Tuesday, May 25, 2010

*Artist's Corner - The Master Works Of Michaelangelo Caravaggio -On The 400th Anniversary Of His Death

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the great Italian Renaissance artist Michaelangelo Caravaggio

Markin comment:

No this artist's work is not "socialist realism" but it is "Renaissance realism" or high "Catholic realism". Whatever, this guy knew his way around paint and canvas. Just look at the exquisite color detail and that eerie sense of being right there in the picture. Oh, and by the way, his work represents a very important addition to the sum of our common human culture. I believe that some of his work is now being exhibited in one of the New York museums.

Monday, May 24, 2010

*A Jeff Bridges Retospective- "Cutter's Way" - A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a "YouTube" film clip of the end of "Cutter's Way". Hey, I already told you about the end I just want to show you how Cutter gets Bone off dead-center.

DVD Review

Cutter’s Way, Jeff Bridges, John Heard, Lisa Eichhorn, Columbia Pictures, 1981

In a recent review of “Crazy Hearts”, the vehicle for Jeff Bridges’ Oscar-winning performance as down and out country singer/songwriter Bad Blake, I noted that, in a sense, he had been preparing for and playing up to, in one form or another, that role since the start of his career. The line from Duane in “The Last Picture Show” to Bad in “Crazy”, although not a straight, one-dimensional line, has exhibited some familiar mannerism and acting tics. Like, for example, that sense that you come away with after watching Bridges, or rather his characters, that he is always ready to walk away from a bad situation at the drop of a hat. And not look back, and with no regrets. Except, of course, when duty calls for him to “take it on the chin” for the good guys. “Cutter’s Way”, a film toward the beginning of Bridges long career is an exemplar of just that idea.

In the aftermath of Bridges’ Oscar a number of art theaters are putting together and presenting a retrospective of his work. A local theater in the Boston area is one such venue. “Cutter’s Way, while no means his best work, is worthy of inclusion in such efforts. Here Bridges plays beach bum, hanging-around guy, semi gigolo, Richard Bone, who seeming cannot be moved off a dead pan, dead-center of existence. Except he has this quirky friend, Cutter, a dysfunctional, psychically and physically wounded Vietnam vet looking for a quick hit at success. The plot line here provides amble opportunity for that after Bone is tangentially involved in a murder case. Needless to say old Cutter means to, come hell or high water, get a pay off from a rich guy who seems to have done the deed. And it goes from there.

Now here is the odd part. Bridges puts in an adequate performance as the blasé roustabout Bone and displays those mannerisms mentioned above that are his trademark. However, old gravelly-voiced, gritty-etched, eye-patched John Heard steals the whole show with his bravado performance. Although Cutter is, in the end, unsuccessful, trying to save his marriage to his long-suffering wife and does not win the prize that he so frantically seeks at that same end able to get Bone off dead-center. Kudos, Cutter/John Heard.

*Those Who Fought For Our Communist Future Are Kindred Spirits- Honor Liberation Fighter Margaret Fuller On The 200th Anniversary Of Her Birth

Click on the title to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for women's liberation fighter and slavery abolitionist Margaret Fuller.

Every January, as readers of this blog are now, hopefully, familiar with the international communist movement honors the 3 Ls-Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht, fallen leaders of the early 20th century communist movement who died in this month (and whose untimely deaths left a huge, irreplaceable gap in the international leadership of that time). January is thus a time for us to reflect on the roots of our movement and those who brought us along this far. In order to give a fuller measure of honor to our fallen forbears this January, and in future Januarys, this space will honor others who have contributed in some way to the struggle for our communist future. That future classless society, however, will be the true memorial to their sacrifices.

Note on inclusion: As in other series on this site (“Labor’s Untold Story”, “Leaders Of The Bolshevik Revolution”, etc.) this year’s honorees do not exhaust the list of every possible communist worthy of the name. Nor, in fact, is the list limited to Bolshevik-style communists. There will be names included from other traditions (like anarchism, social democracy, the Diggers, Levellers, Jacobins, etc.) whose efforts contributed to the international struggle. Also, as was true of previous series this year’s efforts are no more than an introduction to these heroes of the class struggle. Future years will see more detailed information on each entry, particularly about many of the lesser known figures. Better yet, the reader can pick up the ball and run with it if he or she has more knowledge about the particular exploits of some communist militant, or to include a missing one.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

*From The "Green Left Global News & Info" Blog-Al Jazeera Interview with Noam Chomsky: "We were denied entry"

Click on the headline to link to a "Green Left Global News & Info" Blog entry-"Al Jazeera Interview with Noam Chomsky: "We were denied entry."

Markin comment:

On a day when I an reviewing a Noam Chomsky documentary (Noam Chomsky: "Rebel Without a Pause) it seems right to give the devil his due.

*Victory To The Shaw's Workers- The "March For Justice" To Boston In Defense Of The Shaw's Workers Schedule

Click on the headline to link to a "UJP" Website entry for a "March to Boston"(from Methuen, from the Shaw's warehouse for where the workers were fired) schedule in support of the Shaw's supermarket distribution workers strike.

Markin comment:

Okay, great swing band leader Artie Shaw had his moment, on the occasion of his birthday centenary, in this space today. Now back to the class struggle. Victory To The Shaw's Supermarkets Distribution Workers!

*The Emergence of The Black Bloc and The Movement Towards Anarchism -A Guest Commentary

Click on the headline to link to a "Boston Indy Media" post from "The Black Bloc."

Markin comment:

I am always interested in what the young anarchists are up to and this article is a good presentation of what has happened to that movement, or parts of it, over the past decade or so. I might add that the reemergence of youthful anarchism, of one sort or another, is the "sin" that we communists have had to pay for by not creating that necessary socialist society by now. Let's get moving

*On Artie Shaw's Centenary- Swingman Shaw On Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust"

Click on headline to link to a "YouTube" film clip of Artie Shaw blowing a mean clarinet on Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust." Wow!

Markin comment:

This is the kind of music that was on the radio in my house when I was a kid, the music of my parents' generation. At least that was the music on the radio that I heard and is etched from the memory bank of ancient childhood before I "expropriated" the radio for Elvis, Chuck, Jerry Lee and the rock and rollers of the 1950s.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

*Books To While Away The Class Struggle By- The God That Failed- Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness At Noon”

Click on the headline ot link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the writer and novelist, Arthur Koestler.

Recently I have begun to post entries under the headline- “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By” and "Films To While Away The Class Struggle By"-that will include progressive and labor-oriented songs and films that might be of general interest to the radical public. I have decided to do the same for some books that may perk that same interest under the title in this entry’s headline. Markin

Book Review

Darkness At Noon, Arthur Koestler, Bantam Book, 1941

In what seems, politically, a long time ago, and concerning events that today seemingly took place on a different planet for the average reader, the book under review represented one of the first of a long succession of works on the subject of the “god that failed.” For those too young, like me, to remember back to the first wave of such disillusionment or who were not born at the time this subject centered on, in one form or another, of the breaking by a steady stream of Western intellectuals, writers, and other creative figures with an association, as they knew it, of the “communist experiment” in the Soviet Union (and later, as they attached themselves to other revolutions, in places like China and Cuba), Not the worst among them was the author here, Arthur Koestler, who had at least the distinction of having been in Spain when it mattered.

For some, few actually, that disillusionment might have occurred around the notorious Moscow Trials of the late 1930s where Stalin attempted, successfully, to liquidate his political enemies, the remnants of the Bolshevik Old Guard, their supporters in various Soviet state institutions, including the military, and their international allies in the communist movement. For others it was the noxious Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939, the source of virtually all the subsequent false ideological linking of fascism and communism as twin ideologies. Later, in the post-World War II period, it was the Khrushchev revelations of Stalin’s crimes, or Hungary 1956, of Czechoslovakia, or…Afghanistan 1979. Whatever the pretext, whatever the validity of the outrageous behavior the net effect of the “break” was an overwhelmingly retrenchment back into the arms of the “god that didn’t fail”- Western imperialism. While those of us who have followed the teachings of Stalin’s great revolutionary nemesis, Leon Trotsky, have our own catalogue of crimes, and our own cries for vengeance against the historic legacy of Stalinism we, unconditionally, preferred not to “outsource” that task to world imperialism.

And the thrust of the last sentence is the central political and moral conundrum not only of writers like Arthur Koestler, who supported the Soviet Union and then backed off when the heat got too high, but of the central character in this novel, Nicolas Rubashov. Rubashov, an Old Guard Bolshevik leading figure, who had lost favor with “Number One” (Stalin), for opposing him in the past, and, more importantly, in the present through acts of political opposition, including actions outside the party. The action of the novel, such as it is, centers of Rubashov’s struggle to capitulate to “Number One” during these upheavals of the Moscow Trials period, on his own terms. Of course, there are no “own terms”, as we know from Khrushchev’s later revelations, except abject grovelings and debasement. The real moral query for Rubashov, who after all was no fool and had been at his revolutionary trade for four decades, much long than the younger element that populated the Stalinist bureaucracy and that has no clue to the heroic struggles of the pre-revolutionary period, is whether this capitulation will be of service, even if a last service to the party. In the end, however, he went down to the “killing” cellars for no good purpose.

It is at that last point that this novel, real enough in the facts behind the scenes of the action, is “unreal”. I mentioned above the name of the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky. In the early Soviet period in the 1920s he, in the heat of a polemic, made a comment that no individual could be right against the party; the historic vehicle for the liberation of humankind. Many political opponents, of various hues, have used that statement, among others, to tar him with a quasi-Stalinist brush. But that is wrong, at least if one looks at his later career of opposition to Stalin and the Stalin regime, unto the death. And that is the contrast to be drawn between his political actions and those of Koestler/Rubashov. They mixed up the notion of duty to some political organizational form over the truths of the Marxist perspective in the struggle for our communist future. They could never resolve their moral dilemma either by a fruitless death or of a meaningless submission to world imperialism, an imperialism that really had other weapons, real weapons, to fight the “god that failed”. Learn that lesson, and learn it well.

*From The "Renegade Eye" Blog- Revolution And Counter-Revolution In Thailand- A Guest Commentary From The International Marxist Tendency

Click on the headline to link to the "Renegade Eye" blog entry- "Revolution And Counter-Revolution In Thailand"- A Guest Commentary From The International Marxist Tendency.

*From The SteveLendmanBlog" On The Growing Homeless In America

Click on the headline to link to a "SteveLendmanBlog" entry on the growing homelessness in America.

Markin comment:

I suppose the Obama administration will want to call them "Bushvilles" (after the "Hoovervilles" of the early 1930s in the other Great Depression) to shift the blame back but I like "Obamavilles" just fine. In any case, we need to fight for a workers party that fights for a workers government to begin to seriously address this issue.

*From The "HistoMat" Blog- The Skewering Of "Bad Boy" (ex) Christopher Hitchens

Click on the headline to link to the "HistoMat" blog for a little well-served and well-placed skewering of one Christopher Hitchens-poster boy for ?.

*From The "Socialist Worker" Website- On The Tea Party

Click on the headline to link to a "Socialist Workers. org" Website entry on the latest on the Tea Party movement in America.

Markin comment:

Hearty and heartfelt thanks for this article since that means that I don't have to write on the subject. I think that I would rather, much rather, face the Stalinist prison camps and show trials that I am writing about in a review of Arthur Koestler's "Darkness At Noon" today than on the intricacies of bourgeois political techniques. Except to keep a very close watch on this movement not for what it stands for but for the madness and mad people that it will bring out in its wake. It will not be pretty if the results so far are any indication. On that, be alert.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Books To While Away The Class Struggle By- James Baldwin's-"Tell Me How Long The Train's Been Gone"-Get On The Train To The Liberation Struggle

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for James Baldwin's "Tell Me How Long The Train's Been Gone"

Get On The Train- To Black Liberation Struggle

Recently I have begun to post entries under the headline- “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By” and "Films To While Away The Class Struggle By"-that will include progressive and labor-oriented songs and films that might be of general interest to the radical public. I have decided to do the same for some books that may perk that same interest under the title in this entry’s headline. Markin

Book Review

"Tell Me How Long The Train's Been Gone", James Baldwin, The Dial Press, New York, 1968

Recently I started a review of a film documentary, “Lenny Bruce: Without Tears”, using the following lines that I found appropriate to use to set the same kind of tone in reviewing James Baldwin’s his 1974 novel, “If Beale Street Could Talk”. I also find it useful to do so here as well in reviewing "Tell Me How Long The Train's Been Gone":

“Okay, the average black male kid on the average ghetto city block today knows, and knows without blinking, and knows from some seemingly unspoken source deep within his genetic structure that the cards are stacked against him. That the cops, the courts, or some other part of the “justice” system will, eventually, come knocking at the door or grab him off the street for something, usually dope. The average Latino male kid on the average barrio city block pretty much knows that same thing, again usually on some bogus drug charge. And nowadays young black and Latina women are getting that same message coded into their psyches.”

And that sums up the message behind almost all of Baldwin’s’ best work, at least the message that will last and that should be etched in the memory of every fighter for social justice.

Now I have been, as is my wont when I get “hooked” on some writer, on something of a James Baldwin tear of late, reading or re-reading everything I can get my hands on. At the time of this review I have already looked at “Go Tell It On The Mountain”, the play “Blues For Mr. Charlie”, and "If Beale Street Could Talk. Frankly, those works, caught my attention more so that this work of "black uplift". Although it is well-written and powerful in spots it did not remind me why I was crazy to read everything that Baldwin wrote when I was a kid.

Why? Well, while I could definitely relate to the main character, Leo's, struggle to make a career for himself in the very white theater of his day and I could also sympathize with his struggle against the ingrained racism that he faced in daily life, even when he was successful, there was just a little too much self-satisfaction to move me into his direction. I will say that Baldwin's use, as on previous occasions, of the two-tier past and present interspersed literary format to tell Leo's early story (and his brother Caleb's and his white paramour Barbara's as well) and his current ill-health induced dilemma makes the novel move better than expected when I started reading the book.

That said, Baldwin is at his best when he creates situations where his characters have to confront the hard, hard reality of up-front racism in American. Little scenes like "being black" while in small town New Jersey, being black while in big time Broadway, and being black while dealing with a white (female) lover bring home the point nicely. And of those racial nodal points the strongest is when Baldwin has the bi-sexual Leo's male paramour, Black Christopher, who represents the "new" post- civil rights movement young black draws just the right historical parallel to the Jewish experience in World War II when he states, in effect- we will not go sheepishly into the concentration camps that the whites have ready for us when things get too hot. Powerful stuff. To bad it got buried in a story line that in the end has Leo traipsing off to Europe and not worthy of such insights.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

*From The Communist International Internet Archives- Lenin On The Twenty One Conditions For Admission To The Communist International

Click on the headline to link to a "The Communist International Internet Archives" entry - "Lenin On The Twenty One Conditions For Admission To The Communist International."

Markin comment:

Every once in a while it is worthwhile to go back and take a good long, long look at what being a communist, and fighting for our communist future, meant to those forbears who put the Communist International together. As recent developments on the international left bear witness to- it is easy to lose your way, especially in ideologically and politically hard times for communists.

*From The Pages Of “Workers Vanguard”-Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!

Click on the headline to link to a "New York Times" article, dated April 24, 2010, concerning the Arizona immigrant law.

Markin comment:

As almost always these historical articles and polemics are purposefully helpful to clarify the issues in the struggle against world imperialism, particularly the “monster” here in America.

Workers Vanguard No. 958
7 May 2010

Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!

Down With Arizona’s Racist Pass Law!

Break with the Democrats—For a Revolutionary Workers Party!

To be brown-skinned in the state of Arizona is to be a suspected criminal under the provisions of the recently enacted “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act.” This apartheid-style, anti-immigrant pass law mandates the cops to stop and question anyone they think might be an “illegal” immigrant. Those who fail to immediately produce documentation proving their “right” to be in the United States could be arrested and thrown behind bars. This is the codification in law of the racist roundups of Latinos that have been carried out for years by notorious Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose prisoners are shackled in chain gangs and housed in tent cities in the blazing heat of the desert.

Outrage against the Arizona law brought out tens of thousands in protest in cities across the country on May 1. But as was the case with the massive immigrant rights demonstrations on May Day 2006, the protest leaders are channeling this outrage into the political shell game that is a central pillar of capitalist rule in America—the idea that the Democratic Party is the “friend” of immigrants, labor and black people. The 2006 rallying cry of “Today we march, tomorrow we vote” paid off handsomely for the Democrats, who captured the overwhelming majority of the Latino vote in the last presidential elections. This year, chants of “Sí, se puede! Yes, we can!”, the election slogan of today’s Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism, Barack Obama, were the chorus orchestrated by the Latino organizations, Democratic Party politicians and trade-union bureaucrats who headed the protests.

In a televised message to hundreds of thousands at a March 21 immigrant rights rally in Washington, D.C., Obama promised to “build a future worthy of our history as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.” The ability to use such honey-coated words to mask a system which is based on the exploitation of the working class and rooted in vicious racial oppression is precisely what has made the Democratic Party the often-preferred party of the American bourgeoisie in times of war and economic crisis.

Behind the words stands the iron fist of capitalist state repression. This was seen in Arizona only a week before the passage of the new law, in anti-immigrant raids carried out by Obama’s Department of Homeland Security (now headed by former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano). With helicopters buzzing overhead, up to 800 agents from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) and other police agencies, some in black hoods, launched a military-style attack on shuttle van businesses that transport immigrant workers in Phoenix, Tucson, Rio Rico and Nogales. Heralded as the biggest smuggling bust in the I.C.E.’s history, these raids provide a chilling snapshot of the Democrats’ program for “immigration reform.”

As described in a Washington Post (1 May) article: “The Democrats’ legislative ‘framework’ includes a slew of new immigration enforcement measures aimed at U.S. borders and workplaces. It would further expand the 20,000-member Border Patrol; triple fines against U.S. employers who hire illegal immigrants; and, most controversially, require all American workers—citizens and noncitizens alike—to get new Social Security cards linked to their fingerprints to ease checks of their work eligibility.” Obama promised to “open a pathway to citizenship” for the more than eleven million undocumented immigrants in this country. What this means is seen in the current Democratic proposal that these desperately impoverished workers turn themselves in as “lawbreakers,” pay heavy fines and back taxes, pass background checks and be proficient in English. Even then they would be granted only a provisional status for eight years.

This has not shaken the reformists’ illusions in Obama as “change” they can “believe in.” As usual, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) takes second place to no one on this score. A 30 April article in its press, Socialist Worker, opines: “A conversation about really progressive immigration reform needs to start by strategizing about how to stop the Arizona scare, and how to force Obama, who repeatedly has recognized that the system is broken, to stop deportations”! This, they argue, “can buy time for the movement to push for legislation...that puts the interests of the entire working class, immigrant and native-born alike, up front.”

The hard truth is that the capitalist system is based on the brutal exploitation of all labor, with the ruling class inflaming racial and ethnic hostilities to keep the working class divided and thus ensure a greater extraction of profit. Just as immigrant workers are brought in during economic boom times to provide a pool of low-wage labor, the current rise in anti-immigrant attacks worldwide is exacerbated by the global economic crisis and its attendant soaring unemployment. As we wrote in the International Communist League’s “Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 54, Spring 1998):

“Modern capitalism, i.e., imperialism, reaching into all areas of the planet, in the course of the class struggle and as economic need demands, brings into the proletariat at its bottom new sources of cheaper labor, principally immigrants from poorer and less-developed regions of the world—workers with few rights who are deemed more disposable in times of economic contraction. Thus capitalism in ongoing fashion creates different strata among the workers, while simultaneously amalgamating the workers of many different lands. Everywhere, the capitalists, abetted by aristocracy-of-labor opportunists, try to poison class consciousness and solidarity among the workers by fomenting religious, national and ethnic divisions. The struggle for the unity and integrity of the working class against chauvinism and racism is thus a vital task for the proletarian vanguard.”

We do not seek to tinker with the capitalist system by advising the bourgeoisie to take up an alternative immigration policy. We call for full citizenship rights for all immigrants as part of our struggle to advance the class consciousness and solidarity of the multiracial working class, preparing it for the necessary revolutionary battle to end capitalist class rule. A real fight for immigrant rights in this country will only begin when the workers—white, black, Latino and others—struggle based on their common interests as a class. This means opposition to all the political parties and state agencies of the capitalist class. Unlocking the social power of the multiracial working class will take a political fight against the current pro-capitalist misleaders of labor who have shackled the working class to their exploiters, particularly through support for the Democratic Party.

Labor Lieutenants of the Capitalist Class

Many of the 1.8 million members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are immigrants, and many of these have waged militant struggles to organize unions. But their interests are betrayed by the union leaders. A statement on Arizona’s anti-immigrant law by Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the SEIU, declared:

“This radical anti-immigration law should be a wake-up call to Congress and the White House. Immigration is a national problem that needs a national solution.... We need immigration policies that will eliminate the underground economy by getting undocumented immigrants into the system, paying fines, back taxes, learning English and getting on local, state and federal tax rolls. We need reform that will truly end illegal immigration and hold bad-actor employers responsible for depressing wages and violating the right to a safe worksite for all workers.”

Likewise, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka’s statement in opposition to the Arizona law demanded that “our focus should instead be on a comprehensive solution to the broken immigration system.”

Last year, the SEIU’s “Change to Win” union federation and the AFL-CIO issued a joint statement for “comprehensive immigration reform.” Embracing the government’s campaign against undocumented workers, these labor traitors seek only to tinker with its methods of repression. To regulate immigration, their “unified framework” called for “an independent commission to assess and manage future flows” of immigrant workers, leaving open the possibility of their own participation on such a commission as the labor police for the capitalist state. It also demanded more “rational operational control of the border” and a “secure and effective worker authorization mechanism.”

Since coming to power, bankrolled by millions in contributions from the labor tops, the Obama administration has expanded such “worker authorization mechanisms” as the E-Verify program, which is aimed at confirming the legal status of workers through checking their Social Security numbers against government databases. At one workplace after another, mass firings of immigrant workers have followed such audits. Last year, 254 workers, mostly women, at the food processing plant Overhill Farms and another 1,500 at clothing maker American Apparel, both in the Los Angeles area, were driven out of their jobs after these so-called “desktop raids.” The Obama administration boasts that in its first year it deported a record number of “illegals.”

Such raids are an open invitation to get rid of union activists and other “troublemakers.” In 2006, the bosses at Smithfield’s pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, tried to stop a fight for union recognition by firing 75 “no match” workers. A two-day walkout that included black and white workers as well as Latinos forced the company to rehire everyone. The workers won their union in late 2008, but by that time I.C.E. workplace raids had driven out a significant number of the immigrant workers.

The battle at Smithfield underlines the need for a mass, militant union organizing drive throughout the country and particularly in the open shop South. Only 6.5 percent of workers in Arizona, a notorious “right-to-work” state, are organized. Now, in response to the new anti-immigrant law, an article in the Phoenix Business Journal (30 April) reports that SEIU union representatives “say they are seeing a surge in inquiries from Hispanic workers in Arizona worried about the new law and the potential for more police raids and inquiries into their workplaces.” Enlisting immigrant workers—many of whom have a history of militant struggle in their own countries—in the front ranks of the labor movement is an urgent task both to fight the exploitation of the most vulnerable layers of the population and to bust the government’s anti-union laws. This in turn could reverse the decades-long decline of the trade unions in this country. Rather than defending the working class as a whole or even members of their own unions, the union bureaucracy embraces the “national” interests of the U.S. capitalist rulers as its own.

The Democrats’ “immigration reform” plans include the institution of a national biometric identity card for everyone in the United States. This will increase the police-state powers and repressive apparatus of the capitalist state, which have already been vastly augmented under the so-called “war on terror.” Under the Transportation Workers Identity Credential (TWIC) program, such biometric ID cards have already been mandated for hundreds of thousands of workers at the ports. To qualify for a TWIC card, all port workers had to submit to extensive criminal background and immigration checks. For black and Latino port workers, who have been particularly targeted under the racist “war on drugs,” even applying for the card meant running the risk of possible deportation or being pursued as some kind of “fugitive from justice.” The applications of tens of thousands of port workers were rejected, although some eventually won their cases on appeal. An unknown number of longshore and other port workers are permanently gone, branded as a threat to “national security” for trivial offenses like drug possession with “intent” to distribute, or just being an “illegal” immigrant.

Rather than fighting this “anti-terror” law, the response of the leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union—which is still widely seen as a bastion of labor power and militancy—was to call for a more expedient and “fair” implementation of the TWIC program! As we wrote in “‘War on Terror’ Crackdown on the Docks” (WV No. 936, 8 May 2009):

“For the ILWU and other longshore unions to wage a real fight against TWIC and the racist, union-busting ‘war on terror’ laws, the obvious starting point must be opposition to the very state that is enforcing these laws. It means championing full citizenship rights for all immigrants and fighting to organize foreign-born workers.... In a country built on the subjugation of black people, where racist reaction has long served to ratchet up the exploitation of the working class as a whole, the fight for black freedom is directly linked to the fight to break the chains of capitalist wage slavery and the state forces and laws that maintain it. But to wage that kind of struggle, the unions must be led by a different kind of leadership, one rooted in a program of class struggle, as opposed to the present misleaders whose policies of class collaboration increasingly subordinate the unions to the capitalist state.”

When the ILWU embraces TWIC, making itself an auxiliary to the racist crackdown on the port truckers; when the auto unions lobby for the bosses’ bailout schemes, pledging to lower the cost of union labor to rival the depressed wages and rotten conditions in non-union plants; when the powerful Teamsters union pleads that “unsafe” Mexican truckers should be barred from America’s highways: the conservative bureaucrats are lining up against the basic class interests of the international proletariat. Their highest loyalty is to capitalist profitability on behalf of their own racist ruling class, whose benefits are supposed to “trickle down.” This means pitting workers against one another in competition for crumbs and increasing poverty and unemployment, especially for the most vulnerable social layers.

Black Rights and Immigrant Rights

Calls for an economic boycott of Arizona have come from a variety of Democratic Party politicians, ranging from the San Francisco city government to New York’s Al Sharpton, with the reformist left, such as Workers World Party, bringing up the rear with the demand that capitalist investors and businesses “divest from the apartheid-like police state!” The last time there were appeals for such a boycott was in response to the refusal of the Arizona state administration to recognize Martin Luther King’s birthday as an official holiday. That refusal, together with the state’s apartheid-style, anti-immigration law, captures something of the history of Arizona. This history is in turn emblematic of the racial oppression of blacks and anti-immigrant reaction that are central to the maintenance of American capitalism.

Until the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, Arizona like most of the Southwest was part of Mexico. It was in large measure the Southern slavocracy’s drive to extend slavery that motivated the invasion of Mexico, which resulted in the U.S. stealing half of Mexico’s territory. Today, Latinos—largely Mexicans and Mexican Americans—make up more than 30 percent of the state’s population. Although black people are a mere 4.2 percent of Arizona’s population, the state has long been a bastion of anti-black racism. Barry Goldwater, five-term Arizona Senator and Republican candidate for president in 1964, voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. For decades Goldwater was an icon of a right-wing backlash against black rights, unions and any and all social welfare programs. In the past decade, Arizona has been on the cutting edge of anti-immigrant reaction, spawning vigilante Minuteman militias to patrol the borders against “illegals.”

Now, Sharpton—a political hustler who mobilized against Korean-owned grocery stores in Brooklyn before he became a more “respectable” Democratic Party politician—bombastically declares “we will bring Freedom Walkers to Arizona just like Freedom Riders went to the deep south 50 years ago” (New York Daily News, 26 April). The courageous civil rights struggles of the 1960s led to the elimination of formal Jim Crow segregation in the South. But the promise of black freedom was betrayed by the leaders of the civil rights movement, who tied their fortunes to the Democratic Party and were bought off for token concessions and a few “black faces in high places.” Today, Sharpton’s invocation of these heroic freedom riders is aimed at enforcing the rule of racist American capitalism in its Democratic Party face.

A keynote speaker at the 50,000-strong immigrant rights protest in Los Angeles on May Day was the city’s Latino Democratic Party mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. A sign read “We Latinos Are the Jews of the 21st Century.” Only two weeks earlier, a gang of Hitler-loving Nazis staged an anti-immigrant, race-hate rally in Los Angeles to “Reclaim the Southwest.” They were protected by hundreds of L.A. cops, mobilized by the mayor’s office, against a protest by about a thousand anti-fascists. The trade-union misleaders, in a city where immigrant workers have been in the forefront of union organizing over the past two decades, turned a blind eye to this deadly fascist provocation. The fascists should have been stopped by a militant mass mobilization of working people and oppressed led by the labor movement. Labor’s inaction spelled an unqualified defeat for the working class, the bitter fruit of the labor bureaucracy’s allegiance to the Democratic Party.

The working class needs its own party, a multiracial revolutionary workers party. It is the purpose of the Spartacist League/U.S. to forge such a party, which, through education and in the course of sharp class struggle, can make the working class conscious not only of its social power but also of its historic interest as the gravedigger of the vicious and depraved rule of capitalist imperialism. Crucial to building such a party in the U.S. is the understanding of the inextricable link between the fight for labor’s emancipation, the defense of immigrant rights and the cause of black freedom. When the wealth of this country is in the hands of the working class that produced it, we will begin the construction of a socialist planned economy which will provide the material basis for the eradication of black oppression. Grounded in a program of revolutionary internationalism, a workers government will begin to right the historical crimes of U.S. imperialism, for example by returning to Mexico the predominantly Spanish-speaking areas along the border. Such a gesture would be the sharpest possible repudiation of the social-patriotic politics of the present American labor movement and a concrete demonstration of the internationalist program to smash the imperialist world order.

As we wrote in a 2006 joint declaration of the SL/U.S. and our comrades of the Grupo Espartaquista de México (GEM), written to intervene into the mass immigrant rights demonstrations held that year: “The multiracial U.S. working class is potentially the most powerful ally of Mexican workers. The SL/U.S. and the GEM are dedicated to forging revolutionary workers parties on both sides of the border as part of the fight to reforge Trotsky’s Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.”

*From Revolutionary History, Vol.2 No.1, Spring 1989-Carl Skoglund's-"The 1934 Minneapolis Strike"

Click on the headline to link to "Revolutionary History", Vol.2 No.1, Spring 1989-Carl Skoglund's-"The 1934 Minneapolis Strike".

Markin comment:

I have previously posted Socialist Workers Party leader James P. Cannon's work on the subject of the great Minneapolis Teamsters strikes of 1934 in this space. Carl Skoglund was a central on site figure in that fight, and a central leader of the precursor to what became the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party in America that Cannon lead in its early, revolutionary day.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-The Battles Against Syphilis and AIDS: Medicine vs. Anti-Sex Moralism-A Tribute to Paul Ehrlich

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Spring 1987 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


The Battles Against Syphilis and AIDS: Medicine vs. Anti-Sex Moralism

A Tribute to Paul Ehrlich

"I was led by the desire to direct my lifetime's work to an important and worthy objective— I chose diseases that affect man and which it had hitherto been impossible to combat with other medicines." —Paul Ehrlich, quoted in Ernst Baumler, Paul Ehrlich, Scientist for Life

Women and Revolution has chosen this International Women's Day as an occasion to commemorate Paul Ehrlich, one of the great pioneers of medical science. Among his many discoveries in bacteriology, immunology and hematology, any one of which would earn him a place in history, was Salvarsan, the first effective treatment for syphilis, one of humanity's most terrible scourges. Although Salvarsan has been superceded by the far more effective penicillin, its discovery established the use of chemical agents in the treatment of disease (chemotherapeutics) as a new branch of medicine. And by targeting a venereal disease for treatment, Ehrlich took head-on the superstitious moralist which viewed such an illness as a "just punishment" for "sin." To the scientist Paul Ehrlich, this terrible disease was a medical condition, caused by a microbe, that could be cured and eliminated; his concern was to find that cure. Today, when anti-sex bigotry and hysteria against AIDS victims impede the already difficult task of conquering this new and deadly disease, the lessons of Paul Ehrlich's work are all the more important.

Ehrlich was born in 1854 of a German Jewish family. He entered medical school in 1872, at the dawn of anew age in medicine: the discovery that microorganisms are the cause of many diseases. With the aid of the microscope and the new theory, Louis Pasteur had saved the silk industry of southern France from the ravages of silkworm diseases. Over the next decade, the German bacteriologist Robert Koch identified the agents of anthrax, tuberculosis and Asiatic cholera.

Previously medicine had been dominated by the ancient theory of "humors." Syphilis patients, for example, were treated with mercury to cause profuse salivation and perspiration, which were believed to remove the bad "humors." Doses of mercury, a poison, probably neared lethal levels; whether patients suffered and died more from the illness or the "cure" is impossible to say.

It is hard to comprehend today the scale of devastation caused by this dreaded disease. The 1940s movie made of Ehrlich's life, Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (starring Edward G. Robinson), paints a heart-rending picture of the suffering caused by syphilis: the desperate faces of the ill; a young man who commits suicide when informed that he has syphilis and cannot marry his sweetheart. The lives of millions of people were destroyed by syphilis, which often caused terrible complications such as heart ailments, blindness, insanity, sterility and paralysis. It has been estimated that 20 percent of the inmates of mental hospitals suffered from syphilis-induced dementia. In the latent phase of the disease, a woman could pass it on to her unborn child, without even being aware that she was infected. Congenital syphilis was a leading cause of stillbirths and infant mortality.

Bacterial research had been greatly aided by the discovery of dyes to stain tissue, which enhanced the microscopic details of cells. As a student Ehrlich became fascinated with staining and meticulously researched the affinities of various dyes with cellular structure. One of his first important discoveries was a stain which made a positive diagnosis of tuberculosis possible for the ordinary doctor.

In 1892 Ehrlich joined Robert Koch at the Institute for Infectious Diseases in Berlin, where they worked on tuberculosis immunology. Ehrlich was also part of the research team which realized the development of a diphtheria antitoxin and saved the lives of countless children. For this work Ehrlich won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1908, along with llya Mechnikov, who introduced the theory of the role of the white blood cells in immunity.

Out of this work Ehrlich developed the concept of chemotherapy, highly controversial at the time. He expressed his insight in a vivid image: "Antibodies are to some extent magic bullets which seek out their own targets without damaging the organism" (Baumler, Paul Ehrlich, Scientist for Life). Would it not be possible to use chemicals which would bind with specific microorganisms and render them harmless in the body? As the later development of antibiotics was to show, Ehrlich was on the right track, in a broad and technical way. But his discovery of Salvarsan was fortuitous: his work was highly experimental and conducted primarily through trial and error, without benefit of the decades of research into bacteriology and biochemistry which medical science now has. Advances in molecular biology have enabled scientists to better understand many cellular functions and so to design more effective drugs.

In 1907, with the Japanese bacteriologist Kiyoshi Shiga, Ehrlich discovered the dye known as trypan red, which destroyed trypanosomes in infected animals. Encouraged by this success, Ehrlich decided to target the spirochete causing syphilis, which had already been identified. In 1906 his colleague August von Wassermann had even developed a diagnostic test for the disease, but there was no effective treatment.

Ehrlich began his search for the "magic bullet" with arsenic compounds, which had long been known to be effective against disease. With his own research facility and staff in Frankfurt, Ehrlich proceeded to subtly alter also found himself the target of scurrilous attacks by moralists and enemies of scientific progress: one Dr. Richard Drew, formerly in the police vice squad, accused him of endangering the public health. Scandal sheets distributed in Frankfurt charged that Salvarsan had been forced on prostitutes and was responsible for blindness and several deaths. Ehrlich characterized his opposition as anti-scientific, anti-progress and anti-Semitic "rabble." When the Nazis came to power they took up the cudgel for this rabble, the enemies of Paul Ehrlich, and tore down the street signs on Paul-Ehrlich-Strasse. Ehrlich's widow was forced into exile.

Ehrlich's magic bullet targeted more than the syphilis spirochete: the stigma of venereal disease had been as much of an obstacle for its victims as the disease itself. Henrik Ibsen's 1881 play Ghosts describes the ravages brought by secrecy, hypocrisy and syphilis on one family. An eminent critic of the time gave voice to typical destructive prudery: Ghosts was "an open drain, a loathsome sore unbandaged, a dirty act done publicly, a lazar [leper] house with all its doors and windows open" (quoted in Six Plays by Ibsen, Eva Le Gallienne). In 1916 Dr. Allan J. Mclaughlin, a Massachusetts public health authority, denounced the moralists who claimed that "to advertise the marvelous effects of Salvarsan, and to place it within the reach of the poor is to place a premium upon vice and to absolve the syphilitic from the just punishment of his sins. As health officers let us be practical and consider syphilis as a public health problem..." (Allan M. Brandt, No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States Since 1880). In 1881 Massachusetts General Hospital had changed its policy from charging syphilitic patients double rates to refusing them admission altogether!

To this day, although both syphilis and gonorrhea are generally easily cured, they are widespread in the United States. In 1979 gonorrhea accounted for two-thirds of all reported communicable diseases in the U.S.; it is the most prevalent human bacterial infection on the planet. Just when the wide availability of penicillin after World War II could have dramatically lowered rates of venereal disease, government funding allocated for public education was slashed to the bone. While disingenuously de-emphasizing that syphilis and gonorrhea can be treated and cured, educational programs still often withhold the simple truth that condoms can be effective against venereal disease. The current controversy over public advertising for condoms is merely another episode in a long, dreary story.

For Free, Quality Health Care for All!

The control of disease is as much a social question as a scientific one; in this sick capitalist society, the profits of the pharmaceutical giants and the insurance vultures come before public health. For decades the U.S. Public Health Service conducted an "experiment" only one step away from Nazi Germany: for 40 years, from 1932 to 1972, it "studied" 400 black sharecroppers with syphilis, who were never told they had it and never treated, so that "researchers" could watch the ravages of the untreated disease as it destroyed their bodies and minds. Over one-quarter of the victims died of the effects of syphilis!

Today a new plague is upon us: AIDS, caused by a virus which destroys the immune system. Because the victims of AIDS in the United States have so far been predominantly gay men or users of intravenous drugs, bigotry and ignorant fear have come down on them full force. Ostracism and discrimination compound the physical suffering of an invariably fatal disease that is if anything even more horrible than syphilis.

So far AIDS has no effective cure and there is no preventive vaccine. Although much has been learned about the virus, the obstacles are indeed formidable. The only good news is that it is rather hard to transmit; nevertheless, hysteria has focused on bogus "dangers" of casual transmission as reactionaries seek to eject AIDS children from the classroom and fire AIDS victims from their jobs. The recent federal proposal for massive testing of hospital patients and applicants for marriage licenses will do nothing to stop the spread of AIDS—but it will create a blacklist of victims of the anti-sex crusade.

Conservative columnist William F. Buckley thinks that people infected with the AIDS virus should be tattooed—perhaps he has in mind the pink triangle that marked gays in Hitler's Germany? In fact, the fascists have put themselves forward as the shock troops of anti-sex bigotry. J.B. Stoner, the man behind the racist Birmingham church murder bombings in 1964, rallied the Ku Klux Klan in Forsyth County, Georgia against black civil rights marchers with a pamphlet "Praise God for AIDS." Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz, frothing at the mouth as usual, railed against government expenditures on vaccination research: "Are they aware that in the name of compassion they are giving social sanction to what can only be described as brutish degradation?" (ibid.).

As the history of syphilis and gonorrhea reveal only too well, such bigotry can be as much of an obstacle to fighting a disease as the microbe itself. Although the need for massive funding for AIDS research has been evident now for years, Reagan has consistently cut allocations for this work, while his director of communications, Patrick Buchanan, declared AIDS to be "nature's retribution" on homosexuals. What's necessary is bi//ions for an internationally coordinated program of AIDS research,

Paul Ehrlich pointed the way forward when in the early years of this century he brought in the methods of science and threw out ideas of "retribution" as medieval rubbish. It will take a socialist revolution to put the tools that the heroes of medical science have given us fully to use in the service of all humanity."