Friday, December 07, 2007



Every once in a while left wing propagandists, including this writer, are forced to comment on odd ball political or social questions that are not directly related to the fight for socialism. Nevertheless such questions must be addressed in the interest of preserving democratic rights, such as they are. I have often argued that socialists are, or should be, the best defenders of democratic rights, hanging in there long after many bourgeois democrats have thrown in the towel, especially on constitutional questions like abortion and searches and seizures.

A good example from the not too distant past, which I am fond of citing because it seems so counter intuitive, was opposition to the impeachment of one William Jefferson Clinton, at one time President of the United States and now potentially the first First Ladies’ man. How, one might ask could professed socialists defend the rights of the Number One Imperialist –in Chief. Simple, Clinton was not being tried for any real crimes against working people but found himself framed by the right wing cabal for his personal sexual preferences and habits. That he was not very artful in defense of himself is beside the point. We say government out of the bedrooms (or wherever) whether White House or hovel. We do no favor political witch-hunts of the highborn or the low for their personal predilections. Interestingly, no one at the time proposed that Clinton be tried as a war criminal for his very real crimes in trying to bomb Serbia, under the guidance of one Wesley Clark, back to the Stone Age (and nearly succeeding). Enough said.

Now we are confronted with another strange situation in the case of one ex-Governor of Massachusetts and current Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney on the question of his Mormon religious affiliation and his capacity to be president of a secular state. Romney, on Thursday December 6, 2007 fled down to Houston, apparently forced to deal with the issue by his vanishing prospects in Iowa, and made a speech about his Mormon faith, or at least his fitness for office. This speech evoked in some quarters, at least formally, Jack Kennedy’s use in the 1960 presidential campaign of the same tool concerning his Roman Catholicism as a way to cut across anti-Catholic bigotry in a mainly Protestant country and to affirm his commitment to a democratic secular state. I pulled up that speech off the Internet and although Kennedy clearly evoked his religious affiliation many times in that speech he left it at that, a personal choice. He did not go on and on about his friendship with Jesus or enumerate the virtues of an increased role for religion in political life.

Romney’s play is another kettle of fish entirely. He WANTS to affirm that his Mormon beliefs rather than being rather esoteric are in line with mainstream Protestant fundamentalist tenets. In short, Jesus is his guide. Christ what hell, yes hell, have we come to when a major political party in a democratic secular state has for all intents and purposes a religious test for its nominee for president. A cursory glance at the history of 18th century England and its exclusion clauses, codified in statutes, for Catholics and dissenters demonstrates why our forbears rejected that notion. It is rather ironic that Romney evoked the name of Samuel Adams as an avatar of religious toleration during some ecumenical meeting in 1774. Hell, yes when you are getting ready to fight for a Republic, arms in hand, and need every gun willing to fight the King you are damn right religion is beside the point. Revolutions are like that. Trying to prove your mettle as a fundamentalist Christian in order to woo the yahoo vote in 2007 is hardly in the same category. Nevertheless on the democratic question- down with religious tests, formal or otherwise, for political office.

Now to get nasty. Isn’t it about time we started running these religious nuts back into their hideouts? I have profound differences with the political, social and economic organization of this country. However, as stated above, I stand for the defense of the democratic secular state against the yahoos when they try, friendly with Jesus or not, to bring religion foursquare into the ‘public square’. We have seen the effects of that for the last thirty or forty years and, hit me on the head if I am dreaming, but isn’t the current occupant of the White House on so kind of first name basis with his God. Enough. Look, this country is a prime example of an Enlightenment experiment, and tattered as it has become it is not a bad base to move on from. Those who, including Brother Romney, want a faith-based state- get back, way back. In the fight against religious obscurantism I will stand with science, frail as it sometimes is, any day. Defend the Enlightenment, and let’s move on.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Click on the title to link to an "Under The Hood" (Fort Hood G.I. Coffeehouse)Web site online article about the "Oleo Strut" Coffeehouse, an important development in the anti-Vietnam War struggle. Hats off to those bygone anti-war fighters.


Recently a reader asked me why during the last few months I have not highlighted the slogan for creating anti-war soldiers and sailors solidarity committees in my commentaries on Iraq. Fair enough. As noted in the headline, and as commentators seemingly from time immemorial have noted, much of politics is about timing. That is as true for a left wing political propagandist as it is for those today mired in any of the bourgeois party nomination processes. In fact, an argument can be made that it more important for us as openings in the political process, particularly in this country, are far fewer and therefore we need to be judicious. The long and short of it is that today, December 5th 2007, and for some time prior to this date, it has not been appropriate to raise that slogan.

Let me draw some distinctions around the question of the uses of political slogans. There are two basic, although sometimes overlapping, uses of political slogans. One is to make propaganda points about some crying political need that is not immediately possible. The propaganda fight for a workers party falls into that category. That slogan has general applicability in this period and only a radical and militant turn in the labor movement, like in the 1930’s, would, perhaps, render that slogan inappropriate. To not get too far from today’s reality the various ‘universal’ health care proposals, mainly from Democratic presidential contenders, are at this stage propaganda fights. The other use of political slogans is agitational-for immediate action. The slogan for Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal of U. S. Troops and Mercenaries from Iraq falls in that category- from day one of the Iraq War buildup.

So back to the slogan for creation of anti-war soldiers and sailors solidarity committees. There are many continuously appropriate slogans in the fight against American imperialism but that slogan is not one of them. For example, given the fact of an all-volunteer American army, in say the year 2000, we would not have raised such a slogan. It would have made no sense and, in any case, would have fallen on deaf ears in ‘peacetime’. For that matter raising it in 2003 would have made no sense, given the patriotic hysteria, even though it was a political necessary corollary to the fight for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. The same sense of timing holds true for the slogan calling for labor strikes against the war. Yes, that slogan is nice and necessary but the realities of the American labor movement at the time meant that it would not have intersected any real political movement.

No so for the solidarity committees in late 2005 and early 2006 when I, and unfortunately too few others, raised this slogan as an agitational response to the continuing American occupation in Iraq. At that point it was clear the Democrats were basically sitting on their hands hoping for a favorable result in the midterm 2006 elections. Furthermore, the bankruptcy of the ‘anti-war’ Democrats and their parliamentary strategy of piecemeal chipping away at the Iraq war budget and setting timetables for troop withdrawals was being laughed at by the Bush Administration and ignored by everyone else. Most importantly, the visible and vocal stirrings of opposition from the rank and file troops in Iraq and more forcefully by those who had returned after serving there gave an objective basis for anti-war opponents to link up with the rank and file troops to try to shut down the war.

What has changed in the political situation to make that slogan no longer an agitational demand (although the jury is still out on its propaganda use)? It’s the ‘surge’, stupid! We need to recognize that General Petreaus’s strategy has ‘worked’, in the short haul. American causalities are down, violence has been reduced, the Iraqis are making ‘nice’, etc. That is the political reality we work with now at least until the spring when the troop attrition rate will make the situation clearer, one way or the other. In any case, the rumblings, mumblings and grumbling by the rank and file troops have drastically fallen. Nothing could demonstrate this more clearly that a question that I put to the ‘street’ journalist Noel Troett about troop morale in Iraq and the question of the committees. (See archives in this space). He dismissed the idea out of hand in today’s Iraq. Why? The troops smell ‘victory’. That is not a predicate for turning the world upside down. Right? Will the slogan for anti-war soldiers and sailors solidarity committees be raised again if the situation turned for the worst in Iraq next year? Good question. Probably not, the slogan is by its nature conjunctural and it is hard to see the troops getting uppity again any time soon. The only things I see in my crystal ball now are that Bush will leave the Iraq mess behind him for the next administration to deal with and the next administration will hem and hew about not letting the Iraqi security situation deteriorate by withdrawing troops. Raise hell about withdrawal now but better start getting your banners and posters ready for January 20th 2009, as well.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007



I hope that I am not the only one who has noticed that the war in Iraq has fallen way below the newspaper fold lately. As a prime example in a recent edition of the Boston Globe news of the war was on page 10. Page One, front and center, featured the trials and tribulations of those yuppie trend setters who are ‘pioneering’ the concept of luxury condo living adjacent to upscale malls. Go figure. I was ready to get out the old hankerchief on that on.

Moreover, the vaunted presidential campaign has shifted it axis, especially on the Democratic side, as there is now far more talk about various domestic priorities than the fate of the war. On the Republican side there is a certain amount of gloating, especially by Senator McCain who has hinged the fate on his campaign on the success of the troop ‘surge’ to bring some stability to Iraq. And frankly he should gloat. One would have to be a fool, political or otherwise, to not recognize, that at least in the short haul that military strategy has worked. Whether come next spring when American troop levels go down by attrition and the Iraqi forces have to fend for themselves more that will still be the case is still an open question.

This is a good time to be clear here about why we opposed this war in the first place. If for no other reason, we opposed this war as an act of imperial hubris. We very definitely did not oppose it under a standard of whether it made military sense or that the question of ‘victory’ for the American side was important or not . We have to remember that as we are once again, as in the immediate aftermath of the invasion in 2003, somewhat isolated and shut off politically. In short, the political slogan of the day still is- Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal of U.S. Troops and Mercenaries from Iraq! Know this though- there is a world of political different between forcing the troop question through our political efforts and the leisurely withdrawal of troops, if any, on the Bush (or any) Administration’s timetable. We must continue to force the issue. More, much more on this question will follow as the situation develops over the next few months.

Monday, December 03, 2007


My old friend Noel Toertt, free-lance ‘street’ journalist and contributor to the monthly political magazine New Dawn, is just back from Iraq. If you are merely interested in the handouts from the U.S. Embassy or press conferences by Central Command in order to find out about the situation there pass this by. However, if you want to know what the situation is on the ‘street’ Noel will more times than not give you some insight into what is happening and why. Sometime I will give a real biographic sketch on the man but for now know that he is of Russian-German heritage. His grandfather was a Czarist general at the time of the Russian Revolution. An uncle fought in the Ernst Thaelmann Battalion of the International Brigades in Spain during the Civil War. Those seemingly contradictory facts will tell you part of the tale of his life. Make no mistake, as the interview below will make clear, we do not share the same political universe for the most part. What we do share is the need to turn the world upside down. This interview took place on October 21, 2007. More of the interview will follow in later entries. Any transcription problems are mine. Any political problems you can be the judge.

Markin: Noel, long time no see. How are you doing? You look at little tired?

Tortt: Ya, my flight back from the Middle East was a nightmare. I think I would rather have been on a cargo plane at least you have room on them. And the booze is better.

Markin: Just to set the frame for the interview when did you first go to the Middle East?

Tortt: Actually I started covering the area at the time of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, about 1980; I worked out of Pakistan first. Iraq about 1990 during the build up for the first Iraq war. Afghanistan again in 2001 and Iraq again, off and on, since late 2003. I have written about all of this maybe a hundred times.

Markin: Okay now that we have established your ‘credentials’ here is the first ‘softball’ question. I have been arguing, unhappily, since late spring that, all things being equal, that the Bush troop ‘surge’ in Iraq by placing more troops on the ground would be successful in the short haul. As long at the American troops stayed in the lead. Now several months later and after the Petreaus/Crocker reports to Congress and the tamp down on known acts of violence it looks to me like that is the case. What is your take on this?

Tortt: Look, let’s look at this from this perspective. A conventional army like the American one, and especially the American one, can rain hell down on any other conventional army if it has the will. Adding a few more troops, more or less, doesn’t really change the mix. This asymmetric warfare is a different baby though. Once the numbers for the ‘surge’ and where they would be concentrated became general knowledge insurgent decisions had to be made. For the various insurgent operations you noticed what amounted to a self-imposed tamp down on confronting the American forces. So yes, today, and I only speak of today in an almost literal sense, the ‘surge’ has had some successes. But listen, the atmosphere in places like Baghdad is so tense you could cut a knife through it. That’s the real situation. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Markin: Waiting for the other shoe drop and do what?

Tortt: Waiting for the Americans to back off enough to go back on the ‘offensive’ and this time with more sophistication and probably more co-coordinated attacks. One thing that gets forgotten in the mix is that these guys have nothing but time. Hell for the most part it’s their country so they aren’t going anywhere. They also know that the Americans have to leave sometime so like smart guys they prepare, keep up enough of a presence to worry the American generals and move when the time is right. Not a nice picture from the American side but that is the story.

Markin: How do you know that they, the insurgents, have not just decided that there is no way forward on the road they were pursuing and have decided to close up shop?

Toertt: Let’s go back to that tension in the air business I mentioned a while ago. Nothing indicates that they have given up the struggle. Let me tell a little point to bring that home. I ran into a kid, and I do mean kid, who was carrying about a half dozen cell phones in need of various repairs. He approached me and asked me for some batteries that I did not have. I asked since the phones did not seem to work what he needed batteries for. He replied that a ‘friend’ would have them working pretty soon. The way he said it made me think that something more than calling his girlfriend was on his mind. No, they are getting ready believe that. By the way those cell phones were thrown away by the Americans in the Green Zone if that kid was not lying, and I do not think he was. Shades of Vietnam all over again.

Markin: What do you mean?

Toertt: Well, the American army in Vietnam supplied, incidentally and unintentionally, a fair amount of material to the South Vietnamese Liberation forces that they turned around and used as ammo, etc. against the Americans. Also remember the Iraqis are smart people. Hell this area is the cradle of civilization and although they have lost a few steps over the centuries they are still smart. It never did anyone any good to underestimate a determined foe, although the Americans repeatedly do so.

Markin: Well, if the Bush strategy is a temporary success at least what about the other part of the puzzle- turning the war over to the Iraqi national army and police forces?

Toertt: That, Markin, is a whole different ball game. Let me take a couple of steps back on this. Saddam build a pretty good national army in his time. At least it looked like it could fight or be used, as is the usual case, for any internal disturbances. However, he squandered that army in the Iran wars in the 1980’s. Then the cream got decimated in the Kuwait fiasco in 1991. After that the thing was a bleeding hulk. By the time 2003 rolls around it is essentially human dust. Nothing since then has indicated that a national army, or for that matter police force, can be built that will do the job of defending the government or put a stop to foreign interventions. Look it is hard to create a real army. You need cadre. As I mentioned above that, for the most part, has been liquidated. So what you have now are a bunch of kids who have seen nothing but failure being forced usually out of economic necessity to take up the gun. Add in the sectarian aspect and the stigma of working with the occupiers and that does not present a very good picture. That is what the American generals scream into the night about.

Markin: That sounds like a recipe for a very long occupation

Toertt: Right, do not let anyone kid you, nobody I talked to realistically thought about being out of Iraq for five to ten years with the ten years being more likely. And they were not sure even then that the army they trained could do the job. Believe me when they invented the expression between a rock and a hard place they had something like Iraq in mind. More than that though I do not see a will to create an army. There are just a bunch of scared kids (justifiably so) in a place they do not want to be in. The proof of that are the exceedingly few operations the Iraqis do on their own. You made me laugh one time when you said in one of your commentaries that you would like to see the Iraqis do an operation without half the 82nd Airborne beside them. You hit the nail on the head on that one.

Markin: Well here is the ‘hard’ question. We have talked earlier today and at previous times about this. As you know for the last year or more I have been arguing for a change in orientation for the anti-war movement away from the futile parliamentary maneuvering and linking up with the rank and file troops in Iraq to end the war. I asked you before you left for Iraq this time to get a feel for this for me. What did you think?

Toertt: Markin, you have got to move away from your love of the Russian Revolution and all that happened there. It is starting to unbalance you. Sure the Russian troops then were ready to lead the fight against continuing the war and they did it with their feet. Hell, they tried to boil my grandfather the General in a barrel. But that was different. They were war weary, they had land hunger and mainly they were tired of the offensives that led nowhere except to death. Rather exceptional circumstances won’t you agree. And nothing like today.

Markin: I figured I would have to take a verbal beating from you on this but as I have pointed out before the whole point of making propaganda for this position was to change the axis away from reliance on essentially Democratic parliamentary maneuvering to bring about a troop withdrawal. Believe it or not I realize that conditions in Russia in 1917 and today are different but the task is the same.

Toertt: Okay, Okay we have been through that before but to answer your question I do not see any movement like that today. First, the ‘success’ of the surge has tended to solidify the rank and file back to at least neutrality about what they are doing there. Secondly these kids are a long way from home and want to get home fast. The shortest way seems to be to do their time and rotate. I also think that the effects of being a part of a professional force tend to militate against those kinds of actions. In Russia, and even in the late stages of the Vietnam War, these were actions of citizen-soldiers fed up with the way things were going. I got no sense of that. Sure there is some opposition to the war among the rank and file. And also some confusion about why they are there. And importantly, some resentment toward those who they perceive are not respectful of their mission. All those things are normal and to be expected.

Markin: Okay, that is a fair enough evaluation although it does not negate the need for a change in orientation. One last question for this round. Where does all this go? If parliamentary maneuvering is doomed, if the troops will not lead us out- then what?

Toertt: You like to call yourself a hard socialist realpolitik politician. I like to call myself a tough liberal realpolitik observer. Here is the hard reality. Korea and Germany. Yes, a long term occupation force smaller than today’s for a very long time, make that a very, very long time no matter what administration is in power, except if your guys take political power before. Ouch.

Markin: Thanks, I will take that under advisement.

*22nd Annual Holiday Appeal-Free All Class-War Prisoners!

Click on to the title to link to the Partisan Defense Committee Web site.

This appeal is passed on from the Partisan Defense Committee. I need only add that support for class-war prisoners is a duty not charity. Dig deep for our brothers and sisters.

Workers Vanguard Mo. 903 23 November 2007

22nd Annual Holiday Appeal

Free the Class-War Prisoners!

(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)

"The class-conscious worker accords to the class-war prisoners a place of singular honor and esteem."

— James P. Cannon, "The Cause that Passes Through a Prison," Labor Defender, September 1926

For the past 22 years, the Partisan Defense Committee has been sending monthly stipends as an expression of solidarity to those imprisoned for standing up to racist capitalist repression. In doing so, we have revived the tradition initiated by the International Labor Defense (ILD) under Cannon, a founding leader of the Communist Party and the ILD's first secretary (1925-28). This year, as in years past, the PDC calls on labor activists, fighters for black rights, radical youth and defenders of civil liberties to join us in building our annual Holiday Appeal, which raises funds for this unique program.

The Holiday Appeal benefits will focus particularly on our campaign to mobilize mass protest demanding freedom for death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia currently awaits a decision by a federal appeals court on whether to reinstitute the death sentence, keep him entombed in prison for life or grant him a new trial or other legal proceedings. For those fighting for Mumia's freedom, there must be no illusions in capitalist "justice." Earlier this year, the capitalist courts again turned down appeals by class-war prisoners Leonard Pettier, Ed Poindexter and Mumia's son Jamal Hart. Build the Holiday Appeal! Free all class-war prisoners!
Mumia Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther Party spokesman, a well-known supporter of the MOVE organization and an award-winning journalist known as "the voice of the voiceless." The fight to free America's foremost class-war prisoner has reached a crucial juncture. This past May, oral arguments "were heard before the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals — the last stage before the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision could come at any moment.

9 December 2007 marks the 26th anniversary of Mumia's arrest for a killing that the cops know he did not commit. Mumia was framed up for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death explicitly for his political views. More than six years ago, Mumia's attorneys submitted to the courts the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Muraia, shot and killed Faulkner, but to the racists in black robes, a court of law is no place for evidence of the innocence of this fighter for the oppressed.

Mumia faces the racist death penalty or life in prison because he has always spoken for the oppressed, like the Jena 6 or those left to die in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Workers, immigrants, minorities and all opponents of racist oppression must redouble their efforts to free Mumia now!

Leonard Peltier is an internationally revered class-war prisoner. His incarceration for his activism in the American Indian Movement has come to symbolize this country's racist repression of its native peoples, the survivors of centuries of genocidal oppression. Peltier's frame-up trial for the deaths of two marauding FBI agents in what had become a war zone at the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975 shows what capitalist "justice" is all about. Although the lead government attorney has admitted: "We can't prove who shot those agents," and the courts have acknowledged blatant prosecutorial misconduct, the 63-year-old Peltier is still locked away. In separate lawsuits, early this year federal courts in New York and Minnesota kept under government seal thousands of FBI documents, once again covering up the racist frame-up that has already Stolen 30 years of his life.

Jamal Hart, Mumia's son, was sentenced in 1998 to 15 1/2 years without parole on bogus firearms possession charges. Hart was targeted for his prominent activism in the campaign to free his father. Although Hart was initially charged under Pennsylvania laws, which would have meant a probationary sentence, Clinton's Justice Department intervened to have Hart thrown into prison under federal laws. Hart was transferred to Minersville, PA, where prison officials subjected him to repeated provocations and improperly adjusted Hart's security level to deny him transfer to a lower level security facility; a transfer to Loretto, PA, has finally been granted. In October, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals summarily turned down Hart's habeas corpus petition which would have freed him after more than ten years in prison.

Eight MOVE members, Chuck Africa, Michael Africa, Debbie Africa, Janet Africa, Janine Africa, Delbert Africa, Eddie Africa and Phil Africa, are in their 30th year of prison. They were sentenced to 30-100 years after the 8 August 1978 siege of their Philadelphia home by over 600 heavily armed cops, falsely convicted of killing a police officer who died in the cops' own cross fire. In 1985, eleven of their MOVE family members, including five children, were massacred by Philly cops. In 2008, the MOVE prisoners will be eligible for parole, but without massive calls for their freedom can only expect continued imprisonment.

Jaan Laaman and Thomas Manning are the remaining anti-imperialist activists known as the Ohio 7 still in prison, convicted for their roles in a radical group that took credit for bank "expropriations" and bombings in the late 1970s and '80s against symbols of U.S. imperialism such as military and corporate offices. Before their arrests in 1984 and 1985, the Ohio 7 were targets of massive manhunts. Their children were kidnapped at gunpoint by the Feds.

The Ohio 7’s politics were once shared by thousands of radicals during the Vietnam antiwar movement and by New Leftists who wrote off the possibility of winning the working class to a revolutionary program and saw themselves as an auxiliary of Third World liberation movements. But, like the Weathermen before them, the Ohio 7 were spurned by the "respectable" left. From a proletarian standpoint, the actions of these leftist activists against imperialism and racist injustice are not a crime. They should not have served a day in prison.

Ed Poindexter and Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa are former Black Panther supporters and leaders of the Omaha, Nebraska, National Committee to Combat Fascism. They were victims of the deadly FBI COINTELPRO operation under which 38 Black Panther Party members were killed and hundreds more imprisoned on frame-up charges. Poindexter and Mondo, railroaded to prison for a 1970 explosion which killed a cop, were sentenced to life and have now served more than 35 years in jail. In September, a Nebraska court denied a new trial for Poindexter despite the fact that a crucial piece of evidence excluded from the original trial, a long-suppressed 911 audio tape, proved that testimony of the state's key witness was perjured.

Hugo Pinell is the last of the San Quentin 6 still in prison. He was a militant anti-racist leader of prison rights organizing along with his comrade and mentor, George Jackson, who was gunned down by prison guards in 1971. Despite hundreds of letters of support and no disciplinary write-ups for over 26 years, Pinell has repeatedly been denied parole, most recently in November 2006. Now in his 60s, Pinell continues to serve a life sentence at the notorious Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit in California.

Contribute now! All proceeds from the Holiday Appeals will go to the Class-War Prisoners Stipend Fund. Send your contributions to: PDC, P.O. Box 99, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013; (212) 406-4252.