Watch Webcast & Q&A of "From the Burkha to the Thong: Everything Must, and Can, Change -- WE NEED TOTAL REVOLUTION"
The webcast from the other night is up online now. I have embedded it below. The speech is about one hour and then I take questions for another hour or more. The beginning consists of a ten minute period when the camera was running while people logged in and then about 7 minutes of introduction and then some technical difficulties getting started, so... start 17 minutes in(I read into the camera the opening of my speech, then we play the speech as it was given at UCLA, then I took questions live thru the web for the last hour or more)
To everyone who tuned in online last night (to my talk: "From the Burkha to the Thong: Everything Must, and Can, Change -- WE NEED TOTAL REVOLUTION!): Thanks!
I enjoyed talking with you all. I got really good questions from all over the country and I know that there were gatherings around the country where people watched the webcast and live Q&A in groups and kept talking after we logged off after 11pm EST (we went beyond our pre-programmed time because the q's kept coming in and very few people were logging off).
As I promised last night, I intend -- either through this blog or in other forms -- to speak to some of the questions that were asked that we did not have time to get to.
I am not going to do that today... just wanted to get online right away and thank you for tuning in.
The idea is that, since an Iranian cleric blamed earthquakes on women who dress immodestly, that a bunch of women would show their cleavage and dress as provocatively as possible on Monday as part of “testing” this theory and proving it wrong. Some people seem to think – since I am an atheist and someone who rejects the view that women’s bodies are shameful and dirty – that I am going to be thrilled with this so-called act of defiance against Islamic fundamentalist ignorance and misogyny.
"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes," HojatoleslamKazemSedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Sedighi is Tehran's acting Friday prayer leader.
Um… but isn’t this “theory” already being tested every day? Isn’t this the fucked up world we already live in? Did the earth rumble – and I somehow missed it – during Spring Break? Do volcanoes go off every year as hundreds of thousands women are sold or bartered or tricked into the sex industry each year? Does the sky break open every time the Girls Gone Wild videos are promoted on late-night television or porn is downloaded millions of times a day on the internet? What about when the soldiers in the Congo strip the clothes off women before shoving rifles up their vaginas and pulling the trigger? Is the sea rising up every time a woman on a college campus in this country is drugged and raped and the guy, getting away with it, understands he can go ahead and do this again… and again… and again… and again… and again… and again? (That’s right, folks, the latest study reveals that the men who rape on college campuses do so on an average of six times during their “college career.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/12/AR2010031201792.html)
Look, the Islamic Republic of Iran is totally fucked. They count the testimony of women as half that of a man. They arrest and torture young women if a wisp of their hair falls out from behind their chador. They have their “virtue police” grope women on their way into school. I’ve heard stories from Iranians about women being caught with lipstick where the police wiped it off with napkins filled with broken glass. Of the calculation being made that the entire female body is worth the only one testicle of a man.
So, let there be no mistake. The Islamic Republic of Iran is deserving of fierce opposition and ought to be resisted and overturned.
But the whole point is, the Islamic Republic does these things because they view women fundamentally as objects, as things, as possessions of men.
Getting women to show off their breasts is really just the mirror opposite – reinforcing another form of reducing women to things, to objects, to something that exists for the sexual gratification of men.
How bout we do something really radical? Declare that women are fully human. Combat ignorance with science, combat misogyny with women’s liberation, combat all the outmoded systems of oppression (be they semi-feudal and dominated by imperialism or be they imperialism itself) with revolution for a whole different world?
What just happened in Arizona -- the passing of this new "immigration law" is a fucking disgrace to humanity. It will mean families torn apart. It will mean people living in fear. A green light to anti-immigrant hate-crimes. Super-exploitation of desperate immigrants who can never challenge their employers in court out of fear. It will mean people dying for lack of medical care out of fear of going to the emergency room. It will mean more racist hysteria and insult and brutality and disrespect heaped upon the youth in schools and hurt as they watch their parents beaten, raped, exploited without recourse.
The problem with this new law is not merely that it will also cast terror onto legal immigrants-- but that it will criminalize being without papers.
Ummmm-- hello!? How can a HUMAN BEING be illegal? Who made the damn borders anyhow? Illegitimate wars of conquest and domination of the very lands of the people who are now being most demonized and terrorized if they enter this country without papers. Only in capitalism (or perhaps slavery before it) can you be illegal as a human being if you don't have papers.
It is good the students walked out in Arizona today!
More must be done! And Obama is NOT the one to rely on.
Check out this video as part of looking at all this differently: Watch Revolution Talk film, learn system www.bit.ly/bt43Jk
Great Fun With a Scientist and a Priest at U of Chicago
Last night I was part of a fantastic evening with Bob Bossie (a rather radical priest), and PZ Myers (a wonderful atheist & scientist), at University of Chicago titled, “A Communist, a Scientist, and a Priest Sat Down to Discuss… Morality to Change the World.”
A couple hundred students and others packed in and most of them stayed riveted until finally our moderator, Ted Jennings (Professor of Biblical and Constructive Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary) called it an evening.
Once the conversation began, things moved quickly over a wide range of subjects and we never fully made it back to PZ’s statements about the relationship between science and morality – but I’ll say here that I strongly agree that science cannot answer questions of ought, that bringing science to bear in arguing what ought to be done in no way guarantees the interests of humanity will be pursued, but that attempting to answer questions of ought without science is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Check out his comments, in particular those he writes about what is wrong with both secular and religious arguments against homosexuality.
Bob Bossie is extremely committed to the struggles of the oppressed both in this country and around the world. He began his presentation with a quote that I am paraphrasing, but which essentially posed that, “If they come for the innocent and do not step over your body, cursed be your religion and cursed be your life.” I am proud to say that he and I both recently added our names to this statement organized by The World Can’t Wait calling on people to resist the unjust wars, torture, and repression that continue under Obama entitled, “Crimes Are Crimes - No Matter Who Does Them.” [http://www.worldcantwait.net/index.php/features-mainmenu-220/the-war-of-terror/6280-crimes-are-crimes-no-matter-who-does-them]
Usually, if a moderator does a good job it means that their role is not particularly notable. Ted was a bit different than this. His comments and questions, although brief, stimulated me (and I suspect others) to think quite a bit harder – in very good ways. At one point, after I spoke about how people’s sense of what is natural and of right and wrong changes as the way that society is organized changes (for instance, many used to argue that slavery was just “natural” but very few think this anymore, and many today argue that being focused on “me first” is “natural” but after a revolution when people are no longer forced to compete to survive that will no longer seem so), Jennings replied, “So, we are talking about morality to change the world, but also changing the world to change morality.” You get the idea – he’s a deep guy.
The audience asked about many things, including quite a few questions about communism and revolution. They asked about the history of communism, whether the Revolutionary Communist Party has the right to claim it is the vanguard party, whether vanguard party’s are even necessary or desirable, and (among other questions about revolution and communism) about the policies in the Soviet Union post-WWII when the early advances around women’s liberation were largely reversed with a revival of patriarchy. One guy asked a very profound question which, frankly, more people ought to be asking; whether the kind of upheaval and destruction that accompanies revolutions can be morally justified… but at the same time can refusing to make revolution, or to take bold actions to urgently address the suffering humanity is facing on a grand scale, morally justifiable? I spoke about the learning curve of communist experience and challenged people to get into the new synthesis of communism and revolution that Bob Avakian has developed – with some particular emphasis on some of his most recent work re-examining the centrality of the fight for women’s full liberation as a central and driving force for revolution starting now and all the way through till two radical ruptures: with all traditional property relations and all traditional ideas.
There were MANY other questions as well (I told you, folks stayed late and kept their hands up!) – about science, about religion, about the environmental catastrophes closing in on the planet, how to overcome distrust between different cultures, the role of the internet and new technologies in changing the world, the Tea Party movements, the rising global human population and its implications, humanism, and more.
The students who organized it should be proud of what they did.
At several points the question of gradual change versus a total revolution came up. I argued not only that things are too intolerable for humanity to take the gradual approach, but even more fundamentally that the depth of change that is needed is structural and not change within this system. That a revolution is much more finite, that is, the seizing of the power and the establishment of a new state power – but that that is only the beginning. A revolution really only clear the ground, uproots the economic structures and repressive capitalist state that requires and enforces relations of exploitation and oppression. But, transforming all the social relations, attitudes, ways of thinking and even of feeling takes much more time. But if you don’t make a revolution you can’t even really begin that process and that our responsibility now is to fight to hasten and prepare for a revolutionary situation.
Today, a friend of mine recalled a passage from Wallace Shawn’s extraordinary play, “The Fever,” which is entirely relevant to this question of “gradual change.” It was so good when I went back and re-read it that I am going to excerpt a lengthy passage from it here. Take your time and really take it in.
FROM THE FEVER BY WALLACE SHAWN:
So we have everything, but there's one difficulty we just can't overcome, a curse: we can't escape our connection to the poor.
We need the poor. Without the poor to get the fruit off the trees, to tend the excrement under the ground, to bathe our babies on the day they're born, we couldn't exist. With out the poor to do awful work, we would spend our lives doing awful work. If the poor were not poor, if the poor were paid the way we're paid, we couldn't afford to buy an apple, a shirt, we couldn't afford to take a trip, to spend a night at an inn in a nearby town. But the horror is that the poor grow everywhere, like moss, grass. And we can never forget the time when they owned the land. We can never forget the death of their families, those vows of revenge screamed out in those rooms that were running with gore. And the poor don't forget. They live on their rage. They eat rage. They want to rise up and finish us, wipe us off the earth as soon as they can.
And so in our frozen world, our silent world, we have to talk to the poor. Talk, listen, clarify, explain. They want things to be different. They want change. And so we say, Yes. Change. But not violent change. Not theft, not revolt, no revenge. Instead, listen to the idea of gradual change. Change that will help you, but that won't hurt us. Morality. Law. Gradual change. We explain it all: a two-sided contract: we'll give you things, many things, but in exchange you must accept that you don't have the right just to take what you want. We're going to give you wonderful things. Sit down, wait, don't try to grab— the most important thing is patience, waiting. We're going to give you much much more than you're getting now, but there are certain things that must happen first—these are the things for which we must wait. First, we have to make more and we gave to grow more, so more will be available for us to give. Otherwise, if we give you more, we'll have less. When we make more and we grow more, we can all have more—some of the increase can go to you. But the other thing is, once there is more, we have to make sure that morality prevails. Morality is the key. Last year, we made more and we grew more, but we didn't give you more. All of the increase was kept for ourselves. That was wrong. The same thing happened the year before, and the year be-fore that. We have to convince everyone to accept morality and next year give some of the increase to you.
So we all have to wait. And while we're waiting, we have to be careful. Be-cause we know you. We know there are some who are the violent ones, the ones who won't wait. These are the destroyers. Their children are dying, sick—no medicine, no food, nothing on their feet, no place to live, vomiting on the streets. These are the ones who are drunk with rage, with their lust for revenge. We know what they've planned. We've imagined it all a thousand times. We imagine it every single day. The sound at the door—that odd "crack"—the splintering sound—then they break through the lock and run in yelling, pull us up from where we're gathered at the family table, having our meal, pull our old parents out from the bathroom, pull the little ones up from their beds, then they line us all up together in the hall, slap us, kick us, curse us, scream at us, our parents bleeding our children bleeding, pulling the children's clothes from the closets, the toys from the shelves, ripping the pictures off the walls. What will they do to us? we ask each other. What?—are they giving all the homes to people who now are living in the streets?
Then terrible stories—shops torn apart, random killing, the old professor given a new job: cleaning toilets at the railroad station.
It seems impossible—can that possibly have happened? A mob of criminals—or unemployed louts—people who a year ago were starving in slums? Are they going to be running the factories now, the schools, everything, the whole country, the whole world?
We have to prevent it, although the violent ones are everywhere already, teaching the poor that the way things are is not God-given, the world could be run for their benefit. And so we have to set up a special classroom for the poor, to teach the poor some bloody lessons from the past—all the crimes committed by the violent rebels, the followers of Marx. Shove the lessons of history down their throats. History, history. The crimes. The oppression. The famines. The disasters. Teach the poor that they must never try to seize power for themselves, because the rule of the poor will always be incompetent, and it will always be cruel. The poor are bloodthirsty. Uneducated. They don't have the skills. For their own sake, it must never happen. And they must understand that the dreamers, the idealists, the ones who say that they love the poor, will all become vicious killers in the end, and the ones who claim they can create something better will always end up by creating something worse. The poor must understand these essential lessons, chapters from history. And if they don't understand them, they must all be taken out and shot. Inattention or lack of comprehension cannot be allowed.
And in places where we find that the classroom is avoided, we must warn the poor that even the innocent are going to get hurt. We can't accept violence against the symbols of law, the soldiers, the police. We have to kill the ones who commit those crimes. But if the violence goes on for a long time, then the ones whose older sisters and brothers we've already killed may be so full of rage that they don't fear death. And to control those people, we may have to go farther—cut out their tongues, cut up their faces, force them to watch us torture their parents, watch the soldiers rape their children. It's the only way to control people who don't fear death.
Bob Avakian, the Science of Communism, and the Stupid Logic of Those Who Call It A Religion
Recently, on PZ Myers blog Pharyngula (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/04/another_week_another_universit.php), after he announced that he would be joining Bob Bossie and myself at the University of Chicago this Friday for an event titled, “A Communist, a Scientist and a Priest Sat Down to Discuss… Morality to Change the World,” a number of folks wrote comments implying that because I promote the leadership of Bob Avakian that I am just a proponent for another kind of religion. This is simplistic and wrong. But because of the pervasive anti-communism in society this kind of simplistic and wrong argumentation is accepted all too unthinkingly by folks who really ought to know better.
So, let’s clarify a few things:
The fact that I cite the work of Avakian makes communism a religion about as much as the fact that evolutionary biologists cite the work of Darwin makes biology a religion. Just as Darwin made a scientific breakthrough that advanced the whole framework in which scientists were able to understand and further explore the natural world, so has Avakian developed a new synthesis of the science of communism which provides a much more advanced framework in which to understand and transform the natural and the social world.
In evaluating whether something is a religion or science, the criteria is NOT whether or not the works and role of key individuals are recognized and upheld. The criteria is to evaluate whether that person and their body of work (their premises, their claims, their method and their approach to engaging the world) are based in reality and are refined and developed (and at times, ruptured and resynthesized) by a further engagement with reality – or whether their claims are rooted instead in mythology and then stubbornly clung to in the face of (and in conflict with) discoveries about reality. The former is science (and yes, communism – understood and practiced correctly – IS a science) and the latter is religion.
As pertains specifically to the science of communism, Bob Avakian is the most advanced thinker and developer of communism in the world today and this has tremendous significance to the masses of humanity within this country and all over the globe who are groaning under the weight of the real world oppression, exploitation, degradation, death and torture which are the inevitable results of the world-wide system or capitalism-imperialism, but whose suffering is utterly unnecessary. Anyone who has any sincerity and concern for this suffering humanity ought to be thrilled that someone exists who has done the hard work, the risky work, the often unpopular and go-against-the-tide work of defending and advancing the theory of revolution and in leading a Party (the Revolutionary Communist Party) that is actively and aggressively building a movement for revolution, hastening and awaiting the development of a revolutionary situation, right here, right now!
And, anyone who has a concern for the future of humanity and of the planet itself has a responsibility to genuinely and thinkingly engage the work of Bob Avakian, to evaluate its premises, its aims, and its strategy and to contribute to the ability of others to find out about this leadership and engage it themselves.
Among the other tremendous breakthroughs fought for by Avakian is a decisive rupture with the (secondary) religious tendencies which have at times been present within the history of the international communist movement. Here is an excerpt of a larger talk he gave titled, “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity,” where he specifically addresses the matter of communism being a science.
Marxism as a Science—Refuting Karl Popper Marxism’s “falsifiability,” Popper’s falsehoods, and a scientific approach
an excerpt of a talk by Bob Avakian, "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity"
Now, in this connection, I want to speak to the attempt by Karl Popper to discredit and attack Marxism.1 Popper claims that Marxism is not a science because it is not falsifiable. Or to put it another way, Popper asserts that Marxism is in effect a religious worldview, which makes historical prophecies; and when, as Popper asserts, these “prophecies” turn out to be false—when reality turns out differently than what has been “prophesied” by Marxism—then Marxists simply invent rationalizations to explain away the failure of their “prophecy.”
This deserves to be addressed, because it gets to the heart of what, in fact, the Marxist outlook and method is—and is not—and how it not only meets the standards of science but represents the most consistent and systematic application of the scientific outlook and method, and is in the most fundamental and profound opposition to religious worldviews and approaches to reality.
Let’s begin by discussing the question of falsifiability, and its application to Marxism, and then get into some of Popper’s main attacks on Marxism and how in reality they turn out to be apologies for capitalism-imperialism. In The Science of Evolution and The Myth Of Creationism—Knowing What’s Real And Why It Matters, Ardea Skybreak emphasizes this contrast: “unlike ‘religious beliefs,’ scientific predictions (including predictions made about the processes involved in evolution) are actually testable and verifiable.” (p. 70, emphasis in original) And:
“A good scientific theory puts forward some predictions about what we should expect to find in the real world if the theory is true; and it also makes predictions about some of the things we should not be able to find in the world if the theory is true. This is known as the principle of ‘scientific falsifiability’: a genuine scientific theory, as a matter of principle, has to be capable of being disproved by facts (things which, if discovered, would prove your theory to be wrong).” (pp. 215-17, emphasis in original)
In short, the “falsifiability” criterion means that if something is really scientific, then it can be put to the test of reality. If things emerge in reality which the theory not only doesn’t anticipate, but which the theory would predict cannot happen, then obviously there is something wrong, incorrect, about the theory. If, to take an example cited by Skybreak, it could actually be shown—and not pretended in creationist museums—that dinosaurs and human beings existed at the same time, that would be one means of falsifying the theory of evolution, of showing that it is wrong. In reality, dinosaurs and human beings are separated in time by tens of millions of years; and in reality the evidence, from many different fields, that has been continually discovered and examined since the time of Darwin has increasingly verified the theory of evolution, demonstrating from a growing number of directions that it is in fact true, not false. But the point is that evolution, as a scientific theory, is falsifiable. And so, in a fundamental and essential sense, is Marxism—scientific communist theory.
Of course, it is possible that a scientific theory is true—correctly reflects reality—in its main and essential aspects, but is shown to be incorrect in certain secondary aspects—and, in accordance with that, some of its particular predictions prove not to be true. And when that is the case, the application of the scientific method leads to a further development of the theory—through the discarding, or modifying, of certain aspects and the addition of new elements into the theory. In fact, this happens all the time with scientific theories in all fields—physics, geology, biology, archaeology, medicine, and so on. To determine whether a theory as a whole has been falsified—has been shown, through investigation and analysis, utilizing scientific methods, not to be true—or whether, on the other hand, only certain secondary aspects have been falsified in this way, it is necessary to examine whether those things that have been shown not to be true actually bear on and undermine the main and essential elements of that theory or only secondary aspects which do not go to the essence of the theory as a whole. To put this another way, if the elements which have been shown not to be true can be eliminated, or modified, without calling into question the fundamental assertions of the theory, then it is not the theory itself, but only secondary aspects of the theory, that have been falsified; whereas, if the demonstration that certain elements of the theory are in fact not true causes the theory itself to collapse, then it is the theory as a whole, and in its essence, that has been falsified.
Let’s see how all this applies to Marxism. There are definitely things in Marxism that are falsifiable.
For example, dialectical materialism. If the world were made up of something other than matter in motion—if that could be shown—then clearly Marxism in its fundamentals, in its essence and at its core, would be falsified, proven wrong. Or, if it could be shown that, yes, all reality consists of matter, but that some forms of matter do not change, do not have internal contradiction and motion and development — that too would be a fundamental refutation of dialectical materialism. But none of that has been shown.
Another “core element” of Marxism is concentrated in the statement by Marx, cited earlier, concerning the foundation of all society in the struggle of people to produce and reproduce the material requirements of life, and the fact that in carrying out this most fundamental activity people enter into definite production relations, which are independent of their will. That is falsifiable, as is the Marxist analysis of the underlying dynamics of change in society, rooted in the contradictory relation between the productive forces and the production relations, and the economic base and the superstructure.2 That is also falsifiable—but it has not been falsified. It is true—the examination of human society in a scientific way bears out the truth that Marx was concentrating in that analysis.
There is the Marxist analysis of the basic contradictions and the driving forces and dynamics of the capitalist system in particular, including the pivotal element of the production of surplus value through the exploitation of wage-labor by capital. All that is falsifiable—but it hasn’t been falsified—it is true, it corresponds to reality.
There is the Marxist analysis, sharpened by Lenin, of the nature of the state as a decisive part of the relation between the economic base and the legal, political and ideological superstructure. This analysis that the state, of whatever kind, always represents a dictatorship of one class or another—this, too, is falsifiable. Show us a state that is not an instrument of class rule. If anyone could show that—in reality, and not in fanciful illusions—then at least that part of Marxism would be shown to be false (and that is a crucial part of Marxism). But this has not been shown to be false: Everywhere experience has shown, often at the cost of great sacrifice and suffering, that in fact this Marxist analysis of the state—that all states, even the “most democratic” ones, are in fact dictatorships—is profoundly true.
All these are core elements of Marxism—of scientific communist theory. All of them are falsifiable—but the application of a scientific approach and method has shown them not to be false but true, to in fact correspond to reality.
Now, of course, precisely as a science, Marxism continues to develop—to, if you will, refine its analysis and synthesis of reality, both “natural” and social reality. It continues to discard particular aspects which have proven not to be true, or to no longer apply. For example, Lenin analyzed capitalism’s development into imperialism and showed that, while the basic contradictions and underlying dynamics of capitalism remained fundamentally the same, its development into imperialism modified certain features of more “classical capitalism” that Marx had analyzed (that is, capitalism before it had reached the stage where it was defined by the domination of monopolies and other features which, Lenin showed, were characteristic of a new stage of capitalism: imperialism). Lenin also showed how this development (of capitalism into this new stage of imperialism) led to changes in the political realm as well as the economic realm. For example, Lenin analyzed the split in the proletariat, particularly in the imperialist countries, where certain sections of the working class were, to a significant extent, bribed from the spoils of imperialism’s international exploitation and plunder; and he emphasized that, in this situation, the revolutionary movement representing the interests of the proletariat as a class must be based, fundamentally, on the “lower, deeper” sections of the proletariat, as opposed to the more bourgeoisified or “labor aristocratic” sections of the working class. These were modifications in the theory of communism, but they did not constitute an abandoning, or a refutation, of the core and essential elements of this scientific theory.
Marx and Engels had anticipated that the communist revolution would come first to Europe where, in their time, capitalism—and, along with it, the proletariat—was already more fully developed. When that did not happen—because this is a real life struggle and not something pre-determined, not something teleological, heading toward some predestined end—Lenin analyzed this and showed how the potential for socialism was in fact strengthened on an international basis, while the class contradictions and the potential for socialist revolution in the capitalist-imperialist countries themselves were attenuated and retarded in some ways by the development of capitalism into imperialism—revolutionary possibility in the capitalist-imperialist countries was not eliminated but held back, in certain ways and for a certain period of time.
Does all this make Marxism not a science? No. In reality, it demonstrates Marxism’s scientific character: Marxism has continued to refine its understanding of reality, but it has, correctly, retained its core elements, and its basic outlook and methodology—which are falsifiable, but are not false.
Similarly, Mao, on the basis of the development of imperialism and its effects in countries like China (the emergence of semi-colonial and semi-feudal society under the domination of foreign imperialism), applied the scientific outlook and method of communism to analyze this reality and brought forward the conception of new-democratic revolution in these semi-colonial, semi-feudal countries—a revolution that would not be immediately socialist but would first pass through an essentially bourgeois-democratic stage, aimed at defeating imperialism and feudalism, and then, with victory in that stage (which Mao termed “new-democratic” because the struggle was under the leadership of the proletariat, and not the bourgeoisie), the revolution would achieve a new state power—a new form of the dictatorship of the proletariat—which would open the door to establishing socialism and advancing through the socialist transition toward communism. Along with this, Mao developed the strategic conception and road of protracted people’s war as the means for carrying out this revolution. This was a new element added to Marxism—on a scientific basis.
Further, on the basis of the positive and negative experience of socialism itself over more than a half century, first in the Soviet Union and then in China itself—which, when scientifically analyzed, and synthesized, showed that in socialist society itself there continue to be antagonistic classes and in particular that a new bourgeoisie is continually regenerated on the basis of the remaining material conditions left over from the old society, which can only be transformed through a protracted process, and ultimately on a world scale—Mao developed the theory of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat. This, again, represented the application of the scientific outlook and method of communism to investigate and to draw profound lessons from historical experience and from reality broadly.
And, over the whole period of more than 150 years since the time when Marx and Engels first formulated communism as a scientific theory, there has also been the continuing enrichment of the understanding of dialectical materialism itself, on the basis of learning from continuing discoveries, in natural science as well as social science and history. It is not that these developments have shown that, after all, reality does not consist only of matter in motion; it is that they have deepened our understanding of what that means, and at the same time have posed new challenges in understanding particular forms of matter and particular aspects of the laws of motion of matter. In the realm of physics, for example, scientists are straining for further synthesis, striving in particular for a theory that will unify the principles of relativity with those of quantum mechanics. I have to admit that much of the particulars of this is beyond my understanding, but it is clear that none of this has pointed to any conclusion other than that all reality consists of matter in motion.
As people who adhere to and seek to apply a consistently and systematically scientific world outlook and method, we communists will continue the struggle to refine and develop our understanding of all of this, including the basic scientific principles of dialectical materialism and its application to nature and to human society as well. But, once again, all of this is on the foundation of certain basic principles and methods which do continue to apply—to conform to objective reality—and which, yes, have been and can be subjected to the criterion of falsifiability but have not been shown to be false, have in fact been shown to be true, in their essential core elements.
Editors’ Note: The installment in the next issue of Revolution, #111, will turn more directly to Popper’s attempts to discredit Marxism.
1. The discussion here of the views of Karl Popper, a 20th-century English philosopher (born in Austria), will focus on one of Popper’s more influential works, The Open Society and Its Enemies, and in particular Volume 2, The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, Revised First Edition, 1966 [First Princeton Paperback Printing, 1971]).[back]
2. The statement by Marx referred to here is discussed earlier in this talk, in the section “Changes in Society and in People: A Materialist, and Dialectical, Understanding of the Relation Between People’s Conditions and Their Consciousness. The statement itself is quoted in footnote 4 in that section. See the text of entire Part 1, online at revcom.us. This section of the talk was excerpted in Revolution #106, October 28, 2007.[back]
A communist, a scientist, and a priest sat down to discuss...
Friday, April 16, 2010 - 7:00-9:30 PM at University of Chicago
Co-sponsored by: Chicago Theological Seminary · Philosophy Club
· Revolution Books · Secular Student Alliance University of Chicago
With Sunsara Taylor, PZ Myers & Bob Bossie, SCJ
Theodore Jennings, moderator
everyone in the Chicago and surrounding areas - worth a long drive!
University of Chicago - Reynolds Club - Hutchinson Commons - 5706 S. University Avenue
Sunsara will be joining...
PZ Myers is an associate biology professor at the University of Minnesota Morris (UMM) and the author of the most-widely read science blog Pharyngula. PZ works with zebrafish in the field of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo), and also cultivates an interest in cephalopods. He is a public critic of intelligent design (ID) and of the creationist movement in general and is an activist in the creation-evolution controversy. PZ Myers is an outspoken atheist and vocal skeptic of all forms of religion, superstition, and pseudoscience.
Bob Bossie, SCJ, is a member of the international Catholic order of Priests of the Sacred Heart and a 30 year staff member of the 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago , where he works on issues of peace, human rights, economic justice and non-violence. He has spoken and traveled widely (the Middle East, Latin America), and has been arrested and jailed on numerous occasions for engaging in non-violent resistance actions. As a founding member of Voices in the Wilderness, he traveled to Iraq with medical supplies in direct violation of US/UN sanctions against that country.
Theodore (Ted) Jennings, is Professor of Biblical and Constructive Theology at the Chicago Theological Seminary. In addition to courses in New Testament and Theology he teaches courses in Queer theory, Marxist theory, and Deconstruction.
Sunday April 11 on Equal Time for Freethought, Sunsara will talk with Carole Joffe about the parallels between today’s stigma and restricted access to abortion with the period before it was made legal and explore some of the most chilling recent assaults on women’s access to abortion, from the assassination of Dr. George Tiller to the criminalization of miscarriages in Utah to the recent passage of health care to the billboards campaign in Atlanta to (dishonestly) portray abortion as genocide of Black children. Listen live online!
Carole Joffe is a professor at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco. She is the author of Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Cost of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us. She is also the author of Doctors of Conscience: The Struggle to Provide Abortion Before and After Roe V. Wade. She has closely followed the abortion wars from before abortion was legal through the passage of Roe V. Wade in 1973 to the rise of anti-abortion fanaticism and then the escalation of terror and assassination of abortion doctors down to today with the passage of parental notification laws, mandatory waiting periods, threats to providers, medical lies which doctors are mandated by law to tell their patients, fake clinics, and numerous other assaults on abortion access
UCLA last night – some 200 to 250 people turned out for my talk, “From the Burkha to the Thong: Everything Must, and Can, Change --- WE NEED TOTAL REVOLUTION.”
I was impressed by the audience – they were very serious and impassioned to understand and not accept the many forms of women’s oppression that plague every corner of this planet and eager for ways to be part of changing all this. When I spoke of the massive rape and sexual assault within the U.S. military I could see young women nodding their heads furiously – no doubt there are students here who have studied this, but also those who have friends or relatives who have experienced this. When I spoke of how the U.S. military is the biggest purveyor of terror around the world, the audience burst into applause. When I told the story of a mother of three who is currently serving a long prison term for inducing her own (illegal) abortion in El Salvador I could hear the audience gasp.
People listened intently when I got into revolution and communism and why these are completely germane, and, in fact, the only way that women’s liberation can be achieved. When I mentioned the name Bob Avakian, to let people know about this leader and what kind of communism I was talking about, an Iranian woman and then a whole section of the audience righteously burst into applause and I had to pause before continuing.
There were other highlights of the speech itself – especially because people were extremely responsive throughout and there were moments you could tell there was relief to finally hear someone calling out so much of this oppressive shit and talking about how it could be different.
During the q&a, things got even more interesting and engaged. A young woman spoke very movingly about the limitations of “personal autonomy” and “personal choices” and voiced her own frustration with the idea that no one should criticize anyone else’s culture. She told a story of a friend of hers who grew up in a region of the world where women’s clitorises are cut off and their vaginas are sewn up. While her friend made the decision herself to undergo this cutting, it was only years later that she came to understand that even though she made “her own choice” that choice had been pressured and determined largely by living in a culture where there really was only one acceptable choice. Now that woman regrets her choice, but it is too late. The young woman at the event asked, “How do we get the revolution to people like this – so that they know they have another choice?”
A young man asked how it is that women are oppressed by men if often the women are acting out these cultural standards themselves. He picked up on an example I give in my speech about Beyonce and argued that “no one is holding a gun to her head” forcing her to market herself the way she is. A woman asked whether revolution is also possible in other countries, particularly mentioning Pakistan. I spoke about the volatility of that country as well as that whole region and the crying need the masses of oppressed people have for genuine communist leadership that can actually enable the masses to break through with a liberating vision and movement (as opposed to the many reactionary “choices” that so many are being forced to choose between). In this regard, I highlighted Bob Avakian’s re-envisioning and revitalization of communism and revolution and that this is something that people with ties to other countries should be part of helping spread throughout the world.
Another young man united with my outrage over the forced veiling of women in large parts of the world and the terror that backs this up, but asked what I would say about women who veil themselves voluntarily. [Since I am not summarizing all of my responses in this post, and since this q comes up so often, I will refer people to these two youtubes where I speak to this question: ]
A young woman wanted to know where I draw the line between religious tolerence (respecting people’s right to believe what they do) and opposing fascist religious movements. A guy asked what the environmental catastrophe facing the planet has to do with the revolution, how we would and whether we could address this looming disaster. And a young man from China asked how I could uphold the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution led by Mao Tse Tung when it has caused so much upheaval and chaos, though he did admit that it accomplished some revolutionary advances (including for women) in the process.
There were other questions – and people stayed, and stayed, and stayed. I ended the night together by acknowledging that they wouldn’t have come out and certainly wouldn’t have stayed so long if they weren’t sincerely passionate about understanding and ending the horrors that women have to face daily, hourly, by the minute and challenging them to follow through on that conviction, to fill out their questionnaires, to give a way to stay in touch, and to pick up a copy of the Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity as well as Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage -- A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party before they left.
Before I headed out, I spoke for a few minutes with the students who came and crowded down at the podium. They raised questions about determinism, individual choices, religioun and certitude, and whether it is really possible to get people to think critically (versus just shutting down) about communism. Some just wanted to say hello and express what the evening meant to them. A young woman walked up and said, “I don’t have anything to say, really. I am just proud that you exist, that a person like you exists! You are speaking to us in a language that we have never heard before.” When I told her I was recruiting she smiled and nodded vigorously.
When the whole thing was over and I finally got back to where I was staying, I shared a bottle of wine with a few friends and we poured over the questionnaires that members of the audience filled out. Several said they came to hear about women’s liberation and were not interested in communism, but after hearing the speech realized they’d never learned anything but negative things about communism and now were interested in learning more. An anthropology major said they’d come in disagreeing with the idea of criticizing someone’s culture, but that they’d been very challenged and possibly persuaded by my argument that culture is not sacred. In my talk, I give the example of how, when Black people rose up against slavery and then against Jim Crow segregation, they had to upset the culture of white supremacy and that it was a damn good thing they did upset this culture. Another audience member scrawled in all capital letters on their questionnaire, “UPSET THE FUCKING CULTURE!” Indeed, there is a LOT about the culture of this male supremacist, me-first, torture-state society that needs to be upset. A woman who grew up in a Muslim family wrote that I gave the best argument against the veil she’d ever heard.
A lot of people remarked on the huge amount of blatant forms of enslavement and oppression of women they had just never heard of before. Several people wrote that they had no idea that women used to walk around in Iraq uncovered and that it was only with the U.S. invasion and the subsequent strengthening of Islamic fundamentalism that women have been forced there under the veil, including through massive terror and widespread beheadings of women who refused to cover themselves. Others knew nothing about female genital cutting. One woman wrote that she wished I had brought out that the parallel to female genital cutting in this country is vaginoplasty in this country (plastic surgery on their vaginas). This is a growing trend driven both by the desire to be “tight as a virgin” and to have their vaginas appear like the air-brushed (and plastic surgery adjusted) vaginas featured in pornography. While there is not time to discuss ever vile and shocking cultural expression of women’s oppression, I was appreciative that someone brought this up and definitely unite with her horror at this practice.
Many people wrote that they were really inspired by the vision of how women can be liberated, of how human beings can relate and that they truly hope this becomes reality. Some were over the top with enthusiasm and appreciation that I called out the Christian fascists for what they are (Christian fascists!), while others questioned whether that was a fair assessment. One comment I particularly got a kick out of was, “I don’t know if it is fair to call all Christians fascists… but it does seem that some of them are extremely close minded.”
Okay, this has been written on a hellishly long flight – it is not the most comprehensive report, but it captures some of the highlights and the themes, and it is all I am prepared to do right now.
Gonna get back to my novel now (I cannot bear to watch The Blindside). It is called “Little Bee” and I highly recommend it.
Try this. Imagine the whole world. Think about the way things are. Everything, everywhere. Here, in Harlem, in Mongolia, Hawaii, Bolivia, Djibouti, Afghanistan, Greece. Everywhere. That’s a lot to think about, but you go to Columbia, you should have some cognitive volume. So try.
And now try this. Imagine everything being different. Completely different. I’m not telling you what kind of different. I’m not telling you to imagine a world where everyone has access to food, salt, and clean water. Or a world where nobody is afraid to walk down a street or take the subway or travel alone because of the way they look. I’m not even telling you to imagine a world where there is no concept of equality, because inequality doesn’t exist. But you can if you want to. You can imagine anything you want to.
But what’s the point of imagining, anyway. Our parents did that. They imagined all kinds of worlds, and they asked all kinds of questions. They debated and smoked and yelled and marched in the streets. They had speak-outs and sit-ins and lots of revolutionary ideas. And for all their questions, they might even have found some answers. Some things changed in some places. Segregation is officially a thing of the past. Women vote in a lot of countries. Unfortunately, war is still as popular as ever. Slavery still exists, and so does poverty. Patriarchy dominates. And the green on this planet shrinks while carbon dioxide levels grow.
In the end, all the radical revolutions have failed, fizzled out or reformed to some sort of semi-convenient system. Following in the wake of the generation that set out to change the world, we’re led to believe that the way things are is probably the least of all possible evils. So we try to change some of the things that are wrong with this world, rather than attempt to make a new one. Reform rather than revolution.
All the experimentation has narrowed down the options to the point that our generation, globally, sees only two options: McWorld or fanatic religious fundamentalism. If you don’t like one, you’re stuck with the other. But you’re free to choose both.
So what do we do? We live our lives as fully as possible. We do what we can to make ourselves and those around us happy and healthy and entertained. We think global and act local. We recycle.
And that’s it. Those are the parameters in which we, with our Ivy League education, our dedication, motivation, and humanitarian ideals get to influence—”change” is a little too radical—our world.
Sure, we’re allowed to think outside the box, but why would we? There’s no hard and fast way to the top of the cloud on a castle. Idealism is naive, and ultimately makes you look really dumb, when someone drops some witty academic cynicism on you.
Meanwhile our military kills civilians in Iraq, our sneakers were made by exploitation abroad, and women are systematically raped and harassed in this country. Can we reform all that?
This is what we think:
It is our public responsibility as the young to be idealistic. As college students, we have the privilege of gaining access to a world of ideas, and it is our duty to society to challenge those ideas, to challenge the previous generation and to challenge ourselves to challenge the status quo in every respect.
We don’t really like McWorld. Living in it and knowing that our life supports it, whether we want it to or not, makes us feel kind of dirty. And we sure as hell don’t like religious fundamentalism. Of any creed.
We want something else. Does that sound radical?
So let’s imagine. Let’s imagine and talk and think. This is our world, our generation, our responsibility to examine different viewpoints and perspectives. We’re figuring out what we think and believe, and we think that the things Raymond Lotta and the other communists are saying should be a part of that process. Because they break the box and compel imaginings. We already hear a lot of arguments about how to change things while leaving the system intact. But we want to hear an argument about a whole different social and economic system, too. If it’s controversial, all the better, because controversy needs to be part of the discourse, if college is going to be a place where people can imagine and discuss philosophy and history, big ideas and revolutions.
It might not be communism that we want. We might not be able to stand behind communist ideas and ideals, but we stand firmly behind people doing their civic duty by marching in the streets, yelling from soap boxes and doing everything they can to create options besides a rock and a hard place.
This Thursday, April 8, at 7 p.m. in the Altschul Auditorium (IAB), the revolutionary communist Raymond Lotta will speak about where the option of communism stands in our world today. Come hear the talk, because it’s important that you do. It is important because it’s our world and our country that are at the center of so many of these problems, and it’s up to us to take responsibility.
Bill Ayers Cancelled at U of Wyoming -- Critical Thought Under Fire
Several months ago, I shared a podium with Bill Ayers and Mark Falcoff at an event organized to demand that the charges be dropped against Gregory Koger. Gregory, many of you may remember, was arrested and brutalized for filming as I made a peaceful statement at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago on the morning of my talk they had invited me to give and then canceled for political reasons.
Mark, Bill and I all told stories of the harassment, suppression, and dis-invitation we had received by institutions that pride themselves on valuing an open exchange of ideas in the face of right wing witch-hunts and threats. This truly escalated under the Bush Regime, but continues under Obama. Bill spoke of how, ever since he became a cartoon-character-foil for those trying to demonize Obama going into the election, one of the forms of repression he has confronted is that a few right wing fanatics will get hysterical when they hear he has been scheduled to speak somewhere and then the University (or other institution) will cancel his speech "for his own safety and protection."
Here, I will excerpt the very end of his statement as I feel it speaks most poignantly to what is at stake in this type of chilling cancellation.
"As campuses contract and constrain, the main victims becomes truth, honesty, integrity, curiosity, imagination, freedom itself. When college campuses fall silent, other victims include the high school history teacher on the west side of Chicago or in Laramie or Cheyenne, the English literature teacher in Detroit, or the math teacher in an Oakland middle school. They and countless others immediately get the message: be careful what you say; stay close to the official story; stick to the authorized text; keep quiet with your head covered.
"In Brecht’s play Galileo the great astronomer set forth into a world dominated by a mighty church and an authoritarian power: 'The cities are narrow and so are the brains,' he declared recklessly. Intoxicated with his own insights, Galileo found himself propelled toward revolution. Not only did his radical discoveries about the movement of the stars free them from the 'crystal vault' that received truth insistently claimed fastened them to the sky, but his insights suggested something even more dangerous: that we, too, are embarked on a great voyage, that we are free and without the easy support that dogma provides. Here Galileo raised the stakes and risked taking on the establishment in the realm of its own authority, and it struck back fiercely. Forced to renounce his life’s work under the exquisite pressure of the Inquisition, he denounced what he knew to be true, and was welcomed back into the church and the ranks of the faithful, but exiled from humanity—by his own word. A former student confronted him in the street then: 'Many on all sides followed you…believing that you stood, not only for a particular view of the movement of the stars, but even more for the liberty of teaching— in all fields. Not then for any particular thoughts, but for the right to think at all. Which is in dispute.'
"This is surely in play today: the right to talk to whomever you please, the right to read and wonder, the right to pursue an argument into uncharted spaces, the right to challenge the state or the church and its orthodoxy in the public square. The right to think at all.
"This is some of what I would have discussed in Wyoming, but that will not happen, at least not this week. Canceling this talk underlines the urgency of having multiple and far-ranging speeches, dialogue, and discussions at every level and throughout the public square."
on the veil, Foucault, sexuality, women's liberation & revolution - Parts 1 & 2
from the Q&A in Berkeley, California on March 15, 2010. This is from Sunsara's national speaking tour, "From the Burkha to the Thong: Everything Must, and Can, Change -- WE NEED TOTAL REVOLUTION!"
In this exchange, Taylor is challenged by a Muslim student who wears the veil voluntarily. Taylor argues against cultural relativism and individualism in her response and gets into the origins of women's oppression and why communist revolution holds the potential for women's liberation and challenges everyone in the audience to be a part of the struggle for human emancipation.
Upcoming tour dates at UCLA on April 8, 2010, University of Hawaii on April 13, 2010 and more TBA.
It was in anticipation to my talk at UCLA this Thursday -- but it was also special because Slate is one of the best and most thoughtful and passionately concerned for humanity radio hosts there is.
Also A REMINDER! Tomorrow morning a new youtube clip from the Q&A of my talk at UC Berkeley where I respond to a veiled Muslim student about the content of the veil, why it can't just mean anything she (or anyone else) wants it to mean, and the real source of women's oppression and the revolutionary path to liberation. I'll post them up here -- so come back tomorrow and send them around to friends.
Another heads up: This upcoming Sunday, April 11th, from 6:30 to 7:00 pm EST I will be interviewing Carole Joffe, author of "Dispatches From the Abortion Wars; The Cost of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of us" on Equal Time for Free Thought on WBAI in NYC. You can tune in live one week from today at wbai.org by clicking on the "listen live" box on the right near the top.
Sunsara Taylor is a writer for Revolution Newspaper, a host of WBAI's Equal Time for
Freethought, and sits on the Advisory Board of World Can't Wait. She has written on the
rise of theocracy, wars and repression in the U.S., led in building resistance to these
crimes, and contributed to the movement for revolution to put an end to all this. She takes
as her foundation the new synthesis on revolution and communism developed by Bob
Avakian. You can find her impressive verbal battles with Bill O'Reilly and various
political commentary on things from abortion to religion to cultural relativism by searching “Sunsara Taylor”