Friday, November 05, 2010

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Sheila Rowbotham: Hiding From History-A Book Review

Markin comment:

The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, summer 1975, that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of Women and Revolution during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.
Rowbotham, Sheila.
Hidden From History: Rediscovering Women in History from the 17th Century to the Present. New York: Pantheon Books, 1971

Sheila Rowbotham's latest book. Hidden from History, is a collection of historical sketches dealing with English women from the time of the Puritan revolution in the mid-I7th century to the I930's. As the title implies and the text confirms, Rowbotham holds the idealist position that women have played as important a role as men in history, but that we do not know about them because male historians have not written about them much. While it is certainly true that the history of women, as of other oppressed sectors of society, has often been neglected or distorted by historians, to argue that women's oppression can be significantly alleviated by "writing women back into history" actually denies the reality of that oppression because it denies that it had any real effect on women's abilities to develop their potential and function effectively in the world.

The book attempts to be not merely a historical narrative, but one which "traces the historical origins of the critical problems with which the women's movement is grappling." While neither Rowbotham nor the social-democratic British group, International Socialists, which she supports, would dream of imposing their views on women in the form, say, of an unambiguous political program which could provide solutions to their problems, a careful reading of the book does turn up a number of hints which, when carefully collected, do begin to assume a programmatic shape. As in her earlier books, Rowbotham advances a program of feminism, reformism and anti-Marxism.

Rowbotham: Another "Socialisf'-Feminist

At the beginning of her "Introduction to the American Edition" Rowbotham writes: "I hope this will be helpful to anyone concerned with developing a marxist [sic] feminist view of history...." She thus helps to perpetuate the deception that Marxism, the essence of which is class struggle, and feminism, the essence of which is class collaboration ("all women are sisters," remember?) are in any way compatible.

Like the Socialist Workers Party's Mary-Alice Waters, whom she cites uncritically, Rowbotham seeks to cover this contradiction by defining feminism as simply "the assertion of the need to improve the position of women." But despite this apparently artless explanation, the book makes it clear that Rowbotham's feminism is more than just an unfortunate misuse of language.

Carried to its logical extreme, the feminist counterposition to Marxism is that of sex war to class war. While Rowbotham does not extend her program to a call for to¬tal sexual segregation—as the most consistent feminists do (see "The C.L.l.T. Papers—Feminism Ad Absurdum," Women and Revolution No. 7, Autumn 1974)—she shares the New Left polyvanguardist notion that only women can liberate women, and she is more than sympathetic to the exclusion of men from organizations fighting for women's liberation. Thus she is critical of the position of Thomas Shaw, a weaver, who said at Ruskin College in 1916:

"1 think there is a danger that existed even before the war of a feeling growing up amongst the women that unless they are organised, officered and managed separately their interests cannot be attended to I deprecate the tendency of so many people to think that unless a woman represents a woman the woman worker cannot get representation at all."

Rowbotham comments:

"He completely by-passed the problem of women's interests sometimes being different from men's and the difficulty of women organising within the male-dominated union for their special point of view."

It is the spectre of male domination rather than that of bourgeois oppression which haunts this "socialist-feminist. In her discussion of the suffragist Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) which was active in the period preceding World War I, for example, she says that women were forced, through their participation in illegal activities, to see through the myth of the impartiality of the law because they were "tried and judged by men." It is only as an afterthought that she adds: "The state and the laws were not only controlled and created by men in their own interest: they also represented the coercive power of the class." Also! Marxists understand that all laws and the state agencies which enforce them are above all else the apparatus which the ruling class uses to maintain its domination and to suppress other social classes. At the same time, class rule is constantly reinforced through the news media, the educational system, the church and other cultural institutions. But this most elementary Marxist premise has escaped Rowbotham, for whom the funda¬mental social distinction is that of sex rather than class. "It is evident," she writes, "that the rediscovery of our history is an essential aspect of the creation of a feminist critique of male culture" (our emphasis).

The Origins of the Conflict

In her efforts to blur the overriding contradiction between socialism and feminism, Rowbotham advances the fabrication that "there was a close connection between feminism and socialism in the early years of this century and the divorce between the two was long, painful and protracted." In reality, the emergence of Marxism and the recognition that an egalitarian society can emerge only out of the rule of the working class clarified the irreconcilable differences between the two tendencies at an early date (see "Feminism vs. Marxism: Origins of the Conflict," Women and Revolution No. 5, Spring 1974).

By the turn of the century there had been no question of a "close connection" between feminism and socialism for decades. On the contrary, both in terms of its social composition, which was overwhelmingly bourgeois and petty-bourgeois, and its individualistic, reformist and class-collaborationist ideology, feminism had demonstrat¬ed itself to be outside and often hostile to the working-class movement, a fact which is borne out in the 1904 pamphlet of "socialist feminist" Isabella Ford whom Rowbotham quotes approvingly (p. 93). Ford, who was arguing that the emancipation of women and of labor were "different aspects of the same great force," nevertheless noted that feminists and socialists seemed unconscious of their "kinship":

"In the Labour Party a prejudice one finds exists against the women's party because it owes its origin and its growth to middle class women mostly, if not entirely. On that account it is branded by many as a middle class affair, possessing no fundamental connection with the Labour movement "

This situation grieved Ford, who complained of the socialists' "anti-socialistic" attitude toward the feminists and explained that middle-class suffragists were deter¬mined not to gain political emancipation only for "middle class purposes." But socialists know better than to rely on such promises.

Class composition is not, of course, in itself a guarantee of correct political program, but it is certainly one important factor. While Rowbotham pretends that the class composition of the suffrage movement "remains unclear" and hypothesizes that "very probably many suffragette supporters came from the same social strata as many of the members of the Fabian Society," she does admit that "the movement for the vote was undoubtedly mainly middle class." She then proceeds to explain this not in terms of political program but in terms of personal inconvenience: "It must have been difficult for most working-class women to travel around on delegations or go to meetings."

While it is undoubtedly true that middle-class women were more mobile than working women, this is hardly an adequate explanation. Far more significant was the fact that organizations like the WSPU—despite Isabella Ford's protestations to the contrary—were clearly fighting in the interests of bourgeois women and had little to offer working women. The true class character of the WSPU was conclusively exposed in 1915 when it changed the name of its newspaper from The Suffragette to Britannia, aban¬doned all suffrage activities for the duration of the war and turned instead to handing out "white feathers of coward¬ice" to male civilians on the street. An even more striking confirmation of its subservience to capitalism—which Rowbotham, who has written extensively on Russia in the revolutionary period, does not even mention—was the journey of WSPU leader Emmeline Pankhurst to Russia in the spring of 1917 in order to campaign among women there for support to the Kerensky government and in opposition to the Bolsheviks.

Hidden From Feminism

Rowbotham spends a great deal of time attempting to prove that orthodox Marxism (as opposed to New Left reformism) is an outdated product of nineteenth century capitalism which has been insensitive to the needs of women. Her major complaint appears to be that Marx devoted more time to the study of wage labor and commodity production than to sexuality, maternity, production and reproduction in the household and the family. This criticism is hardly surprising in view of her demonstrated failure to grasp the primacy of the class struggle in history, but it creates an overwhelming contradiction which—conveniently enough—makes militant action in any direction impossible. On the one hand, as a nominal socialist, she is forced to concede that "feminism alone is not enough to encompass theoretically the forms of oppression women have shared with men." On the other hand, having defined the Marxist movement as a product of 19th century, bourgeois male consciousness with an overemphasis on the class struggle, she places herself outside it.

What, then is the path to the emancipation of women? Sheila Rowbotham does not say. And while she and other "socialisf'-feminists pursue their futile quest for a mythical missing link between feminism and revolutionary social¬ism, the women who look to them for leadership are left to grapple ineffectively with the same problems which beset them a hundred years ago. Nothing has been learned.

It is not only the achievements of women which have been hidden from history, but also the program and strategy for the emancipation of women. They do not come to light in this book.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

After The Tea Party-Us- The 2010 Midterm Congressional Elections- We Desperately Need To Fight For A Workers Party That Fights For A Workers Government-A Short Note

Markin comment:

In the aftermath of the 2008 presidential elections I, half-jokingly, ran a slogan- “After Obama-Us.” The serious part of that slogan was that once the illusions in the ephemeral “Obama the Charma” whirlwind swirl wore off and leftists, progressive and working people, who should have known better, sobered up then politically our day, the day of those who fight for our communist future, would come. Obviously, given the equally ephemeral capacity of the left to seriously take advantage of those Obamian disillusionments in the immediate situation, there was also fantastic quality, the half-joking part, to that exercise.

What is serious today in the aftermath of the 2010 election is the rise of the tea party movement and its ability electorally, in the short haul, to suck up the political air. Air that by all that is rational in modern class society torn every which way by the contradictions of capitalism should be ours. But, as one of the most general laws of political discourse foretells- politics abhors a vacuum. Thus, for today at least, and if the exit poll numbers are right and there is no reason to doubt their tenor if not their accuracy, there is a substantial working class component to the tea party movement. Not for the first time, given no real reason to seek help from the minuscule left that has the program but not the foot soldiers to bring dramatic social change, working people have sought their “salvation” elsewhere.

Today then I do not want to speak of those who have middle class professional jobs and who support the tea party movement between trips to Europe. Today I do not want to speak of my fellow AARP seniors who on the one hand benefit from the current social and health programs but rail against government hand-outs. Today I don not want to speak of those who, rich or just niggardly, who do not want to pay their taxes, frankly any taxes if you listen carefully to their cant. Those, for the most part are not “our people.”

No, today, I want to direct my attention, and yours, to the need, the desperate need, to break those elements of the working class enamored of this tea-ish movement to the fight for a workers party that fights for a workers government. Immediately the fight to get jobs, the fight to stop foreclosures, the fight for free quality health care and about seventy-three other fights that I have detailed elsewhere. That is the real point of today’s headline- "After the tea party, us." Otherwise it’s just back to the other party of capitalist, the Democrats. Been there, done that. More, later.

*In The Time Of The Time Of The Parents Of The Generation Of '68- David Kennedy's "Freedom From Fear: The American People In Depression And War; 1929-1945- A Book Review

Book Review

Freedom From Fear: The American People In Depression And War; 1929-1945, The Oxford History Of The United States, David M. Kennedy, Oxford University Press, New York, 1999

Over the course of the past several years I have mentioned many things about both my own generation, the Generation of ’68 (read: the beginning of the baby-boomer curve), and that of my parents. Probably more readers today are familiar with the political turmoil churned up by my generation, have seen or read about the 1960s and the “hippie counterculture, or have been thrust into the center of various “culture wars” that have been fought in reaction to those times for the last forty years or so. As my parents’ generation, the generation who lived through the hard times of the Great Depression of the 1930s, a period that has been the subject of many comparisons with today’s economic mess, and who fought a war, a “good” war in their eyes, have begun to pass away in great numbers that story may not be as fresh to today’s reader.

Needless to say as part of a generic Oxford History of The United States this volume , Freedom From Fear, by David Kennedy is heavy on the macro-history of the period in its eight hundred plus pages. While that may not be enough, not nearly enough for those who want to learn the lessons of the history of this period I believe that as a general primer in order to get the flavor of the periods explored that this is an excellent primer, for the general reader and budding specialist. I might add here that Professor Kennedy has aided the reader’s cause by keeping a light hand on the story line and in keeping the sometimes bewildering mass of material in an orderly manner. And always appreciated, especially in eight hundred page tomes, the footnotes are on the same page as they are cited, a practice that a great many scholarly works could benefit from.

No one, historian or lay reader, can speak of the period from 1929-1945 in America without recognizing the central figure of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In my household for my parents’ generation, and their parents’ generation, the name evoked a living god. Although this book bring FDR back to earth a little, especially over some of his more bureaucratic moves, like trying to pack the Supreme Court, he still mainly comes off as the hero of my family household remembrances.

Professor Kennedy takes us through the reasons for that positive image as he starts with the economic and political atmosphere in America in the late 1920s, the great Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the policies of FDR’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover, that were either too little too late or too benign to be effective. After a few years of the Hoover policy FDR (read: non-Hoover) looked pretty good. At least his ideas for putting a massively unemployed nation back to work held out promise. Kennedy also spends much time on the general condition of the country, who was being listened to, who had the ear of the people and who was just spinning wheels, as FDR entered office.

Then we are taken on a long stretch through the various alphabet soups of agencies and programs that FDR and his cohorts tried to implement in order to get things moving and that is the theme that carries the book through most of the 1930s up until the war rumblings from Europe started. The most central proposition that Professor Kennedy (and not he alone) pushes forth, and he is basically correct, is that no amount of tinkering to save the capitalist system by FDR and his programs really broke the back of unemployment and resolved the central problem of economic turmoil in America. That was not resolved until the massive buildup of armaments for World War II put people back to work.

FDR’s domestic program takes up about one half of the book, the other half, and to my mind the less fruitful part takes up the struggle for America’s entry into World War II against the very strong isolationist tendencies here and then, once war was inevitable, the various strategies to win the European and Pacific component of the war. Professor Kennedy does a good job of running through the various controversies, at home and with foreign allies, and the order of battles on each front up to the decisive one of using the atomic bomb against the Japanese.

For the most part reading through this broad history of the period reminded me of my high school readings from this period. But history is a moving target and thus Professor Kennedy, as befits later research and a tip of the hat to the modern trend toward the concerns of micro-history, addresses several issues that never saw the light of day back then. Among them the controversy over the “wisdom” of using the atomic bomb, the placing of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps (along with a legal imprimatur from the Supreme Court) , the segregation of blacks soldiers in the military, the role of women in war production and the governmental bureaucracy and the labor movement’s attitude toward the war. I do wish that Professor Kennedy had spent a little more time on life at the base of society during this whole period (as opposed to reports about what some government official thought was happening at the base). But for that kind of thing you can run over to Studs Terkel’s The Good War or other such compilation. For an outstanding primer on the period though, this is your stop,

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Alone of All Her Sex; A Review-The Cult of the Virgin Mary

Markin comment:

The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Summer 1977, that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of Women and Revolution during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.
Alone of All Her Sex; A Review-The Cult of the Virgin Mary-Susan Adrian

Warner, Marina.
Alone Of  All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976.

Marxists find contemporary religion — in which fear degradation comprise the liturgy through which
believers are rendered stupid and impotent before divinity of their oppressors — an odious thing. We
understand, however, that what sustains religious affiliation in the scientific age is not so much intellectual conviction as social oppression. Thus, while the anti-clerical spirit which animates Voltaire's earnest
wish that "the last king---be strangled with the entrails of the last priest" may be sincere and even justified, such a "war against god" does not transcend petty-bourgeois idealism. Religion will disappear only when the society which creates the need for it is destroyed.

The bourgeois revolutions established the principle of separation of church and state, but, as Marx pointed out, this did not result in freedom from religion. Nor has the decline in the vitality of organized religion eliminated religious sentiment.

While there has never been a state religion in the United States, the coupling of religious bigotry with nativist right-wing movements is well known, and patriotism, piety at d prosperity have been the time-tested trinity of American imperial politics. Thirty to forty million Americans currently consider themselves "born-again" Chris'/ans, not to mention the more traditional sects, mi;, h less the wretched mysticism which serves as a junkyard for New Left derelicts still searching for personal liberation on the cheap.

The sanctimonious tone of the last presidential campaign and the fact that victory went to holier-than-anybody Jimmy Carter, who claims to consult his "faith-healing" sister in, important decisions, suggest not so much a serious religious revival as a despairing passivity Vyhich hangs over the American working class. An indication of the relationship between political defeat and religious conversion is the growth of the Black Muslim sect, Which gained from the despair and cynicism among black people following the political failures and physical destruction of the black move¬ment in the sixties.

Not surprisingly it is women who are often the most fervent devotees of religion. Isolated from social production and social struggle within the suffocating confines of the family women have generally been the
most susceptible to and the most reliable instruments of the "gendarmes in cassocks."

Myth of the Virgin Mother of God

Marina Warner's book, Alone of All Her Sex, attempts to explore the religious myth which has been most explicitly directed toward molding and deforming women's consciousness—the myth of the virgin mother of god. The rituals and intricacies of Catholic theology are more prevalent and familiar in Europe and Latin countries than in the U.S., but this particular image is not at all unrelated to more general stereotypes or models of the "ideal woman."

And what a powerful myth it has been! Dante and Botticelli were inspired by it; the spires and towers of Notre Dame and Chartres were ostensibly raised to celebrate it; even Elizabeth I—never one to let religious scruples interfere with the affairs of state—allowed herself to be draped in the imagery of the "Virgin Queen."

The myth of the virgin birth of the god/redeemer is, of course, not unique to Christianity, but has its roots in ancient lore. William  Butler Yeats'spoem/'Ledaandthe Swan" (1923), revives the mythical encounter between the god Zeus and the mortal Leda:

"A sudden blow: the great wings beating still Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill, He holds her helpless breast upon his breast. How can those terrified vague fingers push The feathered glory from her loosening thighs? And how can body, laid in that white rush, But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there The broken wall, the burning roof and tower And Agamemmnon dead. Being so caught up, So mastered by the brute blood of the air, Did she put on his knowledge with his power Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?"

In describing the growth of the cult of the virgin mother in Western Europe, Warner attempts to explore
what she poses as a paradox: "that in the verycelebration of the perfect human woman, both
humanity and women were subtly denigrated." Some 300 pages later she asserts her concluding hypothesis:

"The Virgin Mary is not the innate archetype of female nature, the dream incarnate; she is the instrument of a
dynamic argument from the Catholic Church about the structure of society, presented as a God-given code. The argument changes, according to contingencies —

"The Catholic Church might succeed, with its natural resilience and craft, in accommodating her to the new
circumstances of sexual equality, but it is more likely that the Virgin will recede into legend...the Virgin's legend will endure in its splendour and lyricism, but it will be emptied of moral significance, and thus lose its present real powers to heal and to harm."

However, it is not the myth which harms but the reality that it mystifies, and it is not the refurbishing of the myth which will "heal" women's oppression. Marx and Engels quoted approvingly the motto-on the journal of the French republican Loustalot:

"The great appear great in our eyes Only because we are kneeling.Let us rise!"

However, they added: "But to rise it is not enough to do so in thought and to leave hanging over one's real sensuously perceptible head the real sensuously perceptible yoke that cannot be stabilized away with ideas."

Foundations of Christianity

Christianity began as the ideology of the poor Jewish masses under the Roman Empire. As economic relations did not provide opportunities for the mul¬tiplication of wealth through the development of the productive forces, the possessing classes of Rome could sustain their wealth only by the continual and ever-expanding plundering of conquered areas. The ex¬treme cheapness of slave labor procured in such a fashion was the only thing that made large-scale enterprises (mainly agriculture and some mining) reasonably profitable relative to those of the small peasants. The wealth accumulated through plunder was devoted almost exclusively to consumption, to the pursuit of enjoyment.

The fundamental cause for the decline of the Roman Empire was the contradiction inherent in the growing
luxuriousness of the possessing classes, the incessant growth of surplus value on the one hand and the static
character of the mode of production on the other; and  it is in this contradiction that one must also seek the
roots of primitive Christianity. Abram Leon writes:

"...while it is obvious that the majority of Jews played a commercial role in the Roman Empire, we must not think that all the Jews were rich traders or entrepreneurs. On the contrary, the majority was certainly made up of small people, some of them making their living directly or indirectly from trade: peddlers, stevedores, petty artisans, etc. It is this mass of small people which was first hit by the decline of  the Roman Empire and suffered most from Roman extortion. Concentrated in great masses in the cities, they were capable of greater resistance than ppeasant people dispersed in the country. They were also more conscious of their interests— It was among the poor layers of the great cities of the Diaspora that Christianity spread.  Just as the Jewish insurrectionse followed by insurrections of the non-Jewish popular masses, so did the Jewish communist religion rapidly find its extension among these pagan masses." —A. Leon, The Jewish Question

As an ideology of protest on the part of the dis¬possessed and powerless, Christianity embodied a trenchant anti-plutocratic spirit. In the Gospel of Luke, for example, one finds:

"Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are ye that hunger now; for ye shall be filled —

But woe unto you that are rich! Woe unto you, ye that are

full now! for ye shall hunger."

The Epistle of James is similarly explicit:

"Come now,ye rich, weep and howl for your miseries that

are coming upon you Your gold and your silver are

rusted; and their rust shall be for a testimony against you,

and shall eat your flesh as fire "

The "communism"of primitive Christianity was not based—could not have been based—on communalizing the productive capacities of society but on communalizing consumption; "communism^ by plundering the rich," in the words of Karl Kautsky. But as Christianity spread, its leaders took pains to blunt its anti-plutocratic thrust.

The process which the church was undergoing was not primarily one resulting from the greed and individual ambition of its officials; it was not simply a tool for deceiving and fleecing the masses. Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine at the same time that the empire's decadence, based on parasitism and brigandage, led to reforms by Diocletian and Constantine which attempted to set it on the foundations of a natural economy. As the religion of the class of great landed proprietors at the inception of feudal economy in Europe, Christianity's original anti-plutocratic fire was now reserved for merchants and usurers.

Secularization and Celibacy

Warner cites an interesting link between the growing wealth of the Church and its sanctification of celibacy. (The scriptures themselves fail to even mention the "immaculate conception" and raise a number of doubts concerning Mary's virginity.) Under Roman law a woman was allowed to inherit and dispose of her own wealth independently after a certain age. It was common among Roman families to raise the sons in the old religion and the daughters in the new; moreover, it often happened in the period of Roman decadence that families had died out in the male line. Thus, a vocation of celibacy (i.e., no heirs) for Christian virgins and childless widows was remarkably profitable for the church. It was thus as a part of the growing secular power of the church, according to Warner, that the cult of thei virgin first achieved prominence.

Augustine, who lived in the 5th century, drew an explicit and literal connection between sexual inter course and original sin, Christ was born of a virgin because that was the only way he could avoid the contamination of original sin. The perception o virginity as an inherently holy state and the identification of spiritual purity with sexual abstinence continue to dominate church doctrine to this day.

The image of the mother of god—all but ignored for the first four centuries of Christianity—was not the humble, submissive girl of the annunciation but the triumphant queen of heaven, an image which also served to symbolize the church's competitive edge over other temporal rulers throughout Europe and the Byzantine Empire. This image of Mary as the queen ofl heaven remained essentially unaltered, except perhaps; for the increasing opulence of her raiment, for man) centuries, lending the authority of divine sanction to the concept of monarchy.

Some of the economic tribute deemed fitting for . queen—and the separation between the temporal and the divine was conveniently blurred—can be seen in the extraordinary wave of adulation which was the( ostensible motivation for the raising of 80 cathedrals ir France within one century alone.

French feudal law in the 12th and 13th centuries permitted a woman to hold rank and property in her own right; and in a society where acquisition of land was a constant and pressing necessity, heiresses sometimes wielded enormous power—Eleanor of Aquitaine (c. 1122-1204) is the most celebrated. But the consolidation of France and other territories as nation-states conflicted with the centrifugal tendencies of feudal inheritance patterns. Eventually women lost many of their former economic rights.

Part of the battle for the national consolidation of France was fought as a holy war by the Pope and the northern French lords to subjugate southern France, the breeding ground of the popular Cathar heresy. This heresy, an ascetic form of Manichaeism, allowed women to enter the clergy and held that casual sex and sodomy were less reprehensible than marriage, which populated the foul universe. Southern France was also the terrain of the Provencal poetry of the troubadours, which exalted adulterous love. From different vantage points, therefore, both heretics and troubadours were anathema to the church and the northern Capetian dynasty. The battles waged, against the south at the beginning of the 13th century destroyed half a million people.

It was the generation of Eleanor of Aquitaine's granddaughter Blanche of Castille, which, encouraged by both church and state, began to focus its ardor on Mary as virgin. This "new" Mary assumed much of the character and function of the original figure in Provencal poetry but without celebrating hedonism and permissiveness. She was still acknowledged a powerful queen but only, it was emphasized, by grace of her son, not in her own right. She was portrayed as the incarnation of loveliness and divine ardor, but above all as the incarnation of chastity.

As Warner points out, the special status accorded the virgin mother of god has as its reverse side an equally special loathing for ordinary, non-virginal women, who are viewed, like Eve, as "occasions of sin," temptresses who distract men from god and lead them into everlasting perdition.

To Pluck the Living Flower

Warner's book is an often unfocused welter of historical and sociological research, nostalgia and self-analysis. She is frank in her ambivalence:

"I could not enter a church without pain at all the safety and beauty of the salvation I had forsaken. I remember visiting Notre Dame in Paris and standing in the nave, tears starting in my eyes, furious at that old love's enduring power to move me."

Not having satisfactorily settled even her own personal accounts with religious obscurantism, Warner explains the church's hold over believers entirely in psychological/ideological terms.

One must indeed acknowledge the church's "gen¬ius.^, for getting a grip on its followers' psyches," in the words of a Village Voice review. In fact, in countries where the Catholic Church has been a dominant cultural and political influence, It has so maimed and distorted the psyches of masses of people that even •politically motivated demonstrators have been driven to orgies of twisted anti-clericalism. For instance, when in 1909, the Spanish government attempted to call up military reservists for defense of its Moroccan colonies, the population responded with a general strike and  a five-day frenzied protest which included streets with the corpses of nuns dug up from1

At the same time, the church has psychological manipulation.and coercion—physical and social. When anarchist  and peasants in the first six months of the Spanish Civil War burned 160 churches to the ground, they were not rebelling merely against psychological oppression but against a powerful state institution, fanatically devoted to the preservation of the monarchy and to reaction.

In the end, Warner rejects the female eunuch of the Catholic Church, albeit with a bizarre, feminist ambivalence:

"Although Mary cannot be a model for the New Woman, a goddess is better than no goddess at all, for the sombre-suited masculine world of the Protestant religion is altogether much like a gentlemen's club to which the ladies are only admitted on special days."

And so the question of religious mythology remains in the end a dismal choice between pernicious fantasy and a bleak and sterile reality.

Marxists insist that these are not the only alternatives. Marxist criticism of religion demystifies religious fantasy and demonstrates that man has created his gods and goddesses and not the other way around—not in order that the toiling masses be deprived of whatever small comfort these fantasies may provide in a harsh world but in order that these poor illusions may be replaced by a far richer and more rewarding reality. Marx put it most eloquently:

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart-of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless
conditions. It is the opium of the people The demand to give up illusions about the existing state of affairs is the demand to give up a state of affairs which needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of tears.

"Criticism has torn up the imaginary flowers from the chain not so that man shall wear the unadorned, bleak chain but so that he will shake off the chain and pluck the -living flower."

—K. Marx, Contribution to a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Lawn

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-The Rise and Fall of Chiang Ching- A Guest Book Review

Markin comment:

The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Summer 1977, that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of Women and Revolution during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.
The Rise and Fall of Chiang Ching
by Joseph Seymour
Witke, Roxane.
Comrade Chiang Ch'ing.
Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977.

Few recent books are at once so objectively significant and so utterly intrinsically trivial as Comrade Chiang Ch'ing. In the summer of 1972, American feminist academic Roxane Witke was given 60 hours of exclusive interviews with Chiang Ching; this was by far the longest that any leading Chinese Communist had spoken to a Western writer since the 1930's. This in itself should have made Comrade Chiang Ch'ing a historical¬ly important document.

Almost immediately after the interviews were given, they became a major focus of Peking's venomous cliquism. It was widely reported that Mao was furious at his wife for revealing closely guarded party and state secrets to an outsider. Witke partially corroborates these reports. She recounts that the Chinese govern¬ment, through its UN mission, pressured her to abandon her projected biography of Chiang Ching, even offering her money not to publish it!

Comrade Chiang Ch'ing, published just after the purge of the "gang of four," now takes on even more political significance. This book is Chiang's last chance to defend her political honor before those foreign radicals who may be sympathetic to her cause.

What a prosecutor wouldn't give for such a defense brief as this! In one sense, the new Hua Kuo-feng regime should be grateful that Witke carried through her project, because Witke, despite her sympathy toward her subject, reveals Chiang Ching as a politically shallow, grossly self-indulgent, paranoid and vindictive woman. In another sense, however, there is good reason why the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy wanted this book suppressed. It unwittingly shows the hypocri¬sy, luxury-loving and viciously clique-ridden nature of Mao's court.

Many foreign radicals were taken in by the Mao/Chiang claim that the so-called Cultural Revolu¬tion was an attack on bureaucratic corruption and privilege. At the time, the Spartacist tendency asserted that the events in China represented an intra-bureaucratic fight, with a large cliquist dimension. Comrade Chiang Ch'ing reveals the petty, sordid, back-stabbing motives of the main inspirers of the Cultural Revolution to a far greater degree than we had envisioned. Key to Chiang's activities during the Cultural Revolution was settling decades-old personal scores. Anyone who, after reading Comrade Chiang Ch'ing, still believes that communist morality and rectitude were on the side of the Mao group is hopelessly politically naive, or worse.

When Chiang was purged, the Hua regime claimed she had been leading a double life, preaching revolutionary austerity and puritanism to the masses, while living like a decadent empress-dowager. At first, one was inclined to dismiss these accusations as typical Stalinist slanders and character assassination. However, after reading Witke's book, it is clear that Hua's charges are not slanders; at most they are exaggerations.

To entertain Witke, Chiang screened her private collection of Greta Garbo films! When Witke asked her why Garbo films were banned as "bourgeois decadence":

'"Those bourgeois democratic films are to be reserved for private showing,' she flatly declared. 'If the people could view them they would criticize them bitterly on political grounds. Such public exposure and attack would be most unfair to Garbo because she is not Chinese'."

Chiang Ching was hardly the only one in Mao's court to indulge in cultural activities forbidden to the people. The "Great Helmsman," himself, and also his old comrade-in-arms Chu Teh wrote poetry in the classical style, which is barred to lesser mortals as a "decadent" art form.

Hua and Teng are no better from the standpoint of communist morality than the "gang of four," but Chiang Ching's crimes are not limited to hypocrisy and self-indulgence. During the Cultural Revolution she and her clique committed unforgivable atrocities, such as starving to death the old guerrilla chief Ho Lung. We no more defend Chiang Ching against Hua than we would defend Beria against Molotov or Molotov against Khrushchev.

From Shanghai With Venom

Before the Cultural Revolution catapulted her to prominence, Mao's wife was virtually unknown, far less a political personage than the wives of other Chinese Communist leaders. Therefore, Chiang Ching is understandably preoccupied with establishing her independent revolutionary credentials and dispelling her image as a beautiful concubine-turned-empress-dowager, who exploited an old man's weak¬ness in order to gain power.

Much of the new material she provides for Witke is an attempt to establish her credentials as a Communist militant years before she went to Yenan and met Mao. She claims to have joined the Communist Party (CP) in early 1933 at age 18 in Tsingtao in her native province of Shantung. Almost immediately thereafter she moved to Shanghai and joined the League of Left-Wing Dramatists, a CP front group.

By her own account, she was a marginal member of the CP in Shanghai. In fact, much of her political effort was directed toward locating the party's underground network, although this fact does not necessarily reflect badly on her subjective revolutionary commit¬ment. The CP was severely repressed by the Kuomintang, and its underground apparatus may well have been as anarchic and inefficient as Chiang Ching makes out. None the less, the fact remains that Chiang Ching was politically insignificant until she moved in with Mao.

Chiang does not attribute her political marginality to objective circumstances, including her own juniority? In truly paranoid fashion she blames the ill-will of the Shanghai leadership. Virtually every male CP cadre she deals with is presented as a male chauvinist pig who tried (unsuccessfully) to seduce her. This section of the book does not read like the biography of a political activist but rather like one of Freud's case studies in paranoia.

Needless to say, the surviving CP cadres who knew Chiang Ching in the early days were almost all victims in the Cultural Revolution. The Red Guards persecuted Li Ta-chang, who was head of the Tsingtao party at the time that Chiang Ching joined, and Tien Han, who was head of the League of Left-Wing Dramatists when she was a member.

Chiang's career as a film actress in her Shanghai days is an acute political embarrassment to her. She finds it difficult to square that career with her claim to have been a revolutionary militant. So she asserts that the CP leadership, in cahoots with the Kuomintang (KMT) forced her to act in films against her will:

"She did not seek fame in films But after she established a reputation as an actress [on stage], several film companies sought her out and tried to force her to sign contracts. Lu Hsun [famous left-wing writer] came to her defense— The great film impresarios (who served the KMT directly or indirectly, e.g., through Chou Yang and his [Communist] Party associates in cultural operations) counterattacked by vilifying him and threatening to kill her" [emphasis in original].

Who could possibly believe this? Who is gullible enough to believe that Chinese film moguls, the underground CP and ruling Kuomintang would conspire to force a young actress to enter films against her will?

As a contribution to the history of the Chinese revolution, Chiang's account of the left in Shanghai in the 1930's is worthless. We learn nothing about the overall goals and activities of the underground CP. We learn little of the major factional struggle between Wang Ming's urban-centered adventurism and Mao's cautious rural-guerrillaist strategy, or of the transition from Third Period adventurism to the Popular Frontist collaboration with the Kuomintang. All we really learn is why Chiang Ching hated almost every CP cadre she encountered.

Mao/Lan Ping Scandalize Yenan

It was quite a bedroom scandal when in 1938 Mao divorced his wife to marry the beautiful, young film actress then called Lan Ping. In a way, Chiang Ching has never lived down the obloquy of that event. To Witke, she was defensive and self-justifying about the begin¬nings of her relationship with Mao.

Mao's first wife, a Communist militant, was captured by the Kuomintang in 1930 and beheaded in revenge for her husband's activities. Shortly thereafter, Mao married another Communist cadre, Ho Tzu-chen, who bore five children by him. She was one of the few women to undertake the Long March in 1935, during which she was wounded.

Although accounts differ, it appears that Mao and Ho had separated, though not yet definitively, when Lan Ping (soon to be Chiang Ching) arrived at Yenan in the summer of 1937. Ho had suffered a psychological breakdown. It was also rumored that Mao's philander¬ing was a cause of the marital break-up. Predictably Chiang Ching describes Ho Tzu-chen as a shrewish wife,'who, driven insane by the horrors of the L'ong March, beat her (and Mao's) children.

When Chiang moved in with Mao, Ho was in a sanitarium in Moscow. The Red Army's "old guard" accepted Mao's love life without much tongue-wagging moralism. But the idealistic youth, who poured into Yenan in this period, were shocked that the great Communist leader would abandon his faithful companion and comrade-in-arms for a Shanghai glamor girl.

Cultural Nihilism and Stalinist Bureaucracy

Comrade Chiang Ch'ing tells us little about the Cultural Revolution and fall of Lin Piao that cannot be found elsewhere in far more intelligible form. Oh yes, we are informed that Lin Piao tried to poison Mao and Chiang gradually; he obviously failed, though she suffered an illness which took her out of action for most of 1969.

For those who still harbor illusions about Chiang Ching as the radical protector of the Red Guards, this book confirms her active role in suppressing the "revolutionary rebels." A turning point in the Cultural Revolution came in September 1967 when under the guise of combatting "ultra-leftism" the Red Guards were disarmed. At the same time, the slogan, "seize a small handful in the army," was withdrawn, and the PLA officer corps—the heart of the Maoist bureaucracy— was declared off-limits for the Cultural Revolution.

In an important speech on 5 September 1967, Chiang Ching attacked the so-called "May 16th" group for criticizing Mao's regime from the "left":

"The 'May 16' is a very typical counter-revolutionary organization, and we must raise our vigilance against it— This is to say that we oppose people who oppose the leadership group of the Party Central Committee headed by Chairman Mao either from the Left, the extreme Left or from the right side."

She goes on to declare that the Cultural Revolution must not touch the army, i.e., the repressive apparatus upon which the bureaucratic regime rests:

"Now we come to the second question—the army. Sometime earlier, there was a wrong slogan: Seize a 'small handful in the army.'Asa result,'asmall handful in the army'was seized everywhere and even the weapons of our regular troops were seized.

"Comrades, come to think of it: Without the People's Liberation Army, is it possible for us to sit in the People's Great Hall holding a conference? If our field army were thrown into confusion and if trouble occurred, could we tolerate such a situation? Let us not fall into the trap. The slogan is wrong. Because the Party, the government and the army are all under the leadership of the Party." —reproduced in Chung Hua-min and Arthur C. Miller, Madame Mao: A Profile of Chiang Ch'ing

Chiang Ching's main impact upon the Great Proletar¬ian Cultural Revolution concerned culture. And the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution bore the same relation to culture as it did to the proletariat—a hostile one. Under Chiang's'direction all Western, Soviet and traditional Chinese art was banned; so was most art produced in the People's Republic before 1966. In 1967 all films were withdrawn from public circulation; few have been reintroduced to date. When Witke asked Chiang if foreign dramas would be reintroduced in China, she replied, "There seemed to be no point in it." She went on, "Original pieces of literature and music should be altered and transformed to revolutionary theater only under the authorization of the leaders, and then with utmost care."

Chiang's activities as cultural tsar were governed by a petty, vindictive subjectivity. She first came to promi¬nence, through her "socialist realist" reform of tradi¬tional opera in 1964. She recounts that the salty-tongued Peng Chen referred to her operas as "still at the stage of wearing trousers with a slit at the seat and sucking the fingers." No doubt this insulting remark was at least as much a factor in Peng Chen's downfall during the Cultural Revolution as any matter of great political import.

Not only in Maoist China but in all Stalinist-ruled societies, art is an important locus of political conflict. There is good reason for this. With open political controversy suppressed, art necessarily becomes a cover and vehicle for polemics. Dramas and operas in Mao's China are replete with obvious historical allegories and symbols related to current political controversy. Wu Han's play, Hai Jui Dismissed from Office, was the main public attack on Mao's sponsor¬ship of the economically disastrous Great Leap Forward of 1958-61. Therefore the Mao group had to make the play a major focus of political attack. The Stalinist suppression of workers democracy necessarily leads to the totalitarian control of art.

There is another important aspect of art under Stalinism which is more central to Chiang's concerns. Her operas are typical examples of "socialist realism," the falsification of reality so as to make China conform to Stalinist ideals. In Stalinist countries, "socialist' realism" is not an arbitrary and dispensable esthetic doctrine but is closely bound up with the false con¬sciousness of the bureaucracies in the degenerat¬ed/deformed workers states. The formal ideological expression of this false consciousness is the doctrine of "socialism in one [backward] country." Poverty, ignorance, greed, careerism, male chauvinism and bureaucratic coercion expose the hollowness of China's "socialist" claims. Like the Christian heaven, Maoist "socialism" can exist only in the imagination— in art.

Stalinist ideology maintains that popular conscious¬ness expresses socialist values and attitudes. Thus, if Chinese workers and peasants appreciate Western bourgeois or traditional art more than local Maoist creations, this gives the lie to the cultural pretensions of "socialism in one country." The Stalinist bureaucrats must consider art produced in contemporary bour¬geois societies not only inferior to their own creations and subversive, but irrelevant. What's the point of reintroducing foreign dramas into China, asks Chiang Ching.

Chiang's attitude toward culture was summarized in a 1966 speech:

"Imperialism is moribund capitalism, parasitic and rotten. Modern revisionism is a product of imperialist policies and a variety of capitalism. They cannot produce any works that are good. Capitalism has a history of several centuries; nevertheless, it has only a pitiful number of 'classics'. They have created some works modelled after the 'classics/ but these are stereotyped and no longer appeal to the people, and are therefore completely on the decline. On the other hand, there are some things that really flood the market, such as rock-and-roll, jazz, strip tease, impressionism, symbolism, abstractionism, fauvism, modernism...all of which are intended to poison and paralyse the minds of the people. In a word, there is decadence and obscenity to poison and paralyse the minds of the people."

—Chung Hua-min and Arthur C. Miller,pp. c/'t. -This kind of cultural nihilism is profoundly anti-Marxist. The Marxist attitude toward culture in a workers state was well expressed by Lenin in his famous attack on the Proletkult school, a forerunner of "socialist realism/' in 1920:

"Marxism has won its historic significance as the ideology of the revolutionary proletariat because, far from rejecting the most valuable achievements of the bour¬geois epoch, it has, on the contrary, assimilated and refashioned everything of value in the more than two

thousand years of the development of human thought and culture. Only further work on this basis and in this direction, inspired by the practical experience of the proletarian dictatorship as the final stage in the struggle against every form of exploita¬tion, can be recognised as the development ' of a genuine proletarian culture."

—V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 31

Hsinhua Weekly

A socialist culture can arise only when the cultural heritage of mankind is accessi¬ble to all members of society. This requires that all members of society possess the available time and resources now enjoyed only by a thin stratum of intellectuals. Such a condition obviously entails a far-higher material level than that of the 'most advanced capitalist society, not to mention the Chinese deformed workers state. The cultural creations of today's advanced bourgeois societies are comparatively richer than those of Maoist China (or Brezhnev's Russia) because they arise from a material base which provides at least some of its members with a greater degree of literacy, of education and of access to culture. It will require several generations for global socialist society to develop a new culture so rich and comprehe'nsive that the art of the past class societies will seem impoverished and antique by comparison.

Official Stalinist art is so boring and sterile that it fails to satisfy the intellectual appetites of the bureaucrats themselves— whence Mao's recourse to classic-style poetry and Chiang Ching's infatuation with Greta Garbo films. But the Maoist bureauc¬racy insists that for the masses only art produced in China since 1949 is permitted, as expressing the veritable nature of reality.

Renmin Hua Bao

Maoist leaders come and go: Top picture published in Hsinhua Weekly (20 September 1976) and in Comrade Chiang Ch'ing, shows Chiang on horseback behind Mao in 1947. After her removal from office she was removed from the picture, which was reprinted in Renmin Hua Bao (November 1976).

intended to poison and paralyse the minds of the people. In a word, there is decadence and obscenity to poison and paralyse the minds of the people."

—Chung Hua-min and Arthur C. Miller,pp. c/'t. -This kind of cultural nihilism is profoundly anti-Marxist. The Marxist attitude toward culture in a workers state was well expressed by Lenin in his famous attack on the Proletkult school, a forerunner of "socialist realism/' in 1920:

"Marxism has won its historic significance as the ideology of the revolutionary proletariat because, far from rejecting the most valuable achievements of the bour¬geois epoch, it has, on the contrary, assimilated and refashioned everything of value in the more than two

Chiang Ching's vicious, paranoid subjectivity, hypocritical self-indulgence and utter philistinism reflect, in the last analysis, her role as representative of the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy. But this social role does not negate the impact of personality in political life. Che Guevara also was a leading figure in a bureaucratically governed workers state—Cuba. How¬ever, his moral and intellectual integrity, however wrong and misguided his program, enabled him to partially transcend bureaucratic careerism, privilege and hypocrisy. Che Guevara was an admira¬ble figure and his death a defeat for the communist cause.

We adamantly oppose the universal Stalinist practice of murdering political opponents, even when they, like Chiang Ching, have themselves committed heinous crimes (no more so, however, than her potential executioners). As for the purge of Chiang Ching: in the name of communist morality, in the name of intelligence and culture—good riddance! •

*Out In The Be-Bop Night- Tom Waits' "Big Joe And The Phantom 309"

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Tom Waits performing his cover of Red Sovine's Big Joe and Phantom 309.

Big Joe and Phantom 309 Lyrics-Tom Waits- Original lyrics Red Sovine

well you see I happened to be back on the east coast
a few years back tryin' to make me a buck
like everybody else, well you know
times get hard and well I got down on my luck
and I got tired of just roamin' and bummin'
around, so I started thumbin' my way
back to my old hometown
you know I made quite a few miles
in the first couple of days, and I
figured I'd be home in a week if my
luck held out this way
but you know it was the third night
I got stranded, it was out at a cold lonely
crossroads, and as the rain came
pouring down, I was hungry, tired
freezin', caught myself a chill, but
it was just about that time that
the lights of an old semi topped the hill
you should of seen me smile when I
heard them air brakes come on, and
I climbed up in that cab where I
knew it'd be warm at the wheel
well at the wheel sat a big man
I'd have to say he must of weighed 210
the way he stuck out a big hand and
said with a grin "Big Joe's the name
and this here rig's called Phantom 309"
well I asked him why he called his
rig such a name, but he just turned to me
and said "Why son don't you know this here
rig'll be puttin' 'em all to shame, why
there ain't a driver on this
or any other line for that matter
that's seen nothin' but the taillights of Big Joe
and Phantom 309"
So we rode and talked the better part of the night
and I told my stories and Joe told his and
I smoked up all his Viceroys as we rolled along
he pushed her ahead with 10 forward gears
man that dashboard was lit like the old
Madam La Rue pinball, a serious semi truck
until almost mysteriously, well it was the
lights of a truck stop that rolled into sight
Joe turned to me and said "I'm sorry son
but I'm afraid this is just as far as you go
You see I kinda gotta be makin' a turn
just up the road a piece," but I'll be
damned if he didn't throw me a dime as he
threw her in low and said "Go on in there
son, and get yourself a hot cup of coffee
on Big Joe"
and when Joe and his rig pulled off into
the night, man in nothing flat they was
clean outa sight
so I walked into the old stop and
ordered me up a cup of mud sayin'
"Big Joe's settin' this dude up" but
it got so deathly quiet in that
place, you could of heard a pin drop
as the waiter's face turned kinda
pale, I said "What's the matter did
I say somethin' wrong?" I kinda
said with 8a half way grin. He said
"No son, you see It'll happen every
now and then. You see every driver in
here knows Big Joe, but let me
tell you what happened just 10 years
ago, yea it was 10 years ago
out there at that cold lonely crossroads
where you flagged Joe down, and
there was a whole bus load of kids
and they were just comin' from school
and they were right in the middle when
Joe topped the hill, and could
have been slaughtered except
Joe turned his wheels, and
he jacknifed, and went
into a skid, and folks around here
say he gave his life to save that bunch
of kids, and out there at that cold
lonely crossroads, well they say it
was the end of the line for
Big Joe and Phantom 309, but it's
funny you know, cause every now and then
yea every now and then, when the
moon's holdin' water, they say old Joe
will stop and give you a ride, and
just like you, some hitchhiker will be
comin' by"
"So here son," he said to me, "get
yourself another cup of coffee, it's on the
house, you see I want you to hang on
to that dime, yea you hang on to that
dime as a kind of souvenir, a
souvenir of Big Joe and Phantom 309"

Monday, November 01, 2010

From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"- Obama’s War on Public Education-Defend the Teachers Unions!-For Free Quality Integrated Education for All!

Markin comment:

This timely article goes very well with today's entry from the archives of Women and Revolution on Soviet Educational Policy.
Workers Vanguard No. 967
22 October 2010

Defend the Teachers Unions!
Obama’s War on Public Education
For Free Quality Integrated Education for All!
(Young Spartacus pages)

Under Democratic president Barack Obama’s administration, “school reform” amounts to a massive assault on public education carried out through brass-knuckle attacks on teachers unions. Revamped federal funding rules turn the screws on schools described as failing, shuttering classrooms in ghettos and barrios nationwide, and give a green light for a proliferation of privately run charter schools. From Los Angeles and Chicago to New York City and Washington, D.C., Obama & Co. have made the Bush gang’s policies look like child’s play.

For decades, the arrogant U.S. imperialist rulers have starved education of funding. With fewer and fewer industrial jobs, America’s racist capitalist rulers see little value in paying union wages to educate working-class, black and immigrant youth. The high school graduation rate in the U.S. is below 70 percent; in urban centers including Los Angeles, it falls below 50 percent. U.S. students rank 35th internationally in math, between Azerbaijan and Croatia, and 29th in science, between Latvia and Lithuania—countries many Americans cannot identify on a map. The ruling class cynically blames the teachers unions for this woeful state of affairs as it guns for the wage gains, benefits and job protections that come with a union job.

The Race to the Top program, the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s “reform,” has been described as No Child Left Behind part two, after the plan pushed by late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush. Obama’s scheme pitted cash-strapped state school systems against each other in a competition for $4.35 billion in funding—almost 10 percent of the federal budget for education. When the states’ applications were judged, the most weight was given to commitments to eliminate teacher seniority and tenure. Aiming to have “no child left untested,” rewards were also based on states’ plans to track student test scores. Among other things, this is a setup for victimizing individual teachers whose classes don’t measure up well, particularly threatening those in the poorest school districts.

The Education Department has classified as many as 5,000 schools as failing. One reform that might actually improve them—adequate funding—is not what the administration has in mind. “We can’t spend our way out of it,” Obama told the Today show (27 September), which is rather piquant coming from a man who saw through the $700 billion bank bailout. In order for school districts to qualify for funding under Obama’s School Turnaround program, they have to do one of the following to “failing” schools: close them; have a charter take them over; fire the principal and entire staff and rehire no more than half; or fire the principal, lengthen the school day and implement other onerous changes. This all spells a direct attack on the teachers unions, as Obama made clear in March when he endorsed the firing of the entire staff at Rhode Island’s Central Falls High School (see “Labor: Fight Union Busting Attack on Rhode Island Teachers!” WV No. 954, 12 March).

The government’s campaign to cripple the teachers unions is part of a broad attack on public employees. With the erosion of industry and the acquiescence of the pro-capitalist labor tops to the proliferation of non-union shops, public employees now, for the first time, make up the majority of union members in the U.S. (Many of these are cops who, as the hired guns of the capitalists, should have no place in the unions.) The two national teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), represent about a quarter of all union members nationally, with 4.6 million members.

Like capitalist governments in Europe and elsewhere, American federal, state and local governments, under both Democrats and Republicans, have seized on the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression to slash payrolls and extract massive concessions—from working hours to pensions. Some 60,000 school employees were laid off last year, and many more have already lost their jobs this school year as the bourgeoisie further cuts spending for education. Thirty-eight of the 100 largest school districts have instituted wage freezes and another ten have cut wages. The ruling class sees teachers unions as potential obstacles to slashing public education budgets. A big reason it has been able to push through its attacks on education and other services is the decades-long decline in labor struggle, overseen by a miserable trade-union “leadership” that serves as the bourgeoisie’s lieutenants inside the labor movement.

The working class, black people and other minorities have a vital interest in defending public workers unions and fighting against the attacks on social services, including the bourgeoisie’s attempt to turn back the clock on universal, integrated, secular public education. We oppose charter schools because they are an attack on the democratic right to public education and provide an opening for religious groups to get government funds to run schools, and contribute as well to furthering school segregation. The drive to expand charter schools underlines the link between racial oppression, union-busting and the promotion of religious obscurantism.

Like the fight for decent health care, the battle for quality education, including bilingual instruction, for the working class and the black and Latino poor requires hard struggle against the capitalist class, a tiny handful of people whose obscene wealth is gained from exploiting labor and whose rule is reinforced by racial and other forms of social oppression. The money and resources exist for massive construction of schools, hospitals and other infrastructure gutted by the profit-bloated capitalists. To seize that wealth requires breaking the power of the bourgeoisie through socialist revolution.

Education U.S.A.— Separate and Unequal

Education in capitalist America is class- and race-biased from top to bottom. From public education’s earliest days in the industrial revolution of the 19th century, when class bells and the structure of the school day were used to facilitate the transition from the family farm into the factory, education has been crafted to meet the needs of the capitalist class. Ruling-class offspring are guaranteed places at expensive private schools and universities. In addition, the bourgeoisie needs a layer of educated technicians, professionals, managers and ideologues. The last serious effort to promote science education in this country was after the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik I satellite in 1957. Fear of a Soviet lead in military technology led President Eisenhower to demand a billion-dollar program to improve science education in American schools and to sign the National Defense Education Act in 1958.

A certain level of education is also necessary for industrial labor. During World War II, when there was a labor shortage and the bourgeoisie needed workers for war industries, California shipyard owners recruited untrained and often semiliterate Southerners, black as well as white, who learned to read and write, and often became skilled apprentices in little more than three months. During the war, the G.E.D. program was initiated to prepare returning servicemen who lacked a high school diploma to take jobs. It was expanded in 1963 for the general population.

While black workers have been a key component of the workforce in industry, they have also typically been the “last hired and first fired.” And after the bosses took the wrecking ball to steel mills and auto plants in the North and Midwest, the government saw little need for the overhead expense of educating those whose labor power was no longer needed. As a result, the children of black workers in particular have been treated more and more as an expendable population. The financial titans’ interest in “education reform” has nothing to do with the welfare of the poor, black and working-class kids penned up in decrepit, underfunded schools. For these kids, it’s all about pushing union-free schools where longer days and a longer academic year can be required to cultivate obedient wage slaves (if needed) and foot soldiers for the American empire.

In capitalist America, which was founded on black slavery, the black population forms a specially oppressed caste stigmatized because of skin color. Separate never has been and never can be equal. Whether it is run by Barack Obama or anyone else, the capitalist system is racist to its core—from segregated housing and schools to unemployment, cop terror and mass incarceration in the name of the “war on drugs.” While closing schools and hospitals, the capitalist rulers have seen fit to pay for the “overhead expense” of prison construction, on a massive scale. Poor black youth are offered the “choice” of facing death on the streets, including at the hands of the racist cops, enrolling in U.S. imperialism’s wars and occupations, expecting time in jail, or, for some, a minimum-wage job.

Minority students in segregated schools across America confront conditions more suitable for a police state than for a place of study: metal detectors, video cameras, strict hall and truancy monitoring by security guards, drug testing, locker searches. “Zero tolerance” policies have led to tens of thousands of arrests for such “crimes” as pushing, tardiness and using spitballs. Cities hire school security out of local police forces, which carry out murderous racist terror on the streets. The nearly 5,000 “School Safety Agents” and 200 armed police on duty in New York City public schools constitute the tenth-largest police force in the country. This is an “education” system that essentially treats minority youth as future criminals. The schools serve to reinforce the isolation of black youth in a society where 28 percent of black men are destined to spend time behind bars.

In his 2005 book The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, Jonathan Kozol, an award-winning author and former Boston public school teacher, cites a study by Harvard professor Gary Orfield that powerfully documents the growing segregation of public education. Five decades after the 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education ruling that overturned formal legal segregation of public schools, Northern schools are more segregated than those in the Deep South. More than two million black and Latino students attend what Kozol calls “apartheid schools,” in which 99 to 100 percent of students are non-white. During the 1990s, the proportion of black students who attended majority white schools decreased to a level lower than in any year since 1968. The Supreme Court’s 2007 decision throwing out school desegregation plans in Seattle and Louisville gave official sanction to those seeking to overturn some 1,000 remaining integration plans across the country.

Bilingual education has also been under steady attack. In California in 1998, racist Proposition 227 required replacing bilingual programs with sink-or-swim “English immersion” classes. As we wrote in “Down With ‘English Only’ Racism!” (WV No. 688, 10 April 1998): “Those with the ability to become bilingual on their own due to privileged circumstances—e.g., those with access to private tutoring, or who come from educated households—are deemed to be an asset to the country. The rest, often from impoverished, rural families where no one is literate in any language, are to be used as superexploited, terrorized and preferably illiterate unskilled labor.”

Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

It has taken tumultuous, even revolutionary struggle to extend the right to education to black people in America. It took a bloody Civil War to uproot the slave system, under which teaching slaves to read was a crime. Most of the first Southern free public schools were established following the Civil War during Radical Reconstruction, the turbulent decade of Southern interracial bourgeois democracy carried out by the freedmen and their white allies and protected by Union Army troops, many of whom were formerly enslaved. A literacy rate that was around 5 percent for black people in the 1860s rose to 40 percent in 1890. As symbols of measures toward black equality, schools were often targets of Ku Klux Klan terror.

With the Compromise of 1877 and the withdrawal of the last federal troops from the South, black people were left at the mercy of former slaveowners, now backed by Northern capital, and their murderous nightriders. Funding for black education was slashed and Jim Crow segregation eventually became the law in the South, leaving its imprint in the North as well. Nonetheless, black teachers continued to struggle against enormous hardship to operate schools for black children. In the segregated Northern ghettos that emerged following the Great Migration of black Americans to industrial centers in the early 20th century, separate and unequal schools for blacks became facts of life linked to segregation in housing.

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s took up the fight against segregated and inferior schools, contributing to the end of de jure segregation in the South. But under the leadership of liberals like Martin Luther King, who looked to the capitalist Democratic Party, the courts and the government, that movement could not end the de facto segregation of black people, North and South, which is rooted in the capitalist system.

Starting in reaction to the Supreme Court’s Brown decision, massive “white flight” to private and suburban schools reinforced segregation. A crucial turning point came in the mid 1970s, when school busing was ordered in Boston—a minimal attempt to integrate its public schools. The busing plan touched off a virulent racist reaction as mobs stoned school buses carrying black kids. The court-ordered plan was limited to neighborhoods like South Boston, one of the poorest white areas in the U.S. outside of Appalachia, and the black Roxbury ghetto. Liberal Massachusetts Congressmen, for their part, made sure that nobody was bused out to the relatively privileged suburban schools, further fueling the racist frenzy. The Spartacist League called to defend the busing plan and extend it to the suburbs. We agitated for the integrated labor movement—meatpackers, bus drivers, teachers and others—to organize labor/black defense of the bused black schoolchildren.

In Boston, the liberals caved in to the racist mobs, ushering in decades of attacks on school desegregation nationwide. Even tokenistic affirmative action programs in higher education have been drastically curtailed, to the point that they barely exist outside of some elite universities. Today’s education reformers have adopted the racist code word “school choice,” which, in the period of the civil rights movement, meant allowing white students to attend all-white public schools and creating all-white private academies, aided by state grants to students’ families. Foreshadowing the policies pursued by George W. Bush and Barack Obama was the school voucher system, which also served to perpetuate racist discrimination.

A defining trait of the race and class inequality woven into the fiber of the U.S. public school system is the role of local taxes in education funding. The wealth or poverty of a particular school district essentially determines the quality of its schools. Predominantly white suburban schools often spend twice what urban school districts do and three times what poorer rural areas spend. And when they find government funding insufficient, donors in wealthier areas shell out the cash for reading specialists, music and arts, science labs and computers as well as the extracurricular field trips and activities that make for a quality learning environment.

Decades ago, the Spartacus Youth League, forerunner to today’s Spartacus Youth Clubs, explained:

“As socialists, we oppose all class-biased and racially discriminatory privileges in educational opportunity. Thus, we are opposed to educational funding based on local property taxes. Instead, we call for all public schools to be funded at the national level. In addition, all social services—from welfare to health care—should be federally funded.”

—“Public Education: Separate and Unequal,” Young Spartacus No. 52, March 1977

The Spartacist League/SYCs fight to extend the right to education to the university level, demanding open admissions, no tuition, a state-paid living stipend for students and the nationalization of private universities.

The fight for equality in education must also include a struggle against the wretched condition in the ghettos and barrios and in impoverished rural areas as well. How can you be expected to study when you’re homeless or hungry, when your families live in fear of immigration raids or are stuck in overcrowded, rat-infested projects?

While fighting against discrimination and segregation in schools and housing, we understand that racial oppression cannot be rooted out short of the revolutionary overturn of the capitalist system. Like winning jobs for all, eradicating race and class bias in education, so that everyone can have access to the quality education that the children of the bourgeoisie get, requires the working class taking power. The road to black liberation and the emancipation of all the oppressed lies in the fight for an egalitarian socialist society, where production is organized to serve human need, not the capitalists’ bottom line.

Laissez-Faire Schools Disaster

Some of America’s biggest billionaires and venture capitalists have joined with the bourgeois press and Democratic Party hacks in a propaganda offensive aimed at pushing through anti-union school “reform.” The moneybags include hedge-fund managers tied to Joe Williams, whose political action committee Democrats for Education Reform was set up to push charter schools, as well as the foundations of Microsoft mogul Bill Gates, union-busting Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and Eli Broad, who got his billions in housing, insurance and savings rackets.

For these capitalist profiteers, the crux of education reform is the application of “free market” principles. This scheme dates back to the 1950s and right-wing economist and longtime University of Chicago professor Milton Friedman. Friedman’s “Chicago Boys” gained notoriety by serving as economic advisers to the CIA-backed Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which overthrew the popular-front government of Salvador Allende in 1973 and massacred 30,000 workers, peasants and leftists, and imprisoned and tortured thousands more. Once he retired from the University of Chicago, Friedman wrote Free to Choose, a playbook for market-based reform, including privatized schooling, and became an adviser to President Ronald Reagan.

Today’s “Chicago Boys”—Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and their pals—share Friedman’s ideological commitment to “free market” education, embracing privatization, tying funding to test scores and ending union protections like tenure for teachers. An early implementer of this union-busting program was Diane Ravitch, an influential historian and education policy wonk who served in the Bush Senior and Clinton administrations. Ravitch has since had second thoughts. From the standpoint of wanting to further America’s national interests, Ravitch’s book The Death and Life of the Great American School System (2010) laments how the laissez-faire market approach of what she calls “the billionaire boys’ club” has gutted government-run education.

As Ravitch documents, turning out higher test scores has become the top priority for financially shaky schools, taking over the school day and spilling over into weekend classes and extra tutoring. Jonathan Kozol aptly describes how “inner-city kids are being trained to give prescripted answers and to acquiesce in their subordinate position in society” (Huffington Post, 10 September 2007). Another result is the large-scale falsification of test scores.

The drive to improve test scores or face the ax also puts pressure on schools to get rid of their lowest-scoring students. This process has been expedited by the closing of large “failing” schools and the opening of small facilities in their place, with the lowest-scoring students shunted off to resource-starved and decrepit schools apart from better-scoring students. What we said about Bush Senior’s education reforms is as much the point today: “Just test rich and poor ‘equally,’ and when the poor flunk, well then, that supposedly proves the ruling class shouldn’t waste its money on the swelling ranks of the underclass” (“Education U.S.A.—Separate and Unequal,” WV No. 544, 7 February 1992).

The Charter School Onslaught

The keystone of the current “reform” package is the mushrooming of charter schools. While part of local school systems, charters are privately owned and operated outfits that take money away from existing public schools and are exempt from Department of Education regulations, as well as from any union contract carried over from the school systems. Some are explicitly operated as money-making ventures, and some are religion-based schools in everything but name.

Charter schools increase racial segregation and class inequality in education and also serve as a tool to smash unions. As a rule, charter schools are opened in the poorest and most segregated parts of cities, often on public school grounds. The better-off white suburban schools remain untouched. Usually, the new schools are even more segregated than the ones they replace. According to a February 2010 study by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, nearly three out of four black charter school students attend “intensely segregated” schools where 90 percent or more of the students are minorities. This is two times higher than the rate at regular public schools.

The proliferation of charter schools has certainly done nothing to integrate schools in Chicago, long known as “Segregation City.” Before landing in Washington, Arne Duncan ran the Chicago public school system from 2001 to 2008. By his own account, he oversaw the closing of some 60 schools, primarily in black and Latino neighborhoods, and the expansion of charter and military schools.

It says a lot that the Obama administration has taken the dilapidated and segregated Chicago system as a national model. Only about half of its students graduate high school; the rate is even lower for black male students. In a city that is nearly 40 percent white, white students make up just 8 percent of public school students, and a third of the public schools have not even one single white student enrolled. In 2009, the capitalist courts ended the 1980 consent decree that provided whatever shreds of integration existed in Chicago public schools, primarily in the magnet and selective schools. The decree imposed by the federal government has now been deemed unnecessary because the “vestiges of discrimination” have been eliminated “to the extent practicable”!

From 2004, when Duncan brought out his Renaissance 2010 education blueprint, to the present, over 80 Chicago public schools, largely in minority neighborhoods, have been shut down and replaced with smaller schools—about two-thirds of them charter schools. Charters now comprise 10 percent of the city school system, and almost all are non-union. The system’s current “CEO” (the actual title), ex-cop and former Chicago Transit Authority president Ron Huberman, has continued Duncan’s “turnaround schools” plan, under which all teachers and staff at “low-performing” schools are fired and replaced by much younger, less experienced teachers who receive far lower wages. Across the country, idealistic young college graduates, mainly white, are being recruited and given a pro forma training course for exactly this purpose by Teach for America and the New Teacher Project, which are supported by the Gates, Broad and Walton foundations. Many new hires burn out quickly—in Chicago it’s common that they don’t even get through their first school year.

Many black and Latino parents turn to charter schools hoping that they provide an alternative to the decaying inner-city public schools. Schools like Harlem Success Academy are touted as miracle stories, where the black-white “achievement gap” is supposed to be a thing of the past and “behavior problems” are rooted out (including through its “kindergarten boot camp”!). In order to raise standardized test scores, Harlem Success spends hundreds of thousands every year to recruit the students it wants while pressuring those who score low to transfer elsewhere. It offers no teachers of English as a Second Language and no classes for students with disabilities. Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Harlem Success, coldly told one teacher, “The school is not a social service agency” (New York magazine, 25 April).

Belying the hype over such “successful” charters lies a stark fact: charter schools do not even measure up to public schools. According to a 2009 Stanford University study, 46 percent of charter schools perform comparably to public schools—and 37 percent perform significantly worse. Examples of financial skimming and haywire accounting abound. Of the 64 schools in Los Angeles that have had their charters revoked, almost all were accused of financial or administrative mismanagement.

Charter schools represent a major erosion of the separation of church and state supposedly enshrined in the Constitution. A case in point is Chicago, where the parochial school system is already the largest in the world and has long functioned as an escape from integration for white families. Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of Chicago Catholic Schools, recently announced that a number of their schools may be converted into charters. In Washington, D.C., seven low-performing Catholic schools became charters on archdiocese property, which, like all church property, is exempt from taxation. We oppose government funding for any religious institution, including schools, and fight as well against any encroachment of religious teaching into the public schools, such as the attempt to promote “intelligent design” at the expense of teaching the fact of evolution.

In a chilling sign of how the administration’s “reform” schemes will further depress the quality of education, earlier this year Education Secretary Arne Duncan ghoulishly declared that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans”! The racist rulers viewed the unfolding disaster of Hurricane Katrina as an opportunity to “change the demographics” of New Orleans—i.e., get rid of impoverished blacks. In addition to terrorizing the black population, boarding up public housing and axing social services, this meant gutting public education. One of black Democratic mayor Ray Nagin’s first acts after the floodwaters drained was to fire all 8,000 unionized schoolteachers in an all-out drive to replace public schools with charters. Two-thirds of the city’s children are now enrolled in charter schools.

Obscenely, the Brookings Institution think tank has declared that Haiti should follow the New Orleans model, which, it opines, shows how “a fundamentally different education system can be built in the wake of a disaster.” Nothing is being rebuilt as the desperately impoverished Haitian masses continue to groan under imperialist subjugation, carried out through the UN occupation force supplemented by U.S. National Guardsmen.

Before the earthquake, the vast majority of schools in Haiti were private, and more than half of school-age children did not attend school. Next door in the Dominican Republic, free public elementary education is well-established in the cities, although less so in the rural areas. The contrasting results are stark: the literacy rate in the Dominican Republic is 85 percent; in Haiti it’s 53 percent. Even so, the situation in the neocolonial Dominican Republic pales in comparison to that in Cuba, a bureaucratically deformed workers state. Since the overthrow of capitalist rule in 1960-61, Cuba has achieved one of the highest literacy rates in the world—higher than the U.S.—as well as the highest doctor-patient ratio.

The War on Teachers Unions

America’s capitalist rulers and their media mouthpieces are seeking to manipulate justified anger over the state of public education to bolster their attacks on overworked and underpaid teachers and their unions. Obama & Co. seek to reverse gains for teachers, whose unions grew substantially through a series of labor struggles in the 1950s and ’60s. Before that, they had little protection against meager salaries, political favoritism, domineering principals and sex discrimination against a mostly female workforce.

In mid August, the Los Angeles Times, which for over a century has specialized in bashing unions, ran a series of attack pieces on the United Teachers of Los Angeles. The paper published a database rating some 6,000 elementary school teachers by the test scores of their students, promoting this as a tool for firing teachers—an approach endorsed by both Arne Duncan and Democratic California Education Secretary Bonnie Reiss. This witchhunt has since been implicated in the suicide of Rigoberto Ruelas, a dedicated teacher from an impoverished district in South Los Angeles where students scored lower on tests than those in more affluent neighborhoods.

In many public schools, if students get any education at all, it is testament to the dedication of poorly paid teachers who struggle against cutbacks, decaying facilities and increased administration meddling. With the government refusing to shell out for the most basic classroom materials, some teachers spend thousands of dollars of their own money on school supplies.

There is plenty of anger among the membership of the teachers unions over the attacks on their wages and job protections, and over the state of public education. In California, the Oakland Education Association went out on April 29 for a one-day strike against wage freezes, although its members continue to work without a contract. On October 14, Baltimore teachers voted down a contract that would have effectively gutted seniority. But the unions are saddled with a leadership that acts as labor statesmen for the capitalist government, willingly offering up greater concessions from their members in the name of “sacrificing for the kids.”

The union tops’ class collaborationism is all the more blatant with the Democratic Party, which they falsely promote as the friend of labor and the oppressed, running things. In the last 30 years, the teachers unions have shelled out nearly $57.4 million to bourgeois politicians in federal elections alone, 95 percent of that to Democrats. Ten percent of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention in 2008 were teachers union members. Under Obama, the Democratic Party has put itself in the front lines of the anti-teacher offensive. Republican Congressman John Kline pointed out (New York Times, 1 September) that many of Obama and Duncan’s ideas have been pushed by Republicans for years. The union tops’ support for the Democrats makes their realization possible. As the Times reported, Kline told Duncan, “Arne, only you can do that.... You’re the secretary of education for a Democratic president.”

AFT president Randi Weingarten, formerly the head of NYC’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT), exemplifies the role the labor bureaucracy plays as the bosses’ cops inside the unions. Weingarten’s mentor, longtime AFT head Albert Shanker, was a raving anti-Communist who acted as one of U.S. imperialism’s main labor agents in its drive to smash militant unions and suppress left-wing parties around the world during the anti-Soviet Cold War. Weingarten backs charter schools and various types of “performance pay,” in line with Obama’s calls for “more accountability” from teachers. No wonder that Duncan told the New York Times Magazine (19 September), “I’m a big fan of Randi’s.” This, to say the least, is not the opinion of AFT members who booed and heckled her at a May union meeting in Detroit. Weingarten’s successor at the UFT, Michael Mulgrew, has played his part by agreeing to link teachers’ evaluations to standardized test scores and to make it easier to fire teachers whom administrators deem “incompetent.”

We Need a Workers Party!

In our articles denouncing Obama’s vaunted health care package—a gift to the bankers and insurance companies—we made the point that if the labor movement fought for free, universal, quality health care, it would have broad support among the population, helping to revitalize the trade unions in this country. Similarly, if the teachers unions waged some class struggle in support of free, quality education for all, they would find allies in millions of working-class, black and Latino families. When teachers unions have gone on strike in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and Oakland, they have won support in the ghettos and barrios. To mobilize the unions in such struggle requires fighting against the class collaborationism of the labor bureaucracy, which places its reliance on phony “friends” in the bourgeois government.

In the same camp as the labor sellouts, the reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO) complained in an article by Gillian Russom in International Socialist Review (May-June 2010): “Education should be at the center of a national debate on social priorities, led by a president who promised ‘change.’ Instead, the economic crisis is being used by the White House to dramatically accelerate a neoliberal agenda for education.” This is simply the language of disappointed suitors, as seen in an exchange among ISO leaders over just how low to bow before the imperialist Commander-in-Chief, whose election the ISO hailed (see article, page 2). Earlier, the ISO’s Socialist Worker (2 November 2009) offered that a “real ‘Race to the Top’ program” could “start by taking the largely taxpayer-funded $23 billion in bonuses that Goldman Sachs is giving out this year, and put that money toward giving nearly 6 million families that $4,000 income supplement.” Or, as Oliver Twist begged, “Please, Sir, I want some more.”

The labor bureaucracy and the reformist left seek to obscure the understanding that this is a capitalist government, whose purpose, as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels instructed over 150 years ago, is to be the executive committee of the ruling class as a whole. Following the years of George W. Bush, the Obama administration was put into office to provide a much-needed facelift for U.S. imperialism in order to further its predatory interests abroad and grind down the working class, blacks and immigrants at home. While handing out billions to bankers and auto bosses, Obama has appealed to everyone else to embrace a “spirit of sacrifice.” Meanwhile, he repeats the disgusting tirade that crumbling schools and poverty are “no excuses” for the black masses and that “hardships will just make you stronger.” Enough! We say: Break with the Democrats! For a workers party that fights for a workers government!

After escaping slavery and educating himself as a fighter in the left wing of the abolitionist movement, Frederick Douglass observed that, in the eyes of the slaveholders, to educate a man “would forever unfit him to be a slave.” The logic of this statement remains unchanged a century and a half later. To give all people the means to attain their full creative potential requires overturning the present social order, based on the exploitation of labor, vicious racial oppression and grinding poverty. Only after a multiracial workers party leads the proletariat, at the head of all the oppressed, in overthrowing the decaying capitalist system and constructing an egalitarian socialist society will mankind be freed of the fetters of scarcity and want, and real human history will begin.