A New Act in the Greek Drama

What happens when a public entity – a school district, a local government or even a national government – is bled dry by the capitalists? It is taken over by “technical experts”, meaning direct representatives of the banksters, who use this “patient critical” situation to bleed it even further. “Kick ‘em when they’re down” is the idea. To be specific, this means more wage cuts, more cuts in public services, attacks on union rights, attacks on the youth, and more privatization.

That’s what happened when the Oakland Unified School District went “bust” and was placed under control of the State of California back in 2003. More recently, the entire city of Detroit was put under the same gun. And now? Now it’s an entire country – Greece – that they’re trying to do this to.

“Like taking a bone from a pit bull”

poverty in Greece

poverty in Greece

In previous articles, we described some of the background to the election of the radical Syriza Party in Greece. Syriza pledged a reversal of all the austerity measures – privatization, wage and pension cuts, elimination of union bargaining rights, etc. But they were and are faced with a problem: How to get money. It’s like trying to pry a bone out of

The capitalists won't give up their profits any easier than will this pit bull give up this bone.

The capitalists won’t give up their profits any easier than will this pit bull give up this bone.

the mouth of a pit bull; you need a lot of strength to get it. Sweet talking or mere threats in words accomplishes absolutely nothing. (This writer knows. He has a dog that’s part pit!)

And that was and is the problem for the new Syriza regime, as represented by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. Round Europe they went, hoping to isolate the more hard line governments, especially the Germans, and create a division in the European capitalist class. But why should any wing of the capitalist class really back off as long as it felt it was in the driver’s seat, as long as it didn’t feel threatened? The Spanish, Portuguese and Irish regimes – which are cooperating with the same austerity programs in their own countries – have a reason to stay the course. If Greece escapes the clutches of the banksters, then this would encourage support for left wing opposition parties like “Podemos” in Spain, for example. Meanwhile, the Greek regime was running out of cash. Literally – at least if it was going to make its loan payments.

Deal Reached

So it was that Tsipras & Co. met with their counterparts last week and arranged a deal: They would backtrack on their election promises (the “Thessoloniki Statement”) in return for getting a new loan. A part of that agreement included submitting a new “reform” plan this last Tuesday (Feb. 24) for approval. That has been submitted and tentative approval seems in the offing. The plan includes ending its opposition to privatization, especially of the Port of Pireus (just outside Athens), which will likely be taken over either by Cosco, a Chinese company, or Maersk, a Danish one, and which surely will lead to further layoffs and wage cuts; increased taxes, including a “Value Added Tax” or VAT, which is a form of sales tax and, as such, is completely regressive; backtracking on raising the minimum wage and restoring union collective bargaining rights.

In any struggle of the working class you have to negotiate with the enemy unless the outright overthrow of capitalism is under way. That’s just the reality. And no struggle is guaranteed of victory. But to paint a partial defeat as a victory is a serious mistake. That’s what Varoufakis did, when he commented, “Greece has turned a page… We are going to write our own script on the reforms that need to be enacted.” That is simply untrue; they agreed that any steps they take will be agreed to by the Troika. Along with this, the Varoufakis/Tsipris team changed their wording. Previously they had correctly made the Troika (of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF) absolutely hated in Greece. So what did Tsipris/Varoufakis do? They rebranded the Troika as “the Institutions.” And as for these vicious capitalist regimes like the German or Finnish ones? They are now “partners”.

Meanwhile, the European capitalists are celebrating. Wolfgang Schauble, the hard line counterpart to Greece’s Varoufakis, commented, “The Greeks certainly will have a difficult time explaining the deal to their voters….Being in government is a date with

Wolfgang Schäuble. Would you want to place your future in this man's hands?

Wolfgang Schäuble. Would you want to place your future in this man’s hands?

reality, and reality is often not as nice as a dream.” In other words, he and his allies are going to do everything they can to rub these concessions in and, thereby, weaken Syriza. And these are the ones Tsipras/Varoufakis call “partners”.

Participating in Elections

Some will claim that these retreats show that the movement of workers and youth and anti-capitalists in general should never participate in capitalist elections because if elected you will inevitably sell out. This claim ignores the heroic examples of people like Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht, revolutionary members of the German parliament who opposed Germany’s entry into WW I (a colonialist war) and were ultimately murdered by the German capitalists as a result. It ignores the role of socialists like Eugene Debs in the US, whose campaigns for President before and during WW I did a lot to help popularize socialism and who won nearly a million votes for that office from the prison cell, where he was placed for opposing US entry into that war.

Strategy Needed

No, the real problem is that Tsipris & co. came into office with no real plan for mobilizing the Greek working class and youth and using that as a springboard to help build a region-wide struggle against austerity. Their whole strategy rested on the belief that austerity was bad for capitalism, that increased income for Greek workers would help the Greek economy recover and, by inference, that this would increase the profits of the capitalists. This is like the union leadership, who thinks that the workers and the employers have a common interest and therefore never really mobilizes their members or the working class in general.

Austerity: What It’s Really About

Austerity never was about helping the Greek economy recover; it was about cutting labor costs so low in Greece that it would be more profitable for international capitalists like Cosco and Maersk (and others that are looking to take over Greek electricity and telephone services). They will then use this to threaten the German and other workers, “you see what’s happening? If you don’t accept more cuts, you’re going to lose even more jobs to the Greeks.” And while it’s true that austerity helped accelerate the rate of collapse of the Greek economy, increasing social spending is not a solution either. After all, who’s going to pay for it? If it’s the capitalists, they will send their money out of Greece. And if it’s the workers, then it’s merely shifting the money from one pocket to another. And if it’s by simply amping up the printing presses – that is, printing more money (which would only be possible if Greece leaves the eurozone), then it will lead to rapid inflation.

Mobilizing the Working Class

Instead, the Syriza regime should have focused its efforts on mobilizing the Greek working class, including occupying and taking over the banks. They should have used this renewed movement as a selling point to the rest of the European working class, explaining that the austerity in Greece will be used to drive down living standards throughout the European Union and beyond.

Racism and Terrorism

There’s another issue to consider: Greece is the entry point for many thousands, possibly millions, of refugees from Africa, Western Asia and Eastern Europe. It has a large immigrant population of Africans, Syrians, Libyans, etc. These immigrants came under physical assault from the Greek fascist (literally) Golden Dawn party. To its credit, one of the first steps Syriza took was to pass a measure granting citizenship to the children of all these asylum seekers. But a lot more is needed. Don’t forget that the refugees from many of those countries – such as Syria and Libya – suffered from the same austerity programs imposed in their home country that the troika is pushing in Greece. And they surely are suffering from it as immigrants in Greece.

Recent years have seen an increase in racism and sectarianism on all sides. On the one side, this includes Greece’s Golden Dawn, on the other the rise of Islamic fundamentalist groups like ISIS (or IS). If Syriza were to really organize a widespread class-based fightback, this would have global implications; it would be a huge step in undermining these racist and terrorist groups and the mentality that leads to their support.

Global Struggle

It’s impossible to know from here how things will shake out in this struggle. Some of the plan submitted by Tsipras/Varoufakis has been somewhat vague and they might not go as far as European capital wants them to. The IMF along with a wing of German capital is pushing for even more definitive commitments for “reform”, meaning austerity. Over 80% of Greeks are reported as supporting this deal, but what the real mood on the ground is we don’t know. And what’s the basis for this support? Is it that the concessions aren’t clearly understood (yet), or has a temporary mood of discouragement increased due to the lack of a clear strategy of the Syriza leadership? There is a left in Syriza that is opposing this deal. How strong are they and is the deal be rejected by the Greek parliament either now or further down the road? A lot is unanswered.

One thing we do know for sure: Today, capitalism is more global than ever before. So are all the issues, from economic survival to police brutality to racism. Greece in many ways is a focal point for the struggle on all these fronts. Socialists and revolutionaries in the United States should pay close attention to what is happening in Greece and lend whatever support they can to the struggle there. Their struggle is our struggle and any victory (or defeat) they experience will affect our movement here.

Posted in Europe | Leave a comment

Charter schools & budget busting raises – for the top people

Jack Gerson (http://schoolsnotbanks.blogspot.com) follows up his article from yesterday, with a report on the fat raise given to the school chief in San Francisco as well as a report on who is behind the charter school drive.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Who’s Behind the California Charter Schools Association?

The Schools Matter blog today posted a great visual unmasking some of the big corporate billionaire deformers behind the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). Just plain folks like Walmart heir Carrie Walton Penner. CCSA director Jed Wallace helps himself to $335,000 / year, which is no strain on the CCSA budget, since the Waltons and their friends provided CCSA with more than $2.2 million in revenues last year. Check it out here, and be sure to click on their graphic to see more of where their money comes from and where it goes.
S.F. schools supt. Richard Carranza

Yesterday’s post was all about the gross inequality, patronage and nepotism in the Oakland Unified School District, where the school board helps the new superintendent to shovel money to the top (creating several brand new $150,000+/year jobs and filling them with cronies for Denver; handing out generous raises to other high-paid bureaucrats) while sharpening his ax to cut lower-paid (but more important) support positions.  Well, as always, San Francisco won’t stand idly by and let itself be outdone by its East Bay neighbor. So San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jill Tucker reports (click here) that the San Francisco school board just voted  — unanimously — to give a $65,000 / year pay hike to SF schools superintendent Richard Carranza.  As of July 1, Carranza will be hauling down a cool $310,000 / year in base pay alone.

As Tucker reports, Carranza’s pay increase alone is about equal to the average annual salary of San Francisco teachers. The SF school board laughingly justifies the raise as helping to overcome instability and inconsistency caused by superintendents jumping to other, more lucrative, opportunities. They, like the Oakland school board, are far less troubled by the destabilizing effects of teacher turnover.

Tucker quotes San Francisco teacher union president Dennis Kelly as saying, “With wage reopeners less than 18 months away, and teachers continuing to get priced out of the city, we hope this is a signal from the Board of Education that more money for the people in the classroom is also on the way.”  Well, Dennis, we hope that there’s “more money on the way” for teachers, but also for clericals, custodians, cafeteria workers, and the other school workers who have more and more trouble making ends meet. And we hope that there’s more money for the kinds of resources schools really need. But “hoping” won’t make that happen. That’s going to require a united fight by school workers and the community against the school boards and superintendents, and the powerful corporate interests for whom they front — in San Francisco, Oakland, and around the country.

Posted in education/childhood | Leave a comment

Oakland Schools: Pad the Top, Chop from the Bottom

We repost an article by retired Oakland school teacher, Jack Gerson, from his blog, http://schoolsnotbanks.blogspot.com/2015/02/oakland-school-supt-cuts-bottom-feeds.html#comment-form

Antwan Wilson’s Idea of Cutting Administration: Pad the Top, Chop From the Bottom
by Jack Gerson
Have you ever wondered why the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) regularly breaks the law by violating the state education code mandate that at least 55% of educational expenses go to classroom instruction, when virtually every other district in the state meets this stipulation year in and year out?  Have you ever wondered where the money goes, if not to the classroom? Well, I just looked over the salaries of new superintendent Antwan Wilson and his top administrators, and it sure says a lot about where some of that money is poured. And about the priorities of a school board and administration that pretends to turn its pockets inside out and cry, “We’re cash-strapped!” to explain why they pay teachers at the bottom of the county and near the bottom of the state. What are those priorities?
Grossly overpay top administrators? CHECK.
Create high-paying positions for your friends and bring them in from over a thousand miles away. CHECK.

Oakland school superintendent, Antwan Wilson

Oakland school superintendent, Antwan Wilson

Pad the payroll with redundant positions by hiring several,people to do the same job, and then paying them all exorbitant salaries.  CHECK.
Give nearly all administrators pay hikes from last year’s salaries far greater than the total raise for teachers over the past 12 years. CHECK.
Continue to outsource at double the state average, and make sure some of your old buddies from Denver get a cut of the action.  CHECK.
Superintendent Wilson says otherwise.  He claims that “we are directing every new dollar we can to our teachers and classrooms to better serve our children”. Is that so? He’s clearly overlooked a few dollars — in fact, he’s overlooked several millions of them. For starters:
—Antwan Wilson, Superintendent of Schools: salary $280,000 / year ($30,000 / year more than Gary Yee was paid last year as acting superintendent).
—Allan Smith, Chief of Schools: Salary $175,000 / year — brought in by Antwan Wilson from Denver Public Schools.  “Chief of Schools” is a brand new title created by Wilson for Allan Smith.
—Yana Smith (spouse of Allan Smith), Chief of Organizational Effectiveness and Culture: Salary $155,000 / year — brought in by Antwan Wilson from Denver Public Schools.  “Chief of Organizational Effectiveness and Culture” is a brand new title created by Wilson for Yana Smith.
We don’t need both a Superintendent of Schools (Antwan Wilson, $280,000 / year) *and* a Chief of Schools (Allan Smith, $175,000 / year).  And we have absolutely no need to pay $155,000 / year to a “Chief of Organizational Effectiveness and Culture” (Yana Smith, spouse of “Chief of Schools” Smith).
But wait, there’s more.  Vernon Hal’s title used to be “Chief Financial Officer.” Now he’s the Deputy Superintendent for Business.  We don’t need both a deputy superintendent for business (Vernon Hal, $193,000 / year) and a Chief Financial Officer (Ruth Alahydoian , $150,000 / year).
Then there’s Brigitte Marshall. Four years ago, she was in charge of the Adult Ed program, and presided over its destruction, shutting down 95% of that formerly vital program. Based on this atrocity, since then her career has taken off and she has received promotion after promotion and raise after raise. Now her title is “Chief Talent Officer” (I am not making this up!) and her base salary is $160,000 / year.
And let’s not overlook two more colleagues  Wilson brought in from Denver:
—Bernard McCune, for whom he created the post of “Deputy Chief, Post Secondary Readiness”, with base salary of $157,500 / year.
—Devin Dillon, the new Chief Academic Officer, raking in $175,000 / year.
Superintendent Wilson also displayed his priorities by filling the vacant OUSD Chief of Police position — hello Jeffrey Godown, goodbye $150,000 / year plus benefits.
This is just a sample. The story is similar for the two dozen highest paid administrators. Indeed, the cumulative base pay for the inner circle (“chiefs”, deputy and assistant superintendents, etc.) has gone up by nearly $1 million between last school year and this one — from $2.81 million last year to $3.76 million this year. This increase comes from a combination of generously increasing salaries and creating five new “chief” titles (including the above-referenced “Chief of Schools” and “Chief of Organizational Effectiveness”.}
So if Wilson is cutting the central administration budget, much of the cuts are likely coming from the lower paid administrative support. This would be a repetition of what Randy Ward did in 2003 – 6 when the state came in. He brought in all kinds of Broad Foundation graduates and residents at the high end (Troy Christmas; Jonathan Klein; and many others) and promoted some ambitious locals, while laying waste to central services — eliminating central copy services, almost annihilating maintenance (electricians, painters, window repair, etc.) and thus forcing schools to buy services from the likes of Kinko’s. Randy Ward made other cuts “away from the classroom” — of clerical, cafeteria, custodial, and other essential school classified staff positions.
Today, despite all of Antwan Wilson’s rhetoric, we hear reports that although Oakland High projects increased enrollment for next year, it is scheduled to lose several FTEs. So when Antwan Wilson says that he’s “budgeting for the classroom”, please excuse us for thinking, “Shades of the state takeover. More, needless, high-level and high-salaried administrators; salary boosts at the high end; chopping classified staff and low-level administrative support jobs.” Unacceptable.
If Antwan Wilson means what he says, here’s what he could do:
(1) Eliminate high-end bloat. Start by cutting redundant dead wood. No need for a Chief of Schools — there’s already a Superintendent of Schools. No need for a Chief Financial Officer — there’s already a Deputy Superintendent for Business. No need for a “Chief Talent Officer” (I trust no explanation is needed) nor a “Chief of Organizational Effectiveness”. Eliminating those four positions alone would save over $800,000 in combined salary and benefits. And that’s just a start. Other cabinet posts could be eliminated.
(2) Give up that $280,000 / year base salary. Instead, cap all district salaries at teacher maximum salary (currently $84,000 / year if annualized to a 12-month basis). We hear  from the board, and from folks like Wilson, about how important teachers are. But when it comes to compensation, the well’s dry — virtually no raises since 2002. Why should administrators be paid more than teachers and staff? Why should we tolerate this gross and widening inequality?  Reducing the salaries of Wilson and his cabinet to teacher max, combined with cutting redundant cabinet positions, would save close to $3 million / year in salaries and benefits. And beyond the cabinet, there are 200 – 300 additional administrative positions salaried above teacher max — many of them $50,000 / year or more higher in base salary alone.  My rough estimate is that capping all salaries at teacher maximum would save in the neighborhood of $12 million / year.
(3) Systematically review and reduce outsourcing to private consultants. We’ve noticed that Antwan Wilson is not shy about bringing in folks who worked for him in Denver and either creating high paying district jobs for them, or giving them lucrative contracts.  Nothing new here. For years, OUSD has been even more generous to private contractors than it has been to its high-paid administrators — and that’s generous indeed. In fact, five years ago OEA and CTA presented data to the Public Employee Relations Board’s Factfinding Panel showing conclusively that proportional to its size, OUSD had twice the administrative overhead and twice the outsourced contracting of the average California school district. OUSD ought to be able to cut back in this area by as much as $20 million / year or more — and where feasible redirect the work to unionized district employees.
So adding it up, we’re talking $30 million / year or more. And that ain’t chump change. Heck, with that, even the inept and malevolent OUSD administration could probably abide by state law and devote at least 55% of educational expenses to classroom instruction, providing (at last!) adequate raises to all schoolworkers, while at the same time preserving and even cutting class size (by hiring more certificated staff) and increasing support (by hiring more classified staff).
Posted in education/childhood, Oakland | Leave a comment

Fracking, the Democrats and the Union Leadership

On Feb. 7, there was a march in Oakland, CA to oppose fracking. One of the main banners of the march was to call for “climate leadership.” This has been the slogan in appeals in the past to California Governor Jerry Brown – that he should show climate leadership. How is that possible, when he’s a completely corporate politician, member of a corporate party, and he’s received something like $6 million from the oil industry? It’s like appealing to a lion to show vegetarian leadership. Here, Oaklandsocialist interviews the president of UNITE-HERE Local 2850 and we ask her about exactly that. The fact that they completely support the Democrats means that they have to continually drive with one foot on the gas and the other on the brakes.

For a more extended explanation of this contradiction and its results, see this pamphlet.

Posted in environment, labor | Leave a comment

What is Revolution?

A new movement is underway in the United States. Many of those who make up this movement are looking for a road to revolution.

From the introduction to this new pamphlet:

Revolution, which is part art and part science, is a complicated process and not all movements that start down the path towards revolutionary change end up that way. And with capitalism being more of a global system than ever before, now more than ever revolutionaries have to study the process globally. We hope that this pamphlet can make a small contribution towards understanding the “science” part of revolution and that it can be part of a larger dialog on what has worked and what hasn’t.

Read and/or download full pamphlet here:What is Revolution? 5

What is Revolution?

Posted in Ferguson, Marxist theory, Middle East, pamphlets, rebellion, repression, workers' struggles | Leave a comment

Greek Update: What’s at Stake For Us All

It has been a scarce two weeks since the Greek working class put the radical Syriza party into power in Greece. They did that to put an end to the starvation there – to 65% youth unemployment, to thousands having to pick through garbage cans for food, to living without electricity. In doing that, the Greek working class took front and center in the global struggle against capitalism’s attacks. That’s why all workers, and all those involved in the struggle against capitalism, should take an interest in what is happening there, and learn the lessons.

Debt Crisis

With a situation similar to the Latin American “debt crisis” of some decades ago, the Greek government will run out of money by the end of February. So far, they have been bailed out mainly by the European Union bankers, at the cost of being forced to cut and cut and cut some more. Syriza and its central leader, Alexis Tsipras, came to power on the promise of reversing that. But what are his plans? He and his government cannot rehire laid-off government workers if the government has no – literally no – money. Nor can they reinstitute government services.

Traveling Throughout Europe

So the solution of Tsipras has been to travel around Europe, meeting with and negotiatingwith various leaders of European capital. Yesterday, he was in Brussels, meeting with Jean-Calude Juncker, president of the European Commission. On Tuesday, Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis was in Italy to meet with his Italian and British counterparts. He will also be meeting with the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble.

Alexis Tsipras (l.) with Jean-Claude Juncker (r.)

Alexis Tsipras (l.) with Jean-Claude Juncker (r.), the representative of European capital.

All around Europe these two are traveling, trying to convince European capital that Greece cannot and will not continue down the same road. The hope, presumably, is that they could divide the enemy, getting some of the European capitalist governments to agree to granting Greece additional time and money. So far, things are not going well.

European Working Class

But a key player has been left standing on the sidelines: The working class of the rest of Europe. While Tsipras and Varoufakis are traveling their rounds, negotiating with the enemy, they seem to be ignoring their most important ally in those countries – the workers.

The central fact is this: So far, European capital has made some headway in cutting the living standards of European workers, but nowhere near enough by their standards. While austerity in Greece has not restored the Greek economy, that was never its main purpose. Its main purpose was to use newly introduced Third World living standards in Greece to batter the living standards of German, French, Belgian, etc. workers. In other words, the old race to the bottom.

There is nothing wrong with the Syriza government negotiating with European capital. Even enemy generals negotiate with each other. But to do so without mobilizing the potential troops is a serious mistake at the least. Everywhere Tsipras and Varoufakis go, Syriza should also be sending representatives to help rally the workers of those countries to explain what is at stake, to explain that it is not “Greece” against “Germany” or any other country; instead it is the race to the bottom, a race in which all workers lose.

The fact remains: The Greek working class cannot stand up to the united European capital no more than could the Greek army stand up to the armies of the rest of Europe. And the stakes are high: If Tsipras backs down, this will hugely demoralize the Greek workers. And if he doesn’t, then by early next month if European capital isn’t forced to make concessions, then the Greek government will be out of cash, causing a really huge crisis for Greek workers. Nor is Greece leaving the EU a solution, as that would provoke a similar crisis, plus mass inflation to boot.

Racism and Nationalism

The global struggle against racism is also involved. Greece is a central entry point for refugees into Western Europe from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. Every hot spot – Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria, Congo – sees thousands of people fleeing, many of whom pass through – or settle in – Greece. Syriza has taken a positive stance on immigration, but their support could collapse overnight if they are unable to show a way forward. Waiting in the wings is the fascist (literally), and racist Golden Dawn party. In the past, they carried out

A Sudanese immigrant in Greece displays the scars on his back from an attack by Golden Dawn

A Sudanese immigrant in Greece displays the scars on his back from an attack by Golden Dawn

physical assaults against immigrants in Greece. They and their allies would make a come-back if Syriza fails. If that happens, it will give an impetus to racist forces throughout Europe and, in fact, globally.

So there’s a lot at stake in Greece for all of us.

Posted in economics, Europe | 2 Comments

“Run, Warren, Run”: To Where?

The real Elizabeth Warren

The real Elizabeth Warren

I went to a meeting of “Run, Warren, Run”  a couple of days ago. This is a group organized by Moveon.org, which is the “left wing” of the Democrats. They are trying to push Liberal US Senator Elizabeth Warren to run against Clinton for president.

Prior to the meeting, we were getting all sorts of e mails asking people to bring extra chairs as way over 50 people had committed to coming. As it turned out, there were twelve present at the back of an  auto shop in an industrial area in deep east Oakland. Of the twelve, there were three who could be called political players. One had just gotten back from “overseas”. It turned out he’d been in Jordan and Afghanistan where he’d been working as an advisor to civilians who work for the US military. It’s not impossible that he worked in some way with the CIA. He also said he’d worked on both Obama presidential campaigns.

Then there was a woman maybe in her mid 40s who was a staffer for SEIU 1021. This is the largest and most influential union in the east bay area. She was there with a slightly older guy who had set up a non-profit with her a few years ago to consult with the union leadership. The woman had been involved in different campaigns before.

When it became clear that just a dozen people were going to be there, these three left. They didn’t even stay for the home made red beans and rice and dim sum that was set out! The others who were there were mainly an assortment of misfits. Mostly over 50, although there was one young couple. The organizer said he was a scientist who consults for NASA on their drone program (!) He described how his research was going to be taken by NASA and then handed over to private industry. He also talked a lot about his experience with Moveon. He said they are totally centrally controlled, including the fact that there is no means for Moveon supporters to communicate with each other online; they can only communicate with the central leadership. On three separate occasions in the past, he’d organized some meeting for them around some election campaign or another and then each time been told to stop everything he was doing. He was even called up by a lawyer who threatened him. He was asked if Moveon had a longer term strategy and he said that if they do he didn’t know what it was.

As we got to talking, some things came out. They all more or less agreed that Warren was not going to win the nomination, but their hope was that by running they would push Clinton to the left. I also asked the organizer of the meeting what was his longer term strategy. He said, “we need to do to the Democratic Party what the Tea Party has done to the Republicans!” Later in the discussion, I pointed out that what the Tea Party had done was accomplished with the financial backing of major rich people and corporations as well as one entire TV network – Fox TV. Where would we get such resources? Nobody could really answer this.

A big issue – the main reason for support for Warren according to the organizer of the event – was the fact that she wants to build “Main St.” as opposed to the domination of “Wall St.” The meeting was being held in a building that was built during WW II to house small industry, and the organizer recounted the history of all the small industrial plants that had sprung up during the war to further the war effort. He said that now, Wall St. had come to dominate and that what Warren wants is to sufficiently regulate Wall St. to restore the balance. I pointed out that every regulatory body is controlled by the industry it’s supposed to regulate, and his reply was that the problem is that the SEC and similar bodies have been gutted and they need to hire more regulators. He cited the Savings and Loan scandal of the 80s, and how some top bankers went to jail as opposed to what happened recently.

There was a lot of flowery talk about Barbara Lee and her having been the sole vote against war, etc. I raised the story that went round about when Pres. Bill Clinton was pushing NAFTA through the Senate and a few senators told him that they were going to vote against it, but if their vote was needed for it to pass, they’d vote for it. I wondered how much the dissident votes like Lee’s were like that. Nobody commented.

We went around the circle and talked about why we were there. I had to be honest, and I said that I was just there checking it out but that I had some issues. I raised the issue of Warren’s support for Israel. At that point, the organizer – who was a very nice, friendly guy – cut me off and vigorously argued that she doesn’t really support Israel, etc. etc. He didn’t interrupt anybody else, and I suspect that he did with me because they know that Warren is really indefensible on that issue.

I also talked some about the prospects for Warren to run. My view is that if there is a real development of the movement in the streets, if it really sinks roots and spreads further, then she might run to draw it into Democratic Party politics but that what I thought what was needed was a new, mass left party.

At that point, one of the guys said, “so why are you even here?” I replied that I could leave if people wanted me to, but everybody else was too nice to say so. At that point, things started to get pretty boring – just repetition of what other liberals were saying. So I waited ten minutes and then left.

At least here in Alameda county, the Warren movement doesn’t seem to be growing much legs. As I say, if the present movement in the streets really seems to be sinking roots and threatens to be longer lasting, then the “left” wing of the Democrats could throw more resources behind Warren.

Posted in politics, United States | Leave a comment

Greece and the revolutionary movement in the US

New Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras greets crowd

New Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras greets crowd

On Sunday, January 24, national elections were held in Greece. Many young revolutionaries in the United States, caught up in the struggle here, may not have followed those events so closely.

They should.

Income Inequality and a “Police State”

The struggle against police murders and brutality here is directly linked with “income inequality.” As self-styled “zillionaire” Nick Hanauer said: “You show me a highly unequal society and I’ll show you a police state.” In the US, as the economic attacks on all workers increased, so did all the propaganda about “violent criminals” and the idea that the police are the “thin blue line” that stand between the upstanding citizens and mayhem and murder, and all the racist images that go with that propaganda. So for those who recognize that to end police murder and racism we need a complete change in society, the lessons of other struggles are vital. And right now, Greece stands at the epicenter of the battle against international capital in Europe.

Background

Greece has historically been a weak link in the European capitalist chain, and as a result the traditions of working class militancy are powerful. (See this article.) In 2009, a debt crisis arose in Greece. Part of the European Union and the eurozone (the zone where all countries use the same currency – the “euro”), European capital, as dominated by German capital, put Greece on short rations. Extremely short. In exchange for a loan program, they demanded that Greece cut public employment and public services, cut the minimum wage, etc. Today, there is something like 65% unemployment among Greek youth, for instance, and total poverty and outright hunger is rampant. It was these conditions that led to the rise of a new, radical party, Syriza.

Syriza and Electoral Politics

Syriza promised to reverse all these austerity cuts. In some ways, the leadership has moderated its program in recent years, but this simple promise has huge meaning for Greek workers and youth, who voted Syriza in as the largest party by far on January 24. This election outcome has further emboldened masses of Greeks and helped the movement advance.

One important lesson to be learned from this is that participating in electoral politics is an important tool in revolutionaries’ tool box. How can we continue to simply protest what the capitalist politicians are doing, instead of engaging in the struggle to replace them? There are some who say that we can never make any change through elections. But the great majority don’t see it that way, so it’s necessary to participate in order to help people see the shortcomings. As Greece shows, as the working class moves, it will form its own mass party. In most cases – as in Greece – that party may not be a revolutionary one, but that’s beside the point. In any case, that party will participate in elections. It is exactly through this process that a revolutionary tendency will often develop. And anyway, it’s not completely true that elections don’t produce any change.

The election outcome in Greece is inseparable from the massive street demonstrations and strikes that have happened since 2009. And within days of coming into power, the Syriza government restored the public jobs, ended privatization, and restored the minimum wage.

Syriza also decided to grant citizenship rights to the children of immigrants. This is an important step for two reasons: First, parallel with the rise of revolutionary urges has been the rise of outright fascism in the form of the Golden Dawn party. Golden Dawn sports a modified form of the Nazi swastika and has carried out violent attacks against immigrants in Greece (who are mainly from the Arab world and Africa). Syriza has always called for immigrant rights, and this is an important first step.

Complicated Victory

Syriza’s victory is complicated, though, by the complex government system in Greece. Like many other European countries, the party that wins the majority of parliament’s seats forms the government. If no one party gets a majority, then usually a coalition of parties – led by the largest one – forms the government. In this case, Syriza almost got the majority of seats, but not quite. It would have had the option of trying to form a minority government and try to pressure some other parties to vote for it or at least not vote against it. The most likely candidate would have been the Greek Communist Party (KKP). However, this party held an extremely sectarian position and refused to cooperate with Syriza. In the event, Syriza formed a government by bringing in a small, nationalist party called ANEL. This party has strongly opposed the austerity program of the EU.

African immigrants in Greece demand their rights.

African immigrants in Greece demand their rights.

Many, including this writer, were dismayed by Syriza bringing in ANEL, especially because of the anti-foreigner position of that party. With Syriza’s granting of citizenship to immigrants’ children, though, it seems that Syriza may not be making concessions to ANEL along those lines.

Confrontation with EU Powers

Meanwhile, the Syriza government is locked in a battle with the rest of the EU. They are demanding more time to pay off their loans and refusing to back down on the issue of austerity. The major players in the EU, especially the head of state in Germany – Angela Merkel – are demanding that Greece tow the line and threatening to kick Greece out of the EU if they don’t. Other countries are in conflict. In Spain, for instance, a new left party called Podemos (“We can”) is growing. Podemos is similar to Syriza and has links with them. The main capitalist parties, fearful of a Podemos victory, are lining up with Merkel.

Greece Out of EU?

Expelling Greece from the EU would mean a crisis all around. The continued stability of the euro (which is already wobbling), never mind the EU as a whole, would be in question. Nor would it be all rosy for Greece. If they were forced to return to their own currency (the drachma), it would mean an immediate and sharp increase in prices in Greece. But what is the alternative? If concessions are made to Greece, then who is next? And if Syriza backs down, this would mean an immediate crisis within the party. It looks like the irresistible force meeting the unmovable obstacle.

Russia

One other issue: The new Greek government has threatened to veto any further EU economic sanctions against Russia. This relates to the struggle for influence in Ukraine. If Greece is expelled from the EU, would Russia come to its economic aid? Would it be able to?

This is just a very general summary of what is happening in Greece. Watching the events there helps show how the struggle to overthrow capitalism as a whole relates to both electoral politics as well as putting forward partial demands. The Syriza leadership has moderated its program in recent years. will they continue down this road, to the point of capitulating to Merkel and the EU?

Nationalism vs. International Workers’ Solidarity

One last point: The Syriza leadership has raised elements of nationalism and patriotism. One example of this is their call for Germany to pay Greece reparations for the damage it caused in WW II. But who in Germany would be paying those reparations? Most certainly the German working class. What the Syriza leadership has not done is to explain that what is happening in Greece shows the plans for the working class of all of Europe. If Greek living standards are permanently driven down to starvation levels, then the low wages there will attract capital from the rest of Europe. Workers, including those in Germany, will start to lose their jobs and the demand to cut wages and benefits in Germany will increase. In other words, the infamous “race to the bottom.”

This is what Syriza should be campaigning around throughout Europe. As part of their struggle against austerity in Greece, they should be starting to build direct links with workers throughout not only the EU, but also the entire Mediterranean and beyond. Greece has been the portal of immigration from the Arab world and Africa into the rest of Europe. They stand in an excellent position to create exactly such direct links.

Nowhere is the fate of the working class of any one country more tied with the fate of the world’s working class than it is in Greece. But they are not alone. In the end, the same holds true for workers and youth here in the US. And that includes the struggle against racism.

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Greece: Revolutionary traditions

We reprint here some comments of Roger Silverman on the political traditions of Greece)

Reformism never acquired the stable mass base in Greece that it had achieved historically in the rest of Europe. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Greece was subjected to a succession of wars, mass migrations, coups and military dictatorships; and its wartime and postwar history is closer to those of the Philippines and other South-East Asian countries than to Western Europe. Having first driven out the army of Italian fascism and then waged an indescribably heroic guerrilla struggle and popular resistance which single-handedly overthrew the Nazi occupation regime, the Greek population then suffered years of civil war against first the British and then the US army, followed by a period of repressive rule under a pro-American quisling regime. Then – with a renewed revolutionary upsurge once again gathering pace – came the brutal dictatorship of the colonels, which was itself eventually overthrown by a mass youth uprising. It was not until the election of the first PASOK government in 1981 and accession to the EU that an era of liberal reforms, bribes and handouts came, a pale imitation of the substantial welfare gains won over generations of struggle by workers in Western Europe.

Pasok
That explains why, when PASOK was founded after the collapse of the dictatorship, by a member of the longstanding liberal Papandreou political dynasty seizing the chance to fill the gap between Stalinism and conservative authoritarian, he had to proclaim the new party as “a socialist party, not a social- democratic party” and present a radical face. Forty years later, the party is already in shreds, its collapse as spectacular as its earlier brief rise.

Papandreou

Now, George Papandreou has walked out of the party his father had created with such bombast, and – in an apparent ruse to siphon off enough votes from SYRIZA to deprive it of a crucial margin – declared yet another new party. It is hard to imagine this universally despised figure regaining enough credibility to succeed. The fate of PASOK was doomed once it had departed from initial radical slogans and tried to achieve the stability of a Western reformist party without enjoying the material economic base to sustain it. There is a lesson there too for SYRIZA.

Like PASOK between 1974 and 1981, SYRIZA too has materialized with lightning speed from obscurity to become the most popular party in Greece. Like PASOK did originally (although with a less compromised origin), it has inspired a new generation with radical slogans. To a far greater degree, SYRIZA is a classic centrist party, comparable to parties like the ILP and POUM in the 1930s. Such parties are like fireworks or radioactive elements: volatile, subject to explosive contradictions, destined either to transform themselves into revolutionary parties or to fizzle out. We have to be clear: the election of a SYRIZA government will be nothing like the election of an Hollande in France or a Miliband in Britain. If SYRIZA comes to power – and if it wins a plurality of votes, then surely it would be senselessly, unthinkably provocative for the other parties to block its path to office – then it will have a very brief chance to seize the opportunity.

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Capitalism: Kill it quick before it murders us all!

images-1

Today’s Wall St. Journal reports that Chevron is driving to increase its production of oil and gas, especially in deep water wells in the Gulf of Mexico, in order to compensate for the collapse in oil prices. That is typical of the historic boom-and-bust cycles of the oil industry.  And how much is fracking responsible for the collapse in oil prices?

The same WSJ article reports: “Meanwhile, smaller companies have moved faster, poking enough holes into US shale rock-formations to deliver about 3.5 million barrels of oil a day above 2010 levels. That increase, almost as much crude as Chevron and Exxon Mobil produce combined, has added fresh capacity to the global oil market and contributed to the nose-dive in prices.”

In other words, the more they frack, the more the oil prices drop, and the more those prices drop, the more oil they pump to compensate for the low prices. Meanwhile, California is beset with its fourth year of severe drought while the North East is experiencing a tremendous blizzard. To say nothing about drought in Brazil, etc.

Capitalism and global climate disruption, anybody?

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Has the Tide Turned Against Pegida?

(Note: We have carried a series of reports by Dan Armstrong on Pegida – the right wing anti-immigrant and racist group in Germany. Here is his latest report.)

25,000 turned out to protest the racists

The expected rift in the anti-immigration movement in Germany began or became visible yesterday. After a concerted series of very large and determined counter-demonstration and a media onslaught, the numbers attending the Pegida rally in Leipzig (called Legida) signalled a peeling off of thousands of looser supporters, possibly appalled by the growing virulence of some of the leaders. As reported in the press, the main spokesman Bachmann threw in the towel after his selfie posing as Hitler went viral on the net. His co-organisers, including Kathrin Oertel, who I wrote about elsewhere, closed ranks against the damaging leader whose views most marchers would reject and find offensive.

To make things worse for them, after the boast about being able to mobilise 60,000 for yesterday evening’s rally in Leipzig, only around 15,000 actually appeared. And these were outnumbered by a 19 separate counter demos that mobilized about 25,000 in all. Leftwing groups prevented the importation of rightwingers from Dresden by barricading autobahn approach roads and setting fire to dumpsters on the main railyway line. A tight counter demo also built a knot at the exit to the railway station, preventing travellers from joining the  Legida demo.

What is happening is that the broad populist movement, superficially against immigration but in reality against low pay, poor public and health services and the like, is starting to vomit out the neonazis who gleefully helped to build Pegida and it is reverting to the control of petit bourgeois and declassed elements who see no political party with power fighting for their interests. The party they regard as closest to their views is the new anti-Euro AfD party which has now a foothold in a regional parliament and which has embraced the movement. A quick survey of marchers about their voting intentions revealed that if they represented the whole population, the next parliament would have 95% AfD and 5% NPD lawmakers. Fortunately of course, there is only little sympathy for Pegida outside a small area of east Germany.

The state has mobilised both political, moral and physical force against the movement. The political parties and Merkel have turned vocal in their rejection of the colour of the movement. Chat shows discussed and rediscussed the issues with Pegida consistently refusing to take part. Economic institutes explained the industrial and financial need for immigration. The churches and the unions made decisive public statements. Public institutions turned off the illumination of great public buildings, the normally conservative Bild newspaper carried a series of exposures and finally a large “round table” forum was set up to discuss with the rank and file. Cleverly the state also launched raids against Salafist nests. Add to these measures the mass active opposition on the streets of most major German cities, not just once, but repeatedly, and the physical defensive measures blocking and delaying of marches and we can understand the reasons for the abandonment by a mass of confused people of the pegida marches  led by  loose cannons of neonazis capable of insane tactics.

It may take some weeks, but the tide seems to have turned. We can expect the growth of the AfD as the future political spokesmen to win seats in local parliaments.

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Nigeria: Black Lives Matter There Too!

Devastation in Baga after Boko Haram attack

Devastation in Baga after Boko Haram attack

The Nigerian government claimed it was “only” 150. Others said as many as 2,000. That’s the number of people killed by Boko Haram (the name means “Western Education is Sinful”) in their Jan. 3, 2015 attack on Baga in Northeast Nigeria.

When the Coulilaby brothers attacked the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the media went into a feeding frenzy. Dozens of foreign dignitaries came to Paris to march in support of Charlie Hebdo. But the murder of as many as 2,000 Nigerians by Boko Haram has been nearly ignored. Evidently, black lives don’t matter so much, especially when they don’t live in a region where there is oil. But it’s more than just this. The rise of Boko Haram springs from the disaster that capitalism has been for the entire African continent. And now, Boko Haram (BH) itself is further adding to that disaster for the people of Nigeria (and neighboring states including Cameroon, Chad and even as far away as Mali).

Nigeria’s 500 Ethnic Groups

A country that was cobbled together by British imperialism, cursed with vast oil wealth in one region that drew investors like sharks drawn to blood in the water, and today feeling the effects of all the crises of modern-day capitalism — that is Nigeria today.

Originally recognizing only 3 states, today Nigeria is composed of 36 states which have a high degree of autonomy. This is a recognition of the 500 different ethnic groups that populate the country. Since capitalism has meant from the outset little but looting by the industrialized world, the economy was not really developed in a way that could integrate all these different ethnicities. And hovering over the different ethnic conflicts is the fact that the north of the country is mainly Muslim while the south is mostly Christian – leading to conflicts between these two religious groups. (See this article for more.)

Capitalism a Disaster for Africa

The corruption, ethnic and religious rivalries and regionalism have all combined with the inability of capitalism to develop society meaning vast unemployment among the youth, among other things. Hardly anywhere is this disaster worse than in northern Nigeria, where 70% of the population subsists on less that $1.00 per day. And although Nigeria is a major oil producer and exporter, half of Nigeria’s 170 million people have no access to electricity whatsoever.

When Islam Comoes Everyone Would be Happy”

Entering into this crisis has been the world crisis – the breakdown of US capitalism’s domination along with the continuing weakness of the world’s working class to assert itself as an independent force. One result of this has been the rise of islamic fundamentalist groups, which appeal to some youth who are seeking an avenue to rebel against those they see as their oppressors. As the same article reported: “Poor people are tired of the injustice, people are crying for saviors and they know the messiahs are Boko Haram,” a group spokesman told the Guardian. “People were singing songs … saying: ‘We want Boko Haram.’ … If the masses don’t like us they would have exposed us by now. When Islam comes everyone would be happy.”

This was the basis of the founding of Boko Haram by Muhammed Yusuf in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of the north-east state of Borno in Nigeria. He established a religious complex and school that attracted poor Muslim families from across Nigeria and neighbouring countries. The center had the political goal of creating an Islamic state, and became a recruiting ground for jihadis. By denouncing the police and state corruption, Yusuf attracted followers from unemployed youths.” (Wikipidia)

At that time the group was largely non-violent, although they did have a few clashes with the authorities. In 2009, Yusuf was arrested and killed by the police “while attempting to escape”, they claimed. Abubakar Shekau succeeded Yusuf to leadership of Boko Haram, although some claim that the group is very decentralized with different

Abubakar Shekau

Abubakar Shekau

leaders and councils running things almost independently.

Attacks of Boko Haram are further destabilizing that part of Nigeria. As one reporter wrote: (The State of) Borno’s peasantry has flooded into the state’s capital at Maiduguri and nearby towns since the 1970s, as the rapid growth of Nigeria’s oil sector and the country’s increasing integration into the world market has disrupted the local economy and traditional social structure. In conditions of unending mass unemployment and economic crisis, the flood of rural poor into the cities and towns has led to the emergence of an underclass of homeless youth, students and even professionals with no prospects of securing normal employment, providing fertile ground for the growth of extremist militias.”

Fulani

Apparently BH has its main base among the Fulani people of that part of Nigeria. The Fulani are traditionally pastoralists who rely on cattle herding, and there have been historical conflicts between them and other groups in the region. This has included raids on towns by some Fulani. Accounts of those raids sound similar to the BH raids, except these are purely ethnic aimed. Exacerbating these tensions has been the fact of global climate disruption, which has caused drought in those parts of Nigeria. As a Nigerian explained: “The desert has claimed over 350,000 sq. km of the land area in Northern Nigeria affecting the lives of 28 million people and 58 million livestock. The North has 90% of the cattle stock in the country.” Since the Fulani, who live in the North, traditionally moved their herds from one place to another to find pasturage, they have come into conflict in doing this with settled villagers, especially since now they have to move over greater areas due to the drought.

Although there are no claims to this effect, it certainly seems that these ethnic conflicts would play into the religious warfare of BH, at least as far as creating a general climate of violence. As one Nigerian observer wrote: The general crisis in the country has also created a context in which criminal gangs have jumped into the bandwagon of rural criminality and cattle rustling creating a negative label for the Fulani who constitute the majority of the nomadic community.”

Boko Haram’s Funding Sources

The funding source for any such group is always important and tells a lot about political connections. They reportedly get some of their money from bank robberies and kidnappings, but that cannot be and is not all. There is also evidence that wealthy and important politicians in the region are connected with and have financially supported BH. There are also reports that the group has been involved in the drug trade, sending cocaine and other drugs from South America up to Europe. But another reported source has serious political significance:

According to several reports, BH is partly funded by al Qaeda and “charitable” funds linked to them, one of the most important of which is the al Muntada Trust Fund. This is a Saudi-linked “charity” fund, headquartered in the UK, which grosses millions of dollars per year and helps finance Wahabbism throughout the Muslim world. Through this religious fundamentalism – similar in many ways to the Christian fundamentalists who plague US and Latin American politics – Saudi capitalists spread their influence and power. Just as Christianity was used by Western capitalism throughout the former colonial world, so Saudi capitalism uses Wahabbism in the Muslim world today. Reportedly, Boko Haram has close ties with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), Libya Islamic Fighting Group as well as possible links with the Islamic State.

The world political instability has played a major role in this. Both AQIM and the Libyan group developed through the US-engineered overthrow of Qadaffi in Libya.

France and the US

Partly as a response to the rising tide of these Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups, major Western powers are increasing their military presence in the continent. French troops, for instance, are reported to have recently fought Boko Haram in Cameroon, where they (BH) have bases, and the US is beefing up its military presence throughout the continent. However, lying behind this is the growing rivalry between US and Chinese capitalism for which power will get to further loot Africa of its enormous mineral riches.

State of Emergency”

The Nigerian government has responded to this crisis by declaring a state of emergency in the region. This won’t help. The rank and file of the Nigerian military is severely underpaid, poorly fed, badly clothed, often having to scrounge for firewood just to cook their meals. Under these conditions, and with the corruption at all levels of the military, they are unwilling to risk their lives.

Workers’ Movemen

Then there is the other crisis: The crisis of the workers’ movement. Nigeria has a potentially powerful working class and several unions, which have formed the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). The problem with the labor movement can be seen in the comment of Ayuba Wabba, who is a candidate for its presidency. A “reform” candidate, Wabba praises the NLC policies that “earn the confidence of the worker and also that of the employer.” At the same time, Wabba criticizes the “neo liberal policies that are imposed by the IMF and the World Bank.” But first and foremost among those policies is the myth that workers and employers have common interests, which is exactly what Wabba claims!

Conclusion

According to the Wall St. Journal, Amiday Coulibaly – one of the two brothers alleged to have carried out the attack against Charlie Hebdo in France – was an impoverished youth, engaged in petty crime, who was won to Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism while serving time in prison. Nearly 3,000 miles away, youth in Nigeria – also

Aftermath of BH bomb attack in Abuja Last year, 8400 people in West Africa died from Ebola. In the same time period 10,340 died in northeast Nigeria in Boko Haram related violence and  1.5 million were displaced.

Aftermath of BH bomb attack in Abuja
Last year, 8400 people in West Africa died from Ebola.
In the same time period 10,340 died in northeast Nigeria in Boko Haram related violence and
1.5 million were displaced.

impoverished and feeling without hope – are being won to the same ideology, and by the same forces. No amount of repression can reverse this. No amount of hand wringing or denunciations of “intolerance”.

Only a renewed mass movement against the ravages of capitalism, and against capitalism itself, will do.

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Germany: Broad rightwing populism as an antechamber for fascists

We carry a new report from Germany by Dan Armstrong:

Yesterday the largest rightwing street demonstration in the history of postwar Germany took place in Dresden. This time  the Pegida anti-immigration movement mustered over 30,000, some say 40,000, for its 12th Monday march through the city. Heartening was the fact that in total over 100,000 counter demonstrators  could be counted across the whole country with 30,000 in nearby Leipzig, the heart of the anti-stalinist demonstrations in 1989.

Pegida has so far failed to sink serious roots in any other city apart from Dresden and their failure has led to many of their Dresden particpants being bussed in from outside.

That said, we should be observing the way that this movement has been developing. Going back a year or two, we saw the tiny English Defence League staging rallies and riots but participation was largely confined to already committed rightwing activists and hooligans, spoiling for a street fight.
Further attempts at mobilisation by EDL, BNP and UKIP included marches against pedophiles, the siting of psychiatric clinics, Roma camps. There have been similar demos against same-sex marriage in France and Russia, Roma in Hungary and so. The crowds have proved fruitful recruiting grounds for entrist fascist grouplets but the new groundswell of anti-islamism in Germany has reached a wider audience and has proved to be longer-lasting than earlier movements.

Pegida has only existed for a couple of weeks as an actual organisation. But has mobilised ever growing numbers of marchers for 12 (twelve) Monday demonstrations in Dresden so far. The demos mobilise hardliners and many thousands of the periphery of the rightwing parties such as NPD and AfD, but more importantly unorganised workers, students and often pensioners who gather around the nonsensical slogans of stop the compulsory wearing of the veil for German women (!) or the  introduction of Sharia law but also the following demands:
stop uncontrolled immigration,
immigrants should be compelled to integrate themselves,
islamists should be deported,
the people should decide policy through referendums,
the warmongering against Russia should be stopped (this is aimed at Linke voters),
internal security should be strengthened.

As you can see, there are demands there which many people can support without being fascists. But the fascists are active in finding recruits amongt the crowds, leading chants about the “lying press” and “we are the people”.
Difficult to understand are the two facts that Dresden has a lower unemployment rate than much of east Germany and that there is an extremely low presence of immigrants of under 2% of the population (London has 40%!) It may be that the local people are yearning for the old stability of both the stalinist DDR (which was also xenophobic in practice although not in words) or even the 3rd Reich or the 2nd Reich or the Kingdom of Saxony; they have basically hardly ever lived under bourgeois democracy and with every generation there has been complete disruption of their lives.

The two elements aiding the right are 1) the use of facebook etc to call for action and also to bombard any opponents (individual or in the media) with a hail of abuse arguments and threats. WIth only a cadre of ten people sometimes using extra fake IDs, the appearance can be gained of a mass movement. And 2) the pitching of the demands broadly enough to draw in a wider periphery of possible recruits.
As it stands, the actual Pegida will snap and shatter into different currents fairly soon but not before the right has made substantial gains.

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Charlie Hebdo attack

The terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo are in direct conflict with the interests of all workers everywhere. These same methods are also used against the workers’ movement, for instance against the Awami Workers’ Party in Pakistan.

(NOTE: This article has been edited. Originally, we commented that it appeared to us that some cartoons in Charlie Hebdo appealed to anti-Muslim bigotry. We clearly said that this in no way justified the attack, but it does now appear that this view was mistaken. We have received this article, for instance, which says that CH had numerous cartoons attacking Israel’s war in Gaza, etc. Comrades in France appear to agree with this view. From this distance, and not speaking French, it is impossible to be definitive. However, in a majority Christian – and imperialist – country [France], we tend to think that “insulting” Christianity is not the same as “insulting” Islam. Also, as socialists, we have to ask what is the best way of breaking the working class from various capitalists and of uniting all workers. Given all the circumstances, we think that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons lampooning Muhammed do not help; we think they will only strengthen the hand of the reactionary Islamic fundamentalist leaders and further divide the working class.)

Beyond that, though, our task is to understand, and we can’t make sense of this situation without some review of history. Why did these brothers who apparently were responsible for the attack on Charlie Hebdo turn to Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism as a means of expressing their anger against Western imperialism’s interventions in the predominantly Islamic world?

This foot was taken in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the occupation during the "Arab Spring." This man is a devout Muslim. He and a friend gave the author of this article (pictured here) a long lecture about how Zionism controls the US. (Once they said "Jews" and several people in the crowd corrected them and said "Zionism", not all Jews.) They said that the US had invaded Iraq at the insistance of Israel.Our reply was that Israel was important to US capitalism to keep control over the region and the region was important because of oil. If it weren't for oil, US capitalism wouldn't care so much about Israel. They talked about the crimes of the US government in the region - how the US "hates Muslims, and I replied by listing many of the crimes of this government throughout history - slavery, genocide against the Native Americans, machine gunning striking US workers, coups in Latin America, Vietnam, etc. It was nothing against Muslims in particular, it was just the striving for world domination on the part of the most powerful capitalist state. After all of this, this man above told me he hopes I read the holy Koran one day. I thanked him and said I hope he reads the Communist Manifesto, to which he agreed. (That got a good laugh from everybody, including him.) He then said I'd "entered into his head" (evidently meaning I'd made a strong impression on him) and insisted on having this photo of the two of us taken.

This photo was taken in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the occupation during the “Arab Spring.” The man on the left is a devout Muslim. He and a friend gave the author of this article (pictured here) a long lecture about how Zionism controls the US. (At first they said “Jews” and several people in the crowd corrected them and said “Zionism”, not all Jews, to which they agreed.) They said that the US had invaded Iraq at the insistance of Israel.Our reply was that Israel was important to US capitalism to keep control over the region and the region was important because of oil. If it weren’t for oil, US capitalism wouldn’t care so much about Israel. They talked about the crimes of the US government in the region – how the US “hates Muslims”, and I replied by listing many of the crimes of this government throughout history – slavery, genocide against the Native Americans, machine gunning striking US workers, coups in Latin America, Vietnam, etc. It was nothing against Muslims in particular, it was just the striving for world domination on the part of the world’s most powerful capitalist state. After all of this, this man above told me he hopes I read the holy Koran one day. I thanked him and said I hope he reads the Communist Manifesto, to which he agreed. (That got a good laugh from everybody, including him.) He then said I’d “entered into his head” (evidently meaning I’d made a strong impression on him) and insisted on having this photo of the two of us taken.

First there was the increased role of these reactionary forces – especially al Qaeda – in Afghanistan, mainly through the support of the CIA and their counterparts in Pakistan, in the struggle against the Soviet Union’s role in Afghanistan. In the first place, al Qaeda got funding which helped them recruit, train and indoctrinate thousands of young men from different mainly Muslim countries in West Asia and northern Africa. Also, when the Soviet Union was driven out of Afghanistan and an Islamic state was founded, this further boosted the prestige of al Qaeda throughout the Muslim world. Now, we are seeing the continued influence of al Qaeda and similar groups.

Islamic fundamentalism also got a huge boost with the rise of Khomeini to power in the late ’70s. That occurred through the triumph of counter-revolution in a revolutionary situation, following the fall of the Shah. That counter-revolution involved a classic case of the role of Stalinism, through the Tudeh Party. Although the Iranian working class was striving towards a workers’ revolution, their party, Tudeh, held them back and led to the triumph of the reactionary mullahs.

On a wider scale, we saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and also the decline of an independent role of the working class. All of this led to a situation where it was almost impossible for millions of people to see the workers movement as a force that could counter the attacks of global capitalism.

But on a wider scale, who is there to put this sort of perspective forward? Do the “representatives” of the US working class – the labor leaders? Don’t make me laugh.

The other point is this: Whether intended or not, the CH cartoons do nothing to discourage racist bullies. They and the reactionary Islamic fundamentalist terrorists actually rely on each other. They would find it much more difficult to exist if the other side didn’t.

Posted in Middle East, racism, rebellion | 2 Comments

The Greek Crisis, Past and Present

Note: The mounting crisis in Greece threatens to destabilize the entire European Union and, therefore, world capitalism. It will, therefore, have an effect even here in the US. And the struggle there is rich in lessons for activists and revolutionaries around the world. Here, Roger Silverman, comments:

The collapse of PASOK is rich in lessons for SYRIZA in the period ahead.

Syriza supporters. Many are willing to make "the greatest sacrifice"

Syriza supporters. Many are willing to make “the greatest sacrifice”

Reformism never acquired the stable mass base in Greece that it had achieved historically in the rest of Europe. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Greece was subjected to a succession of wars, mass migrations, coups and military dictatorships; and its wartime and postwar history is closer to those of the Philippines and other South-East Asian countries than to Western Europe. Having first driven out the army of Italian fascism and then waged an indescribably heroic guerrilla struggle and popular resistance which single-handedly overthrew the Nazi occupation regime, the Greek population then suffered years of civil war against first the British and then the US army, followed by a period of repressive rule under a pro-American quisling regime. Then – with a renewed revolutionary upsurge once again gathering pace – came the brutal dictatorship of the colonels, which was itself eventually overthrown by a mass youth uprising. It was not until the election of the first PASOK government in 1981 and accession to the EU that an era of liberal reforms, bribes and handouts came, a pale imitation of the substantial welfare gains won over generations of struggle by workers in Western Europe.

That explains why, when PASOK was founded after the collapse of the dictatorship, by a member of the longstanding liberal Papandreou political dynasty seizing the chance to fill the gap between Stalinism and conservative authoritarian, he had to proclaim the new party as “a socialist party, not a social-democratic party” and present a radical face. Forty years later, the party is already in shreds, its collapse as spectacular as its earlier brief rise.

Now, George Papandreou has walked out of the party his father had created with such bombast, and – in an apparent ruse to siphon off enough votes from SYRIZA to deprive it of a crucial margin – declared yet another new party. It is hard to imagine this universally despised figure regaining enough credibility to succeed. The fate of PASOK was doomed once it had departed from initial radical slogans and tried to achieve the stability of a Western reformist party without enjoying the material economic base to sustain it. There is a lesson there too for SYRIZA.

Like PASOK between 1974 and 1981, SYRIZA too has materialised with lightning speed from obscurity to become the most popular party in Greece. Like PASOK did originally (although with a less compromised origin), it has inspired a new generation with radical slogans. To a far greater degree, SYRIZA is a classic centrist party, comparable to parties like the ILP and POUM in the 1930s. Such parties are like fireworks or radioactive elements: volatile, subject to explosive contradictions, destined either to transform themselves into revolutionary parties or to fizzle out. We have to be clear: the election of a SYRIZA government will be nothing like the election of an Hollande in France or a Miliband in Britain. If SYRIZA comes to power – and if it wins a plurality of votes, then surely it would be senselessly, unthinkably provocative for the other parties to block its path to office – then it will have a very brief chance to seize the opportunity. The comments reported in this article* by various SYRIZA MPs show the possibilities and also the dangers ahead.

* – NOTE: Roger refers to such comments as these: “‘They are convinced that we will eventually compromise, that time is against us, so they won’t be too hostile in the beginning.’ Giorgos Chondros, director of Syriza’s department for environmental policy, expects negotiations to drag on for a while. ‘We will not only have to fight the Greek elites, but also the European ones. This makes our situation much more difficult. We’ll need the support of movements in the whole of Europe.’ John Milios anticipates ‘psychological warfare’ from EU elites and creditors. ” 

Posted in Europe, History, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Greg and SS “I Don’t Know Her Name”

Oakland “On the Waterfront”

Since we did this video, Greg has upgraded his vessel and has added two crew members. However, we have to say that they appear severely undernourished.

Since we did this video, Greg has upgraded his vessel and has added two crew members. However, we have to say that they appear severely undernourished.

Posted in Oakland, videos/documentaries | Leave a comment

Repression, Resistance, Renewal

Here is an excellent report from Seattle about the movement there and the police response. A question that begs to be answered is this: Seattle is the home of the only openly socialist city council member – Kshama Sawant. What has she had to say, where has she been in the face of this escalating police violence?

Repression, Resistance, Renewal.

Posted in rebellion, repression | Leave a comment

More on the Liberal Democrats

We previously posted an article with Wall St. Journal comments that helped expose the role of the liberal Democrats. Now, the Wall St. Journal is at it again, and as many people as possible should benefit from their writing. Yesterday (Monday, 1/5/2015) they had an article on the lack of challengers to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Party leadership would like some more liberal candidates. Some of what the WSJ writes explains why:

“State Democratic officials also want a contested race because that boosts the party apparatus and fundraising. Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign attracted scores of volunteers who remain active in the party. Various presidential hopefuls, moreover, serve as star attractions for fundraising dinners and barbecue cookouts across the state.”

In other words, the liberal wing serves to help fund raising, attract more attention to the Democrats, and draw in activists. As far as making any real changes? Not so much.

Posted in politics, United States | Leave a comment

Pegida: Neo Nazis in Germany

Dan Armstrong reports from Germany:

 

Pegida marching. Their banner says "Without Violence & United Against Religious Wars on German Ground"

Pegida marching. Their banner says “Without Violence & United Against Religious Wars on German Ground”

images

You may have read that German cities have been witnessing public marches and demonstration around the question of immigration. Starting in November with a bizarre little huddle of neonazis on the steps leading down to Dortmund railway station, via Facebook rallies have been called and have grown massively calling for an end to immigration and also to the presence of the existing muslim minorities in Germany. The organising kernel of neonazis have clothed themselves in Christian garb and call for an end to religious intolerance, using the useful public face of the Salafist fanatics who handed out copies of the Koran and engaged youth in conversation and later clashed with the police, this has allowed the neonazis to whip up passive anti-muslim feeling into street marches under the weird archaic banner of Pegida, the partiots against the islamification of the west.

To their credit, many thousands of liberal, left and progressive citizens and groups have taken to the streets to oppose those marches. The echos for each side for differed wildly.
On balance there are now far more anti-Pergida marches than the rightwingers. Last night in Cologne 5000 antis opposed 700 pros. After a long delay the political parties have condemned the strange populist grouping. And the deacon in charge of the mighty Cologne cathedral, following the example of the Opera in Dresden, plunged the centre of the city into darkness by switching off the cathedral illuminations. Having listened to her advisors for 3 months who point out that immigration is essential for the   German economy and the financial health of the nation’s budgets and pensions, Merkel has finally made a public statement opposing the right.

In nearly every part of Germany there is huge resistance to the rightwing demos. Munich in particular but also Berlin, Hamburg and Düsseldorf have held huge public demonstrations supporting multiculturism and defending the minorities.  In truth the rightwing groups are confined to very few places. Their main support is Dresden where yesterday allegedly 18000 demonstrated for Pegida. This city has had an NPD group of councillors and regional parliamentarians for over ten years; these behave like thugs inside and outside the parliaments, carrry weapons and most have been in jail for violence. Leaning on the depressed economy of the border areas, they have a certain base in the population of around 4-5% of the voters. These NPD voters plus a number of supporters are the ones marching. The city, on the extreme eastern border of Germany, laughably has only 2% immigrants, probably the lowest number anywhere in any German city.

The opposition is very heartening indeed. But we are reminded of the lines from Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui about a fictional would-be dictator: Do not cheer too soon …

“Ihr aber lernet
“Ihr aber lernet, wie man sieht statt stiert
Und handelt, statt zu reden noch und noch.
So was hätt einmal fast die Welt regiert!
Die Völker wurden seiner Herr, jedoch
Daß keiner uns zu früh da triumphiert –
Der Schoß ist fruchtbar noch, aus dem das kroch.”

“But you are learning how to see and not just to stare
And to act instead of just talking, talking.
This is what once almost ruled the world!
The peoples drove it back but
Do not cheer too soon –
The womb from which it sprang is still fruitful.”

Posted in Europe, racism | Leave a comment

Oakland’s New Mayor

Libby Schaaf was sworn in as the newly elected mayor of Oakland today. The entire city council is controlled by the real estate and other corporate interests, as their campaign finance disclosure reports show. But in Schaaf’s case, she won the election because she was the best-connected candidate. A brief glance at her campaign finance reports show that.

There’s also one other point: There are two liberals on the city council (Rebecca Kaplan and Dan Kalb). They are up there for window dressing. Sometimes, when it’s clear the real estate interests are going to win, they will vote against the majority. That’s what they did, for example, in the issue of giving away 58 acres of precious public park land for free to the corporate controlled Oakland Zoo for them to develop into a theme park. But the one thing they won’t do is really expose the others for who they are. They always are sure not to burn their bridges behind them, always sure to maintain friendly relations with the more out-and-out corporate representatives. They are the friendly public face of a corporate-controlled political system.

When we get working class representatives elected, they must not compromise, they must not get sucked into keeping a friendly, “working relationship” with these representatives of Corporate America.

(Added note: $4-700 donation may not seem like a lot, but keep in mind that $700 is the maximum allowable donation.)

Libby Schaaf

Posted in Oakland, pamphlets | 2 Comments

The Liberal Democrats

As the movement against police brutality and police-involved murder moves forward, it will have to clarify how it sees the Democratic Party, especially its liberal wing. This has always been a stumbling block for all popular movements in the US, from the old Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s to the present day labor movement (the unions).

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio - a liberal Democrat

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio – a liberal Democrat

A few articles in a recent (12-23-14) issue of the Wall St. Journal – the main newspaper of Corporate America – makes clear what the role of the liberal Democrats is.

The first article is a news report on New York City’s Mayor de Blasio. It writes “de Blasio’s pledge to enact a liberal agenda while leading the nation’s largest city is testing his ability to govern as a representative of the Democratic Party’s activist wing as he moves to heal rifts with the police department…” The article concludes by quoting Steven Cohen, a professor of International and Public Affairs at N.Y.’s Columbia University. “The mayor needs to understand he’s not an advocate anymore. He’s an executive, and that means he has to act more as the mayor of the entire city than as the leader of the faction that helped him become mayor.”

“Giving voice to anger,” vs. “Governing”

The second is an opinion column by William Gallstone, a regular writer for the WSJ. Just the title itself is a giveaway:How to Stop a Damaging Cycle on Policing… Giving voice to anger when you know your supporters are already angry is irresponsible.”

Gallstone criticizes Patrick Lynch, the head of New York’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association: “Giving voice to anger when you know your supporters are already angry is irresponsible…” he writes. Then he criticizes de Blasio for a similar “sin” when he (de Blasio) in effect implied that the police treat young black men differently. “How can the mayor hope to govern effectively, let alone heal his city, if he questions the motives of

NYC cops turn their backs on de Blasio. Taking responsibility for administering capitalism in the city, de Blasio has to concede to the forces of "law and order".

NYC cops turn their backs on de Blasio. Taking responsibility for administering capitalism in the city, de Blasio has to concede to the forces of “law and order”.

those who uphold public order?” he writes.

These articles make it clear: While running for office, a candidate can be “an advocate”, but as mayor he has to “govern”, meaning he has to administer capitalism. This means he has to cool things off. Bring the movement in the streets to an end – which is exactly what de Blasio tried to do when he called for an end to the protests until after the funerals of the two slain cops. (After which, they hoped, the movement would have been on the downward slope.)

How can we ever reconcile ourselves with this?

How can we ever reconcile ourselves with this?

In the past, the movement was co-opted into supporting the de Blasio’s of those days. That was the death of the movement. Is there an alternative? What is that alternative? The answer to that question will force itself on this growing movement.

Posted in Ferguson, politics, racism, rebellion, United States | Leave a comment

“You can’t have capitalism without racism.”

A mid west carpenter reports having several discussions with co-workers about the Michael Brown case. He says that the co-workers (all white) at first defend the police. “Are you kidding?” he asks them. “Brown was unarmed. He didn’t have a weapon! How can you justify shooting somebody who is unarmed?” Then, he says, he goes on to tell them that they shouldn’t think that what happened to Brown will only happen to black young men. “What the police do to them, they will also do to whites.”

“That gets them thinking,” he said.

In fact, of course, he’s right. We know that the police shoot black people a lot quicker than whites, but nobody is safe. Just ask Dillon Taylor,  for instance. Well, actually, you can’t ask him because he was shot and killed by the Salt Lake City police just two days after Michael Brown was killed. And in his case, he was shot as he walked away. And there is video of it. And the cop was completely exonerated.

Or take the case of James Boyd, a mentally disturbed homeless man who was shot by the Albuquerque cops, who then sicced a dog on him as he lay dying on the ground.

Again, it would be very wrong to deny that black people bear the brunt of police brutality and police murders. But it’s not purely a matter of racism, and for most white people – for most people in general, in fact – they have to see how their self-interest is involved. And there is little that can be clearer: If the police are given a free hand to brutalize and kill any one group of people – black people, in this case – then nobody is safe from them.

And there’s another issue: The reason why the police are allowed to run wild in the US.

Ever since the 1980s, the US economy has not allowed for the “American Dream” for increasing numbers. So big business has had to find a way to confuse and divide millions of people. The main way they do this is by sowing fear and distrust, hostility and suspicion. Everybody is out to get you. Everybody is out to rob you or worse. And the police are all that stand between you and “mayhem” as the Wall St. Journal put it. Of course, given the

"You can't have capitalism without racism." Malcolm X. so what does that tell us for today?

“You can’t have capitalism without racism.” Malcolm X. So what does that tell us for today?

history and traditions of the US, racism is an inherent part of this.

But in the end, we should never forget what self-styled “zillionaire” Nick Hanauer wrote, “you show me a highly unequal society and I’ll show you a police state.”

This is why the struggle against racism as related to the police is directly related to the economic struggle. It’s why Martin Luther King said, “we are engaged in the class struggle,” and why he died while (maybe because) he was organizing a poor people’s march on Washington.

Posted in Ferguson, Marxist theory, racism, United States | Leave a comment

Thoughts on the Human Brain

(Note: There is a discussion on the Socialistdiscussion e mail list about a review of the film “Lucy”, which led to a discussion on the workings of the human brain. Below are a few random thoughts on the question by Julian Silverman.)

Under capitalism science made amazing, stupendous discoveries that have transformed the world and vastly increased man’s capacity to harness nature. But – especially now in its degenerate phase – it tends to reduce nature to a series of measurable quantities – objects to be ‘consumed’ – commodities to be bought and sold rather than continuous ever-changing processes.

Life is a process of destruction and construction. It comes and goes. For example every day your body will kill off and rebuild 300 billion cells!. Life is a process like keeping a candle alight  in a storm [and in animals its energy is the product of a slower version of the same oxidation].

Life is a material process. That is to say it uses quantum subatomic ‘random’ processes to extract energy in the form of electrical impulses…..Conscious life is a part of the whole. It has a material basis but it is not preprogrammed. It has been reckoned that there are, say, 100 trillion neuronal connections in the human brain. It makes no sense to talk of ‘using 10% or 20% 40% etc. of the brain’ since what counts is not only the number of connections but what they represent. For example without language even 1000 trillion neuronal connections won’t give you much more knowledge. Language, number, then reading/writing, printing, radio, computers etc. have expanded the symbolism available [ = culture: the main factor in present-day human evolution]. The important thing, at this level. is not how many neuronal connections but how much they mean and here there is no intrinsic limit.
A Scientific American article goes:

A single neuron sits in a petri dish, crackling in lonely contentment. From time to time, it spontaneously unleashes a wave of electric current that travels down its length. If you deliver pulses of electricity to one end of the cell, the neuron may respond with extra spikes of voltage. Bathe the neuron in various neurotransmitters, and you can alter the strength and timing of its electrical waves. On its own, in its dish, the neuron can’t do much. But join together 302 neurons, and they become a nervous system that can keep the worm Caenorhabditis elegans alive—sensing the animal’s surroundings, making decisions and issuing commands to the worm’s body. Join together 100 billion neurons—with 100 trillion connections—and you have yourself a human brain, capable of much, much more.

That tiny-brained arch reactionary self-satisfied dogmatist, Steven Pinker, says:

We are not the same as cats, so it follows we must have some innate circuitry that allows us to talk and to be self-aware. All our behaviours are a result of neurophysiological activity in the brain.

But the contrary can just as well be proved: i.e.  that neurophysiological activity in the brain is the result of our behaviour [For example, in one experiment, rats were given an ‘enriched environment’ .i.e 20 minutes free run-around out of their cage and then killed and their brains opened. “Through studies conducted since the 1960s, it’s been revealed that rats raised in enriched environments have larger, more substantial brains than those raised in impoverished environments”. The report goes on:“…enriched rats display quicker thinking and higher intelligence, performing problem-solving tasks better than impoverished rats. They display better memories and are less likely to display depressive behavior. [This is the substance of Engels’ point]

Of course we have ‘innate circuitry’ that allows us to do crossword puzzles, fly rockets to the moon, make jokes, do somersaults, come up with evolutionary psychological theories etc. . but the capacity to do all these things is not ‘written in’ to the circuitry. There is no drug or computer programme etc. which will create these abilities. They have been learned. they are our cultural inheritance.

Regarding computers, I like  the quote from Picasso; “computers are useless. All they can give you is answers”. How one sees, depicts and represents the world is something learned and struggled for – not without difficulty. Looking at a picture or watching a film is an invitation to share that difficult experience. But the current phase of failing capitalism calls for minimum brain-labour power on our part. It encourages infantile demands that everything be available for immediate consumption – including complete knowledge of the world[?!], untold-of brainpower etc. Commodity fetishism has gone so far as the idea of seeking ‘immortality’ by downloading one’s life experiences on to a hard disc!

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An Incredible Statement

“When these funerals are over, those responsible will be called on the carpet and held accountable.” Patrick Lynch, head of NYC Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association referring to New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio

With this single arrogant statement, Lynch raises the question: Who is running the city government? Of course, we know that behind both the mayor and the cops stands Wall St., the banks, the real estate speculators, but still…

Can you imagine a general making a statement like this? He or she would be fired immediately. But when Corporate America’s number one newspaper, the Wall St. Journal, takes the position that the police are the thin blue line “between civilization and mayhem”, this gives the police an added authority and a degree (limited for now) of actual independent political power.

At the same time as Lynch made this comment, he also gave orders to the police not to respond to calls in single cars. Can anybody imagine if a union leader told his or her members how to conduct themselves at work and told the mayor that they were going to be “called on the carpet and made accountable”? Can you imagine the furor that would result?

Truly, the police are getting close to out of control.

Posted in repression, Uncategorized, United States | Leave a comment

“Thin Blue Line” Returns to the Offensive

It was inevitable that they would counter-attack.

After the exoneration of Darren Wilson (who killed Michael Brown) was announced, everybody from President Obama to the Wall St. Journal hoped that would be the end of it. Their line was that we are a nation of laws and that we must respect the legal process. Then the reaction set in. For weeks, thousands took to the streets, the freeways and the shopping centers to protest the non-prosecution of the cops who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

Cop Supporters Silenced

The Wall St. Journal’s editors were silenced. Obama made some proposals about police wearing body cameras. (What good would that do? We already have enough videos of police brutality and murder and nothing is done.) Others, closer to ground zero, such as New York’s mayor de Blasio, actually met with some of the protesters. And with a few exceptions, the police were held in check to a degree. Throughout the country, protesters swarmed onto freeways to block them and, in general, they weren’t arrested. The Wall St. Journal (12/5/14) reported that “Police departments around the country are racing to develop new training rules on the use of force, a response that has gained urgency amid scrutiny from the U.S. Justice Department and an emerging consensus that law-enforcement practices need to be reviewed and revamped.”

And in the face of these protests, the criminal (in)justice system was on the defensive. Even the mass media was starting to recognize the misdeeds of Ferguson prosecutor Bob McCullough, who knowingly allowed a “witness” to lie on the witness stand.

Never Easy

But it was never going to be that easy, and it’s not just a matter of the individual racists in the police departments throughout the United States. Ever since the campaign against “violent criminals” was inaugurated by the Nixon administration,  “law and order” has been a staple of US politics. It’s used to confuse and divide tens of millions of workers. It’s used to strengthen the apparatus of government repression.

Fear and distrust, hostility and suspicion became a steady part of the US political diet, as seen from the politicians, the “news” media, and Hollywood. It is necessary in order to justify allowing millions to go hungry while a few wallow in wealth. It is necessary to turn private sector workers against their sisters and brothers in the public sector. It’s necessary to divide the unemployed from the employed. And given the traditions of US society, racism is a central and necessary part of this.

And the police, themselves, are a central part of the political system in the United States. As New York political strategist Hank Sheinkopf, a lobbyist and one of New York’s movers and shakers who has advised New York mayors from Michael Bloomberg to the current Bill de Blasio, said, “Mayors tend not to do well when the police department and its officers are not happy.”

“Thin Blue Line Between Us and Anarchy”

Police brutality in the United States is the logical and necessary outcome of this mentality that has been created by the corporate controlled media and the corporate controlled politicians. It is deeply rooted in US politics. As the head of the NYC police department put it, the police represent “that thin blue line between us and anarchy.” So following the shooting of the two New York City cops, the forces that have aided and abetted this brutality and murder returned to the offensive.

“We’ve had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police,” said former New York mayor Rudy Giulani. “The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged. The protests, even the ones that don’t lead to violence, a lot of them lead to violence, all of them lead to a conclusion. The police are bad, the police are racist. That is completely wrong.”

The former mayor also criticized President Barack Obama, Holder, and Al Sharpton for addressing the underlining racial tensions behind the failure to indict the white police officers who killed Garner and Mike Brown in Ferguson. “They have created an atmosphere of severe, strong, anti-police hatred in certain communities. For that, they should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.

Edward Mullins, president of New York City’s Sergeants Benovelant Association commented that “Mayor de Blasio, the blood of these two officers is clearly on your hands.”

The Wall St. Journal was even more rabid. Their editors wrote: ‘What do we want? Dead cops!” So chanted marchers at one of the protests organized in the last month against the failure of grand juries to indict white officers in the death of black crime suspects Michael Brown and Eric Garner. (This writer never heard such a chant.) On Saturday they got their wish… this double assassination is also a moment of clarity about how thin the line in any society is between order and anarchy. America is full of Brinsleys who no longer abide the norms of civilized behavior, if they even know what those norms are. They need but the slightest excuse to take justice into their own hands and go on a rampage.

“Especially in urban America, the police walk that line between civilization and mayhem every day. Yet since the Garner and Brown episodes, the progressive leaders in New York and Washington have talked and behaved as if the police are society’s main problem…. this double assassination is also a moment of clarity about how thin the line in any society is between order and anarchy. America is full of Brinsleys who no longer abide the norms of civilized behavior, if they even know what those norms are. They need but the slightest excuse to take justice into their own hands and go on a rampage.

“Especially in urban America, the police walk that line between civilization and mayhem every day. Yet since the Garner and Brown episodes, the progressive leaders in New York and Washington have talked and behaved as if the police are society’s main problem…. The progressive campaign against police must stop before it has even uglier consequences.”

De Blasio beat a hasty retreat, calling for an end to the protests.

Of course, all of this is pure hypocrisy. A nation of laws? What about the justification of torture of prisoners of war on the grounds that the ends justifies the means? What about the torture of children Where are those soldiers now? How many of them are on various police forces throughout the country?

The “thin blue line standing between ‘us’ and anarchy?” What are the police unleashing on black people and on poor people every day? What do you call it when they can get away with shooting a 12 year old child (Tamir Rice) or choking a man to death as he pleads for his life (Eric Garner)?

But hypocrisy and lies have never stopped Corporate America and their representatives, from the police to the elected politicians.

Up until now, in some ways the protest movement has been similar to the Occupy movement in that it has subsisted on a steady diet of militant protests and mass defiance of the law. This is a positive and necessary step, but no movement can survive on mobilization alone. Already the media is reporting that the protest size has been dwindling, at least in New York City. Where, then, does this movement against police brutality go from here?

That is what has to be decided, especially since it will be meeting with increased resistance and repression from here.

Posted in Ferguson, racism, rebellion, repression, United States | Leave a comment

Two New York Cops Shot

We have just received news that a young black man, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, has reportedly shot and killed two New York cops in revenge for the police murder of Eric Garner. This will make a bad situation worse.

The forces of “law and order” have increasingly been put on the defensive. From President Obama to the editors of the Wall Street Journal — all the nonsense about respecting our legal process had been silenced as more and more comes out about how District Attorney Bob McCullough in Ferguson acted as the defense attorney for the accused rather than as the prosecutor. He has recently even admitted that he put a witness up on the stand who he knew was lying. This was a witness who testified that everything that Wilson claimed had happened was true. But it had become clear that she was a lying bigot who wasn’t even in Ferguson at the time. There is actually grounds to bar McCullough from practicing law for allowing false evidence to be entered into the proceedings. Even the mass, corporate media was starting to report on this sort of cover-up.

Now, that will be overwhelmed with condemnation of the killing of the two cops, with praise for what wonderful and dedicated officers of the law they are, etc. etc.

There will be claims that the protesters created the atmosphere that allowed this killing of the cops. This, along with the natural inclinations of the cops themselves, will lead them to crack down even harder on protesters as well as to be even more vicious in their behavior in the black community.

Then there is the issue that Brinsley reportedly was studying Arabic and was studying Islam. This will give the criminal (in)justice system even further justification for internet spying.

In the late ’90s and the first year of the new century, a movement was building world-wide against “globalization.” First the youth and then layers of workers were starting to organize. Capitalism was on the defensive. Then 9/11 happened and it transformed the mood and the political atmosphere. In fact, it is only in the last few years that we are starting to recover from that. This killing will not have anywhere near that same effect, but it will be in a similar direction, especially if more follow.

At this time, it does not seem that Brinsley (assuming he was, in fact, the shooter) did this as part of any larger group. In fact, it seems that he was one more young black man, hopeless for a future in this hellhole that is US capitalism, a young man filled with anger and hopelessness. All the appeals to being nice, all the appeals for peace, are as useful as appealing to the forces of nature to turn off the rain in a hurricane. Only a stronger movement can provide an alternative. This means a movement that really reaches down to the most downtrodden and really encourages their political activity and helps them organize to fight politically for a real future.

Posted in Marxist theory, racism, United States | Leave a comment

Religious fanatics groups: the fascists in the making

by Farooq Tariq, General Secretary, Awami Workers Party of Pakistan

Unknown-1

It was the most deadly attack on any school by religious fanatics. 146 were killed in a Peshawar Army Public School, including 136 children, ages ranging from 10 to 17 years. They asked the children to recite Kalma and then fired at them. It was an attack on Muslim children by Muslim fanatics.

Tehreek Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility and sent a group photo of the seven militants who took part in the “operation” holding guns and bombs. This was in response to the posting on-line of the dead faces of the seven who were killed by the army in the counter attack, not before they caused maximum damage.

The fanatics claimed that they do not kill little children. Their claim was that the children of the “enemy” aged less than 12 are not allowed to be killed by their “Islam”. Almost 11 percent of the total children enrolled in the school were killed within 15 minutes of their occupation of the school.

The principal of the school was fired on to the extent that her body was not recognizable. Her fault: she guided children to escape from the school during the attack. Children were asked to line up and then were shot. Those who dared to run were chased and shot also.

Such was the devastating effect on children across Pakistan that my son aged 14 asked his mum what should he do in case they come to his school, “line up or run”.

The day shocked Pakistan and the world. The news of the killing of the innocent children was flashed all over the world as the main story of the day. There was a great anger and shock.

General Strike

A spontaneous general strike in all parts of Pakistan was observed on 17th December a day later, not called by any political party, a dream of all the parties of the rich that they could be in a position to shut Pakistan for their own narrow political interests. This was one of the most successful strikes with no transport on the roads and almost all shops and institutions were closed. This reminded us of the aftermath of Benazhir Bhutto’s killing in December 2007, when all of Pakistan was shut in grief and anger.

A two minute silence in all the schools in India, a so-called arch rival, was observed, with the Indian parliament passing a resolution condemning the attack.

On the same day, heads of all the political parties represented in the parliament met in Peshawar for a useless day agreeing to “work together” with no mind-set change and no concrete proposal for dealing with fanatics. How could they?

In the meeting was Imran Khan whose party is in power in Khaiber Pukhtonkhawa, where the incident took place. He was too busy in campaigning for the overthrow of the federal government with his sit-ins and rallies in other parts of the country while totally ignoring the task of securing lives in the province.

Imran Khan’s philosophy of “good and bad Taliban” meant that no action was taken against the fanatics who had built safe heavens in the tribal areas. He was a strong advocate of “talks with good Taliban” to divide the fanatics. There are no good or bad Taliban. They are all in the same family of neo-fascism.

The ruling Muslim League had long term contacts with most of the religious fanatic groups and used them to win the 2013 general elections. Fanatics carried out suicide attacks on most of the opponents of PMLN and PTI, thus preventing them from running effective election campaigns.

Sitting in the meeting was Jamaat Islami, whose former head, declared dead Taliban as Shaheed (martyr) and army men killed by fanatics as dead. There was also Jamiat Ulemai Islam, the known political wing of one section of the religious fanatics. Also several other political parties who maintain regular contacts and links with religious extremists groups for their narrow political interests and subscribe to the same millenarian ideology of the Jihadists.

The meeting agreed to form a committee to formulate the security policy for the state within a week, as in one week they could come up with any magic formula.

The Pakistani state failed miserably to curb the rise of religious fundamentalism. There is always a soft spot for them. For a long time, they were encouraged by the state as a second line of security. The security paradigm meant an anti-India enmity was the core purpose of state patronage. The process of Islamisation was accelerated by military Dictator Zia Ul Haq with the full support of American imperialism.

Apart from creating and supporting Jihadist groups, for decades the state and military with the financial and political assistance of imperial powers, has indoctrinated millions with conservative Islamic ideology for the purpose of safeguarding its strategic interests.

The three decades since 1980 are seen as the years of madrassas, over 20,000 at present providing home ground for recruitment for suicidal attackers. Supported mainly by Saudi Arabia and many million Muslim immigrants, they have become the alternative to the regular school system. Most of the terrorist activities carried out in Pakistan and elsewhere are linked to the organizational and political support of these madrassas.

After 9/11, the state’s close relationship with the fundamentalists has changed to some extent but not broken in real terms. The banned terrorist groups change their name and carry out activities on a regular basis. They hold meetings and public rallies, collect funds and publish their literature without any state intervention.

Pakistan has become more conservative, more Islamic and more right wing resulting in the growth of the extreme Islamist’s ideas. Blasphemy laws are frequently used for settling personal and ideological scores. Religious minorities, women and children are the easy targets. These soft targets are paying the greatest price for this decisive right wing turn.

The rise of religious fundamentalism has emerged as the most serious challenge not only to progressive forces but also to the very foundation of a modern society. Education and health are the real targets of the fanatics.

Polio workers, mainly women, are killed by fanatics, on the assumption that a team working for the elimination of polio led to the discovery of Osama Bin Ladin, leading to his assassination.  The net result is that the World Health Organization has recommended a ban on all Pakistanis traveling abroad without a polio vaccination certificate.

The primary and high school syllabus in Punjab and Khaiber Pukhonkhawa provinces are amended to give room to more unscientific and pro-Jihad ideas in the name of religion. Education in most schools has been littered with war-promoting philosophy.

Religious fanatics groups are the new version of fascism. They are fascists in the making. They have all the historic characteristics of fascism. They kill opponents en mass. They have found considerable space among the middle class, particularly educated ones. They are against trade unions and social movements. They are promoting women as inferior to men, and aim to keep them in the home. Attacking the religious minorities has become a norm.

The religious fanatic groups are internationalists. They want an Islamic world. They are against democracy and promote Khilafat (kingdom) as a way of governance. They are the most barbaric force recent history has seen in the shape of “Islamic State” and Taliban. There is nothing progressive in their ideology. They are not anti-imperialism but anti-America and anti-West. They have created and carried out the most barbaric terrorist activities in the shape of suicide attacks, bomb blasts, mass killings and indiscriminate shootings.

They must be countered. The American way of fighting back in shape of “war on terror” has failed miserably. Despite all the American initiatives of occupations, wars and creating democratic alternatives, the religious fundamentalists have grown with more force.

Fundamentalists are stronger than they were at 9/11, despite the occupation of Afghanistan.

A whole package is needed. The state must break all links with fanatic’s groups. The mindset that religious fundamentalists are “our own brothers, our own people, our security line and guarantee against “Hindus”, some are bad and some are good” and so on must be changed. The conspiracy theories are most favorable arguments among the religious right wingers. They do not want to face the reality.

There is no short cut to end religious fundamentalism. There is no military solution. It has to be a political fight with dramatic reforms in education, health and working realities in most Muslim countries. Starting from nationalization of madrassas, it must go on to provide free education, health and transport as one of most effective means to counter fundamentalism.

Right wing ideas are promoting extreme right wing ideology. A mass working class alternative in the shape of trade unions and political parties linked with social movements is the most effective manner to counter religious fundamentalism.

 

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High School Students Organize in Oakland, CA

Chanting “We need justice” and explaining “we’re tired of that s__t. We’re not going to take it anymore,” hundreds of high school students in Oakland marched and rallied to protest police violence and racism. We should remember the role that the youth of this age – and even younger – played in the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s. This is another sign that “this is not a moment; it’s a movement,” that history is being made here.

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Black Lives Matter in Oakland, CA

“The momentum that this movement is building is unstoppable.” That was the message of one of the speakers at the rally to to assert that black lives matter and that a new movement is being born to put a stop to this crime wave of police brutality and murder. Meanwhile, the corporate media is showing that corporate America is worried. One of their tried-and-true tactics is to try to define the goals of the movement for it. As these speakers show, it won’t come easily.

Posted in Oakland, racism, rebellion, United States, videos/documentaries | Leave a comment

Are You a Union Member?

Are you a union member jpg

printible version here: Are you a union member

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US Torturers: Where are they now?

First of all the facts:

  • They “waterboarded” the prisoners until they passed out.
  • They subjected them to sleep deprivation.

    waterboarding

    waterboarding

  • They chained them standing to a wall for days on end.
  • They forced food and water up their rectums.
  • They dragged them and beat them around the prisons.

These are some of the methods that the US Senate committee – headed by Senator Feinstein – has “revealed” were carried out by the CIA. And yet, the report is a whitewash. 

According to the report, all this was done under the watch of former President George Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell without their knowledge. That is nonsense. Stories of such torture were circulating publicly at that time. Bush and Powell knew perfectly well what was happening.

Gul Rahman. This prisoner froze to death while chained to a cold wall for days.

Gul Rahman.
This prisoner froze to death while chained to a cold wall for days.

The report focuses its criticism on the claim that these torture methods “were not successful” – whether they got valuable information that prevented “American deaths.” (Deaths of others don’t matter, you see.) Defenders of these torture methods claim that they did. But consider this: The capitalists criticize Marxism with the (false) criticism that we believe that “the ends justifies the means.” But it is exactly this approach that they accept! They are the ones who believe that the ends justify the means. (We believe that the means help determine the ends.)

Where are they now?

And there is one more little detail that the report leaves out: What happened to these torturers? Where are they now? How many went on to become cops or prison guards in the United States?

If foreign policy is the extension of domestic policy, then tactics used in foreign policy wil

Solitary confinement - A form of psychological torture.

Solitary confinement -
A form of psychological torture.

l ultimately be used domestically. And that is exactly the case. What is solitary confinement? What is forced feeding? And what is the wave of p0lice brutality and murder, especially (but not only) against black and Latino people? What is it but the domestic application of these torture methods used by the US military and the CIA?

Doing the same at home.

Doing the same at home.

Feinstein’s hypocrisy

And there is one more little detail: Feinstein is willing to reveal some of the torture methods that took place under the watch of the Republicans. But how about the torture methods carried out every day by the Israeli regime? That is ignored.

Posted in repression, Uncategorized, United States | Leave a comment

Families speak out: Family members of some of those killed by the cops speak out.

This is part one of a video taken at a protest rally on Sunday, Dec. 7. The rally was for families of some of those killed by the police locally.

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Oakland Socialist leaflet

Below is the leaflet that Oaklandsocialist is putting out. This is not “the last word” on the issue; it’s just some ideas that we hope can contribute to the movement. Comments are more than welcome. We post it here as a picture and also as the pdf in case anybody wants to print it out.

This is not a moment it's a movement jpeg

This is not a moment it’s a movement

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Berkeley protest against Mike Brown/Eric Garner verdicts

Berkeley protest on the night of Dec. 6. The youth in action.

Meanwhile, here is a leaflet that Oaklandsocialist handed out.

This is not a moment it's a movement jpeg

This is not a moment it’s a movement

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Cops and Corporate America backing off

Unknown

Just a couple of days ago, this blog site commented that we are starting to win. Now we have confirmation from today’s Wall St. Journal. A front page article in today’s paper is headlined, ”

“Police Move to Revamp Tactics

Departments Rethink Training Amid Wave of Protests and Federal Scrutiny”

They report “Police departments around the country are racing to develop new training rules on the use of force…. In many cases, departments are grappling with how to prevent encounters between police and citizens from escalating into deadly ones, especially with minorities, as was the case in two deaths that have sparked nationwide civil-rights protests. Those protests continued Thursday with demonstrators gathering and chanting for change in New York, Washington, and elsewhere.”

The article goes on to report that part of the problem, as they see it, is that police are too aggressive, that they need to be taught to deescalate things. Among other things, this means backing off from the current policy of teaching the cops not to hesitate for one second to shoot.

This makes it perfectly clear: The protests and the militancy of those protests is forcing Corporate America and their politicians and other representatives (including the cops) to back off. Even House Speaker, Republican John Boehner, is getting in on the act. “Clearly both of these [murders of Michael Brown an Eric Garner] are serious tragedies that we’ve seen in our society and I think the American people want to understand more of what the facts were. There are a lot of unanswered questions that Americans have and frankly I have.”  Even James Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police felt forced to admit, “I don’t think cops are perfect by any stretch and sometimes they make mistakes.”

Still the enemy

It’s not that Pasco – defender of the racist and repressive police, or John Boehner, one of the leaders of the attacks on human rights and on working class people in general – are “changing”. It’s not that they will ever be anything but the enemies of all working class people. But these comments do show a couple of things:

  • Whatever difference may exist between the corporate-controlled liberal Democrats and the corporate-controlled conservative Republicans are minor at best. They all simply respond to our pressure out in the streets (and freeways), in the communities and the work places. That’s what counts, not electing more Democrats.
  • While still in its very earliest stages, this movement is already starting to have success. This shows what tremendous potential power we have. 

We have to keep the pressure on. Build the movement in the streets (and freeways). Sink deeper roots into the working class communities.

Investigation

There are all sorts of calls for investigations by the US Department of (in)Justice. This is the same force that has led the repression of Muslim people and has vastly increased surveillance over people in this country. They may yet bring charges against Wilson (in the Michael Brown case) and Pantaleo (in the Eric Garner case), and this is good, but they will never be on our side.

Even the United Nations is getting into the act, and this is good also. But we shouldn’t have any illusions in them. This den of thieves is simply the combined governments of all the capitalist nations of the world – the same governments that are repressing their own people as well as waging wars all around the globe.

International People’s Investigation Possible?

We would like to raise this: Is it possible to organize workers’ panels, workers’ committees, to investigate police abuse and racism in every major community in the country? These committees could hold public hearings where youth and workers and the unemployed could come and testify about their own experiences. Then, from there, would it be possible to organize an international workers’ investigation into human rights abuses in the US? This would involve organizing to bring over workers’ leaders as well as just some rank and file workers from Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and Australia to hear evidence and decide whether or not to convict the United States government as a human rights abuser. 

One final point: Everybody knows that the issue of police brutality, homicides and police racism does not exist in a vacuum. It is inextricably linked to the issue of mass

Nick Hanauer, self styled ".01%er"  He wrote: "And what do I see in our future now? I see pitchforks....  "I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last. If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us.... It's not if. It's when."

Nick Hanauer, self styled “.01%er”
He wrote: “And what do I see in our future now? I see pitchforks….
“I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.
If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us…. It’s not if. It’s when.”

incarceration of black and Latino people. And that issue is inextricably linked to the issue of economic inequality in general. As the billionaire Nick Hanauer wrote in his famous piece The Pitchforks are Coming, “You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state.”

That is why the struggle against police brutality and racism is linked with the struggle for decent jobs and higher wages for all. And that is also why it must ultimately be linked with the struggle to bring down capitalism itself, the struggle for a democratic socialist society.

  • Build the movement in the streets and freeways and in the communities and work places. Demand the convictions of the police who killed Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford. etc.
  • For elected community patrols in every working class community to patrol the police and keep the community safe from all violence and crime – both police crime and otherwise.
  • For both local and an international people’s investigation into US human rights abuses.
  • For an end to solitary confinement and other forms of torture in US prisons and for union rights for prisoners and for the minimum wage to apply to prisoners.
  • For a $20 per hour minimum wage, a guaranteed job with union rights, socialized medical care, and free higher education for all.
  • For the movement to put up its own political candidates, completely outside of and in opposition to the Republicrat politicians and paid the same as the workers they represent.
  • For socialism; take under public ownership the commanding heights of the economy (the banks, major corporations, etc.) and democratically plan production under the direct control and management of the workers themselves.

images

Posted in Ferguson, racism, rebellion, repression, Uncategorized, United States | 2 Comments

668 – Almost 2 every day

Mike Brown

Mike Brown

According to FBI figures, in 2013 there were 461 “justifiable homicides” by police. According to the Wall St. Journal article of 12/03/2014 and reviewed here, there is a 45% systematic undercount of this number. That means that a more accurate number is 668 people killed per year in the US by police, or almost 2 per day.

Just as with the incarceration rate, which exceeds every other country in the world, it’s hard to find a country that is not in civil war (e.g. Syria, etc.), and one that is relatively stable politically, that comes close. Some might argue that the reason is that there are more civilians with guns in the US, so the police have to be quicker to shoot. So take a look at Canada, where gun ownership is just as widespread. There, according to this list, the police killed all of seven people in 2013. And according to this article, a black person is three times more likely to be killed in an encounter with the police than is a white person. The article says that the number of black people killed by police has “nearly reached” the number lynched a century ago. But considering that the total number underestimates by 45%, it’s most likely that even more are being killed – or lynched by the cops in their daily encounters with black people.

And we mean exactly “encounter”. In this video, we see a cop having stopped a black man for supposedly driving without his seat belt on, and when he’s asked for his license and reaches into his car to get it, the cop immediately shoots him.

What is happening?

Here in the US, the police are taught to shoot first and ask questions later. That’s shown in this memo from an official in the Seattle police department, where they worry that cops will now hesitate to kill people. Add to that some other factors:

  • A general culture encouraged by Hollywood, the military industrial complex, the corporate-controlled politicians and every other source of real influence in US society that the taking of human life means nothing. 
  • The prevalent racism in all sectors of US society
  • The “law-and-order” politics, necessary for controlling large sectors of the US population, especially in this era of economic attacks on all workers. Part and parcel of this is the image sown of black men as violent criminals.

So when they say “the whole system is guilty”, this is literally the truth. Reforms are can be won, at least temporarily. The number of people, including people of color, murdered by the police can be temporarily reduced by a true mass movement. And we must wage that movement. But US capitalism cannot afford to stop doing what it’s doing.

As Malcolm X said, “you can’t have capitalism without racism.” And as this movement struggles to be born, we have to figure out how to connect the struggle against racism with the struggle to overthrow capitalism itself. Nothing less will do.

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Memo to the Movement: Keep it up; we are winning.

Last night, there was a radio show on KPFK with three members of the group “Black Lives Matter.” Two main themes emerged from what they had to say:
  1. “This is not a moment; this is a movement.” In other words, this is going to build and built.
  2. “Revolution.”

It’s almost as if Corporate America was listening. Well, actually, they were listening, just as they’ve been watching this movement building for weeks, now. And they are getting worried. A front page article in today’s Wall St. Journal – Corporate America’s foremost newspaper – shows this.

The article is headlined “Hundreds of Police Killings uncounted in Federal Stats,” and the information it carries is significant enough in and of itself: Last year, according to the FBI (the only ones who keep such statistics nationally), there were slightly over 400 “officer involved killings”, meaning the cops killed somebody. But the Wall St. Journal also found:

  • “A Wall Street Journal analysis of the latest data from 105 of the country’s largest police agencies found more than 550 police killings during those years (2007 – 2012)were missing from the national tally or, in a few dozen cases, not attributed to the agency involved. “
  • “Those internal figures (of 105 of the nation’s 110 largest police departments – the other five didn’t respond to the WSJ query) show 1,825 police killings in those 105 departments between 2007 and 2012, 47% more than the FBI’s tally for justifiable homicides in those departments’ jurisdictions, which was 1,242, according to the Journal’s analysis. Nearly all police killings are deemed by the departments or other authorities to be justifiable.”
  • “Police in Washington, D.C., didn’t report to the FBI details about any homicides for an entire decade beginning with 1998—the year the Washington Post found the city had one of the highest rates of officer-involved killings in the country. In 2011, the agency reported five killings by police. In 2012… there are again no records on homicides from the agency.”
  • “The FBI has almost no records of police shootings from departments in three of the most populous states in the country—Florida, New York and Illinois.”

Overall, the WSJ estimates that police homicides are undercounted by about 45%. This means that there were nearly 600 police killings in 2014 – getting close to 2 per day.

 

ENLARGE
Then there is this report from an article in USA Today: ” Nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012, according to the most recent accounts of justifiable homicide reported to the FBI…. The reports show that 18% of the blacks killed during those seven years were under age 21, compared to 8.7% of whites.”
Lesson from the South African Revolutionary Movement
Back in the 1980s, a revolutionary movement raged in South Africa against the apartheid system there. Millions of black workers and youth there understood the direct link between apartheid and capitalism itself. Corporate World – the world capitalist class – were worried about capitalism being overthrown. They put pressure on the capitalist class of South Africa to reform itself. One of the means they used was to publicize the brutalities of apartheid in their kept press. This helped stir up a movement against apartheid in countries like the US.
Now, Corporate America is feeling the heat. They are feeling that the police are out of control. We have to keep the pressure up. It’s not that we can ever rely on any wing of Corporate America’s government – not the courts, not the US Department of (in)Justice – none of them. This doesn’t mean we don’t make demands on the corporate-controlled state (the government), but reform is a byproduct of revolution. The more we organize independently of the corporate state, the more we assert our own power in the streets and work places and communities, the more reforms we will see.
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“The enemy is organizing…”

Thanks to Lauren Steiner for this report. Make sure to read down to the bottom, where she gets to “ask a question.” Congratulations to Lauren for pulling a good trick on them. And remember, not only is the enemy organizing to keep destroying our environment, turning the very air we breathe and water we drink into poison, they are doing the same as far as poverty wages, racism, sexism, you name it. It’s all part of the same struggle.

So I was sitting at my kitchen table at 5 pm tonight about to prepare dinner when the phone rang. It was a robocall from Energy Citizens, an astroturf group of Big Oil, inviting me to be on a nationwide call with an expert from the American Petroleum Institute talking about the new ozone standards the EPA was going to implement. If I wanted to be on the call, I just had to hang on. So I did.

The guy gave this whole presentation about how the Clean Air Act requires that EPA implement these regulations, but they are totally unnecessary, because emissions are down 20% due to our wonderful natural gas production. He said a couple of regions are not meeting the current standard of 75 ppb, which covers 95% of the population.
He then said that the National Economic Resource Association, or NERA, did a study for the National Association of Manufacturers that said these new rules could reduce GDP by $250 billion per year and cost jobs for 3 million Americans. This would amount to a cost of $370 per household per year.
He concluded by saying these regulations were “hostile to much of economic and human activity” and that we should send comments to the EPA saying:
1. The new ozone standards are not needed. The current ones are working fine.
2. We shouldn’t change the standards until the current standards have been met.
3. It could be catastrophic to building and families and cause the economy to nosedive and people to lose their jobs.
He answered a lot of questions basically saying ridiculous things like NOX and VOCs are caused by natural sources, that correlation does not mean causation, etc. etc.
So I pushed Star 3 to ask a question. When the pre-screener got to me, I said I was from Southern California and wanted to ask a question about why our area was not in compliance and what we could do about it. 
But when I got on, I asked the guy if he knew that NOX and VOCs were a by product of flaring of natural gas from fracking and that Vintage Oil released 5 metric tons of NOX and two metric tons of VOCs into the environment in 2011 and was only fined $750. 
They cut me off by asking what was my question. So I asked him if he was aware of the five state peer reviewed study published in Environmental Health on Oct. 30 that showed severe health effects of people living near oil and gas wells and that 40% of the air samples contained benzene and formaldehyde and other toxic substances found to be hazardous to human health. He started to talk about jobs, and I answered what good are jobs if people are getting sick. But at that point I could see they had turned off my mic.
Boy, that felt good. But the takeaway is, the enemy is organizing and we need to be too.
Posted in environment | Leave a comment

Some book ideas

Some people use the holiday season to take time to read a good book. Others like to give books over this season. Here’s some suggestions for some reading titles. Other suggestions are welcome:

Fiction

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: This fictional autobiography by an intersex (what we used to call “hermaphrodite”) person of Greek origin has a lot: Greek history, including the wars between Greece and Turkey, middle-American industrial cities in the post war period, the urban riots of the ‘60s, plus some science. Like all good fiction, it also has real, live, convincing characters.

Barbara Kingsolver: Some of her books I really didn’t like, but “The Lacuna” is a great fictional autobiography of a gay man who works as the personal secretary of Leon Trotsky. Then there are a few others, like “The Beantrees”, another fictional autobiography about a rebellious young woman growing up in Kentucky. Many of Kingsolver’s books have really great dialog.

Mysteries by P.D. James — If you’re looking for mysteries, P.D. James is a good writer. A British writer, her mysteries differ from most American mystery writers in the same way that lots of European films differ from Hollywood’s: Her books have real, genuine characters and the little, odd, almost irrelevant descriptions of details of a scene that really bring things to life.

Non Fiction

“Our Stolen Future” by Theo Colborn — In this period when the crisis of capitalism is expressed, among other ways, by the environmental crisis, Colborn’s book is ever-more important. She explains how different pollutants act as “endocrine disrupters”, affecting our hormone system. Along the way, she explains in laypeople’s terms how this affects the development of the embryo as well as affecting mature beings. In this day when the role of genes is so emphasized, Colborn’s explanation of the role of hormones is a good counterbalance. Her book will make you look at human behavior in a new light. Reviewed here.

“The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. Growing up in urban America, it’s easy not to see the forest for the trees, so to speak. What Colborn does for understanding the interaction between the environment and human health and behavior, Alexander does for explaining a lot of what is happening in our African-American communities. Her position, that mass incarceration of black people is “the new Jim Crow” – that it is used as a replacement of official segregation what that system was no longer workable – is excellently documented. It puts the police homicides (Michael Brown, Eric Garner, etc.) in their context.

“The Cholesterol Myths” by Uffe Ravnskov. Do you have “high cholesterol” or know somebody who does? Is your doctor badgering you to take a statin drug? You’d better read this book. Ravnskov, a medical doctor, carefully picks apart the entire theory that “high” cholesterol causes heart disease.

“Disconnect” by Devra Davis. This is a book that reviews the mountain of evidence that radio frequency radiation as emitted by cell phones is dangerous. Some consider Davis to be overly cautious in her claims – that cell phones are even more dangerous than she says. But especially if you talk on a cell phone a lot, or if you’re a woman who keeps her cell phone in her bra when you run, for instance, or — most important – if you have a child or teen ager who wants a cell phone… you should read about the dangers. Reviewed here.

“Merchants of Doubt” by Oreskes & Conway. The authors trace the role of corporate shills who masquerade as scientists, starting with those scientists who provided cover for the tobacco industry. Several of these actually started out as nuclear physicists. Their politics revolved around nuclear bombs and anti-communism and included an opposition to government intervention into any sphere of the economy. Their “science” followed their politics. Several of these “scientists” also pop up in the campaign to oppose the idea that acid rain was harmful and then in the ranks of the global warming deniers. Key to their method is the fact that science usually doesn’t deal in certainties of every phenomenon. From this general fact, these “merchants of doubt” continually claimed that “the science is uncertain; there is legitimate doubt” and the corporate media took things up in that light.

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Facts and propaganda re: Michael Brown homicide

In the coming days, there will be increasing “evidence” that officer Wilson had reasonable cause to fear for his life. The corporate controlled mass media will be the main outlet for this. And the facts of what actually happened are important. The problem, though, is that it’s so very difficult to actually know what happened because we know that the only time the agents of the criminal (in)justice system tell the truth is when it suits them. We also know that they are perfectly willing to plant evidence.

Take the case of O.J. Simpson and the famous bloody glove allegedly found in Simpson’s car by police officer Mark Fuhrman: Fuhrman was alone in the car when he “found” the glove. He also had a long history of making racist remarks, including regular use of the “n word” and objections to interracial couples. His big mistake was “finding” a glove that was too small to fit Simpson’s hand.

That’s only one of the most celebrated cases, but it’s not isolated. All you have to do is do a Google search with the words “police planting evidence video”.

That’s part of why the claim that there was blood in Wilson’s car is not decisive. The other reason is that as one forensic pathologist explains, the question is whether the blood is in a splatter pattern or smears. If it was the second, this means it could simply mean that somehow somebody was dripping some blood, not that Brown was shot at close range.

The most damning evidence against Wilson is this interview with a forensic pathologist:

From this interview, it seems certain that Brown was shot multiple times as he was falling down face forward. Then there is this analysis of Wilson’s testimony before the Grand Jury. As the analysis points out, while his testimony strains logic, that doesn’t prove it’s a lie. But the point is that the whole purpose of a trial – which the DA and the Grand Jury arranged not to happen – would be to see whether it was a lie or not. (We should also note that the DA never cross examined Wilson during his Grand Jury testimony.)

There’s a broader general conclusion we have to draw from this: From individual police actions to world events, the corporate politicians and the corporate media have their own narrative, their own spin. Occasionally it’s truthful, but we should be sure to never take them at their word.

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Oakland Protests Ferguson, Day 2

“That wasn’t the Grand Jury that found Wilson not guilty; it was the Grand Dragon [of the KKK]!” Day 2 of protests in Oakland, CA

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Oakland Protests Ferguson Whitewash

The response was immediate. The very afternoon the Persecutor (“misspelling” intended) in St. Louis officially announced what had already been leaked to the corporate media the

"Hnads up; don't shoot" on the 580 Freeway

“Hnads up; don’t shoot” on the 580 Freeway

protest started in Oakland CA. About 1000 people gathered downtown and marched to the 580 freeway where they outmaneuvered the cops and blocked it off.

cop cars face off against protesters on 580 freeway in Oakland

cop cars face off against protesters on 580 freeway in Oakland

And it is no wonder; nobody trusts “the system” nowadays, despite what Obama might say.  And for good reason. The entire procedure from start to finish smacked of a cover up. Consider that the police left Brown’s body lying in the street for hours while they figured out how to cover up this murder. Consider that to this day there has not been an official police report. And consider the highly unusual procedure for this Grand Jury

"First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. And so, we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make." Barack Obama speaking on the Ferguson Grand Jury whitewash.

“First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. And so, we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.” Barack Obama speaking on the Ferguson Grand Jury whitewash.

“investigation:” The purpose of a Grand Jury hearing is simply to decide if there is enough evidence to decide that a crime might have been committed. Might. “If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong,” said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. “It just doesn’t happen.”

And here’s what Jeryryl T. Christmas, former prosecutor in St. Louis and present defense attorney had to say about the matter: “It’s very rare that you even bring a defendant in at the Grand Jury level, and most of the time, I’m going to tell you quite frankly, most of the time that we would bring a defendant in to testify at the Grand Jury level was because we didn’t want the case issued, because we don’t have an obligation at that stage to present the the defense. Because our goal, and remember we’re the prosecutors, is to get an indictment. So normally when the prosecutors want to get rid of a case, they will bring the defendant in… (And Darryn Wilcon has had time) to conform his story to fit what’s already out

[If a prosecutor wants, he could get a Grand Jury) "to indict a ham sandwich." Judge Sol Wachtler

[If a prosecutor wants, he could get a Grand Jury) “to indict a ham sandwich.” Judge Sol Wachtler

there… Darren Wilson came in and testified for four hours. Now, as a defense attorney, I’m not going to allow my client to come in and testify for four hours unless I feel very comfortable about how they are going to handle my client while he’s in the Grand Jury….  The reality is that the Grand Jury is an arm of the prosecution…. It’s not at this level a difficult feat to get an indictment if you want an indictment. The thing is that the prosecutor didn’t want an indictment.

Obama and all the corporate politicians, liberal and conservative alike, carry on about our dedicated police officers who “put their lives on the line every day.” What are the facts?

  • Although full time sworn police officers compose .3% of the adult US population, they committed 461 homicides in 2012 – the highest number in decades. This is 3% of all homicides in 2013, 10 times more than their relative numbers would indicate. Yet not a single one of those homicides was found to be unjustified by the authorities.
  • The number of police feloniously killed in 2013 was 27. This figure has been declining every year for years and is the lowest number in 50 years.

In other words, while felonious assaults on cops has decreased, their assaults on civilians has increased. But it’s not just any civilians – black and Latino people especially have born the brunt of this. Consider the case of 12 year-old Tamir Rice, who was gunned down by

The police arrived shortly and confronted the man by saying, “Hey, partner, how you doing? Can you set that down real quick and talk to me?” (The officer didn’t have his gun drawn.) The armed man refused to set it down. The officer told him that he was jaywalking and was being detained. At that point the officer radioed that the armed man would not drop the weapon. He tells the man again that he just wants to talk to him and says, “You’re walking around here scaring people, man.” A second police car arrives at the scene. The man refuses to identify himself and demands to know if he’s free to go and the officer says no, that he is resisting and obstructing, a misdemeanor, for jaywalking and failing to identify himself. The man says, “Why don’t you fucking shoot me?” The officer gently replies, “I don’t want to shoot you; I’m not here to do that.”

The police arrived shortly and confronted the man by saying, “Hey, partner, how you doing? Can you set that down real quick and talk to me?” (The officer didn’t have his gun drawn.) The armed man refused to set it down. The officer told him that he was jaywalking and was being detained. At that point the officer radioed that the armed man would not drop the weapon. He tells the man again that he just wants to talk to him and says, “You’re walking around here scaring people, man.”
A second police car arrives at the scene. The man refuses to identify himself and demands to know if he’s free to go and the officer says no, that he is resisting and obstructing, a misdemeanor, for jaywalking and failing to identify himself. The man says, “Why don’t you fucking shoot me?” The officer gently replies, “I don’t want to shoot you; I’m not here to do that.”

the Cleveland cops just last weekend. Somebody had called in that a child was playing with a gun that “was probably fake”. The cops came out and gunned him down, claiming that he had reached into his waistband after they told him to put his hands up. Or the case of John Crawford, gunned down by the cops in a Wal Mart in Ohio (an open carry state) while he held a toy rifle before they even gave him a chance to put it down. (Surveillance video showed that he wasn’t a threat to anybody.) Compare that to the case of Lance Tamayo, a white man, who held off the cops for close to an hour, waving a pistol all around, before finally being shot (non-fatally). Or the case of another middle aged white man inKalamazoo, MI, who was waving a gun around on a busy street corner for a half hour, before the cops talked him down.

The other point is this: These 461 homicides by the cops in 2013 are only the more noticed side of the story. What rarely is discussed is the constant daily harassment, the stop and frisks, the constant disrespect and abuse in ways large and small, by the police on ordinary, every-day people in the US, most especially people of color. Truly, as US capitalism enters ever deeper into crisis, as it must economically exploit and oppress more and more people, it also must repress and abuse them in order to intimidate them. It may be that not every cop, or even the majority of cops, brutalize and murder people. It may be that not every one is racist. But every single one will cover up for those who are and do.

As a movement develops around this issue, we should consider some steps that might be taken. These could include:

  • No confidence in any wing of the corporate-controlled criminal (in)justice system; for a people’s grand jury in every poor and working class community to hear about and publicize every case of police abuse and brutality;
  • Connect the issue of police abuse with the employers’ economic abuse and the issue of low pay, unemployment and poverty;
  • For working class people’s candidates for office, starting at the local level, with those candidates basing themselves on and being a part of the movement in the streets and standing completely outside of and opposed to the Republicrat politicians and parties.

woman's face on fwy copy

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Oakland City Council votes for privatizing public land

At their meeting of Nov. 18, the Oakland City Council gave a pass to the corporate run Oakland Zoo to expand onto the beautiful, open space Knowland Park. Here is a video of some of what was said at that meeting. Predictably, the corporate-controlled City Council voted for the Zoo, but the struggle continues!

 

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Do higher wages lead to higher prices?

10676282_847496205271489_5405667804504171917_nOne of the arguments of the bosses and their representatives is that an increase in the minimum wage will cause prices to increase – that we’ll be paying $15 for a MacDonald’s hamburger if they have to pay their workers $15 per hour. As the photo above shows, that’s not true. But it also helps to know why it’s not true.

Karl Marx debated that exact question almost 150 years ago. He explained, in short, that if workers get a pay increase and the bosses try to raise prices to make up for it, then demand for the items that workers usually buy will drop relative to the demand for luxury items. As demand for worker-bought items (ground chuck, etc.) decreases (relative to luxury items – yachts, filet mignon, etc.), they will then be forced to drop those prices. As for the luxury items, there will be no increased demand for them, so price increases will not be able to hold.

It’s well worth reading Marx’s argument in full, as he explains it in “Value, Price and Profit”, since he also explains what value is, how prices are determined, etc.

Posted in economics, Marxist theory, Minimum wage campaign | 4 Comments

From Ferguson, Missouri, to Kafr Kana, Israel

Mike Brown

Mike Brown

The similarities are eery.

Kheir a-din Hamdan

Kheir a-din HamThe similarities are eery.

In Ferguson, Missouri, a young black man got into some sort of hassle with a cop. He started to walk away but the cop got out of the car and opened fire. When the young man stopped and turned around, the cop continued firing. Whether he was killed immediately we will never know, since his body was left lying in the street for four hours, presumably while the police figured out what story to cook up.

Three months later, in the Israeli village of Kafr Kanna, 22 year old Kheir a-Din Hamdan confronted some Israeli police sitting in a police car. They had just arrested his cousin and he was angry. He pounded on the window of the car with some object. The police claim it was a knife, but whatever it was, he then turned and walked away. As he was walking away, the cops got out of the car and unleashed a volley of shots. Kafr fell to the ground – possibly dead on the spot, possibly not. The police grabbed his body and threw him in the car like a sack of potatoes. He bled to death.

(Note: Just a few days before this murder, the Israeli Minister of Security had publicly stated that no “terrorist” should be left alive. For an excellent article on that situation, read Uri Avnery here.)

There was one key difference: In the case of Kafr Kanna, there was actually a security video camera that – unknown to the cops – recorded the entire affair. Their claim that he attacked them with a knife and that they shot him in self defense was proven to be a lie.

The murder of Kheir a-din Hamdan caught on video

The murder of Kheir a-din Hamdan caught on video

But one thing to note: Since the murder of Kafr Kanna, Israel and the West Bank has been awash in protests – strikes, protests… And while protests have been common among the Palestinians of the West Bank, this isn’t so much true in Israel itself. Now that has changed.

Israel convulsed in protests

Israel convulsed in protests

And Ferguson? After the Mike Brown assassination, it seemed like the entire black community – especially the youth – turned out day after day, night after night. There were some protests around the country, but nothing too disruptive. Now the decision to exonerate Darren Wilson – the murderous cop – is coming. The police are getting ready. It seems virtually certain that mass protests will be met with mass repression. What will happen in the rest of the country? Will the similarity with Israel continue to the next step?

Will this be the people’s answer to the recent electoral triumph of the more reactionary wing of the US politicians?

working class one fist copy

Posted in Middle East, racism, rebellion, repression, United States | Leave a comment

US Mid-term Elections: How far will crisis go?

President Barack Obama shaking hands with Senate leader to be Mitch McConnell while House leader John Boehner looks on. Do they have a deal for you!

President Barack Obama shaking hands with Senate leader to be Mitch McConnell while House leader John Boehner looks on.
Do they have a deal for you!

Hundreds – maybe thousands – of black youth (and not-so-youth) lining the streets and parading up and down W. Florissant street in Ferguson shouting “hands up! Don’t shoot!”

Ferguson

Ferguson

 

Dozens of middle aged white women screaming at Democratic Colorado Governor Hickenlooper as they protest the environmentally destructive practice of fracking.

CO Governor Hickenlooper being confronted by fracking opponents

CO Governor Hickenlooper being confronted by fracking opponents

These are the images we should keep in mind when thinking about the Tuesday’s election results. All of mainstream US politics is dedicated to preventing this sort of thing from becoming a generalized movement, preventing such a movement from breaking the near total monopoly that Corporate America holds over politics, and it is also geared towards maintaining a constant state of confusion among the American people. Most certainly the elections in the US, nearly completely controlled by the two corporate parties, are used for this.

“Pragmatism”
Take the issue of “pragmatism” – the view that ideas don’t matter, that all that counts is action. This view is deeply ingrained in US culture, and is encouraged by every element of Corporate America. In recent years, the politicians’ mantra has been breaking the “gridlock” in Washington DC, and just “getting things done.”
Obama played on this theme in his news conference the day after the elections. “The American people… expect the people they elect to work as hard as they do…. They want us to get the job done…. They want me to push hard to close some of these divisions, break through some of the gridlock, and get stuff done. So, the most important thing I can do is just get stuff done and help Congress get some things done.” Get what job done? Gridlock in blocking what? This kind of gobbledygook is spouted by both parties and by the media, and it has had an effect. According to one poll, 49% of people in the US think “gridlock” and “not getting anything done” is the most serious problem in Washington.
But this “gridlock” is largely meaningless. The reason people see it as important is that they’ve been told it’s important.

Simply a Rejection of Obama?
Corporate America claims that this election was simply a rejection of Obama and his supposedly “liberal” agenda. While Obama is justly unpopular, the fact is that it was the economy that drove most voters. According to this poll, of the four issues “foreign policy, health care, the economy, illegal immigration”, 45% of all voters said it was the economy – far more than any of the other issues.
The same poll also revealed that 48% of voters felt that the next generation would be worse off than today’s generation, 70% felt the US economy was not so good or poor, 78% were somewhat or very worried about the economy’s direction in the coming few years, and 65% thought things in general in the US were “on the wrong track”.

Republicans

John Boehner (l) and Mitch McConnell (r): Is your future safe with them?

John Boehner (l) and Mitch McConnell (r):
Is your future safe with them?

What are the plans of the Republicans and of Corporate America for the new Congress? (And while these largely overlap, they are not one and the same, as we shall see.)
The day after Obama’s press conference, the Republican leaders Mitch McConnell – Republican leader-to-be of the Senate – and John Boehner – his House of Representatives counterpart – issued their reply to Obama. In a joint column in the Wall St. Journal, they called for several points. Here are two of them, in their language plus a people’s language translation:
“Remove barriers to job creation” Translation: Allow the corporations to loot and plunder the environment and oppress their employees even more than they are doing now.
“lower energy costs for families” Translation: Push through the Keystone Pipeline and increase fracking.
Elsewhere, they talk about tax simplification (which has meant cutting taxes on the rich and raising them for everybody else), high health care costs (which has meant making it even more difficult to sue for malpractice), global terrorism (meaning increasing both the military budget and spying on people in the US and around the world), national debt (meaning further cutting government services), and “choice” in education (meaning more privatization). In other words, they plan to step up even further their attack on working class (including poor) people and on the environment.

Immigration
McConnell/Boehner steered completely clear of one issue that is huge for their supporters: “illegal” immigrants. 74% of self-identified Republican voters said this is the most important issue facing the US. Many of these want all undocumented immigrants kicked out of the country, no matter how long they have lived here and what kinds of roots they have sunk. That’s a problem for the top Republicans, since their real masters – such as the US Chamber of Commerce – don’t agree; Corporate America wants to use this sector of the working class as a source of cheap labor. As the WSJ reported (11/5/14): “The business community will continue its push to overhaul immigration laws with a focus on expanding the available workforce of legal immigrants, despite resistance in the GOP-controlled House. Business groups had been among the most influential proponents of an overhaul, including a path to citizenship for many of the illegal immigrants living in the U.S.”
This gets at a more general problem for Corporate America and their more favored party – the Republicans. (The Democrats are also needed and controlled by Corporate America, but in a slightly different way.) Before the 1960s, it was said that “you could fit all the Republicans into one country club.” Since then, with the social and economic changes, the Republicans had to expand their base, which they did with right wing, often barely disguised racist, populist appeals, for example the Tea Partiers. The problem of Corporate America is that, although they need them, they can’t completely control them. The federal government shut down of 2013 really brought this home to Corporate America, which found that they couldn’t get many of their Republican representatives in congress to back off. One of the most prominent among this far right wing is US Senator Ted Cruz, and the WSJ’s editorial of 11/06/14 warns against Republican leaders allowing Cruz to “hijack” the direction of the party.

Obama & Democrats

Unknown-1 And how about Obama and the Democrats? What are their plans?
Obama made clear he will push “immigration reform.” It’s ironic that he’s playing the champion of undocumented workers since more such people have been forcibly deported under Obama than any other president. But it works for him since the Republicans are in such a bind over the issue. It also works for the Democrats, since over 25 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in 2016 – the fastest growing sector of the US population. (Although a growing proportion of these voters are saying that the issue of immigration is “not a deal breaker”, it’s still a key issue.) Obama made it clear in his press conference that he plans to hold the Republicans’ feet to the fire on this issue. He’s also pushing the minimum wage issue, and he noted that in all five states where this was on the ballot, a higher minimum wage was passed despite the fact that many of these states voted Republican overall. Other issues will be college student loans, US infrastructure rebuilding, continue fracking, tax “reform”, on the domestic front. He’ll also be talking about “income inequality”, but his specific plans to do anything about it are necessarily vague since he accepts that US corporations must compete with their foreign rivals, and the main way this can be done is through cutting their taxes and wages.

2016
For both parties, these election results were a preparation for the 2016 presidential election, since it’s control of the White House that determines the greatest amount of patronage and therefore determines which party will get to really dip its snout into the feeding trough. McConnell and Boehner (and their allies in papers like the Wall St. Journal) made it clear that they will use their control over the two houses of congress to try to determine the issues and set the agenda as far as how the issues are resolved. On the other hand, Obama in his press conference, made his strategy clear: “They’re the majority. They need to present their agenda,” he said. In other words, he and his fellow Democrats will try to keep the ball in their court, blame them for the problems that the “middle class” faces. (The poor get completely ignored.) Obama and the Democrats also want to foster the divisions within the Republican party – the division between the leadership and the more populist, far right wing. “I actually believe that John Boehner is sincere about wanting to get immigration reform passed,” Obama said. In other words, push Boehner and McConnell to confront their tea party aligned wing.
It us always important to have an idea what the enemy is up to and to understand their divisions and conflicts but, in the end, for working class and poor people in this country, it will be more business as usual. That is why according to one poll some 58% of people in this country think a new political party is necessary. It’s very possible that many of this 58% are looking for a right wing party, but that is another question. Since the US Civil War, Corporate America has maintained its rule by alternating between the Republicans and the Democrats. With very few exceptions, they have been able to do that without serious challenge. Now, the basis for that rule – confidence in the “two party” system (in reality, one party with two faces) is starting to crumble.
The question is how will that be expressed in the future and what can those who want to fight the system do about it?

Overly Optimistic
We must not close our eyes to the problems.
Tens of millions of people in the US have been completely confused by the corporate propaganda. The capitulation – near surrender, in fact – of the union leadership has added to this confusion. (As one protester in Ferguson reported to this writer, for example, his union leadership had told him that that issue was “not our battle.”) The rise of thugs like the “open carry” bullies are a definite danger.

Jess Spear It's true that mistakes were made in both campaigns. Socialist Alternative's campaign for Jess Spear's campaign, for example, failed to openly raise the issue of the need for a new political party. They stressed the need for rent control, but didn't point out  that the housing crisis cannot be resolved on the basis of private investment and the “free” market. Their campaign literature was indistinguishable from that of the “progressive” wing of the Democrats – individuals like former Congressman Dennis Kucinich. (Interestingly, it is very difficult to find their campaign literature online.)  They justified this as a way of trying to win more votes (as explained to this writer by a member of Socialist Alternative). Instead, they should have used the campaign to openly raise these issues, to help build a working class movement. They ended with the worst of both worlds – no increased movement on the ground in this direction and few votes. Then, in their analysis, the explained Spear's loss by complaining that liberal Democrats like Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata supported Spear's opponent although he “knew better” according to them. No, he didn't know better. There's a reason why Licata is a liberal Democrat. This sort of complaint on the part of Spear's group, Socialist Alternative, shows their continued confusion about the liberal wing of the Democrats.

Jess Spear
Socialist Alternative’s campaign for Jess Spear failed to openly raise the issue of the need for a new political party. They stressed the need for rent control, but didn’t point out that the housing crisis cannot be resolved on the basis of private investment and the “free” market. Their campaign literature was indistinguishable from that of the “progressive” wing of the Democrats – individuals like former Congressman Dennis Kucinich. (Interestingly, it is very difficult to find their campaign literature online.) They justified this as a way of trying to win more votes (as explained to this writer by a member of Socialist Alternative who gave him a Spear leaflet at a rally). They should have used the campaign to openly raise these issues, in order to help build a working class movement. Having failed to do that, they ended with the worst of both worlds – no increased movement on the ground in this direction and few votes. Then, in their analysis, they explained Spear’s loss by complaining that liberal Democrats like Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata supported Spear’s opponent although he “knew better” according to them. No, he didn’t know better. There’s a reason why Licata is a liberal Democrat. This sort of complaint on the part of Spear’s group, Socialist Alternative, shows their continued confusion about the liberal wing of the Democrats. Their analysis also largely underestimates the confusion (to put it mildly) that runs rampant in the United States.

Despite the dissatisfaction with the two main political parties, socialist Jess Spear got a scant 16% in her campaign against mainstream Democrat Frank Chopp in the Seattle area of Washington State, and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins got 5% in his campaign against conservative New York governor Cuomo. These poor results show that we still have a long ways to go.

And the ultimate outcome is far from decided. How far can Corporate America go in repressing any movement? How much time will the environmental crisis allow us?

There is no way to know the answers. But one thing is certain: we are headed for a crack-up and we cannot just sit back and not struggle to change course.

Crisis
There is also is a feeling of powerlessness. And that feeling leads people to want to ignore the issues and to seek some sort of escape or another. Here and there, though, the situation has become a real crisis, and that forces wider layers of people to move into action. It forces them to realize that they cannot escape, no matter how they try. That’s why those thousands of black residents of Ferguson went out onto the streets – because the issue of police harassment and murder had gone beyond just the steady drone; it had become an absolute crisis. That’s why those women were shouting at Colorado’s governor Hickenlooper – because the issue of fracking was absolutely destroying their lives and the lives of their families. (Those who aren’t familiar with this issue can see this article for more on this issue.)
In the future, there will be a more generalized crisis. Who knows exactly how it will develop?
The police, for example, have been given almost an unlimited license to brutalize and kill black and Latino people in this country. As was inevitable, they have now started to use this license to increase these practices in general, including on some whites (especially the poor and homeless). Will the Republicrats be able to get a grip on the cops, or is it possible that this crisis in the black communities will become so intense that a new uprising will spread across America?
If it does, we should note an important difference with the Los Angeles uprising after the Rodney King affair. At that time, the uprising was not only anti-cop; there also was an anti-white element to it. This time, things are completely different. That means that such an uprising will have a far greater response throughout US society, and that is particularly true since the majority of people in the US are so dissatisfied nowadays.
First and foremost, it will have a huge effect on young people, considering that the black youth have tended to lead the youth in general in this country. (We can see that in the “youth culture” – clothing styles, music, even speech.) That is especially important since any new movement will tend to be led by the youth.

Environment
We should also not forget the issue of the environment. Cliff Willmeng, a “fractivist” in Colorado and leading member of the Colorado Community Rights Network, was the one who described the “middle aged white women” confronting Hickenlooper. He describes the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats on the issue: Whereas the Republicans want to give the oil companies unchecked power to frack, the Democrats hide behind the idea that it can be done safely if there are better regulations. (That’s like saying that the only problem is that the Darren Wilsons of the world should just be given slightly lower caliber guns.) Towards that end, the Democrats have organized astroturf groups with apple pie names like “Moms Know Best.” But as Cliff says, “We’re not into that idea that it (fracking) can be done safely… Communities are being educated. Every time we go through the process of trusting the Democrats, we learn… There’s a very strong leadership growing over the issue of fracking… people feel like it’s a life and death issue… after the elections we’re right back at work.”

Cliff Willmeng confronting a spokeswoman for Encana Energy. He helped drive her out of town.

Cliff Willmeng

Who knows when the environmental issue will reach the same proportions as that of police-initiated murder has reached in Ferguson? Who knows when a Fukushima-style crisis may hit here in the US?
Then there is the issue of the US and world economy. Obama and Corporate America assure us that, while things aren’t great, the economy is stable and slowly recovering. (Much of that recovery is based on fracking, by the way. See this article for instance.) Now there are warning signs that even this may come unwound. (As a side point: Two out of the three counties in California where it was put to on the ballot voted to outright ban fracking.) Also, the other contradictions inherent in the (inevitable) power of finance capital can burst out at any time.
Then there is the fact that US capitalism can not maintain global stability, as we see with the rise of the Islamic State, the civil war in Syria and Iraq, etc. Now, US capitalism has been so weakened that it has to make a de facto alliance with the Iranian regime! Who knows where all of this will lead?

working class one fist copy

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Save Knowland Park

Knowland Zoo

Sitting high up in the Oakland hills, overlooking the entire city and with the best views of practically the entire bay, Oakland’s scenic open space Knowland Park is a real treasure and is a great place for children to run around and explore, for nature lovers to enjoy, and for visitors to get great views. And it’s completely free.

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This writer's grandchildren exploring in Knowland Park. The Zoo's problem is that such activity is totally free.

This writer’s grandchildren exploring in Knowland Park. The Zoo’s problem is that such activity is totally free.

And that is exactly the problem. According to Corporate America and Corporate Oakland, any piece of land that doesn’t earn money is a waste, especially large pieces like Knowland Park. That is why the powers that be of the Knowland Zoo were licking their lips when they got their hands on the park some years back. They developed plans for what amounts to a theme park, complete with a gondola ride, a high end restaurant and office space in the park.

To understand what’s behind these plans, we have to look at who sits on the Board of Directors. This article makes it clear:

“Jim Wunderman is President and CEO of the Bay Area Council, a business-backed public policy organization….

Sebastian DiGrande is a Partner and Managing Director at the Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm and the world’s leading advisor on business strategy….

Bay Area Council. This group represents major corporations in the Bay Area. Do you really think they are looking out for you?

Bay Area Council.
This group represents major corporations in the Bay Area. Do you really think they are looking out for you?

Daniel Boggan, Jr…. assisted the municipal firm of Siebert, Branford & Shank Co. in business development from 2003 to 2006…. Cassady Hudson is a Senior Revenue and Royalty Analyst at Hands-on Mobile…. Mark McClure is a partner at California Capital and Investment Group, a real estate brokerage and development firm based in Oakland CA. He has worked on both residential and commercial development projects primarily in the City of Oakland…. Lora Tabor is the General Manager, Corporate & Services HR, for Chevron Corporation in San Ramon….”

What these corporate representatives are after with their plans for Knowland Park is explained by the comment of Nick Dehajia, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Zoo: “the project… changes the face of Oakland.” Working class and poor people in Oakland – the great majority of whom are black and brown – should look in the mirror and ask, “whose face do they want to change?” 

The zoo project is part and parcel of the long range plans to privatize everything that moves – or doesn’t move – in order to suck profits out of it. This is also connected with the long range plans to further gentrify western Alameda County. It is connected with the removal of the homeless encampment at the Albany Bulb, the development plans for the Oakland shore line, etc.

As is typical of such plans, much of this will be done at taxpayers’ expense. Votes will be held:

  • Wed, November 12, 1–5 pm. City Council “Community and Economic Development Committee” will discuss this matter. Oakland City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, in City Council chambers.
  • Tues, November 18, starting 5:30 pm. Full City Council will consider and votewhether to approve the “conservation easement.” Oakland City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, in City Council chambers.

The zoo mobilizes its workers and “volunteers”. We urge the working class people of Oakland to come out and stand up to Corporate Oakland. Save Knowland Park! Oppose privatization! Oppose gentrification of Oakland!

(For those interested in some background, here is an article by this writer on a tax measure that the Zoo Board tried to push through to get working class people in Alameda County to further fund their plans.)

 

Posted in environment, John Reimann's personal blog, Oakland | Leave a comment

Book Review: “The Compassionate Instinct”

According to some, cooperation and empathy violate our natural instincts. These scientists argue that those who survived in our deep past were those who were best able to dominate and overcome others and thereby produce more offspring. These theories are used to argue that therefore a society based on competition and domination (capitalism) is the only “natural” state and that a society based on cooperation (socialism) is unnatural and therefore impossible.

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Is this true?

“The Compassionate Instinct”, edited by Keltner, Marsh, et al, gives a valuable insight.

Survival of the Fittest”

Traditionally, when we think of “survival of the fittest”, we tend to think of the “fittest” individual vs. other individuals of the same species. This is certainly one aspect. However, there is also the question of survival of the species as a whole, and especially amongst the more social animals this means what traits will enable an entire pack or herd of any particular species survive.

In part, studying this issue has been made possible by scientific development, for instance brain imaging. Through this, they have shown that the same part of the brain that is activated when a mother holds her baby is also activated when a person sees pictures of a victim of harm. In the words of the book, these two things “are united by the similar neurological reactions they provoke.” It is interesting that the same part of the brain is activated when a person is helping others as when receiving a reward or experiencing a pleasurable sensation.

These clearly would help the survival of a small band of humans in the wild. The neurological reaction would mean that the members of the band would help each other, thus making the band more successful.

Autonomic Nervous System & Oxytocin

The brain is not the only part of the body that is involved in “feelings”. The “fight-or-flight” response is well known, and involves changes in the skin, muscles, heart rate, etc. The different parts of the body involved in the “fight-or-flight” syndrome are called the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). What is interesting is that when people are stimulated to feelings of compassion, the ANS responds exactly the opposite from the fight-or-flight response.

There is also the role of hormones, such as oxytocin. When a mother breast feeds, the oxytocin level elevates. But interestingly, it also elevates when a person performs a friendly act like smiling or waving at somebody, the level also increases.

Empathy

All of this is related to the feeling we define as “empathy,” and humans are not the only ones capable of this feeling. In one experiment, rhesus monkeys were taught to receive food by pressing a button, which act also gave an electric shock to another rhesus. The monkeys refused to press the button, meaning they went without food, for as long as 12 days to avoid shocking their comrade.

Other experiments have also shown that a similar bond exists across species.

This bond has a survival value at the most basic level. As members of the herd see another react to a potential danger they all react similarly.

Hostility and Violence

Then there is the question of hostility and violence. Studies have shown that the violence between members of a group of a particular species tends to be greater in more stressful or harsh environments. As the book says, one study showed that savanna baboons “’have acquired an aggressive temperament as a defense against predators, and aggressiveness cannot be turned on and off like a faucet. It is an integral part of the monkeys’ personalities, so deeply rooted that it makes them potential aggressors in every situation. Thus, the savanna baboon became, literally, a textbook example of life in an aggressive, highly stratified, male-dominated society. Yet in my observation of Forest Troop (baboons), I saw members of that same species demonstrate enough behavioral plasticity to transform their society into a baboon utopia.”

Soldiers at War

Then there is the issue of human-on-human violence. The studies that show that some 80-85% of soldiers in WWs I and II intentionally avoided shooting the “enemy” soldier prove the extremely strong inhibition against killing. Once the US military found out about this inhibition, they found ways to break it down through desensitization and what one soldier called “manufactured contempt.” The breakdown of this inhibition is related to the significantly higher levels of post traumatic stress disorder in US soldiers since those wars. It also may be one factor that gives US troops a significant military advantage over opposing troops in such places as Somalia or Afghanistan.

WW I soldier. Up to 85% refused to shoot at the "enemy."

WW I soldier. Up to 85% refused to shoot at the “enemy.”

Domination & Hierarchy

Then there is the question of domination and hierarchical behavior. Most primates display such behavior, which is also present in non-literate, hunter-gatherer societies of humans. However, members of the group or clan also have collective means of keeping this behavior within limits – in other words, a collective resistance to dominance.

Revenge & Forgiveness

One of the most interesting parts of this book is on the “forgiveness instinct”. The authors point out that there are some survival benefits in the drive for revenge – the opposite of forgiveness. For one, revenge serves to inhibit similar behavior in others who may be observing as well as inhibit a repetition of the behavior in the one carrying it out in the first place. There are other functions to revenge, or punishment, though. For instance, among rhesus macaque monkeys, if one monkey finds a food source and doesn’t give the eating call – preferring to hog all the food to itself – the others will attack the transgressor if they discover it. This has obvious survival benefits for the troop as a whole.

“Forgiveness” – attempting to soothe over hurt feelings after a conflict – is also just as common though. Amongst gorillas, for instance, after a fight there will be an increase in soothing behavior such as making submissive noises, touching, and grooming. Similar behavior has been found not only among other primates but also among dolphins, goats and hyenas, but not cats (the one non-herd animal). As the authors explain: “Animals reconcile because it repairs important relationships that have been damaged by aggression. By forgiving and repairing relationships, our ancestors were in a better position to glean the benefits of cooperation between group members – which, in turn, increased their evolutionary fitness.”

Gorillas grooming

Gorillas grooming

The authors also make some interesting observations about modifying human behavior. For instance, in one experiment they randomly divided people into three groups. One group was told to write down five things for which they were “grateful” once a week. One group, the control group, was left to its own devices, and the third group was told to write down five hassles they’d been through. “Those in the gratitude condition reported fewer health complaints and even spent more time exercising than those in the hassles conditions… The gratitude group participants also experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness than those in either of the other two groups.” Not only that, but close acquaintances of the subjects strongly tended to report that those in the gratitude group seemed more “helpful” than those in the other two groups. (None of the acquaintances knew anything about the groups or who was in which group.)

Politics

Clearly, all of this is related to the survival of the collective.

There are some directly political implications from some of their studies. For instance, the authors do show that there is a region of the brain – the amygdale – that is directly related to hostile behavior to “outsiders”. On the other hand, their research also shows that what is perceived as an “outsider” can change. Continual contact with those previously considered to be outsiders leads to this part of the brain not reacting as it previously did to their presence.

We can, of course, take all of this so far as to make any understanding of it ridiculous. This the authors do.

Experiments like the one above show that behavior can be modified in some situations. What the authors fail to consider is the significance of one stark fact that they, themselves, point out: How the US military has successfully repressed the built-in inhibition against killing other human beings. Clearly, something beyond misunderstanding or (positive) behavior reinforcement is at work. There is the simple element of class interest.

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“How Did We Become Humans?”

Note: This is an experiment. I am trying to write something for young people between around 8 or 9 and around 12 years old. It is aimed at being a series of pamphlets on how the human species and then human society evolved, ending with how capitalism evolved and what comes next. In other words, socialism. And – most important – what is necessary to overthrow the present order. If any readers have children in that age range – or grand children or nieces or nephews, etc. – it would be greatly appreciated if you would show them this and get their opinions. In fact, any opinions from adult readers are appreciated. And please don’t be too nice if you don’t think young people will find this interesting.

How did we become humans?”

What do you mean, “become humans?” You have always been a human. Everybody you know has always been a human. Of course, we’re talking about evolution – how earlier species evolved into the human species.

But this leads to another question: “Why does it really matter?” After all, this happened a looong time ago (we’re talking millions of years). Now that we’re here, what does it matter how we became what we are?

It matters because it helps determine how we look at human society. That means, how we look at what people do in their everyday life. And if we can get a clear understanding of that, we can change it too. But to understand it, we have to look at how we got there, starting with how we – the human species – became what we are.

Religion vs. Science

It starts with the issue of evolution. And let’s not forget that a third of the people in the US don’t even believe in evolution.i What does this mean? In the US today, almost all people who reject evolution base their ideas on the Bible. This means that they simply accept that “god” has ordered things in a certain way; that’s how it always was and always will be. It means that they refuse to see that there are certain laws of nature. And that the number one law is that nothing stays the same; everything is changing – sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly, but change it does. That’s what we mean by a “law” – not like the laws like what congress passes, but simply general principles, general ways, in which nature operates. For instance, at sea level, when water is heated to over 212 degrees Fahrenheit it “boils”, meaning it turns into vapor. That is a simple law of nature, but a lot of other laws are much more complex.

The human species is not separate and apart from nature. The same laws that determined how we evolved – that is, how we changed over millions of years – determined how our societies evolved and developed. And, as we say, once we understand those laws we can use them to our advantage.

What is Evolution?

So, first, what is evolution and how does it work?

Read more: How We Became Humans

Posted in for young people, Marxist theory, pamphlets | Leave a comment

SEIU Local 6 Candidates speak

Members gather on nomination night to protest unfair election procedures

Members gather on nomination night to protest unfair election procedures

As OaklandSocialist reported, a struggle is under way in SEIU Local 6. This local covers janitors, security guards and other building services workers in the Seattle/Tacoma area. For nearly a decade, Local 6 President Sergio Salinas has ruled the local like a little dictator. Not only has he made deals with management behind the workers’ backs, not only has he abused workers who spoke up and allowed management to abuse them too, his regime has also been abusive to those organizers that he, himself, has hired.

Union supporters, fellow union members, and especially fellow members of SEIU can follow their campaign and can contact them here.

Amelia Vassar

Amelia Vassar with some of her supporters outside the union hall

Amelia Vassar with some of her supporters outside the union hall

Tired of all this, Local 6 organizer Amelia Vassar decided to lead a slate of candidates to oppose his rule. No sooner than she did this than she was fired. Then Sergio’s hand-picked election committee ruled that Amelia as ineligible to run for office since she had never worked in the industry. The irony is that neither had Sergio before he ran for local office; he got into office the exact same way that Amelia is trying to!

Here is an interview with Amelia:

Nur Abdishakur

Nur Abdishakur is the opposition candidate for secretary treasurer. He, too, has been ruled ineligible. The excuse in his case is that over 40 of the names on his nomination petition were ruled invalid because the names were printed instead of signed. People should realize that many of the Local 6 members don’t speak English and writing even their names in this language is a task.

Here, Nur explains the situation:

Mike Ladd

Mike Ladd speaking at the membership rally

Mike Ladd speaking at the membership rally

Another candidate for office is Mike Ladd, who is running for executive board. Unfortunately, OaklandSocialist did not have a chance to interview Mike, but we have the following general statement from him:

“The main issue is the work load. Over the years, the janitorial companies have been increasing and increasing the work load, and if you don’t complete the amount assigned to you, you will get written up…. This has been going on for over a decade. If they don’t complete what they’re told to cover, told to cover all this ground and make it look perfect… discipline is involved. In extreme cases, things have gotten so bad that we’ve had members pass out on the job from all this work load….

“The leadership’s response has been weak at best. They have done a few little things, but it’s nowhere near enough….

“We need a strong union to protect the members. It doesn’t matter what’s in the contract if the union leadership won’t fight for it. We file grievances and go through official steps, but that doesn’t get us anywhere. We get the runaround….

Microsoft

“At Microsoft – one of our main work places – we’ve had members file hundreds of grievances over workload and all kinds of things and they don’t seem to get anywhere. You should understand, this is not just a matter of stress. We’ve had members fall down stairs. All kinds of things happen. It’s getting more and more dangerous.

“We’ve had members like Nur Abdishakur, a shop steward at Microsoft, who’s brought it up and the leadership has responded by keeping him out of union functions….

Member dies on job

“When we had ‘Justice for Janitors Day’ a couple of months ago, Sergio Salinas got up and said, ‘if we don’t get what we want about this in our next contract, we’re going to strike.’ Well, it’s been about four years that we had a member die on the job in Tacoma because she was placed on her own and she passed out on the job and died. And now it’s taken Salinas and Co. four years to figure out that workload is a life and death issue for us. They bring it up when they want to, in a contract year and in between they ignore it.

“As far as what they should be doing: First of all, they should not be repressing shop stewards for fighting for the members. They shouldn’t expect members to be fighting on the job and then turn off their brain when they come to the union hall. But more than that, we need to take the employers on head-on. We should have actions outside their buildings and get the community involved.

Struggle Emboldens People

“We should mobilize the entire membership, their families and the entire rest of the labor movement. That’s what we’d have to do, but the union leaders don’t want any sort of movement that’s out of their direct control. Because if it is, it’s going to take on a life of its own. It’s going to take on its own demands and its own political position. It’s not going to accept the conservative position of the leadership of the labor leadership and the Democratic Party. That’s what they’re afraid of; that’s why they’re always trying to avoid a struggle — because it emboldens people.”

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