From the September-October 2019 issue of News & Letters
YOUTH REVOLT, FROM CHINA TO CLIMATE STRIKES
Raya Dunayevskaya died two years before the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing June 4, 1989, but her essay on “China’s youth revolt vs. Mao’s legacy” (July-Aug. N&L) comes to life with the unrelenting Hong Kong youth protests. Just as in 1986, today’s youth are reaching for more than democracy; they seek “altogether new human relations.” Dunayevskaya reveals the roots of the youth movements then in their 1960s vision of a “communal, non-state form of government.” Today’s protests have reopened the horrible wound of Tiananmen by showing it not as a lone man stopping tanks, but laying bare how the Chinese state massacred tens of thousands of youth. Mao’s legacy of brutally repressing all but “Mao Zedong Thought” looms again over the Chinese youth.
Encouraged by the Youth
A lesson of “China’s youth revolt vs. Mao’s legacy” is to look behind the rulers’ maneuvers in ideology, economics, trade and state repression to how they are reacting to unrest from the youth, from Hong Kong, from workers, from the migrants, from ethnic minorities. “Core leader” Xi Jinping’s seeming omnipotence rests as much on a house of cards as did Deng Xiaoping’s on the eve of the Tiananmen Square movement, which so deeply challenged the system that Deng stayed in power only by ordering a brutal massacre.
Hong Kong’s revolt started about a prison problem. (See: “Hong Kong masses fight rulers’ grab for power”) If you were arrested in Hong Kong, you could be sent to mainland China for sentencing and punishment. What scares people in Hong Kong are re-education camps, which are an assault on the mind. George Jackson was accused of being a communist and was ultimately murdered for spreading communist ideas. Now the word communism has lost all meaning.
Millions of people in Hong Kong have shown remarkable creativity by creating many “Lennon walls” for activists to post slogans and views, reminiscent of Democracy Wall in Beijing in 1979, before Deng Xiaoping consolidated power. They made use of the Cantonese language by writing slogans in Roman letters to confound mainland trolls. As of Aug. 23, they formed a 28-mile-long human chain, Hong Kong Way, emulating the 1989 Baltic Way two years before Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia gained independence from Russia.
Franklin Dmitryev’s article, “Demanding a future, youth lead fight for climate justice,” in the July-Aug. N&L showed youth demanding climate change and fighting for change on many other universal issues: in Hong Kong, etc. What you read in N&L you don’t see elsewhere, especially on the issues that Dmitryev defined in his article. Even the BBC, the best news source in this country due to its relative independence, has not covered the issues that we see regularly in N&L.
Black River Falls, Wisc.
GUNNING FOR IMMIGRANTS
It’s horrible to read the El Paso shooter’s manifesto. The Chicago Theater is a big place. I was worried about the people at Lollapalooza downtown; it’s a huge event. I wondered would someone go there and kill people? I went to this place where people had been shot and therapists that worked there. You could tell everyone was still shell-shocked and the therapists needed therapy.
The latest mass killings in Texas and Ohio are terrible. Finally, people are starting to call out Trump for all the rhetoric he has been using that is enabling these damn fools to go out and do stuff like that and they are finally stepping up pressure on the Republicans.
“They’ll be coming for the immigrants—and for you” shows the power of ideas and the words used to express them. The Trump administration, by playing a cat-and-mouse game of “raids-no raids,” is using words to wear down resistance to the brutal treatment of immigrants (who are really refugees). If every U.S. church, synagogue and mosque of over 50 members adopted at least one refugee family, Trump would not be able to find any refugees to persecute.
Trump’s latest order to keep immigrants detained without limits takes our nation closer to fascism and must be stopped by all who hate slavery. Is the pain and suffering migrants are forced to endure proof that the U.S. is the world’s greatest democracy? Is this unjust treatment of the dispossessed the message of liberty and human dignity that the U.S. wants to send the world? The migrants being held for months without room to sleep or take showers only came to the U.S. because they were forced to leave conditions of economic and political oppression in their native countries.
CIRCLING THE ABYSS
For the last two and a half years we have been caught in a rush of lies, smoke and political mirrors while the 1% waxes richer and the rest live check to check. We are lied to daily, while intellect, analysis and free thought are ridiculed. #45 spews racist policy by tweet, saying “many people think” while calling U.S. journalism “fake news.” Democrats have to grow courage/character and call the racism/violence out instead of failing to fiercely defend congresswomen of color. The Republicans have to call this out for what it is: fascism. Or will they be silent like the Germans in Nazi Germany? “They didn’t smell the fumes. They just didn’t know.”
Amid the resignations and firings of scores of members of his administration, his loss on the “census-citizenship” questions, the court decision stating that his exclusion of people he doesn’t like from his Twitter account is unconstitutional, the subpoenas that have been approved for many of his associates, the move by the state of New York to make his tax returns available to public inspection, etc., I have a suggestion as a chant for Trump’s rallies for the 2020 elections. It nicely dovetails with “LOCK HER UP!” It goes: “VOTE FOR TRUMP—KEEP HIM OUT OF JAIL FOR FOUR YEARS!”
Little Brother of Heavenly Fighting Spirit
On the death of Transgender woman Layleen Polanco in Rikers jail (“Queer Notes,” July-Aug. N&L): We must not let incidents like this be swept under the Attorney General’s bureaucratic rug of “pending investigations” that drag on. Having served 27 years in New York state prisons, I have been subjected to unprovoked violence by corrections staff and have been denied meals by theft. I have seen the real face of corrections, and it’s ugly. We must not dampen our demand for an investigation and prompt findings in Polanco’s case. We must advocate for more protections for Transgender prisoners.
A PRISONER RESPONDS
Certain articles in N&L conflict with my experiences. “Prisoners debate socialism and capitalism” (July-August N&L) says black prisoners are more inclined to socialism than whites. The rest of the article is truthful and righteous. But in Georgia the mindsets of many African-American prisoners have been subverted by Southern culture and its embedded conservative values. The very corruption of this prison system reflects capitalism’s corrupting and decaying influence. The pillars of that corruption here are the African-American gangs which dominate the Georgia Dept. of Corrections and work with African-American correctional officers and prison administrators to maintain an environment of fear, ignorance, oppression and violence. Both sides profit from the sale of contraband, mainly tobacco. Administrators regulate flow of drugs through gangs to pacify junkies and prevent others from waking up. I am a socialist and stand in solidarity. If Black Power must be strengthened to bring the revolution, I’m here preaching unity, evolution and education. There are some political African-American prisoners who preach revolution, but most of them are from Chicago, New York, New Jersey or elsewhere. I’m not a Nazi or redneck. I wasn’t aware of any white privilege growing up, and the food stamps were hardly enough to feed me and my two sisters, but no one speaks of any of this.
1619 AND TODAY
The New York Times had a remarkable 400-year retrospective on how racialized slavery was integral to U.S.
capitalism since its introduction in Jamestown in 1619. They correctly highlight that the Black revolt created the U.S. as a democracy, which it was not at the time of the Constitution. But the Idea of freedom goes deeper than political democracy to revolution in permanence, or democracy and self-determination in every life activity, everyday relations. American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard proved how Black mass action has been the vanguard of the idea of freedom. Leaps occurred at moments when whites saw, not a competition, but an affinity in their own struggle with the persistence of the Black drive to be free.
It’s often a race for other offenders to yell their request to get in line when people see the new N&L hit my flap.
I strive to understand my world and effect what change I can toward something greater. For a long time, I didn’t know what that was. I now see a lot clearer. I may not have all the answers but now I understand the connections. N&L has been a needed source of objective information and expanded my scope of the full struggle. As a political prisoner, it is easy to only be aware of your immediate surroundings and not see how it all relates.
In St. Petersburg, Russia, the activist Elena Grigorieva was brutally killed. Together with a lawyer, she turned to the police because of threats, but no one reacted to her pleas for help. Elena Grigorieva was a perpetual participant of protests in St. Petersburg. In particular, she was detained for protesting the transfer of Indigenous lands of Chechnya, for actions against torture and repression and against LGBT oppression.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Elena Grigorieva, a member of the LGBT movement and against the occupation of the Crimea by Russia, was killed—strangled and stabbed—in St. Petersburg. She was 41 years old. They kill the most decent people, dangerous opponents of Putin’s regime and those who seek the truth in Russia. Rest in peace, Elena.
I will miss Deborah Morris. She was so smart, funny, and talented. I was in awe of her writing and grasp of philosophy. Philosophy was never tacked onto the end of her articles, she made it concrete. I looked forward to her Christmas cards—a picture of her cat, dressed up in holiday costumes. The note was about her cat’s disgusted expression at being so displayed. She was a true intellectual whose knowledge stretched from the intricacies of human cells to art, literature, history, gardening, and Marx’s philosophy of revolution. She was a women’s liberationist and in our age of Trumpism, I’m positive that she would want the struggle to continue.
I worked with Deborah in California in the mid-1970s. Whether participating with Black and Latino women organizing a public housing project in Los Angeles, a Union WAGE women’s meeting, a Chinese women garment workers’ protest in San Francisco, or traveling to Delano for a United Farm Workers convention, she was a genuine activist who didn’t separate activities from writing up events for N&L. She helped arrange a Mexican edition of Marxism and Freedom and organized a meeting with women’s liberationists for Raya Dunayevskaya in the Bay Area. Crucially, Deb was indigenous to the Women’s Liberation Movement as an activist-participant-theoretician. She read many women theorists—Sheila Rowbotham, Susan Brownmiller, Juliet Mitchell, among others—and wrote critical reviews of their books for N&L. A compañera who united feminism and Marxist-Humanism.
To our incarcerated readers:
There are some things N&L cannot provide. We do not match up pen pals. N&L cannot help prisoners with individual legal cases, and we cannot offer legal advice or access to attorneys. This paper is a place where the voices of people engaged in struggles inside and outside prison walls can be heard speaking for themselves.