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Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Posted March 1, 2012
Women the world over are facing a growing assault on their lives, their rights, and even their recognition as full human beings.
In the U.S., Catholic bishops have turned women's basic right to birth control into a national controversy. At least 20 percent of U.S. female soldiers are sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers. Every moment we are bombarded by images of women's bodies, half naked and half starved. And strip clubs, which serve up the subordination of women to men in the living flesh, have become so mainstream that men annually spend an estimated $16 billion on them (compared to the $4 billion they spend on baseball).
In the Congo, tens of thousands of women have been so brutally raped they can no longer hold their bladders or bowels. From Moldova to Thailand and beyond, millions of girls and women are sold as sex slaves. Throughout the world, fueled by the massive dislocations caused by imperialist development as well as imperialist wars, Islamic fundamentalism is rising with its "honor" killings, forced veiling, and hatred of women. And from China to Honduras to Silicon Valley, the near-slave labor—and sometimes outright slave labor—of women and girls has disproportionately fueled the growth of cheap manufacturing.
These are not "just a bunch of different bad things happening to women." These are but a few of the many fronts in an all-out war on women. While the forms this takes may appear different—or even unrelated—a common rope is tightening around nearly every dimension of the public, social, political, and intimate lives of women.
It is urgent that every one of us who cares about the half of humanity that is born female join together to inaugurate a new era of struggle for the liberation of women. On March 10, in commemoration of International Women's Day, this is what we aim to do—and you must join us.
To be clear, there have been significant changes in the status of women in the last century, particularly those which were hard-fought and won through the women's liberation struggle and the broader revolutionary upsurges of the 1960s and '70s.
But even more significant today is the way that despite the winning of formal equality and the conspicuous advances that have been made by some women in some arenas, this war on women is claiming victories—over the lives, the bodies, and the rights of women—every single day. And it is gaining momentum. This is true not only worldwide, but also in the U.S. where women have supposedly "achieved their equality."
I could have spent pages detailing the violence that stalks women beneath the veneer of U.S. "civility": the woman beaten every 15 seconds, the three to four women killed daily by their partners, the one in four college women who will be sexually assaulted. I could have filled more pages detailing the way that pornography has become increasingly violent, degrading, and humiliating towards women even as it has become more mainstream; with "extreme anal gaping," "ass-to-mouth" penetration, "vicious gang-bang scenes," and titles like "My Stepdad Made Me Do It"—just a fraction of what men now commonly pick from. And I could have spent many pages more detailing the way that abortion has become more difficult to access and more dangerous to provide than at any time since Roe v. Wade in 1973, and in many ways more stigmatized than even when abortion was illegal.
But instead, I will say simply this: open your eyes, look around, and stop denying what you see.
A big part of why this war on women is unrecognized is because there have been conspicuous changes in the role and status of women today from the time of the 1950s. But probably just as big a reason so many fail to see this war (which we are currently losing) is precisely because they have become so acclimated to it. The body count of battered women never makes the front page. It's easier not to consider the crushed spirits and ravaged bodies of the trafficked women who are locked inside the "massage parlors" we walk past. It's too degrading to consider how many of the men we interact with get off on depictions of women being "throat-fucked" till they gag. It's too much energy to respond every time a religious fascist insists women "keep their legs closed" and be forced to bear children against their will.
And frankly, it is painful to confront that most people—including most progressive people as well as probably you yourself reading this—have learned to accept and to live with this escalating hatred of women.
But it is time to be brutally honest. We must look this war in the face without flinching and dare to take it on. Only by doing so, only by speaking the cold truth and acting as radically as that truth demands, can we stir those others out of denial, win them to this fight, and reverse the momentum and direction of this war throughout society and the world.
Contrary to what is constantly preached at us, all this is not the reassertion of "human nature" after the movements of the 1960s and '70s "went too far." There is nothing "hard-wired" about men which mandates that they thuggishly rule over women's lives and ravage their bodies. Nor is there anything innately more nurturing, docile, weak, or emotional about women.
What we are living through is the nature of the system we live under, the system of capitalism-imperialism, reasserting itself precisely because those great liberation struggles didn't go far enough!
While the movements of those times shook this system to its foundation and accomplished tremendous things, while people's thinking and their lives went through dramatic and liberating changes, revolution wasn't made. This system wasn't overthrown. Its state and its military wasn't defeated and dismantled. And a new state power and a revolutionary society—with a socialist economy and radically different culture—wasn't brought into being.
Instead, this system set about reversing every advance that has been made. Among other dimensions of this, this system sought vengeance against—and to wipe out of people's imaginations—the very idea of women as full human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavor together with men. And particularly as this system has confronted global challenges, economic dislocation, and destabilizing demographic changes internally, it has increasingly relied on the reassertion of the "traditional family" and good-ole-male-supremacy as key pillars of stability and social control.
The forceful reassertion of "traditional family values" was a key part of knitting back together a social fabric which had been significantly frayed through the overall upheaval—the Black liberation struggle, the anti-war movements, etc.—of the '60s and '70s. Patriarchy was a means of bringing many who had been in radical revolt against this system not only back "into the fold" but quite frequently into being enforcers of the system itself.
All this was even more important to the U.S. ruling class as they faced increasing challenges internationally, first through the "Cold War" and now through the so-called "Global War on Terror." The strengthening of the "traditional family" and male supremacy has been a big part of their efforts to reforge a unified national identity. Patriarchy, like patriotism, is essential in winning people to sacrifice "for God and for country."
It is only in this broader context that we can truly understand the ferocity, the magnitude, and the accelerating momentum of the current war on women.
Decades ago, Richard Viguerie, an architect of the anti-abortion movement, captured a great deal of this when he said, "The abortion issue is the door through which many people come into conservative politics, but they don't stop there. Their convictions against abortion are like the first in a series of dominoes. Then we lead them to concern about sexual ethics and standards among young people. This leads to opposition to secular humanism. Then... we point out that secular humanism is identified as both the godfather and the royal road to socialism and communism which points the way to commitments to minimally regulated free enterprise at home and to aggressive foreign and military politics to counter the communist threat from Russia and its many surrogates."
Among some sections of the U.S. ruling class, Christian fascism—with its absolute assertion of patriarchal male authority and its mandate that women bear children and submit—was aggressively fought for. Among others, this was conciliated with and "common ground" with this was sought. But every section of the ruling class has for decades agreed that Christian fascism ought to be allowed to play a much bigger role in politics and law as a key part of combating the many centrifugal forces pulling U.S. society apart. While there have been the frequent skirmishes where a few Democrats lob criticisms and make petty amendments, no one in the halls of power has been willing to risk the upheaval and instability it would cause their system to really do battle against this Dark Ages Christian fascism. So, the dynamic has continued where yesterday's outrage becomes today's compromise position and tomorrow's limit of what can be imagined. How many of you reading this would have imagined a few years ago that we'd be losing ground on birth control?
From another end, the rise of violent pornography and the sexual enslavement of women has been driven both by the spontaneous workings of capitalism (a system which commodifies everything—even misogyny and degradation), as well as by the way this system has unleashed a revenge (often through whipping men up to be the enforcers of this revenge) against women for daring to challenge thousands of years of tradition's chains. There is an almost direct relationship between the advances women have made in public, political and professional life and the dramatic increase in strip clubs as the new bastion of unchallenged male chauvinism. Or, as veteran porn producer Bill Margold put it, "I'd like to really show what I believe the men want to see: violence against women... The most violent we can get is the cum shot in the face. Men get off behind that because they get even with the women they can't have." And, the tremendous growth in the global trade in women's flesh cannot be separated from the quasi-official reliance on brothels as a "perk" to male soldiers in the U.S. military, or—even more profoundly—from the whole oppressive and exploitative world order which the U.S. military is the key enforcer of.
None of this is going to "just go away." It is not even going to stabilize in the intolerable situation it is now. As Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, put it some years ago—and as has only become more acute since, "The whole question of the position and role of women in society is more and more acutely posing itself in today's extreme circumstances... It is not conceivable that all this will find any resolution other than in the most radical terms... The question yet to be determined is: will it be a radical reactionary or a radical revolutionary resolution, will it mean the reinforcing of the chains of enslavement or the shattering of the most decisive links in those chains and the opening up of the possibility of realizing the complete elimination of all forms of such enslavement?"
If any lesson has been learned in the decades since the '60s—and paid for in the blood, the humiliation and the sacrificed dreams of women as well as others worldwide—it is that the world cries out for a real all-the-way revolution.
This time around and for this generation, a revolution must be fought for and won. This must be a revolution that digs up the very division into antagonistic classes which lays the foundation for and requires the continued subjugation and enslavement of women. It must be a revolution that takes the fight for the full liberation of women as a driving force all the way through. It must be a revolution which aims at the emancipation of humanity from all forms of physical as well as mental enslavement. This is the communist revolution that Bob Avakian has re-envisioned and is actively leading. The Revolutionary Communist Party, which he leads, has published a Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal). It outlines how the new revolutionary state power will not only immediately make major changes in the laws and the structures of society, including in regard to ending pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation as well as guaranteeing full reproductive freedom for women—but would actually unleash and back up people's initiative in fighting for liberation against all this.
"But what do we do today?" people often ask when they hear of this revolution. You dig into the work of Avakian and to Revolution newspaper each week. You spread this to others. And you join with others right now to fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution. This is key to building up the strength and preparing people politically, organizationally, and ideologically to hasten the development of a revolutionary situation and to be able to win a revolution when such an opening emerges.
Right now, and very urgently, this requires reversing the whole direction of this war against women. It means refusing to pick and choose which particular aspect of this war seems most "possible" in the current climate to tinker with. It means refusing to rely on, or be confined within the terms set by, those (including both the Republicans and the Democrats) who represent the system that rules over us. It means connecting up the many fronts of this war and revealing it for the all-out assault on women's lives that it is. It means manifesting public resistance -- in the streets and relying on ourselves -- which punctures the atmosphere of acceptance of the unacceptable and the veneer of "equality has been won." It means going up against—and seeking to change—the reactionary terms in every realm of society, culture, politics, and intimate relations.
If you are unconvinced about—or even strongly opposed to—this kind of revolution, we can wrangle about that—including the tremendous achievements of these revolutions where and when they did hold power, for all too short a time, as well as the ways in which we can and must do better. But I don't want to hear anyone use that as an excuse to stay on the sidelines and refuse to get out there together with me and others as we resist and fight to defeat this war.
This brings me back to International Women's Day. On Saturday, March 10, a new effort I am part of to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women is taking to the streets against many of the institutions which are hurtling women backwards. We begin at St. Patrick's Cathedral on 5th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets in Manhattan at noon to protest the Catholic Church's leading role in the assault on birth control and abortion. From there, we march to Times Square to protest the massive billboards which objectify women, as well as to the U.S. military recruiting center for all the ways it concentrates violence against women. Along the way we will protest one of the anti-abortion fake "clinics." And to cap it all off we'll protest in front of some of the area's many strip clubs.
This march and protest will connect up these seemingly unrelated crimes against women. We will not only reveal them as parts of the unified war against women, we will announce to the world that from here on out—and until we win—this war will be two-sided. There is not a single person reading this article who lacks a way, or the responsibility, to make this outpouring as powerful as possible. Spread the word, contribute money, send a statement, and join us in the streets.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Posted March 1, 2012
In this video, Sunsara Taylor takes on the logic of the mainstream "pro-choice movement" which keeps "winning victories" while losing the overall war on women's right to abortion and birth control. She exposes the lie behind the so-called "right to know" legislation that mandates that women who want an abortion be forced to view an ultrasound of the fetus. She asks, "What about the 'right to know' that a fetus is not a baby?" and other extremely pertinent questions. She insists, “In sum, this system has no right to talk about the 'right to know'... further, they have no 'right to rule'!" Taylor talks about the need for revolution to liberate women as well as humanity as a whole and the need today to fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution. In particular, join her in the streets on March 10, 2012 for International Women's Day to say: End Pornography & Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women! Abortion on Demand and Without Apology! Fight for the Emancipation of Women All Over the World!
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
We are told that "equality for women has been won" and that "there are no limits to what girls can achieve." BULLSHIT!
Every 15 seconds a woman is beaten. Every day three to four women are killed by their partners. One out of four female college students will be raped or sexually assaulted while in college.
In recent years, pornography has become increasingly violent, cruel, degrading towards women; women are referred to as "cumdumpsters" and "fuckbuckets"; the "money shot" (ejaculation in a woman's face) is standard; humiliating cruelty—like violent "ass-to-mouth" penetration—is normalized, and racist bigotry is sexualized. Meanwhile, the broader culture has been pornified: pole dancing is taught at gyms, "sexting" is a national phenomenon among teens and the strip club is the accepted backdrop to "male bonding." All this is tied in with, and reinforces, the trafficking of millions of women and girls as literal chattel in the international sex industry.
This is NOT society becoming more comfortable with sex. This is society becoming saturated with the sexualized degradation of women. If you can't imagine sex without porn, you're fucked.
At the same time, a Christian fundamentalist-driven assault is imperiling abortion, birth control, real sex education and women's lives. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people who do not conform to traditional patriarchal gender and sexual norms are demonized and threatened. Abortion doctors are killed. Women who seek abortions—or even birth control—are stigmatized. 2011 saw the largest spate of legal restrictions on abortion since Roe v. Wade in 1973.
ALL THIS MUST BE STOPPED!
Fetuses are not babies. Women are not incubators. Abortion is not murder.
Women are not objects. Women are not things to be used for the sexual pleasure of men NOR are they breeders of children. WOMEN ARE HUMAN BEINGS CAPABLE OF FULL EQUALITY IN EVERY REALM!
It is long past time that this new generation stand up, reject, and RESIST this culture of rape and pornography; this culture that labels women "selfish" if they choose not to become mothers; this culture that reduces women and girls to sexualized objects while denying their full multi-dimensional humanity (including their right—as one essential part of this—to explore their sexuality without shame or stigma); this culture that demonizes and bullies LGBT people.
Our purpose is NOT to lobby for new legislation to ban pornography ("decency laws" have always served to further repress homosexuality, boundary-challenging art and scientific sex education). We oppose the criminalization of women in the sex industry. Our mission is to challenge the new generation in particular to wage fierce cultural and political resistance to wake others up and to bring forward a new culture that celebrates the full equality and liberation of women.
Contact us: email@example.com
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
International Women's Day 2012
End Pornography and Patriarchy:
The Enslavement and Degradation of Women!
Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!
Fight for the Emancipation of Women All Over the World!
New York City
Gather at St. Patrick's Cathedral (5th Avenue between 50th & 51st Streets)
March to Times Square to protest strip clubs in the area
Along the way... protest "crisis pregnancy centers" and celebrate Abortion Provider Appreciation Day!
Gather at the Marilyn Monroe Statue, Pioneer Court, 401 N. Michigan Avenue, for rally and march.
12 noon—Protest anti-abortionists in front of Her Clinic, S. Figueroa & Adams
2 p.m.—Archdiocese of LA, 3424 Wilshire Boulevard
4 p.m.—Hustler store, 8920 W. Sunset Boulevard
11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Speak out on the open mic at IWD rally sponsored by Occupy Seattle Gender Equality Caucus. Meet at the End Pornography and Patriarchy tent.
Protest and speak-out. Meet up at Claremont and E. Ponce de Leon (downtown Decatur).
Meet up at Post Oak and Westheimer [Galleria shopping area].
Meet at Revolution Books, 4152 Woodward (at Willis) lower level—back entrance
Friday, March 9
3 p.m.—Ontario and Euclid Avenue (Horseshoe Casino)
4 p.m.—March to St. John's Cathedral, strip clubs, and more
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
You cannot break all the chains, except one. You cannot say you want to be free of exploitation and oppression, except you want to keep the oppression of women by men. You can't say you want to liberate humanity yet keep one half of the people enslaved to the other half. The oppression of women is completely bound up with the division of society into masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited, and the ending of all such conditions is impossible without the complete liberation of women. All this is why women have a tremendous role to play not only in making revolution but in making sure there is all-the-way revolution. The fury of women can and must be fully unleashed as a mighty force for proletarian revolution.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
And in addition to all the other outrages which I have referred to, in terms of children throughout the slums and shantytowns of the Third World, in addition to all the horrors that will be heaped on them—the actual living in garbage and human waste in the hundreds of millions as their fate, laid out before them, yes, even before they are born—there is, on top of this, for those children who are born female, the horror of everything that this will bring simply because they are female in a world of male domination. And this is true not only in the Third World. In “modern” countries like the U.S. as well, the statistics barely capture it: the millions who will be raped; the millions more who will be routinely demeaned, deceived, degraded, and all too often brutalized by those who are supposed to be their most intimate lovers; the way in which so many women will be shamed, hounded and harassed if they seek to exercise reproductive rights through abortion, or even birth control; the many who will be forced into prostitution and pornography; and all those who—if they do not have that particular fate, and even if they achieve some success in this “new world” where supposedly there are no barriers for women—will be surrounded on every side, and insulted at every moment, by a society and a culture which degrades women, on the streets, in the schools and workplaces, in the home, on a daily basis and in countless ways.
Bob Avakian, BAsics 1:10
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Statement from 8 March Women's Organization (Iran-Afghanistan)
Revolution received the following statement which was written by the 8 March Women's Organization (Iran-Afghanistan:)
March 8 is on its way. Heartbeats intensify, and our sights are set on the struggle of our sisters all around the world, to join together, hand in hand, for a world free of gender oppression.
For yet another year, we followed, day by day and moment by moment, the struggle of women all around the world. We became furious with the attacks on women in Tahrir Square, those brave women who refused to be kept out of the struggle in Egypt. With women protesting in Wall Street, we women challenged the defenders of "Democracy and the World Capitalist Order". In Libya we women cried out that we don’t need Sharia laws. We women in Greece poured into the streets and shook the "United and Free" European order, and we women in the US are fighting for abortion rights and against pornography and patriarchy.
The beautiful voice of "Amol Al-Maslosi" from the occupied streets of Tunisia, conveyed the message of “I am the voice of rebels. I am free, and my world is too...” and this is the cry of women in the Arab countries. In these times women, in huge numbers, powerful and fearless, have poured onto the streets and captured the headlines of world media and overturned the image of Muslim women. We are determined to turn our struggles into a worldwide hurricane for putting an end to the inferior position of women.
We, the women in Iran, experienced a reversal with the coming to power of the anti-women regime of the Islamic Republic, thirty-three years ago. We genuinely fear that history may repeat itself in the Arab countries.
We witnessed how in Iran, from the uprising of 1979 through the protests in 2009, revolutionary and progressive forces dropped women’s demands under the pretext that those demands were not the main points of the revolution. With that position they disarmed themselves in the face of reactionary Islamic forces, and because of that, the whole revolutionary movement rapidly accelerated down the hill to defeat.
Today, we know extremely well that presenting basic demands, a programme and an outlook for the liberation and equality of women is a dividing line question for progressive, militant forces seeking to move society forward.
We, the women of Iran, have felt in our flesh and blood that the ideological foundation, symbol and parameters of an Islamic regime are based keeping women in an inferior position, in fact, slavery, by totally denying their rights. Reactionary religious forces, hand in hand with their international partners, stole the fruit of the people's just struggle.
We have been imprisoned by the forced wearing of the hejab for over thirty years. We also know that the hejab, whether compulsory or by choice, is a symbol of the slavery of women and brings them under the domination of the other half of society.
With the coming to power of anti-women reactionary Islamists, we saw how religion meant utter obedience before God’s representatives on earth, meaning daily punishment for our disobedience and rebelliousness.
The implementation of Islamic laws over the past thirty years has suffocated women in Iran. We know full well the effects of Islam in power and the implementation of Sharia laws in theocratic Islamic governments such as Iran. Whether it be the backward and reactionary Taliban or the Karzai government in Afghanistan, the harsh feudal regime of Saudi Arabia, the "soft and secular" Islamism in Turkey, or the government in Iraq ... they have all brought nothing but degradation, absolute oppression and slavery for women.
We organized the biggest demonstration against the compulsory hejab on March 8, 1979. Since then, in our struggle for our basic rights against the Islamic Republic regime, we have been tempered and accumulated enough experience to know that the first step in the emancipation of women is the complete separation of state and religion, which can only be obtained as a result of the overthrow of the anti-women Islamic Republic order in its totality.
On March 8, 2012, we will be in the streets to shout that the struggle of our sisters in the Arab and other Islamic countries, united with all the progressive forces there, is the first step of our struggle for the complete separation of religion and state. This is the message of women in Iran, under the rule of an Islamic regime, to our sisters all over the Middle East and North Africa.
Look at the slave-like conditions of millions of women in Iran. Do not allow this experience to be repeated. Focus your conscious struggle on keeping the reactionary Islamic forces from coming to power.
We women have to be at the forefront of struggle against the rotten religious and traditional customs upheld by backward Islamists. It is our daring struggles that can bring the most progressive forces to the battlefields to resist numerous reactionary forces. It is our continuous and uncompromising struggles that can assure that the people's struggle for emancipation can flourish.
Only our perseverance can beat back both reactionary Islamic forces and their imperialist backers – who, under the pretext of "humanitarian intervention" or "defending women’s rights", have ruined the lives of millions of women in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through their puppet regime in Libya, they forced Sharia laws and polygamy on women, and now they dare talk about defending women’s interests in Iran. We know well, that the male chauvinist imperialists are seeking their own interests, and they will never free a single woman on this planet. We women in Iran will not allow them to force another historical reversal on us in our name. The Islamists and the imperialists are all patriarchal and reactionary, and must be thrown into the dustbin of history.
We must not confine ourselves to what might seem possible. We must identify the obstacles and demand the impossible, keep our sights high and climb rocky and huge mountains. We must fly over the old order of religion, capitalism, and patriarchal society to gain momentum and capture new and higher mountaintops of emancipation, where the freedom and equality of women is carved out and shines as a centrepiece.
Let us join together to celebrate International Women’s Day on a massive scale, with pride and joy, with our struggles focussed against patriarchal order that rules the world.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
The following was posted on Sunsara Taylor’s blog:
Over and over again a group of us who have been working to mobilize people to stand up for International Women's Day, have marveled at how little people know about the war on women. We've been very struck by how deeply people react and share their visceral feelings of upset, distress and righteous anger over the conditions facing women broadly and themselves personally. Mostly, these are people who seemed surprised themselves how strongly they reacted, but once they heard the whole war on women called out in its entirety, once they heard such sober truth telling and certitude, this drew out their own convictions. At the same time, largely because we recognize how deeply this connects with people who weren't already “looking for” this effort to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women which we are launching, we've struggled with how to get people who aren't already thinking about the attacks on women to be open enough to engage what we are saying and doing.
So, during a meeting a couple weeks ago we spent some time and we put ourselves to this. Through many harebrain permutations and brainstorms along the way, what we came up with was the following. We got enormous paper (about 12 feet by 6 feet) and laid it out on the ground. On it we drew a couple of chalk outlines of women's bodies, the kind that the police do after someone has been murdered. Over the bodies of these women we placed big boot prints with various words which concentrate the hatred and enslavement of women: patriarchy, pornography, sex slavery, burkha, “beauty” standards, church, etc. Then, around that whole display we placed a collection of stunning facts about the level of hatred and violence against women. Different people volunteered to pull together different parts of the display and we assembled the whole thing on the spot the first time we took it out.
The display was incredibly powerful! The first place we took it was to a major production of the Vagina Monologues where we expected to encounter a friendly audience. Next we took it to a college campus where we had been getting out fliers for the IWD protest already.
The first thing that hit all of us, even those of us who are very familiar with all the facts we had laid out, was how powerful it was to see the whole war on women depicted in this way. And immediately, in fact even before we finished setting it up, people began drawing closer, reading various facts, shaking their heads and talking to each other.
“What stands out to you most?” we asked many as they stared. “All of it... all of it together,” was a common response. After that people would remark on one or another fact that had really hit them. Two older men, perhaps they were a couple, said they had always been pro-choice but they'd never realized that nearly 90% of counties in the U.S. lacks an abortion provider. Two younger guys also commented on this same statistic. The younger Latino guy said he just didn't know what he felt about abortion, remarking that some insist that it is always wrong and yet sometimes there are really hard circumstances where you cannot judge a woman if she chooses to get one. His friend, a young Black photographer, pointed out to him that this meant he should be “pro-choice” and support keeping the option open. From there, they started exploring outloud whether strip clubs were really degrading to women. They'd both been to them, they admitted somewhat bashfully, and you could tell they knew on one level this wasn't right but they'd also never really been provoked to think or to discuss why.
Quite a few men opened up to us, including very young men, about frequenting strip clubs. Interestingly, at least the ones who stopped so far, did not defend this or ridicule what we were saying. All of them had a sense that this wasn't good for women, but then this often opened up a struggle with them over just how degrading and brutal the experience is for most women who work in those jobs. We also brought out the role strip clubs play more broadly in training men to view women—and giving them an unchallenged space to treat women—as non-human things whose sole purpose is the sexual servicing and gratification of men. Further struggle would open up as we would make clear that we were not condemning strip clubs from a puritanical place. Interestingly, several of these young guys—in particular a couple of young Latino guys—raised that they knew from their church that this was not how to treat women. So, we'd have to get into from there how the church's view of women is really no better and not that different; the church says women should be “virginal breeders who submit to men” and the strip clubs portray women as “sex objects who should submit to men”— neither regard women's full humanity. This really threw some of these guys for a trip!
A man reacted strongly to a study which was cited that said 80% of men interviewed said that the one sexual act they wished they could perform was to ejaculate in a woman's face. He asked whether this could possibly be true. Meanwhile, just a few feet away, a younger woman was whispering to one of us, “Every guy I have ever dated has begged, I mean begged, me to let him do that to me. And none of them understand why I say that offends me.” She said she was looking forward to bringing her male friend to come and view our display as soon as he arrived. She was eager for the chance to get him to see that the disrespect she is always talking about towards women is not just “in her head.”
At the college campus, many of the people who have been most vocal in engaging our leaflets over the last couple of weeks have been those who are strong supporters of pornography (usually on the basis of insisting that they are “pro-sex feminists”). This continued to be the case when we arrived with our display. To be clear, over the past couple of weeks we have repeatedly had the experience of debating with those who want to defend porn and getting to a point where many of them have given us their emails and their phone numbers. This hasn't happened because we've watered down our critique of pornography, but precisely the opposite. The more sharply we have confronted people with the woman-hating and enslaving nature of pornography, and the more we have pointed to the similarities between stripping women of their humanity and reducing them to sex objects on the one hand, and stripping women of their humanity and reducing them to breeders on the other, the more many of these “pro-sex feminists” have been challenged to rethink some things—or at least to recognize that they were encountering an argument they've never heard before and couldn't so easily dismiss. It’s not like they have all changed their minds, but many end up feeling that they need to stay in dialogue with us, that we are not just a pack of puritans the way they initially assumed.
One of the young women who has been part of our crew was struck by how deeply we listened to people's objections and concerns and how we then would argue with them over what are really the main features of pornography, where it comes from and what kind of a world it reflects and reinforces. She said she could watch as people's minds were changing and she herself was learning a lot by watching people contend over their understanding of what is true.
We have encountered a lot of the infuriating and paralyzing relativism on the campus as well. In particular, we've had people accuse us of “being racist” for insisting that women are being enslaved, or accuse us of “belittling rape” to condemn it in the same breath as we condemn pornography. Often people saying these things have straight up stormed away without waiting for a response. But, where they stick around—and with others—we have calmly, but firmly, insisted that forced motherhood is female enslavement, as is the global sex trade in the flesh of women and girls in the millions and millions. And all this is what pornography reinforces and fuels. Yes, pornography fuels rape. It fosters a view of sex that is about domination, force, humiliation and violation. Even more than that, it fosters a view that all women exist at all times to be sexually available to and sexually servicing of men. In this view, any woman who refuses a man's sexual advances is depriving him of something he is trained through pornography (as well as through society more broadly) to feel entitled to. To claim that this doesn't fuel rape (which is different than saying that pornography is the only cause of rape, lest anyone distort this to dismiss it—something we've experienced as well) is to be willfully obtuse.
Our display provided even more ground to stand on in struggling over the question of pornography, especially for people who are newer to this effort and don't have tons of facts at their fingertips. The display did this both by making clear that we are condemning all aspects of the enslavement of women as well as by citing the words of some of the makers of porn themselves. For instance, a quote which had many shaking their heads and honestly feeling queasy, was a quote from Bill Margold (veteran porn producer and actor) who said, "I'd like to really show what I believe the men want to see: violence against women. I firmly believe that we serve a purpose by showing that. The most violent we can get is the cum shot in the face. Men get off behind that because they get even with the women they can't have."
Despite the fact that a new study and a powerful new film on the subject has recently been released, almost no one knew that 25% of women in the U.S. military are sexually assaulted by male soldiers. This opened up and overlapped with many rich discussions about the nature of the U.S. military's current projects of aggression around the world and whether they are just or not.
Others, particularly some of the international students, were shocked—but so glad—to see us highlighting things like, “A woman born in South Africa is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read!” No one said this, but I think it helped that facts like this one were mixed in together with facts that highlight the crimes against women in the U.S. as well. At times people have been defensive when they feel that only other countries are being singled out for the oppressed status of women in a way that could be used to reinforce American chauvanism and even military intervention.
For the first time we have begun to meet young Christians, as well as young Muslims (some of whom are wearing headscarves), who are very glad to see us highlighting the epidemic of violence against women and sexual slavery. These folks mainly disagree with us on abortion and sexual morality in general (that sex is not “sacred”—it is an act that can have very different meanings and we think it should be about mutual respect, caring, pleasure and equality). These have been points of sharp struggle, as has—with some—the question of whether god exists or not at all. This is very much as it should be! At the same time, it is interesting—as a few of us were remarking afterward—that we have often in the past united with pro-porn folks to defend abortion so it makes sense now that we would be hearing from religiously motivated anti-abortion folks in our condemnation of pornography. But on both of these ends, there is a need to engage in vigorous struggle over how the entire package of oppression and degradation of women must be taken on (and this is something we often side-stepped with people on the question of porn in the past).
Our approach has been to be very open about, and to struggle with people over, all ends of this war on women—and, on that foundation, to let people unite with this effort and continue to struggle as they do. The truth is, most of these folks have never heard a thoroughgoing view of women as full human beings (not special because of our allegedly “nurturing” or “more pure” role, etc.). As such, it is important that they encounter the full indictment we are making about the enslavement and degradation of women and that we take the time to struggle with people over what it will take to liberate women and humanity as a whole.
Finally, there are many who have expressed interest but also made clear that they don't know how big a difference a protest will make. One woman said, “Yeah, but look at our political system—we'll never get heard.” By this, she was referring to the recent Republican debates where every candidate condemned birth control. “Actually,” we responded, “That is exactly why you need a revolution and a new political system and a new economic system on which that rests,” and we got into that. But we also made clear, “And that's why we need to rely on ourselves to stand up and fight and rally others from the sidelines. The point that the political system is 'just too fucked up' is the reason for us to build a massive resistance from below—not the reason we should continue to allow those rulers to shape our future!” This particular woman wouldn't give her contact info, but she did give ten dollars. Others have made contributions on the street as well.
One woman was working at the time when we were set up and didn't want to get in trouble with her supervisor for talking to us too long, so we took down her email address and she gave $20 online later that evening. This element of fundraising right there on the street has been something we are getting better at as we go as well. We've begun carrying buckets on our arms which say “DONATE” really big on them, together with eye-catching stickers we give to people if they make a contribution. In this way, they both support the effort financially and they are able to take a stand through displaying the sticker that starts to impact others right there on the spot. Many students don't carry any money with them, but actually making the question of donating a big mass question from the get-go has made a difference. Quite a few have contributed not only pocket change (which does add up over the course of a day!) but also singles, fives and even tens. We are then feeding this in to the online Indiegogo fundraising campaign effort so that people have a sense of the growing momentum and breadth of support.
There is much more to report on the reactions to this effort so far—to the Call for Mass Action and to the display on the war on women. Perhaps soon I'll take more time and do another installment. For now, I will end with two points.
First, this display has opened up a spigot on the hearts and experiences of women in particular. Many women, young and old, have stopped on the street to tell us very personal and very oppressive stories—of boyfriends pressuring them to do humiliating sex acts, of bosses sexually assaulting and then stalking them even after they leave that job, of rape and sexual assault, of feeling helpless to help friends when they confront sexual violence, of the every day street harassment and disrespect they experience hourly and daily, of the toll of size-zero “beauty” standards to which women's worth is reduced, and much, much more.
Second, as much as this is striking a deep chord—this really is a beginning. There is a need to deepen and fan and spread out the engagement and polarization we are stirring up. In a way, what we have encountered is like the way muscles ache after they've been used for the first time in a long time. The lactic acids of people having become acclimated to the intolerable state of affairs with regards to women, and porn in particular, are getting released. Some of the response is toxic (tearing up the fliers, storming off and yelling). But much of what we are encountering is interest and provocation that surprises even those expressing it (kind of like, “I didn't even know those muscles existed, wow it feels good—if kind of weird—to work them out for the first time”). With some, we are encountering very deep agreement and interest, even if right now it is expressed more in whispers—reflecting how cowed people have become, particularly on the campuses, if they object to pornography. And there is much more.
We need to deepen and spread the polarization—continuing to fan it further open in the final run-up week and more and more sharply going at the toughest and most widely held questions that we are encountering.
And there is a great need to find the ways—and we intend to do this in the last week's push to the March 10th protest for International Women's Day—to continue to make the argument as to why people MUST ACT! We've come to recognize that even among those who agree, the notion of taking to the streets to protest doesn't immediately resonate as what one must do. The vision of taking it upon ourselves to change the culture, to change the terms throughout society, to change how millions of other are thinking and acting, to change the whole direction and momentum in society through our mass independent political action—this is something we aim to bring much more alive and put to people honestly as the urgent need before us all.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Talking about Pornography and Patriarchy at a High School
Revolution received the following letter from a high school student:
During my lunch break at school, I announced to my fellow high school peers—many of them had bought IWD shirts last year from me—that International Women's Day was approaching once again and I began to describe what was being done in response to that. I had briefly mentioned the critical issue in defending abortion and all reproductive rights. My friends all seemed to agree wholeheartedly on the importance to have such access. However, what sparked the most interest and what really got the discussion going was the idea of having a demonstration at strip clubs in the city where we live. Some of my friends were surprised or curious at what that meant. I made it clear that we were not going against the women in these institutions but the institutions themselves. One of my friends couldn't grapple with such an idea. Such a thing had never been introduced to us before! It was then that I realized how normal, how accepting, how prevalent this issue is but rarely questioned. She argued about the individual's right to choose and if women were willing to do it, then it's okay. In response, I gave a small anecdote of a woman I knew who either had to choose between being on the streets or stripping for the money. In the Revolution newspaper #261, Bob Avakian's quote really states it true: people don't choose what their choices are. After I said that, I noticed that a big majority were listening. Some of them didn't know what to think. Others agreed and were ready to hear more. Some were hesitant.
I began further describing the extreme pornification of the world we live in and A LOT of people had something to say about that. The conversation drifted toward the issue of the sexualization of women to sell commodities. My hesitant friend from earlier definitely agreed on that. She slammed American Apparel and described it as "full porn." My other friend jumped in and started talking about the "sex sells" philosophy that followed that kind of advertising. We had talked so much we hadn't even noticed the bell had rung for class. My friend expressed her thanks for such a discussion and told me, "I had never thought about it that way before. We definitely need to talk about the porn more!" The overall experience was quite a lesson. If anything, this conversation shows how normalized the sexual subordination of women is and how urgent it is to bring this movement to the front of this society. "End Pornography and Patriarchy!!"
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
It's important for Revolution to have timely coverage of developments like the March 10 International Women's Day actions. We call on readers to send us reports and correspondence on the protests in various cities. Take photos, or ask photographers you meet to contribute photos.
Email reports/correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org. For photos, email 3-4 at a time in zipped files, or post photos on Flickr or a similar site and tell us how to access. Include explanation of what's in each photo, and credit info.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Back in the day—during the 1960s upsurge—as I was being increasingly drawn to communism but still searching out and engaging different groups and programs, I encountered a “theoretician” of the International Socialists (now known as the ISO) who was visiting the campus at Berkeley, and we entered into a discussion, which more and more took on the character of a struggle, over the problem in the world and the solution, including the history of the communist movement and the experience of socialism in the Soviet Union and in China. Finally, as things were becoming increasingly clear and sharp, it occurred to me, and I said to him very simply and directly: The problem with you and your group is that you hate communism much more than you hate capitalism. He couldn’t refute, or even really deny, this.
Nor can it be denied, or refuted, that this has long been, and is today, the essential problem with opportunists in general, who claim to be against this system—or at least some of its more glaring outrages—but, at the same time, in their outlook and their objectives, actually cannot get beyond what Marx called the narrow horizon of bourgeois right. In essence and in its actual effect, their outlook and program amounts to accommodating to capitalism-imperialism, with all the horrors it brings about, while what they really hate and seek to undermine is the only real, and really emancipating, alternative to this capitalist-imperialist system—the communist revolution, and those who represent and fight for this revolution. If you honestly and seriously look into this—and compare and contrast the opposing viewpoints, objectives, principles, and methods—this is the unavoidable conclusion.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Dogma is one thing. Insisting on something without an adequate foundation is one thing. But that is very different than correctly insisting: that there is actually objective reality and, corresponding to that, objective truth; that there are methods and means for getting to objective truth; that people have gotten to it, that they do get to it. Yes, there is a relative element within that, and we should always have our minds open and be searching for deeper understanding—be open to acknowledging that what we thought to be true, wasn’t in fact true—but, at the same time, we really should not lapse into relativism. By relativism I mean not just the understanding that human knowledge about reality is limited in some ways (and therefore has a relative element within it) but the erroneous notion that there is no objective reality, and/or that human beings cannot really come to know anything about reality with any certainty—that “it’s all relative”—it’s all just perceptions and opinions, and it’s impossible to determine whether or not an idea or conception corresponds to objective reality. The struggle against relativism is a very important epistemological battle that has to be waged, particularly among the more progressive forces in society, who have been weighed down with this post-modernism and relativism, and so on—and it’s killing, it’s killing them and killing their ability to stand up to what’s going on in the world, to even recognize what’s going on in the world. As long as we let people get away with this notion that everything is just an opinion, or just your idea of the world, or your “narrative,” we’re never going to get anywhere good in the world.
[Editors’ Note: The above is taken from the talk “Why We’re in the Situation We’re in Today...And What to Do About It: A Thoroughly Rotten System and the Need for Revolution,” one of the 7 Talks given by Bob Avakian in 2006. Audio of the 7 Talks, plus the Question and Answer Session, with Concluding Remarks, is available at bobavakian.net. The author has edited this for publication here.]
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
BA Everywhere is a campaign aimed at raising big money to project Bob Avakian's voice and works throughout society—to make BA a household word. The campaign is reaching out to those who are deeply discontented with what is going on in the world, and stirring up discussion and debate about the problem and solution. It is challenging the conventional wisdom that this capitalist system is the best humanity can do—and bringing to life the reality that with the new synthesis of communism brought forward by BA, there is a viable vision and strategy for a radically new, and much better, society and world, and there is the leadership that is needed for the struggle toward that goal.
Success in this campaign can bring about a radical and fundamental change in the social and political atmosphere by bringing the whole BA vision and framework into all corners of society where it does not yet exist, or is still too little known, and getting all sorts of people to engage and wrestle with it.
BA Everywhere is a multi-faceted campaign, involving different key initiatives and punctuation points, at the same time sinking roots among all sections of the people and reaching out broadly in myriad creative ways. Revolution newspaper is where everyone can find out what's going on with all this: reports on what people are doing, upcoming plans, important editorials, etc. We call on readers to send us timely correspondence on what you are doing to raise money for BA Everywhere, why people are contributing, and what they are saying.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
The BAsics Bus Tour (Pilot Project) wrapped up its two-week, 1,000-mile tour through California with a day at Berkeley High School and several days in Fresno. Throughout the two weeks, we were bringing to people hungry for change the message that the world today is a horror for billions of people, and that “You can’t change the world if you don’t know the BAsics.” We were challenging people to “Get into BA!” by connecting them with his book, BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian.
Students we met were told that Bob Avakian had attended BHS, and the principal of the school, who heard this from someone, came out and asked us if this was true. It is, and Bob Avakian devotes an important section of his memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, to his days at BHS and the fond memories he has of those days; so taking his book to the current students at BHS was, in a way, “taking it home.”
We were invited by teachers to four classes where we told the students what the BAsics Bus Tour was all about.
We read quotes from BAsics, which opened up serious discussions where the students challenged us, coming up with big questions on how the world can be changed, and grappling with the truth of the quotes. The classes were lively and fun and the students were doing some critical thinking around what was being posed to them. More questions came from students who thought that people act the way they do due to human nature.
In one class, an important discussion around the oppression of women followed the reading of BAsics 2:8, when a young woman in the class asked what the part that says “Come on, enough of this ‘bitches and ho’s’” has to do with communism? At first, some students responded in a negative way. One guy said he likes “women getting low.” Another said that if you don’t allow music artists to use the words “bitches and ho’s” you would be “stifling creativity.” A Black student said that some women can only pay for college by stripping. This was turned around when we read BAsics 1:10 and the reasons for why women are forced into prostitution and pornography. This reading changed the terms of the discussion and gave space for those who did not agree that women are not oppressed. A woman student from the Middle East and a Black woman said they thought it is good to be able to understand that the oppression of women IS real because then you can understand why it is not by choice that women get into pornography or prostitution. Even though the discussion did not get into the full answers for ending the oppression of women, using BAsics 5:18 on why ending the oppression of women is a touchstone question for men was important for challenging the young men.
We were also asked how and why we decided to do this and how we got involved and became revolutionaries.
These students had big questions about revolution, socialism, and communism. They have never heard people advocating for this. What they heard from us was different from what they had been told about the Soviet Union and China while they were socialist. And one of the other teachers in the school had even passed out a “cheat sheet” with questions they should pose in the discussion, like, “Isn’t communism when the government controls everything?” And then, they had questions of their own: Isn’t this when things get distributed equally but the thinking is stifled? How can you prevent a revolutionary government from going corrupt? Do people have any rights under socialism? Wasn’t socialism an economic failure in China and Russia? We weren’t able to get into all of these questions, so we challenged the students to use and study BAsics to get the correct answers to the lies that they have been told about communism.
Fresno, California, is the largest inland city in the state, and has a diverse population of more than 500,000, with a large Latino population. It is located in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley—the center for agriculture in California.
The bus went to a Black church where we were warmly welcomed by the minister. While he is into legislative reform and not revolution to solve the problems the people face, he agreed to let us give a short presentation to the congregation. We showed the clip “Postcards of the Hanging” from Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian. One woman said that no one is saying what BA is saying and he is not getting the recognition he deserves. She was glad to see the tour putting him out there.
The bus went to a Mardi Gras parade where we challenged people using quotes from the book. A Black woman and her daughter responded to quotes 1:1 and 1:31 on conceiving the world without America by saying that this is something that people need to read. But when we put out quotes about religion, they had disagreements, saying that they did not believe that religion was harmful or that it promotes a “slave mentality.” The daughter told us that she did have some criticisms of religion, particularly how people use the Bible to justify hating gay people and opposing gay marriage.
Fresno has a huge homeless community and we decided we would give the book to the homeless who wanted it, and then raise the funds to pay for them from others. There was a group of four homeless who got one book to share with each other. At one encampment, we met a woman from Oaxaca, Mexico, who told us she had lost her son crossing the border, and her husband and daughter had died once they got inside the U.S., leaving her with only one daughter. They now spend their days on the streets of Fresno trying to eke out a living.
At Fresno State University, we were able to drive the bus onto the central quad of the campus. Univision and CBS News covered the tour on the campus, and a host from the Pacifica Radio station contacted us for an interview. We were told by a professor that the campus was very polarized, with the racists setting the terms and intimidating those who are progressive. We came face-to-face with that polarization. As some students stepped forward to buy BAsics and talk to us, and asked us to keep in touch with them, others were angry that we were “dissing America” and tried to run us off the campus. We took these people on by using quotes 2:9 and 2:18 and we talked about the fact that previous socialist societies have accomplished great things. One professor told us it was very good that we were on the campus inspiring those students who are looking for alternatives.
We discovered that there are many pathways to this book. In Fresno, there were those who are part of the large Armenian community who bought BAsics because of the author’s name and because of the national identity they had with his name.
On this Bus Tour, we learned that the quotes from BAsics can and should stir up a lot of controversy and we need to be challenging people in a good way in taking on their incorrect thinking. For example, quote 2:1 that communism is “Not ‘The Last Shall Be First, and The First Shall Be Last” created a lot of controversy where people we were meeting were saying to us, “Why shouldn’t those of us on the bottom be first?” So it was important for us to grasp the truth in what we were saying in the Revolution #258 article on this BAsics Bus Tour that by the time the pilot tour is over, “It will have provoked controversy and have challenged many of those who are met to go deeper, to look into the revolutionary work that Avakian has been doing for the past four decades...”
The tour ended with a celebration at Los Angeles Revolution Books/Libros Revolución.
The BAsics Bus Tour (Pilot Project) was an excellent beginning for one of the six big ideas for 2012 to “Get BA Everywhere,” where we learned a lot in order to launch a national Bus Tour later this year. We are beginning to discover the truth that there are people who live in outlying areas who are hungering for the voice of BA and BAsics, which concentrates 30 years of Avakian’s work on everything standing between humanity and complete emancipation.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Week of March 5
“Scenes from BA Everywhere” is a weekly feature that gives our readers an ongoing picture of this multi-faceted campaign, and the variety of ways that funds are being raised and the whole BA vision and framework is being brought into all corners of society. Revolution newspaper is at the hub of the BA Everywhere effort—publishing reports from those taking up the campaign. Revolution plays a pivotal role in building an organized network of people across the country coming together to make BA a household word. We urge all our readers to send us timely correspondence on what you are doing as part of this campaign.
The following is an excerpt from a supporter, translated from Spanish; the whole letter is at revcom.us:
Since we took up the task of the campaign to get BA Everywhere, as part of promoting the campaign, to get money to send Lo BAsico [Spanish edition of BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian] to prisoners, some of us decided to reach out to everybody who already knows about BA’s work or who at least have bought Lo BAsico and all the people who are interested in the book, or to buy a copy for a prisoner or donate to the PRLF [Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund].
One of the experiences which I thought was interesting was with a compañero who has been reading the newspaper for more than a year and has been following the works of BA.
When we showed him the BA Everywhere video [several video clips on BA and BAsics] and after having discussed some points about the campaign, he said: We need the damn money! To promote this guy BA and the Party. That’s what we need the money for!
On February 19, the BA Everywhere campaign raised $428 at a benefit near the University of Chicago for the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund’s drive to send BAsics to 2,000 prisoners. Timed in solidarity with the National Occupy Day in Support of Prisoners on February 20, the benefit was held at a community art gallery and school. A crowd of 50-60 people, including poets, ex-prisoners, students and revolutionaries, mingled and enjoyed international food donated by several neighborhood restaurants and a market. Some were being introduced to BA for the first time and others were already active in the campaign. The program alternated live readings of BAsics quotes and letters from prisoners; spoken word poetry; and videos, including clips of Bob Avakian and dramatic readings of letters from prisoners. One woman told the audience how when she was young, the Panthers used to drive people, including her, in inner city Chicago to visit their relatives in prisons across the state. “I’m so glad the revolution is back,” she said. Then she read quote 2:6 from BAsics about imagining work and housing under a liberated socialist society. One person commented, “Bob Avakian and this Party are the only serious revolutionary organization around.”
The following is from a reader’s correspondence:
We went to a women’s hip-hop event at a local bar that attracts a wide range of people. The audience for the event is young and Black, women and men. It was Valentine’s Day and the freestyling took the three words to style—love, affection, and revolution—to a whole inspiring level. In this mix, we were there to announce the Call to Act (“End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women! Abortion on Demand and Without Apology! Fight for the Emancipation of Women All Over the World!”), and signed up for the open mic. I got up there, introduced BAsics, and just went for it. I read 2:8; “Imagine if we had a whole different art and culture...” As the audience expressed their appreciation, I reached for the Call to Action. But the emcee stepped up and took the mic! She said, “This is a call to action, y’all. End Pornography and Patriarchy: the Enslavement and Degradation of Women.” She stopped to put in her personal input saying, “People, I know a lot of you like porn, but this is a problem for women. We have to end porn. Women are full human beings. Treating women as objects is like enslavement. This is NOT the kind of love we have been talking about.” Then, she slowly and dramatically read the entire paragraph from the Call that begins, “Every 15 seconds a woman is beaten...” and the audience was blasted with each phrase. Finally, she wrapped it up, again, with a call to act to stop the degradation of women.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Letter from a Prisoner
The Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund received the following letter from a prisoner in Texas on counterrevolutionary attacks on Bob Avakian:
Dear Revolutionary Family,
Greetings again from the Texas gulag! Hope you’re keeping safe in your never-ending struggle to make the world a freer and more equitable place in which to live.
I’ve been rereading parts of Bob’s Observations and it strikes me as particularly significant he opens the book discussing methodology at arriving at truth; and even goes so far as to acknowledge a person may arrive at an important truth while ignoring, or even rejecting, his preferred methodology.
To me, this demonstrates an all-important aspect of Bob’s overriding goal & orientation, and by extension that of the Revolutionary Communist Party as a whole: to arrive at the truth of a situation with all other considerations taking.
It simply cannot be over stressed the importance of this spirit. At a time (and when has there not been such a time?) when most people think: my ideology/religion/country/ (you fill in the blank), right or wrong, Bob and the RCP say No: that is the incorrect attitude to have and, in the end, that road can only lead to revisionism and regression; the exact opposite of the direction in which we want to go. In fact, I will even go so far as to say (and I’m sure Bob & the great majority of the RCP as it stands will agree) if some distant time should ever come to pass when the RCP and its value of truth should part ways it’s imperative all Communists of conscience owe their loyalty to truth only, even to the exclusion of that hypothetical future RCP.
The persons who have attempted to wage a psychological war with Bob and RCP, through slander & libel, have a nefarious and secret agenda. They obviously feel threatened by the RCP’s orientation of veritas uber alles (if I may be forgiven for mixing Latin and German) and so use the tactics of cowards everywhere: they attack personalities rather than principles because they intuitively realize their stance will not bear close inspection. They should be viewed with the same scorn one would reserve for a scoundrel who, hating a man, but lacking the courage and honesty to confront him directly, chooses to sneak around and kick his dog.
Bob and the RCP are not the main threat, you see, it’s what we represent, which is genuine revolutionary justice and equality. Our ideals represent a threat to the bourgeoisie puppet-masters who would keep the masses in perpetual slavery. They can’t come right out and say, “You stupid people, don’t you know you can never get free?!” Oh, no, that would reveal their hand; so instead they attempt to sow seeds of doubt & distrust within and concerning Bob and the RCP.
During my quarter-century (22 down, 3 to go) behind bars I have developed an acute sensitivity to motives behind people’s actions: I can smell a con from a mile away. I do swear and attest to Bob Avakian’s impeccable goals & intentions in liberating the masses from the capitalist-imperialist slavery; not because of an insatiable appetite for power at all costs—emancipation merely being a means to an end—but because of genuine and deep love & sympathy for the people and an overriding desire to relieve their suffering. The RCP is indeed my family because we are connected by a bond even thicker than blood: a love of truth and charity and compassion for all life and our priceless planet.
Yours for the Revolution,
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
The following letter was received from a supporter, and has been translated from Spanish.
Since we took up the task of the campaign to get BA Everywhere, as part of promoting the campaign, to get money to send Lo BAsico to prisoners some of us decided to reach out to everybody who already knows about BA's work or who at least have bought Lo BAsico and all the people who are interested in the book, or to buy a copy for a prisoner or donate to the PRLF.
One of the experiences which I thought was interesting was with a compañero who has been reading the newspaper for more than a year and has been following the works of BA. I think he has read his memoir, Lo BAsico and other articles.
When we showed him the BA Everywhere video* and after having discussed some points about the past conference on the same campaign, he said:
We need the damn money! To promote this guy BA and the Party. That's what we need the money for!
When we asked him what he thinks about Lo BAsico, he said: It's true, what Lo BAsico says is like an epiphany, it's like you get some light on things... After reading all these books, you understand that all this stuff about change and struggle. That's what BA is talking about!
You have a leadership which has confidence in the reality of the masses, like Mao was saying. Rely on the masses! You are putting it in practice.
He also said that the work with the prisoners is real important. I asked him why he thought that, and he answered:
For someone who already has been in prison, who has already had a clash with the system, at first he thinks that everything is his fault. That's how they start. He knows why he is in there... (hitting his palm with his fist) That's why education is important. (Lo BAsico) teaches you the truth and why it doesn't have to be this way.
Look what happens. We have these mixed-up thoughts, but BA organizes them, from the simple to the complex, because he wants you to understand it.
He told us that he was very interested in the question of the prisoners and that this was something he wanted to contribute to—and has now contributed to—and that maybe he knows two or three friends who could also contribute or maybe he would struggle with them to donate something.
* [Editor's note]This is referring to four video clips: historical video footage of Bob Avakian speaking in 1966, 1979 and 2003; video of actors reading letters from prisoners on BAsics; Next Stop—Revolution; and advance trailer for forthcoming film Occasioned by BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World. [back]
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
On February 18, Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party gave a talk at New York City's Riverside Church: "Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide! Mass Incarceration—Its Source, the Need to Resist Where Things Are Heading and the Revolution We Need!"
In the course of this talk, Dix presented a very powerful case that the mass incarceration of millions of people in this country—the majority of whom are Black and Latino—as a concentration of what this capitalist-imperialist system is doing overall to Black people, constitutes a slow genocide that could easily accelerate. And he laid out the reality that stopping this once and for all will take a communist revolution that gets rid of this capitalist-imperialist system—when the conditions for that have emerged—and brings a radically different state power into being, that we have the leadership we need for this revolution in Bob Avakian, and that we are working to get BA's work and vision everywhere in society as part of fighting the power and transforming the people for that revolution. He called on people to get into BA and get with this movement for revolution. And he urged people—whether they agreed with the need for revolution or not—to stand up and resist mass incarceration and the direction things are heading.
Among the elements of the genocide that Dix spoke to were: the millions who are locked in prison and millions more who are on probation or parole, and the devastating effect this has not only on those imprisoned but their friends and loved ones; the fact that tens of thousands are kept in conditions of solitary confinement that constitute torture; the disproportionate use of the death penalty against Blacks and Latinos; the stopping and frisking of hundreds of thousands of overwhelmingly Black and Latino people every year by the NYPD alone; epidemic police murder and brutality against people of color, exemplified by the 2,000 cases of police killings—most of them of people who were unarmed—just in the decade between 1990 and 2000, as well as the recent murder of 18-year-old unarmed Black man Ramarley Graham by cops in the Bronx who broke into his home and shot him in front of his family; and the spouting and fueling of genocidal white supremacist rhetoric by this system's political representatives and media who demonize Black people with the intent of justifying all this.
Dix further laid out that the cause of this slow genocide that could easily accelerate is not a "prison-industrial complex" through which a few interest groups seek to profit off of racism or the exploitation of prisoners. Rather, the cause is the workings and conscious policy of a capitalist-imperialist system that has exploited Black people from day one—first through slavery, then sharecropping, and then confinement to the lowest-paying, most dangerous and dirtiest factory jobs—but now, because of major changes in the global economy, no longer has a way to profitably exploit Black people and no future for this entire section of society and seeks to impose a counter-insurgency in advance of the insurgency; that is, to crush the sections of society that the system fears greatly before they are able to rise up, which is a possibility the rulers of this system are acutely aware of given the Black liberation struggles of the 1960s and the central role it played in the overall revolutionary upsurge of the time. Dix emphasized that genocide does not happen all at once, nor always in the same form, but rather proceeds in stages and can take different forms.
Interviews conducted by Revolution newspaper after the event revealed that the theme, "Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide," struck a powerful and visceral chord with people who attended. Several of those we spoke to were moved to talk about how this phenomenon plays out in society as a whole as well as in their own daily lives and experiences.
"I believe that totally," a young Black man said, interjecting before the interviewer had even finished asking for his reaction. "Yeah, I believe that totally."
Revolution suggested that many people don't see the developing patterns.
"I see the pattern," the man responded. "I've been stopped and frisked and jailed before. I definitely see the pattern. My friends tell their stories of being frisked and stopped for no reason."
He then recounted an experience in which he had been given a $125 ticket for walking in between two subway cars, which he had done simply to position himself closer to the most convenient subway station exit. The "justification" cops offered for this was that people had been mugged and muggers moved between train cars.
"What the hell's that got to do with me?" he said. "No one has shouted out to you 'Get him, get him! He stole my...'"
A man who works with formerly incarcerated people—he said this had motivated him to attend the event—spoke poignantly about the lives and conditions of those he works with, making the point that it would be very difficult for people who grew up in the desperate conditions that they did to avoid crime and still survive.
"That life, because it leads to prison, to drugs, many of them never live to see 40," he said. "It is like a slow genocide. Definitely. Absolutely. And I think that he [Carl] made a good case for that."
A graduate student was asked what he thought of Dix's case that what is going on with mass incarceration constitutes a slow genocide that could become fast genocide.
"I thought it was very compelling," the student replied. "I spent some time in Rwanda this summer, and so in preparation for that did a lot of studying about what led up to that genocide. And it's a very different set of circumstances there than it is here, but it's very compelling in that genocide is always systemic, it's always planned, it's always more intentional than it seems while it's happening. It usually involves a government. The reason we study genocides of the past is to learn the warning signs. This is a thing that humans are capable of, unfortunately, and there have emerged things that indicate that that is going to happen."
A group of three Black men and one white woman had heavy stories to recount.
One of the Black men, in his 40s, recalled being stopped by an undercover cop after using a "block ticket" at a subway station. A block ticket, the man explained, is issued when subway services are discontinued, to be used at a different time. The ticket agent let him through.
"So I'm like 'OK, it's no problem.' I go downstairs, this cop approaches me, he starts writing down my personal information because at first he was gonna let me go. Then he saw my stop and frisk button, he asked me if I was trying to intimidate him. I'm like, 'How can I intimidate you? You have .45 bullets.' So he wasn't too happy about that. So then he took me back upstairs, he said 'Well, using this ticket is illegal, and it's a misdemeanor.' I went to court, the judge looked at my record, she said, 'You don't have a criminal record.' She's like "What's going on?' ...
"The day that I went to court, the courtroom was full of people from Harlem. Everybody that was in that courtroom—there was an 85-year-old mother who swiped her son on the train. They had her in handcuffs, she was facing two to five years for theft of services."
The white woman in the group went at the situation of Black people in this country from a different, but also very powerful, angle.
"My greatest issue is the demonization of Blacks," she said. "And it's done in a very—what's the word—subliminal and primordial level. My cousin came here from Italy, and where she's from in Italy ... there are no Black people. And she is a very egalitarian person. When she came here, and she came to visit me, she actually started to shudder. And I asked her, 'Well, why?' And she says, 'Because your neighborhood is Black.' And I said, 'What's that got to do with it?' And she says, 'I know it's irrational, but somehow I feel it deep in my heart.' And after thinking about it for a long time, she says, 'My God, they've conditioned me, just from watching American films.'
"'These people who are so wonderful, your neighbors, who all want to help me when I was lost, I couldn't find my way. These are wonderful people.' She says 'Oh my god, I can't believe what they've done to me.' And then she thought, 'My god, what happens here in this country? Where I only see it in American films every so often, you experience it every day.'"
During his talk, Dix drew a historical parallel between the situation facing Black people in this country and the experience of the Jews in Nazi Germany, making the point that what comes to many people's minds when they think about the history of Nazi Germany is Jews being rounded up, shipped to concentration camps, and exterminated by poison gas. But in fact, Dix said, this was the final step of a genocide that had many stages. And genocide does not always take the same form.
Dix referenced the book Drug Warriors and Their Prey: From Police Power to Police State by Richard Lawrence Miller, which compares the war on drugs to Nazi Germany, pointing out that Miller's book talks about a "chain of destruction" leading to genocide: Identification; ostracism; confiscation; concentration; and extermination. Dix then walked through how Black people have been identified and ostracized in the form of being: demonized as criminal predators to justify police acting as occupying armies in Black and Latino communities; brutalized, harassed, and killed by police who do all this with impunity; viciously discriminated against in the courts; disproportionately subjected to the death penalty; and imprisoned and paroled at numbers that exceed the number of people held as slaves in 1850! As far as confiscation, while Black people have not had their property taken in the way that happened to Jewish people before World War 2, historically the fruits of Black people's labor has been stolen in the form of slavery and subsequent forms of oppression. And Black people are concentrated in the worst urban areas, in run-down schools, in prisons. Dix further emphasized that he was not saying that all-out genocide against Black people was inevitable, and that whether or not it happened depended to a large extent on whether people—including those in the room—responded to this situation with silence and passivity, or rather with determined resistance.
Some people Revolution spoke to after the event, while suggesting that the situation of the Jews in Germany was not identical to that of Black people in this country, also expressed agreement with some key aspects of the analysis Dix presented.
"Absolutely," said a Black man from Harlem who is in his 20s. "I don't know if it's on that level, but there are definitely certain comparisons that are very real that Carl was making, as far as all the propaganda that was said in Nazi Germany before it led up to actually all the millions of people being murdered. So there's definitely similarities in that aspect."
He also saw a parallel in terms of the need for resistance.
"Like Carl was saying," he said, "if enough Germans that actually were against what was going on—all of the racist propaganda that was going on against the Jews—if enough people were involved, then maybe, just maybe, that could have been prevented. Who knows?"
The man who works with formerly incarcerated people said: "I mean, it's a different situation, the Jews in Germany, to some extent...What he said is very true, it didn't start with genocide. That was the end point. And there was a lot of buildup to that point. But genocide is something that Black people have faced ever since we came to this country, and in Africa. They killed far more Africans than were enslaved.... So the genocide is not new to us, and I think it continues."
It was posed to the graduate student who visited Rwanda that people sometimes argue against historical parallels between different genocides because this or that particular aspect of the genocides might be different.
"Right, but you could have said that about all of them," the student pointed out. "No two genocides or incidents of mass slaughter will be identical, ever, right?"
People Revolution interviewed expressed different understandings of problem and solution. For instance, a Black woman we spoke to, who found out about the event from her husband, referenced his advocacy of people pulling their money out of banks, and buying food from farmers rather than supermarkets. The white woman who shared the story about her cousin argued that a big part of the problem is that police do not live in the communities they work in. She—along with one of the Black men in her group—also seemed to see the problem to at least some extent in terms of gentrification. There were also different conceptions of what is meant by revolution and what kind of revolution is needed. The man who works with formerly incarcerated people expressed support for the idea of a classless society but said that he is a Muslim and believes that "God has to be part of touching people and guiding them to revolution." The Black man in his 20s from Harlem indicated that he conceived of revolution as people "getting involved" and resisting.
This is a further example of the urgent need—on the heels of this event and in relation to the issue of mass incarceration, and in an ongoing way, broadly throughout society—to put the revolution we need and the leadership we have on the map in a big way and to struggle to win people to this understanding of the problem and solution.
But even with this range of conceptions of what we are up against and what is needed, a common thread running through people's comments after the talk was a sense of urgency.
A young Black man spoke to the statistic Dix referenced of one in eight young Black men between the ages of 20 and 29 in prison in this country.
"I'm one of those young men," he said. "I've never been incarcerated, but eight other men like me lined up, one of us will be jail. That's alarming. And the fact that it's not being promoted as such is alarming in itself and just lets you know the state of the media, as far as there's no real free media right now."
He went on to speak to how he saw the importance of Dix's talk. "This place should be flooded with more people," he said. "At the rate that things are happening, there's no time to really wait and hope for the next four years of presidency to change or counteract that."
A Black man said that he had found out about the event only a couple hours earlier from revolutionaries on the street who were passing out postcards and flyers for the talk, and felt he had to be in the room.
"I felt like it was my civic duty," he said. "It was 2 o' clock. It was happening at 4 o' clock. I dropped everything that I did and made it my first priority to be here. So, kudos to the revolutionaries out there."
Another Black man who was in his group minced no words.
"We have an opportunity right now that we will never have again if we don't act now," he said. "With NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] and all these bullshit laws that they're passing, if we don't take this opportunity, if we allow this door to be closed, it will never open again. Understand that. Understand that. They are already trying to crush this movement, and us, and if we don't continue to fight, we'll have nothing to fight for, plain and simple."
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Posted March 1, 2012
Four hundred people rallied in New York City to say: "We stand with Occupy! Don't Suppress the Occupy Movement." The rally was infused with the spirit of "The Call for Mass Resistance Against the Suppression of the Occupy Movement." An Occupy activist led the crowd in "a mic check" of a portion of the Call, and occupiers perched on ladders in the crowd told their stories of repression.
A significant diversity of prominent speakers took the stage in Union Square with a sense of gravitas, because they felt a real need for a platform to say to the world—and to express to the Occupy movement—how important it was that Occupy cracked open a huge public conversation about inequality and injustice, and that it must not go away and the suppression must be stopped. Actor Susan Sarandon said that Occupy "opened up a very public debate... and it exposed brutal practices of suppression." Noam Chomsky, in a recorded message, told Occupy that "one sign of their success is the suppression," and that suppression must be resisted.
In addition to Sarandon and Chomsky, the rally was kicked off by Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary, the well-known folk group from the '60s) exuberantly taking the stage and singing, accompanied by his daughter Bethany Yarrow. Other speakers included civil liberties attorney Norm Siegel; NYU professor Andrew Ross; Father Luis Barrios; attorney Margaret Ratner Kunstler; the Rev. Stephen Phelps, Senior Minister at Riverside Church; retired Philadelphia police captain Ray Lewis; spokesperson for Revolution Books, Andy Zee; an OWS activist, Aaron Black; and past president of the NYC chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, Danny Meyers. Three musicians from Occupy the Music performed. And Outernational played a set of their revolution rock, ending the rally with "Fighting Song."
More than half the crowd was from Occupy Wall Street and was joyous to experience once again the broad expression of support. In finally speaking out against the unrelenting wave of suppression, several occupiers spoke of how they felt a weight lifted from a sense of marginalization and demoralization that had set in among many. After the rally, there was a spirited march to Zuccotti Park, where buttons were passed out that read: "Occupy. Return. Stronger."
February 28 was an inspiring first step to mobilize broadly all those who have been inspired by the Occupy movement to say NO! to the attempt to suppress thought and expression, to say no to the systematic and nationally coordinated attacks, to say no to the demonization of Occupy, to say this is intolerable and must not stand. The breadth and diversity of people on the stage and the spirit that ran through the day pointed to the basis to move forward.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Revolution received the following reports about Defend Occupy demonstrations on February 28 (see "NYC: Standing with Occupy!" for coverage of F28 in New York City):
A February 28 protest was held in Chicago answering the call for mass action against the suppression of the Occupy movement. People gathered at the site of the original Chicago occupation where the Board of Trade, Federal Reserve and Bank of America meet. The protest included Occupy activists, students, a crew of dedicated occupiers who have kept a presence at this site for five months, environmental and anti-war activists, military veterans and others. Some who joined the protest had not been active since the fall. Some came in from hours away.
There was a lot of joy at coming together to Occupy Chicago's birthplace and protesting again, anger at the repression on Occupy, and defiance as over 100 people took to the streets marching. Chants rang out loudly as the march crisscrossed the Loop. "Occupy is under attack, What do we do? Stand Up, Fight Back!" "We are unstoppable, another world is possible." Two giant, highly visible banners said: "We Will Not Be Silenced" and "The 1% Are Killing Us."
Speakers at the rally included: A National Lawyers Guild representative who spoke about the new "sit down and shut up" City ordinances; people arrested trying to set up an Occupy encampment in the fall; reps from Vets for Peace, Rising Tide environmentalists, and Revolution Books; organizers with Occupy 4 Prisoners, Occupy El Barrio and Occupy the Southside; and a young man who brought greetings from Eastern Europe. One college student who had organized for F28 in her school wrote the following to challenge other students: "The youth of this nation are the trustees of posterity... To the lost, confused and the pensive: I challenge you to discover your courage—to fight for truth and nothing short of it.... To these forces that be [dictating to the world], I tell you, I am a serious student. Please do not spindle, fold or staple me."
Many rush hour passersby smiled or honked horns. Others made it clear they did not enjoy the sight of Occupy protesters returning. A high point in the march was when a group of Black youth cheered wildly from across the street, and two came across the street through the police to join the march.
The F28 march went from the Federal Reserve to Grant Park, where 300 people had been arrested in October and also where protests are being planned for the upcoming G8 and NATO summits. From there people marched to the courthouse where Occupy arrestees are challenging their legal charges.
Many demonstrators spoke about the importance of mobilizing resistance at the upcoming G8 and NATO summits, and how this highlights the importance of opposing the repressive clampdown on Occupy.
A dedicated group of Occupy Houston and others came together on F28 to reaffirm their commitment to the Occupy Movement and answer the Call for Mass Action Against the Suppression of the Occupy Movement. The Call was very much at the center of the action. Several people participated in mass readings of the Call on street corners, and in front of City Hall.
During a speakout, people spoke to why they became part of Occupy.
One of the organizers said that before this, she was looking around at all the atrocities in society, but she was just tired of it all. When she saw 700 people corralled on the Brooklyn Bridge during an Occupy Wall Street protest, she woke up and said, "I can't be tired anymore," and joined in. She lives in a suburb and, despite the distance, drives in to participate on an almost daily basis.
One immigrant organizer of Occupy said, "I occupy because politicians don't care what we say," and recounted the City Council meeting earlier in the day, where ordinary people came to air their grievances, and "every individual was completely ignored." He went on to say that the cops have told them that capitalism has never failed, "and I have to agree. Capitalism has not failed, it is doing what it's supposed to do, because it is designed to keep the rich rich, and the poor poor."
Another occupier spoke to how Occupy has built a real community of people, and said "Thanks to all these people here," speaking to all the ways people have helped each other out.
One person said, "I occupy because of the greed, and destruction of freedom... I love the sharing of ideas, working together, the horizontal structure, and making friends...I see the occupation sustaining itself through protests like this one... and GAs [General Assemblies] visiting other occupations, expressing solidarity." This reality was brought to life by the presence of some Occupy people from other parts of the country present at the protest.
One good example of the kinds of wrangling over ideas that characterizes the Occupy movement was some friendly debate over the role of the police. People, even while aware of the role of the police against Occupy, tend to insist that they are part of the 99%. A Revolution distributor got a very good response, including from those expressing this view, when he read BAsics 1:24 which begins: "The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people..."
People were very interested in issue #260 of Revolution, which features an excerpt from an interview with Bob Avakian on the Cultural Revolution in China, with many not only getting the issue but interested in getting together to discuss it.
The rally ended with people marching back into Tranquility Park, in a symbolic re-taking of the park from which they had been evicted by the authorities a few weeks earlier. Discussion in the park centered on how to continue the movement, and the need to reach out and make it broader.
50 people came out in downtown to stand with the Occupy Movement to Stop the Suppression of the Occupy Movement. The crowd included a lot of Black people, young and older, as well as high school students, teachers, social activists and many occupiers. The rally began with a Black woman playing the jimbe and singing about the people rising up, another sang about the Occupy movement, and Al Porter from Black on Black (a Black community organization) rapped out his own "The Revolution Will Not Be Webcast!" Then the MC started the rally with, "Within the Occupy camps all across the nation, communities were formed, people from all walks of life came together with hopes creating change and envisioned a new and better world. They spoke out against tyranny, and were met with an iron fist. Peaceful crowds of men, women, children, elderly... tear gassed, beaten, tazed, shot with rubber bullets.... Entire camps torn apart...The more you oppress us, the stronger we will grow. The more injustices you commit, the more people will wake up and see through your lies. We are the 99%, we will NOT be silenced!" A young Black occupier spoke about how he came from an extremely hard situation and sees the Occupy movement as a place for change. He said, "As an African-American man, I have seen how many schools are closed and how the Black community is devastated. I want change in my community and in the world. The 1% say Occupy is preposterous, I say they [the 1%] are preposterous." A Revolution distributor read from an account in Revolution newspaper, based on the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA statement "On the Strategy for Revolution," which points to the importance of stopping the suppression of Occupy from the standpoint of making revolution and continuing to communism. Don Bryant, from Cleveland Immigrant Support Network, spoke about the injustices throughout the world and how the Occupy movement is an important vehicle to stop the injustices, especially against immigrants here and injustices in places like Palestine.
As people took off in the street, a drum banging the beat, they went through red lights, interrupting the flow of traffic through major intersections behind the banner, "Don't Suppress the Occupy Movement." Chants rang out, like "Hey Hey Ho Ho, This Suppression of Occupy has Got to Go!" and, as people went against traffic into an intersection with police watching, they yelled, "No Justice No Peace! Fuck the Police." The march ended at City Hall where people protested the constant harassment by police at the permitted tent at Public Square. People sat on the steps and then talked about staging an Occupation there the next day. For the occupiers and others who came out, the day marked a new beginning of Occupy Cleveland in which new and diverse people are more determined to stop the suppression of Occupy and to build this movement which occupies public space, that raises big questions about the inequalities of all kinds in this country, the destruction of the environment by the 1% and what to do about it. There was a spirit throughout the day that we will fight to stop the suppression and that "we will not be silenced!!"
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Editors' Note: Revolution is serializing an important speech given by Raymond Lotta during his national campus speaking tour in 2009-10. This version of the speech, given at Harvard University in April 2010, has been slightly edited and footnotes have been added for publication. Part 1 was printed in Revolution #257, January 29, 2012; Part 2 in #258, February 5, 2012; Part 3 in #259, February 12, 2012; Part 4 in #261, February 26, 2012; Part 5 in #262, March 12, 2012, and Part 6 in #263, March 25, 2012. Below is the final installment.
I am very pleased to be at Harvard to speak with you about communism. My talk has five main themes:
I look forward to a vigorous and fruitful exchange in the question-and-answer. So let me start.
Imagine a situation in which the Christian fundamentalist creationists have seized power overall, and have proceeded to suppress knowledge of evolution. Imagine that they go so far as to execute and imprison the most prominent scientists and educators who had insisted on teaching evolution and bringing knowledge of this to the public. And they heap scorn and abuse on the well-established fact of evolution, denouncing and ridiculing it as a flawed and dangerous theory which runs counter to well-known "truth" of the biblical creation story and to religious notions of "natural law" and the "divinely ordained order."
To continue the analogy, imagine that in this situation many intellectual "authorities," along with others following in their wake, jump on the bandwagon, saying things like: "it was not only naïve but criminal to believe that evolution was a well-documented scientific theory, and we should not have been forcing that belief on people." And some intellectual authorities make statements like: "But now we can see that it is ‘common wisdom,' which no one questions—and we won't question it either; we can see that it is common wisdom that evolution embodies a worldview and leads to actions that are disastrous for human beings. We were taken in by the arrogant assurance of those who propagated this notion. We can see that everything that exists, or has existed, could not have come into being without the guiding hand of an ‘intelligent designer.'"
To keep with this "thought experiment." Suppose that in this situation, even many progressive and radical intellectuals become disoriented and demoralized. They are cowed into silence.1
Well, this is an analogy to the situation that exists in intellectual life and discourse when it comes to communism. It is now the accepted and unquestioned verdict that communism is a failure. Radical thinkers who at one time took on anti-communist lies and opened their eyes and the eyes of students to the actual and liberating experience of communist revolution—many such progressive scholars have unthinkingly bought into the verdict.
You see, back in the 1960s, the world was alive with revolution. The Chinese revolution inspired people around the world. The most revolutionary and far-reaching movements of the 1960s— whether we are talking about the Black Panthers or radical women's liberation—were influenced by the communist revolution, and especially the Cultural Revolution, in China. And this reacted back on the universities—including right here at Harvard—on how people looked at their lives and the meaning and purpose of intellectual work. But since the defeat of the revolution in China in 1976, for almost 35 years now there has been an unremitting ideological offensive against communist revolution. And this has real consequences.
I know there are people in this room who want to do something meaningful with their lives for the betterment of humanity. Maybe some of you want to devote your energies to solving the environmental emergency we face...or teaching in the inner cities...or going into the arts to explore in the realm of imagination and metaphor the way people are and might be, and the way the world is and might be.
But no matter your passions and convictions, this system has its own logic that shapes everything. I am talking about a system that operates on the basis of profit. I am talking about an economy that is the home base of an empire: a global system of exploitation in which the U.S. arrogates to itself the "right" to wage war and to invade and occupy countries. I am talking about an economic system safeguarded by governing institutions and a military machine of death and destruction. I am talking about the values and ideas that get promoted in this society.
You are someone who knows that radical measures must be taken to reverse looming environmental catastrophe. But what happens—really what doesn't happen in dealing with the environmental emergency, with the Copenhagen summit the most recent glaring example—is driven and circumscribed by the workings of the capitalist world market...by corporate bottom lines...and by the power relations and power struggles between the U.S. and other oppressive great powers.
You want to teach "uncomfortable truths" about America's actual history and role in the world? Well, you should, but you are going to be pressured, threatened, and likely find yourself without a job. You are a woman who wants to break free of convention and stereotype. But you will face a lifetime of menacing gaze, physical threat, and demeaning sexual images that reflect and reinforce enslaving tradition and subordination.
We need a different system. Humanity needs "total revolution": in economy, politics, culture, and morality. And the fact is: we can create a world without exploitation, in which humanity can flourish. But, and this is a cruel irony, exactly at a time when capitalism is in crisis, when all its irrationality and the suffering it inflicts are escalating exponentially—at this very moment, we're told "you can't go beyond capitalism; the best you can do is to tinker around its edges."
It is as though a warning label were affixed to the discourse on human possibility. Danger: anything that fundamentally challenges capitalism is at best a pipe dream and at worst an unworkable utopia imposed from above that will result in nightmare. Caution: the project of making revolution and building an economy and society that promote and serve the common good violates human nature, economic logic, and the very flow of history. Reminder: we have reached the end of history: Western society represents the high point and end point of human development.
At UCLA, NYU, and the University of Chicago, we distributed this multiple-choice "pop quiz" on basic facts about communism. These weren't obscure or arcane things. We asked questions like: what was the only country in Eastern Europe during the 1930s that stood against anti-semitism? The answer is the Soviet Union.2 We asked: what was the only country in the world in the 1960s where the government and leadership were calling on people to rise up against oppressive institutional authority? The answer was Maoist China.3 People did abysmally—the average test score was about 58. In other words, people failed.
This is shameful. Because in the 20th century, something world-historic happened and people don't know the first thing about it. The first socialist societies were forged out of monumental revolutions, the rising up of the wretched of the Earth: in the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1956, and in China from 1949 to 1976. These were the first attempts in modern history to create societies free from exploitation and oppression—socialism. And the experience of these revolutions...it changes everything. The world does not have to be this way, and we can go further and do better in a new wave of revolution.
So what is socialism? Let's clear away some confusion. Socialism is not just government ownership of some enterprises or some government regulation—all capitalist governments do that. And socialism is not something that Obama is doing—Obama is no socialist.
In fact, socialism is three things:
First, socialism is a new form of political power in which the formerly oppressed and exploited, in alliance with the middle classes and professionals and the great majority of society, rule over society with the leadership of a visionary, vanguard party. This new form of state power keeps old and new exploiters in check. It makes possible a democracy that a) unleashes the creativity and initiative of people in all kinds of directions and b) gives the masses of people the right and ability to change the world and to engage in meaningful decision-making, that promotes the most far-reaching debate, and that protects the rights of the individual. This new socialist state that I am talking about is a launching pad for revolution elsewhere in the world.
Second, socialism is a new economic system where the resources and productive capacities of society are socially owned through the coordination of the socialist state, where production is consciously organized and planned to meet social need, and to overcome the inequalities of capitalist class society—like the oppression of minority nationalities and the subordination of women. This is an economy that is organized to promote revolution in the world and protect the planet. No longer does exploitation and profit rule over society and people's lives. No longer are Big Pharma and financial-insurance conglomerates setting the terms for health care provision and research. They won't exist anymore. No longer is there a General Motors or Boeing—they too won't exist anymore, either—skewing transport development and energy production to the needs of profit.
Third, socialism is a historical period of transition, between capitalism and communism, a period of revolutionary struggle and experimentation to transform all the economic structures, all the social institutions and arrangements, and all the ideas and values that perpetuate the division of society into classes.
And what is communism? Here I want to read from a statement, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," from the Revolutionary Communist Party:
Communism [is] a world where people work and struggle for the common good.... Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings... Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world.4
Now the Russian and Chinese revolutions, in what amounted to a "nanosecond" of human history, accomplished amazing things in the direction I am describing. Not without problems and serious shortcomings...but these revolutions accomplished great things against great odds during their existence.
Why were the odds so great? For one thing, the imperialists worked overtime to crush these revolutions. The socialist revolutions of the 20th century posed a mortal (and, yes, a moral) threat to the established global order of exploitation, privilege, and inequality. They opened new possibilities for humanity and new roads for realizing these possibilities.
But the imperialists didn't say to Lenin or Mao: "Oh, you want to try to create a new society based on cooperation, you want to create a planned economy based on putting human needs first, you want to solve your health and education problems, and you are going to attempt to enable those on the bottom of society to increasingly administer it. Okay, why don't you try that for twenty years? Then come back and we'll compare notes? We'll see whose system does better."
No! The capitalist-imperialist powers encircled, pressured, and sought to strangle these revolutions. Within months of the victory of the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917, France, England, Japan, the U.S., and thirteen other powers sent money, weapons, and troops to aid counterrevolutionary forces in Russia who were trying to restore the old order of exploitation, religious obscurantism.
How many of you know that the world's first oil embargo was applied against the Soviet revolution? How many of you know that during the entire time between 1917 and 1950, the new socialist society of the Soviet Union was either preparing for war, or having to fight war, or dressing the wounds of war?
Or consider the circumstances facing the Chinese revolution after it came to power in 1949. Within a year, U.S. troops were moving up the Korean peninsula and threatening to invade China itself. How many of you know that in the early 1950s, the U.S. imperialists issued veiled nuclear threats, and developed military plans for launching nuclear strikes, against the new People's Republic of China?5 This is real history.
It was in these historical circumstances that millions in the Soviet Union and China made revolution and brought about profound changes in their conditions and in their thinking. And another reason they faced great odds was the fact that these revolutions did not unfold in vacuums. They took place, as will future revolutions, in societies that still contained the scars and influences of the old social order, including class divisions along with the ideas and traditions of the past. This too is part of the reality and challenge of making revolution.
Is that what you have been learning about 20th century history? Did you learn that in the 1920s, when Black people were being lynched in the U.S., when the racist film extolling the KKK, Birth of a Nation, was one of the biggest things in American culture—did you learn that in the Soviet Union something utterly different was happening? At this very time in the Soviet Union, incredible efforts were being made to overcome inequality among nationalities.
The new socialist society was waging struggle against the historical chauvinism of the dominant Russian nationality. Economic and technical resources were being channeled to regions where minority nationalities were concentrated. The new Soviet state established autonomous forms of government in these regions, enabling people in these areas to take responsibility for administration. It promoted the equality of languages and even developed written scripts for languages that previously had none.6
This was an amazing sea change. You see, before the Bolshevik revolution Russia had been known as the "prison-house of nations," with infamous pogroms against Jews, and the domination of whole nations. It was a society where, before the revolution, people of certain minority nationalities were forbidden from using their native languages in schools.
Most of you don't know this because that knowledge has been ruled out of order in the academy and society. You are surrounded by and imbibing the master narrative that nothing good came of these revolutions—and that they failed and could only fail.
There is one small problem with this "conventional wisdom" about communism. It is built on the wholesale distortion of the actual history of socialist revolution; it is built on outright lies.
You know, I have to say it is amazing what passes as intellectual rigor when it comes to communism. And sadly, it's amazing what gets over on people who pride themselves on intellectual scrupulousness.
I want to deconstruct three typical high profile and highly charged examples of what I am talking about.
Let's start with the book Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. This has been hailed in the mainstream as the definitive biography of Mao Tsetung. It was on the New York Times bestseller list. Jung Chang and Jon Halliday want you to believe that Mao was a cynical hedonist who murdered ten times as many innocents as Hitler. They insist that Mao was a cold-blooded murderer—but since they can't substantiate that with facts, their book is strewn with lies and distortions.
Let's go to Chapter 40 of the book. It deals with the year 1958. It has this running head on each page: "The Great Leap: 'Half of China May Well Have to Die.'"7 You see, Chang and Halliday quote from a November 1958 speech by Mao in which he says: "half of China may well have to die."
They cite this as proof-positive that Mao had no concern for human life: let half of China die to fulfill a crazed vision of a new society. But if you read Mao's speech, he is actually saying the opposite:
"In the construction of irrigation works, between last winter and this spring we moved, nationwide, over 50 billion cubic meters of earth and stone, but from this winter to next spring we want to move 190 billion cubic meters nationwide, an increase of well over three times. Then we have to deal with all sorts of tasks: steel, copper, aluminum, coal, transport, the processing industries, the chemical industry—[they all] need hordes of people. In this kind of situation, I think if we do [all these things simultaneously] half of China's population unquestionably will die; and if it's not a half, it'll be a third or ten percent, a death toll of 50 million people.... Anhui wants to do so many things, it's quite all right to do a lot, but make it a principle to have no deaths."8
Mao is pointing out that the economic plan is trying to do too many major things at once, and if we stick to the plan, well..."half of China's population unquestionably will die"—and we don't want that! He's cautioning against overzealousness—that it could lead to overwork, exhaustion, and deaths—and he's doing this in a highly dramatic way.
So Chang and Halliday have totally ripped Mao's phrase out of context and inverted its meaning. They've lied. That would be bad enough. But this lie gets repeated in reviews, in newspapers, and in blogs. It spreads and becomes so frequently cited that it becomes an established fact. So no one has to prove anything. Case closed: Mao was worse than Hitler. This is incredibly dishonest and vicious. And yet it passes for scholarship.
Let me turn to a prestigious academic source with a veneer of scholarly rigor. I'm talking about the book Mao's Last Revolution, by Roderick MacFarquhar, the highly celebrated China scholar here at Harvard, and Michael Schoenhals. This book was published in 2006 and is widely considered to be the "definitive" account of the Cultural Revolution.
MacFarquhar sets the stage for Mao's launching of the Cultural Revolution. Here's how MacFarquhar does it: "Various remarks indicate that Mao craved a measure of catalytic terror to jump start the Cultural Revolution. He had no scruples about the taking of human life. In a conversation with trusties later in the Cultural Revolution, the Chairman went so far as to suggest that the sign of a true revolutionary was precisely his intense desire to kill." And then MacFarquhar presents this alleged statement from Mao: "This man Hitler was even more ferocious. The more ferocious the better, don't you think? The more people you kill, the more revolutionary you are."9
Well, this is a pretty sordid declaration. So I went to the notes and sources at the end of the book, and let me tell you what the endnote says: "From a very reliable source seen by one of the authors."10 Can you believe this! Here you are supposedly citing evidence for the bloodlust that ostensibly drove Mao and the Cultural Revolution. And this is the documentation that MacFarquhar offers? Stop and think about this intellectual outrage. People are given proof that Mao was a monster based on totally unsubstantiated and unsubstantiable hearsay.
It's egregious. The classic "trust me, I can't give you the speech, conversation, or article... but trust me, it's reliable." Kind of reminiscent of George Bush going to war in Iraq: "Look, Sadaam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction. I can't share the evidence, but trust me, my sources are reliable." This hearsay masquerades as something solid and damning.
And then this statement, without any meaningful or provable attribution to Mao, or any meaningful context being specified, gets repeated in the mainstream media and by other lords of academia. Andrew Nathan, a well-known, liberal China scholar who teaches at Columbia includes the statement attributed to Mao in his review of the book in The New Republic.11 I tracked Nathan's review, and it got posted on different blogs and book review sites.
Now suppose one of you in the audience is trying to learn about the Cultural Revolution and you go to Wikipedia. Well, lo and behold, in the entry on the Cultural Revolution, you will find the following statement from Mao Tsetung, presented as part of Mao's guidance for the Cultural Revolution: "the more people you kill the more revolutionary you are." And what is the source? You guessed it, Roderick MacFarquhar, that grey eminence of China studies.12
My question is this: why didn't these other scholars scrutinize this footnote, instead of repeating this sensationalistic claim about Mao? Because they don't have to prove anything: the communist project is declared to be a disaster and horror. And many of these and other so-called scholars have been part of weaving together a narrative of the Bolshevik and Chinese revolutions built on similar distortions and misrepresentations of what these revolutions set out to do, what these socialist societies actually accomplished, and what real difficulties and challenges they faced.
I've issued a public challenge to Roderick MacFarquhar to debate me (my challenge mentions this footnote)—and organizers of my speaking tour turned this into a paid ad and submitted it to the Harvard Crimson last week.13 But guess what? The president of the Crimson refused to publish the ad, saying it was "too controversial." Duh!
Where are the progressive scholars? Why are they not calling this out? Because many of them have bought into these verdicts, in an atmosphere of unrelenting attack on the communist project—while others have been intimidated by the conventional wisdom and what have become the norms of intellectual discourse: before one can even speak of socialism, even positively, one has to disavow the experience of socialist revolution in the 20th century.
Indeed, these anticommunist distortions deeply permeate progressive political thought. Take the activist and social critic Naomi Klein. Here I am drawing on analysis by Bob Avakian that appeared in Revolution newspaper.14 In the early pages of her book The Shock Doctrine, Klein describes the situation in the U.S. after 9/11, and how the Bush administration exploited this.
Klein writes, "Suddenly we found ourselves living in a kind of Year Zero, in which everything we knew of the world before could now be dismissed as 'pre-911 thinking.'" And she is right about this. But then she draws this analogy: "Never strong in our knowledge of history, North Americans had become a blank slate—a 'clean sheet of paper' on which the 'newest and most beautiful words can be written,' as Mao said of his people."15 Klein is actually referencing a short essay by Mao from 1958 titled "Introducing a Cooperative." But she totally rips this passage out of context to make it appear that this was about mind control of the untutored masses by totalitarian leaders.
Let's look at what Mao actually said:
"Apart from their other characteristics, the outstanding thing about China's 600 million people is that they are 'poor and blank.' This may seem a bad thing, but reality it is a good thing. Poverty gives rise to the desire for change, the desire for action and the desire for revolution. On a blank sheet of paper free from any mark, the freshest and the most beautiful characters can be written, the freshest and most beautiful pictures can be painted."16 And then Mao goes on to point out that the masses are in fact using big-character posters in the cities and rural areas to conduct mass debate and ideological struggle—and he says this is a great antidote to "dullness" in society.
In other words, Mao was not saying, "oh great, the peasants are just a bunch of putty and we leaders can shape them however we please." He is saying the opposite of what Klein suggests. He is saying that being "poor and blank" results in people not only wanting radical change but being capable of taking initiative to fight for that radical change. And it is clear, if you read this essay, that Mao is saying the "freshest and most beautiful characters" and "freshest and most beautiful pictures" are being written and painted by the peasants themselves—and, yes, this is happening with communist leadership.
At the start of the essay, Mao observes: "Never before have the masses of the people been so inspired, so militant, and so daring as at present." "Inspired," "militant," and "daring": not exactly the world that George Bush or Barack Obama wants us to live in! Nor the stereotype that Klein implies of communist leaders turning people into mindless robots.
So here we have three different examples of high-profile lies and distortions being spread that reinforce ignorance about communism: from the reactionaries who wrote Mao: The Unknown Story; the liberal anti-communist Roderick MacFarquhar's Mao's Last Revolution; and the progressive social critic Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine. As I have been emphasizing, the effects of this cannot be overestimated: the lowering of sights, a generation of young people being robbed of understanding.
In the rest of this talk, I will be drawing on Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party.17 This Manifesto sums up the history of communist revolution so far, its breakthroughs and lessons. It explains how communism has developed as a living, creative, open-ended science, beginning with Marx, through Lenin, to Mao, and Bob Avakian. This Manifesto provides a framework to initiate a new stage of communist revolution. And let me add that you cannot say that you are educated and up to date on emancipatory human thought if you have not yet read this Manifesto.
Now one of the things we hear so often in discussing communism with students is this: "well, it might be a good idea, but it doesn't work in practice." I want to answer this, precisely by returning to the Cultural Revolution and getting into what it was about and accomplished.
The Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 was the high point of socialist revolution in the 20th century and the whole first stage of communist revolution, beginning with the Paris Commune. The Cultural Revolution was the most radical and far-reaching struggle in human history to uproot exploitation and oppression and to change society and bring about new values and new ways of thinking.18
But the bourgeois "master narrative" is that the Cultural Revolution was Mao's power-mad and vindictive purge of opponents: an orgy of senseless violence and mass persecution that plunged China into a decade of chaos. There is not a scintilla of truth to this narrative. But before I take it on directly, I want to set the stage for the Cultural Revolution by talking a bit about Chinese society before the revolution of 1949.
The vast majority of China's people were peasants who worked the land, but who had little or no land to call their own. They lived under the dominance of landlords who ruled the local economy and people's lives. Peasants desperately scratched out survival. In bad years, many had to eat leaves and bark, and it was not uncommon for peasant households to sell children to meet debt obligations. Agriculture was plagued by endless cycles of floods and droughts and famine. For women, life was a living hell: beatings by husbands, the painful binding of feet, arranged marriages, and young women forced into becoming concubines to landlords and warlords.
In China's largest city, Shanghai, an estimated 25,000 dead bodies were collected from the streets each year by municipal sanitation teams. Meanwhile, foreign-controlled districts of the city glittered. In a country of 500 million, there were only 12,000 doctors trained in modern medicine, and 4 million people died each year of epidemic and infectious diseases.19
This is why people make revolution. This is why millions in China consciously took part in the struggle led by Mao to seize state power and to create a new society.
Distortion One: So-called China experts like Roderick MacFarquhar talk about Mao's obsession with revolution, combating revisionism, and preventing counterrevolution, as though Mao were imagining or contriving enemies to suit his political whims.
The truth is that the revolution of 1949 overthrew foreign domination, big capitalism, and landlordism. But right from the start, there were leading forces in this revolution whose vision of society went no further than to turn China into a major industrial power that would take its place in the world economy and international nation-state system. These forces became a new capitalist class centered within the Chinese Communist Party and state, and by the mid-1960s, they were positioning to take power. Their leaders, like Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, had coherent aims and a coherent program for China: to put an end to socialism, to reinstitute exploitation in the name of efficiency, and to open China up to foreign capital in the name of engaging with the modern world. This is why Mao was warning against revisionism, which is a capitalist program and world outlook expressed in Marxist terminology.
Distortion Two: Bourgeois accounts depict the Cultural Revolution as Mao's horrific attempt to whip people into mass frenzy.
The truth is that the Cultural Revolution was a mass revolutionary upheaval involving hundreds of millions of people in profound and intense struggle over the direction of society:
Would socialist China go forward along the socialist road to communism: to a world community of humanity without classes, where all forms of exploitation and social inequality have been overcome, where men no longer lord it over women, where there are no longer dominant nations and dominated nations and the world itself is no longer divided into nations, where the division of society into those who mainly work with their hands and those who mainly work in the realm of ideas is overcome, where there is no longer a need for a state to enforce the rule of one group of society over another?
Or would socialist China take the capitalist road back to sweatshops and exploitation, to the crowding of the cities with migrants desperately in search of work, to the subordination of women and the reemergence of prostitution and the objectification of women—in short, would China become...the China of today?
Distortion Three: The bourgeois narrative of the Cultural Revolution talks about Mao's "disastrous enactment of utopian fantasies."
The truth is that Mao and the revolutionaries who led the Cultural Revolution had coherent and visionary aims. What were these aims?
*To mobilize people in society to overthrow these new capitalist forces and to revolutionize the Communist Party itself.
*To reinvigorate the revolution by subjecting every level of authority and governance to mass criticism and questioning.
*To promote socialist values of "serve the people" and putting the interests of world humanity first and challenging the capitalist morality of maximizing self-gain and self-enrichment as well as the Confucian mind-set of bowing down to authority and convention.
*To reshape and revolutionize the institutions and fabric of society: a) to create an educational system that, instead of producing a privileged elite, was actually contributing to raising the knowledge and skills of society and overcoming the great divisions of society; b) to forge a new revolutionary culture, like the model revolutionary works in opera and ballet that put new emphasis on workers and peasants and their resistance to oppression (in place of the old imperial court dramas) and that conveyed powerful images of strong and independent revolutionary women; c) to create new base-level institutions within factories, schools, and hospitals that truly empowered people.
These were crucial goals of the Cultural Revolution; this was not "crazed utopianism."
Let's be clear, the Cultural Revolution was a real revolution. It was disruptive of the routine of normal life; it was full of invention and innovation; inspiring tens of millions but also shocking and disturbing tens of millions at its outset. The schools shut down; youth went to the countryside to link up with peasants, students from Beijing went to Shanghai to stir up protest in the factories, workers were encouraged to raise their heads and ask: "who's really in charge here?" This became very wild. There was massive political and intellectual debate: street rallies, protests, strikes, demonstrations, what were called "big character posters," which contained comments and critiques on policies and leaders. Paper and ink were provided free of charge, public facilities were made available for meetings and debates.20
This was about changing society and changing the world in an ever more conscious way. There has never, never in world history, been a revolutionary movement of this scale and consciousness. Mao looked to the youth as a catalytic force to awaken and arouse society. In Beijing, over 900 newspapers were circulating in 1966-67.
In Shanghai in the autumn of 1966, there were some 700 organizations in the factories. Eventually, the revolutionary workers, with Maoist leadership, were able to unite broad sections of the city's population to overthrow the capitalist-roaders who had been running the city. And what followed was extraordinary: people began to experiment with new institutions of citywide political governance; and the Maoist leadership was able to learn from and sum up this experience and these debates.21 In the countryside, peasants were debating how Confucian values and patriarchy still influenced people's lives.
Standard Western accounts charge that violent attacks on people and physical elimination of opponents had the official blessings of Mao—and that, policy or not, thuggish violence was the norm. Both of these claims are false.
Mao's orientation for the Cultural Revolution was clearly spelled out in official and widely publicized documents. In the Sixteen Point Decision that guided the Cultural Revolution, it was stated, "Where there is debate, it should be conducted by reasoning and not by force."22 Yes, there was violence during the Cultural Revolution. But: a) this was not the main character of the Cultural Revolution—its main forms of struggle were mass debate, mass political mobilization, and mass criticism; b) where young activist Red Guards and others resorted to violence, this was sharply condemned and struggled against by the Maoist revolutionary leadership—for instance, in Beijing, workers following Mao's guidance went into the universities to stop factional fighting among students and to help them sort out differences; and c) much of the violence that occurred during the Cultural Revolution was actually fanned by high-ranking capitalist-roaders seeking to defend their entrenched positions.
This Sixteen-Point Decision was not some narrowly circulated inner-party directive that has somehow escaped the notice of our brilliant academic scholars. It was, in fact, put out to all of China as guidance as to the aims, objectives, and methods of this revolution!
The Cultural Revolution accomplished amazing and unprecedented things.
*We're told that Mao was anti-education and anti-intellectual. It's a lie.
How many of you know that during the Cultural Revolution middle-school enrollment in the countryside rose from 14 to 58 million?23 Or that worker and peasant enrollment in the universities soared? The reason Mao is branded "anti-education" is that the Cultural Revolution challenged the bourgeois-elitist idea that education is a ladder for individuals to "get ahead," or a way to use skills and knowledge to gain advantageous position over others.
This was not anti-intellectualism, but rather a question of putting knowledge in the service of a society that was breaking down social inequalities. The old curriculum was overhauled in the universities. Study was combined with productive labor. The old teaching methods of viewing students as passive receptacles of knowledge and teachers and instructors as absolute authorities were criticized.
*We're told Mao did not care about human life. It's a lie.
China, a relatively backward country, achieved something that the richest country in the world, the U.S., has not been able to do: provide universal health care. As a result of the Cultural Revolution, a health system was established that reached and addressed the needs of China's peasants in the countryside who made up 80 percent of China's population.
In a little more than a decade after the seizure of power in 1949, the revolution was able to overcome epidemic diseases like small pox and cholera. Mass campaigns were launched to tackle opium addiction.24 And along with mass mobilization, there was mass education. This was a very important and defining feature of health care in socialist China: to maximize community participation and grass roots awareness and responsibility over health issues and concerns. There was both centralized allocation of needed health resources and a tremendous amount of decentralization.25
One of the most exciting developments of the Cultural Revolution was what was called the "barefoot doctor" movement. These were young peasants and urban youth sent to the countryside who were quickly trained in basic health care and medicine geared to meet local needs and who were capable of treating the most common illnesses. In 1975, there were 1.3 million of these "barefoot doctors."26
The results were astounding. Life expectancy under Mao doubled from 32 years in 1949 to 65 years in 1976.27 Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, made a calculation: if India had the same heath care system as China did under Mao, then 4 million fewer people would have died in India in a given sample year. That works out to a total of some 100 million needless deaths in India from the time of independence in 1947 to 1979.28
Tell me about which economic-social system values human life...and which doesn't.
Now people say that communism can’t work because it goes against human nature...that people are selfish and will only look out for themselves...that people won’t have any incentive to work if they’re not allowed to compete to get ahead of others. These are not scientific statements about an unchanging human nature. They are statements about human nature under capitalism, about how people are conditioned to think and act in THIS society.
Capitalism produces and requires a certain mind-set: me-first, winner-take-all, greed is good. And this outlook and these values stamp everything, every institution and every relation in society. People have to compete for jobs, for housing, for places in the educational system. They even have to compete and perfect themselves in the “marketplace” of human relationships. Is it any surprise, then, that people are indifferent, callous, and even cruel to each other in such a society?
This is what socialism, what socialist revolution, changes. It opens up a whole new realm of freedom for people to change their circumstances and their thinking. This is what happened during the Cultural Revolution.
In China during the Cultural Revolution, there was an economic system based on using resources for the benefit of society and the world revolution. There were new social relations and institutions that enabled people to cooperate with each other and to maximize the contributions that people can make towards a liberating society and the emancipation of humanity. The educational system promoted values of serving the people, using knowledge not for individual self-aggrandizement but for the betterment of society and humanity. During the Cultural Revolution, people were measuring their lives and the actions of others through the moral lens of “serve the people.”
You can read interviews and books by scholars like Dongping Han, Bai Di, and Mobo Gao. These authors grew up during the Cultural Revolution and took part in it—and they write about what it was like coming of age in the social environment of the Cultural Revolution, what it meant for there to be a social framework that valued cooperation and solidarity. They talk about how this affected their attitudes towards other people, their sense of social responsibility, and how the Cultural Revolution influenced what they felt was important and meaningful in life.29
Again, I am not talking about some kind of utopia, and I am not saying everything was done right in Maoist China. But people did change—because socialist society creates this new framework that makes it possible for people to consciously change themselves.
And when capitalism was restored in China in 1976, and the old dog-eat-dog economic relations brought back, people changed again: back towards the old “me against you,” “everyone for him- or herself” outlook. People changed not because a primordial human nature had somehow reasserted itself, but because society had changed back to capitalism.
The Cultural Revolution Mao initiated in 1966 was defeated in 1976. Following Mao's death, a core of capitalist-roaders launched a military coup. They arrested Mao's closest comrades and killed thousands. These counter-revolutionary forces instituted capitalism, while maintaining a certain socialist camouflage.
How could this happen? For one thing, the Cultural Revolution was bitterly opposed by powerful neo-capitalist forces who occupied leading positions in Chinese society: in the Communist Party, in the government, and in the military. These forces, Mao had pointed out, were part of a social-historical phenomenon of the Chinese revolution: they were "bourgeois democrats" who had evolved into "capitalist roaders." Let me explain.
China had been a nation subjugated by imperialism. It was a society kept backward and poor by feudalism. For many who had joined the Communist Party before the seizure of power in 1949, the Chinese revolution was in essence about breaking the grip of imperialism and turning China into a modern, industrialized society. And once the revolution succeeded in driving out imperialism, these forces, many now in leading positions, saw the task before the revolution as building up China's economic power—by whatever methods promised the most efficient results. These "bourgeois democrats" turned "capitalist roaders" were powerful and had a great deal of influence.
But that was not all. Revolutionary China faced enormous international pressures. The Soviet Union, which was no longer a socialist country in the 1960s and '70s, was threatening war, even nuclear strikes, against socialist China. This strengthened the conservative forces within the party. They claimed that the ferment and innovation of the Cultural Revolution were too risky, that it was time to put a stop to the Cultural Revolution—and that all must be focused on defense, stability, and rapid modernization. And they organized and mobilized social forces around this agenda.
Beyond these more immediate concrete factors—at a deeper level, there is the fact that socialist revolution is going up against thousands of years of master-slave relations, tradition, and the ideological force of habit, like people deferring to authority and convention.
It is these objective factors—the strength of counter-revolution and the monumental challenges of transforming class-divided society—that mainly account for the defeat of socialism in China in 1976. But the defeat was also conditioned, though secondarily, by some mistakes in orientation and conception on the part of Mao and the revolutionaries.
To get into this, we need to understand that an event of these world-historic proportions—the defeat of a truly transformative revolution that spanned 27 years in a country of almost a billion people—required a serious analysis. And the only person on this planet who analyzed what had happened in China from the standpoint of: why the revolution had been defeated, its implications, and how we have to not only build on the unprecedented, liberating experience of the Cultural Revolution but also learn from its problems and go beyond it in initiating a new stage of communist revolution... this was Bob Avakian.
This brings me to the last part of my talk: how Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism enables humanity to go further and do better in making communist revolution in today's world.
Bob Avakian has argued that we not only have to uphold the great victories of the first wave of socialist revolution. We also have to air and get into their problems. We have to understand more deeply where these revolutions came up short, and how we can do better. We have to unsparingly interrogate the experience of proletarian revolution, not just the mistakes and negative features but also its high points and breakthroughs. Not just because we're not scared of the truth, but because we thirst for the truth.
In discussing all of this, I am applying insights from works of Avakian such as Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy and "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity."30
Bob Avakian has examined the Soviet experience and the experience of the Cultural Revolution deeply.
In the Soviet Union in the late 1930s, as danger of attack from Germany was growing and society was mobilizing for war, political and intellectual life grew increasingly restrictive and ossified.31
During the Cultural Revolution in China, many artists and intellectuals were not able to pursue their work. There were revolutionary model works, which were wonderful things. There was a flourishing of the arts among workers and peasants, who had previously been locked out of these spheres as they are in capitalist society. But there was a problem of a single-minded focus on developing model revolutionary works and enabling the masses to take up art—this to the exclusion of much else. There was too tight a hand.32
We have to do better.
Let's be clear: the achievement of socialist state power is a great thing. To allow counter-revolution to capture power would be a betrayal not just of the sacrifices of the masses who make revolution but of the hopes of the whole world.
The revolution must keep a firm grip on that power AND must also make sure that that power must be worth maintaining: it must be truly revolutionary and emancipatory. A new state power and the overall leadership of a vanguard party are indispensable to bringing a new world into being.
Avakian is saying that there must be a "solid core" in socialist society—a "solid core" rooted in the principle of achieving communism and emancipating all of humanity, and maintaining power on that basis. This is essential to really be on the road to getting to a society where there is no longer need for any institutionalized leadership.
On the basis of this solid core, there must also be "maximum elasticity": ferment and contestation, things churning, new and unexpected things "bubbling up" in society. Leadership must be learning from all of this while giving this overall direction, so that this elasticity can contribute to the rich process of getting to communism.
This is a breakthrough in understanding and vision. It requires that leadership be exercised in ways that are, in certain important and crucial respects, different from the understanding and practice of previous socialist societies.
Revolution must set the terms. But that cannot come at the cost of inhibiting dissent, or stifling the richness of individual expression, or putting a halter on the vast middle strata of society. We have learned that you cannot get to communism if society is not sprung into the air, if there is not a profound interplay of experience and discovery and insight, opening new pathways of change.
Bob Avakian has forged new understanding and new appreciation of the vital role of intellectual work and intellectual ferment in socialist society. This has to be happening on a scale that is unimaginable in capitalist society. At the same time that you are working to overcome a situation where only a relative handful of people can engage in the realm of “working with ideas” you must also be giving scope and space to intellectuals, artists, and scientists.
Now there are attitudes and values on the part of intellectuals—attitudes stemming from their relatively privileged position and relative separation from the masses in class society—that must be struggled with. But everyone in society, including those on the bottom, is influenced by bourgeois ideology, and this too must be struggled with. Everyone’s thinking, whether we are talking about workers who may be either deferential to or resentful of intellectuals, or intellectuals and professionals who may look down on the masses...everybody’s thinking must be transformed. This is part of becoming emancipators of humanity.
Handling all of this correctly is a great challenge. Because, again, the communist revolution is aiming to overcome the oppressive social division of labor of class society—but going at this with the understanding that intellectual and scientific ferment are essential to the search for the truth, to adding to the store of human knowledge, to enabling the masses of people to know the world more deeply so it can be transformed more profoundly.
There is something else. The probing and questing character of intellectual activity can contribute to the dynamism and to the critical and exploratory spirit that must permeate socialist society. This is all part of the process of uncovering and struggling over the problems and defects in society. Such ferment contributes to the atmosphere where the policies, structures, direction, and leadership of society are being debated and interrogated throughout society.
Now, socialist society will be promoting Marxism. But Marxism cannot be imposed as an “official ideology” that people have to agree with as part of becoming full members of society. This has been a problem in previous socialist societies. Marxism must be promoted in an atmosphere in which it is interacting and engaging with other intellectual currents and discourses, and actually being enriched through this. And people ultimately have to come to Marxism themselves.
This model of socialist society that Avakian is bringing forward attaches great importance to the need not just to allow but to foster dissent, protest, and contestation in socialist society. Socialism must be pulsing with discovery and upheaval. You can’t have that if you are tightly controlling things, if people are looking over their shoulders, or “watching what they say” for fear of being wrong.
People often ask, “You advocate protest today, but what about the universities under socialism, but will there be student movements and protests?” The answer is “yes, and then some!” The universities in socialist society must be seething with far-ranging intellectual debate and dissent, with protest and with contestation which will, yes, lead to disruption. We’re talking about a society that teems with debate and protest far beyond what exists in capitalist society.
You know, as part of this speaking tour, I issued an open letter and challenge to debate to Jeffrey Sachs. He teaches at Columbia and is an avid advocate of what he considers to be “socially conscious” capitalism. He vigorously opposes communism and sees markets as ensuring freedom. Well, people like Jeffrey Sachs, or social critics like Naomi Klein, and the Roderick MacFarquhars, must and will have the ability to articulate, disseminate, and defend their views widely in socialist society. There will be great debate in society about these views as part of the struggle to understand and change the world. We will not get to communism without this kind of ferment.
Let me move on to another aspect of this new synthesis. In summing up the experience of socialist revolution in the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, and in China under Mao, Avakian has pointed to a particular problem. Yes, it is crucial and necessary for socialist society to have real focuses—from waging struggle to liberate women from the bonds of patriarchy to dealing urgently with the environmental crisis. Yes, it is crucial and necessary for leadership to be developing policies and winning people to see the need to keep things going in an overall direction towards communism, and waging determined struggles to keep the revolution going forward.
But this too has to be understood in a new way. Yes, socialist society must be moving forward in an overall sense towards communism. But people also have to be able to pursue their own visions. They have to be able to strike out in all kinds of diverse and creative ways—whether we are talking about artists and scientists, or the masses of people.
This is not a detour from creating a new and liberating world. This “elasticity” is an essential part of the dynamic of getting to that world. People can only arrive at a truer understanding of society through the fullest possible debate to thrash out right and wrong, and to themselves experiment, discover new things, make mistakes, and be able to reflect and relax.
Now this is another great challenge that is full of risks. You have to be not only allowing but encouraging things to go in all kinds of wild and unexpected directions; but you also have to be doing so without losing your priorities, and without losing power. Make no mistake about it, the imperialists and counter-revolutionaries will try to restore the old order. There is the reality of counterrevolution, of active and organized attempts to sabotage and overthrow the new society. But there is also the reality that you are not going to get to communism unless society is pulsing with ferment and experimentation, dissent, and protest. The Constitution and legal framework of socialist society must reflect that understanding and make the necessary distinctions.
What this new synthesis is underscoring is that intellectual ferment and dissent not only contribute to new and deeper understanding of society, not only contribute to opening up those new pathways to a society without classes, but also, and critically, are vital to the process of enhancing the capacity of people to more consciously and more voluntarily change society and themselves.
I have spoken about the experience of communist revolution in the 20th century and about Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism. The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA has been applying this new synthesis. It's been doing work on how a new socialist society, achieved on the basis of making a revolution that overturns this system, would tackle major social questions.
Let's take the crucial problem of racism and the oppression of Black, Latino, and other minority nationalities in this society.
The police forces that today degrade and brutalize young people and masses in the ghettos and barrios would be immediately dismantled. The new state would establish new security forces that both protect the rights and interests of the masses of people and that help the people to resolve contradictions and disputes non-antagonistically—without resorting to violence.
The new revolutionary state would take over the factories, land and mines, machinery and technology. A new socialist economy would utilize these means of production to develop an economy to meet the needs of the people, safeguard the ecosystems of the planet, and promote world revolution.
Right away, the revolutionary state would channel economic and social resources into the former ghettos and barrios. It would bring together people in the communities with specialists like architects, state planners, and environmental scientists. People would be debating and figuring out what kinds of housing, recreational facilities, and health clinics are needed.
The youth would not only have jobs, but meaningful jobs that would make a difference in the lives of the communities and in society overall. Society would be mobilizing middle-class professionals, who also have a desire to do something meaningful with their lives and who have skills to share. People would be learning from each other in the context of transforming society. People would be forging new cooperative relations, and carrying on debate and waging ideological struggle over the direction of society.
The new socialist state would immediately outlaw segregation in housing and the apartheid-like system of education in the U.S. and promote integration throughout society. The new society would foster exchanges of experiences and ideas among different sections of people—like Latinos and Blacks.
At the same time, the new socialist state would uphold the right of self-determination for African-Americans, that is, the right to form an independent state. The new society would also make possible forms of self-government and autonomy for African-Americans, Chicanos, Native Americans, and other formerly oppressed nationalities—and provide the resources to make this real and vibrant. The educational system and media would be combating racist and white supremacist ideas and hurtful myths.
The revolutionary state would give initiative and support to people taking on the still-existing racist ideas and ways that influence how people relate to each other and that perpetuate inequality. The arts and the media and the educational system would be giving voice and expression to a rich cultural diversity—in an atmosphere that brings out human community.
Bob Avakian has pointed out that socialist society will be teeming with "unresolved contradictions." There are still tremendous social struggles and ideological battles to wage to overcome patriarchy and the legacy of the oppression of minority nationalities. There are the still-existing social differences between professionals and intellectuals and those who are mainly working with their hands...still the need to use money...still gaps in development between regions.
These still-existing differences and contradictions will call forth questioning and bring forward new ideas—but also engender dissatisfaction and criticism, and spark struggle and even upheavals. Is this a good or a bad thing? Avakian sees this as nothing less than a driving force for continuing the revolution.
The point is that the world does not have to be the way it is now, and Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism opens incredibly exciting vistas for making revolution in today's world.
Think about how a socialist economy and a socialist society guided by the kinds of principles I have been talking about could in fact address the environmental emergency we face. Imagine a society that was unleashing creative energies and waging soul-stirring struggle to emancipate women and transform all relations between men and women, interrogating traditional notions of gender—and the very idea of what it means to be a man or woman. Think about how art could flourish throughout such a society, and how a new revolutionary culture, with profound liberatory content and rich formal innovation, could take root in society...while social imagination and artistic experimentation take flight.
The experience of communist revolution and the new synthesis of Bob Avakian are things you need to know about. These are not just interesting historical or philosophical questions. We are not talking about a "more balanced" discussion in the academy. What we are talking about is the fate of the planet and the future of humanity. What we are talking about is historical truth and human possibility.
You have been blocked from knowing about the vital history of communism, the real concepts and real development of communism. You have been prevented from debating these questions in any meaningful way. Everything you've been told about communism is wrong. The verdicts and "conventional wisdom" about communism are a profound obstacle to what is most needed: an emancipatory politics and an emancipatory discourse. But we're changing all of that.
You have now finally been told something about communism that is not wrong. So let's get into it.
1. This analogy is taken from Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2009), p. 18 (revcom.us/Manifesto/Manifesto.html) [back]
2. The Russian Revolution of 1917 had brought political and social emancipation to Jews in a country with a history of virulent anti-semitism and violent anti-Jewish pogroms. Equality of rights for Jews continued under Joseph Stalin during the 1930s and World War 2. By contrast, Jews in Hungary, Romania, and Poland faced organized fascist movements and institutional anti-semitism in the 1930s—and, later, death camps. See Arno Mayer, Why Did The Heavens Not Darken? (New York: Pantheon, 1988), pp. 55-89. [back]
3. At the start of the Cultural Revolution, Mao raised the slogan "it is right to rebel against reactionaries" and called on people to "bombard the headquarters" of capitalist roaders who were carrying out elitist and oppressive policies. Providing resources for posters and newspapers, free use of trains for students, and encouragement in the press were some key ways in which mass criticism and struggle were promoted. See "Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" (Adopted on August 8, 1966), in Important Documents on the Cultural Revolution in China (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1970); also at: www.marxists.org/subject/china/peking-review/1966/PR1966-33g.htm. [back]
5. On nuclear threats and nuclear war planning against Maoist China in the early 1950s, see John Wilson Lewis and Xue Lita, China Builds the Bomb (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), chapters one and two; Rosemary J. Foot, "Nuclear Coercion and the Ending of the Korean Conflict," International Security, Winter 1988/89 (Vol. 13, No. 3); Matthew Jones, "Targeting China: U.S. Nuclear Planning and `Massive Retaliation' in East Asia, 1953-1955," Journal of Cold War Studies, Fall 2008 (Vol. 10, No. 4); and "For Eisenhower, 2 Goals if Bomb Was to Be Used," New York Times, June 8, 1984, and Bernard Gwertzman, "U.S. Papers Tell of '53 Policy to Use A-Bomb in Korea," New York Times, June 8, 1984. [back]
6. On the Bolshevik revolution's approach to and achievements in expanding education to minority nationalities, ensuring equality of languages, and promoting instruction in native languages, see, for example, Jeremy Smith, "The Education of National Minorities: The Early Soviet Experience," Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 75, No. 2 (April 1997). [back]
7. Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), Chapter 40, pp. 426-439. [back]
8. Mao Tsetung, "Talks at the Wuchang Conference, 21-23 November 1958," in Roderick MacFarquhar, Timothy Cheek, and Eugene Wu, eds., The Secret Speeches of Mao Tsetung, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), pp. 494-495. Chang and Halliday use the same Chinese-language source but produce a slightly different translation. [back]
9. Roderick MacFarquhar, Michael Schoenhals, Mao's Last Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), p. 102. [back]
10. ibid., p. 515, endnote 2. [back]
11. Andrew J. Nathan, "The Bloody Enigma," The New Republic, November 30, 2006. The statement attributed to Mao by MacFarquhar is prominently invoked by another "reputable" China scholar in a more recent review-article in the New York Review of Books; see Jonathan Mirsky, "How Reds Smashed Reds," November 11, 2010. [back]
12. This alleged statement by Mao originating in Mao's Last Revolution has since been removed from the Wikipedia entry on the Cultural Revolution. [back]
13. "An Open Letter from Raymond Lotta to Roderick MacFarquhar," Revolution #198, April 11, 2010. [back]
14. Bob Avakian, "Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine and its Anti-Communist Distortions—Unfortunately, No Shock There," Revolution #118, February 3, 2008. [back]
15. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 2008), p. 20. [back]
18. For a historical-theoretical overview of the Cultural Revolution, see Bob Avakian, Mao Tsetung's Immortal Contributions (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1979), chapters 5-6; and Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, op. cit., II. [back]
19. Jonathan D. Spence and Annping Chin, The Chinese Century (New York: Random House, 1996), p. 84; Fredric M. Kaplan, Julian M. Sobin, Stephen Andors, Encyclopedia of China Today (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), p. 233. [back]
20. On the early phases of the Cultural Revolution, see Jean Daubier, A History of the Cultural Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1974) and Han Suyin, Wind in the Tower (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976), chapters 3-5. [back]
21. On the mass struggles in Shanghai, see Daubier and also Elizabeth J. Perry and Li Xun, Proletarian Power: Shanghai in the Cultural Revolution (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997). For how Mao was summing up mass experiences and giving leadership in the struggle to forge new institutions of power, see Raymond Lotta, Nayi Duniya, and K.J.A., "Alain Badiou's 'Politics of Emancipation': A Communism Locked Within the Confines of the Bourgeois World," Demarcations, Summer-Fall 2009, chapter 6, II. [back]
22. From Point 6 of the "Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution," op. cit., and at: www.marxists.org/subject/china/peking-review/1966/PR1966-33g.htm. [back]
23. Suzanne Pepper, "Chinese Education after Mao," China Quarterly, March 1980 (No. 81), pp. 6-7. For useful studies on the expansion of schooling in the countryside and educational transformation during the Cultural Revolution, see Dongping Han, The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Educational Reforms and Their Impact on China's Rural Development (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000); and Ruth Gamberg, Red and Expert: Education in the People's Republic of China (New York: Schocken, 1977). [back]
24. See Kaplan, et. al., op. cit., p. 233, 242; and C. Clark Kissinger, "How Maoist Revolution Wiped Out Drug Addiction in China," Revolutionary Worker #734, December 5. 1993. [back]
25. Victor W. Sidel and Ruth Sidel, Serve the People: Observations on Medicine in the People's Republic of China (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973), pp. 22-24. [back]
26. Teh-wei Hu, "Health Care Services in China's Economic Development," in Robert F. Dernberger, ed., China's Development Experience in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), pp. 234-238. [back]
27. Penny Kane, The Second Billion (Hammondsworth: Penguin, 1987), p. 172. [back]
28. See Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, Hunger and Public Action (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 205, 214. Noam Chomsky uses Dreze and Sen's comparative mortality rates to reach this estimate of 100 million needless deaths in India (see "Millennial Visions and Selective Vision, Part One," Z Magazine, January 10, 2000). [back]
29. See, Bai Di, “Growing Up in Revolutionary China,” Interview, Revolution, April 12, 2009, revcom.us/a/161/Bai_Di_interview-en.html; Dongping Han, “The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village,” Interview, Revolution, September 6, 2009, revcom.us/a/175/dongping_han_full_QA-en.html; Mobo Gao, Gao Village (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999). [back]
30. Bob Avakian, Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005); "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity," in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2008). [back]
31. "On Communism, Leadership, Stalin, and the Experience of Socialist Society," Revolution, June 21, 2009. Audio available at bobavakian.net. [back]
32. See Bob Avakian, "The Cultural Revolution in China...Art and Culture...Dissent and Ferment...and Carrying Forward the Revolution Toward Communism," Revolution, February 19, 2012. [back]
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
April 19 National Day of Action
P.O. Box 941 Knickerbocker Station, New York, New York 10002 * 866-841-9139 x2670
The past months have seen important advances to develop resistance to mass incarceration. There has been further work done to expose the horrific injustice that mass incarceration inflicts on so many in society. Organizations fighting this battle have come into existence and some of those that already existed have grown and developed. It is important to note the activity that has developed among students around mass incarceration. And there have been important examples of determined mass resistance to this problem. Especially important have been the several hunger strikes by prisoners in California's Special Housing Units (and the statements of support for the strikers issued by prominent voices of conscience) and the civil disobedience campaign in New York aimed at stopping "stop & frisk."
But much more needs to be done. When it comes to mass incarceration, the reality in U.S. society remains horrific:
On top of this is the plain fact that many people in the country still don't know about this ugly reality and most of those who do know about it feel it is the result of criminal activity by those in prison and that it helps to keep them safe from crime.
THIS IS NOT TRUE! MASS INCARCERATION RESULTS FROM THE SYSTEM HAVING CRIMINALIZED GENERATIONS OF YOUTH! WE HAVE THE FACTS TO MAKE THE CASE ON THIS. AND WE MUST STEP UP OUR EFFORTS TO DO THAT!
There is great urgency to do this. As the presidential election approaches and the terms of debate around what issues are to be discussed in determining the future direction of the country get set, mass incarceration isn't being mentioned as a problem by any of the major candidates—not by Obama and not by any of the Republicans vying to challenge him. On the contrary, we are getting the kind of ugly racism that goes with and reinforces the whole program of mass incarceration... and conciliation with that racism. This must be transformed. Mass incarceration, what leads to it and its consequences have to become something that people across the country are aware of and feel compelled to take a stand against. And many more of them need to join the resistance to it. Only our efforts can make that happen!
To advance our efforts to do just this, we propose:
We urge people to respond to this proposal, including with additional ideas for how to advance this fight in this critical time period.
Signees (in formation):
Gbenga Akinnagbe, Actor
Rafael Angulo, Professor of Social Work, USC
Nellie Bailey, Occupy Harlem
Kendra Castaneda, Prisoner Human Rights Activist with a family member in CA State Prison Segregation Unit
Solomon Comissiong, Executive Director, Your World News Media Collective (www.yourworldnews.org)
Carl Dix, Revolutionary Communist, co-initiator of Campaign to Stop "Stop and Frisk"
Kelley Lytle Hernandez, Professor of History, UCLA
Robin DG Kelley, Distinguished Professor of History, UCLA
Wayne Kramer, Jail Guitar Doors USA, Co-Founder
Sarah Kunstler, Esq., National Lawyers Guild NYC*
Rev. Janet Gollery McKeithen (United Methodist Clergy), President, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Cal-Pac
Mary Ratcliff, Editor, San Francisco BayView Black National Newspaper
Cornel West, author and educator, co-initiator of Campaign to Stop "Stop and Frisk"
Clyde Young, Revolutionary Communist, and former prisoner
March 12, 2012
*For Identification Purposes Only.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Editors' note: The following is an excerpt from a talk Carl Dix recently gave in New York City and Berkeley, California. In this excerpt, he speaks to the importance of the April 19 National Day of Resistance to Mass Incarceration.
We need to stand together and build determined resistance to the horror of mass incarceration. I've already laid out where things are headed. We need to build this kind of resistance because people shouldn't be subjected to this kind of social control because they're Black or Latino. And no one should want to live in a society where people are denied rights because of the color of their skin. We need to wage fierce resistance to mass incarceration because that's crucial to wrenching society off the trajectory toward slow genocide. If we fail to do this, if we meet this horrific situation with silence, then people will be beat down so far that we would never be able to do anything about all the hell they inflict on us. And we need to build this resistance because it would be impossible to ever have a revolution and get rid of all the hell this system brings down on people here and around the world without a movement of resistance to a horrific injustice like mass incarceration. We can't respond to all this with silence—that would be deadly.
There has already been a lot of good and important things done. A lot of exposure of the reality of this problem has been done. Over 10,000 prisoners in California went on hunger strikes last year, putting their lives on the line to declare that they refused to submit in silence any longer to the torturous conditions being inflicted on them. A lot of people, including many prominent people, supported them. And the civil disobedience aimed at stopping Stop & Frisk launched last fall in New York City helped, along with the prisoners' strike, to add a missing ingredient—dramatic mass resistance. All this amounts to a good beginning, one that has to be built on.
The resistance to mass incarceration has to be taken to a higher level. It has to be spread nationwide, drawing in people from different sections of society to stand together against this outrage. Inspiring people from the bottom of society, who in their millions are enmeshed in the criminal justice system, to stand up and fight back. And rallying people from other sections of society who don't face these conditions to join in the resistance. We need to build the kind of resistance that exposes the lies the system uses to justify mass incarceration.
We have to make a big leap in building this resistance right now. The presidential elections are heating up, and none of the candidates are saying anything about mass incarceration or the hell this system brings down on people in the inner cities, except to call for increasing the clamp-down. We need to puncture this silence with dramatic resistance. We need a day of bold activity—a day when college and high school students hold rallies and teach-ins on their campuses, when religious institutions open their doors and invite their congregants and others to speak bitterness about abusive policing, when youth take to the streets determined to no longer accept being criminalized in silence and others from many different walks of life join them. A day when people in the prisons find ways to be part of the resistance, when cultural events targeting mass incarceration are held and statements saying no to this genocide signed by a broad array of prominent people are published as ads in newspapers. All of this involving all kinds of people, from different walks of life and points of view, all saying NO to Mass Incarceration. And thru this beginning to change the way people in society look at mass incarceration and winning many of them to stand against it....
This can contribute to building a real fight against mass incarceration. To transforming the way people look at this, confronting people who don't experience this with the reality of the injustice being inflicted on so many. And to opening up space for those who do suffer this injustice to stand up, speak out and fight back.
OK, you've heard me talk about all the hell this system rains down on the masses of people here in this country and all around the world. And I've laid out the need for revolution to get rid of it once and for all, and what kind of revolution we need. I know that all that is a lot to digest, and it gives you a lot to think about and grapple with. I want you to dig deeper into this analysis, but even as you do that and decide what you think of it all, and even before you figure all that out, there's something you urgently need to do. That's get involved in the fight to beat back the genocidal monster of mass incarceration. You have to take up the fight to stop Stop & Frisk and to stop the way people in prison are treated as less than full human beings and former prisoners are forced to wear badges of dishonor and shame after they've already been punished. You have to tell everybody you know about the horrors this system is bringing down on people and that they have to get involved in fighting that too. This is urgently necessary. We have to join together to build the kind of determined mass resistance that can beat back some of these attacks. As I said before, I'm not engaging in idle rhetoric here. This is no joke—it is high stakes, and it is real. It is up to us, all of us, to not only stop all this from going down but to reverse what has already gone down. And if you want to change all of society, you have to really throw in and join the fight against mass incarceration.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Raymond Lotta and Glenn Loury to Debate at Brown University, March 21
On Wednesday, March 21, an important debate will be taking place at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. It will feature Raymond Lotta, political economist and advocate for Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism, and Glenn Loury, economic theorist and author of works on the mass incarceration of Black youth. The debate is sponsored by the Janus Forum and Political Theory Project at Brown and will start at 7 pm. The Janus Forum has put out this announcement:
"The Occupy Movement has brought increasing attention to questions of injustice and inequalities in U.S. society. It has also opened up a conversation about the nature and future of capitalism, and whether there are viable alternatives to the present system. Two provocative thinkers−one a conventionally trained academic economist of progressive sensibility, the other a voice of revolution and communism−come together to explore and debate the question of capitalism vs. socialism."
For more information, go to: Socialism vs. Capitalism: The Way Forward in the 21st Century.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
David Graeber is an anarchist theorist influential in the Occupy movement. Here we pose four questions to Graeber, particularly in response to the section, “a fairly brief manifesto concerning the concept of revolution,” from his Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology.
1. You say: “... Totalities, in particular, are always creatures of the imagination. Nations, societies, ideologies, closed systems ... none of these really exist. Reality is always infinitely messier than that—even if the belief that they exist is an undeniable social force.”
If nations and societies are “creatures of the imagination” what about the U.S.-Mexican border—the radical difference of being born on opposite sides of this border, and lifetimes spent and lives risked by Mexicans trying to cross to El Norte? Mere “belief” or harsh social reality—of an imperialist world divided into oppressor and oppressed nations?
2. You say: “...unless we are willing to massacre thousands of people (and probably even then), the revolution will almost certainly not be quite such a clean break as such a phrase implies.” [phrase referring to “after the revolution”]
Who massacred whom during past proletarian revolutions? It was the reactionary regime of the French ruling class that carried out the slaughter of the defenders of the Paris Commune in 1871. It was the Western imperialists and their reactionary White Army allies who instigated counter-revolution that led to massive death and destruction in the Civil War of 1918-1921 following the Bolshevik Revolution. It was German imperialism that “massacred” over 20 million Soviets during World War 2.
Second, your notion of “clean break” raises a specter of erasing the past and starting from scratch. We ask: which communist leader—from Marx onward—has ever claimed revolution as such a “clean break”? Yes, socialist revolution is a radically different political, economic, and social order. But it emerges bearing the birthmarks of thousands of years of class society, and overcoming this is a crucial part of the historic world process of transition and transformation in getting to communism, to classless society.
3. You say: “... stop thinking about revolution as a thing—‘the’ revolution, the great cataclysmic break...revolutionary action is any collective action which rejects and therefore confronts some form of power or domination...[it] does not necessarily have to aim to topple governments...[but establishes] autonomous communities. And history shows us that the continual accumulation of such acts can change (almost) everything.”
Was it the “the continual accumulation of such acts” as the Underground Railroad and the Maroon communities, important as they were, that were decisive in the abolition of slavery in the Western world—or did it take such cataclysmic ruptures as “the” Haitian Revolution, the massive slave insurrections of the British West Indies, and “the” American Civil War to finally abolish slavery in these societies?
Capitalism grew in the pores of feudalism. But even for capitalism—with its exploitative mode of production—to decisively establish dominance, this required “the” English Revolution of the 17th century, “the” French Revolution of 1789 and “the” bourgeois revolutions of 1848.
And in moving beyond exploitation, how can a liberatory economy be established without seizing the means of production now owned by the capitalist class? How is this going to occur without the “cataclysmic break” of defeating and replacing the state power that protects and reinforces these ownership and production relations (as was done in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917-56, or the Chinese Revolution of 1949-76)?
How can “autonomous communities” within the current overall framework—or their “continual accumulation”—address the lopsidedness in the world, a global environmental emergency or overcome the great social inequalities?
4. You say: “... utopianism has led to unmitigated horror, as Stalinists, Maoists, and other idealists tried to carve societies into impossible shapes, killing millions in the process” (from Against Anti-utopianism).
David Graeber, we defy you to produce evidence that Mao Tsetung “killed millions.” If you are referring to deaths during the weather and food crisis of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960), you might as well accuse Woodrow Wilson of “killing” hundreds of thousands during the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918.
Stalin fought to defend the Soviet revolution in the face of monumental threats from within and without. There were real errors and serious shortcomings in how this was done, but the historical truth/fact is that Stalin did not murder or execute “millions.”
Where is the “unmitigated horror” in the Soviet Union creating the world’s first multinational state based on equality of nationalities, recognizing the right of self-determination for former oppressed nations of the old Tsarist empire—while the U.S. practiced Jim Crow segregation? Where is the “utopianism” of the Chinese revolution, when it put an end to foot-binding of women and child marriage, when it raised the slogan “women hold up half the sky” and struggled against patriarchal relations?
Soon online, at revcom.us: A Fairly Brief (but Polemical) Rejoinder to “a fairly brief manifesto concerning the concept of revolution” by David Graeber.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
The Left Forum, a yearly gathering of progressive and radical scholars, activists, and students, will be held March 16-18 with the theme, “Occupy the System, Confronting Global Capitalism.” Writers from Revolution newspaper are featured on several panels (see list below). They will be projecting Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism and debating timely political and theoretical issues. To help promote Bob Avakian’s BAsics, the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), Revolution newspaper, and get Bob Avakian Everywhere at this conference, contact email@example.com.
An Army of Rape: Why Supporting the Troops is Wrong!
Saturday, March 17, 10:00 am, Room E324
Chair: Sunsara Taylor (Revolution, board member, World Can’t Wait). Speakers: Mathis Chiroux (Iraq Veterans Against the War), Carl Dix (Revolutionary Communist Party)
Is Voting a Solution?
Saturday, March 17, 10:00 am, Room E320
Chair: Dennis Loo (author, Globalization and the Demolition of Society). Speakers: Dennis Loo, Debra Sweet (Director of World Can’t Wait), David Swanson (blogs at davidswanson.org and warisacrime.org), Andy Zee (Revolution Books, NYC, and Revolution)
Horizontalism vs. Revolutionary State Power as the Path to Social Transformation: A Debate
Saturday, March 17, 12:00 pm, Room W522
Chair: Eric Laursen (independent journalist, anarchist writer and organizer). Speakers: Raymond Lotta (Revolution), John Clark (professor, Loyola University, New Orleans)
Pornography & the Sex Industry:
Reclaim, Regulate, Uproot, or Abolish?
Saturday, March 17, 12:00 pm, Room E324
Chair: Eesha Pandit (contributing writer at Feministing and the Crunk Feminist Collective). Speakers: Melissa Gira Grant (has written about sex trade for Alternet, the Guardian, Slate, Jezebel, $pread, and many others), Sunsara Taylor (Revolution)
U.S. Turns from War on Iraq to Permanent Occupation
Saturday, March 17, 12:00 pm, Room W602
Chair: Debra Sweet (Director of World Can’t Wait). Speakers: Michael Otterman (human rights consultant), Larry Everest (Revolution), David Swanson (blogs at davidswanson.org and warisacrime.org)
ABORTION! An Urgent Part of Women’s Liberation—
Differing Viewpoints on How to Win This Fight
Saturday, March 17, 3:00 pm, Room E324
Chair: Eleanor Bader (RH RealityCheck). Speakers: Cristina Page (author of How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America), Sunsara Taylor (Revolution)
At a “Distance from the State” or a New State Power:
What Is Revolution in the 21st Century?
Debating Alain Badiou’s Politics of Emancipation
Saturday, March 17, 5 pm, Room W623
Chair: Michael Rectenwald (professor, NYU). Speakers: Nayi Duniya (Demarcations journal), Guy Risko (professor, Binghamton University)
U.S.-Israel War Moves Against Iran—
What’s Going On, Our Responsibility to Resist
Sunday, March 18, 10:00 am, Room LHN (Lecture Hall North)
Chair: Debra Sweet (Director of World Can’t Wait). Speakers: Larry Everest (Revolution), Michael Klare (The Nation, Hampshire College), Leila Zand (Fellowship of Reconciliation), Benjamin R. Barber (Dēmos)
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
The uprising in Egypt and the Occupy movements have ushered in a new wave of protest and resistance; they have also opened a vital conversation and debate about the way the world is, and the way it might be different.
In these times, you have put yourself forward as a voice of and force for radical thinking: writing on the summer rebellions in England, speaking to protesters at Zuccotti Park, appearing on the Charlie Rose show. At this very juncture of upsurge and questioning, you have also launched an irresponsible and unprincipled attack (online at platypus1917.org/2011/12/01/) on Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism and on the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
I have written a reply ("Vilifying Communism and Accommodating Imperialism: The Sham and Shame of Slavoj Žižek's 'Honest Pessimism'"). I am now challenging you to a public debate:
Professor Žižek, let us argue these points in the public square. I will be happy to hold this debate in New York or in London.
This debate speaks to big questions on people’s minds. It is about intellectual responsibility...human possibility...and the challenges and pathways of creating a world in which human beings can truly flourish.
I urge progressive scholars and professors, students and activists, and all who recognize the importance of these issues: spread this call and let Slavoj Žižek know that this debate needs to happen.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
2012 has brought a flood of war talk and aggressive preparations for war on Iran. Indeed, war looms more ominously week by week.
The U.S., Israel, and the European Union have intensified their economic, political, and diplomatic assault on Iran. They claim it's needed to force Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment program, which they say is actually aimed at giving Iran the ability to build a nuclear weapon. Iran says its program is peaceful and is simply for generating nuclear power.
For further background and analysis, see:
Sanctions have been imposed aimed at crippling its economy and devastating the lives of millions of Iranians. Several Iranian scientists have been assassinated in the streets of Tehran. U.S. drones illegally fly over Iran, violating its airspace. U.S. carrier strike task forces have twice this year sailed within a few miles of Iran's coast, carrying missiles and dozens of war planes which analysts call "larger and more capable than the entire air force of many American allies." Every day some provocative new claim is uttered by some politician or pundit in the U.S., or Israel claims that Iran is a grave and immediate nuclear threat or is hatching worldwide terror plots. In these ways, the U.S. and its allies are already waging forms of warfare on Iran.
Meanwhile, they're openly discussing waging a military war. Foreign Affairs—the premier U.S. imperialist policy journal—has published at least two essays calling for military action: "Time to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option" (January/February 2012) and "Why Obama Should Take Out Iran's Nuclear Program" (November 9, 2011). On January 25, the New York Times Magazine published a lengthy piece, "Will Israel Attack Iran?" laying out the Israeli case for war. Its author, Ronen Bergman, concluded: "After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012." The Washington Post reported Defense Secretary "Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June." ("Is Israel preparing to attack Iran?" David Ignatius, February 2, 2012)
Throughout, there have been reports of extremely tense debates within the U.S. ruling class and between the Obama administration and the Israeli government over how to deal with Iran, with one high-level delegation after another shuttling between Washington, D.C. and Israel's capital Tel Aviv. On Sunday, March 4, President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who reportedly pushed him to issue an ultimatum to Iran: either halt your nuclear enrichment program entirely or face attack. All this is taking place against the backdrop of ongoing upheaval in the Middle East, in particular in Syria, where Western military intervention is being intensely discussed.
Faced with a campaign to destabilize, crush, or overthrow its rule, the Islamic Republic of Iran has responded with counter-moves of its own. Iran's military has staged exercises and missile tests, and Iranian generals have stated it would be easy for them to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world's oil supply flows. Other Iranian military officials warn that Iran could strike first if it felt an attack was imminent. Iran's leader Ayatollah Khamenei has declared Iran will refuse to bow to U.S. pressure to end its nuclear program and will strike back against any attacks.
This U.S.-Israel-initiated dynamic of threat and counter-threat, move and counter-move has created an escalating trajectory of confrontation and very possibly war in the not distant future.
A narrative is being created—with each spin of the news cycle—that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. The New York Times routinely reports that "Western politicians believe Iran is building a nuclear weapons capability," or that "Iran's nuclear program has a military objective." In his interview with NBC's Matt Lauer broadcast during the Super Bowl, President Obama stated: "Iran has to stand down on its nuclear weapons program." He then threatened, "Until they do, I think Israel rightly is going to be very concerned, and we are as well."
This narrative is built on lies, half-truths, innuendos, and distortions. In reality, top Western politicians know there's no proof that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and that there is no definitive evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. The 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), representing a consensus of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, stated: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." This estimate continues to be upheld as valid, a basic fact that is hardly ever even mentioned in U.S. media coverage or official statements. Nor was this disproved by the oft-cited November 2011 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Officially, Obama and his cabinet also state—at least for the moment—that Iran doesn't have a bomb and hasn't decided to pursue one. But nonetheless, the dominant public perception is that Iran is doing something illegal and probably working on a nuclear weapon.
So this fabricated "certainty" that Iran is building nuclear weapons then becomes grist for even wilder threats and fear-mongering. After Israel claimed that Iran was developing missiles with a 6,000-mile range, capable of hitting the U.S. (without a shred of proof and in contradiction to everything known about Iranian capabilities), Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich warned voters in Ohio: "You think about an Iranian nuclear weapon. You think about the dangers, to Cleveland, or to Columbus, or to Cincinnati, or to New York." Gingrich said, "Remember what it felt like on 9/11 when 3,100 Americans were killed. Now imagine an attack where you add two zeros. And it's 300,000 dead. Maybe a half-million wounded. This is a real danger." ("Gingrich Warns of Iranian Nuclear Attack," New York Times,February 8, 2012)
The specter of Iranian terror attacks has also been added to this nuclear nightmare stew. On January 31, national intelligence director James Clapper testified to Congress that "Some Iranian officials—probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States." Recent bomb attacks on Israeli embassies in Georgia, India, and Thailand were blamed on Iran. The day after the explosions in Georgia and India, an opinion piece by the head of the New York Police Department's intelligence analysis unit in the Wall Street Journal argued that "As the West's conflict with Iran over its nuclear program heats up, New York City—with its large Jewish population—becomes an increasingly attractive target." ("The Iranian Threat to New York City," Mitchell D. Silber, February 14, 2012)
No evidence has been produced for these charges. Meanwhile, there is evidence of Israeli and perhaps U.S. involvement in the January 11 assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist (the fifth targeted, the fourth killed in the last several years). An Obama official told NBC News that Israel was supplying the reactionary Iranian group M.E.K. with money, training, and weapons in order to carry out these assassinations.
Weaving together these distortions, half-truths, speculations, and outright lies paints a picture of Iran as a reckless violator of its legal agreements and international law, a rogue state preventing a peaceful resolution of differences, instead escalating the conflict by refusing to agree to the reasonable demands of the U.S. and its allies.
Most fundamentally, this narrative is designed to obscure the actual nature of the regimes that are clashing—the U.S. and Israel versus Iran—what interests they're fighting for and what the clash is really all about, as well as what's driving the dynamic of confrontation and possibly war. Put another way, if Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, and the U.S. and Israel know this, why are they threatening war?
In a nutshell, the U.S., Britain, and France represent the most militarily, politically, and economically dominant coalition of predatory capitalist-imperialist powers on earth, which together possess thousands of nuclear weapons. Israel is their heavily armed surrogate and enforcer in the Middle East with an estimated 75-200 nukes. Iran, on the other hand, is a much less powerful Third World capitalist state without nuclear weapons. The U.S. can project power thousands of miles from its shores and has 737 military bases around the world; Iran's navy rarely ventures beyond the Persian Gulf/Arabian Sea area and has no foreign military bases. The U.S. spends 100 times as much on its military as Iran, and has over 2,000 deployed nuclear weapons. Its population is over three times as large as Iran's; its economy is nearly 18 times larger and much more technologically advanced than Iran's.
At bottom, this is a battle by the U.S. and its allies to maintain their dominance over the Middle East and the world. This need is rooted in the core functioning and power of their entire system, which is based on the global exploitation of labor, control and access to key resources and markets, and the military-political control of vast swaths of the globe. Controlling the Middle East has been a key part of the entire structure of U.S. global dominance for the past 60-plus years because together with Central Asia it contains roughly 80 percent of the world's proven energy reserves. Control of this energy spigot is a key lever on the entire global economy—and on all the other powers that depend on oil and natural gas—from allies in Europe and Japan to rivals Russia and China. The region is a crossroads for global trade and a critical military-strategic pivot.
In short, the U.S., Israel, Britain, and France are battling for empire and hegemony—not for justice, liberation, or a nuclear-free world.
Why is Iran such a problem for them? The Islamic Republic of Iran is a reactionary theocracy that may or may not be seeking the ability to build a nuclear weapon—nuclear weapons are extremely dangerous in anyone's hands!
However, Iran is definitely not seeking to break out of the framework of or fundamentally challenge the system of global capitalism-imperialism. It is attempting to maintain its hold on power in Iran, expand its influence in the Middle East, and develop relationships with a range of world powers such as Russia, China, Pakistan, and India. Iran is a relatively strong and coherent state with enormous oil wealth. It has strengthened Islamist trends across the region that are clashing with the U.S. It poses a military, political, and ideological challenge and in some ways is an alternative to the whole structure of U.S. control of the Middle East—from the settler-colonial state of Israel to the U.S.-backed network of torturers, tyrants, and potentates from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States—on which U.S. control rests.
Add to this the fact that Iran has historically been a huge "prize" for rival empires. It sits on the world's second largest reserve of natural gas and third largest oil reserve at a time of growing energy competition. It's located at the crossroads of two key energy routes—the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea—and two key regions—Central Asia and the Middle East.
Shortly after the Islamic Republic took power in 1979 with the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah (who was a key ally in the region), the U.S. broke and never restored diplomatic relations and has never recognized the Islamic regime, but instead sought to contain, undermine, even overthrow it. In the 1980s the U.S. did this by instigating the eight-year-long bloodbath known as the Iran-Iraq War. During the 1990s, the U.S. attempted to strangle Iran through sanctions and "containment." As soon as the so-called war on terror was launched in 2001, Iran was named part of the "axis of evil" and slated for regime change via escalating sanctions, covert actions, and threats of war.
The U.S.-Israeli position on Iran's nuclear program only makes sense within this context. This crisis has brought more fully into public view U.S.-Israeli insistence that Iran not even or ever have nuclear capacity. The word "capacity" is often used in the media as if it means having a nuclear weapon. But what the U.S. and Israel mean by nuclear "capacity" or "capability" is actually the technological ability to enrich uranium, even for nuclear power plants and for medical purposes, despite the fact that they are given that right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The answer is because even the possibility that Iran could build a bomb, even if it never did, could change the regional balance of power including the military balance of power—and that's the core issue driving this clash. "Iran could be seeking to enhance its influence in the region by creating what some analysts call 'strategic ambiguity,'" The New York Times acknowledge in a February 24 analysis. "Rather than building a bomb now, Iran may want to increase its power by sowing doubt among other nations about its nuclear ambitions." ("U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb," James Risen and Mark Mazzetti)
So the fear is NOT that Iran will simply build a bomb and wipe Israel off the map. The imperialists' fear is that Iran's influence in the region—which has already broadened in certain ways due to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, spiking oil prices, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, and the rise of new powers globally—will grow further if it is perceived as militarily stronger and less vulnerable to U.S. and/or Israeli attack. This could erode the U.S. grip on the region, including its ability with Israel to attack anyone, anytime, anywhere—including Iran itself.
Nuclear weapons in anyone's hands are a terrible thing. But the U.S. and Israel are not threatening Iran to eliminate nuclear weapons—they're threatening Iran to maintain their monopoly of nuclear weapons and military dominance of the region.
This is why negotiations have failed and why the U.S. refused Iran's 2003 offer to negotiate all outstanding issues in return for recognizing the IRI and its interests in the region, and calling off the dogs of pressure, intervention, and bullying. The U.S. negotiating position to date has been akin to the godfather attempting to force a smaller rival to accept an offer "they can't refuse": that Iran essentially forfeit its right to enrich uranium.
To this point, Iran's clerical rulers have felt this is not an offer they can accept given the fissures in the Iranian ruling class as well as the mass hatred of their oppressive rule (particularly after the uprising following the June 2009 elections). To do so in their view would amount to a public capitulation which could undercut their strength and legitimacy while not ending U.S. hostility, thus threatening to unravel their rule.
The U.S. refusal so far to make any major agreement with the Islamic Republic has also been shaped by the U.S. refusal to do anything which could strengthen the Iranian regime—because its strategic objective all along has been bringing down the regime.
This confrontation between the "red line" interests of Israel and the U.S. on one side and the Islamic Republic of Iran on the other have also accelerated in the past year because of the profound changes that have shaken the region. This is a key reason the current rise in tensions is much, much more serious than periods of increased U.S.-Iranian tensions in recent decades.
The two key regional developments are first, the U.S. failures—in many senses defeats—in Iraq and Afghanistan, and second, the Arab upheaval. The first has meant that the U.S. has failed in creating reliable bases in the region from which to solidify its dominance, project its power, and, as a part of this, strangle Iran; instead, Iran has been strengthened by these U.S. failures. The second has meant that the region's political terrain is shifting rapidly, and in unpredictable ways—with the potential to seriously shake U.S. influence and control and increase Iran's influence. Iran's insistence on continuing its nuclear program, and the failure of previous U.S.-led efforts to topple or shake the regime, are intensifying these concerns.
Right now Syria, a close ally of Iran, is the focal point. Thousands of Syrians have risen up against the hated Assad regime, which has killed over 6,000 Syrians in attempting to put down the opposition, which is a mixed bag of various political forces. The U.S. and other powers are now attempting to take advantage and take control of this revolt to take down the Assad regime in order to strengthen their position in the region and to weaken Iran.
Efraim Halevel, former director of Israel's intelligence service Mossad, writes in the New York Times: "The public debate in America and Israel these days is focused obsessively on whether to attack Iran in order to halt its nuclear weapons ambitions; hardly any attention is being paid to how events in Syria could result in a strategic debacle for the Iranian government. Iran's foothold in Syria enables the mullahs in Tehran to pursue their reckless and violent regional policies—and its presence there must be ended." ("Iran's Achilles' Heel," February 7, 2012)
British author and journalist Patrick Seale called the battle over Syria "a struggle between the United States, on the one hand, and its allies, and its opponents like Russia and China ... for regional dominance, who is to be top dog.... [T]his as a concerted attack, assault, on not only Syria, but Iran, as well. You see, Iran, Syria and their ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, that trio, a sort of Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis, has in recent years been the main obstacle to American and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. And the attempt now is to bring that axis down.... Now, [U.S.] ally, Israel, has also suffered recently, in recent years. It tried to crush Hezbollah in 2006, when it went into Lebanon. It tried to crush Hamas in Gaza when it invaded Gaza in 2008, '09. It feels that the combination of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah has made a dent in its military supremacy in the region. It's seeking to restore its overall dominance. Now, both these powers, United States and Israel, its ally, believe, I think, that overthrowing the regimes in Tehran and Damascus will allow them to restore their supremacy and come back on top. So that's what we're witnessing. It's a struggle for regional supremacy, regional dominance...." ("A Struggle for Regional Supremacy: Syria Conflict Escalates as World Powers Debate Assad's Future," Democracy Now!, February 7, 2012)
War is not a foregone conclusion, and there are indications that the Obama administration is resisting Israel's demand for an immediate ultimatum to Iran. (See "Is Israel Driving the Threat of War?"). Nor is the point that any of the parties simply want war. But the current moves by the U.S. and Israel are ominously similar to the moves by the U.S. leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Iran's continued pursuit of nuclear enrichment impacts and intensifies U.S.-Israeli concerns about its regional influence (including because of the possibility that Iran's nuclear facilities could become more difficult to destroy). For Iran, the threats against it, as well as the dangers the regional upheaval pose for it, increase its perceived need not to back down on the nuclear issue.
So tensions are rising, and the U.S., Israel, and Iran remain on a collision course, which is very difficult for any to back away from. And there are powerful forces within the ruling class demanding the U.S. not back away. In early March, 12 senators warned Obama in a letter not to engage in negotiations with Tehran unless and until it halted its enrichment program first, and a recent resolution submitted in the Senate demanded the U.S. not accept any policy of "containing" a nuclear Iran, or even allow it to enrich uranium on its own soil. It was in effect, a road map for war. One of its sponsors, Senator Joe Lieberman, stated it was intended "to say clearly and resolutely to Iran: You have only two choices—peacefully negotiate to end your nuclear program or expect a military strike to end that program."
Martin Indyk, hardline imperialist strategist and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, writes that events are "spinning out of control." "As the Obama administration ramps up the sanctions pressure on Iran to accept meaningful curbs on its nuclear program, it is following a strategy of coercive diplomacy that has a fundamental design flaw. Consequently, President Obama is in danger of achieving the opposite of his intention: Iran may well decide that rather than negotiate a compromise, its best choice is actually to cross the nuclear weapons threshold, with fateful consequences for all." Indyk concludes, "Sadly, the dynamics of the current situation appear to make conflict inevitable. We are now engaged in a three-way game of chicken in which for Khamenei, Netanyahu and even Obama, physical or political survival makes blinking more dangerous than confrontation...." ("Iran Spinning Out of Control," New York Times, February 29, 2012)
Iran is capable of exporting terror and it is not impossible that it is pursuing nukes. But there is no evidence of either. And whether or not Iran is working to develop the ability to make a nuclear weapon, this does not justify any U.S. or Israeli military action, which would be a towering crime as well as an illegal and illegitimate war of aggression—a war crime—under the Nuremberg Principles of 1950.
It bears repeating and emphasis: The U.S. and Israel aren't attacking Iran's nuclear program to end nuclear weapons; they're doing it to preserve their regional monopoly on the freedom to threaten the people with these weapons of mass destruction (and whenever U.S. rulers say that "all options are on the table," that's exactly what they're doing). It's the U.S. and Israel—not Iran—who are the main sources of violence in the Middle East.
The U.S. condemns Iran for being a repressive theocracy. It is a repressive theocracy, but the U.S. isn't assaulting Iran to liberate Iranians. Look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. All had repressive regimes. Then the U.S. invaded—and made things WORSE by causing enormous death and destruction, imposing new forms of oppression, and fueling religious fundamentalism!
Just what is it the U.S. and Israel are really defending and seeking to preserve? They're working to preserve U.S. domination over this whole region in service of a global empire of exploitation imposed and maintained by massive violence. And if there's a debate among them, it's over how to best pursue that reactionary and criminal aim.
The rulers of the U.S. and Israel realize any attack on Iran could have unpredictable consequences. But they are committed, as they repeatedly state, to keep "all options on the table" when it comes to preserving their global dominance.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
There is a lot of speculation in the U.S. press and among opponents of attacking Iran, that Israel is pushing for an attack on Iran and driving the war danger, while the Obama administration is seeking to restrain Israel and avoid war. And a lot of people feel that this is another instance of the "Israel lobby" having decisive influence in U.S. politics. (A number of anti-war groups will be protesting at the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Convention in Washington March 4 - 6.
These perceptions have been fueled by a torrent of news reports. For instance, a February 8 New York Times analysis, "U.S. and Israel Split on Speed of Iran Threat," a February 28 AP report that Israel has told the U.S. it would not inform them before striking Iran, and February 26 public statements by both General Martin Dempsey, chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague urging Israel not to attack Iran.
Israel looms large because it plays a crucial role for the U.S. in preserving its control of the Middle East. Israel functions—not as the homeland of Jewish people—but as America's "unsinkable aircraft carrier," as a U.S. official once put it, and the most solidly reliable ally and military outpost in the region. Particularly in this period of upheaval and transition, Iran's rising power and the other changes in the region do have the potential to undermine Israel's position as a Western settler-colonial outpost in the heart of the Middle East.
This is why Barack Obama stated in his Super Bowl interview that in relation to Iran, "[W]e have closer military and intelligence consultation between our two countries than we've ever had. And my number one priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also the security of Israel, and we are going to make sure that we work in lockstep as we proceed to try to solve this, hopefully diplomatically." Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak states, "The U.S. is what helps us to preserve the military advantage of Israel, more than ever before. This administration contributes to the security of Israel in an extraordinary way and does a lot to prevent a nuclear Iran." ("Will Israel Attack Iran?" Ronen Bergman, New York Times Magazine, January 25, 2012)
This is why the U.S. has stood by Israel. But the U.S. is also "stuck with" Israel, whose perceived needs and interests are not always identical to those of the U.S. imperialists. There now appear to be sharp arguments taking place between the rulers of Israel and the U.S.—and within the ruling classes of these countries—over the exact state of Iran's nuclear program, where exactly to draw the "red line," the dangers and difficulties of any military strike, and how overall to advance the imperialists' interests regionally and globally.
It is possible that the U.S. position on Iran's nuclear program—based on its overall and strategic imperial considerations—could be shifting and diverging from Israel's, with Israel drawing a "red line" at Iran having the capacity to make nuclear weapons, i.e., enriching uranium (although that's not all that is involved in making a nuclear weapon), while the U.S. seems to be more ambiguous about this and sometimes stating its "red line" is Iran's actual pursuit of nuclear weapons. This has given rise to speculation that there could be a negotiated resolution to the crisis which would enable Iran to continue enriching uranium to 3.5 percent but under much tighter supervision/inspection and abandoning enrichment to 20 percent and probably being forced to open its research files, disclose suppliers, etc. (And recently Obama officials have also called the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) "rational actors" not madmen, and said they were unlikely to start a war with the U.S. or Israel. See: "Iran Is Ready to Talk," Dennis B. Ross, New York Times, February 14, 2012.)
This has apparently led to tensions with elements in the ruling classes of both the U.S. and Israel which, at least in public, have not adopted this position. "Our policy is that in one way or another, Iran's nuclear program must be stopped," Israel's Barak said. A letter to Obama, sponsored by Republicans John McCain and Lindsay Graham, independent Joe Lieberman and New York's two Democratic senators, and signed by 32 Senators in all, pledges to oppose "any proposal ... in which Iran is permitted to continue enrichment on its territory in any form."
And the New York Times reports that the debates between the U.S. and Israel are not over whether Iran needs to be dealt with, but exactly how and when, including "whether Iran's crucial nuclear facilities are about to become impregnable ... the circumstances under which Israel would judge it could no longer hold off from an attack because Iran's effort to produce a bomb would be invulnerable to any strike." ("U.S. and Israel Split on Speed of Iran Threat," February 8, 2012)
Less Than Meets the Eye?
Whatever debate is taking place between the U.S. and Israel—and their key secret deliberations are not often carried in the media—they are both proceeding from the reactionary interests of empire, and their unity remains much greater than their differences. In addition, there may be less than meets the eye here, with elements of a division of labor as much as a division of opinion.
Obama gave a lengthy interview to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic during which he more directly and forcefully laid out his insistence that Iran would not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, that the U.S. would not implement a strategy of acceding to and then "containing" a nuclear Iran, that preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons was a top priority for U.S. global interests as well, and that his concern about an Israeli attack right now is that it could help Iran and hurt Israel.
Goldberg writes: "[T]he United States 'has Israel's back,' and that he will order the U.S. military to destroy Iran's nuclear program if economic sanctions fail to compel Tehran to shelve its nuclear ambitions.... The president also said that Tehran's nuclear program would represent a 'profound' national-security threat to the United States even if Israel were not a target of Iran's violent rhetoric, and he dismissed the argument that the United States could successfully contain a nuclear Iran.... Obama went to great lengths to caution Israel that a premature strike might inadvertently help Iran: 'At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally, [Syria,] is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?'" ("Obama to Iran and Israel: 'As President of the United States, I Don't Bluff,'" March 2, 2012)
In other words, Obama is assessing whether or not to wage war on Iran from the standpoint of U.S. imperialism's global and regional interests—not from the perspective of opposing war.
The Obama strategy may be: Israel, don't attack right away; let's see if sanctions and covert operations force Iran to cave, or lead to the weakening/destabilization of the regime, particularly given the potential for taking down the Assad regime in Syria. But if this doesn't work, we're in a much stronger position to wage war if we're seen as having walked the last mile for peace by giving sanctions "a chance," and engaging in some negotiations. And given the dangers of war, it's important to be in the strongest possible position.
One Israeli think tank notes that the U.S. has not decisively demanded Israel not attack:
"Statements made by administration officials are clear evidence of the administration's unwillingness to be viewed as the one giving Israel even a tacit green light to attack Iran. Nevertheless, even now, the administration's conduct in this context, especially the lack of threats against Israel should it ignore US entreaties to desist from attacking Iran, cannot but project the lack of a decisive stance. In the foreseeable future and the closer the administration approaches the moment of truth with regard to Iran, it may very well be—though there is no certainty here—that the administration will consider changing its current negative attitude regarding an Israeli military action against Iran." (Zaki Shalom, Institute for National Strategic Studies, February 29, 2012)
Obama told Goldberg that U.S. differences with Israel were "tactical and not strategic" and this may be such an instance. AntiWar.com reports: "While insisting that they 'want to see sanctions work,' Obama Administration officials are convinced that the sanctions won't lead Iran to abandon its civilian nuclear program and that either the US or Israel will attack Iran as a result.... Officials say Obama has been telling Israel he wants to 'give sufficient time' to the current round of sanctions before starting the war, though they say that in the end the result will...be a war because Iran is 'behaving like sanctions don't matter.'" ("US officials believe Iran sanctions will fail, making military action likely," Jason Ditz, AntiWar.com, February 17, 2012)
The U.S. and Israel claim their threats and moves towards war are to prevent a dangerous regime from obtaining nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons in anyone's hands pose a terrible threat to humanity. But the U.S. holds a massive stockpile of nuclear weapons and has already used them to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the Middle East, it is Israel that has an existing arsenal of 75 to 200 deliverable nuclear weapons. Those nukes are in the hands of a regime built on ethnic cleansing, a regime that carried out repeated wars against its neighbors since its inception.
Whether Israel first attacks Iran alone, or together with the U.S., both are guilty and both should be condemned worldwide.
The U.S. and Israel are already working together in attacking Iran in many ways and spreading lies and pretexts for war. They are both working to weaken or topple the Islamic Republic. They are making military preparations in the region. And they are both determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear capacity. And bottom line: Israel could never even think about attacking Iran without U.S. aid, arms, military collaboration, and the all-around U.S.-led assault on Iran—and the preservation of Israel and its security is a key U.S. imperialist objective.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
The U.S. Constitution and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)
In January 2011, for the first time, the opening session of the U.S. Congress included a reading of the U.S. Constitution. Tea Party activists had just helped win a significant number of new Republican congressional seats. And this reading was widely acknowledged as a symbolic gesture to emphasize a new Republican rule requiring that all proposed bills must cite text from the U.S. Constitution permitting them to become law.
For 90 minutes, members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, took turns reading the Constitution. But in consultation with the Congressional Research Service and others, they read an edited version of the country's founding document.
The version they read covered over the fact that the U.S. Constitution was not only written at the time of slavery, but in order to uphold and defend the practice of owning human beings as private property. This version did not include the sections referring to slaves as "three-fifths of all other Persons," indentured servants "bound to Service for a Term of Years," and the fugitive-slave clause that required that slaves that escaped to another state be returned to the owner in the state from which they escaped.
It is an ugly exposure of America's foundations that slavery is openly sanctioned in the U.S. Constitution. But part of the "genius" of the U.S. Constitution is that it is a charter that appears to treat everyone the same—while concealing and reinforcing the profound inequalities, disparities, and class divisions at the heart of the capitalist economic, social, and political system. Indeed, since the abolition of slavery, the U.S. Constitution has provided the legal framework for the continuing oppression of Black people.
The National Civil Right Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, provides people with some powerful history of the struggle against this oppression.
Before the Civil War, Memphis, Tennessee, was a major slave market. Auction Square on North Main Street still displays the original plaque which commemorates the two kinds of trade that shaped much of the economy of Memphis at the time—slaves and cotton.
At the National Civil Rights Museum, you can go on a searing and unforgettable journey that deeply and artistically depicts the lives, struggles, resistance, and aspirations for the liberation of Black people in the United States. The museum's corridors and galleries pull you through hundreds of years of horrific oppression and courageous resistance.
Beginning with the European-controlled slave dungeons on Africa's western coast in the 17th century, through the savagery of the "middle passage" across the Atlantic, in which millions of African people died, and into the centuries of slavery. Exhibits display the heroic efforts of the Black soldiers who fought for the Union in the U.S. Civil War and the bitter results of emancipation's betrayal that came not long after that war ended. Then the long nightmare of Jim Crow and legal segregation, the lynch mobs, the rise of the KKK and other racist vigilantes. The museum sweeps a visitor into the upheavals and transformations of the 20th century: the great migrations out of the rural South into the cities of the North and Midwest, the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement in the '50s with battles around public education and against the savage lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955.
The heart of the museum focuses on the upheavals of the '50s and '60s, struggle that began as the Civil Rights Movement and then erupted into the radical and revolutionary movements for Black Liberation.
Many people who walk through this tour leave it emotionally drained, filled with turbulent and intense emotions, with indelible images of centuries of oppression—and heroic resistance—etched in their memory.
A theme of this museum is that the U.S. Constitution, from its origins and at key junctures, provided a basis for greater and expanding numbers of people to be included in its aims of equal civil rights for everyone—won at the cost of great struggle, sacrifice and bloodshed.
But the question must be asked. What lessons should actually be drawn from this legacy of horrific oppression and courageous resistance? Can the liberation of Black and other oppressed people be won through the provisions and in the framework of the U.S. Constitution? Or is a radical—a revolutionary—leap beyond and away from that framework required for the emancipation of all of humanity, including Black people?
The U.S. Constitution was drafted, debated, and approved by slave owners and exploiters. This is a profound truth about the historical birth of the United States and the character of its founding legal document.
Still many people argue that the U.S. Constitution, despite its origins in a society that practiced slavery, has protected and expanded the political and civil rights of ever broader numbers of people. The Constitution is seen as something that continues to provide the legal foundation and political vision for overcoming existing inequalities and injustices. In particular, the argument goes, Black people in the U.S. have gone from being enslaved to the point where a Black man is president, a development that could only have happened because of the provisions and foundation established by the U.S. Constitution.
This message—that the U.S. Constitution establishes a vision and basis for achieving a society where "everyone is equal"—is profoundly UNTRUE and actually does great harm.
From its writing and adoption in 1787 to today, this Constitution has provided the legal framework and justifications for a society torn by deep inequalities, and the preservation of a whole economic and social setup in which a relatively small number of people rule over an exploitative society, and maintain that dominance. As Bob Avakian has pointed out:
"Over the 200 years that this Constitution has been in force, down to today, despite the formal rights of persons it proclaims, and even though the Constitution has been amended to outlaw slavery where one person actually owns another as property, the U.S. Constitution has always remained a document that upholds and gives legal authority to a system in which the masses of people, or their ability to work, have been used as wealth-creating property for the profit of the few."
In particular, the subordinate, oppressed—and, for almost a century, enslaved—position of Black people has been sanctioned by this Constitution. And this oppression has been reinforced by laws and court rulings flowing from this Constitution and the social-economic system based on exploitation that it serves.
In 2010 the Revolutionary Communist Party published the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) (CNSRNA). This visionary document is based on the new synthesis of communism developed over decades by Bob Avakian.
This Constitution is nothing less than the framework for a whole new society: a new political system in which the will of the people will be expressed... and a new economic system that will actually be geared to meeting people's material needs, as well as taking care of the environment and contributing to the revolutionary international process of eliminating all exploitation. Even more fundamentally, this is a framework to advance to a communist world—a world in which exploitation and oppression will be things to read about in history books and people will no longer be divided into antagonistic social groups but will instead live and work together as a freely associating community of human beings all over the planet.
The CNSRNA is a draft proposal for an actual Constitution: the framework, the guiding principles and the processes of a radically new government, a radically new form of state power. We ARE building a movement for revolution—a revolution that WILL put this document into practice. These are the rules of a whole new game... a guide for those who will lead the new power for what to do on Day One, and after.
On the question of doing away with national oppression the Preamble to the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) states:
"The New Socialist Republic in North America is a multi-national and multi-lingual state, which is based on the principle of equality between different nationalities and cultures and has as one of its essential objectives fully overcoming national oppression and inequality, which was such a fundamental part of the imperialist USA throughout its history. Only on the basis of these principles and objectives can divisions among humanity by country and nation be finally overcome and surpassed and a world community of freely associating human beings be brought into being. This orientation is also embodied in the various institutions of the state and in the functioning of the government in the New Socialist Republic in North America."
This article begins a series that will compare and contrast the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)—in relation to the enslavement, oppression and emancipation of African-American people. We encourage readers to discuss and study this series; spread and share it among your friends; get it into the classrooms, communities and prisons; and send us your comments.
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
On February 23, 2012, the Illinois Appellate Court denied the appeal of the unjust conviction and vindictive sentencing of Gregory Koger for videotaping with an iPhone a public event at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC). The court mandated that he serve out the rest of the time on the outrageous 300-day sentence. Now there needs to be a powerful outcry against this latest outrage that threatens to railroad Gregory to jail again. The cops, the prosecutors and the EHSC must not be allowed to get away with this vindictive persecution! Send statements of outrage and support for Gregory, as well as funds for the appeal. See below.
|About the case: Gregory was arrested in November 2009 at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC, located in Skokie) when he was videotaping a short statement by Sunsara Taylor protesting her disinvitation by the EHSC. Gregory was videotaping Sunsara Taylor's statement for her protection so there would be an accurate record of her statement. And for that "crime," the police grabbed, beat and maced him, leaving him with lacerations and contusions. Then they charged him with misdemeanor battery (on police officer called by the EHSC), resisting arrest and trespassing.
An important part of the legal case and appeal is the prosecution's outrageous equating of video taping with trespassing which has chilling implications for anyone documenting newsworthy events. The then-president of the EHSC testified under oath that he never asked Gregory to leave (an essential part of the very definition of trespass). And the only person who supposedly gave such notice to leave was the cop who test-i-lied that he whispered it into Gregory's ear.
Send statements of outrage and support for Gregory, as well as funds for the appeal.
To learn more about Gregory's case and to find out more about how to join this fight, check out: www.dropthecharges.net.
Donate online at www.dropthecharges.net or send checks or money orders payable to Gregory Koger Fund to Ad Hoc Committee for Reason, 1055 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. #226, Chicago, IL 60660
There were many irregularities in the original trial—leading to an unjust guilty verdict on all counts. Gregory's bail was revoked while awaiting sentencing and he was taken directly to jail from the courthouse. At the sentencing hearing, the courtroom was packed with supporters who presented a petition with almost 1,000 names demanding no jail time. Character witnesses who took the stand on his behalf included Gregory's boss—a lawyer, one of his college professors—a former prosecutor, a research scientist, a young woman intern he had mentored, and a priest. The case was covered in the Chicago Reader and the Chicago Tribune. In spite of all this, the judge issued a totally disproportionate sentence of 300 days, of which Gregory served 60 days before the appeal court granted his appeal bond.
Central to the prosecution and persecution of Gregory by the state has been the manipulation of the fact that Gregory had previous felony convictions as a youth and had served 11 years in prison in Illinois. At his sentencing, the judge claimed that Gregory "chose a path of violence" and "endangered every single person in [the EHSC] auditorium that day"—for videotaping with an iPhone! The judge then questioned "whether he really has any rehabilitative potential," and after sentencing him to nearly the maximum sentence stated that "once you serve your sentence, there is hope you may become a law abiding and useful citizen some day." The state deliberately set out to paint a picture of Gregory as a violent lifetime criminal who poses a threat to society. And this, too, was part of the appeal. In fact, what Gregory has done with his life shows that is a vicious lie!
In the 16 months that Gregory has been out of jail on bond while the appeal has worked its way through the system here are some of things he has done, including resuming his job as a paralegal:spoken out against police brutality and the criminalization of Black and Latino youth, organized a forum exposing the torture of prisoners in U.S. segregation units and supported the hunger strike of California prisoners in 2011 against conditions of torture. Spoken at high schools and university classes on mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow. He has protested the unjust wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and been part of Occupy Chicago.
This is a continuation of the path he began while in prison as a youth when he began questioning the nature of the system that put him and millions of others behind bars. While in prison Gregory spent many years in solitary confinement in segregation in the U.S. home-grown torture chambers, where he experienced first hand the degrading and dehumanizing effects of torture. He began to read Revolution newspaper. He broke with the dog-eat-dog outlook. After his release from prison in December 2006, Gregory jumped into changing the world. Along with others, he put on an orange jumpsuit to protest torture by the U.S. in its "war on terror." He traveled to Nebraska and Kentucky to participate in the defense of abortion clinics and doctors. He spoke at rallies against police brutality and to support prisoners' rights to receive and read revolutionary literature.
Should a whole section of society (there are over 2 million people incarcerated right now in American prisons) be denied the right to participate in the full range of lawful social and political activity by mere virtue of being former prisoners, because the state will use prior criminal convictions to justify political persecution? A message is being sent to intimidate millions of others at the bottom of society, "Don't even think about raising your head, participating in political activity or protest, much less taking up revolutionary politics, this is what we will do to you." We cannot allow this message to stand.
The "public safety" is hardly threatened by former prisoners stepping forward to take up the big social and political questions of the day, including those who become revolutionary emancipators of humanity. THAT is the life Gregory has chosen, not a "path of violence," as the judge asserted. THAT is what is "volatile," and threatening to their system, not Gregory picking up an iPhone.
As Gregory put it in a statement before his trial, "Now my life is dedicated to the struggle to end all exploitation and oppression and getting to a world where people contribute what they can to society and get back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings." He needs to be out here in society fighting to bring into being this new world.
STOP the VINDICTIVE POLITICAL PROSECUTION of GREGORY KOGER!
Revolution #262 March 11, 2012
Thoughts on BAsics, Supplement 6
In the supplemental essay to chapter 6 of BAsics, "The Revolutionary Potential of the Masses and the Responsibility of the Vanguard," BA gets right to the point when he says on page 197:
One of the things that I see, something that I haven't lost sight of, is this: I see all the strength of the ruling class, but I also see all the way through all this shit, all the contradictions in society—I actually see a force in this society that, if it were developed into a revolutionary people, actually could have a go at it, could have a real chance of making a revolution, or being the backbone force of a revolution, when the conditions were ripe. I see a force of millions and millions and millions—youth and others—for whom this system is a horror: It isn't going to take some cataclysmic crisis for this system to be fucking over them. The ruling class, ironically, sees them too. It is those who once had but have lost—or those who never had—a revolutionary perspective...it is they who can't see this.
How do you understand this: "...if it were developed into a revolutionary people, actually could have a go at it...being a backbone force of a revolution, when the conditions were ripe..."?
Let's be clear. We are about communist revolution. A revolution that first leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat (socialism) as the transit point to a new era in human history, where social antagonisms of any kind no longer exist and in effect cannot exist.
This is really key to what this revolution is about. Leading, developing those who are most brutally exploited and oppressed under this system—developing, gelling them into the backbone, into leaders of this revolution. Leading them to reach their full potential. To become communist emancipators. This can only happen by us going deeply into BA with people. Into the essence of what he has brought forward. The essentials of his body of work. Method and approach.
Communism and the new synthesis. Bringing them onto this team. Training them in this team's style of play which has been developed by BA. Preparing, fitting these masses to be leaders in the cause of making this world historic transit.
When we step to the masses or when they step to us they should feel inspired and challenged by this. Both things. Inspired and challenged.
Communist revolution is what they should give their life over to. In comparison to what else? Of course there will be all sorts of ideological struggle over all kinds of different ideologies, thinking, and activity. Nationalism. Religion. Conspiracy theories such as the Illuminati that are extremely reactionary and harmful. Or revisionism which is counterfeit communism—a communism without revolution and with no historic transit of any kind. Or the hustling mentality. Just to name a few things that there must be a lot of ideological STRUGGLE with the masses over—some of the things we need to lead them to rupture with—so that they can rise to their full potential.
Quickly: we got to wage ideological struggle with people influenced by the hustling mentality. That is using others so that you can gain an advantage. Where you can "come up" by "playing others." "Running a game on people" as a way to survive. It really comes down to "me first" and "me and mine against everyone else." It is an expression of commodity relations. It is in sharp contradiction to everything this revolution is about.
A lot of people will come to the revolution influenced by the hustling mentality as well as other things, other ways of understanding/looking at one's relationship to the world, i.e., other ideologies. As they read BA, watch the Revolution talk (Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About), study Revolution newspaper—more often than not they are trying to fit this in with what they already think. It's not going to spontaneously "rub off" on them. We got to struggle with the whole ideological framework they have developed for engaging and understanding the world.
These ideologies are in sharp conflict with each other. The masses will also sooner rather than later drop out of the revolution unless they make a rupture, make a break with this way of thinking (these other ideologies). This is where we should come in. We got to struggle with people over this and a lot of other shit. People can change. They can become communist revolutionaries.
If we are not doing this, then what ARE we doing?
Doing this as they fight the power, as they stand up for themselves and others, as they walk around burning with anger, as they spontaneously internalize the shit they get from this system. And as they inquire or search out the movement for this revolution. This is a key component of the whole process of "fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution" (with emphasis on transform the people, for revolution) that's laid out in the strategy for revolution in the Chapter 3 supplemental essay in BAsics.
If we are not doing this, then what ARE we doing? If we are not constantly striving to measure, to gauge, to sharpen this, then what ARE we doing?
Connecting BA with people is key. It is key to giving people scientific grounding. It is key to tempering, key to toughening, key to sharpening the deep anger that boils up daily from hour to hour by those catching some of the heaviest blows from this system, tempering it with revolutionary and scientific understanding. This kind of grounding and strategic thinking prepares people to not only make revolution but to be rulers of a whole different and better society.
Look at the difference it makes among prisoners who have been engaging BA and BAsics. Look at the difference it has made to those who responded to BAsics 3:16 in issue #247 of Revolution. Look how BA and BAsics has resonated with those put in a situation where they are forced to choose between indignity on the one hand and further indignity on the other, all those whom this system has cast off in more ways than just one.
What do we make of this? The effect of their engagement with BA? What it has meant for them? The revolutionary potential it shows? What are we going to do with this?
There is so much more potential from those who responded to BAsics 3:16, potential to be initiators of a new stage of communist revolution, to be leaders, to be a driving force for this revolution (not the only ones—but most definitely essential to developing the backbone, and essential as one of the driving forces for this revolution). Today thousands can be reached, brought forward and trained in a revolutionary way. Influencing millions more, even before there is a revolutionary situation, and then when there is a revolutionary situation, those thousands can be a backbone and pivotal force in winning millions to revolution and organizing them in the struggle to carry the revolution through.
Let's not be complacent and say: "Oh, good, people are responding to BAsics 3:16." We have to win these masses to be leaders of this revolution. Winning them means waging ideological struggle with them.
If we are not doing this, then what ARE we doing?
One of the things that people at the very base of society often say is that when you have leaders like BA the ruling authorities (and their counter-revolutionary henchmen) will rip them off. Basic people have a keen understanding of this. The challenge we must solve is taking this understanding back to those who have this awareness and develop that as part of developing an active movement for revolution and communism. A movement so thick among those at the base of society that it actually turns into a really, really thick political "wall" surrounding this leadership—standing against and determined to frustrate any and every attempt they make to reach our leadership.
If we are not doing this, then what ARE we doing?
Today we got to aim high to find bold, creative, and unconventional ways to reach and bring thousands of them into the movement for revolution, to develop them into some of the most ardent active partisans for the communist cause, and many into Party members! Together with thousands of students, intellectuals, the middle class more broadly—those who may not feel the hardest blows but are demeaned, degraded, alienated, and often outraged by what this system does.
If we are not doing this, then what ARE we doing?
Over the past 30 years, BA has developed a whole body of work that addresses and solves tough problems we ran up against in Russia and China during our first attempts in making this world historic transit to communism. A lot of this is available by way of audio and video and in BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian done in short quotes and essays.
You can see and really appreciate how BA is constantly striving to make what he is doing accessible to those who have the greatest interest in this revolution. But what also comes through is BA is confident that with the right kind of leadership, communist leadership, the masses can lead—can take responsibility for the revolution to emancipate all of humanity.
People need to know about this. That they have a leader like this—a leader who goes all-out for them in this way so that they can rise to their full potential.
This is only a small taste of the deep love and equally deep confidence that Chairman Avakian has in the revolutionary potential of the masses. People need to stand up, step out—defend and protect this rare and precious leader.
This leads to a related point from the same essay in Chapter 6 of BAsics:
...Those who have been kept illiterate by this system are capable of being leaders of a revolution and of a new society that will overcome the things that made them illiterate. We should struggle like hell, ideologically and practically, to enable them to become literate; but, even if they don't, they can still play a leading role in the revolution. You want to talk about the non-professional leading the professional? This is how you do it—you do it with ideology, communist ideology and methodology, in the fullest sense. And you do it with the correct understanding of this ideology.
We can and will solve this problem with state power. This is one of the sweeping goals of the communist revolution—uprooting and overcoming that great divide between mental and manual workers. The way this process will be undertaken and approached is embodied throughout the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) from our Party. I encourage everyone to get their hands on it.
But we can't wait until then to begin transforming this. If we do, there will not be any revolutionary state power to speak of.
We really got to be scientific about this, which means being fearless and materialist in grasping that working with ideas is a human quality/trait and not something that some people are born with and others are not. To not struggle with basic people and to act like they can't do this is a different outlook than communism. It's unscientific. It is condescending and full of the "arrogance of the enlightened" to think basic and oppressed people can't change based on grasping revolutionary theory and humanity's highest and fundamental interest to be rid of oppression and exploitation. That time belongs to the past. Communism and the new synthesis belong to the future.
If we are not acting on this, then what ARE we doing?
What is there to learn from this?
In this essay in Chapter 6, BA is giving emphasis to the basic masses, the outcasts, to them becoming leaders of this revolution. I agree with this emphasis. This is fundamental to there being a revolution. Those at the very base of society must play a leading role. It is an important part of objective reality. It can only get manifested through the Party—through our entire team being deeply rooted in this understanding in how BA approaches this. It is materialist and it is scientific. It is full of confidence and deep understanding of how the vanguard has to play its role for this latent revolutionary potential of the masses, from the base of society and from the middle strata as well to be unleashed and led.
If we are not acting on this, then what ARE we doing?