Saturday, November 21, 2015

On The 96th Anniversary Of The Founding Of The Communist International (1919) -Desperately Seeking Revolutionary Intellectuals-Now, And Then

On The 96th Anniversary Of The Founding Of The Communist International (1919) -Desperately Seeking Revolutionary Intellectuals-Now, And Then

Click below to link to the Communist International Internet Archives"

From The Pen Of Josh Breslin

Back in the early 1970s after they had worked out between themselves, as best they could given their previous distain and/or ignorance of the history of the American left, of the international workers movement in particular which some elements in the anti-Vietnam movement were fitfully beginning to investigate, the rudiments of what had gone wrong with the May Day 1971 actions in Washington, D.C. Sam Eaton and Ralph Morris began some serious study of leftist literature from an earlier time, from back earlier in the century. Those May Day anti-Vietnam War actions which they had originally enthusiastically participated in (especially Ralph since this had been his first big anti-war action in Washington in which he had been in an affinity group with some fellow ex-veterans), ill-conceived as they in the end turned out to be, centered on the proposition that if the American government would not close down the damn blood-sucking war then they, those thousands that participated in the actions, would close down the government. All Sam, Ralph and those thousands of others got for their efforts was a round-up into the bastinado, picked off like ducks in a shooting gallery even before they could get close to the targets they were attempting to shut down.

Sam had been picked off early in the round-up on Pennsylvania Avenue as his group, mainly college students from Boston University and George Washington University and an array of young radicals from the streets of Cambridge and New York (his “affinity group” for the action) had been on their way to “capture” the White House (the cops and soldiers had blocked the way about five blocks before and were rounding up anybody who looked like they might be a protestor, or want to be under the old military principle of “shot first and let God separate out the guilty from the innocent”). Sam, no novice at civil disobedience or street actions had been appalled at the ease with which they were rounded even though at the last affinity group meeting he had voiced a mild criticism about the plan to “capture” the citadel of American imperialism without some kind of massed armed army but his reasoning was dismissed out of hand by some of the more itchy street kids. Ralph and his affinity group of ex-veterans and their supporters were rounded-up on Massachusetts Avenues heading toward the Pentagon (they had had no plans to capture that five-sided building, at least they were unlike Sam’s group not that naïve, just surround the place like had occurred in an anti-war action in 1967 which has been detailed in Norman Mailer’s prize-winning book Armies Of The Night). Ralph new to the anti-war action scene in Washington thought nothing of the merits of lack of merits of the planned and “occupation” since it had been made clear at the last affinity meeting the night before that the march to the lion’s den of American military might by returned wounded and angry soldiers had its own symbolic value. Still the cops and National Guard soldiers rounded them up just like all the other hippies, street radicals, Quakers, shakers and midnight fakirs. (Ralph had sneered at the National Guard soldiers as “weekend warriors” who desperately clung to their status of having enough pull to avoid being drafted or enlisting in the real Army)

For a time RFK (Robert F. Kennedy) Stadium, the home of the Washington Redskins football team) was the main holding area for those arrested and detained before the numbers detained overwhelmed the facility. The irony of being held in a stadium named after the martyred late President’s younger brother and lightening rod for almost all anti-war and “newer world” political dissent before he was assassinated in the bloody summer of 1968 and in a place where football, a sport associated in many radical minds with all that was wrong with the American system was lost on Sam and Ralph at the time and it was only later, many decades later, as they were sitting in a bar in Boston across from the JFK Federal Building on one of their periodic reunions when Ralph was in town that Sam had picked up that connection. The cops and soldiers probably never saw the irony, never. 

Sam, from Carver in Massachusetts, who had been a late convert to the anti-war movement in 1969 after his closest high school friend, the guy who he hung around the corner at Jimmy Jack’s Diner on Main Street with, Jeff Mullin, had been blown away in some jungle town in the Central Highlands (a town that he to this day could not properly spell or say)  was like many late converts to a cause a “true believer,” had taken part in many acts of civil disobedience at draft boards, including the one in hometown Carver, federal buildings, military recruitment stations and military bases. From an indifference, no that’s not right, from a mildly patriotic average young American citizen that you could find by the score hanging around Mom and Pop variety stores, pizza parlors, diners, and bowling alleys in the early 1960s, he had become a long-haired bearded “hippie anti-warrior.” Not too long in either hair or beard though by the standards of “youth nation” of the day since he was running a small print shop in Carver in order to support his mother and four younger sisters after his father had passed away suddenly of a massive heart attack in 1965 which exempted him from military service. (At first he was self-conscious about sitting at draft boards and recruiting stations as a result of that exemption until one austere Quaker lady told him every body counted in the struggle against war and to not let that other stuff bother him.) Not too short either since those “squares” were either poor bastards who got tagged by the military and had to wear their hair short an appearance which stuck out in towns like Cambridge, Ann Arbor, Berkeley and L.A. when the anti-war movement started embracing the increasingly frustrated and anti-war soldiers that  they were beginning to run across or, worse, cops before they got “hip” to the idea that guys wearing short hair, no beard, looked like they had just taken a bath, and wore plaid short-sleeved shirts and chinos might as well have a bulls-eye target on their backs surveilling the counter-cultural crowd.

Ralph, from Troy, New York, had been working in his father’s highly specialized skilled electrical shop which had major orders from General Electric the big employer in the area when he got his draft notice and had decided to enlist in the Army in order to avoid being an 11B, an infantryman, a grunt, “cannon fodder,” although he would not have known to call it that at the time, that would come later. He had expected to go into something which he knew something about in the electrical field at least that is what the recruiting sergeant in Albany had “promised” him. (He would not forget that “promise” lesson for later, much later, in the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2002 he would stand at recruiting stations trying to tell young prospects not to believe the lies the well-paid and well-versed recruiters told them.) But in the year 1967 (and 1968 too since he had extended his tour six months to get out of the service a little early) what the military needed in Vietnam whatever else they might have needed was “cannon fodder,” guys to go out into the bushes and kill commies. Simple as that. And that was what Ralph Morris, a mildly patriotic average young American citizen, no that is not right, a very patriotic average young American citizen that you could also find by the score hanging around Mom and Pop variety stores, pizza parlors, diners, and bowling alleys in the early 1960s, did. But see he got “religion” up there in Pleiku, up there in the Central Highlands, up there in the stinking sweating bush and so when he had been discharged from the Army in late 1969 he was in a rage against the machine. Sure he had gone almost immediately back to the grind of his father’s electrical shop but he was out of place just then, out of sorts, needed to find an outlet for his anger at what he had done, what had happened to buddies very close to him, what buddies had done to the peasants who had done nothing to them but be “in the wrong place at the wrong time in their own fucking country” (Ralph’s term), and how the military had made them animals, nothing less. (Ralph after his father retired would take over the electric shop business on his own in 1991 and would thereafter give it to his son, Ralph III to take over after he retired in 2011.)

One day in 1970, maybe 1971 he had gone to Albany on a job for his father and while on State Street he had seen a group of guys in deliberately mismatched military garb marching in the streets without talking, silent which was amazing in itself from what he had previously seen of such anti-war marches and just carrying a big sign-Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW) and nobody stopped them, no cops, nobody, nobody yelled “commie” either or a lot of other macho stuff that he and his hang out guys used to do in Troy when some peaceniks held peace vigils in the square around 1965 or so. The civilian on-lookers held their tongues that day although Ralph knew that the whole area, including most of his family, still retained a lot of residual pro-war feeling just because America was fighting somewhere for something. He parked his father’s truck and walked over to the march just to watch at first. Some guy in a tattered Marine mismatched uniform wearing Chuck Taylor sneakers in the march called out to the crowd for anybody who had served in Vietnam, served in the military to join them, to help send a message to the brass, to their ex-bosses, that the madness must stop, shouting out their military affiliation as they did so. Ralph almost automatically blurred out-“First Air Cav” and walked right into the street. There were other First Air Cav guys there that day so he was among kindred. So yeah, Ralph after that “baptism” did a lot of actions with VVAW and with “civilian” collectives who were planning more dramatic actions in the Albany area. Ralph always would say later that if it hadn’t been for getting “religion” on the war issue and doing all those political actions then he would have gone crazy, would have wound up like a lot of guys he would see later at the VA, would see out in the cardboard box for a home streets, and would not until this day have supported in any way he could, although lately not physically since his knee replacement, those who had the audacity to still march for the “good old cause” against the war-mongers when the reared their bastardly heads.                           

This is the back story of a relationship that has lasted until this day, an unlikely relationship in normal times and places but in that cauldron of the early 1970s when the young, even the not so very young, were trying to make heads or tails out of what was happening in a world they did not crate, and were not asked about there were plenty of such stories, although most did not outlast that search for the newer world when the high tide of the 1960s ebbed in the mid-1970s. Sam and Ralph’s story had started when Ralph had noticed while milling around the football field waiting for something to happen, waiting to be released, that Sam had a VVAW button on his shirt and since he did not recognize Sam from any previous VVAW action had asked if he was a member of the organization and where. Sam told him the story of his friend Jeff Mullin and of his change of heart about the war, and about doing something about ending the damn thing.

That strange introduction while in “jail” got them talking, talking well into the first night of their captivity when they found they had many things in common coming from deeply entrenched working-class cultures. (You already know about Troy and the GE effect. Carver is something like the cranberry bog capital of the world even today although the large producers dominate the market unlike when Sam was a kid and the small Finnish growers dominated the market and town life. The town moreover has turned into something of a bedroom community for the high-tech industry that dots U.S. 495.)

After a couple of days in the bastinado waiting for the in- no-hurry cops to do some paperwork Sam and Ralph hungry, thirsty, needing a shower after suffering through the Washington humidity heard that people were finding ways of getting out to the streets through some unguarded side exits. They decided to surreptitiously attempt an “escape” which proved successful and they immediately headed through a bunch of the letter, number and state streets on the Washington city grid toward Connecticut Avenue heading toward Silver Springs trying to hitchhike out of the city. A couple of days later having obtained a ride through from Trenton, New Jersey to Providence, Rhode Island they headed to Sam’s mother’s place in Carver. Ralph stayed there a few days before heading back home to Troy. They had agreed that they would keep in contact and try to figure out what the hell went wrong in Washington that week. After making some connections through some radicals he knew in Cambridge to live in a commune over by Inman Square (cheap rent, cheap living and doable since the last of Sam’s sisters had finished high school and he had another friend from the Jimmy Jack’s Diner corner boys days, Johnnie Callahan, running the print shop, a print shop business that he would return to seriously once the high tide of the 1960s ebbed, after he started a family, and which he sold to a third party after he retired in 2012). Sam asked Ralph to come stay with him for the summer and try to figure out that gnarly problem of the way forward to a more effective way to stop the goddam wars. Ralph did, although his father was furious since he needed his help on a big GE contract for the Defense Department but Ralph was having none of that. (Ralph and his father eventually reconciled but that was a long process over several years and much argument but need not detain us here except to say that the damn war blew many household apart, for good or evil.)      

So in the summer of 1971 Sam and Ralph began to read that old time literature, although Ralph admitted he was not much of a reader and some of the stuff was way over his head, Sam’s too. Mostly they read socialist and communist literature, a little of the old IWW (Wobblie) stuff since they both were enthrall to the exploits of the likes of Big Bill Haywood out West during the heyday of the miner’s union struggles which seemed to dominate the politics of that earlier time. They had even for a time joined a loose study group sponsored by one of the myriad “red collectives” that had sprung up like weeds in the Cambridge area. Both thought it ironic at the time, and others who were questioning the direction the “movement” was heading in stated the same thing when they were in the study groups, that before that time in the heyday of their anti-war activity everybody dismissed the old white guys (a term not in common use then like now) like Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and their progeny as irrelevant. Now everybody was glued to the books.

It was from that time that Sam and Ralph got a better appreciation of a lot of the events, places, and personalities from the old time radicals. Events like the start of May Day in 1886 as an international working class holiday which they had been clueless about despite the   May Day actions, the Russian Revolutions, the Paris Commune, the Chinese Revolutions, August 1914 as a watershed against war, the Communist International, those aforementioned radicals Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, adding in Mao, Che, Fidel, Ho whose names were on everybody’s tongue (and on posters in every bedroom) even if the reason for that was not known. Most surprising of all were the American radicals like Haywood, Browder, Cannon, Foster, and others who nobody then, or almost nobody cared to know about at all.

As they learned more information about past American movements Sam, the more interested writer of such pieces began to write appreciations of past events, places and personalities. His first effort was to write something about the commemoration of the 3 Ls (Lenin, Luxemburg, and Liebknecht) started by the Communist International back in the 1920s in January 1972, the first two names that he knew from a history class in junior college and the third not at all. After that he wrote various pieces like the one below about the early days of the Communist International which intrigued him no end although he could not picture such an organization working in 1972 not with the political climate and not with the question of what Leon Trotsky, one of the founders, called the degeneration of that organization (leftists have seemingly always posed their positions as questions; the women question, the black question, the party question, the Russian question, the Comintern question, and so on so Sam decided to stick with the old time usage.) Here is what he had to say then which he had recently freshly updated to include comments after reading a then recently published book by Trotsky about the early days of the Communist International. Sam told Ralph after he had read and asked if he was still a “true believer” said a lot of piece he would still stand by today:      

Sam Eaton comment:



An underlying premise of the Lenin-led Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 was that success there would be the first episode in a world-wide socialist revolution. While a specific timetable was not placed on the order of the day the early Bolshevik leaders, principally Lenin and Trotsky, both assumed that those events would occur in the immediate post-World War I period, or shortly thereafter. Alas, such was not the case, although not from lack of trying on the part of an internationalist-minded section of the Bolshevik leadership.

Another underlying premise, developed by the Leninists as part of their opposition to the imperialist First World War, was the need for a new revolutionary labor international to replace the compromised and moribund Socialist International (also known as the Second International) which had turned out to be useless as an instrument for revolution or even of opposition to the European war. The Bolsheviks took that step after seizing power and established the Communist International (also known as the Comintern or Third International) in 1919. As part of the process of arming that international with a revolutionary strategy (and practice) Lenin produced this polemic to address certain confusions, some willful, that had arisen in the European left and also attempted to instill some of the hard-learned lessons of the Russian revolutionary experience in them.

The Russian Revolution, and after it the Comintern in the early heroic days, for the most part, drew the best and most militant layers of the working-class and radical intellectuals to their defense. However, that is not the same as drawing experienced Bolsheviks to that defense. Many militants were anti-parliamentarian or anti-electoral in principle after the sorry experiences with the European social democracy. Others wanted to emulate the old heroic days of the Bolshevik underground party or create a minority, exclusive conspiratorial party.

Still others wanted to abandon the reformist bureaucratically-led trade unions to their then current leaderships, and so on. Lenin’s polemic, and it nothing but a flat-out polemic against all kinds of misconceptions of the Bolshevik experience, cut across these erroneous ideas like a knife. His literary style may not appeal to today’s audience but the political message still has considerable application today. At the time that it was written no less a figure than James P. Cannon, a central leader of the American Communist Party, credited the pamphlet with straightening out that badly confused movement (Indeed, it seems every possible political problem Lenin argued against in that pamphlet had some following in the American Party-in triplicate!). That alone makes it worth a look at.

I would like to highlight one point made by Lenin that has currency for leftists today, particularly American leftists. At the time it was written many (most) of the communist organizations adhering to the Comintern were little more than propaganda groups (including the American party). Lenin suggested one of the ways to break out of that isolation was a tactic of critical support to the still large and influential social-democratic organizations at election time. In his apt expression- to support those organizations "like a rope supports a hanging man".

However, as part of my political experiences in America around election time I have run into any number of ‘socialists’ and ‘communists’ who have turned Lenin’s concept on its head. How? By arguing that militants needed to ‘critically support’ the Democratic Party (who else, right?) as an application of the Leninist criterion for critical support. No, a thousand times no. Lenin’s specific example was the reformist British Labor Party, a party at that time (and to a lesser extent today) solidly based on the trade unions- organizations of the working class and no other. The Democratic Party in America was then, is now, and will always be a capitalist party. Yes, the labor bureaucrats and ordinary workers support it, finance it, drool over it but in no way is it a labor party. That is the class difference which even sincere militants have broken their teeth on for at least the last seventy years. And that, dear reader, is another reason why it worthwhile to take a peek at this book.

Desperately Seeking Revolutionary Intellectuals-Now, And Then


No, this is not a Personals section ad, although it qualifies as a Help Wanted ad in a sense. On a number of occasions over past several years, in reviewing books especially those by James P. Cannon the founder of The Socialist Workers Party in America, I have mentioned that building off of the work of the classical Marxists, including that of Marx and Engels themselves, and later that of Lenin and Trotsky the critical problem before the international working class in the early part of the 20th century was the question of creating a revolutionary leadership to lead imminent uprisings. Armed with Lenin’s work on the theory of the imperialist nature of the epoch and the party question and Trotsky’s on the questions of permanent revolution and revolutionary timing the tasks for revolutionaries were more than adequately defined.

The conclusion that I drew from that observation was that the revolutionary socialist movement was not as desperately in need of theoreticians and intellectuals as previously (although having them is always a good thing). It needed leaders steeped in those theories and with a capacity to lead revolutions. We needed a few good day-to-day practical leaders to lead the fight for state power.

In that regard I have always held up, for the early part of the 20th century, the name Karl Liebknecht the martyred German Communist co-leader (along with Rosa Luxemburg) of the aborted Spartacist uprising of 1919 as such an example. In contrast the subsequent leadership of the German Communists in the 1920’s Paul Levi, Henrich Brandler and Ernest Thaelmann did not meet those qualifications. For later periods I have held up the name James P. Cannon, founder of the American Socialist Workers Party (to name only the organization that he was most closely associated with), as a model. That basically carries us to somewhere around the middle of the 20th century. Since I have spend a fair amount of time lately going back to try to draw the lessons of our movement I have also had occasion to think, or rather to rethink my original argument on the need for revolutionary intellectuals. That position stands in need of some amendment now.

Let’s be clear here about our needs. The traditional Marxist idea that in order to break the logjam impeding humankind’s development the international working class must rule is still on the historic agenda. The Leninist notions that, since the early part of the 20th century, we have been in the imperialist era and that a ‘hard’ cadre revolutionary party is necessary to take state power are also in play. Moreover, the Trotskyist understanding that in countries of belated development the working class is the only agency objectively capable of leading those societies to the tasks traditionally associated with the bourgeois revolution continues to hold true. That said, we are seriously in need of revolutionary intellectuals who can bring these understandings into the 21st century.

It is almost a political truism that each generation will find its own ways to cope with the political tasks that confront it. The international working class movement is no exception in that regard. Moreover, although the general outlines of Marxist theory mentioned above hold true such tasks as the updating of the theory of imperialism to take into account the qualitative leap in its globalization is necessary (as is, as an adjunct to that, the significance of the gigantic increases in the size of the ‘third world’ proletariat). Also in need of freshening up is work on the contours of revolutionary political organization in the age of high speed communications, the increased weight that non-working class specific questions play in world politics (the national question, religion, special racial and gender oppressions) and various other tasks that earlier generations had taken for granted or had not needed to consider. All this moreover has to be done in a political environment that sees Marxism, communism, even garden variety reform socialism as failed experiments. To address all the foregoing issues is where my call for a new crop of revolutionary intellectuals comes from.

Since the mid- 20th century we have had no lack of practical revolutionary leaders of one sort or another - one thinks of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and even Mao in his less rabid moments. We have witnessed any number of national liberation struggles, a few attempts at political revolution against Stalinism, a few military victories against imperialism, notably the Vietnamese struggle. But mainly this has been an epoch of defeats for the international working class. Moreover, we have not even come close to developing theoretical leaders of the statue of Lenin or Trotsky.

As a case in point, recently I made some commentary about the theory of student power in the 1960’s and its eventual refutation by the May 1968 General Strike lead by the working class in France. One of the leading lights for the idea that students were the ‘new’ working class or a ‘new’ vanguard was one Ernest Mandel. Mandel held himself out to be an orthodox Marxist (and Trotskyist, to boot) but that did not stop him from, periodically, perhaps daily, changing the focus of his work away from the idea of the centrality of the working class in social struggle an ideas that goes back to the days of Marx himself.

And Mandel, a brilliant well-spoken erudite scholar probably was not the worst of the lot. The problem is that he was the problem with his impressionistic theories based on , frankly, opportunistic impulses. Another example, from that same period, was the idea of Professor Regis Debray ( in the service of Fidel at the time ) that guerrilla foci out in the hills were the way forward ( a codification of the experience of the Cuban Revolution for which many subjective revolutionary paid dearly with their lives). Or the anti-Marxist Maoist notion that the countryside would defeat the cities that flamed the imagination of many Western radicals in the late 1960’s. I could go on with more examples but they only lead to one conclusion- we are, among other things, in a theoretical trough. This, my friends, is why today I have my Help Wanted sign out. Any takers?

I Did It My Way-With Bob Dylan’s Shadows In The Night In Mind

I Did It My Way-With Bob Dylan’s Shadows In The Night In Mind




From The Pen Of Bart Webber

Recently Sam Eaton an old friend of mine from high school days down at Carver High School in Southeastern Massachusetts whom I reunited with at a class reunion via the “magic” of the Internet which seems to be able to ferret out anybody who has ever put the slightest information on any website (and which has been recorded by our “friends” at NSA and other “big brother” operations done in “our interest” by the American government but enough of that for now as that is a subject worthy of another time) did a review of Bob Dylan’s latest CD brought out in 2014, Shadows In The Night. The album a tribute to the king of Tin Pan Alley songwriter fest, Frank Sinatra, in the days when there was something of an unwritten code or maybe not unwritten but assumed by the division of labor that the singer and songwriter were strangers in the night in another sense. (Also later, after a semi-successful screen career where he did excellent work in the film adaptations of James Jones’ From Here To Eternity and Nelson Algren’s wrenching The Man With The Golden Arm and some notoriety as the leader of a rat pack of Hollywood and Los Vegas celebrities, named the “Chairman of the boards,” the boards being the stage upon which his fame rested as a singer, actor and hail fellow, well met.). In that review Sam noted that such an effort to go back to an aspect, an off-shoot of the great American Songbook of which Dylan knew so much even early on before he became famous as the “king of folksingers” was bound to happen if he lived long enough.

Going back to the Great Depression/World War II period that our parents, we the baby-boomers parents (although Dylan born in 1941 missed the big generation of “68 boat but for Sam’s purpose that was okay he got tagged as an honorary “68er) slogged through for musical inspiration. Going back to something, some place that when were young and immortal, young and thinking that what we had created would last forever we would have, rightly, dismissed out of hand. And since Dylan has lived long enough, long enough to go back to some bygones roots  here we are talking about something that let us say in 1970 Sam would have dismissed as impossible, dismissed as the delusional ravings of somebody like Sam’s older brother, Mason, who hated almost everything about the counter-cultural movement of the 1960s both before he did two tours in Vietnam beginning in 1965 even before the big call-ups after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, enlisting naturally, without a scratch on him, before he got married to his high school sweetheart who had waited, had waited through those two long tours for him maybe sensing that he would come through unscratched, got his little white picket house in hometown North Carver away from his South Carver working class son of a bogger (cranberry bogs the only thing that keep the town together back then and for which it had been famous for generations), and after when he would, along with the lovely bride stand in front of abortion clinics and spew hateful words and make threatening gestures against poor bedraggled young women (mainly)  up against it after some guy left her in the lurch to worry and fret about bringing another baby into this wicked old world and fag bait (without the bride as far as Sam knew, they were not exactly on the best of terms then, or now for that matter) every guy in town whose had a word to say about peace and went crazy when somebody mentioned that gays (in the closet gays) had served in the military during his war and would think nothing of punching any guy who he thought was “light on his feet” (lesbians he seemed, according to Sam, he skipped for some reason), had been ready to spill blood it seemed to cut off the heads of anybody who wanted to breathe a new fresh breath not tinged with our parents’ worn out ways of doing business in civil society. (A whole dissertation or at least a serious long article could be written about how the gap of maybe three years, graduating in say 1961 like Mason and 1964 like Sam created a whole divide in social/political/cultural attitudes in many families. Not all but many where the fresh breeze of the Kennedy Camelot minute dream breeze had not been strong enough to check the desire of the former grouping to serve one’s country, right or wrong, marry one time forever, and get that little white fence house that was a step, maybe two, up from Ma and Pa.)   

Strange as it may seem to a generation, the generation of ’68, today’s AARP generation, okay, baby-boomers who came of age with the clarion call put forth musically by Bob Dylan and others to dramatically break with the music of our parents’ pasts, the music that got them through the Great Depression and slogging through World War II, he has put out an album featuring the work of Mr. Frank Sinatra the king of that era in many our parents’ households. Dylan’s call, clarion call if you will of Blowin’ In The Wind and The Times They Are A-Changin’ (those dropped “gs” a sign of the folk informally and a general mid-country phenomenon) written and sung by him which began a trend in music that pulled the mythical Tin Pan Alley marquee down (and a lot of non-singing-instrument composers and professional studio musical on cheap street) were direct assaults on whatever Grandfather Ike, the Cold War death bombs mentality or the deep freeze cultural and personal red scare which had carried  the country (and Frank) through the 1950s.

The music of the Broadway shows, Tin Pan Alley, Cole Porter/Irving Berlin/ the Gershwins/Jerome Kern, Sam who along with his interest in rock and roll, urban blues and protest-tinged folk music a la Dylan (and Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, Utah Phillips, Tom Paxton and a group of other who I forget that he was always talking about ) also knew about and hence his status as “professional” amateur archivist and reviewer so forgive me if I have left anybody of  importance out. Have I missed anybody of importance, probably, probably missed some of those Rogers and Hart Broadway show tunes teams, and so on.

That proposition though, at least as it pertains to Bob Dylan as an individual, seems less strange as Sam pointed out to me if you were not totally mired in the Bob Dylan protest minute of the early 1960s as I was although folk music beyond Dylan and a couple of others made my teeth grind, left me flat and even with Dylan it was an iffy proposition when he was cranky-voiced in live performances like one time, maybe 1964, when Sam, at Sam’s insistence, forced me since I had access to a car to go down to the Newport Folk Festival one hot July night to hear “the bard ” and he croaked out his set. Those were the days though when even I realized that whether Dylan wanted that designation or not, he was the “voice of a generation,” catching the new breeze a lot of us felt coming through the land.

In the end Dylan did not want it, ran from it (with the “help” of a serious motorcycle accident which kept him out of the live limelight, holed up in Woodstock along with musicians who would be the Band (the rock and roll back-up band for Dylan and later on their own), although not out of big time album making, that being a rather prolific album period for him, did not want to be the voice of a generation, had no banner to way, no sign to hold up for humanity as say Joan Baez, an ex-girlfriend or something like that, and Phil Ochs did, although he liked and wanted to be “king of the hill” in the music department of that generation, no question.

Wanted too to be the king hell troubadour entertaining the world for as long as he drew breathe, as long as he had a song to sing (in what kind of voice god only knows, reptilian the last time I heard him a few years ago on some aspect of his never-ending tour gig and Sam said in that review of the Sinatra tribute album that they must have had to come up with some miracles of modern “fixer man” music technology to get his voice to sound even as bad as it did on his covers which were just short of spoken verses like some New Jersey Best Western hotel lounge lizard act) and he has accomplished that, the longevity part.

What Dylan has been about for the greater part of his career though has been as an entertainer, a guy who sings his songs to the crowd and hopes they share his feelings for his songs. As he is quoted as saying in a 2015 AARP magazine article connected with the release of his Frank Sinatra tribute what he hoped was that like Frank he sang to, not at, his audience. Just like Frank did when he was in high tide around the 1940s and 1950s and our bobby-soxer mothers were tripping all over themselves like he was Elvis or something and throwing who knows what his way, maybe, notes with telephones numbers and promises of the best time he ever had. That sensibility is emphatically not what the folk protest music ethos was about but rather about stirring up the troops, stirring up the latter day Gideon’s Army to go smite the dragon, to right a few, maybe more of the wrongs of this wicked old world. Dylan early on came close, stepped into Mississippi for a day or so, then drew back, although it is hard to think of anybody from our generation except maybe Joan Baez and Phil Ochs who wrote and sang to move people from point A to point B in the social struggles of the times.


What Dylan has also been about through it all has been a deep and abiding respect for the American songbook that he began to gather in his mind early on (look on YouTube to a clip from Don’t Look Back where he is up in some European hotel room with Joan Baez and Bob Neuwirth singing Hank Williams ballads like Lost Highway or stuff from the Basement tapes (either set, the recently released five CD set in the never-ending bootleg set or the rarer “Genuine Basement” tape which is  where he runs the table on a few earlier genres, especially country and show tunes). In the old days that was looking for roots, roots music from the mountains, the desolate oceans, the slave quarters, along the rivers and Dylan’s hero then was Woody Guthrie. But the American songbook is a “big tent” operation and the Tin Pan Alley that he broke from when he became his own songwriter is an important part of the overall tradition and now he has added his hero Frank Sinatra to his version of the songbook (at least he called him his hero but Sam said he would be hard-pressed to name one song Dylan covered of Frank’s even as a goof.)

Sam said (an I agree somewhat, as much as I am going to with folk songs that can still make my teeth grind) that he may long for the old protest songs, the songs that stirred his blood to push on with the political struggles of the time like With God On Our Side which pushed him (and dragged me along in his wake, for a while) into the ranks of the Quakers, shakers, and little old ladies and men in tennis sneakers in the fight for nuclear disarmament, songs from the album pictured above, you know Blowin’ In The Wind which fit perfectly with the sense that something, something undefinable, something new as in the air in the early 1960s and The Times Are A Changin’ stuff like that, the roots music and not just Woody but Hank (including an incredible version of You Win Again), Tex-Mex (working later with George  Sahms of the Sir Douglas Quintet, the Carters, the odd and unusual like the magic lyric play in Desolation Row, his cover of Charley Patton’s Highwater Rising or his cover of a song Lonnie Johnson made famous, Tomorrow Night, but Dylan has sought to entertain and there is room in his tent for the king of Tin Pan Alley (as Billie Holiday was the “queen”).

Having heard Dylan live and in concert over the past several years with his grating lost voice (for Sam it was always about the lyrics not the voice although in looking at old tapes from the Newport Folk Festival on YouTube his voice was actually far better then than I would have given him credit for) I said to Sam I really did wonder, like he did, though how much production was needed to get the wrinkles out of that voice to sing as smoothly as the “Chairman of the boards,” to run the pauses and the hushed tones Frank knew how to do to keep his audience in his clutches. Yeah, still what goes around comes around.             

Defend the Gains of the Cuban Revolution!-Castro Regime Welcomes Reactionary Vatican

Workers Vanguard No. 1077
30 October 2015
Defend the Gains of the Cuban Revolution!-Castro Regime Welcomes Reactionary Vatican

At least 100,000 Cubans converged on Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución on September 20 for a Catholic mass led by Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina (Pope Francis). One side of this giant square features a huge portrait of Che Guevara, the hero of the Cuban Revolution who was murdered with the aid of the CIA in Bolivia in 1967. On another side, a large poster had been erected depicting Jesus with the words “Vengan a mí” (“Come to me”). Raúl Castro, leader of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), sat in the front row and attended other papal masses in the cities of Holguín and Santiago over the following days. The Pope also had a half-hour meeting with Raúl’s brother and predecessor, the 89-year-old Fidel, which a Vatican spokesman described as “very informal and friendly.”
Voice of America, the CIA’s media mouthpiece, saluted Francis for warning the Cuban people against “the dangers of ideology” (, 20 September). For its part, the Communist Party leadership urged Cubans to attend the papal masses and had them broadcast live on state TV. Posters with the Pope’s face were displayed all over the country. In a welcoming address at Havana’s airport, Raúl Castro lauded Francis for playing a key role in the negotiations that led to the restoration of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations; he also presented him with the gift of a giant crucifix. During a visit to the Vatican earlier in the year, the PCC leader even told a press conference, “If the pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to the church, and I’m not joking” (Washington Post, 10 May).
The Cuban leaders’ welcome to Pope Francis—building on their earlier fêting of his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI when they visited the island—is criminal and deadly dangerous. The Catholic church is, and has always been, a bastion of social and political reaction worldwide, not least in Latin America. The Vatican will use any authority it gains among the Cuban population to promote counterrevolution under a cloak of “democracy.” The return of capitalist exploitation to Cuba would signal the destruction of the country’s revolutionary gains and herald renewed U.S. neocolonial domination.
Cuban Deformed Workers State in Peril
Cuba is the only workers state in the Americas. The smashing of capitalist rule and the socialization of the economy more than 50 years ago led to impressive advances for the Cuban people. Free quality health care and education became available to all. Women were fully integrated into the workforce, and today they hold more than half of all positions in university faculties. Cuban doctors are regularly dispatched around the world to aid the victims of disasters and epidemics. Despite continuing material scarcity, Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world and a lower infant mortality rate than the U.S. or the European Union.
The American imperialists have worked relentlessly to overturn the Cuban Revolution. Their crimes have ranged from the 1961 Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs) invasion to numerous assassination attempts on Fidel Castro; from promoting the counterrevolutionary gusano terror gangs in Miami to enforcing a decades-long starvation embargo. The workers of the world, especially in the United States, must stand for Cuba’s unconditional military defense against imperialism and capitalist counterrevolution.
But from the start, the workers state has been deformed by the rule of a nationalist bureaucracy that is hostile to the perspective of international socialist revolution. Following in the footsteps of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the former Soviet Union, the Castro bureaucracy, upholding the nationalist dogma of “socialism in one country,” has pursued the pipe dream of “peaceful coexistence” with the imperialists. To this end, it has repeatedly undermined revolutionary opportunities elsewhere in Latin America.
For example, the PCC bureaucrats admonished the left-nationalist Nicaraguan Sandinistas in the 1980s not to follow the “Cuban road” of expropriating the capitalist class. Time and again, they have promoted bourgeois-nationalist regimes, from the Velasco dictatorship in Peru in the 1960s and early ’70s to the Brazilian, Venezuelan and other capitalist governments today. The Cuban Stalinists’ gross accommodation of the Vatican is part of this picture. Defense of the Cuban Revolution is directly linked to the struggle for a workers political revolution to oust the bureaucracy and establish a regime based on revolutionary internationalism and workers democracy. This requires forging a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party to mobilize the working people in struggle.
Socialism means a society of material abundance based on a level of economic productivity higher than that possible under capitalism. Such a society, requiring the most modern technology and an international division of labor, cannot be constructed in a single country, especially a small island with meager natural resources. Rather, its construction will require a series of socialist revolutions internationally, not least in the advanced capitalist countries. The survival of the Cuban workers state ultimately depends on extension of the revolution, especially to the U.S. imperialist behemoth.
When Fidel Castro’s petty-bourgeois guerrilla forces marched into Havana in January 1959, the army and the rest of the capitalist state apparatus that had propped up the corrupt, U.S.-backed Fulgencio Batista dictatorship shattered. Initially, the new regime had no intention of expropriating the domestic capitalist class or the vast U.S. imperialist holdings. But faced with economic looting by Batista’s cronies and unremitting hostility from the rulers in Washington, the government was compelled to carry through sweeping nationalizations of the American-owned sugar plantations, banks and other firms in the summer and fall of 1960, consolidating a deformed workers state.
In its early years, the regime was rightly hostile to the Catholic hierarchy. Fidel Castro denounced the leaders of the church in Cuba as “peons of the American embassy” and “Franco Fascists.” His rage was aroused by a pastoral letter issued by the Cuban Catholic hierarchy condemning “the growing advance of Communism in our country” (Time, 22 August 1960). Church properties were expropriated, including more than 300 schools previously restricted to the elite that were turned into public schools under state control. Religious statues were symbolically decapitated.
The creation of a workers state and the economic and social advances that followed were only possible because of the existence of the Soviet Union and its alliance with Cuba. The Soviets provided essential military protection against U.S. imperialism and subsidized Cuba with up to $5 billion of aid annually. The USSR provided some 60 percent of Cuba’s food and nearly all of its oil, in exchange for sugar. These subsidies were severely curtailed with the unraveling of Stalinist rule in the USSR in the late 1980s, and the counterrevolutionary destruction in 1989‑92 of the deformed workers states of East Europe and of the Soviet Union ended them altogether. Cuba suffered a deep economic crisis known as the “Special Period.” Starting in 1993, the Castroite regime implemented a series of market-oriented policies that, while eventually producing some economic recovery, led to a significant increase in inequality.
The same period saw a growing reconciliation between the regime and the church hierarchy. The constitution was amended in the early 1990s to describe Cuba as a “secular” state (replacing “atheist”), and the party leaders declared that atheism was no longer a prerequisite for party membership. Christmas and, more recently, Good Friday were declared national holidays. Still, active religious practice on the island remains limited. While some 40 percent of Cubans have been baptized, very few attend Sunday mass; those who do are mainly elderly. Among black Cubans, the rituals and mystical beliefs of Santería, which derive from the traditions of African slaves brought to Cuba by the Spanish colonists, are significantly more common.
The social role of the Catholic church has nonetheless grown dramatically, with the government’s tacit approval. Charities and cultural centers financed by the church have become prominent. Amid limited access to basic goods, outfits like Caritas and the Jesuit Loyola Center act as distribution centers for food, diapers and other sanitary products as well as aid for the elderly, while also providing childcare facilities, access to computers, etc. These charities are financed by right-wing Cuban exiles, as are a number of business schools that collaborate with the Catholic University in Spain to train so-called entrepreneurs and organize discussions on Cuba’s economic future.
In 2010, a new seminary began operating on the outskirts of Havana. Earlier this year, Catholic officials stated that requests to build new churches, which had long awaited government approval, began to get the green light. The growing reach of the Catholic church has been furthered by changes to U.S. Treasury Department regulations that allow travel to Cuba by Americans for the purpose of engaging in religious activities. With increased funding, the church has been able to build networks of support that could play a role in organizing future counterrevolutionary activities.
Apostles of Clerical Reaction
The role of the Vatican in fomenting counterrevolution is shown clearly by John Paul II, the first Pope invited to Cuba by the Castro regime, in 1998. That Pope, born Karol Wojtyla, played a key ideological role in the creation of the pro-capitalist Solidarność “trade union” in his native Poland in 1980.
Decades of economic mismanagement, nationalism and capitulation to the Catholic church by the ruling Stalinist bureaucracy had driven much of Poland’s historically socialist-minded working class into the arms of clerical reaction. The church was effectively the only legal opposition to the bureaucracy. Having consolidated around a counterrevolutionary program including the call for “free elections” and “free trade unions”—standard Cold War cries of the CIA and its AFL-CIO anti-Communist cohorts—Solidarność made a bid for power in the fall of 1981. When the Stalinists moved to suppress Solidarność in December 1981, we supported the suppression of the counterrevolutionaries. At the same time, we emphasized that the growth of Catholic reaction was a direct consequence of the political bankruptcy of the bureaucratic ruling caste.
Less than a decade later, the Polish Stalinists abdicated and Solidarność came to power, signaling the destruction of the Polish deformed workers state. These events helped pave the way for similar developments elsewhere in East Europe and for the destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92—a devastating defeat for the working class internationally, including in Cuba.
The current Pope, the first from Latin America, has sought to carve out a progressive image through his homilies on behalf of the poor and oppressed. But, fawning statements by the PCC bureaucrats to the contrary, the face behind Francis’ mask is deeply reactionary. In his youth, Jorge Bergoglio was a member of Argentina’s right-wing, clericalist Iron Guard. He was part of the Catholic hierarchy there in the 1970s and early ’80s, when the church shored up the military junta of General Jorge Videla. The generals’ bloodsoaked regime, which was backed to the hilt by U.S. imperialism, killed or “disappeared” at least 30,000 workers and leftists. A bishop or a cardinal was present at every public event or national holiday to bless the dictators.
Part of the context for the Cuban bureaucrats’ increasingly close relations with the Vatican is the latter’s diplomatic efforts to end Washington’s 55-year economic embargo. We have always opposed the embargo, whose purpose is to strangle the Cuban economy. At the same time, we warn that the campaign by growing sections of the U.S. capitalist class (and now the Obama administration) to end, or at least relax, these starvation measures poses a different kind of danger to the Cuban Revolution.
In contrast to the embargo, capitalists in Europe (notably Spain), and also Canada, have long been trading with Cuba, believing that Washington’s belligerent policies have proven ineffective in undermining the workers state. The imperialist opponents of the embargo aim to undercut Cuba’s socialized economy and foment counterrevolution through different means, e.g., flooding the country with cheap imports. Cuba should of course have the right to trade and have diplomatic relations with all countries, including the United States. However, it is vital to maintain the state monopoly of foreign trade, i.e., strict government control of imports and exports.
Religious ideas flourish particularly in the fertile ground of material scarcity, offering solace, glorifying sacrifice and promising reward when you are dead. The Catholic church, once a bastion of feudal reaction, today promotes obedience to the exploitative capitalist order (“Blessed are you who are poor”) and foments reactionary anti-woman and anti-gay bigotry. Take the example of abortion rights. Cuba is the only country in the Americas where abortion has been legal and available for free since the late 1960s, a clear example of the gains that are possible once the shackles of capitalism have been broken. Pope Francis and the rest of the Catholic hierarchy want to ban not only abortion but also all forms of contraception. Unrestricted access to such services is essential for women to exercise control over whether and when they will have children; without it, they will again be driven from the workforce and back into the reactionary confines of the family.
Today, the Cuban Revolution stands at a crossroads. Workers in the U.S. have a special duty to defend Cuba against capitalist restoration and rapacious American imperialism. This task is linked inextricably to the fight for socialist revolution to sweep away the U.S. capitalist rulers. The Spartacist League, U.S. section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), is dedicated to building the Leninist vanguard party needed to lead that struggle to victory.

No Deportations! Down With the European Union!-Imperialist Mayhem Fuels Refugee Crisis

Workers Vanguard No. 1077
30 October 2015
No Deportations! Down With the European Union!-Imperialist Mayhem Fuels Refugee Crisis

The U.S. and European imperialist powers are to blame for the plight of hundreds of thousands of desperate people trying to enter Europe. In particular, U.S.-led wars and occupations in the Near East have forced millions to flee their homes. With the ensuing mass inflow into Europe (only a tiny percentage of the world’s 60 million refugees), the European Union (EU) has ramped up repressive measures to block entry and hasten deportations.
The EU’s response to the horrific mass drownings of some 2,500 refugees in the Mediterranean earlier this year was to further militarize the borders. Member states, including Germany, Britain, France and Italy, dispatched warships to the coast of Libya and elsewhere, ostensibly to deter “people smugglers.” But the real purpose was to prevent refugees from reaching the shores of racist “Fortress Europe.”
With the door closing on Mediterranean routes, refugees fleeing Syria and other war-torn countries had little choice but to make the journey through the Balkans. In August, many thousands streamed into Hungary every day, even as the viciously anti-immigrant government in Budapest unleashed cops on the refugees and threatened mass deportations. Recognizing that the influx was all but unstoppable, German chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the refugees trapped in Hungary would be welcome to enter Germany via Austria. This gambit helped refurbish the image of German imperialism: Merkel went from being widely reviled for her role in the Greek debt crisis to being celebrated as the EU’s “humanitarian” face.
With upwards of 10,000 people a day pouring into Germany, a racist backlash broke out from within Merkel’s own party, the Christian Democratic Union, and its Bavarian sister party. Germany quickly introduced controls at the Austrian border. Along with French president François Hollande, Merkel attempted to force other EU member states to “share the burden” and accept mandatory quotas of refugees. This move provoked an uproar within the EU, highlighting its instability. In Britain, where the ruling Conservatives vie with the racist, anti-immigrant “eurosceptics” of the UK Independence Party, Prime Minister David Cameron refused to accept a quota. Meanwhile, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban dismissed the German proposal as “moral imperialism.”
The EU’s vaunted passport-free internal borders were never an obstacle to the mass deportation of those deemed undesirable by the capitalist rulers, e.g., Roma (Gypsies) expelled from France. Recent events have now made a complete mockery of any such pretensions. Hungary erected razor-wire fences on its borders and passed legislation making illegal border-crossing a crime punishable by up to five years in jail. A Bulgarian border patrol shot and killed an Afghan refugee. EU leaders came up with yet another round of tough anti-immigrant laws. In Germany, the Bundestag passed new legislation to speed up processing and deportation and is debating whether to create refugee “transit zones,” which have been likened to concentration camps.
Anti-immigrant racism has again flared up on the streets of Germany, too. In early October, some 10,000 hardcore racists and outright fascists marched through Dresden condemning Merkel and chanted, “Deport, deport!” That lynch mob was organized by the racist, anti-Muslim Pegida outfit, which has newfound wind in its sails. When Pegida claimed buses of “invaders” were headed to a refugee camp in Saxony, hundreds of locals set up barricades to keep immigrants out.
Notably, the German union IG Metall issued a September 8 declaration, “Towards a Sustainable Refugee Policy Based on Solidarity,” that among other things “condemns any and all acts of violence towards refugees in the strongest possible terms.” The point, however, should not be for labor to give policy advice to the bourgeois government, the masters of divide-and-rule, but to mobilize concrete acts of solidarity, such as defense of refugee hostels against racist attack and opposition to deportations. The squalid debate over who is a “genuine” refugee must be rejected wholesale, with the working class instead taking up the fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, regardless of how they entered the country.
For the mass of immigrants, refugee status is in effect the only way to obtain the right to remain in an EU country. The capitalist rulers select refugees according to the needs of the economy. Germany’s aging population and low birth rate has resulted in labor shortages in certain sectors. Syrian refugees, who are often relatively educated and skilled, are more likely to be given legal status than those from poverty-stricken Kosovo, where one in four people live on 1.20 euros ($1.32) per day. Germany has added Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro to its list of “safe states,” virtually guaranteeing that immigrants from these countries—particularly Roma—will be deported.
The current refugee crisis in Europe is the worst since at least that which accompanied the fratricidal bloodletting triggered by the 1991 counterrevolutionary breakup of Yugoslavia, in which German imperialism played a major part. In the early-mid 1990s, the U.S. led a bombing campaign in Bosnia, followed by the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, which Germany joined, under the pretext of defending Kosovo. In reality, the U.S. aim was to insert a NATO military presence into the region. As our comrades in Germany wrote in Spartakist No. 210 (October 2015): “Kosovo is now a NATO protectorate, controlled by the Bundeswehr as the major component of the imperialist KFOR occupation forces. The German bourgeoisie sees the Balkans as its backyard, which it previously occupied under the Third Reich. No deportations of Roma! Bundeswehr out of the Balkans!
Merkel Talks Turkey
Turkey has more than two million Syrian refugees, twice the number projected to apply to enter Europe this year, even though Turkey’s population of 75 million is dwarfed by the over 500 million in the EU. Nevertheless, Merkel shamelessly tried to bribe Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to take the refugees off her hands. Aid totaling three billion euros, promises to “re-energize” Turkey’s frozen EU membership application and visa liberalization for Turkish citizens visiting the EU were among the sweeteners offered.
The Turkish government, though, wants even more in return for its services, with Erdogan viewing the Syrian quagmire as an opportunity to pursue Turkey’s broader ambitions. His regime has renewed its murderous decades-long war against the oppressed Kurds at home and sought to prevent the Kurds in Syria from establishing an autonomous region across the Turkish border. The Turkish working class must defend the Kurds against Erdogan’s bloody war. We oppose the vicious state repression against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), notwithstanding our political differences with this nationalist group.
We Marxists have no side in the ethnic-sectarian civil war in Syria. However, a year ago the U.S. intervened militarily, assembling a coalition that has to date conducted over 7,600 airstrikes against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria with the aid of spotters on the ground, including the Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish nationalists. Recognizing U.S. imperialism as the greatest danger to the working people and downtrodden of the planet, we declared: “Revolutionary Marxists have a military side with ISIS when it targets the imperialists and their proxies, including the Syrian Kurdish nationalists, the [Iraqi Kurdish] pesh merga, the Baghdad government and its Shi’ite militias” (WV No. 1055, 31 October 2014). In addition, we demand the withdrawal of the other capitalist powers involved in the internecine conflict, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia. We look to the proletariat of the Near East as the force with the social power to lead the oppressed masses in the revolutionary overthrow of their capitalist rulers. This perspective must be linked to mobilizing workers in the imperialist countries in revolutionary struggle to sweep away their own ruling classes.
U.S. imperialism was emboldened to embark on the military interventions in the Near East that have devastated the social fabric of entire societies and made millions into refugees by the capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union in 1991-92—a historic catastrophe for the world’s working people. The 2001 invasion and occupation of Afghanistan resulted in the slaughter of untold numbers of people and forced many into Pakistan. In Iraq, the 2003 imperialist toppling of Saddam Hussein, whose bonapartist regime was based on the Sunni minority, unleashed bloody warfare among the Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish populations. The NATO bombing of Libya in 2011 that overthrew the regime of strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi set the stage for a massive exodus and the current turmoil there. The slaughter in Syria has led to 200,000 deaths and driven some four million from that country.
For a Socialist United States of Europe!
In response to the enormous waves of refugees entering Europe, liberals and reformists have promoted fatuous illusions in the EU’s humanitarian facade. A case in point is the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), whose German section raises the demands, “Abolish visa requirements for refugees” and “Tear down the fences at the external borders of the EU” (, 14 October). All such variants of the call for “open borders” amount to advocating the abolition of national states under capitalism—an impossibility. For the CWI (whose U.S. section is Socialist Alternative), this notion also feeds the false hope of a reformed capitalism that provides decent lives for everyone.
The same CWI article also demands: “End the Dublin III agreement—for the right to seek asylum in a land of ones [sic] choice.” Such advocates of “open borders” wrongly view the EU as a kind of super-state standing above nation-states, imbued with the power to erase internal borders. The Dublin III Regulation is deemed an impediment to this project because it stipulates that member states can deport refugees to the first EU country that they entered, which then decides whether to detain and/or deport them to their countries of origin. Marxists do not take a position on refugee “burden sharing” between capitalist governments. Rather, we oppose all deportations, irrespective of their legal basis.
The EU is a consortium of capitalist states for the purpose of maximizing the exploitation of the working class and for the economic domination and subjugation by the imperialist powers—predominantly Germany—of poorer countries like Greece. The Schengen Agreement, which allows passport-free travel between signatory countries, has nurtured illusions in European integration. Even while the agreement liberalized certain border crossings, the EU toughened measures to keep out those fleeing the inhuman conditions imposed by imperialism on their home countries. Nearly two decades ago, we noted in an International Communist League protest statement titled “‘Fortress Europe’ Bars Kurdish Refugees” (WV No. 683, 30 January 1998):
“Like the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which envisioned a common European currency by the end of the century, Schengen was billed as a step toward melding the existing capitalist societies into a single supranational European state. But this is reactionary utopianism. The bourgeoisie, by its nature, is a nationally limited class, whose rise to power was closely associated with the consolidation of powerful nation-states, serving to protect the bourgeoisie’s national market while competing internationally with rival capitalist states.”
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) formally opposes the EU, a position contradicted by its criminal refusal to call for a “no” vote to EU austerity in the July referendum in Greece. Its opposition to the EU proceeds from a nationalist standpoint. The KKE calls for “abolition of the Dublin Regulations and the Schengen Agreement” and proposes “immediate transit of refugees from the [Greek] islands to their final destination countries, under the responsibility of the EU and UN, even utilizing direct charter flights” (, 23 September). This touching concern for the EU and UN to provide refugees with safe passage out of Greece echoes the complaint of Greece’s Syriza government that the country is becoming a “warehouse of souls,” that is, burdened by too many refugees.
Our approach is that of proletarian internationalist opposition to the entire construct of the EU. Our comrades in Greece call for a Greek exit from the EU and the euro, while the Spartacist League/Britain calls for an exit in the promised referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU. Leaving the EU and the eurozone will obviously not end capitalist exploitation and imperialist subjugation. But by dealing a blow to this club of bankers and bosses, it would place the working class, especially but not only in Greece, in a better position to struggle for its own interests. Our program is for proletarian revolutions to expropriate the capitalist exploiters and establish a Socialist United States of Europe.
Historically, the Marxist movement has recognized the potential for foreign-born workers to play a vanguard role. In 1866, when the British master tailors tried to recruit Belgian, French, Swiss and, later, German workers to undercut wages, the International Workingmen’s Association mobilized the workers movement to defeat these attacks. In a letter, Karl Marx observed: “It is a point of honour with the German workers to prove to other countries that they, like their brothers in France, Belgium and Switzerland, know how to defend the common interests of their class and will not become obedient mercenaries of capital in its struggle against labour” (“A Warning,” 4 May 1866). Writing in The Civil War in France about the 1871 Paris Commune, the first example of the working class taking power, Marx pointed out, “The Commune admitted all foreigners to the honour of dying for an immortal cause.” The Commune made a German worker, Leo Frankel, its Minister of Labor and honored two Polish communards by placing them at the head of the defenders of Paris.
The ICL, too, recognizes that the immigrant workers in Europe’s multiethnic working class represent living links to the exploited and oppressed in their countries of origin. As such, they are a vital component of our perspective of permanent revolution, which in dependent countries is the only way to break the chains of imperialist subjugation and end all-sided misery: the fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat. In the Near East, the struggle against imperialism and its local satrap regimes and for a socialist federation of the region must be linked to the fight for workers rule in the U.S. and European imperialist heartlands. Together with proletarian revolutions in the other imperialist centers as well as the underdeveloped world, the creation of a socialist Europe would lead to a vast expansion of the productive forces of all countries in an international planned economy. The resulting abolition of material scarcity would propel mankind to new heights, rendering war- and poverty-driven emigration as well as national frontiers relics of a distant past.
Toward that end, the ICL fights to reforge the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.

A View From The Left -Canadian Mining in Latin America-Blood, Plunder and Profit

Workers Vanguard No. 1077
30 October 2015
Canadian Mining in Latin America-Blood, Plunder and Profit
The following article is reprinted from Spartacist Canada No. 186 (Fall 2015), newspaper of the Trotskyist League/Ligue Trotskyste, Canadian section of the International Communist League.
In the build-up to the federal election [held on October 19], the parliamentary parties are vying in patriotic rhetoric about how Canada is, or can be, “the greatest country in the world.” The brutality and greed of the Canadian mining industry, particularly in Latin America, exposes as an utter fraud the notion of Canada as a benevolent power on the world stage.
The Canadian mining corporations view Latin America as their own private El Dorado. In the spirit of the early conquistadors, their vast profits are underwritten by killings, disappearances and torture of those who stand in their way, by destruction of entire communities and by the dispossession of indigenous peoples. Last year, Shin Imai, a lawyer with the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, said: “Our preliminary count shows that at least 50 people have been killed and some 300 wounded in connection with mining conflicts involving Canadian companies in recent years” (Inter Press Service, 31 October 2014). To cite only a few examples:
  • El Salvador, 2009: Marcelo Rivera’s body was found at the bottom of a well showing signs of torture; Ramiro Rivera was shot and killed when his car was ambushed; Dora “Alicia” Sorto was eight months pregnant when fatally shot. All were opponents of the Canadian-owned Pacific Rim mining company.
  • Mexico, 2012: In Chihuahua, a married couple who had led protests against the Cascabel mine owned by Vancouver’s MAG Silver were shot to death. The husband, Ismael, had previously been beaten by mining company employees. In Oaxaca, Bernardo Mendez was shot seven times while protesting near Vancouver-based Fortuna’s Cuzcatlán mine.
  • Guatemala, 2014: 16-year-old Topacio Reynoso was shot dead and her father Alex was seriously injured. Both were community leaders from Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, and actively opposed Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine. According to MiningWatch Canada, thousands of families in this area have suffered violence and repression for their opposition to Tahoe’s mine.
These barbaric crimes merely scratch the surface. Canada’s violent despoliation of this region is a perfect illustration of the workings of capitalist imperialism, an economic system based on the conquest or domination of the semicolonial world for raw materials, markets, cheap labour and spheres of influence. For Marxists, this also demonstrates how the Canadian capitalist state is an instrument of organized violence, wielded to further imperialist plunder and exploitation internationally, and to enforce workers’ exploitation at home.
Canada’s mining sector is one of the largest in the world. Fully 75 percent of the world’s mining companies are headquartered here. This is thanks in large part to the lowest corporate tax rate in the G7 group of imperialist powers as well as a securities industry designed to promote mining. With a climate of impunity and generous, no-questions-asked public subsidies, Canada is, as the London Guardian put it, “a haven for the global mining industry” (24 April 2013).
Canada has 1,500 mining projects in Latin America; fully 41 percent of the large mining companies there are under its flag. The imperialist pillage of these countries—and the brutal repression it entails—is a joint venture between the venal local bourgeoisies and their imperialist patrons, chiefly the U.S. but also secondary powers like Canada. In this division of labour, the local rulers’ military forces, police and death squads are subcontracted by the imperialists to ensure the seamless flow of profit.
Guatemala: Under the Imperialist Boot
Canadian mining in Guatemala has a particularly long and violent history, rooted in decades of plunder by the U.S. imperialists. To defend its “interests,” the U.S. has sponsored one death-squad regime after another. During a 36-year campaign against a leftist guerrilla insurgency that began in 1960, some 200,000 people—mostly Mayan peasants—were killed and another 45,000 “disappeared.” That same year, the Canadian mining giant Inco launched operations in Guatemala. However, open-pit mining was prohibited. As well, the leftist insurgents had their base of operations around the town of El Estor in the Izabal department where Inco wanted to build its open-pit nickel mine.
A 2012 York University report by Shin Imai and two colleagues titled “Accountability Across Borders: Mining in Guatemala and the Canadian Justice System” documented how Inco’s problems were solved by the ruling military regime. An Inco-friendly mining code was written to permit “open sky mining” and Inco was granted generous tax concessions and a 40-year lease. Above all, it got the “stability” it demanded thanks to a reign of terror launched by the Guatemalan military. The indigenous people were driven out and between 3,000 and 6,000 killed to pave the way for Inco’s mine.
The Inco mine shut down in 1982 when the price of nickel fell. In 2004 the mine, now called Fenix, was bought by another Canadian operation, Skye Resources. For the Mayan farmers who had gradually begun to reoccupy the area, this signalled a renewed wave of violence. Acts of great brutality took place at the hands of the police and military and at the behest of Skye Resources, including evictions and the burning of houses. Among the most grisly was the gang rape by cops and Fenix security of eleven women from the Mayan Q’eqchi’ community. When the Toronto-based Hudbay bought the mine in 2008, the violence did not end, and the mining bosses continued to drive out the inhabitants. In 2009, protesters were shot at by the security thugs of the Guatemalan Nickel Company (owned by Hudbay). One man was murdered, another left paralyzed. Cases involving these shootings and the mass rapes are presently before the courts in Canada.
Everything Must Have Its Price
The Canadian capitalist government is deeply intertwined with the mining corporations, which it supports politically and financially. To this end, its embassies, diplomats, cabinet ministers and hired guns in Bay Street [Canada’s financial center] law firms are mobilized. Their services include blackmail, economic and legal bullying and cover-up.
In Mexico, with more than 230 Canadian mining operations, the forces behind the violence against community leaders and mining opponents reads like a who’s who of the mining industry. The well-documented crimes of these companies have not deterred Ottawa in its unflagging support to the industry. Among the most notorious is Calgary-based Blackfire, on whose behalf the Canadian embassy engaged in an intense lobbying campaign with the Chiapas state government. This was gratefully acknowledged by a Blackfire executive in an email sent to embassy officials in September 2008, thanking them for all “that the embassy has done to pressure the state government to get things going for us. We could not do it without your help” (Toronto Star, 8 December 2014).
In the aftermath of the November 2009 murder of Mariano Abarca, Ottawa again came to Blackfire’s aid. Abarca was a leader of the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining which had protested Blackfire’s mine for contaminating rivers and destroying livestock and crops. He knew he was a target and had warned, “if anything happens to me, I blame the Canadian company Blackfire.” Soon after, governor-general Michaëlle Jean and Tory cabinet minister Peter Kent were in Chiapas doing damage control. Faced with angry protesters, Jean prattled about “justice” while Kent brazenly claimed that Canadian mining companies in Mexico “are held up and recognized as virtual models of corporate social responsibility.”
The Tories use “foreign aid” funding to support “community initiatives” linked to mining projects. Peru, one of the most mineral-rich countries in the region, is one recipient of such funds. A paltry $53 million will go to “development projects” in areas with Canadian mining operations, opening the door to the looting of billions of dollars of mineral wealth by these corporations. A Canada-Peru free trade agreement has further opened up the country to incursions by the mining companies.
This profitable triangular relationship between the mining industry and the Canadian and Peruvian governments has spawned bloody repression. Rosa Huamán, a community leader in northern Peru, told an October 2014 hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that “the government has installed a police post that follows our activities and reports to the mining company and the government” (Georgia Straight, 5 December 2014). In 2011, at least four people were killed and 24 injured in protests against a silver mine owned by B.C.-based Bear Creek Mining Corp. Two years later, some 25 protesters against Vancouver’s Candente Copper Corporation were wounded in clashes with police. In November, when over 400 protesters shut down construction on Hudbay’s copper mine in Peru’s southern Andes, a dozen women were attacked by Peruvian police while sitting outside the mining compound’s front gates.
Against this backdrop, in late 2014 Canada unveiled a warmed-over version of its 2009 “Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy” for the mining industry. This is meant to paint a picture of a government that will no longer play ball with a few supposed bad apples who don’t comply with its purported high standards. It’s all smoke and mirrors, intended to pacify critics and suck in the gullible. Indeed, a CBC reporter nailed its actual purpose: “to increase the prospect of new business for our resource companies abroad” (14 November 2014).
Liberal Illusions in Canadian Imperialism
Under the Harper Tories, the Canadian ruling class has shed the “Canada the good” image. Yet this self-serving myth continues to be nurtured by the NDP [social-democratic New Democratic Party]. For their part, the United Steelworkers union seeks to pressure the government in Ottawa to make the mining companies answerable in Canadian courts, while MiningWatch Canada offers liberal nostrums about “ensuring corporate accountability.” But real justice and “accountability” cannot come through the courts of the capitalist rulers. Then there is the related myth that Canada’s bloody misdeeds abroad are an anomaly for this otherwise well-mannered country. This was captured by Murray Klippenstein, the Toronto lawyer for the Guatemalans’ case against Hudbay, who made the astounding claim that “we would never tolerate these abuses in Canada.”
To the contrary, when Native people stand their ground in Canada—at Oka, Quebec, at Gustafsen Lake, B.C. or more recently in Rexton, N.B. when the Mi’kmaq people sought to prevent fracking for oil on their lands without consent—they are typically met with massive police repression. While De Beers rakes in massive profits from its diamond mine in northeastern Ontario, the people of nearby Attawapiskat, where unemployment is 70 percent, get a mere pittance. In Canada and the U.S., as in the countries south of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, aboriginal life is measured in poverty, police violence, racism and dispossession. The idea that the imperialists of this or any other country can be pressured to serve the interests of the oppressed is illusory.
Imperialism is not simply a reactionary policy of right-wing governments, but a global system rooted in the capitalist drive for profit. In 1916, the revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin noted in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism that imperialism is “capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established,” and “in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.” A small club of wealthy imperialist powers subordinates and oppresses the vast majority of the world’s population. Dependent countries, such as those in Latin America, “politically, are formally independent, but in fact, are enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence.” The history of the entire subsequent century, including two interimperialist wars to redivide the world and countless colonial adventures, amply confirms Lenin’s words.
For Socialist Revolution Throughout the Americas!
The mining operations of the Canadian ruling class have brought extreme suffering to the indigenous populations of Latin America. We vehemently defend these peoples against the predatory resource companies and their hired guns, as well as the ruling classes of the region.
We say that the vast mineral wealth of Latin America belongs to the toiling masses, in the first instance to the workers of that region. Under a rationally planned socialist economy, these resources would be used to eradicate hunger and poverty in a society of generalized abundance. When the working class rules throughout the Americas, the irrational, profit-driven pillage of resources will end and this wealth will be subject to the egalitarian and rational decisions of the working people.
Such a perspective requires internationalist class struggle. Instead, the pro-capitalist Canadian labour tops promote Maple Leaf nationalism, pitting workers here against their class brothers and sisters in other countries. When the NAFTA free trade agreement was being negotiated in 1991, the Mexican, U.S. and Canadian sections of the International Communist League issued a joint statement calling to “Stop U.S. ‘Free Trade’ Rape of Mexico.” We explained that U.S. imperialism wanted to “turn Mexico into a giant maquiladora, or free trade zone—‘free’ of unions, and ‘free’ for capital” (Spartacist Canada No. 85, Fall 1991). In contrast, the labour bureaucrats’ national-chauvinist tirades against NAFTA served to set U.S. and Canadian workers against their Mexican class brothers and sisters, as well as each other. Over the past two decades, NAFTA has meant increased profits and power for the U.S. rulers and their Canadian junior partners through the superexploitation of Mexican workers and the economic ruination of Mexican peasants.
The need for united struggle by workers internationally flows directly from the global nature of the mining industry. Like mineworkers in Canada, those of Latin America are compelled by necessity to work, to sell their labour power. The workers who toil in the mines—in Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru and elsewhere—have enormous potential social power to lead all the oppressed in anti-capitalist struggle. The billions in profits that flow into the pockets of the mining bosses, whatever their nationality, come from the surplus value created by the workers who extract the ore and truck it to ports for export.
In Peru, where mining accounts for as much as 15 percent of GDP, tens of thousands of workers in the National Mineworkers Federation struck in May against outsourcing and a measure that would allow massive layoffs should a mining company report losses. Faced with threats of firing from the companies, the strike had a limited character and duration. Nonetheless, it pointed to the potentially great power that these workers have to throttle the capitalists’ profits. Historically, from Chile to Bolivia and north to Mexico, the struggles of mineworkers in Latin America have been among the most combative and far-reaching.
Throughout the region, intense poverty exists alongside fabulous wealth, an expression of combined and uneven development. The national bourgeoisies are utterly dependent upon imperialism and incapable of carrying out the economic modernization of society. Criss-crossed by artificial borders, bourgeois rule in much of Latin America has alternated between bloodsoaked military juntas and various forms of bourgeois populism, with the latter generally tailed by the left.
Instead of fantasies about the backward, imperialist-dependent bourgeoisie of one’s own oppressed country as the vehicle for liberation, we fight for the perspective of permanent revolution, which was first developed by the Marxist leader Leon Trotsky. The complete and genuine solution of the tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation in the countries of Latin America can come only through the rule of the working class leading the subjugated nation, above all the indigenous peasant masses. On taking power, the working class cannot stop at the democratic tasks but must immediately continue with the socialist tasks, including the expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a class, collectivization and economic planning. To survive and flourish, such revolutions must be extended to the centres of world imperialism, pointing to the necessary perspective of workers revolution in the U.S. and Canada.
The ICL fights to build revolutionary, internationalist workers parties—part of a reforged Fourth International—that will link the struggles of workers in the semicolonies to those in the imperialist countries. The perspective outlined by Trotsky in “War and the Fourth International” (1934) retains all its force today:
“South and Central America will be able to tear themselves out of backwardness and enslavement only by uniting all their states into one powerful federation. But it is not the belated South American bourgeoisie, a thoroughly venal agency of foreign imperialism, who will be called upon to solve this task, but the young South American proletariat, the chosen leader of the oppressed masses. The slogan in the struggle against violence and intrigues of world imperialism and against the bloody work of native comprador cliques is therefore: the Soviet United States of South and Central America.
“The national problem merges everywhere with the social. Only the conquest of power by the world proletariat can assure a real and lasting freedom of development for all nations of our planet.”