Sunday, February 03, 2008

*Obama the "Charma" - A View From The Left

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Commiteee.

February Is Black History Month

The following is an article that may be of general interest to the radical public concerning the dramatic rise of Barack Obama this political season. I have detailed my own opinion of Obama elsewhere in this space. Moreover, the mass media in its 'feeding frenzy' will before this phenomena runs its course have driven us to madness with coverage on the man.

Workers Vanguard No. 906 18 January 2008

Break with the Democrats! For a Class-Struggle Workers Party!

The Obama Campaign and the "End of Racism" Myth

For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

The candidates of the capitalist Democratic Party say their 2008 campaigns are all about "change." After seven years of rule by the demented Bush gang (or what's left of its inner circle), much of the American populace does indeed want change. The widely unpopular, bloody imperialist occupation of Iraq drags on, the economy teeters on recession, the wages and living conditions of those with jobs have taken a pounding, home foreclosures are soaring, civil liberties have been increasingly shredded. The racist atrocity in the face of Hurricane Katrina is the domestic signature of the Bush administration; millions watched angrily as the poor and black residents of New Orleans were left to die or suffer intolerable conditions. From Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay, the lexicon of torture has become a matter of "civilized debate" in bourgeois circles.

The trade-union bureaucrats and the black bourgeois politicians, tailed by the reformist left, seize on social discontent to peddle the lie that support to the "lesser evil" Democratic Party will serve the interests of working people and the oppressed. But the policies pursued by the Bush regime are not simply the product of a particularly vicious administration. Imperialist war, racism and repression are endemic to the capitalist system. As Marxists, we fight to break workers and the oppressed from illusions in the Democrats, the other party of war and racism, and to forge a workers party that fights to overturn the capitalist system through workers revolution.

In the 2008 presidential race, the Democrats offer two front-runners who would have been unthinkable even a few years ago: a black man, U.S. Senator Barack Obama, and a woman, former first lady Hillary Clinton. Obama took the Iowa caucuses; Clinton the New Hampshire primary. The third top candidate in the Democratic Party race, former vice presidential candidate Senator John Edwards, poses as a populist out to fight the "special interests" and "corporate greed." In stump speeches, they're all for "healing," "hope" and "unity." They're "fired up and ready to go," not least to restore the battered image of U.S. imperialism in the world, including with some belated nods to the popular demand to withdraw sooner rather than later from Iraq.

The Democrats' rhetoric is meant to refurbish illusions that the shell game of bourgeois electoral politics can work in the interests of the working masses. The Republicans revel in inflicting suffering on working people and the oppressed. Just look at the Republican debates where the candidates were competing over who could be the most racist and anti-immigrant bigot. For their part, the Democrats put on a more kindly face, the better to deceive the working people and give a more popular facade to the racist capitalist status quo. As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin captured it in his 1917 work, The State and Revolution, "To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament—this is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism."

We revolutionary Marxists do not extend any support to any capitalist politician. Nor would we run for executive office—such as mayor, governor or president—ourselves, although Marxists have and can run for parliamentary office as a tactic to propagate our revolutionary program. As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels taught long ago, the capitalist government is the executive committee that manages the affairs of the capitalist class as a whole. In the U.S., the president is the chief executive responsible for the most massive military power in history and for the domestic machinery of repression that maintains social oppression and exploitation. To run for executive office means to aspire to be the next Commander-in-Chief who decides who gets tortured, who gets bombed, who gets invaded (see Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 60, Autumn 2007).

At the time of the 2006 midterm elections, we wrote in "For a Class-Struggle Workers Party!" (WV No. 881, 24 November 2006):

"Our task in analyzing social discontents, including as revealed through the distorted prism of the elections, is to lay bare the irreconcilable class antagonisms at the base of this society. It is the working class, with its strategic black component, that produces the wealth of society. This is the only social force with the objective interest and potential social power to smash the capitalist system and lay the basis for the construction of an egalitarian socialist society. We stand for the complete political independence of the proletariat from all capitalist parties—Democrat,Republican and Green."

Democratic Party vs. Black Liberation

Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother, is perceived as a charismatic, honest politician, above the mudslinging and corruption that define American politics. He is particularly popular among college youth. And in the face of the history of black oppression in this country, the possibility of the election of the first black president, whatever his actual policies, will likely propel many even previously skeptical black people to support him. If this deeply racist country, where religious obscurantism and anti-woman bigotry are pervasive, ever sees a black or female president, it would certainly be a significant development. But it would do nothing to change the oppression of women, which is rooted in the institution of the family in class society, or of black people, which forms the cornerstone of American capitalism. Simply put, the liberation of black people and women will not happen short of the destruction of the capitalist system through socialist revolution.

In the eyes of the capitalist rulers, Obama is potentially acceptable as chief executive because his entire campaign is based on the "end of racism" lie, the claim that black oppression has been overcome. Columnist Gary Younge commented in the Nation (31 December 2007) that the value of black leadership "is, it seems, directly proportional to its distance from the black community and its experiences. Its cheerleaders desire not so much to refashion black politics as to eliminate it altogether, not so much to eliminate racism as to eradicate discussion of it." The article quotes black radical-liberal writer and former Communist Party spokesman Angela Davis aptly noting that Obama "is being consumed as the embodiment of color blindness."

In his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama declared: "There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America—there's the United States of America." This message was recently echoed by no less a capitalist mouthpiece than the Wall Street Journal (10 November 2007) which headlined: "Whites' Great Hope? Barack Obama and the Dream of a Color-Blind America."

Dream on. A year after Obama's speech to the DNC, the horror of Katrina would expose (again) this present-day liberal lie for what it is. In response to this glaring racist atrocity, Obama declared that "the incompetence was color-blind." What's "color blind" about the ongoing purge of black people from New Orleans? Then when some 50,000 overwhelmingly black people converged upon Jena, Louisiana, in September to protest Jim Crow justice against six black youth, Obama said he just wanted "fairness" and claimed it "isn't a matter of black and white." Tell that to the black people outraged over the proliferation of hangman's nooses around the country after the Jena protest. Those who came out to Jena were mobilized by black Democrats Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson with the aim of tunneling anger into the Democratic Party and appeals for "justice" to the federal government. Obama did not even bother to show up.

The daily reality of racist oppression can be measured in astronomical unemployment rates for blacks and decrepit ghetto housing; rampant police terror and the consignment of nearly one million black men and women to America's hellhole prisons, mainly due to the "war on drugs"; prison-like inner-city schools and the purge of black youth from higher education. Obama looks upon all this and claims, as he did in his speech in Selma last year, that the civil rights movement brought America "90 percent of the way" toward racial equality!

Certainly such a position serves Obama's career. It means blaming the oppressed for their oppression. In his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, he declares that "minorities, individually and collectively, have responsibilities as well" for their own condition. They suffer from "too much television," "lack of emphasis on educational achievement" and "the collapse of the two-parent black household." Obama lectures that black people should acknowledge that "perhaps the single biggest thing we could do to reduce such poverty is to encourage teenage girls to finish high school and avoid having children out of wedlock." And "we should also acknowledge that conservatives—and Bill Clinton—were right about welfare," a reference to Clinton's ending of welfare "as we know it," which consigned millions of poor and black people, especially women, to the scrap heap. Such is Obama's program for "change."

Contrary to the myth promoted by Obama and other liberals, black oppression continues to be the central defining feature of U.S. society. It is materially rooted in and central to American capitalism. As against both liberal integrationists and black nationalists, our struggle for black liberation is based on the program of revolutionary integrationism. While opposing every manifestation of racist oppression, fighting in particular to mobilize the social power of the multiracial labor movement, we underline that full equality for the black masses
requires that the working class rip the economy out of the hands of the capitalist rulers and reorganize it on a socialist basis. Only then will it be possible to eliminate the material roots of black oppression through the integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society based on a collectivized economy with jobs and quality housing, health care and education for all.

As we elaborated in "Black and Red," a key document adopted at the founding conference of the Spartacist League in 1966:

"The struggle of the black people of this country for freedom, while part of the struggle of the working class as a whole, is more than that struggle. The Negro people are an oppressed race-color caste, in the main comprising the most exploited layer of the American working class.... Because of their position as both the most oppressed and also the most conscious and experienced section, revolutionary black workers are slated to play an exceptional role in the coming American revolution."

Black Oppression and American Capitalism

The roots of black oppression lie in chattel slavery, smashed only by blood and iron in the Civil War, the Second American Revolution. In this "conflict between the system of slavery and the system of free labor," as Karl Marx described it, some 200,000 black troops entered the fight and helped turn the tide for the Northern
Union Army.

Despite the victory over the slavocracy and installation of the most democratic period for black people in American history under Radical Reconstruction, the promise of black freedom was betrayed as Northern capitalists looked at the devastated South and saw an opportunity not for building a radical democracy but for exploiting Southern resources, and the freedmen. The Compromise of 1877 sealed this betrayal and, with the withdrawal of the remaining troops of the Union Army from the South, a new system of racist exploitation was established through the systematic repression of black people's fight for land, education and civil rights. The former slaves became tenants and sharecroppers toiling on land owned by the white propertied class, consisting of elements of the old slavocracy and a new Southern bourgeoisie with strong ties to Northern capital. Jim Crow segregation became entrenched, enforced and maintained by Klan terror and police-state repression. Black people were effectively completely disenfranchised.

The Southern Jim Crow system made an imprint on the entire country. The capitalist rulers have long fomented ethnic and religious hatred. Well into the 20th century, the central dividing line was one which pitted "native" Protestants against mainly Catholic German, Irish, Italian and other immigrant workers. With the mass migration of blacks from the South to the industrial cities of the North, particularly during World Wars I and II, the bourgeoisie promoted anti-black racism, making the color bar a fundamental dividing line that has served to obscure the irreconcilable class divide. All this has served to retard the political consciousness of the American proletariat. The U.S. is the only industrial country where the workers have not historically had their own independent political party, even a reformist one, reflecting the interests of labor, which are counterposed to the interests of capital.

The courageous struggles of the black and white foot soldiers of the civil rights movement in the 1950s-'60s played an instrumental role in overturning Jim Crow. The creation of a Southern black proletariat fundamentally eroded the Jim Crow system of segregation. The bourgeoisie eventually acquiesced to legal equality in the South, in part because Jim Crow had become an embarrassment to U.S. imperialism's posture as the defender of "democracy" and "human rights" in the Cold War against the Soviet Union, the industrial and military powerhouse of the non-capitalist world.

The struggle for black equality intersected growing discontent and opposition to U.S. imperialism's losing counterrevolutionary war against the Vietnamese workers and peasants. The potential for an explosive and revolutionary transformation of American society was evident. But from its onset, the civil rights movement was dominated by a black middle-class leadership allied to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The aim of liberal-pacifist leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. was to pressure the Democratic administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to grant formal, legal equality. In the context of the current spat between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over her claim that Johnson did more than King for black rights, it is worth recalling that King supported the suppression of the 1965 Watts ghetto revolt while Johnson dispatched federal troops to crush the 1967 Detroit upheaval.

In the 1960s, the Spartacist League, despite our small forces, put forward the perspective of a class-struggle fight for black freedom. As we stated in our Programmatic Statement, "For Socialist Revolution in the Bastion of World Imperialism":

"In our intervention into the civil rights movement, the Spartacist League raised the call for a South-wide Freedom Labor Party as an expression of working-class political independence and the need to mobilize the labor movement to fight for black emancipation. This was linked to a series of other transitional demands aimed at uniting black and white workers in struggle against the capitalist class enemy, like organizing the unorganized and a sliding scale of wages and hours to combat inflation and unemployment. We called for armed self-defense against racist terror and for a workers united front against government intervention, both in the labor movement and in the use of federal troops to suppress black plebeian struggles. This program is no less urgent today."

The bankruptcy of the liberal program of the civil rights movement's leadership was quickly revealed when the movement swept out of the South and into the North, where black people already had formal legal equality. The struggle for a fundamental change in conditions of life in the ghettos—for real equality, for jobs, decent housing and adequate schools—collided head-on with the realities of American capitalism. Many black militants, frustrated with and opposed to liberal conciliationism, turned to black nationalism, which rejects the multiracial working class as the motor force for revolutionary struggle against this racist capitalist system.

The bourgeoisie responded to growing black militancy—represented by Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party and others—with vicious repression, killing 38 Panthers and imprisoning hundreds more through COINTELPRO. Police repression along with cop riots in major U.S. cities resulted in the spontaneous eruption of ghetto rebellions across the country. At the same time, the bourgeoisie sought to and did co-opt a layer of the liberal black misleaders into the Democratic Party, reflected in the election of a number of black mayors in major American cities over the next couple of decades.

By the late 1960s, a racist backlash was already beginning, and in succeeding decades many of the gains of the civil rights period were reversed or eroded. A key turning point was the defeat of busing in Boston in 1974-75 on the streets by racist mobs and in government halls by liberal politicians. Last year's Supreme Court decision overturning school desegregation plans in Seattle and Louisville eviscerates the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that banned school segregation. The racist backlash was soon followed by an onslaught against the labor movement, exemplified by the 1981 smashing of the PATCO air traffic controllers union by the Reagan administration using plans drawn up by the Democratic Carter administration.

Barack Obama is a beneficiary of the civil rights movement. He also embodies the utter failure of bourgeois liberalism to address the needs of the black masses. A graduate of Harvard Law School, and the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, Obama's rise to political prominence was meteoric, an effort helped in no small part by elements within the Chicago Democratic Party Daley machine. Twenty years earlier, during Jesse Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign, in which he won 13 primaries and caucuses and got over seven million votes, we pointed out in "Jesse Jackson, Racism and the Democratic Party" (WVNo. 451, 22 April 1988): "Class divisions are sharpening within the black population, marked by the gulf between a thin layer of black professionals, who poured through the gates forced open by the civil rights movement, and the massive 'black underclass' of the permanently unemployed, swollen through the devastation of American industry in the '70s and '80s."

When Jesse Jackson ran for the Democratic nomination in 1984 as part of forming his Rainbow Coalition and again in 1988, he was attempting to exert pressure on the party, including through bringing in more voters, but had no chance of nomination. Obama's campaign today, however, poses the possibility of the election of the first black president. And he may well face attack from racist vigilantes and terrorists; threats along those lines have led to the early assignment of Secret Service protection. As a black worker in North Carolina bluntly put it: "I think he will certainly need to beef up his security, because I think there's these wackos that will go to any extent to make sure he doesn't win" (Washington Post, 5 January).

When black Democrat Harold Washington was elected mayor of Chicago in 1983 and faced a vicious racist backlash, we underlined that "Washington has the right to take office with all the normal prerogatives. Blacks have a right to elect whoever they want to office" (WV No. 326, 25 March 1983). But as opposed to many on the reformist left, we refused to give one ounce of political support to this longtime machine Democrat and warned, "Harold Washington Will Betray Black Chicago" (WV No. 328, 22 April 1983). And, indeed, he did, slashing jobs, services and overseeing Chicago's murderous police department.

It is the role of black elected officials to keep a lid on social struggle and administer racist capitalist rule. As former New York City Democratic mayor David Dinkins quipped when he was running for office in 1989, "They'll take it from me." A grotesque example was the 1985 bombing of the MOVE commune in Philadelphia, which slaughtered eleven black men, women and children and destroyed an entire black neighborhood. This was carried out by black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode in collusion with the Feds.

Obama and the Fake Left

The way forward in the struggle against this deeply racist capitalist system is to break the political chains that bind workers, blacks, immigrants and the oppressed to their class enemy, particularly through support to the Democratic Party. This means waging a political struggle not only against the labor tops, many of whom are leading lights within the Democratic Party, but also against the reformist left. Today, as Obama's popularity mounts especially among blacks and youth, the reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO) paints him as a symbol for "those who want a break with the stale right-wing orthodoxy that has dominated mainstream politics for a generation" (Socialist Worker, 11 January).

Despite various criticisms of Obama, the ISO made clear its stand when at an 11 February 2007 rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus ISO-led protesters unfurled a banner pleading: "Obama: Stand Up! Cut the funding!" (for the Iraq war). This is part of their fight to give the Democrats "a backbone," which is supposed to be provided by "a grassroots antiwar movement that can pressure politicians from outside the established party system" (Socialist Worker, 2 March 2007). Of course, no less an establishment Democrat than John Kerry has endorsed Obama, who has also received significant support from Wall Street financiers.

The Workers World Party (WWP) is more blatant; the conclusion of its editorial "Behind the Votes for Obama & Rodham Clinton" (Workers World, 9 January) unmistakably leaves open the possibility of support to this capitalist politician:

"With an Obama candidacy, working-class and revolutionary organizations will have to stay sensitive to the impact of racism on the electoral campaign, even as the left differentiates itself from Obama as well as the Republican [sic]. The left will also have to adjust its approach should there be an active intervention of the population in the electoral process, especially if an economic or war crisis arises during the election."

Indeed, WWP supported Jackson in 1988 and other black Democrats such as Congressional candidate Cynthia McKinney in 2004 and New York City Council member Charles Barron in 2006. For his part, Barren raised the slogan: "Let's get back to Black and vote for Barack" (Amsterdam News, 15 November 2007).

Obama is, in fact, to the right of both Clinton and Edwards on many domestic issues. He is at one with the Clintonian "center" in support of the racist, barbaric death penalty. In the context of vicious attacks on immigrants, he wrote in The Audacity of Hope: "I'm not entirely immune to such nativist sentiments. When I see Mexican flags waved at pro-immigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment." Along with Clinton, Obama's "patriotism" led him to support the "Secure Fence Act," mandating the construction of a 700-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

As for his international policy, in addition to a cautious and uneven opposition to the Iraq war and occupation, Obama's article on "Renewing American Leadership" in Foreign Affairs (July/August 2007) is instructive. He makes clear that he wants to bring the occupation of Iraq to a "responsible end" in order to redeploy and significantly escalate American military forces and operations around the world. Like the other Democrats, Obama is foursquare behind the murderous occupation of Afghanistan. He is bellicose against Pakistan, as well as Iran and the North Korean deformed workers state, writing: "We must develop a strong international coalition to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons program.... In confronting these threats, I will not take the military option off the table."

He goes on to proclaim: "To defeat al Qaeda, I will build a twenty-first-century military and twenty-first-century partnerships as strong as the anticommunist alliance that won the Cold War to stay on the offense everywhere from Djibouti to Kandahar." It is no accident that Obama's foreign policy consigliere is one Zbigniew Brzezinski, the veteran of Cold War II who, as part of Jimmy Carter's Democratic administration, worked to militarily and ideologically rearm U.S. imperialism after its humiliating defeat at the hands of the heroic Vietnamese workers and peasants. The Carter administration launched an anti-Communist "human rights" campaign against the Soviet Union, including massive support to Islamic reactionaries in Afghanistan against the Soviet Red Army's intervention on the side of elementary human progress.

For the most part, the reformists marched in lockstep with the imperialists during Cold War II. Today, in the wake of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, they have given up even lip service to the struggle for proletarian revolution. As revolutionary Trotskyists, we stood for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state and the deformed workers states of East and Central Europe while fighting for political revolution to oust the ruling Stalinist bureaucracies and install regimes based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism. Today, we apply this same program to the remaining deformed workers states of China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba.

The restoration of capitalism in the USSR was a world-historic defeat for the international proletariat. Today, rapacious U.S. imperialism declares itself the superpower of a "one superpower" world, and the capitalists internationally are intensifying their class war against working people, immigrants and the oppressed. Retrograde "death of communism" consciousness has led to a number of backward offspring, from the mythology of the "end of racism" to widespread despair among working people over their ability to fundamentally ameliorate their conditions. It is a telling statement of the decomposition of the left that radical-liberal writer Alexander Cockburn is now promoting right-wing libertarian Republican Ron Paul—a fanatical proponent of "free market" capitalism—as a "principled fellow" and "a candidate leftists can and should support" (Nation, 21 January).

There will be no effective resistance to the immiseration of American working people without the unity in struggle between the trade unions and the black and Latino poor. It is necessary to fight for a new, class-struggle leadership in the labor movement that fights to mobilize and extend union power not only in defense of workers' livelihoods but also to combat racist discrimination and anti-immigrant attacks. Such a class-struggle leadership would fight against deportations and to organize immigrant workers, demanding full citizenship rights for all immigrants. As we wrote in our Programmatic Statement:

"Despite the destruction of industrial jobs and erosion of union strength, black workers, who have a significantly higher rate of trade-union membership than do white workers, continue to be integrated into strategic sectors of the industrial proletariat, which alone has the power to shatter this racist, capitalist system. Won to a revolutionary program, black workers will be the living link fusing the anger of the dispossessed ghetto masses with the social power of the multiracial proletariat under the leadership of a Leninist vanguard party."

Honor the Memory of Phillip Agee


This political obituary of Phillip Agee is passed on from Workers Vanguard. It seems to hit the political high notes on the career of Agee for leftists just about right. One point- In the history of the international working class movement we have had comparatively few class traitors come into our ranks. Phillip Agee would probably not come under either Lenin's Bolshevik definition of what service to socialism entailed nor for that matter Julius Martov's looser Menshevik definition either in that famous fight in the Russian Social Democracy in 1903. But, hell what Agee did by naming names of CIA agents, our implacable arch-enemies, was surely an important contribution to the struggles of the international working class. Yes, Agee deserves the political tribute below.

Workers Vanguard No.907 February 1 2008

On January 7, Philip Agee died in a Havana hospital after surgical attempts failed to correct his perforated ulcers. Agee, who is perhaps unknown to many of our younger readers, was an ex-CIA agent who resigned from that agency in 1969. He spent the rest of his life meticulously documenting and exposing the spies, non-governmental agencies and State Department operatives that prosecuted U.S. imperialism's myriad efforts to subvert and overturn such foreign governments as displeased the U.S. imperialist rulers, especially in those countries (such as Chile in the early 1970s and Nicaragua in the 1980s) where the threat of revolutionary overturns was posed.

A onetime altar boy and the son of a prosperous Florida businessman, Agee was recruited to the CIA in 1957 after his graduation from Notre Dame, spending, his time in the agency in a variety of assignments in Latin America. He was posted to Mexico City in 1968, the year in which the Institutional Revolutionary Party regime of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz slaughtered hundreds of protesting students on the eve of the Olympics, an event that precipitated Agee's resignation in early 1969. Agee, perhaps whimsically, said he left the CIA because "I fell in love with a woman who thought Che Guevara was the most wonderful man in the world."

In 1975 Agee published Inside the Company: CIA Diary in which he named 250 agency officers, NGOs and foreign agents—an activity he continued in the pages of Covert Action Information Bulletin (later Covert Action Quarterly) that he helped initiate in 1978 (it ceased publication in 2005). Agee later described his motivation: "It was a time in the 70s when the worst imaginable horrors were going in in Latin America. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Guatemala, El Salvador—they were military dictatorships with death squads, all with the backing of the CIA and the US government" (London Guardian, 10 January 2007).

His activities did not go unnoticed by his ex-employer. In 1982, Congress passed the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which was specifically aimed at Agee's actions. It criminalized outing covert agents—a non-crime from the standpoint of the proletariat that is, in fact, a service to humanity. After the debut of Covert Action Agee became a "man without a country," expelled from Britain in 1977 at the behest of then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger by the obliging Labour Party government of James Callaghan. He was subsequently refused entry by France and the Netherlands. Agee did not obtain secure residency until he achieved a German pass-
port in 1990 after marrying Giselle Roberge, a German ballerina. Until his death, Agee sojourned between his home in Hamburg and an apartment in Havana.

The "death of communism" triumphalism in the aftermath of the 1991-92 capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet degenerated workers state has transformed many onetime critics of American imperialism into its sniveling and lying sycophants who religiously retail the lie that the "socialist experiment" has failed. Not so Agee, who, until his death, remained a staunch defender of the Cuban Revolution and an opponent of U.S. efforts toward a counterrevolutionary overturn of the Castro regime. While not a few of the obituaries detailing Agee's death describe him as a "turncoat," "renegade" and "traitor," none call him a liar, nor do any attempt to refute his revelations.

A man of considerable intellect and principle, Philip Agee saw deeply into the heart of the monster he chose to oppose. Just two weeks after the September 11 attacks, he gave a talk in Stockholm describing Osama bin Laden as "a creature of the CIA" in its efforts to mobilize Islamic reactionaries in opposition to the Soviet Union's intervention in Afghanistan. He went on to assert that the "war on terror" was of service to the U.S. imperialist rulers precisely because it is "an ongoing war, for which there will be no quick resolution" and "no great battles." He pointed out that it would be used to effect restraints on civil liberties and political dissent. In all this he was spot-on.

Agee was not an advocate of proletarian revolution. Although he described himself as a socialist, it seems clear that his contempt was directed rather specifically at the bloody predations of American imperialism. Nor did Agee perceive that the nationalist Castro-led bureaucracy that holds sway in Cuba itself endangers the Cuban deformed workers state, not least through its Stalinist dogma of "socialism in one country," which stands in opposition to the struggle for international socialist revolution, including in the U.S.

Philip Agee was an intransigent opponent of the would-be world-conquering, bloodsoaked American bourgeoisie and, indeed, a traitor to his class. For that we honor him. As Granma, the paper of the Cuban Communist Party, said upon his death, Agee was "a loyal friend of Cuba and fervent defender of the peoples' fight for a better world." His contributions to that end will be sorely missed. •

*The Latest From Jena, Louisiana- Drop the Charges Against William Winchester, Jr.

Click On Title to Link To Associated Press, June 27, 2009, Article On The Latest In The Jena Six Case.

February is Black History Month

The following statement is passed on from the Partisan Defense Committee concerning the latest protest action in the fight for justice in Jena, Louisiana. Nothing need be added here. Send letters of support to the Jena Defense Committee P.O Box 2798, Jena La. 71342 and of protest to the LaSalle Parish (not county,remember this is Louisiana) District Attorney J. Reed Walters. Pronto.

Drop Charges Against Anti-Fascist Protestor

We print below a January 27 letter from the Partisan Defense Committee to LaSalle Parish District Attorney J. Reed Walters. The PDC is a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Sparta-cist League.
The Partisan Defense Committee demands that the charges be dropped against William Winchester Jr., a supporter of the New Black Panther Party who was arrested in Jena, Louisiana, for demonstrating against a fascist provocation on January 21, Martin Luther King Day. Mr. Winchester was charged with battery of a police officer and resisting arrest.

The white supremacists, led by the Mississippi-based Nationalist Movement, came to Jena armed, waving the Confederate flag of black chattel slavery and brandishing lynch-rope nooses. The race-terrorists staged their murderous threats under the protection of several hundred state, local and federal law enforcement officers, including deputies from other parishes, SWAT teams and police snipers stationed on roofs.

The fascist bands spewing their racist filth through the streets of Jena are part of a wave of racist provocations, many involving hanging nooses to terrorize black people, that have swept the U.S. after the September 20 demonstration in Jena. That day, as many as 50,000 overwhelmingly black people protested against Jim Crow "justice" and in defense of the Jena Six, black high school students framed up for defending themselves after months of racist attacks. Mychal Bell of the Jena Six is now in prison. Free Mychal Bell! Drop all charges against the Jena Six! Drop the charges against William Winchester Jr.! •

The following is an article of interest to the radical public and black liberation fighters on the demonstrations down in Jena, Louisiana in September 2007. This is taken from the Young Spartacus pages of Workers Vanguard No. 899, dated September 28, 2007. I would only add that many of the political points made in the article are worthy of attention as we fight for the immediate goal of freedom for the Jena Six and the ultimate goal of victory in the black liberation struggle. And friends, that does not mean Obama as president, as significant as that may be in this deeply racist country.

Workers Vanguard No. 899 28 September 2007

Jena Six: Racist "Justice" U.S.A.

Break with the Democrats! For a Class-Struggle Workers Party! Finish the Civil War—For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

(Young Spartacus pages)

On September 20, as many as 50,000 protesters—overwhelmingly black and comprising workers, students, retirees and church groups—poured into the small rural town of Jena, Louisiana. Alerted by black radio and Internet networks, they came on buses from all over the South, from Detroit and Harlem and as far away as Los Angeles, to express their outrage at the Jim Crow "justice" meted out to six black Jena high school students. After months of racist insults and threats prompted by black students sitting under the "white tree," with racists putting hangman's nooses on the tree, five of the youth were charged with attempted murder following a schoolyard scuffle with a white student, while the sixth was charged as a juvenile (see "Outrage Over Jim Crow Justice in Louisiana," JFFNo. 896, 3 August). On campuses and workplaces across the country, the case of the Jena Six has touched a raw nerve among black people. One protester in Jena held up a sign reading, "There Would Be More of Us Here But So Many of Us Are in Jail."

The day after the protesters left, Jim Crow justice in Jena reasserted itself. Earlier, 17-year-old Mychal Bell, the only one of the six students who has been continuously imprisoned since the schoolyard fight, saw his aggravated assault and conspiracy charges thrown out because he had been tried as an adult. But outrageously, on September 21 he was denied bail. Bell remains incarcerated in a town in the central Louisiana pine woods that has been a stronghold for KKKer David Duke. The other five still await trial, although charges against four of them have been reduced. Hours after the Jena demonstration, two young whites, one an admitted Klansman, provocatively drove through the nearby city of Alexandria, threatening people who had returned from the protest by dragging two nooses from their pickup truck, which contained a rifle and brass knuckles. Free Mychal Bell now! Drop all the charges against the Jena Six!

"Jena justice" is not some aberration. In Georgia, black youth Genarlow Wilson is still in prison for having had consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. After a court reduced his sentence to time already served, prosecutors appealed the ruling, keeping him behind bars. In New York City, Sean Bell, a young black man celebrating his upcoming wedding, was cut down in a hail of 50 cop bullets last December, and six months later black and Latino high school students in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood were rounded up by cops as they tried to attend a friend's wake. The prisons, and the barbaric death rows within the prisons, are overflowing with black men in a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Many of the protesters who poured into Jena appreciated the connection made by Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Club comrades between the case of the Jena Six and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst racist atrocities in modern U.S. history. But Democratic politicians Jesse Jackson Sr. and Al Sharpton, central leaders of the Jena protest, did not organize any significant protests over Katrina. The Katrina disaster could not be blamed solely on the criminal policies of the Bush administration but also indicted the Democratic Party, which for decades helped preside over the deterioration of the flood control system and ran the notoriously racist and corrupt New Orleans cops. A featured speaker on September 20 was New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, who ordered the city's evacuation while abandoning those without cars—overwhelmingly black and poor—to the Katrina floodwaters. We wrote in a 4 September 2005 Spartacist League statement titled "New Orleans: Racist Atrocity" (WV No. 854,16 September 2005):

"This disaster has laid bare the class and race divisions in America. The logic of U.S. capitalism is that whites mainly lost property, blacks mainly lost lives. It is overwhelmingly black people, deemed 'expendable' by the rulers, who suffered and died by the thousands in this two-thirds black city.... This catastrophic destruction of lives and livelihoods underlines that the oppression of black people is rooted in the very bedrock of American capitalism and will not be ended short of a socialist revolution that rips power and the means of production from the greedy rulers and places them in the hands of the working people."

We look to the working class and its strategic black component as the social force that can overturn the capitalist order. With its hands on the means of production—the factories, mines, transportation systems—the working class produces the profits of the capitalist exploiters. We fight to build a workers party based on the perspective of revolutionary integrationism. While combatting racist segregation and state repression, we understand that black liberation can be achieved only through the integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society. This program is counterposed to the liberal myth that black people—an oppressed race-color caste—can achieve equality within the confines of the capitalist profit system. It is also counterposed to black nationalism, which capitulates to and helps perpetuate the racist segregation fostered by this country's rulers and despairs of multiracial class struggle.

Liberal Misleaders

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, whose longtime role as "black leaders" has been to quell social unrest, came down to Jena to preach reliance on the same "justice" system that from the county sheriff on up is a machine of racial and class oppression. Sharpton called in Jena for "federal intervention to protect people from Southern injustice," intoning that "our fathers in the 1960's had to penetrate the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, we have to do the same thing" (Associated Press, 20 September).

It is a lie that the federal government is a friend of black equality. Fifty years ago during the battle to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, President Eisenhower sent in troops to head off efforts by black people to defend themselves against racist mobs and KKK nightriders. Federal intervention into anti-racist and other social struggles has meant spying on and murderous repression of activists. President Bush, cynically claiming to be "saddened" by the events in Jena, noted that "the Justice Department and the FBI are monitoring the situation." We're sure they are—just like they "monitored" the Black Panther Party and thousands of other radicals, black and white, in the civil rights, anti-Vietnam War and New Left movements.

Under the FBI's Counter-intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), 38 Black Panther Party members were killed and hundreds of others framed up. FBI "infiltrators" made up about 20 percent of Ku Klux Klan membership in the 1960s and were involved in bombings and murders, including the 1963 Birmingham church bombing and the murder of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo in her car in 1965. The November 1979 Klan/Nazi massacre of five leftists and union officials in Greensboro, North Carolina, was aided by a government agent who helped train the killers and by a "former" FBI informant who rode shotgun in the fascists' motorcade of death.

A living symbol of the system of racist capitalist injustice today is the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and later a MOVE supporter and radical journalist who has been imprisoned on death row for a quarter century, framed up on false charges of killing a Philadelphia policeman in December 1981. From the time he was a 15-year-old leader of the Philadelphia Panthers in the late 1960s, Mumia was a target of COINTELPRO spying and harassment. The cops, prosecutors, bourgeois politicians and their media jackals have howled for Mumia's legal lynching because they see in him the spectre of black revolt.

The big-name black liberals who organized the Jena Six protest have done nothing at all comparable on behalf of Mumia. While Jena is a small Southern town, Philadelphia is a major Northern city long run by the Democratic Party machine. And it was the local Democrats who joined with the cops and prosecutors in putting Mumia on death row. The D.A. who prosecuted Mumia in 1982, Ed Rendell, is now the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania. Since first taking up Mumia's cause two decades ago, the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee have urged all opponents of racist oppression to join the fight for his freedom and to abolish the racist death penalty. But we understand that this fight must be waged independently of the capitalist courts and political parties that conspired to railroad Mumia.

Democrats: The Other Party of Racist Capitalist Rule

What politicians like Sharpton, who admits that he wore a wire for the FBI in the 1980s, want above all else is to keep black people tied to the Democratic Party as the "lesser evil" to the Republicans, who openly appeal to the white racist vote. All the major GOP presidential candidates recently refused to appear in a debate at Baltimore's historically black Morgan State University. In an earlier calculated insult, all but one Republican candidate turned down the chance to debate on the Spanish-language Univision network. In his New York Times (24 August) column, liberal commentator Paul Krugman noted that the Republicans' "electoral strategy has depended largely on exploiting racial fear and animosity." He pointed out that "Rudy Giuliani remains the front-runner for the G.O.P. nomination," despite his big-city social life and record on abortion, because he "comes across as an authoritarian, willing in particular to crack down on you-know-who."

The impoverishment of the black populace is perpetuated by the American capitalist government—federal, state and city—whether run by Democrats or Republicans. It was the Clinton administration in the mid 1990s that axed the main federal welfare program, thereby condemning millions of women and children, disproportionately black, to destitution while further depressing wages at the low end of the labor market, where black workers are concentrated. Today in response to the Jena atrocity, Hillary Clinton has joined the call for an "investigation," while Barack Obama says he just wants "fairness" and claims it "isn't a matter of black and white." Tell that to the marchers who passed Confederate flags on the way out of Jena!

The bulk of the "socialist" left, which sows the illusion that the capitalist system can be reformed to serve the interests of workers and the oppressed, has offered no criticism of the Sharpton and Jackson leadership of the Jena protest. Typical are the eccentric Maoists of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), who went to Jena with stickers to "Impeach Bush!"—their longstanding gimmick to promote the Democratic Party of racism and imperialist war. The RCP's Revolution has pumped out a lot of newsprint on Jena that includes some ritualistic denunciations of capitalism and white supremacy. But you won't hear from them that Jackson, Sharpton & Co. have repeatedly moved to steer anger over racist abuses into toothless "reforms" and bourgeois electoral politics.

MLK and the Failure of Liberal Reformism

There was a lot of talk at the Jena protest about the need for a "new civil rights movement." It's obvious to millions of oppressed black people that something needs to be done. The bipartisan "war on drugs" campaign has led to the mass incarceration of black as well as Latino youth. A decision by the Supreme Court this summer effectively put the last nail in the coffin of school integration. The mass of black people is forced to live in ghettos that are little more than rotting shells: no jobs, no health care, primary and high schools little more than prisons. In some inner cities, infant mortality rates approach Third World conditions.

The civil rights movement succeeded in eliminating legalized racial segregation (the Jim Crow system) in the South. That system had taken hold in the late 19th century after the defeat of Radical Reconstruction, the period of racial equality and black political empowerment that followed the smashing of the slavocracy in the Civil War. An important factor leading to the end of Jim Crow was that by the late 1950s legalized segregation had become an increasing embarrassment for the U.S. imperialist rulers in their Cold War with the Soviet Union, especially in the former colonial countries of Asia and Africa.

But the civil rights movement was defeated in the mid 1960s when it came North, where blacks already had the same formal democratic rights as whites but remained segregated at the bottom of society. For here it ran straight into the conditions of black impoverishment and oppression rooted in the basic structure of American capitalist society: mass unemployment, rat-infested slums, rampant police brutality. These conditions could not be eradicated by Congress passing a new civil rights act.
However, the civil rights movement—in which the black masses courageously confronted the white-supremacist police states of the South—also had the possibility of developing into a working-class-centered struggle for black equality. Such a struggle was obstructed and sabotaged by Martin Luther King Jr. and the other black misleaders who tied the movement to the Democratic Party of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

The main organization of young civil rights militants in the South was the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which in the early 1960s underwent a leftward radicalization. Through their own bitter experience, SNCC militants came to recognize that the Kennedy/Johnson White House was a lot closer to the racist Dixiecrats than it was to them. At the same time, they also came to recognize that the Democrats, no less than the Republicans, were a party of imperialist militarism, seeking to overthrow the Cuban Revolution and escalating the war in Vietnam in the name of anti-Communism.

Tensions between the young militants and King & Co. came to the surface during the 1963 March on Washington. The liberal leaders pressured then SNCC chairman John Lewis into deleting from his prepared speech the following passage: "We cannot depend on any political party for both the Democrats and Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence." Subsequently, Lewis, like many other activists, came to terms with the racist capitalist order, becoming a Democratic Congressman.

To black people, King preached "non-violent resistance" in the face of racist police repression as well as attacks by the Klan. And when in the summer of 1965 blacks in the Watts district of Los Angeles rose up against police brutality, King, at the behest of Lyndon Johnson, endorsed their bloody suppression by the L.A. cops and National Guard. King's support for the suppression of the Watts rebellion widely discredited him among young black militants who were already derisively calling him "De Lawd."

Our own political tendency emerged during this convulsive period. The Spartacist League originated as a left opposition, the Revolutionary Tendency (RT), in the once-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). When the Southern civil rights struggles erupted in the late 1950s, the SWP was beginning to move away from the Trotskyist program, finally descending into reformism in 1965. The SWP leadership abstained from intervening in the mass struggles for democratic rights while acting as cheerleaders for both King and the black nationalists of the Nation of Islam.

The RT fought for the SWP to intervene into the civil rights movement based on a program of linking the struggle for black democratic rights and social equality with the working-class struggle against capitalist exploitation. Concretely, we called on civil rights militants to break with the Democratic Party and form a Freedom Labor Party. We called as well for a Southern organizing drive backed by the labor movement. Then as now, only on the basis of common class interests and struggle can the deep racial divide between black and white workers be overcome. After being expelled from the SWP, the early Spartacist League intervened in the civil rights movement in both the South and North, to the best of the ability of our very small forces.

Recoiling against the liberal reformism of King and identifying the labor movement with its bureaucratic misleaders, many SNCC and other militants turned toward black nationalism. Black nationalism or, more accurately, separatism is at bottom a doctrine of despair. This outlook accepts that the racist character of American society is unchangeable and that no significant section of the white populace can be won to the struggle for black equality. The best of the young black radicals of this period were represented by the Black Panther Party, which was destroyed largely through murderous state repression. Many Panthers subsequently returned to the fold of liberal reformism and the Democratic Party.

The Class-Struggle Road to Black Liberation

Black nationalism obscures the class divide in this society, denying the potential power that black workers have as a strategic component of the multiracial proletariat. Despite the destruction of many industrial jobs and erosion of union strength, black workers, whose rate of union membership is significantly higher than that of white workers, continue to be integrated into such industries as steel, auto, urban transit and longshore. The proletariat alone has the power to shatter this racist, capitalist system. Won to a revolutionary program and under the leadership of a Leninist vanguard party, black workers will be the living link between the anger of the dispossessed ghetto masses and the social power of the proletariat.

The two main obstacles preventing black workers from playing that historic role are the Democratic Party, especially its black component, and the trade-union bureaucracy, which chains workers to the capitalist Democrats. Beginning in the mid 1960s, the Republican Party positioned itself as the party of the "white backlash" while the Democrats moved to co-opt young black activists into the government bureaucracy. Black Democrats became mayors of major cities, where they acted as overseers of the ghetto masses and implemented the killing cuts in social welfare programs. One of those mayors, Wilson Goode of Philadelphia, ordered the firebombing of the MOVE commune in May 1985, killing eleven black men, women and children and destroying an entire black neighborhood in the process.

The failure of the trade-union misleadership to mobilize labor's power to combat the oppression of black people is a major factor underlying the decline of the union movement. This is nowhere clearer than in the South, where the legacy of Jim Crow racism has made it the main regional bastion of anti-labor reaction since the building of the integrated industrial unions in the 1930s. Nonetheless, black workers retain considerable social power alongside their white and Latino class brothers and sisters. The strike of 7,000 shipyard workers at Northrop Grumman, the world's largest naval shipbuilder, in Pascagoula, Mississippi, earlier this year demonstrated the potential power of the integrated labor movement, which under class-struggle leadership could spearhead a drive to organize the open shop South.

Organizing the region's working class, which now includes increasing numbers of immigrants, especially from Latin America, cannot be achieved on the basis of narrow business unionism. Labor needs a leadership which does not bow to this country's harsh anti-labor laws and which mobilizes unions to fight the systematic oppression of black people and to defend the rights of immigrants and all the oppressed. Black and working-class militants must stand for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.

Our perspective of revolutionary integrationism is premised on the understanding that black freedom requires smashing the capitalist system and constructing an egalitarian socialist society. There will be no social revolution in this country without a united struggle of black, white and immigrant workers led by their multiracial workers party. As stated in the preamble to the program of the Labor Black Leagues, which are fraternally allied to the Spartacist League: "The civil rights movement, tied to pro-Democratic Party pressure politics and sold out by liberal reformism, failed to complete the unfinished business of the Civil War. We fight to win the entire working class, including white workers as well as the growing number of Latino and other immigrants, to the fight for black liberation, strategic to the American revolution."

Friday, February 01, 2008

*From The Pages Of “Workers Vanguard”-Supreme Court: Retooling the Machinery of Death-Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!

Click on the headline to link to the article from “Workers Vanguard” described in the title.

Markin comment:

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

A Study in Black and Red- Memoirs of an Unrepentant Black Stalinist- The Harry Haywood Story- "Black Bolshevik"

Click on the headlne to link to a Wikipedia entry for Harry Haywood.

Book Review

February is Black History Month

Black Bolshevik-Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist, Harry Haywood, Lake View Press, Chicago, 1978

If there is one name in the early American communist movement of the 1920’s associated with the theory of national self-determination for blacks (specifically in the then Southern Black Belt) it is the author of this autobiography, Harry Haywood. While I will discuss that theory below this is also an opportunity, during Black History Month, to analyze the political trajectory of an American black communist who tried, unsuccessfully, to bring being black and being red together. That prospect is still a key task for the American left today. That Haywood failed to so is due, in great part due to his willfully stubborn adherence to Stalinist politics, in the final analysis does not take away from the importance of today’s youth reading about his political struggles.

I have read a fair number of biographies of 20th century black American revolutionaries like Malcolm, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver and others. Haywood’s autobiography is quite different from that of latter black revolutionaries; let us say the average Black Panther of the 1960’s biography. Although Haywood was brought up and came of age in the Middle West, notably in Omaha and Chicago he had many roots in the South and on the farm. Later black revolutionaries have a greater urban and more proletarian profile. Notwithstanding those differences Haywood’s tales about the various problems he had seeking and keeping work as a proud young black in a hostile white world will resonant with today’s black reader of his story. No question there have been some strides made by blacks in this country but Haywood’s tales of the racial prejudice down at the base of society that he confronted constantly could have been written today.

One thing that I have always looked for in reading about previous generations of radicals and revolutionaries is to find the spark that drove them over the edge away from bourgeois society and on the road to fighting for fundamental social change. Revolutionaries are made not born so I have found that the reasons span a wide range of human experiences from deep-seated class and racial hatreds to intellectual curiosity. Although it is easy to see how blacks and other minorities in this country could take a radical path without much effort it is nevertheless truth that, as with whites, most have not. It is thus interesting to compare notes. Haywood’s military service, unlike my own service during Vietnam, in a black regiment in World War I that was sent to France and which came under fire was not a decisive radicalizing experience in itself. However post-war white racial attitudes and the very real racial riots in major urban areas like Chicago, belied all the propaganda about the democratic nature of the war and acted as a catalyst to move him to politics and toward leftist politics.

Haywood became a communist in the early days of the American party, the time of the consolidation of the Communist International and the afterglow of the early heroic days of the Bolshevik Revolution. when black communists were few and far between. This was a time, unlike our own, when willing, capable young blacks, workers, women and others were systematically trained here and in the Soviet Union to become professional revolutionaries. Much of Haywood’s early experiences as described in detail in the book centered on his student days in Moscow.

Haywood went through the University of the Toilers of the East and the Lenin School in the Soviet Union at the time of the Stalinist consolidation of power there and his political development reflects that change. That experience does not negate the important of training to create cadre. My generation, the generation of ’68, and later generations have had to learn by the seat of their pants. There is a difference and its showed in our poor theoretical and organizations understandings.

In many ways the most interesting sections of Haywood’s book revolve around his factional activities in the early days of the party. I have read Cannon, Foster, Browder, Lovestone, Wolfe and other whites from the early days discuss their factional activities that dominated the early party. It was rather interesting to get a black perspective on these events. I might add that Haywood’s take, as a member of the Foster faction, on the matters confirms the thoughts of the others that the early party was a ‘hothouse’ of factional intrigue, if not a madhouse.

Every question, including Haywood’s pet theory of an embryonic black nation, was subject to the gristmill of the factional struggles in the early American party as well as by the dictates of the Communist International that served as a referee during these donnybrooks. The main fault lines though these fights can be summarized as first (and foremost) who would run the American party-the party functionaries or the trade unionists. Ultimately, as the Stalinization of the Communist International set in the fault line turned to who was loyal to Moscow and who wasn’t. Haywood always drifted with the winds and bent at the knee to Stalin

The thread that centrally runs throughout the early part of Haywood’s take on the early party is the black question. Specifically the question of whether blacks in this country in the 1920’s formed a nation or were a racial color-caste. That political fight might seem odd today when blacks are, at least formally, integrated (at the bottom) of American society but then, and perhaps only then, this question had a semblance of realism to it.

Haywood’s section on the development of communist work among blacks, the creation of a black cadre and the formulating of the question of a black nation with the right to national self-determination is an essential reading for any militant trying to find the roots of communist work among blacks. Although the 1920’s were not the heyday of black recruitment to the party, the pioneer work in the 1920’s gave the party a huge leg up when the radicalization of the 1930’s among all workers occurred.

The left-wing movement in America, including the Communist Party and its offshoots has always had problems with what has been called the Black Question. Marxists have always considers support to the right of national self-determination to be a wedge against the nationalists and a way to put the class axis to the fore. In any case, Marxist has always predicated that support on there being a possibility for the group to form a nation. Absent that, other methods of struggle are necessary to deal with the special oppression of black people. This special oppression, nevertheless, requires demands to address that situation not the benign neglect (at best) that it has received through most of American left history.

Part of the problem with the American Communist position on self-determination was that the conditions which would have created the possibility of a black state were being destroyed with the mechanization of agriculture, the migration of blacks to the Northern industrial centers and the overwhelming need to fight for black people’s rights to survive under the conditions of the Great Depression. Moreover, overall blacks were won to communist politics DESPITE the Communist Party’s position on black national self-determination. However, carefully read this section as it is the genesis for many of the theoretical threads of black nationalist positions today.

Above I mentioned that blacks began to follow the lead of the Communist Party despite its position on the black nation. The actual work of the party, and Haywood’s own work as an organizer of strike solidarity action on behalf of the National Mine Union, gives evidence of that contention. Although the slogan of national self-determination played a propaganda role in the background for holiday occasions during this period, called the ‘third period’ in communist parlance, the heart of communist work in the early 1930’s were struggles over wage equality, saving jobs, unemployed work the fight against lynch law in the South and labor and black defense work.

The most famous aspect of that defense work, which Haywood had a role in, was the case of Scottsboro boys, nine Alabama men who were being railroaded into the electric chair over the alleged rape of two white women. This was a case to hot to handle for the likes of the NAACP and other liberal organizations, until the fight against it became a mass movement and they tried to channel it in their direction. Nothing new here. If there has been one taboo in modern American politics greater than being black and red it is the question of interracial sex. Perhaps not as overtly this remains true today. The Communist Party nevertheless did yeoman’s work to save the lives of the Boys. Kudos here for their defense work.

In a very literal sense Haywood’s heyday was the so-called ‘third period’ when the Communist International, falsely as it turned out, predicted imminent socialism, or at least the fight for it. His personal political trajectory rose and fell on that note. The time of the popular front in the late thirties and its later manifestations in anti-monopoly coalitions and emergence into ‘progressive’ politics were not his times. From membership in the Political Bureau at the height of the 'third period' he thereafter became, in essence, a gadfly with this black belt self-determination strategy. Popular frontist politics, or one of its variations, is not a time for clear class lines or seemingly provocative proposals that would split off nations from the American body politic.

Most of the last third of the book, after detailing and defending Haywood’s murky service with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, his merchant marine service in World War II and his post war struggles against Browderite ‘revisionism’ (a Stalinist variation of class collaborationism) is spent in criticism of the policies of the American Communist Party.

Oddly, at least in partial and distorted sense, some of Haywood’s criticisms are those that left anti-Stalinists had been making for at least a few decades at the time of publication of his book. The problem with Haywood’s analysis (aside from the Black Belt fetish) is that it is essentially unreconstructed Stalinism. A basically correct critique of the popular front with Roosevelt, for example, commingles with a post hoc defense of the Moscow show trials of the same period. A critique of the anti-monopoly coalition strategy of the 1950’s with a defense of Stalin against Khrushchev’s 20th Party Congress criticisms. In the end despite snatches of agreement we part ways with Mr. Haywood over virtually every political issue. Nevertheless read this book and the memoirs of all the old communists you can get a hold of in order to find out what went right ( and what went wrong) with the early 20th century communist movement.

Political Bric-A-Brac

Every once in a while I find myself at something of a lost in trying to get a handle on the trends of the day. Today is such a day. Sure, there is plenty of news to talk about, especially political news on the campaign trail but that ‘space’ has been done to death by the chattering classes. These American presidential nominating contests have taken the air out of the fight to talk about more substantive issues. Like those damn wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are no closer to being ended than at this time last year despite any rhetoric emanating from the campaign trail. Today we make just a few haphazard comments while stewing about the situation.

The American Commanders in Iraq Are Getting Skittish

Of necessity the lead comment today, as has usually been the case over the past five years, is the situation in Iraq. The presidential candidates may have effectively banished it from serious discourse, the media may have placed it on page fourteen, Congress has taken a dive on ending funding for it, the bulk of the American population may have sent it under the radar but the damn thing still goes on at about the levels of troop engagement of five years ago.

According to the military analysts the ‘success’ of the surge over the past several months has permitted steady troop reductions that will reduce the American presence to fifteen brigades by summer. Now, however, there is serious talk by military authorities of a ‘pause’ to evaluate the progress of the surge strategy. That, my friends, is short hand for hedging bets that the Iraq military and/or police are up to the task of policing their own country. The long and short of this is that the Bush Administration has left the next presidential administration an immediate decision before it on the question of further withdrawals. Thanks, President Bush. To help the next administration along on its way let me give a lead on this – Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s the Economy, Stupid!

In light of the remarks in the above paragraphs I have to take a political slap on the face for somewhat missing the extent of the rise of the economy as the central question before the public. Since last year I have believed that foreign affairs would be central to the American presidential campaign. Although I will not give up my persistent advocacy that Iraq and Afghanistan are the burning questions of the hour it is hardly irrational that the many individuals and families that are facing the wall on mortgage foreclosures, unemployment or the ability to just pay the bills see economic recovery as their primary issue. Okay, so it is the economy, stupid!

Mark this, however, where and what are the proposed just solutions to the problems of the vast inequalities of wealth in America coming from? The Republicratic candidates? Hell, no. They all are committed to ‘free markets’ and, one way or another, the international capitalist globalization of those markets. This would be a great time for those of us with socialist solutions, that is, social solutions to the economic problems of the day, starting with the need for a planned economy, to take the floor. And link the fight against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the war against the working class and poor here.

Israeli Supreme Court Approves Cut in Gas Supplies to Gaza

In a commentary a couple of months ago concerning the lead up to the Middle East Annapolis meetings and President Bush’s pollyannaish belief that he could gain a peace treaty between the Israelis and Palestinians I mentioned that I HATE to comment on the Israeli-Palestinian confrontations because there is so little sense that, this side of paradise, there is any rational and just solution to the long time controversy. A recent decision by the Israeli Supreme Court on cutting gas supplies to Gaza is a case in point. That august body has determined that using this weapon of limiting vital gas supplies to the residents of Gaza by the Israeli government is correct in its fight against the ‘terrorists’ who rule there (by that they mean Hamas). The reasoning of the Court, however, will be hard to square with any sense of traditional Solomonic judgments, the vaunted rule of law that Western civilization touts as the cornerstone of its existence or simple humanity. Once again I throw down the challenge- Is there really any solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict short of a socialist one in the context of a wider Middle Eastern solution? To ask the question provides the answer.

Okay, now that I have gotten the serious commentary out of the way I can move on to American presidential politics. What would one expect from a confessed political ‘junkie’, anyway? At this point most of this campaign is of real interest only to technicians but here are some observations from afar. As always, I preface my remarks with the comment that, thankfully, I do not have to vote for any of these candidates.

In Mr. Bill’s Neighborhood-South Carolina.

The long time notion that Bill Clinton had been the first ‘black’ president, a comment made as much or more in the past by blacks than whites, got sorely tested and justly upended by the campaign in South Carolina. Clinton in attempting to prove that whites can use the race card as well as blacks, especially when ‘wifie’ is a candidate, got his head handed to him on platter. When the deal went down Mr. Bill turned into just another redneck hillbilly from the Ozarks and blacks judged accordingly. The fallout from this is far from over. Mr. Bill is being openingly mocked by younger blacks that I run into as just another white honky. If one really looks at what Clinton did during his reign, eliminating welfare as we know it, making the death penalty easier to impose and putting more police on the ground in black neighborhoods that is a perfect description. Playing jazz saxophone and having a few black friends on Martha’s Vineyard does little to cut the other way these days.

The Talk Around The Water Cooler

Maybe it is the winnowing process at this point in the campaign. Maybe it is just the momentarily whirl of politics but around my work water cooler there has been a very dramatic shift in political talk. About a year ago nobody (except me, of course), white, black or Hispanic talked about anything or anybody but Hillary. Today that talk has significantly shifted.

Blacks, who last year thought that Obama was too white, now are making it a question of race loyalty to support him. And by their lights this makes sense. Obama may be mixed but in race-conscious America he is BLACK. Hispanics, and in this particular case I am talking about Hispanic males, are talking up Hillary. This reflects the tension between the black and Hispanic communities that get a full workout over the question of immigration and other issues that separate these communities.

As for whites, again especially males, there is now actually less talk about the presidential campaigns. The great secret of this campaign at least on the Democratic side, a secret that will become more apparent now that John Edwards is out, is that white males for the first time in Democratic Party history do not have one of their own to vote for. For those old enough to remember the old days this is indeed a strange turn of events. The main point here, from a socialist perspective, is that if either Hillary or Obama wins the presidency that has to be a significant development in this country. Is that enough? Hell, no but it is significant.

John Edwards and the Working Class

The recently ended campaign of former North Carolina Senator John Edwards is a case in point for the proposition that while you may come from the working class that does not insure that you are a working class candidate. And that, my friends, is the problem with today trying to run a populist campaign out of the Democratic Party. In order to do so you must put it in terms of the middle class, a very nebulous and slippery concept. However, the middle class in this country is not the working class. If you are going to fight for the poor of the Ninth District in New Orleans (and that is very definitely a good thing to fight for) then you cannot mix up your message. But what you really need to do is get the hell out of the Democratic Party and fight for a workers party. Then you can, like I am, be a proud son of the working class.

The Revenge of John McCain

Republican presidential candidate Arizona Senator John McCain staked his campaign on the premise that the surge strategy in Iraq would work. Those of us on the left who have argued that it would not have to take our licking on this issue. At least in the short haul the surge has worked and that success has worked to McCain’s benefit. We concede the point for now. But as stated up in the first comment we still fight for immediate withdrawal from Iraq no matter whom the next president will be.

The Torch Passes

In my youth I cut my political teeth on John Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Elsewhere in this space I have freely admitted to having had my first political love affair with Robert Kennedy. Recently long time liberal icon Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and John Kennedy’s daughter Caroline went out of their way to endorse Senator Obama. As John Kennedy said in his 1961 Inauguration speech the torch had passed to a new generation. That thought is being echoed here. I have also mentioned in this space that I sense the need for and welcome that change. The question remains, however, what programs and what policies will the next generation take hold of to ‘seek the newer world’. In my dewy-eyed youth it was enough to use a few sweeping phrase for a politician to state his (or her) case. In my old age I want a specific program that fights for the interest of working people. To date I do not see that. Enough said.

Anyone Can Run for President, Right?

Most of us remember as kids the old democratic political adage that any one (or almost anyone-look at the constitutional limitations) could run for President of the United States. As we matured we became painfully aware that that adage was less than the truth. In recent decades this has become even more painfully clear, as the cash nexus has driven the price of presidential politics through the roof. That brings me to the question of buying your way to the presidency. One multi-millionaire Republican candidate ex-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has literally kept his campaign alive by dipping in his own funds. New York City Mayor Bloomberg, if he decides on an independent run, apparently would finance such an endeavor by tapping into his personal fortune. I can only say this when the fight for a workers party wins us a workers government it will not be the color of one’s money but the worth of one’s political program that will be decisive. Or you will get the boot, pronto. Again, enough said.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

*Free The Last of the Ohio Seven-They Must Not Die In Jail

Click on title to link to the Partisan Defense Committee (an organization whose goals I support) to learn more about the Manning and Laaman cases(and other political prisoners supported by the organization)



I have added a link to Tom Manning's site that can provide a link to Jaan Laaman's site. For convenience I have labelled this link the Ohio Seven Defense Committee site. Free the last of the Seven. Below is a commentary written in 2006 arguing for their freedom.

Below is a repost of a commentary I made in 2007 to support of freedom for the last of the Ohio Seven

The Ohio Seven, like many other subjective revolutionaries, coming out of the turbulent anti-Vietnam War and anti-imperialist movements, were committed to social change. The different is that this organization included mainly working class militants, some of whose political consciousness was formed by participation as soldiers in the Vietnam War itself. Various members were convicted for carrying out robberies, apparently to raise money for their struggles, and bombings of imperialist targets. Without going into their particular personal and political biographies I note that these were the kind of subjective revolutionaries that must be recruited to a working class vanguard party if there ever is to be a chance of bringing off a socialist revolution. In the absence of a viable revolutionary labor party in the 1970’s and 1980’s the politics of the Ohio Seven, like the Black Panthers and the Weathermen, were borne of despair at the immensity of the task and also by desperation to do something concrete in aid of the Vietnamese Revolution and other Third World struggles . Their actions in trying to open up a second front militarily in the United States in aid of Third World struggles without a mass base proved to be mistaken but, as the Partisan Defense Committee which I support has noted, their actions were no crime in the eyes of the international working class.

The lack of a revolutionary vanguard to attract such working class elements away from adventurism is rendered even more tragic in the case of the Ohio Seven. Leon Trotsky, a leader with Lenin of the Russian Revolution of 1917, noted in a political obituary for his fallen comrade and fellow Left Oppositionist Kote Tsintadze that the West has not produced such fighters as Kote. Kote, who went through all the phases of struggle for the Russian Revolution, including imprisonment and exile under both the Czar and Stalin benefited from solidarity in a mass revolutionary vanguard party to sustain him through the hard times. What a revolutionary party could have done with the evident capacity and continuing commitment of subjective revolutionaries like the Ohio Seven poses that question point blank. This is the central problem and task of cadre development in the West in resolving the crisis of revolutionary leadership.

Finally, I would like to note that except for the Partisan Defense Committee and their own defense organizations – the Ohio 7 Defense Committee and the Jaan Laaman Defense Fund- the Ohio Seven have long ago been abandoned by those New Left elements and others, who as noted, at one time had very similar politics. At least part of this can be attributed to the rightward drift to liberal pacifist politics by many of them, but some must be attributed to class. Although the Ohio Seven were not our people- they are our people. All honor to them. As James P Cannon, a founding leader of the International Labor Defense, forerunner of the Partisan Defense Committee, pointed out long ago –Solidarity with class war prisoners is not charity- it is a duty. Their fight is our fight! LET US DO OUR DUTY HERE. RAISE THE CALL FOR THE FREEDOM OF LAAMAN AND MANNING. MAKE MOTIONS OF SOLIDARITY IN YOUR POLITICAL ORGANIZATION, SCHOOL OR UNION.


How The West Was Won?

DVD Review

Magnificent Seven, 1960

The portrayal of the American cowboy has undergone a dramatic upheaval since the time of my youth in the 1950’s when the image of John Wayne as the Maximum Cowboy held sway. In such films as Red River Valley we were presented with morality plays that displayed white American manhood (and marginally, womanhood) and frontier virtue, etched in starkly black and white terms, from a long gone era. Since then we have been presented with good bad cowboys, bad good cowboys, spaghetti western cowboys, down on their luck corrupt cowboys, end of the line cowboys and gay cowboys. From the classic The Misfits to Brokeback Mountain we have seen the cowboy turn from a simple slow to draw, slow to anger angel of deliverance to a much more nuanced figure on the screen with an internal life almost as conflicted as our own.

No small part in this turnaround has been played by the work of the likes of Larry McMurtry who have taken a deep knowledge of the real West and presented us with a truer vision of what the westward expansion of America was all about. Today however, in the movie under review, The Magnificent Seven (hereafter, the Seven), we hark back to that earlier concept that I mentioned above when all a man needed was a horse, a few weapons of choice and plenty of open space.

The Magnificent Seven, interestingly, was first screened in the early 1960’s in the same period as the Misfits. Both films had plenty of well-acted performances (including by Eli Wallach in both films), understandable, if sparse, dialogue and nice plot lines. However, apart from those similarities they go there separate ways in looking at the heroic figure of the American cowboy and his fate in a modernizing world.

The plot line of the Seven is fairly simple, as is usually the case with old time oaters, as a village of beleaguered Mexican farmers being bled white by a gang of Mexican bad guys seeks help from north of the border. In forming a small army of motley gunfighters to battle against evil Chris (played by Yul Bryner) has gathered in every social type, from pathological killer to raw kid on the make, known to the western. However when the deal goes down the good guys beat the bad guys. Straight up. The cast of actors used to fill the roles of the gunfighters was basically a who’s who of macho male actors, from Bryner to McQueen to Vaughn, of the early 1960’s. Here high testoserone meets a worthy cause.

Although there are plenty of doubts about the virtues of the cowboy lifestyle expressed by the lead cowboys, particularly by Steve McQueen, this film’s central premise is that it takes such types with their well-worn sense of honor to right the wrongs of the little world that they have decided to inhabit. In a sense this is the Last Chance to give meaning to all those macho qualities that we have been told created the vast American West. Adios.

Monday, January 28, 2008

* American Communist Founder And Leader James P. Cannon Is In The House!

Click on title to link to the James P. Cannon Internet Archive's copy of his 1944 analysis of the lessons of the great Minneapolis teamsters strikes of 1934 (in which he played an important advisory part).

I have added a link to the James P. Cannon Archives. Those who read this space know that I stand proudly in the Cannon tradition of socialism. His work was, in his prime, the work of a man who wanted to make a revolution. In a real sense today's militant leftists, whether they know it or not, also stand on that tradition, as well. If you do not read anything else of Cannon's read his analysis of the great Minneapolis General Strike of 1934 (written in 1944) that he helped direct. It has many lessons for today's class struggle-starved militants. I will be commenting on the article shortly.

*The Fox in the Hen House- A Paul Wolfowitz Sighting

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for Max Schachtman the "max daddy" of the neo-conservatives back when they flirted with what they thought was Trotskyism in the 1950s. At that time old Max had long shed the revolutionary credentials (and they were real)of his youth.


In the spring of 2007 after head of the World Bank and former deputy secretary of war Paul Wolfowitz got the boot from the bank for trying to impress his girlfriend
I speculated that he would not wind up sleeping on a Central Park bench. Needless to say I was right- these guys and gals flip through government and the think tanks with the greatest of ease and the good old boy and girl networks provide the parachute.

Apparently Wolfowitz initially landed at the conservative old folks home- the American Enterprise Institute but as a recent item by Janine Zacharia of Bloomberg News that caught my attention noted the boy is back in the hen house. Wolfowitz has now been tagged to head the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board. This board gives ‘advice’ on a whole range of issues concerning arms control, disarmament, nonproliferation, etc. A nice soft job for an old pro at such issues.

But, hell, wait a minute. This Wolfowitz is the same guy who was the point man (person, excuse me) on the question of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And if memory serves me right, according to Seymour Hersh’s April 2006 New Yorker expose, a leading advocate for disarming Iran by military means. What kind of advise would any rational person, and I believe that Condi Rice is by her own lights rational, take from this guy? Paul Cirincione of the Center for American Progress (where do they get these names for these think tanks, by the way) hit the nail on the head with the following comment-“The advise given by Paul Wolfowitz over the past six years ranks among the worst provided by any defense official in history. I have no idea why anyone would want more.” Nicely put. And that is by someone working the same street as brother Wolfowitz. Note this though- Saddam Hussein was not the only one who should have been in the dock for crimes against the Iraqi people. One unlamented former American War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should have stood beside him. And his deputy Paul Wolfowitz to his right.

Below is a repost on a comment made in May 2007 as Wolfowitz was facing the ax at the World Bank.

On the Outside Looking Out- The Strange Tale of Paul Wolfowitz Former Neo-Con Whiz Kid

At one time the currently beleaguered head of the World Bank Paul Wolfowitz was seen as one of the ‘best and brightest’ of his generation of neo-cons who had come to dominate the inner team of the Bush Administration. While one should not expect that Mr. Wolfowitz would wind up sleeping on a bench in Central Park his star has certainly lost its luster. First the quagmire in Iraq of which he was a central architect and now creating a 'safe haven' for his girl friend. Oh well. I personally will cry no tears over his fate. Will you? This case is, however, prima facie evidence for why, when the working class takes state power through workers councils, we will invoke the long time socialist tradition of immediate recall of governmental officials for cause. One should not have to go through a 'cold' international civil war at the World Bank, or anywhere else for that matter, just to get rid of a guy who is out to impress his girl friend.

Just one other little point on Mr. Wolfowitz’s personal history. Much has been made in the more political publications about the so-called Trotskyist past of a number of neo-cons, including Mr. Wolfowitz. One would get the impression that these were 'red' revolutionaries who saw the error of their youthful ways and on seeing their errors immediately offered their services as direct agents of American imperialism. Not so. They essentially spent five minutes going to some State Department socialist meetings of the American Socialist Party in the late 1950's or early 1960's.

What passes for the Trotskyism the publications are talking about is the Trostkyist past of one by then burned-out Max Shachtman of the Socialist Party, he of the support to the Bay of Pigs invasion and of the Vietnam War infamy, or of Irving Howe, social democratic editor of Dissent. By comparison with their progeny both Mr. Howe and Mr. Shachtman were serious about Trotsky's ideas and in the case of Shachtman had actually rendered valuable service to the Trotskyist movement at one time. But that was in their pasts. When the neo-cons arrived neither Howe nor Shachtman were Trotskyists. Christ, from their political positions at that point I do not believe that by that time they knew how to spell the word. If one was looking for the semblance of Trotskyist ideas in America at that time the place to look was the Socialist Workers Party led by James P. Cannon. I do not see that political address on any neo-con resume. Enough said.

Friday, January 25, 2008

*Free Leonard Peltier Now!

Click on title to link to Leonard Peltier Defense Committee web site for updates on this long and sordid case against a central leader of the Native American struggles (and ours as well). Free Leonard Peltier!!!

I proudly add a link to the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee. I would hope his case needs no motivation at this point. You can read the story at the website, in any case. I do have one very important question that I asked last year when good old boy "Scooter" Libby was getting his pardon from George Bush. Where is Leonard Peltier's pardon? Appparently Leonard Peltier cannot count himself among the favored tribe of Muffys, Buffys, Scooters, Hobeys and that ilk that the President feels free to release at a whim. That, my friends, is a very different tribe indeed. The class war goes on. Enough said.

Renegade Eye Is In The House

Readers of this blog will note that I have only recently begun to put links to other blogs and causes on this site. Part of this stemmed from a certain technological backwardness that I readily confess to. I pick up as much techie stuff as I need. A great help in the techie department has been Renegade Eye who I have just put a link to on this site.

If you want to read hard current socialist critiques, meshed in with a whole range of interesting cultural highlights not usually associated with dreary socialist propagandists like myself, then Renegade Eye is a place to look. For the ‘culturati’ among you this will be a treat.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

*Free The Cuban Five-Ahora!-In Defense Of The Cuban Revolution

Click on title to link to the National Committee To Free The Cuban Five web site for updates on this important international case.


I have been somewhat remiss of late in talking up the case of the Cuban Five. I have put a link to the website of the National Committee for the Defense of the Cuban Five here for now. I will be dealing with their case more later, especially as their cases rework their way through the federal court system. Free the Five! This is one very important way to defend the Cuban Revolution. Defend those who acted to defend the Cuban Revolution.

Tudor Love and Politics

DVD Review

Elizabeth I, HBO Productions, 2006

Sometimes it is funny to think about how you learn things as a kid and they stick with you until you go to reexamine them later. That seems especially true about history. Sometimes it is covered with so much banality and rot that it is hard to get the story straight. Old Queen Bess fell into that category. If one compares a film version from the 1950’s of how she was perceived and this production, except for the names of the parties, it might as well be two different people. And this is only film. What the hell is the real her-story then?

In the schoolboy histories of my youth Henry VIII’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, old Bess of blessed memory, who reigned in England during the turbulent last half of the 16th century, had the sobriquet of the Virgin Queen. Of course we were kids then and did know any better about the real ways of royal politics and intricacies of adult romance so that label kind of stuck.

The film under review goes a long way to visually shifting that image as Helen Mirren as the first Elizabeth presents us with a full-blooded and somewhat coquettish Emmy-winning performance. But, wait a minute, didn’t Mirren just play the modern Elizabeth and get an Oscar for it. Yes. I believe that I am right. Frankly, old Bess is a hell of a lot more interesting as she seeks romance (with the likes of the Earl of Leicester and later the youthful Earl of Sussex) and the enhancement of the royal prerogative in a long and apparently personally unhappy reign. Off Mirren’s performance here though I am glad that Cromwell and the boys in the next century did not have such a ruthless adversary in Charles I. The success of the Commonwealth might have been a much nearer thing.

The story line here centrally revolves around Elizabeth’s struggle (like her father’s) to enhance the royal power, as is to be expected, but also, as is the norm in dynastic politics, to insure the line of succession. Hovering all through this saga is the question of when or whether Bess will product an heir. In the end we know that she did not and James VI of Scotland (as James I) came on board. However, along the way Bess insured by her policies that England would remain a Protestant country (despite the intrigues of Mary, Queen of Scots and others), that England would become an important naval and mercantile power and that, for a time, the centralizing role of the crown would keep the feuding nobility at bay. Not bad for an old ‘Virgin’ Queen.

A Bomb A Day Keeps Bush In Play



A couple of recently published developments should have all anti-warriors shaking in their boots-and shaking their fists in rage. First, in the year 2007, along with the increase of American troops on the ground-the ‘surge’- came a dramatic increase in the amount of American aerial bombing in Iraq (and needless to say in Afghanistan, as well). I do not know how reliable the figures are but in the article I read a comparison has been made with 2006. In 2006 there were about four bombing runs a week. In 2007 about four per day. Even if the numbers are somewhat shaky, as is always the case with war numbers, this was a dramatic increase by anyone’s account. Of course, what this means in human terms is that more villages were destroyed, more buildings destroyed, more civilian casualties. You know that ugly little term-collateral damage. And along with this more recruits to the insurgents. As for Afghanistan where there are, by most military estimates, not nearly enough troops American/NATO bombings and the consequent civilian casualties are an acknowledged fact of life. (See below).

The second, and perhaps in the long haul the more decisive, recent development concerns the attempts by the Bush Administration and its toadies in Iraq to sign a “treaty” that is not a treaty to keep an American military presence in Iraq until the cows come home. The reason for the quotes around the word treaty above is that a treaty needs to be ratified by the Senate. As usual the Bushies are trying to do an end around to avoid that unpleasant reality. More on this as it develops over the next few weeks. In the meantime- Immediate Withdrawal of U.S./Allied Troops and Their Mercenaries from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Added January 28, 2008

Apparently the Bush Administration, at least in their appearances before various Congressional committees, is playing this Iraq "treaty" that is not treaty as another garden variety agreement that America has with about 100 other nations where there are military or other such types of bases. Of course those agreements, aside from the fact that there are 100 or so of them and thus a strong argument for the imperialist nature of the American state, concern leasing arrangements and the like. Or what to do when American soldiers go wild in their locales on a Saturday night.

This "treaty" with Iraq is of a whole different order no only calling for what amount to a permanent American presence there but commits American troops to the defense of the central government in the case of civil war. Christ, I thought I was being merely rhetorical when I was yelling for the past couple of years that our grandchildren will be fighting in Iraq if we do not stop these madmen (and women). With these scenarios that may very well come to pass.

Below is a repost of commentary from Spring 2007 dealing with the Afghanistan portion of this bombing issue.

With the recent flurry of activity by Congress in Washington over the Iraq and Afghanistan war budgets and the ‘surge’ strategy in Iraq Afghanistan has fallen below the newspaper fold. That is a mistake. In one of the ironies of history Afghanistan was the pivotal start of the whole ‘war of civilizations’ going back to the fight by the Soviet Union in the 1980’s that was fought, at least partially, to bring Afghanistan into the 20th century (or maybe even the 19th). If the Soviet Union had waged more than a half-hearted fight then world history might have looked significantly difference today. The Islamic fundamentalist forces, notably those committed to Bin Laden and an Al Qaeda strategy, got their first taste of blood there. And they liked it.

The current political situation in that benighted country is that the Karzai government’s writ does not extend outside of Kabul and that the U.S./NATO presence there is the only thing propping up that government. And that is the rub. There has been a recent spate of articles on the fighting in Afghanistan centered on the allied forces indiscriminate bombing of various outlining villages and the killing of innocent civilians. While not now a matter of widespread public knowledge the American strategy in Afghanistan is essentially the same as in Iraq.

In order to defeat the Taliban (and other) insurgencies those allied forces have relied on the old tried and true imperialist method of bringing overwhelming military force and then letting “God” separate out the innocent from the guilty. Of course, this nice little strategy has its blowback effect as previously disinterested Afghans have now begun, on their own, to fight against the imperialist presence. One village that was bombed by the United States during the past week did just that. One can expect more to come.

American imperialism, for public consumption, will bring out the candy bars and soap to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the local populace but when the deal goes down the bomb is the persuader of choice. So much for all those vaunted pacification programs. In justification for the aerial bombing policy one of the Allied ground commanders stated that without the use of such power hundreds of thousands of additional ground troops would be necessary. Nobody in the political and military establishment in Washington, or anywhere else, wants to, at this point, get into that hornet’s nest. The long and the short of it is that while we keep the fight against the war in Iraq on the front burner we had better bring the demand for immediate withdrawal in Afghanistan up to the front as well. In fact, United States Hands Off The World!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Working Class Buries One Of Its Own


This space is usually devoted to ‘high’ politics and the personal is usually limited to some experience of mine that has a direct political point. Sometimes, however, a story is so compelling and makes the point in such a poignant manner that no political palaver is necessary. Let me tell the tale. But first, as always, let us have a little historical context for this commentary.

In the 20th century January was traditionally the month to honor fallen working class leaders such as Lenin, Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. That tradition still goes on, however, more in the European working class movement than here. January can and should, however, also be a time to honor other working class people, those down at the base, as well. Over the last year I have posted a couple of such stories (See Hard Times in Babylon and An Uncounted Casualty of War in the May 2007 archives.) Here in its proper place is another about a fallen daughter of the class who died this January.

In An Uncounted Casualty of War (hereafter, Uncounted), written last May, I noted that I had then recently returned to the old working class neighborhood where I grew up. Maybe it is age, maybe it is memory, maybe it is the need at this late date to gain a sense of roots but that return has haunted me ever since. I have gone back a couple of times since then to hear more of what had happened to those in the old neighborhood from a woman who continues to live there and had related the above story to me. This one is about the fate of my childhood friend Kenny's (the subject of the Uncounted commentary) mother Margaret. Read it and weep.

As I mentioned in Uncounted our little family started life in the housing projects, at that time not the notorious hell holes of crime and deprivation that they later became but still a mark of being low, very low, on the social ladder at a time when others were heading to the Valhalla of the newly emerging suburbs. By clawing and scratching my parents saved enough money to buy an extremely modest single-family house. The house was in a neighborhood that was, and is, one of those old working class neighborhoods where the houses are small, cramped and seedy, the leavings of those who have moved on to bigger and better things.

The neighborhood nevertheless reflected the desire of the working poor in the 1950’s, my parents and others, to own their own homes and not be shunted off to decrepit apartments or dilapidated housing projects, the fate of those just below them on the social ladder. That is where I met Kenny and through him his family, including his mother Margaret. She seemed like a nice woman although I never got to know her well.

As I also mentioned in Uncounted in my teens I had lost track of Kenny who as he reached maturity took the death of a friend who died in Vietnam very hard. Harder than one can even imagine. The early details are rather sketchy but they may have involved drug use. The overt manifestations were acts of petty crime and then anti-social acts like pulling fire alarms and walking naked down the street. At some point Kenny was diagnosed as schizophrenic. I make no pretense of having adequate knowledge about the causes of mental illnesses but someone I trust has told me that such a traumatic event as his friend’s death can trigger the condition in young adults. In any case, the institutionalizations inevitably began. And later the halfway houses and all the other forms of control for those who cannot survive on the mean streets of the world on their own. Apparently, with drugs and therapy, there were periods of calm but for over three decades poor Kenny struggled with his inner demons. In the end the demons won and he died a few years ago while in a mental hospital.

Needless to say Kenny’s problems were well beyond his mother and father’s ability to comprehend or control. His father, like mine, had limited education and meager work prospects. In short, there were no private resources for Kenny and he and they were thus consigned to public institutionalization schemes. The shame of this, among other things, led to his father’s early death many, many years ago. His mother, strong Irish Catholic working class woman that she was, shouldered the burden by herself until Kenny’s death. The private and public horrors and humiliations that such care entailed must have taken a toll on her most of us could not stand. Apparently in the end it got to her as well as she let her physical appearance go down, became more reclusive and turned in on herself reverting in conversation to dwelling on happier times as a young married woman in the mid-1940’s.

Kenny’s woes, however, as I recently found out were only part of this sad story. Kenny had two older brothers whom I did not really know well because they were not around. Part of that reason was they were in and out of trouble or one sort or another and were not around the neighborhood much. My neighborhood historian related to me that at some point both sons had dropped out of sight and had not been seen by their mother for over thirty years. They are presumed to be dead or that is the story Margaret told my historian. In any case, since Kenny’s death Margaret’s health, or really her will to live went down hill fairly rapidly. Late last year she was finally placed in a nursing home where she died this month. Only a very few attended her funeral and her memory is probably forgotten by all except my historian friend and myself in this poor commentary.

I am a working class political person. That is the great legacy that my parents left me, intentionally or not. Are there any great political lessons to be learned here? No, but I swear that when we build the new society that this country and this world needs we will not let the Kennys of the world be shunted off to the side. And we will not let the Margarets of the world, our working class mothers, die alone and forgotten. As for Kenny and Margaret may they rest in peace.