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echoes

follow me
its that bootcamp philosophy
in what they call schools
where that bootstrap mythology
form us into fools

so constrained with no room to move
feelin tied like the earth to moon
by forces that deludin you

hit your crew up, suit up, waitin for the bus
hey wassup, whats goin thru ur mind theres no rush
cuz we see the days end, fade in, amazin
it all comes n goes
fills us with patience

and a sense of dialectics
know ur role, and the factors that affect it
against the wall, now u can transcend it

we aint doomed to lose, but made to win
i can the sense the cage were in
they try n make a fool of you
smash em with the rage within

your transformation
at the face of it, you remain the same
yet, you no longer drift away like cast away
no longer feel the fear, challengin the masters game
fucker we didnt ask to play

thats the way we validate
high off that marx
my brain begins to salivate
acid that eradicates
saints like the latter day
nothin stays sacred
change like the atom’s state

were needin fusion
too much fission going on
no confusion
nothin fishy in this song

rawer than an open wound
we aint god, were all made of flesh and bones
on the scale of the globe…nah of the universe
i dont think were suited for this kind of understandin
really theres no end to it, it just keeps expandin?

pheww, hold my head in my hands
watch my words form these tangents
bouncin inside
echo like an empty mansion

on this canvas, with this passion
i aint painting realism
just my views
cuz we all see things thru a prism

watever that u call it
read through this column of words is it solid?
if not, then be honest
and let it come down
like a house of cards fallin

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I must admit that I’m confused. Not about my desire and conviction that we need deep and fundamental radical change in this world. Not that revolution and a classless society are both possible and needed. And certainly not that our social relations are defined by the divisions of race, class, sex, nation, ability, etc.

But I am confused and dismayed as to what even means to be a revolutionary in these times of mass worldwide discontent. Where I go to school, I’ve encountered many people digging into revolutionary literature, people who, like myself, went through (and are still going through!) a complex experience of radicalization stemming from both personal, historical, and global conditions. And it hurts to see so much potential being dragged into the mainstream, reformist Left, or the stale and shortsighted radical Left. It’s great when people are introduced to radical ideas, but now theres a responsibility to be real about what’s going on and not fall into the illusions of Obama or of the “American Dream.” Both have proven to be a farce, a stab in the back to the millions who’ve invested hopes and dreams into their promises of a better day. It’s also important, for those of us seeking a new revolutionary movement not tied to the dogma and orthodox of the existing Left, to not fall into the illusions that where we are at now, in political and organizational terms, is what we need. We are at an embryonic stage, where our ideas of radical reconception and regroupment are heretical within the self-proclaimed “revolutionary vanguard parties” within what passes for the “Left.”

It’s all good though, there’s always hope! These past couple days, I’ve been refreshed by reading “Sandinista”, the biography of Carlos Fonseca, the founder of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN), and main strategist/theoretician of the Nicaraguan Revolution.

Nicaragua was ruled by the Somoza family dynasty from 1936-1979, closely tied to American imperial interests, particularly in coffee plantations and cattle ranching. The early 1960s saw an upsurge of anti-Somoza mobilization due to the Cuban Revolution, even though this movement was dominated by the bourgeois opposition made up of students, religious folk, the endless Conservative v Liberal Party squabble, and the pro-Soviet Partido Socialista Nicaraguense (PSN). This was a period of worlwide revolutionary upheaval. Nicaragua’s conditions were ripe for revolution, yet the subjective element, the revolutionary movement, did not exist. The FSLN was born through this heat of struggle, by young revolutionaries inspired by the Cuban experience, holding an uncompromising stance towards those “Marxists” who believed socialism would be achieved through elections and capitalist development. Carlos Fonseca represented this break with the conservatism and reformism of the PSN, himself having spent a considerable amount of time with that organization, not breaking with it until he saw its futility in organizing for revolution. Armed struggle, national liberation, and socialism were on the agenda, yet such an element which would bridge this understanding with the aspirations of Nicaraguans was lacking. The FSLN itself went through a tumultuous period of two failed guerrilla attempts, encarcerations, and dead-end alliances, until they had to seriously sit back and ask themselves who they were, what they wanted, how they would attain their goals, etc.

Another important thing learned from this book is the relationship between revolutionaries and the people in struggle. FSLN, even one year before the revolution’s victory, did not even have 200 actual cadre and its guerrilla operations had been decimated. The organization was split into three factions, all with their respective student, religious, and working class organizations, and two of the factions had their own rural guerrilla forces. The factions didn’t communicate with each other and each claimed to carry the true mantle of the FSLN. What caused (or forced) the reunification of the FSLN was the mass radicalization of Nicaraguan campesinos, workers, and students in 1978, who organized massive strikes, marches, and urban insurrections against the increasingly repressive Somoza regime, who’s credibility cracked wide open as it massacred those in struggle. Even as the FSLN leadership (led by the more reformist faction) put forward a timid and moderate program at this time (calling for a “popular and democratic govt”, vague land reform, and promising to nationalize only the Somoza family property), the masses in struggle looked to the Historic Program written by Carlos Fonseca in 1969, in which he delineates the major faultlines of the coming revolution, situating it as a class struggle between oppressor and oppressed. It connected with the development of their revolutionary consciousness.

As the anti-Somoza bourgeois opposition began to prove its inability to militantly confront the dictatorship, people increasingly saw the FSLN as the true leadership of their revolution. The moments before the revolution, the bourgeois opposition scrambled all they could to avoid a post-Somoza government run by the FSLN, and even maneuvered with U.S. imperialism towards these ends. Because as much as they despised Somoza for his brutality, they hated how it gave birth to more and more revolutionaries. They hoped to use the FSLN as their pawns in overthrowing Somoza and then grab political power as the dictator fell.

A crucial lesson is to be learned here. The FSLN, due to Carlos Fonseca’s leadership, never entered into political alliances with the bourgeois resistance if it meant jeopardizing their political independence. Alliances were made with various fronts and coalition groups, but the FSLN maintained its mass base and revolutionary politics. As opposed to the PSN and other “Marxists” within Nicaragua, socialist revolution would not take the “two-stage” road of a revolution led by the national bourgeoisie, and, following a period of transition, socialism. If it was not led by the exploited classes and in their interests from the outset, then radical social transformation would not be possible. This wasn’t simply a war of national liberation against US imperialism, but also a struggle between Nicaraguan workers and peasants against the ruling classes of Nicaragua.

This analysis is necessarily limited because it is based on one book. In addition, it is not exactly a trajectory of the Nicaraguan revolution as it is a biography of Carlos Fonseca, even though Fonseca’s central role might make it seem so. One can argue whether or not the FSLN was a Marxist organization or if it took a revolutionary path after its seizure power. But regardless, there are many lessons to learn here.

Gaps

I see so many gaps around but no ones building bridges
like dirty priests who read the Bible and preach it but dont live it

gaps like when our high school said “committed to your excellence”
but treat kids like in juvi, and treat us like a pestilence
its clear to me why so few make it through commencement
cuz our potential’s robbed
then were suspended when we’re restless

gaps like when he’s huggin you and fuckin you and tellin you he loves you
but he throws you out at 1 am
hes drunk too many bottles with offers of more manhood
a malignant tumor
utilizin rhymes as the chemo for the cancer

gaps between the questions i ask and the answers i lack
the lessons ive received, how ive applied em in fact
as im writin in this pad, see the gap between the pen and pages
my mind and hand combine to feed my need for this creation

this a staple in my diet theres no way i can deny it
if bread and butter keep me goin
this the vitamin for silence

let this fill the gap between the person youve been asked to be
and who you are actually
share with us your masterpiece

the void between it “has to be!”
and doubtful thoughts of “can it be?”
filled by the hopes
of a warrior with his panoply

the gap between night and day is pleading for my presence
tempted by its message cuz im higher than the rent is
fightin the lazy eyelids is useless and futile
to the depths of my memories
this day retires

I’m currently reading a book titled “Serve the People: Observations on Medicine in the People’s Republic of China.” Written in 1973, it is a report made by a married American doctor couple who were invited to visit China in 1971 and then 1972 by the Chinese Medical Association. The book details the radical changes in medicine, healthcare, and the health of the Chinese people beginning after liberation in 1949.

Before the revolution, China was known as the “Sick Man of Asia” because its people suffered from nearly every form of nutritional and infectious illness. The basis of this was…”the cruel poverty in which the vast bulk of the population lived, a poverty made all the more cruel in light of the wealth that had been removed from China by foreign entrepreneurs, and the relative affluence in which the small fraction of wealthy Chinese landlords and businessmen lived.” The only form of medical care available for the majority of Chinese at the time was through traditional healers, many who were not well trained in the field itself. In addition, preventative medicine did not exist and so the vicious cycle of poverty and starvation perpetuated itself.

After liberation, venereal disease, smallpox, cholera, plague, and opium addiction were quickly eradicated through the mass participation of peasants and workers in concert with the doctors (trained in both western and traditional technique), nurses, physicians, etc., who held their positions by virtue of their desire and motivation to serve the people, not simply their expertise or degrees. There was an exponential increase in the amount of doctors (related to the transformations and expansion of education to the formerly oppressed), hospitals, medicines, and facilities in general. The ideological basis for this transformation lay in using medicine to serve working people, giving preventative medicine priority over curative medicine, uniting traditional with western practitioners, and integrating health work with mass movements.

The hospitals in the neighborhoods, districts, cities, and rural communes were mostly run by “three-in-one” ” revolutionary committees”: usually soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army (whose function was more based on community rather than military service), a cadre member (ie a leader in industry, agriculture, govt, culture, or Communist Party), and a medical care rep, usually a doctor, nurse, or health worker. Although this form of political power was very widespread in China particularly during the Cultural Revolution, there were tendencies towards the creation of a technical and managerial elite standing above and separated from the masses, depending on the location, leadership, and social history of the medical institution. The point, however, is the experimentation with new methods of power was won through popular struggle which attempted to break down the centuries-old division between those who work with their hands and those who work with their minds, ie the mental-manual labor division. For example, nurses in hospitals played significant roles in medical decision making while doctors, whom we see as “untouchables” and above manual labor in the West, themselves participated in daily and routine tasks which are normally assigned to nurses and other personnel.

In the cities there existed different levels of political power, ranging from the group, residents’ committee, neighborhood, district, and municipality. At the level of residents’ committees, the health care work was run and done by Red Medical Workers, most of whom were women who lived and worked in the same area as the people they served. Their training lasted about a month or two and consisted of simple medical examination measures, preventative work (exercise, diet, birth control, etc), western and traditional techniques, and a period of training and supervision. A major role these Red Medical Workers played was in the dissemination of birth control information and measures. They would routinely visit all the women on their block to encourage the use of contraception and gave it away for free. If women wanted to abort, which was legal and completely free, they were referred to the nearest district or city hospital.

Urban factories were major health care sites as well, organized to meet the needs of workers and their families, usually free of charge. Worker-doctors were selected amongst their fellow workers to provide basic medical care, centered around prevention. Workers received regular medical examinations. What I found really interesting is that many factories, besides being sites of material production, designated times for political study, mass meetings, and exercise, uniting all-around development and struggle with manual labor and production. When does that happen under capitalism?

Most importantly though, were the changes in the countryside. At the time, about 80% of China’s population lived in the rural areas. By the lates 1950s and 60s, after the agrarian revolution which put the land in the hands of individual peasants and economic cooperatives were established to plant the seeds for a more socialized mode of living, the commune arose out of that development. It was a political and economic unit, an internal government of sorts that was based on production teams (usually a couple families), production brigades (made up of several production teams), and the commune, the overarching organization which looked over all aspects of commune life: production, education, health, etc. Due to the introduction of Soviet economic methods in the early 1950s and the remaining oppressive division between rural and urban areas , the urban centers were developing faster than the rural areas and this was reflected in the medical system. In the late 1950s, during and after the Great Leap Forward which attempted to overcome soviet methods which perpetuated capitalist divisions, “barefoot doctors”, or peasants who’d received basic medical training, came onto the scene. This was a result of thousands of urban youth and intellectuals moving to the countryside to aid in the transformation of the most backward and impoverished areas in China, going against the tendencies to live a comfortable life in the cities (which lived off the countryside). As a result, hundreds of thousands of such barefoot doctors were trained in rural hospitals. It’s important to note that these barefoot doctors saw themselves as peasants before medical workers, never above or too dignified to engage in productive work. The barefoot doctor, like the Red Medical Workers, and urban and rural commune members in general, received their pay based on the total amount of social wealth produced by the unit and the amount of work points they’d collected, thus creating a distribution based more or less on an egalitarian scale. This what only socialist revolution can do.

barefoot doctors

So, take a look at our medical care system. America today spends about half of all medical dollars IN THE WORLD, yet fails to provide adequate and equal treatment for all its citizens. Hospitals are run like corporations, led by doctors who are more concerned with status and wealth than disease prevention and wellness of the people they’re supposed to serve. People are left with thousands of dollars in hospital bills if they lack coverage. People of color in the U.S., regardless of class, face higher rates of infant mortality, diabetes, malnutrition, all symptoms of the social disparities in this country which dictate who gets what in terms of medical services. Most astonishing is the lack of talk in the White House or Congress debating healthcare reform of the one thing which would create a socialized healthcare system in the U.S.: profit. Their coziness with the insurance and medical corporations simply doesn’t allow it. You can tell the real views on human beings a society has based on how its medical system works (or how it doesn’t work). What does it say about America and capitalism?

Recently, I spoke to a close friend of mine about the budget cuts struggle, in particular about the nature of the organizing work at our campus. I hope to accurately portray his argument and then break down what I view as the problematics, in this blog post. And I do this with the hope of inspiring honest debate on this crucial issue and to move this struggle forward.

In essence, my friend explained his opposition to developing a radical student movement on an anti-capitalist foundation. He said that starting with this anti-capitalist basis would not allow us to gain the support we needed to create a movement; it would alienate more than it would attract. According to him, we must first tackle the issue of education, and THEN capitalism, because taking them on both at the same time is impossible.

The first question I have is: support for what? His concern is legitimate and is one we must deal with. But most importantly, we need to develop an understanding of what we want to create support FOR. If, as radical students and revolutionaries, we aren’t actively struggling to “connect the dots” with other students and people between our immediate realities (budget cuts) and the broader social system creating this crisis, students will act (if they act) on a reformist basis, by writing letters to politicians, meeting with their administration to “negotiate a deal”, or marching on Sacramento to beg the state leaders for a slice of the pie. In my opinion, this amounts to doing nothing, because it is a method that is integral to the status quo (business as usual), and doesn’t present a breakthrough to politicize people and frame this struggle in a much more broad vision for free education and a better world.

Our theory must serve our practice and vice versa. It is a dialectical back-and-forth process. What is the point of having a vision of a radically better world, but not struggling for it in our organizing? If, from the outset, our organizing doesn’t have the courage to speak the deepest of truths and work with others on that basis, then what is our organizing based on?

This capitalist system creates these crisis and grows through them. Through its bloody expansion into every corner of the globe in the search of more and more profit, it ruthlessly exploits the majority of the worlds people, robs them of their wealth, and leaves these brothers and sisters living a reality we can’t even imagine.

Domestically, in the US, the capitalist system is also in crisis, and desires to privatize what is left of our social institutions, especially healthcare and education. These budget cuts are more of a front to the further privatization of public education, in the process throwing out and denying higher education to millions of youth (who are then faced with the options of a rapidly expanding military-industrial-complex and prison system). Just as dangerous, this system views education in terms of its market value, i.e. to produce a disciplined and skilled workforce and managers to the system. It reproduces and reinforces the inequalities in the broader society, through the logic of race, class, and sex. Take a look, who will be most affected by these cuts? Youth of color and working-class people. The oppression is global, home and abroad.

Disconnecting the struggle for higher education ignores these basic realities, these massive questions facing not just us, but all of humanity. I think we need to cultivate a responsibility to THAT, alongside a vision of a free society which repudiates everything this system stands for. In every action and event we organize, in every conversation and debate we have, we should respectfully struggle to politicize people to this correct understanding, or face an all too known reality to social movements: their capitulation to the system (in our immediate terms, to the administration) and the watering down of what this struggle is all about. It’s all about connecting the dots…only a radical understanding (read: an analysis based on root causes) can create a movement with the theory and practice to fight and win in this struggle, and ultimately a better world.

For example, a concrete and fundamental issue at Cal Poly is the university’s marriage to the military-industrial-complex (for more on this, read my post, “Cal Poly, what the fuck?”). We need to struggle and demand that the ROTC program which recruits our youth to fight and die for the interests of a few powerful elite, be completely dismantled. We need to demand all relationships with the military industrial complex be severed. Why is public education shrinking, while the war machine is dangerously expanding, using $7 billion on a monthly basis? Why are youth being relentlessly recruited to the armed forces, costing $390,000 per soldier per year to be deployed to Iraq, while the same youth are denied higher education, a much less cost (obviously)? These are the major questions we must ask ourselves in the course of struggle, to expose this sick society’s priorities and develop methods which speak to these realities. Our brothers and sisters at UCLA, SFSU, UCB, Fresno St., and other schools have shown how a militant and unapologetically radical student movement can win support on a correct basis and inspire more to do so.

I share my friend’s concern on the need to win support. But I disagree with his analysis. We need to win people over to the correct understanding now. No one said it would be easy. It will certainly be frustrating, tiring, and at time demoralizing. But we must have faith in the ability of people to transform and act in their interests.

If you read this amigo, I do it with love, humility, and with your desire to do something about this madness. And in the process, principled debate is crucial, to heighten our understanding, and struggle for a radical movement which speaks to these times, which doesn’t cower or capitulate to the common fears and prejudices of most people, and is guided by the vision of a better world, both in theory and practice.

paz,

Jose

I need to vent some frustration about this. This happened about two months ago, but the fact that it’s a forgotten event stirs even more confusion and anger in me.

In early October, Michael Pollan, one of the most prominent critics of industrial and mechanized agriculture (narrator of the movie Botany of Desire, an awesome film based on one of his books), was to give a one hour lecture at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Upon hearing this, David Wood, chairman of Harris Ranch Co. (a beef co.), wrote an angry letter to the university, stating:

“While I understand the need to expose students to alternative views, I find it unacceptable that the university would provide Michael Pollan an unchallenged forum to promote his stand against conventional agricultural practices,”

….wow, this motherfucker. What sort of “balance” do you want to present? As Dr. Pollan wondered, would Cal Poly invite him back to a different panel when a large industrial ag co. gets to speak at the school? I seriously doubt it. Cal Poly is virtually owned by the myriad of companies and corporations which own its housing, food system, and a shitload of everything you see on campus. The dry, corporate, uninspiring education we receive doesn’t need a panel to air its views. This is more of a gimmick to push out and silence critics of industrial agriculture and any critical voices out there.

See, Harris Ranch Co. is in the process of giving Cal Poly $500,000 to build a meat processing plant on the campus, and David Wood threatened to renege on his financial promise if Michael Pollan spoke. So, instead of Mr. Pollan providing his lecture, a panel was quickly assembled with ag industry heads, Pollan, and others. Granted, Michael Pollan still spoke at Cal Poly, but the issue is deeper.

The university, by its nature, is supposed to be a democratic institution which teaches its students to become critical agents in their reality. We live in a world marred by huge inequalities and problems, conventional agriculture being a huge one. Dr. Pollan was to speak and provide a view at odds with the huge agricultural corporations comfy with Cal Poly, and the administration cowered when Harris Ranch threatened to pull out its funding. This isn’t simply about academic freedom, although there was a serious breach to it here, but about two diametrically opposed views of the purpose of higher education. As of today, the university, particularly at Cal Poly, resembles a job training and hiring site rather than a democratic, autonomous, pedagogical institution. The innate purpose of the university is deceased, victim to the financial (and clearly, political) interests of the capitalist class which hopes to mold higher education to serve its society.

And to further make a point, read what David Wehner, Cal Poly Ag Dept. Dean, had to say:

“I’m frustrated and saddened by some people’s attitudes,” he said. “They’ve looked at this as us supporting his views and not supporting them. We don’t have a political position — we only educate students.”

What does this mean? “We only educate students?” Educate to do what? That is the question. As Paulo Freire clearly says, education either serves to liberate through allowing students to become critical thinkers, situated within their overall social reality and actors upon that reality, or to pacify and conform. Unfortunately, the former is our reality, and the false neutrality preached by these cowards serves to mystify how higher education today, in large part, is a reflection of capitalist society, reproducing workers (and race, class, sex inequalities), not critical humans in search of truth or justice.

One more thing, folks. Part of what makes this so frustrating and hurtful (and dangerous) is how easily these events leave our consciousness. Remember last year when Cal Poly Ag students had an on-campus party where they hung a Confederate flag, noose, with a sign reading “no niggers, fags, or hippies”? What has been done about that? This isn’t accidental. Trained to live a day to day existence, caught up in our bubbles and worries and anxieties, the glaring oppression and injustices occurring around us fade from our memory quicker than who fucked who at so and so’s party.

paz,

Jose

As I trace back through my years of political development, I frequently wonder what sort of person I would be had my radicalism never broke through.

From as early on as I could remember, my parents engaged me in political discussion. I listened, and I learned. At the time, my parents had a generally liberal viewpoint, siding with the Democrats. But I had a general sense that things were wrong, as if revolutionary politics were something that awaited me along the process of development. First off, my parents immigrated from Mexico, which gave me a keen awareness of their presence as “illegals”, strangers in a land which dehumanizes them while at the same time feeding off their precarious existence. I recall being in pre-school and kindergarten, surrounded by white students, not being able to talk, self-conscious about my english and in a totally different environment and culture which I’d been brought up in. The reality of white supremacy led me to internalize the shame and self-disgust of being who I was. I wondered why my hair wasn’t straight, my eyes not blue, my profile not pointed-nosed, and my last name so awkward. And this is the experience of millions of Chicanos and youth of color in the United States. Stuck in between our parents’ homeland and the American myth, our identity is many times unclear and we lead an isolated and withdrawn social existence. This reality escapes none of us.

But if I look back, there is definitely one event that I can say marked a profound change in my worldview and identity. And it occurred when I watched the “Motorcycle Diaries,” a film about the journey young Ernesto “Che” Guevara undertakes throughout Latin America, learning about the oppression of the people and becoming transformed through it. There were several things about this which took a hold on me, such as its adventurism and romanticism, search for meaning, and definitely the desire for a better world. Through this, I began to study socialism, Cuba, and Che Guevara, gradually developing a more solid understanding through this study, discussions with my parents, personal experiences, and commitment. I’ll never forget how at the age of 15, an age when most kids here have literally no social consciousness beyond superficialities (although this applies across the board), I confided in my journal that my life was irreversibly committed to revolution. My friends would tell me that it was just a simple phase, something I’d get over as time passed and the “real world” hit. Even family members did it, although in a more discreet and patronizing way.

But here I still am. Nearly five years later, I’ve moved away from the adventurism and idealism of Che and guerrilla warfare and developed a more concrete understanding of our society and how to change it. Humility and desire to learn continue to drive me to read all I can, now a responsibility.

We all have our unique and particular experiences to relate about personal transformation. In the light of the attacks on public education and the people in general, it’s time to reflect on the way we lead our lives, happily obedient to a world of things, things, and more things. A world made empty by so many things, that in the process we become things, and find solace in religion, drugs, and television. Listen to that voice in the back of your head telling you that something is wrong and upside down about this world; let that gut feeling lead you to resist and break free from its oppressive logic which surrounds us in our daily lives. Yes, we are told history is finished, that we live in the best of worlds. But reality is different, and history is a dynamic possibility ready to be acted on by us “wretched of the earth” in the service of human liberation.

Paz,

Jose