cuisines, and so on that greatly enrich people's culture as a whole.
And we are looking forward to and working to bring about a future revolutionary situation—when the objective conditions have sharpened through huge shocks and changes in society overall, when tens of millions throughout society have come to view this system as worthless, when there is a class conscious section of the masses willing and determined to put everything on the line for revolution, and when the struggle to overthrow the rule of the capitalist-imperialists would then be on the order of the day. At such a time, the battering down of the southern border would surely be a big part of the revolutionary struggle for power.
Upon seizing power through revolution, the proletariat would immediately end the many abuses and discrimination that immigrants now suffer under U.S. imperialist rule—as part of the revolutionary transformation of the society as a whole. At the same time, the contribution of immigrants from around the world would continue to lend great strength to the proletariat as it leads all aspects of the socialist revolution and the advance of the world revolution toward the final aim of communism.
Imagine a new society where immigrants are invited into classrooms to teach new generations of youth about the countless horrendous crimes that the U.S. and other imperialists have committed. Imagine a society where instead of being put down for not speaking English or not understanding “American culture,” immigrants play an active role in helping others learn about diverse histories, cultures and languages, as part of the exciting flowering of a new socialist culture and education.
And, as the Draft Programme of the RCP,USA says, “In the communist future, the idea of borders that divide and rank people will be as absurd as the idea of 'racial divisions,' and the word 'immigrant' itself will lose its meaning.”
What is now the official U.S.-Mexico border was drawn up after an unprovoked U.S. war against Mexico in the 1840s that was waged to rob huge expanses of territory, in order to extend the slave system of the U.S. South as well as to expand U.S. capitalism overall. And just in the last ten years, over 4,000 people have died trying to cross this border through the remote desert and mountain terrain in an attempt to avoid the walls and concentrated militarization of the border near urban areas. It's an outrage that some in the ruling class want to build more walls along the border. But just as deadly is the "virtual wall" called for by others among the rulers—consisting of more high-tech military and police equipment, along with greatly increased Border Patrol forces deployed against immigrants. Physical or "virtual," the border wall is part of the U.S. government's militarization of the border, and it has real costs in human lives.
There is nothing sacred or permanent, and nothing worth respecting, about the present border between the U.S. and Mexico!
During the Cold War of the 1980s, U.S. President Ronald Reagan went to the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the intense contention (including threat of nuclear war) in that period between the rival blocs of imperialist gangsters headed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union. As a representative of the U.S. rulers, Reagan threw out a challenge to the head of the Soviets: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." A few years later, the U.S. imperialists ended up victorious in that clash between two imperialist superpowers.
From a diametrically opposite class standpoint and with a completely different historical mission, the revolutionary proletariat declares in the face of the deadly anti-immigrant offensive of Bush and his class: "Tear Down That Wall!"
Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom
Revolution, March 08, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Editors Note: The following is drawn from a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, to a group of Party members and supporters in 2005. It has been edited for publication here, and subheads and footnotes have been added.
Revolution is publishing this work by Bob Avakian in installments. Published so far are:
Once again, we come to our old friend, Immanuel Kant. If you read carefully the "Conversations" book,1 you will see that Bill Martin didn't particularly like the way I dealt with Kant's categorical moral imperative in my book Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?, and we had some discussion of this. Here enters in a point that Samuel Johnson, an 18th-century English writer and literary critic, raised about Shakespeare. Samuel Johnson said that for Shakespeare, the pun was the apple for which he would gladly give up all of paradise. In other words, Shakespeare, he alleged, was willing to torture his own text in order to get puns in there. Well, there's an application of this to the "Democracy" book. I really wanted to make this pun, which is in there, about how Kant's categorical moral imperative reduces itself ultimately to mere "cant." So I did. [laughter] But this formulation bothered Bill, so for that as well as more overall reasons, we discussed this further. He didn't like this dismissal of this as mere "cant"—and, just for the record, I did have more analysis than just that punning statement in the "Democracy" book. [laughter] But Bill raised some important points about this and we had further discussion about it, and it would be worthwhile to return to it here, the question of this transcendental moral imperative: Always treat people never as a means to an end, but only as an end unto themselves.
I pointed out in the "Democracy" book, and also in the conversation with Bill Martin, that this is unrealizable in a society divided into classes, and is not desirable in that situation; nor is it realizable or desirable in communist society. And this has to do with a materialist, a communist understanding of communism.
First of all, we should all understand that in essence anyone who insists that other people do things they may not want to do is violating this Kantian categorical moral imperative; and you cannot live in society and avoid violating this. And, yes, this does apply as well to leaders of a vanguard communist party and of a revolutionary struggle in which that party plays a decisive role. Clearly, in the conditions where there is a mass revolutionary struggle for state power, those who lead that struggle will, of necessity, send people into encounters and into battles knowing that some of them will not return—and if they did not do that, there could be no revolutionary struggle for power. But in doing this, those leaders will be grossly violating the Kantian categorical moral imperative—and for very good reasons and purposes.
But, more generally, why do I say that this Kantian principle cannot be carried out in a society divided into classes? Well, to get to something fundamental about capitalist society, for example, it is impossible for the bourgeoisie, the capitalist ruling class, not to treat members of the proletariat as means to an end—that's the very essence and definition of the fundamental relations of capitalism. And, on the other hand, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, it is also not possible for the proletariat not to treat the overthrown bourgeoisie, and those who constitute the bourgeoisie, as people whose individual strivings have to be suppressed and curtailed—they cannot be viewed as only an end in themselves—or else the danger of capitalist restoration will be greatly increased. Now, on a certain level, it's easier to see this in relation to class society; and, in fact, what we discover if we look at this further is that it is not a very far leap from the pronouncement of the Kantian categorical moral imperative of only treating people as an end in themselves, and never a means to an end—to the principle of each individual putting herself or himself at the center of everything and of ending up with the principle of everybody "looking out for number one," to put it simply.
What often goes along with this is a kind of "solipsism"—a philosophical outlook that says that the only thing you can be certain of is your own existence and your own experience, what you can perceive of and relate to from that foundation. And there is a kind of "me, Al Franken" solipsism that is a concentrated expression of this individualist outlook. What I mean by "me, Al Franken" solipsism is this: Al Franken used to have this satirical routine back in the '70s, on Saturday Night Live, in which the refrain, the punch line, was: "me, Al Franken." "Yes, I realize that there is a Cold War out there, somebody has to stand up to the Soviets, and I think many people should do it, but it should be somebody else who does it, not me, Al Franken. I'm not gonna do it—you go do it, but make sure it benefits me, Al Franken." Now, let's go back to the first sentence on democracy, the first of the three sentences I paraphrased earlier, which begins "In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequalities"2 —well, if you set out to implement the Kantian categorical moral imperative in these circumstances, in reality you will be driven and compelled into a world of competition with other people in which you will either take on an "altruistic" view of subordinating yourself to other people, which will definitely be the minority at any given time, or the opposite—seeking to subordinate other people to yourself—which will definitely be the way the majority of people will approach this, and they will end up in "me, Al Franken-ism." The actual workings of society, the workings of a world and a society that are in fact marked by profound class divisions and social inequalities, and are driven by the compelling force of anarchy and commodity production and exchange, will not allow you, even in the relation of individuals, to carry out that Kantian principle in reality. Necessity will impinge on you, and on other individuals, and it will not be possible to implement this principle, even in terms of the relations among individuals, let alone in the society and the world at large, with their profound divisions and inequalities.
And even in communist society, it will never be the case that individuals do not need to subordinate themselves, in an overall sense, to the larger interests of society. This has to do with Marx's famous statement that "right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and the culture conditioned thereby." Now, this will take a radically different expression in communist society than it does in class society—the subordination of individuals to the larger interests of society will take a qualitatively different expression in a communist world, even as compared to socialist society and the dictatorship of the proletariat. But it will never be the case that you could have a society where the organizing and "operative" principle of society is that every individual will treat every other individual as a completely autonomous unit, which always must be approached, regarded and treated as an end in itself. And if you try to do that, the necessity that you're up against, yes, even in communist society, will overwhelm you and push you backward. To take one important historical expression of this, Engels analyzed what all the lofty principles of the French revolution—which was, in reality, the most advanced and radical of the bourgeois revolutions—devolved down into in reality: the principles of freedom and equality, fraternity, liberty, etc., devolved down into what we can recognize today as the traditional and fundamental relations and conventions of bourgeois society. Why? Because those who proclaimed these principles were all hypocrites? No, in most instances that was far from the case. But things turned out as Engels analyzed them because the material conditions, the underlying economic base, and the corresponding superstructure will exert themselves—once again this goes back to the decisive point that people make history but not in any way they wish; and the point spoken to earlier about how there is no such thing as an economy in the abstract, or in the absence of definite relations of production—in any economy, in any society founded on a certain economy, people enter into a definite set of production relations and a corresponding set of social relations, and not in any old way they wish but as a result of the contradiction between necessity and whatever freedom they are able to achieve by transforming necessity at a given time.
So, how you relate to other individuals will be fundamentally shaped by this. This will be true even outside of class society, once humanity has moved beyond class-divided society. And certainly within class society, the way individuals related to each other will be shaped by production and social relations that take form as relations of oppressor and oppressed, exploiter and exploited, class difference and opposition, and fundamentally class antagonism. And we see this expressed all the time. As with the French revolution, slogans like "freedom" are given different content by different people. The "freedom of the home owner"—a very important principle in American society, the freedom of the home owner. In my Memoir, From Ike To Mao and Beyond, My Journey From Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, I talked about a situation where there was a fair housing battle in Berkeley, back in the early 1960s, and this guy who opposed the fair housing initiative was on the Les Crane radio show, debating with someone supporting fair housing, and this opponent of fair housing was insisting "I'm not a racist, I just don't want the government telling me what I can do with my property, my house. I earned the money to buy my house." So I called up, got on the air and said to this guy: "Do you object when the government has regulations about how far apart you can have electrical outlets in your house?" "Oh, no, everybody understands that's reasonable." "Well, then," I concluded, "when you're raising the slogan ‘the freedom of the home owner,’ what you're really saying is you are a racist—you don't mind the government telling you about electrical outlets, but you don't want them telling you that you can't refuse to sell your house to Black people."
So this lofty principle of "freedom of the individual"—what content does it have here, with regard to "the rights of the home owner," given the existing social relations. If we were to treat that home owner as an end in himself, and never a means to an end, we would have to accede to his desire to do as he wished with his home, regardless of the question of the larger social good or harm. Now, particularly as communists, there is a contradiction we have to recognize and handle correctly—this is bound up with what Mao identified as the contradiction between the government and the people in socialist society—there is a contradiction between the larger societal good and the role of individuals. And there is the need to recognize the importance of not simply trampling on the latter in the name of the former. I'll come back to that more fully, a little later, when I discuss Rawls's theory of justice.3
But we see that these lofty principles about "freedom" find different social expression, take on different social content, depending on the larger matrix of social and fundamentally production relations and corresponding superstructure in which they exist. This applies to things like "equal opportunity" or "equality before the law." These are principles of the bourgeois revolution and bourgeois society, but they pose themselves in opposition to the communist principle and objective of moving beyond the calculation of social equality and inequality, moving beyond the realm where inequality, or equality, has meaning—or, once again, moving beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right. The communist slogan and principle "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs" is a slogan which is beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right. It is beyond the calculation of equality and inequality. And in moving from socialism to communism we also will move beyond the sphere of the law, and therefore of equality before the law. Once there are no longer conflicting property relations, once there are no longer relations of commodity production and exchange, once there are no longer class antagonisms and in fact we have moved beyond class distinctions altogether, then there will no longer be a need for law to codify and institutionalize the relations among people. Once again, all this is involved in moving beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right.
Now let's look at some other fundamental views of freedom as refracted through the viewpoint of the bourgeoisie, in order to shed some light on the communist, the materialist as opposed to the idealist, and ultimately bourgeois, view of freedom, and of the relations among people. "Free markets," we hear a lot about that these days. And a "free labor force"—is that an advance over a labor force that's literally enslaved and held as the property of others? Yes. But is it really free, in relation to the objectives of communism? This came up in the debate around the Party Programme during the time when the newspaper was publishing articles and there was debate on the Web about the Draft Programme. Raymond Lotta wrote a series of articles about the market, because some people were on the Web arguing that it has been proven that the socialist planning mechanism has fundamental flaws, so we need to give more expression to the market under socialism. And he raised a question in those articles: If you're going to say that, then what about a labor market: should labor power, its price and distribution within the economy, and so on, be determined by the market? And if not, how can you really have a fully free market; or how can the market really operate if such basic things as labor power are not part of the market mechanism, and are not being determined by the operation of the market?
The fact is that these slogans, "free market" and "free labor," have a definite social and class content. "Free labor" corresponds to a labor force that is free and mobile, not owned outright and chained to a particular employer, a particular exploiter, but "free" to be employed and to be "let go"—to be hired and to be fired—according to the needs and dictates of capitalist accumulation and the pursuit of capitalist profit. And "free markets" have to do with reinforcing the narrow confines of bourgeois right. Leaving aside the specifics of the labor market, the operation of the market in general has to do with reinforcing the narrow confines of bourgeois right, forcing things to remain within the dynamic of commodity production and exchange, even if we were to leave aside the question of labor power becoming a commodity and that being the basis for the exploitation of the proletariat and in fact for the creation of wealth under capitalism. Even if we left that aside, "free markets" is a direct expression of the commodity principle—of the production and exchange of the material requirements of life in the form of commodity production and exchange and the corresponding production and social relations, and corresponding superstructure. And, within the confines of this form of the production and exchange of the material requirements of life, people will never be able to approach and to plan social production from the point of view of the overall needs of society, nor for that matter, to approach meeting the needs and wants of the individual members of society in a conscious and planned way; instead, all this will always take place "behind the backs" of the members of society and through a process that pits them in competition and propels them into antagonism with each other—and, again, this even without taking into account the fact that, in the actual development of things in a system in which commodity production and exchange are fully developed and generalized, labor power itself will inevitably become a commodity to be bought and sold, and the corresponding relations of exploiter and exploited will emerge and intensify, and along with that a whole ensemble of oppressive and antagonistic social relations. All that is bound to happen with the full development of "free markets"—and, in fact, it is bound to happen in any situation where the operation of "the market" is the pivotal and decisive factor in the economy and therefore in the life of society.
So all these things have a social content which reflects, once again, the relations between the forces and relations of production and between the economic base and the superstructure. Now, especially with the beginning of the bourgeois era, although even before that in different ways, every ruling class identifies its interest and its notion of freedom with the general interests of society and the general freedom of the people in society. Every class—particularly once you get to the bourgeois era, but in a different way with the feudal nobility and the monarchy, and even with the slave-owning class—they all have proclaimed, in one way or another, that their particular interests were the general interests of society. And in this era, the ruling classes and their conscious political representatives, whether bourgeois or proletarian, whether in capitalist society or in socialist society, have each in their own way put forward that the interests of their class represent the general interests of humanity, and that the freedom their class was striving for represented the general embodiment of freedom for humanity, or liberation for humanity. In the case of the bourgeoisie, we know and we have seen all too vividly what that means. In the case of the proletariat, it means moving beyond the narrow confines of bourgeois right, moving beyond the underlying basis in commodity production and exchange and the corresponding economic laws, such as the law of value (which gives expression to the fact that the value of any commodity is determined by the socially necessary labor time involved in the creation of that commodity). So general proclamations about freedom, or about the rights of individuals, have to be viewed in a materialist and dialectical way to see what, in fact, they mean, and what they become embodied as, in actuality. In other words, the essential question is: these ideals are a superstructural expression of what?—of which set of production and social relations and which corresponding political relations, structures and institutions? That's always the question we have to ask. Just as when we hear about an economy we have to ask: what are the production relations and the corresponding social relations and the corresponding superstructure?
And, again, even in communist society, it is not going to be the case that you are going to have some loose amalgam of individuals, who all come together for the greater good, but fundamentally are proceeding from being autonomous entities who are ends in themselves. Communism will never be achieved on that basis, it will never be realized and take shape on that basis and in that way. And in fact, for the same reason, the greater freedom of individuals will never be realized and take shape and find expression in that way.
Now, with regard the question of freedom and democracy, and the rights of the people, a fundamental point is that when the relations of production are such that the masses of people are denied ownership of the means of production—and therefore are dependent, for their very life and livelihood, on a small group, or class, that monopolizes ownership of the means of production—there is, in the very essence of things, a situation in which these masses have been denied the fundamental ability, or "right" if you will, to exercise essential control even over their own lives, let alone over society. Even over their own lives, let alone over society as a whole. And not only does this economic relationship—in which one class exercises the power of life and death over others—qualitatively limit, in many ways, the ability of those "others" to take part in and to play any decisive role in determining the direction of society (and this is spoken to in a number of dimensions in the talk Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism); but this economic relationship is, and can only be, reflected in the superstructure, in particular in the ways that political power is embodied and exercised to reinforce the exploitative economic relations.
Now, in examining further the relationship between the base and the superstructure and the relative autonomy of the superstructure, on the one hand, and how the superstructure reacts back on the economic base—we see that in the world today such phenomena as "neo-liberalism," the further unleashing of more unfettered commodity operation and capitalist exploitation, and globalization are leading to less solidity and stability, more volatility and anxiety, economically and, yes, socially for broad strata of people, including in the imperialist countries. Not only is this bringing tremendous upheaval in the Third World, which I referred to earlier—peasants being driven off the land in massive numbers and into urban shantytowns, and people being driven from their home country to far-flung places across the globe, in the desperate search for survival and a livelihood—but in imperialist society as well. This is something Edward Luttwak pointed out in Turbo-Capitalism: Even where people make a lot of money quickly, which for example was a marked phenomenon of the 1990s, there was not the same stability and solidity that there was in previous times in the U.S. You could make a lot of money and then be "out" the next week. There is no guarantee of hanging onto a job for a lifetime, let alone of "passing it on," in essence, to your children and having them advance to yet another level beyond what you attained. And, along with this, there is the destruction of the New Deal, and "Great Society" programs, and the whole unleashing of "free market fundamentalism" as the increasingly dominant ideology, along with, and reinforced in many ways by, religious fundamentalism, particularly Christian fundamentalism in the U.S. So we see "fiscal conservatism," the ending of a lot of the concessionary programs characteristic of the "Great Society," the ending of a certain government role in the economy and in society characteristic of what was brought forth through the New Deal (about which I'll have more to say later)—we see that in conjunction with "fiscal conservatism" (slashing of social programs, tax cuts for the rich, and so on), and we see how, despite certain contradictions, this meshes with "social conservatism" buttressed by religious fundamentalism. And all this has to do with the point of "turbo-capitalism" and the heightened globalization, where people are feeling, as Luttwak put it, an urge toward non-economic expressions flowing from economic causes, from economic instability and the corresponding anxiety. This is one of the important things on the terrain that we have to deal with; it has to do with all these slogans of "freedom," and it has to do with the whole direction of society now.
As a matter of fact, the workings of "neo-liberalism" and fiscal conservatism (again: slashing of social programs, tax cuts for the wealthy and corporate interests, etc.) along with globalization, are actually against the economic interests of not only the masses of proletarians and poor people but also much of the petty bourgeoisie, many of whom actually suffer significant economic dislocation, uncertainty and even hardship as a result of these programs and the forces driving them. So, on the part of the ruling class—and in particular those sections most determined to get rid of remainders of the New Deal and "Great Society" programs—there is a need, which they are recognizing, to "cohere" and organize people around "social conservatism," grounding it to a significant degree in religious fundamentalism, or Christian Fascism, as we correctly call it. Again, there is the point that Luttwak formulates as "the non-economic expression of economic dissatisfactions." And this is all very complex.
A number of people, like Thomas Frank, who wrote What's the Matter with Kansas, have tried to put forward some sort of a social-democratic, populist view—not a proletarian and not a scientific communist view, but a social-democratic, populist view—to speak to this phenomenon. And even more crudely, some people coming from a kind of narrow economist, social-democratic point of view have fallen into insisting that all this "social conservatism," or religious fundamentalism, is just a diversion to keep people from actually acting on their own economic interests. This is a serious error and involves failing to grasp the way in which these superstructural things, in particular this whole religious fundamentalism, while it has an ultimate basis in economic changes in society and social changes in society, takes on a relative life of its own, has a relative autonomy as an ideological expression. And so people like Thomas Frank are trying to figure out: how can we get these strata, like small farmers who are being driven under by Monsanto and these other big agro-corporations, how can we get them to recognize that these very forces they're supporting by voting Republican are actually grinding them under? Or workers who were laid off, how can we get them to understand that the attacks on unions and the slashing of the New Deal and "Great Society" is undermining their position and is actually against their interests? But, along with the fact that this is confined within the narrow framework of Republicans vs. Democrats—within the narrow confines of the dominant bourgeois politics—it is being approached, by these social-democrats and bourgeois-democratic progressives, in a way that underestimates the relative autonomy of the superstructure and the way that this, in turn, reacts back upon things in the economic base and in the social relations.
In a certain way, there is an expression here or a parallel with Marx's point in "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte" about the relationship between the shopkeeper and the democratic intellectual.4 But here, too, it is very important to understand this dialectically, not mechanically. What did Marx say? He said that, in their daily life, in their way of approaching things, the democratic intellectuals, on the one hand, and the shopkeepers, on the other hand, may be as far apart as heaven and earth—that's quite a ways apart—but in their thinking, in the realm of ideas, in their conception of how society ought to be and what are the driving forces in society, and so on, the democratic intellectuals do not get farther in that realm than the shopkeepers get in everyday practical life. Marx also said, in the same work, that these intellectual representatives of the petty bourgeoisie want to be above classes, but they are actually being buffeted by the contest of the two major classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, in between which they find themselves. And so Marx is bringing to light that the expression that this gives rise to in the realm of theory may be airy and may be very far removed from the everyday humdrum exchange of commodities which characterizes the life of the shopkeeper; but the fact is that the thinking of the democratic intellectuals does not rupture out of the bounds that are ultimately conditioned by commodity production and exchange. Even the way such intellectuals conceive of notions of freedom and democracy, and so on, are a reflection of these underlying commodity relations. That is the point of Marx, his extremely profound point, in the "18th Brumaire." His is a very dialectical materialist approach and analysis, not a vulgar, mechanical, determinist and reductionist one.
And there's a parallel here with people who rally to religious fundamentalism, for example: for the great majority of them, their actual situation is such that their economic interests are in conflict with the policies and programs toward which these people are being pulled. It is important to understand the complexity of what's going on here. This is not just a gimmick, this religious fundamentalism: This is giving organized, reactionary expression to a general feeling among significant sections of the intermediate strata of society, as well as among some of the masses at the base of society, that the things that "anchored" their way of life, and give stability to their livelihood, are being undermined and uprooted—it is a way of identifying this with the loss of traditional, and in particular patriarchal, values, conventions, and relations, and in turn identifying this with the need to forcefully assert not only traditional but literalist, fundamentalist, absolutist religion, in particular Christian fundamentalism. We should understand the complexity of all this. It is, once again, Marx's the "heaven and earth" point. There is not a direct one-to-one crude mechanical correspondence between what happens to people economically and how they conceive of that, as refracted through all the different social relations—as it is bent, if you will, when it enters into the whole superstructural realm of ideas and culture, and so on. These ideas and this culture, including reactionary Christian fundamentalism, find ultimate determination in the underlying economic base, but that is its ultimate determination. We have to grasp the dialectics of this, and crude, mechanical materialism will not help.
Now one of the things that I brought up in the polemic against K. Venu 5 is that people like him, as I put it, take bourgeois democracy "more seriously" than the bourgeoisie does! They actually believe, or get taken in and swept along by, the idea that this is, after all, some sort of democracy which is extended to individuals without regard to class content. Whereas the bourgeoisie knows, or senses very well, that—guess what?—this is a dictatorship. It acts on that understanding, and its most conscious representatives particularly act on that, or they do not remain representatives of that class. Not that somebody's sitting there, giving them a "pass" or flushing them out, but this is the way it works out through all the dynamics. We should never forget this point. Bourgeois democracy is bourgeois dictatorship. It is a means of political rule that often corresponds most appropriately to the interests of the bourgeois ruling class and its forms of exploitation, but it is that, and not something else. It is a form of dictatorship.
We can look at examples in history to see what political expressions and political actions this has taken with regard to important representatives of the bourgeoisie. We can go back to Kant. I made the point to Bill Martin that just because Kant thought Frederick the Great was really great doesn't mean we should ignore and not engage his philosophical writings, and his writings on ethics and so on. But the fact is that his lofty notions of freedom and autonomy, and so on, did boil down to supporting "an enlightened despot." And that has meaning. There is a reason for that. As I pointed out, it's not right to just dismiss someone's philosophy because it is accompanied by a reactionary political viewpoint, but it is a legitimate question: what is the connection between a philosophy and the political expression it takes?
Or look at another historical figure who is generally associated with the rise of the bourgeoisie, Martin Luther. With Luther, it is another one of those cases where he didn't intend to at the beginning, but he ended up leading, or giving rise to, the Protestant Reformation. He nailed his theses on the door of a church, and basically began to elaborate the principle that you don't need the institutions and officials of the church to get to god, you could go directly to god yourself as an individual. This was in the realm of the superstructure—and the ways in which this served the rise of the bourgeoisie and capitalism do not find expression in some crude and reductionist sense. It's not that Martin Luther articulated these principles, or theses, and pounded them on the door of the church because he wanted to open up a sweatshop. No. These were superstructural expressions which, however, arose in relation to bourgeois relations of production that were beginning to emerge at that time, and things like Luther's theological ideas in turn gave further impetus to those bourgeois production relations as well as to the corresponding superstructure. What was happening in that realm—attacking the church and basically its embodiment of feudalism in the superstructure, or the role of the church and its doctrines and dogma in reflecting, in the superstructure, the relations of production and social relations characteristic of feudalism—had a lot to do with the emerging bourgeois revolution and the unleashing of more initiative and creativity to develop science and other things, which were utilized by the bourgeoisie. This is so, not in a crude determinist way or reductionist sense, but in a dialectical sense.
But what did Martin Luther do when the peasants in Germany rose up? He demanded that they be nailed to the wall, literally. He advocated the most sanguinary, bloodthirsty suppression of these peasants—and, in so doing, he acted perfectly on behalf of the bourgeoisie, which proclaims "freedom" insofar as the constraints on its relations of production and corresponding superstructure are removed by the realization of its concept of "freedom," but which exercises dictatorship in the most ruthless way when necessary over the classes that it exploits and oppresses.
Or let's go back to John Stuart Mill. Without repeating everything that has been said earlier with regard to Mill, and his ideas on liberty, let's keep in mind here what he thought were necessarily the very severe limitations on that liberty, including for colonial peoples and proletarians who were even attempting to strike, to say nothing of class-conscious proletarians who were moving to overthrow and abolish capitalism altogether.
Or what about Thomas Jefferson? There was recently an article, I think it was in the New York Times Book Review section (or it might have been in the New York Times Magazine, I can't remember which) but it's about this other slave owner who wrote to Thomas Jefferson, talking about how he wanted to set his slaves free, and trying to figure out what was the best way to do this, and looking for backing from Jefferson, because, of course, freeing his slaves would be controversial among the slave owners. And, as discussed in this recent article, Jefferson came back very firmly, saying, No, you must absolutely not do this. Yes, eventually slavery will be ended, but right now it's very important that we protect the ownership of this form of property. And yet Jefferson was an advocate of the Enlightenment, and articulated many principles of the bourgeois revolution. This is a peculiar feature of America, where slavery was mixed in with the development of capitalism for 100 years or more. But here again you see that these bourgeois notions of freedom are historically and socially conditioned and have meaning and content in relation to the actual conditions in which they arise and are articulated. They are not abstract and universal principles which all should strive for, and which will be applied to all, regardless of class content.
I was joking around with people, talking about this movie which came out some time ago, with Anthony Hopkins, called Magic. Hopkins played this ventriloquist whose personality was taken over more and more by the alter-ego of the dummy, and pretty soon he couldn't distinguish the two and, in fact, "the dummy" more and more became his personality. And at a certain point, a friend of his said to the Anthony Hopkins character, this is becoming a serious problem. But Anthony Hopkins' character refused to recognize this, he wouldn't acknowledge the problem. So finally his friend said: Look, I'll tell you what, put the dummy away in its case for a day—just for a day—don't talk to the dummy, and don't talk in the dummy's voice for a whole day. Well, finally, Anthony Hopkins' character tried to do this, and he couldn't. The compulsion was overwhelming. Well, for many people who are progressive-minded but don't have a scientific, materialist understanding of things, they can't go a single day without talking about democracy in a classless way. This is how they see the world.
To refer again to the statement by Marx, in "The 18th Brumaire," about the relation between shopkeepers and democratic intellectuals, these people who are so enamored of an idealized notion of democracy are not shopkeepers, but they reflect in their thinking the underlying relations of commodity production and exchange. And some of them, in their thinking about how to reform society, try to proceed from this notion of democracy, a classless democracy, to superimpose that on the actual underlying economic base. You will hear them say things like "well, we need to `democratize' the economy." This is inverting the reality of things. The democracy they are talking about is actually an expression of the existing production and social relations, and has a definite social and class content—in reality it is bourgeois democracy and is the outer form whose inner essence is bourgeois dictatorship—but then they're trying to take that and superimpose it on the reality of capitalism, in order to "democratize the economy." What would that even mean, in a society marked by profound class divisions and social inequalities? And even if you could somehow "wipe the slate clean" and eliminate all the big corporations, for example, as long as you left intact and in effect the underlying foundation of commodity production and exchange, then the profound inequalities and class divisions, and the emergence of monopolies, etc., would all reassert itself rather quickly.
So this is the fundamental idealism of these views and ways in which underlying relations get reflected in the superstructure. To refer again to Marx's extremely insightful and important observation, the ideas of the democratic intellectual are not a direct expression of what the shopkeeper does in everyday practical life, but these ideas do not rupture beyond the realm that the shopkeeper deals in, in everyday practical life—they do not rupture, in other words, beyond the narrow confines and horizons of bourgeois right. So the point in talking about Kant, or Martin Luther, or Jefferson, or Mill, or others that we could cite, is not that these exponents of "freedom" and "liberty" were all simply "hypocrites," but that their "lofty ideals" represented and expressed a certain world outlook—which, in turn, was the reflection and in a certain sense a concentration, of certain definite social, and fundamentally production, relations. And if we go back and look at the "Democracy" book and "Phony/Real,"6 we see there discussion and illustration of the contrasting proletarian and bourgeois views of these things like freedom and liberation, and an examination of what the bourgeois ideal of freedom amounts to and devolves back into in the real world—how it is an expression of relations of exploitation and oppression—and how one's ideas will inevitably be that, so long as one does not rupture beyond the bounds of bourgeois right.
The short pamphlet I wrote some years ago on the U.S. Constitution7 speaks to the basic point that this Constitution is indeed, as the title of that pamphlet puts it, "An Exploiters' Vision of Freedom," and that, besides enshrining slavery—and even after slavery was abolished and an Amendment added to the Constitution which institutionalized the illegality of slavery—there was a fundamental relation of exploitation that was not prohibited by this Constitution: the relation in which someone hires the labor power of another (or in reality many others) and derives profit from the employment of that labor power. As seen through the worldview of capitalism, the ability to do this is the quintessential and highest form of freedom—and there is no recognition of the fact that this involves a fundamental negation of the freedom of the many whose labor power is controlled and used in this way by a force that stands over and above them as an alien and indeed oppressive, and repressive, force. This relationship is very well captured in the fact that, at least when I was coming up, as they say, particularly among Black people, it was very common to refer to a job—a job in which labor power is exchanged for wages—as a "slave."
Of course, from the bourgeois standpoint this relationship is not only not exploitation, but is the defining principle of a good society. Just read Ayn Rand, if you want to see a celebration of it, in undisguised and unapologetic terms. Again, there is no recognition that this is a fundamental negation of the freedom of the many who are in this position of being exploited and oppressed. And the point, once again, is that, given a generalized commodity system, which is characteristic of capitalism—and its "freedom"—the principles and operation of commodity production and exchange will lead inexorably to the reduction of labor power itself to a commodity, to a situation where masses of people are forced to sell their ability to work to someone else (or to a succession of other people, a succession of owners of means of production, of capitalists) in order to be able to live. And even with the overthrow of capitalist rule and the establishment of socialism, unless you continue to move toward uprooting and abolishing all commodity production and exchange, and its reflection in the superstructure, you will revert back to a situation where labor power once again becomes a commodity, in other words, back to capitalism.
So when we look at these notions of freedom, and if we think about the importance of not falling into the error of K. Venu (and he is not alone in this, even among communists), the error of taking bourgeois democracy more seriously than the bourgeoisie, and believing in it beyond the ways in which the bourgeoisie believes in it—with all this in mind, we can take a lesson from things like the incident I cited in the speech, "Revolution," which is now on DVD8: the example of when I was doing a speaking tour and doing media appearances in 1979, and as part of that I did a program in Cleveland with several Black journalists. The moderator of this program was a young Black woman, and there were three other Black journalists, and (I have made this observation before) this was actually one of the most interesting discussions I had with people in the media: these Black journalists actually asked serious questions: Why do you think revolution is possible? What would you do about this problem? How would you deal with that? They were actually substantive questions, instead of the cynical and even snotty questions you get from a lot of the media, much of the time. And then there's the story of what happened—and I tell this story, again, because it captures so much—after the program was over, and in an almost off-hand way, the woman who had been the moderator of the program turned and said to me: " My, you're awfully brave." I was sort of taken aback, and I asked, "Why do you say that?" And she replied, very matter-of-factly: "You know, they kill people for saying what you're saying."
Now just think about what that captures. She didn't say they kill people for doing certain things, she said they kill people for saying what you're saying. A lot of times people, particularly in the middle strata, think we're exaggerating things, when we talk about bourgeois democracy as a dictatorship, they don't believe that really corresponds to reality. So I have a test for any who are willing to take it up. Go into any neighborhood in any inner city in the U.S., and get to know the people well, so they'll talk to you honestly, and put to them a very simple question: If there is a revolutionary leadership and a revolutionary leader who is calling for revolution in the U.S., just calling for it, and if they are getting a real mass following among many people like you, what will happen to them, what will the government do or try to do to them? And if you can find one in ten who won't say they'll either kill that person or in some other way move to silence them and effectively remove them from the scene, I'll give you a big prize. This response—which, again, I am confident would be the overwhelming response from people, like those in the inner cities, who have felt the hard blows of this bourgeois dictatorship—this response would be a reflection, even if not a scientific summation nevertheless a very real reflection, of the reality of bourgeois dictatorship.
Of course, the challenge for us, for our Party and its leadership, is to develop a mass following, among the millions and millions of people in the inner cities and indeed among all sections of the people, to give this an organized expression—and to do this without the leadership being killed off and destroyed. But that, again, is in recognition of the reality we confront—in particular the reality that this society is, in fact, ruled by a bourgeois dictatorship.
So we should not be taken in by the lofty-sounding slogans of "freedom" and "democracy." When these are put forward without class content—and especially when they are put forward as a defense, or a celebration, of what exists in the U.S., and/or of the role of the U.S. in the world—this is, "at best," an expression of thinking that is confined within the narrow framework of bourgeois right, and it is an expression that objectively serves to cover over the reality and actual nature of bourgeois dictatorship reinforcing the underlying production and social relations of capitalist-imperialist exploitation and oppression from which these ideas ultimately arise and in which they are ultimately rooted. This is the actual relation between the base and superstructure in capitalist society.
And particularly in this era of imperialism, there is another dimension to this—and that is the relations between bourgeois democracy, especially in the imperialist countries, and imperialism itself. In Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? I quoted a statement from The Science of Revolution9 about the "worm-eaten platform of democracy" in the imperialist countries and how the foundation for this is not, in political terms, represented by the Bill of Rights (I'm paraphrasing here) but is embodied in the military dictator, the torturer, and similar types carrying out openly tyrannical rule throughout the Third World. In the era of imperialism, this is the relation between bourgeois democracy—and, for that matter, social-democracy (bourgeois democracy with a weak "socialist" coloration)—and imperialism. This applies, of course, not only to the U.S., but to imperialist countries in general. Just as in the economic sphere, to the degree that concessions are made and spoils are dribbled out to sections of the labor aristocracy and broader sections of the working class at times, and to the petty bourgeoisie, so too, in the superstructure, in the political sphere, to the degree that certain strata are able to not feel immediately the sting of dictatorship in an imperialist country, it is because of imperialist plunder throughout the world and imperialist relations of domination and exploitation on an international scale—even though, for the intermediate strata in the "home" imperialist country, as soon as they do anything, politically or otherwise, that would pose any threat in the eyes of the political operatives of the ruling class, they would, indeed, feel the sting of dictatorship coming down on them. But to the degree that this can be mitigated and modified at times, particularly for more intermediate and more privileged strata within "the home country," this has to do with the relationship between imperialism and the Third World, and it has to do with the relationship between imperialism and bourgeois democracy.
And here we get to the hero of Christopher Hitchens (and of others, of course), George Orwell. When I first went to France, for some reason I got into reading a lot of Orwell. I read his Homage to Catalonia, and other writings about the Spanish Civil War, and then I went on and read some other books of his, and I came across this most astounding statement—for which I guess he should get some kind of recognition for candor. But here's what he said: Intellectuals and others in England, who are left-leaning, are all pro-empire—for one very basic reason. We all know that, if it weren't for the British empire, we would all be stuck living in a very cold, rainy, gray, dreary place where we would all have to work long hours and eat lots of potatoes. [laughter]
Well, I guess you couldn't ask for a better self-exposure of the relationship between social democracy, with all of its anti-totalitarian rantings, and imperialism. Now, again, this doesn't mean that we should simply dismiss all of Orwell's writings out of hand. I learned some things by reading him. But, in essence, he was giving conscious expression to an important phenomenon and an important relationship: the basis on which people who claim to be socialists, as he did, or some kind of leftists, gravitate towards support for imperialism, for the reasons that he said. And if you expand out from that, while this may take different forms in different countries, you can certainly see that Orwell captured the heart and essence of this very well.
And this has to do with the discussion in GO&GS10 of how the Enlightenment divides into two. How, on the one hand, Marxism unites in basic terms with the core principle of the Enlightenment that people should seek to know the world by rational means and scientific means, in essence. On the other hand, we have two fundamental differences: One, we do not think that the truth will set you free by itself. Even though the truth is the truth and does not have a class character, whether or not truths get recognized in society as true—and we can see this once again with evolution—has to do with the struggle between classes, in any class-divided society. And, further, we do not agree with the way in which the Enlightenment has been used as an apology and a justification for imperialism—with the John Stuart Mill argument that some people need the civilizing hand of imperialist domination to bring them into the modern world—which we see being enacted now, first of all by Clinton, who articulated it as a theoretical expression, and carried it out in places like Yugoslavia, and now by Bush, et al, on a whole other level.
Just to go into a few more points and then conclude on this general theme. From the point of view of a communist understanding—and specifically a communist understanding, as opposed to a utopian and ultimately bourgeois-democratic view, of communism itself—we can say that communism does not represent a "rebirth," or a "revival," on a world scale, of scattered early communal society. This has to do with what this phrase that we've used, and it is a good phrase to use —"freely associating community of people"—when we speak of communism, what does that mean, and not mean? Once again, as I've spoken to up to this point, it does not mean that communism is this loose confederation of individuals, each of whom is pursuing their own thing as an autonomous end in themselves, and somehow this works out for the greater good. Actually, if we think about it, this conforms more to Adam Smith's view of the good society than it does to communism—that if each individual pursues their own individual interests, and this is expressed through and modified by competition, then the greater social good will be served. That actually corresponds to a classical bourgeois view of freedom and the greater societal good, and really has nothing to do, fundamentally, with communism, which is not a society in which there's a loose confederation of individuals all acting as autonomous ends in themselves. Without repeating everything I've said about that so far, it should begin to be clear why that is so.
So we have to understand "a society of freely associating human beings" in a materialist and dialectical sense, in terms of what I began with, about freedom being the transformation of necessity and the fact that there will always be necessity, including under communism, even while the contradiction between the forces and relations of production and between the base and the superstructure will not take shape and expression in communist society as class relations and oppressive social divisions, and there will not be political institutions of repression and social suppression of groups that are on the "losing side" of the division of labor. So "freely associating community of people" has to be understood in a materialist and dialectical way, including a dialectical materialist grasp of the fundamental relation between freedom and necessity.
This is linked to Mao's formulation that communism will be characterized by people consciously and voluntarily changing themselves and the objective world. Does this mean—can that be taken in absolute terms, once again divorced from necessity—does it mean that people are conscious of everything, and that everything is voluntary? No, there will still be necessity. The voluntary aspect comes in, in that people will voluntarily recognize that it is in the societal interest—and therefore in their own interests—for them to voluntarily subordinate their own particular individual wants and needs to the greater societal good, and to seek their own individuality and individual expression within that framework, rather than rupturing, or attempting to rupture, out of it. And the consciously is real, but it's relative, once again. It means people are conscious on a whole other level than they have been able to be and have been in previous forms of society—even early communalist society, to say nothing of class society with its division of labor, particularly between mental and manual labor. These are relative terms and things in motion. People will be conscious in a qualitatively greater sense than they have been in any previous time, but at any given time, they will not know everything, of course, and they will not know as much as people who come after them. And, again, they will be voluntarily doing things in the sense in which I characterized this, but everything will not be voluntary. If there is a flood in communist society (or something comparable, whatever that might be, some kind of natural disaster) people may be called on to do things and this will be voluntary, in that it will flow from the conscious and voluntary subordination of the individual to society and the greater societal good—here we can see the interconnection between the conscious and the voluntary aspects of all this—but it might not be voluntary that you have to go do certain specific things in relation to that particular natural disaster, even under communism.
So we have to understand these things in a materialist and dialectical—and not in a utopian and idealist, and ultimately bourgeois or bourgeois-democratic, way (in a way that does not get beyond the narrow confines of bourgeois right). And this does relate to Marx's point that "right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and the culture conditioned thereby." And, in turn, this relates back to the point about how wants and needs are socially determined and historically evolved. Not only what rights people are able to exercise, but even what people conceive of as their rights, arises out of, and in turn reflects, the underlying character and motion of the contradiction between the forces and relations of production, and the economic base and the superstructure. That's why, to go back to an earlier example, the "right of the homeowner" can take the form of the right to be a racist. Or what about the right of people in the world today not to be subjected to hunger and starvation? As I pointed out in the "Democracy" book, there is no such right, because the economic base and the superstructure that predominate in the world do not give people that right. The people in Niger today may feel the desire not to be starving to death and see their children pecked apart by vultures as they starve to death, but there is no superstructural right for that not to happen, because the conditions do not exist in which that can be made a reality. The conditions in which such things as mass starvation and massive malnutrition and preventable disease can actually be eliminated, can only be brought into being through the revolutionary transformation of society, and ultimately the world as a whole. People can proclaim such rights, but it can't be realized, for the masses of humanity, under the existing economic base and corresponding superstructure—which is a fundamental reason why you need revolution.
But even in the realm of conception, people in early communal society did not say, "I demand the right not to be enslaved by my grandmother." Why? Because the question didn't arise. In that form of society, there was no question of being enslaved by your grandmother, so how could you formulate it as a right. Rights such as that only arose once slavery arose. And if you project ahead into the future, that demand would also have no meaning in communist society—not to be enslaved, whether by your grandmother or anybody else. In fact, I don't even know if there will be grandmothers in communist society—probably not, not in the way we think of them anyway. So there you have it—even the concept of grandmothers probably won't exist, let alone the concept of the right not to be enslaved by your grandmother. [laughter]
So from this we can see that right is an expression, once again, of the contradiction, and the motion and development of the contradiction, between the forces and relations of production and the economic base and the superstructure. Or, as Marx put it, right "can never be higher than the economic structure of society and the culture conditioned thereby." You cannot demand, even in communist society, the right to do absolutely whatever you want to do, because there's not a material basis for that. Even under communism, where the sphere of individuals and of individuality will, yes, be far greater than it is now, there will not be a material basis for that. The sphere of individual initiative and individuality will be far greater, qualitatively greater, in a communist world than ever before, but it will never be absolute.
So there always will be this phenomenon of necessity and of constraint—and, as stressed a number of times, we should not view this entirely in a negative light. All constraint—it's like all coercion—is not bad. These things are historically evolved and they exist in terms of their opposites, and when necessity cries out to be transformed, or when constraint cries out to be ruptured, objectively, then yes, that is what we are called on to do, as indeed we are in relation to the constraints and necessity imposed by the fundamental contradiction of capitalism and everything it has given rise to and gives rise to.
Here it is worth recalling what was said earlier, in referring to the passage from Engels's The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State on rights and duties and how in early communal society there was not any separation between these things; and we can understand how, in a whole different way in communist society—on a different foundation and in a different framework—there will not be a separation between rights and duties. Indeed rights and duties will not be in antagonism and will have been transformed qualitatively in terms of their meaning.
1. The full title of the "Conversations" book is Marxism and the Call of the Future: Conversations on Ethics, History, and Politics.(Chicago: Open Court, 2005)
2. The three sentences on democracy are: In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about “democracy” —without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves—is meaningless, and worse. So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no “democracy for all”: one class or another will rule, and it will uphold and promote that kind of democracy which serves its interests and goals. The question is: which class will rule and whether its rule, and its system of democracy, will serve the continuation, or the eventual abolition, of class divisions and the corresponding relations of exploitation, oppression, and inequality.
3. The discussion by Bob Avakian of Rawls's theory of justice took place in another part of this talk, which is not included in what is now being published in Revolution.
4. "...one must not form the narrow-minded notion that the petite bourgeoisie, on principle, wishes to enforce an egoistic class interest. Rather, it believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided. Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers. According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven from earth. What makes them representatives of the petite bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically. This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent....
"But the democrat, because he represents the petite bourgeoisie, that is, a transition class,in which the interests of two classes are simultaneously mutually blunted, imagines himself elevated above class antagonism generally. The democrats concede that a privileged class confronts them, but they, along with all the rest of the nation, form the people.Â What they represent is the people's rights; what interests them is the people's interests. Accordingly, when a struggle is impending, they do not need to examine the interests and positions of the different classes." (Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte [Moscow: Progress Publishers], pp. 40-41, 43-44, emphasis in original)
5. This polemic, titled "Democracy: More Than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That," appears as an Appendix to the 2 nd edition of the book Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism! by Bob Avakian (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2004). The polemic originally appeared in the 1992/17 issue of the magazine A World to Win.) Also available online at revcom.us
6. Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? (Chicago: Banner Press, 1986). Phony Communism Is Dead…Long Live Real Communism (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2004).
7. U.S. Constitution: An Exploiters’ Vision of Freedom (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1987).
8. Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About. Available in DVD (Eng/Span), VHS (Eng), and VHS (Span.). $34.95 + $4 shipping. Order online at threeQvideo.com or amazon.com; or check/MO to Three Q Productions, 2038 W Chicago Ave. #126D, Chicago, IL, 60622).
9. Lenny Wolff, The Science of Revolution (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1983).
10. GO&GS refers to a talk by Bob Avakian, Great Objectives and Grand Strategy, which was given in the late 1990s. Excerpts from this talk are available online at revcom.us.
Revolution #043, April 16, 2006, posted at revcom.us
We received the following promotional material from Insight Press, the publisher of Bob Avakian's memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist.
We encourage readers to circulate this material among college professors, high-school and middle-school teachers, and administrators and suggest that they make this book part of their curriculum for the coming Fall. This material is downloadable as a PDF file from the web site of Insight Press—www.insight-press.com. Readers are also encouraged to circulate the Open Letter to Students and Youth by Professor Juan Gomez Quiñones. That letter appeared last week in Revolution (#42).
“Bob Avakian is a long distance runner in the freedom struggle against imperialism, racism and capitalism. His voice and witness are indispensable in our efforts to enhance the wretched of the earth. And his powerful story of commitment is timely.”
— Cornel West
Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion, Princeton University
“A truly interesting account of Bob Avakian’s life, a humanizing portrait of someone who is often seen only as a hard-line revolutionary. I can understand why Bob Avakian has drawn so many ardent supporters. He speaks to people’s alienation from a warlike and capitalist society, and holds out the possibility for radical change.”
— Howard Zinn
Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Boston University
“I thought of storytelling, and the way that Native Americans talk about the importance and positive power of storytelling. What I see is a very powerful updating of storytelling of our times… Bob Avakian travels a journey from a certain yesterday to a possible tomorrow in From Ike to Mao and Beyond. This diary of hopes and journal of lessons narrates how some youth went from troubling days to challenging actions to sharing dreams. Bob Avakian imagines and knows he is not the only one and he is ready to share dreams, his and ours. His shared experiences, with unflinching candor and generous warmth, are his respects for those of strong heart and clear mind, those ready to do the work of getting to the other side of history.”
— Dr. Juan Gomez Quiñones
Professor of History, University of California, Los Angeles
The importance of critical thinking is an important theme of Ike to Mao and Beyond. This approach influenced Bob Avakian’s development in the transformation he went through as an individual… As a professor, I and other professors want their students to be critical thinkers. This book can open people up to an approach of how to look at things with a critical eye.
— Robert Keith Collins, Ph.D.
Director, Homalusa: Center for African and Native American Research, Berkeley
FULL COMMENTS AVAILABLE AT www.insight-press.com
Revolution #043, April 16, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Millions of immigrants have defiantly taken to the streets in recent weeks, demanding to be treated as human beings. Thousands of children of immigrants have walked out of high schools and more marches are planned. Protesters have targeted the fascist Sensenbrenner bill (HR4437), which would make it a felony—punishable by criminal prosecution to be or help an undocumented immigrant.
The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed the Sensenbrenner bill (HR4437). The other body of the Congress, the Senate, has been debating their own version of an immigration bill. After much debate and backroom maneuvering, the Senate, Thursday, failed to agree on a bill. When the Senate does pass a bill, a conference committee will negotiate how to handle differences between the two versions. The final version is voted on again in both houses and becomes law when signed by the President.
There are divisions among the rulers—whose economy depends to a large extent on superexploited immigrant labor, and who fear immigrants as well (see “Welcome the Immigrants”). But these divisions being debated out are NOT over what is in the interests of the people—but what is in the strategic interests of the ruling class.
In the Senate, a bill pushed by Senator Specter has been portrayed in the media as pro-immigrant. But it's not. The Specter bill would seriously increase repression of immigrants in some unprecedented ways, as outlined in last week’s issue of Revolution, (issue #42).
A “compromise” on the Specter bill, which came closest to uniting the Senate, would divide immigrants into three categories. The first category is immigrants who have lived in the country at least five years—about 7 million people. The plan is that these immigrants could apply for citizenship after a very repressive process—without any real guarantees of getting it. The process, taking six to eight years, would require learning English and passing a civics test (evoking the literacy tests used in the south to keep poor Blacks from voting). It would impose fines of $2,000 plus payment of back taxes, proof of continual employment for six years, and background checks. These checks include a criminal background check, which presents a “Catch 22”—an impossible situation—since immigrants are often forced to live outside the law in order to survive. While it is being presented as a way millions of immigrants could “gain citizenship,” in actuality it is a very highly repressive and selective process.
The second category is for those who have lived in the U.S. for two to five years—about three million immigrants. These immigrants would be forced to leave the country, then report to an American port of entry to be classified as temporary workers or refused entry. They would not be guaranteed citizenship and would have to leave after six years of being exploited as temporary workers. And the third category, about a million immigrants in the country less than two years, would be forced out. They could try to sign up to be exploited without a guarantee of getting a temporary work visa. Just think about what it would mean if literally millions of immigrants were forced to leave the country by law and what that would look like.
The failure of the Senate to pass any bill so far is a result of both infighting among the capitalists, and also the courageous protests of immigrants. Part of the strategy behind this “compromise” was to deal with and divide up millions of immigrants who have actively taken to the streets. The Senate bills were not, as some have claimed, a “step in the right direction.” What direction were these bills going? Where immigrants will be tracked down and categorized? Pitting older immigrants against newer immigrants? Forcing them to turn themselves in to the authorities—where the best outcome is tightened control, repression and more systematic exploitation? And this “compromise” was added to the already dangerously repressive proposals in the Specter bill—increased immigrant jails, unprecedented legal detention of immigrants, an apartheid-like work system—and militarizing the border—leading to even more death among those forced to cross by the workings of this global capitalist-imperialist system.
Revolution #043, April 16, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from correspondence from a reader on their experience taking out the article “What Is Behind the Immigrants’ Struggle — And Why We Must Support It!” that appeared in Revolution #41 in Watts, Los Angeles, CA.
We went to a bank line on 103rd Street, and over to a market. Both places we went, it was a good mix of Black and Latino people. We were there for about two and a half hours. I did some agitation and we passed out papers and came back with a can to collect money. The more intermediate and backward were saying they illegal, ain't they. They need to do it the right way like everybody else. They need to apply and wait, not just come over here. They taking jobs from Black people. From the very beginning debate broke out with this one loud backward older Black woman who began talking about how Mexican people won everything, they taking all the jobs from Black people, they got a Latino mayor. She even said in Hurricane Katrina the governor was Latino (which is false). But she was so backward the way she put this little piece together was by saying the governor's name was Blanco, and she kept saying Blanco, and said to me, don't you get it? She thought she was grasping some Spanish but really she was grasping some reactionary American chauvinism. This got some discussion going in the line. This got another Black woman responding to this backward woman's comments, saying something like ignorant people just open their mouths and don't know what they talking about. She also remarked how proud she was of us being here talking to people about this. In the face of this backward woman jumping out, a number of people stepped forward to get the paper and talk with us more deeply about this issue.
The mood among the Black masses at the places we went to was mixed and contradictory. We found that most Black people simply don’t even know what HR4437 is. The specifics of the law and what it will mean for immigrants. They also don’t know these other bills either. They see the phenomena of Latino people, students all in the streets uprising but they don’t know the specifics of why. They know they fighting for their rights as people say. They know it has to do with illegal immigrants. But the full picture of what and why, they don’t have that picture. Another thing I notice among both Black and Latino people (or should I say English-speaking Latino people), many of them don’t have an understanding of the history of Mexican people, or Black people. Which once again shows you the bankruptcy of the school system in this country. Here they crying about kids walking out and they ain’t been teaching nobody shit throughout the decades.
Then we met people—Black people and Latino—who did know some of the specifics of the law, the point about making everybody a felon who’s an illegal immigrant. At the same time, they didn’t know about the proposed 700-mile wall, criminalizing everybody else who helps an illegal immigrant, and these other bills which are also no good the McCain Kennedy, the Bush bill. The mood among people was one of outrage once they found out the full truth of what this law is and what it will mean for immigrants and the masses broadly. As I was agitating and then going through the line calling on people to get the paper, asking people what they think about the students walking out, the protest.
This Latina youth from Jordan Downs who was part of the uprising was so happy and so proud. She said we did it, she said we walked out of school on Thursday and Friday. She took a bundle of 10 English and 2 Spanish papers. She said she was gonna get it to some of the kids who walked out. She said I agree with everything you saying.
She said the cops had been beating kids at Locke High. They had her school and others on lockdown and would let kids go to the bathroom. One teacher told them if they wanted to go to the bathroom they would have to use a pot right in class (I’m not sure which school said this.) This was also reported on KPFK. (Now they doing all this talk about the kids shouldn’t have walked out because they need an education. The education they getting and we all getting is that these schools ain’t nothing but gotdamn prisons.)
One Black youth who’s 18 yrs old from Southwest College, said him and some others walked out with the high school students. He said the students from Locke and Fremont I think. He also has a friend who was left on his roof for three weeks in New Orleans. I asked him to have his friend and him write a letter to the paper. He was doing a lot of agitation about how this system is no good, he talked about the war in Iraq, New Orleans, etc. He thought it was great that students walked out and people are protesting. He said that’s what people should be doing now.
One Latino man was very serious and really into it. He had gone to the march saw us there and got the paper. He said he had just recently begun to read the first one. We still got him the latest one and the a sampler DVD disk with clips from the video REVOLUTION: WHY IT’S NECESSARY â€¢ WHY IT’S POSSIBLE â€¢ WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT by Bob Avakian. He really does want to see a revolution. He said that’s what we need. Things are getting worse, and he agitated about how they use immigrants to do all the work and they make money off them, they keep Blacks and Latinos against each other because they know if they come together that’s it for them. He had an even broader vision than just Blacks and Latinos too. He said he wants his kids to know the truth. He wants them to understand why things are the way they are and how they got that way, he says. His kids asked why people are protesting. He explained it to them. He knows details of the bill. He felt people need to get organized and we should help the students join with them. He has some sense of urgency. He wants to meet soon.
One Black guy who grew up in either North or South Carolina and was a part of the Civil Rights movement was advanced. He had marched with MLK, had dogs put on him... He said he supported the students and the immigrants. He said they (meaning Bush and crew) taking this country to hell, they got that war going in Iraq, they spying on people, killed up all those people, now they doing this.
One thing I think is really important is that we keep hammering away with people is that we dealing with a system, a global imperialist system, the terms are not one nation against another nation (Blacks versus Latinos). At times I raised to people that we needed to have a conversation about the I word— imperialism. The I word is something they not gonna teach you in school, they not gonna tell you about that. (I was thinking we need to have a little pamphlet people can back pocket called the dirty little secret, The I word. This could be popular with youth. It should spell out what imperialism is and examples throughout the world what it does and what it means. It should get into the dirty little secret of superexploitation). One thing we were surprised to hear is how many Mexican farmers have been pushed off their land due to these imperialists exporting cheap grains, pork, etc. 1.5 million farmers in the last ten years. And how people all over the world are pushed into the cities of different countries to find work.
One Latina woman who looked to be in her thirties gave $10, took a bundle of 20 English and 20 Spanish papers. She said I liked what you said about the need for a revolution in this country and how they do people. She was a mix of contradictions. I noticed on her jacket it said Administration of Justice. She said she had taken classes in criminal justice and wanted to be a cop. She had gone to the gun range with the sheriffs dept, but she said because of all the politics of the police dept she thought she shouldn’ t be one. Now she works as some counselor or something. She also worked on Villaraigoaza’s campaign, and knows various politicians. The revolution she is talking about is reforming the system, fighting for bourgeois democratic rights. I told her we are talking about a Communist revolution, and got some into that. She liked the vision, but in her mind she was seeing it as the bourgeois democratic revolution I think. I told her to read the Chair’s article (in Revolution #41) and got her the REVOLUTION DVD sampler.
Reflections on an Airplane Conversation
Revolution #043, April 16, 2006, posted at revcom.us
I grabbed a middle seat in the first row. The plane from New Orleans to Houston was late and I wanted to quickly get off to catch a connecting flight. The guy in the window seat looked like a businessman and I asked him what he had been doing in New Orleans. He said he was a salesman, visiting clients and was on his way back home to Texas. I told him I was a photojournalist for Revolution newspaper and had spent a couple of days in New Orleans taking photographs, trying to capture the enormity of the city’s devastation, and the ongoing plight of the residents. Ted had been to New Orleans about a half a dozen times in the seven months since Katrina and seen how little has been done by the government to address the huge problems faced by the residents who want to rebuild and move back.
We settled in for the hour plus plane ride and continued a discussion that didn’t stop until we landed and the seatbelt light went off. We talked about a lot of things – more on the dire situation in New Orleans, the Iraq War, efforts by the government to criminalize immigrants, the separation of church and state, taxes and Ted’s two-year-old daughter.
Ted is like a lot of people in the United States. Doesn’t live in a major city, owns a home, has a pretty comfortable income and can afford to go on a couple of vacations a year. When the conversation got around to how the government lied to people about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, Ted sheepishly told me he voted for Bush. But then quickly added that he now thinks Bush might just end up being the worst president in the history of the United States.
There were many moments in our conversation that made me think about Bob Avakian’s writings on the need and possibility of repolarization for revolution in this country. Huge things going on in the world are making Ted question a lot of the way he has thought about things all his life. He’s really worried about the future – he told me that at one point he had decided not to have any children because of how bad things are. He is really pissed off about the state of the world and was very interested in hearing my revolutionary views on things.
Ted joined the U.S. Marines after high school and fought in the first U.S. Gulf War. He said he was glad and has no regrets that he “served his country proudly” for six years. But he’s outraged about Bush's lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction and he’s against the War in Iraq.
He said when he was in the Marines he was totally isolated from any information about what was going on in the world – that the only thing he knew was what his commanders told him. He marched day after day, chanting — “Blood makes the grass grow, Marines make the blood flow.” He said he was so indoctrinated he did everything they told him to do – he didn't even think twice about killing people because he believed he was there in Iraq to “serve and save his country.” He didn't question anything he was told to do. He said they were conditioned to not even think about the people they were killing as human beings.
We started talking about the horrendous torture at Abu Ghraib and Ted said, “I can completely understand how that happened.... if I had been in that position when I was in the Marines, I would have done what they did. If they told me to crush someone, torture someone, I would have done it.”
I said – you're clearly not that person now. What changed your thinking?
After the Marines, a lot of things happened in his life – and in the world – that changed Ted's thinking. But he told me one thing that I found particularly interesting. He said he went to college and there was one class he took with a very “liberal professor.” Ted said he used to get into heated arguments with him every class – that everything the professor said, he would disagree with and they would go at it. He kinda laughed then and commented, that it turned out that a lot of the things the professor had to say were true. And this had a big effect on Ted – at least it got him thinking in new ways, opened his mind up to other points of view, and led to him looking more objectively at what this system is doing to people around the world and here in the United States.
I commented to Ted – just think if instead of going to college, you had become a cop on the streets of New Orleans after the Hurricane? What would he be doing with that “Marine Mentality.” Ted said, “I'd be beating people up.”
I wondered if that “liberal professor” knew he had such an big impact on Ted. And I wondered if he might be one of the professors attacked by David Horowitz's reactionary book, “The Professors – the 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.”
If Horowitz had his way, Ted's professor would have been driven off campus for, let's say, challenging Ted's view that the Marines were doing something good in Iraq by making “blood flow.” Or some student would have been sent in to spy and tape the arguments between Ted and the professor – and then offer them up as evidence that the professor should be fired because he is “supporting terrorism” by opposing the war.
A Marine doesn't ask questions or think critically about what he is told. But in our conversation, Ted was inquisitive, self-reflective, open to new ideas and not afraid to go back and forth in a tug-of-war over differing ideas. I think he probably got a lot of this from his experience with that “liberal professor.”
As we continued our conversation, I thought about how Ted's transformation is an example of the importance of colleges and universities being centers of critical thinking, dissent and debate. It was important and great that Ted – and all the other students — had the opportunity to disagree and debate that professor – whether or their thinking changed. Academic freedom should thrive on hypotheses being set forward and vigorously examined. Teachers should encourage students to seek out the truth. Colleges and universities should be places where students can really thrash out ideas, where radical and conservative professors alike are challenged as part of the swirl of debate and struggle aimed at getting to the truth of things. This is the kind of crucial and vibrant learning atmosphere being attacked by Horowitz in the ame of “academic freedom.”
The captain turned on the seatbelt light and announced our arrival. We exchanged business cards and toward the end of our conversation, Ted looked at me and said, “Well, I guess we need a revolution. I’m ready for it!”
Thoughts on New Orleans
Revolution #043, April 16, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Images of New Orleans keep going through my mind. Back in New Orleans outside the convention center, talking to a resident who spent five days in the Superdome. I remember his contradictory brown eyes, red around the edges, tired but so awake. And his blue and white sports jersey in the blazing sun. He told me about five days in the Superdome with nothing to eat but a can of sardines. The smell of the dead bodies piling up in the heat. He said it takes months to get this smell off your own skin, no matter how many times you shower.
Living in the 9th Ward of New Orleans at the Common Ground volunteer center for five days was profoundly different than anything I've known. Third world conditions. War zone like destruction. Blocks and blocks of homes in ruins. From the 9th ward to upscale homes, the French Quarter to the projects. Everything is at a standstill. The government isn't doing anything and each attempt to rebuild becomes a battle. Churches and schools are threatened to be closed down or demolished. In the meantime, hurricane season approaches and the fate of an entire city is suspended. It’s difficult to conceive of the scale of a hurricane. I tried to picture water rushing down the streets and schools flooded to the second floor, with children on the roof. But I can't capture this fully in my mind.
Six months after Katrina, the living conditions are damp and dusty. Broken toilets, no drinking water, the smell of mold when the wind blows a certain way, no technology, no coffee shops, no TV or newspapers, no grocery stores or takeout food. Destruction repeated like telephone poles on a freeway. Desperate messages and phone numbers spray painted on houses. “Call Ray- 214-555-3456.” “I'll be back.” Emptiness. People's belongings strewn everywhere and in black muddy moldy heaps on the streets. Mixed with concrete and sticks, broken and no longer what it once was. Then every so often a piece of flowered china or a book—whole, dry, and intact.
It all became kind of “normal.” But when I got home the magnitude of it hit me. Walking to my car with a grande coffee in each hand I thought about so many people in the wreckage of the hurricane and in the wreckage of so many places in this capitalist world – of people who cannot go home. It wasn't a guilty feeling. I know that I'm no different from them and they from me. I did not feel bitter. I felt propelled. Revolution is on the tip of my tongue every hour. I want to tell anyone I meet that we can know the world to change it.
There's many faces and voices I got to know in New Orleans. The people we lived and worked with for barely a week. Living this way, you make ties. 300 people in an elementary school and a tent city in the parking lot across the street. University students, organizations, wanderers and free spirits, anarchists, revolutionary communists, church groups, workers and city dwellers. How many of these youth knew places like the 9th Ward existed before they came to New Orleans?
Some people I only walked past or sat next to on the steps of the school in the quiet of the night, locked arms with in song at the vigil to save St. Augustine's church, or passed a plate to at dinner.
I met a Christian woman who reminds me of Glenda the good witch. She runs a bed and breakfast in upstate New York. So she was a key figure in feeding hundreds of people and getting them to do their own dishes. All with no running hot water.
One night she told me tall tales of angels visiting her, and the power of healing with prayer. She also told a true tale of volunteering at a shelter in Houston, Texas after the hurricane. An outspoken Black woman demanded her attention for something. She walked up to her and put both hands on her cheeks and looked her in the eyes with a smile and said “What do you need?” “How can I help you?” The Black woman burst into tears. This was the first time a white person had ever touched her.
We had a discussion. All of this only works, she said gesturing to the collective around us, “because people want to do this, you couldn't just force people to come down here and do it, it wouldn't work...”
To this I said, I think “all this” does work because people are taking conscious initiative, but I also think, in a certain situation you could “force” people to do something like this, there is a role for coercion. She looked at me seriously, then I brought up the example of the movie Remember the Titans and the role of coercion in desegregation. Her eyes lit up. She said she had attended a high school where this happened. She looked past me at a thought in the distance and replied. “Yes, yes, I can see how that could happen. But you need someone who's going to stand up for something firmly, a leader, and you need a commonality. They had obstacles, but they were playing football, they wanted to win, they came together. You need a commonality.”
Volunteers came from all over the country and some from other parts of the world. I met a young man from Israel who just finished three years of mandatory duty in the army, he came to the U.S. specifically to volunteer in New Orleans for a month. We compared notes about our intolerably criminal governments. He told me about his life in Israel and his indecision in choosing a college major. I told him the story of how I became a Revolutionary Communist. He gave me all the songs on his ipod. He told me when he saw the movie Crash he literally didn't believe it. He thought racism did not exist any longer in the U.S. Then he lived in Maryland in a very backward area and saw that it was still part of the fabric of the culture. And now after seeing New Orleans he said he could see that it is “alive and kicking.”
At the morning meeting I announced that I had Revolution newspapers available. The woman sitting next to me asked to look at the copy in my hand. “Where did you get this?” she asked. I worked with her later and we got a chance to talk. She was a Michigan State alumni, who lives in Connecticut with her husband who's a hockey player. She came down to New Orleans on her own, to help out. She has a degree in education and wants to work for a non-profit organization. “I can't handle the corporate world,” she said.
There's many people who I shoveled debris with, carried rotten doors and piled up the soggy, brightly colored remains of classroom supplies. Looking like something from a science fiction film, in biohazard suits and respirators, our eyes met in the dusty air as we worked.
About 60 volunteers cleared out Martin Luther King elementary school the first day we were there. About 20 of us pulled up the broken floor tiles. While we waited in the long lunch line, I talked about the history of communism, the achievements of socialist China, advances made in science and medicine, and how to look at the mistakes that were made. I was talking with an inquisitive student from San Diego in a red bandanna. He said his father lived in Laos.
In the afternoon sun I joined a young woman on a swingset amidst overgrown grass on the playground. For a while we kicked our legs and looked up to the clouds in silence. At only 18 she was part of a traveling collective opening a women's center in New Orleans. The collective was all Christians, who she said, considered themselves progressive, and did not like Bush. She was excited to get Revolution, and took an extra copy for her brother.
In the evening before dinner, I played basketball in the gym with a group of guys. We talked about the day’s work. It was so ordinary, we didn't notice there were wooden planks and plastic tarp where the floor used to be and we played in the dark for 15 minutes until the lights came on at night. The smell of garlic wafted over from the eight people chopping for over an hour, preparing dinner on the cafeteria side of the gym.
At night I sat on the steps and played the DVD of a talk by Bob Avakian called “Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About.” A group of five students from San Diego watched it with me. They had very upfront questions. They specifically asked what a communist country would do about genocide in Africa? I gave the best answer I could, explaining the contradictions a socialist society would be dealing with, and the need for a proletarian internationalist view.
My last night in New Orleans I drove my basketball buddies and some others to the candlelight vigil outside St. Augustine's Church, a tall white church in the French Quarter with stained glass. Children leaned out its open windows, elbow to elbow, to watch Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, congregation members, people who came to help clean up New Orleans and others. Clapping and gyrating, throwing their hands in the air, moving with the sounds of a New Orleans brass band at the center of the crowd. St. Augustine's was the first church in the south to allow free Blacks and slaves to worship alongside white people. This was a place rich with history, being threatened and attacked. The Archdiocese was seizing the opportunity of the hurricane to force out this congregation. But people are fed up, and they aren't in the mood to accept their lives and communities being further destroyed. They are in the mood to fight, and to persevere.
A woman about my age stood at the edge of the crowd, slightly moving to the music. She held a purple candle that occasionally twinkled in her eyes. She had earrings with little moons, a blue shirt and a flowery skirt. We talked for a long time. She travels all around the country, living out of her truck. She had spent five months in New Orleans volunteering with the church. This was her last night. I asked her how she felt. She was quiet and then replied, “saturated.”
I sold her a Revolution newspaper and we talked about how to make revolution in this country and about how this society is lacking in everything from relief aid to giving food to the soul. She asked how we could have a revolution when people like her parents see the need for change but aren't willing to make sacrifices in their life and won't take the risk of coming into the streets. She thought we should just do all the good that we can as individuals, build ties in communities, and then multiply that out.
There is an aspect of this I thought was true. I broke down to her how I saw it, drawing on Avakian's piece “Reform or Revolution.” There in New Orleans was the seeds of a radically different future, which cannot truly come to fruition without a revolution and a radically different kind of state power. Imagine a state that would mobilize the tens of thousands of people who were angered and saddened by the hurricane and want to help. Instead of a state that murders, represses, and neglects people when disaster hits. Imagine a state that unleashes people to meet the basic needs of society without exploitation and oppression. Imagine people coming together and creating a spirit and a culture around that. Not unlike the way in which the people have managed to apply their creativity and cultivate an atmosphere down here, around struggling to rebuild the city, and help the masses of people who have been affected.
We stood at the edge of the rally in the street light, talking in soft tones, listening intently. She looked at me for a minute, and we stood there together for another minute. We exchanged e-mails, and she thanked me for talking and walked back into the crowd. She didn't respond right away to what I said, agreeing or disagreeing. I think she really listened, and I think she will think about it. I know I will think about her, moving from place to place, pouring her heart into contributing to society, helping people in the way she sees makes sense.
On the first afternoon I was working in New Orleans, I helped a teacher at Martin Luther King elementary school clean out her classroom on the second floor, which wasn't water damaged. I carried crates of books to her car with her. Each time up and down the stairs inside the school, we passed the large carcass of a dead fish in the dried mud hardened on the stairs.
“Alice,” she said, “I like that name. I make dolls, and the first one I ever made, I named her Alice, I always liked that name. Then I went through and made one for each letter of the alphabet.”
Dolls and hurricanes. Something so small and so innocent, and something so immense and destructive. Named in alphabetical order.
She was a 3rd grade teacher. She talked about her students. She heard a shriek one day from a car on the road. The little girl had yelped in excitement when she spotted her teacher that she hadn't seen in months. They held up traffic to embrace. She had 20 students in her class. “A good size,” she said “ten boys and ten girls, I just hope they're doing alright.” By now I was holding back tears.
How many people walk down the sidewalk, drive in their cars, go to work, buy groceries and cook dinner with images of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath hovering in their minds, impacting the tone of their voice, the pace of their step. How many carry such scars of war and devastation in Afghanistan and Iraq? We hardly know the meaning of the impact. And what about the high school youth standing in the sea of hundreds of thousands of people at an immigrants' rights rally, with memories of crossing the border. With his fist in the air, full of kinetic energy, his eyes squint in the sun, he opens his mouth and his voice pours freely through the streets.
Revolution #043, April 16, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Anthony Soltero, a 14-year-old student, shot himself through the head on March 30 after a school administrator told him that he was going to prison for three years and his mother would be fined for his truancy because he was an organizer of the student walkouts against HR4437 at De Anza Middle School in Ontario, California. According to a press release from Anthony’s family, the vice principal told the eighth grade student that he was forbidden from attending graduation activities as punishment for walking out of school and protesting.
Anthony’s mother, Louise Corales, said, “Anthony was learning about the importance of civic duties and rights in his eighth grade class. Ironically, he died because the vice principal at his school threatened him for speaking out and exercising those rights.”
“I want to speak out to other parents whose children are attending the continuing protests this week. We have to let the schools know that they can’t punish our children for exercising their rights.”
What kind of a system do we live in, when the people who are supposed to care for and nurture the critical thinking of young people in schools threaten an eighth grader with prison, fines, and punishment for protesting? What kind of a system do we live in when students have been locked down in their schools, pepper-sprayed, beat with batons, arrested, harassed, and threatened and—in Anthony’s case—led to commit suicide for demanding that immigrant people be treated like human beings?!
This is a product of an imperialist system… and the world doesn't have to be this way!
Revolution #043, April 16, 2006, posted at revcom.us
From time to time, Revolution will run tips from our correspondents and readers on movies, art exhibits, books, plays, and other cultural events that readers should know about. No endorsement implied, but worth checking out.
From a correspondent: In 1968, Chicano students from East L.A. organized powerful high school “blowouts”—walkouts to protest racist and oppressive conditions in their schools, including academic prejudice, beatings for speaking Spanish, and impoverished school facilities. This historic movement of Chicano youth has been captured in the HBO film Walkout. The film premiered in March, and it's being shown on various days through April (check HBO online for schedule). The movie depicts how the students, with the aid of a progressive and popular young teacher, Sal Castro, take a determined stand in the face of fierce repression by the police, backward teachers, and sometimes their parents. This movie is extremely timely today, when tens of thousands of students around the country are walking out as part of the huge upsurge of protest against fascistic attacks on immigrants. Directed and produced by Edward James Olmos, Walkout is really worth checking out and discussing, in relationship to what is happening in the world today and the lessons from history, and grappling with what's the problem and what's the solution.
Revolution #043, April 16, 2006, posted at revcom.us
On April 3, in a 6 to 3 vote the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of Jose Padilla over being imprisoned in a naval brig for over three years simply because the Bush administration declared him an "enemy combatant." A statement by Human Rights Watch points out, “The Supreme Court’s refusal to address this case on the merits means that the Bush administration’s assertion that it can unilaterally and indefinitely detain without charge anyone, anywhere on the grounds that they are an 'enemy combatant' remains unchecked.”
It was almost 4 years ago, on May 8, 2002, that Jose Padilla was seized by federal authorities out of a Chicago airport as a "material witness," labeled an "enemy combatant," and locked away in a naval brig for 3 1/2 years. President Bush called him a "bad guy." Then-Attorney General Ashcroft claimed that Padilla was plotting to use a "dirty bomb" on U.S. targets. And federal appeals courts ruled that the president had the authority to detain Padilla indefinitely.
Then, last November, faced with the possibility of Padilla's appeal actually getting a hearing in the Supreme Court, the administration did a complete about face. After years of insisting that Padilla is a "continuing, present and grave danger to the national security of the United States," and that military detention is needed to prevent Padilla from "aiding al Qaeda in its efforts to attack the United States..." (from Department of Justice court papers), the U.S. government finally brought criminal charges against Padilla that carry a possible life sentence if convicted—accusing him of being involved with members of a "radical Islamist" cell, and of soliciting funds and recruits to wage "violent jihad" in overseas countries like Bosnia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan. No dirty bomb. No plots to kill Americans or blow up U.S. targets. The entire pretext for holding Padilla disappeared with the same ease in which they made him vanish from public sight four years ago.
Ironically, the outrageous maneuver by the government became the reason for the Supreme Court to refuse even a hearing. "Any consideration of what rights he might be able to assert if he were returned to military custody would be hypothetical," declared Justice Kennedy. Since Padilla had demanded to be released immediately or be charged with a crime, argued Kennedy, and since the government had charged Padilla, the issue was moot, and Padilla "has received the principle relief he sought."
Moot? Hypothetical? Simply dredging up charges against Padilla to circumvent a direct hearing on the President's right to incarcerate whom he chooses—a right the government has not abandoned—does not make this issue "moot." The very real 3 1/2 years Padilla spent in naval brig was not "hypothetical.” The government's mass round-ups and imprisoning of immigrants in the wake of 9/11 was not "hypothetical." The "rendering" of prisoners by the U.S. government to hidden torture centers in eastern Europe and other places and the torturing of those prisoners are not "hypothetical." These are the very real issues at stake, if the view that incarceration depends on the Presidents say-so becomes the new legal standard.
The holes in the majority court decision were glaring enough that Kennedy's fellow Supreme Court judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was compelled to write in her dissent, "This case, here for the second time, raises a question 'of profound importance to the Nation'... Does the President have authority to imprison indefinitely a United States citizen arrested on United States soil distant from a zone of combat, based on an Executive declaration that the citizen was, at the time of his arrest, an 'enemy combatant'? It is a question the Court heard, and should have decided, two years ago... Nothing the Government has yet done purports to retract the assertion of Executive power Padilla protests."
With the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case (Jose Padilla v C.T. Hanft, United States Navy Commander, Consolidated Naval Brig), the right of the president to simply have someone seized and imprisoned on his say-so remains unchallenged in court. It represents a major break from long-established legal principles of U.S. law—the right to speak to a lawyer when arrested, no imprisonment without a trial where the accused can hear evidence and question witnesses, no indefinite detention without charges, and so on. While the history of this country is filled with instances where those rights and principles have been trampled—most blatantly in the widespread denial of these rights to Black people and other oppressed nationalities in the U.S.—to set incarceration by presidential decree as the new standard is a major leap in a fascist direction.
Sometimes consequences are more clearly seen from afar. For decades, mothers have assembled in the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina demanding to know what happened to their missing children. Disappeared from their homes. Disappeared from off the street. Taken, imprisoned, and often murdered because the fascist military regime that ruled Argentina said that they could.
Jose Padilla was disappeared from a Chicago airport, and thrown into a naval bring without charges. The analogy is obvious. The implications are clear. The consequences—should we fail to see what this represents and fight like hell to stop it—will be a nightmare.