“The unions should come out and help us…. and as you know, in all the plants where they have unions is where minorities do the best.”
“The unions should come out and help us…. and as you know, in all the plants where they have unions is where minorities do the best.”
Malik Shabazz promises to keep the people off the streets.
“It’s needed now because a lot of the social issues have been covered up over the years.”
This young man in Ferguson explains it all in a few sentences.
Another of the young leaders rising up.
A new leadership is rising up, and that’s why the cops and politicians wanted to nip it in the bud… But they will fail.
Here is a short video of the police tear gas attack against protesters on Sunday (8/16) night. The police excuse was that there had been gun shots – an excuse that the CNN lie caster repeated on air, but when he got off air he had to admit to me that the shots he heard came from way in the distance and, more important, came after the tear gas attack.
Question to the people in Ferguson: Does it make sense to organize to retake the QT lot? When I was there it was such a center for everything. That’s why they shut it down. But now it seems the politicians are realizing that they can’t just tear gas everybody off the streets. Is it possible to take advantage of that to retake the lot and use it as a center once again (without all the craziness – in an organized way)?
And while we’re at it, why not demand that in addition to prosecuting the cop, that money be provided to make that property a people-run community center?
Ferguson: Monday and Beyond
A struggle is going on in Ferguson, MO. It is the struggle for the hearts and minds of the youth, especially the black youth. And as that youth goes, so goes the youth of America.
Until now, the main strategy a combination of propaganda and outright intimidation repression. The propaganda came from the TV, the radio and “respectable” society, which preached that the only goal in life should be money, cars, and good times. Since millions of black youth knew that this was denied to them, then intimidation and outright repression was needed on a mass scale. From the little daily acts of disrespect and intimidation to the beatings and murders, the war against black and Latino youth has been unrelenting.
But in Ferguson, something snapped, and after the police tear gas attack Sunday night, it was clear they had to do something. The main goal was (and is) to get the uncontrollable youth off the streets, or at the very least to get them under some degree of control and to control the crowds in general.
Until Monday, the gathering at the lot of the burned out QuikTrip (“QT”) store was as much the heart and soul of the protests as was Oscar Grant Plaza for Occupy Oakland. That was where people hung out, exchanged thoughts, shared food and water, and stood along the sidewalk with their signs, expressing their thoughts.
Out in the street, hundreds of cars passed, almost every single one with horn honking, young people hanging all out the car, standing up through their sun roofs, with the new sign of defiance – hands up in the air. Those cars passing by with the youth – it was a real people’s street theater, the street theater of the hood. And it inspired people; it was as much nourishment for the “soul” as the food they distributed was for the body.
During the Civil Rights movement days, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations’ main goal was to get the people off the streets. That was because the tear gas, fire hoses and police dogs didn’t look good to all the newly independent African nations, and elsewhere around the world, especially not with the Soviet Union hovering in the background. And it’s the same thing now, especially with all that’s happening in Gaza, Iraq, etc. So they came together – all the elements of official society – to put a stop to it.
On Monday morning the police announced that we could no longer gather in the QT lot and could not stand on the sidewalks. We had to keep moving. At the same time, some “respected” leader (nobody I talked to knew who he was) held a press conference (why did the press even pay attention?) in which he announced that he was going to herd the protests into a church that night, in order to keep things peaceful. (Since I never did find out his name, I’ll just call him the Respected Leader.)
Out of sight, out of mind.
The People Gather
But the people of Ferguson had a different idea. The crowd was very thin Monday morning, but by later in the afternoon it started to gather. All along, the mood was “enough is enough”. As one young man said, “This has been going on for years. Michael Brown’s murder is the last drop of water in the glass.” So just because the cops had tried to drive people off the street with tear gas, just because some “respected community leaders” wanted people people off the street… Well, the people had a different ideas, so here they came.
Up and down N. Florissant we wandered. Sometimes a small crowd would group themselves together and start chanting. “Hands up! Don’t shoot! One side of the street is all stores set well back to leave room for parking. From time to time, groups would gather there just to hang out. After awhile the cops would come by. “Folks, you’re going to have to keep walking. You can’t just stand there.” Off we would move, with much grumbling. “They just want to tire us out so we’ll go home,” several people said. And they were right, not just tire out our feet, but also our spirits.
Peace Without Justice?
Along with the respected leader from the morning press conference came a cohort of preachers. Their focus was on “peace”, but you know how the chant goes, “no justice…”
Dusk deepened and the crowd swelled further. Up and down the sidewalk we marched, but with the growing numbers and also just naturally, it started to overflow off the sidewalk. Continuing efforts by Mr. Respectable and the lieutenants of the ministers to provide order by getting us back onto the sidewalk. Then it happened: Mr. Respectable had promised he’d get us inside a church, but maybe due to his being from out of town possibly, he maybe didn’t know that there were no churches in that immediate area to lead us to, or maybe he just hadn’t been thinking that morning. For whatever reason, he had to make do with second best, which was a fenced-in parking lot behind a closed business – right at one end of N. Florissant where the cops were lined up and across the street from the press gathering point. As the sky darkened, the Respected Leader with one of the only bull horns the crowd had, led us back to this parking lot.
There was some resistance, and a few people – especially some youth – left just as soon as they entered, but most people stayed for awhile. There we were subjected to one speech after another about the need for a plan, the need to be smart, that “they wanted an excuse to arrest us, but we have to be smarter than that,” etc. They were right in the abstract, but remember what his promise had been that morning: To get us off the streets. (During the Civil Rights movement days, that was the entire goal of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.) He promoted himself as a national police brutality expert. To cover for his plan, he and others with him tried to sound militant by shouting “black power!” The youth in the crowd were clearly unhappy with this, but they had no clear alternative, no clear plan.
People were frustrated and started to drift away, first in ones and twos and then in a stream.
Rumor had it that they were going to chase us off the streets when night fell, but night had fallen and we were still there. I would have given a lot to hear what negotiations were going on behind the scenes between all the respected”community leaders”, top local law enforcement and politicians as well as a representative or two of the Obama administration – maybe from the (in)Justice Department. The overall agreement was clear, though: That what had happened Sunday night was not acceptable, especially with Corporate America trying to keep a lid on what was happening in Gaza, Iraq, etc. “Of course, we can’t let these young crazies out rioting,” they might be saying, “but it’s best to let the respected community and “faith community” leaders control things.”
And try they did. When they couldn’t keep us penned in, they tried to keep us on the sidewalk as we marched up and down. Without our central gathering spot of the QT lot and without the street theater of the hood of the car show, people were frustrated. So a different outlet was needed.
Back Onto the Street
Clearly, the cops had been told to cool it so with our growing numbers they couldn’t stop people from going out onto the street altogether. At one point, people surged out into the street en masse to confront this police line. Shouting and curses. The respected leaders did their best to get us back away from the line of cops, who stood there impassively. The fact that the cops didn’t use gas at that point showed that a new tactic was in place. As it was, under the urging of the respected leadership the crowd reluctantly drew back. Into this gap a few plastic water bottles started flying.
Again, the majority in the crowd seemed to see that there wasn’t much sense in just confronting the cops. We weren’t about to overthrow them or drive them off the street. But at the same time, what was the sense of just marching back and forth, up and down West Florissant?
“Move Back! Do Not Throw Objects!”
“Move back! Do not throw objects at the police,” came the booming voice of the cops’ loudspeaker. Then some sort of high-pitched, piercing sounding siren they use started going off. That was the warning or threat that tear gas was going to follow, and most people drew back even further, leaving a smaller band of youth confronting the cops. The respected leadership was able to get a march of the large majority going, back down the street. As the larger crowd marched off, the most militant youth started to follow. The moment was over… for the time being.
Up and down we marched. Except by now it tended to overflow even more into the streets. As does the union leadership in similar instances, a group of lieutenants did their best to herd us back onto the sidewalk (bear in mind there was absolutely zero traffic at this time). Meanwhile, in the parking lots on the side of the street little crowds would gather. The peace-keepers came by at one point to warn us that we would be arrested if we remained there, and at that point people all moved. Later in the evening, as a new crisis arose, the disobedience of gathering in these open parking lots was completely ignored by everybody – the crowd, the peace-keepers and the police.
Shots and CNN Lie
At one point we heard shots fired off at some distance. Sunday night, this was the excuse for the tear gas, even though the shots were after the tear gas. Monday night, some cop cars went racing off to wherever the shots sounded from, but there was no tear gas. (An interesting incident: I heard a CNN lie-caster speaking about those events on Sunday night. He was commenting about the shots and the tear gas. He clearly left the impression that it happened in that order if he didn’t directly say so, which maybe he did. In other words, the shots were what caused the cops to shoot off the tear gas. When he got off camera I asked him if he heard shots and if so from where. He said he definitely did and they came from “back there” – pointing in the exact opposite direction from the police line from which the tear gas had been fired. He then admitted to me that the shots were after the tear gas – the exact opposite of the impression he’d given on camera.)
Defending Turf vs. Respected Leader
Sometime later – maybe around 10:00 – a crowd of these youth gathered in the QT lot. They were carrying out the slogan I saw on one shirt: “Defend your turf.”
A police line formed at that end of the street. This included what looked like armored personnel carriers. (Although there was the announcement of the National Guard being called up I never saw them. Again, how would that look to the world, with the Obama administration making all that noise about different rulers – those not in the US camp – repressing their own people?) Some youth gathered on the QT lot – their turf. Then they uprooted a “Yield” street sign and dragged it out onto the street along with some traffic delineators and a few other things.
The police loudspeaker boomed: “Move off the lot. If you do not move off the lot and out of the street, you may be subject to arrest of other enforcement measures. Do not place objects in the street. Do not remove street signs. Do not throw objects at law enforcement. (Nothing was thrown at them, most definitely not any molotov cocktails, contrary to later police lies.) If you do not comply with police orders you may be subject to arrest or other enforcement measures.” Over and over, the police loudspeaker repeated this message. And still the youth held their ground. The Peace Keeper came rushing down the street. “Hold off,” he shouted at the cops through a bull horn. “Please… be quiet and let me do my job (!),” he repeated, nearly in a panic that the cops would make a move and he and his team would lose control. There they stood, trying to convince the youth to abandon their post. He and his team failed totally.
What did convince the youth, after maybe a half hour of this, was a barrage of smoke grenades (rather than tear gas this time). Down the street everybody fled. (I caught a fair few whiffs of this stuff and it’s no fun but nowhere as near as bad as actual tear gas. Again it showed the new strategy.)
In effect, there was a struggle waged between the respected leaders on the one side and the angry youth on the other for the vast majority in the middle. The respected leaders clearly had a goal and strategy: They want the struggle off the streets, as explicitly stated by the The Respected Leader that morning. The angry youth want to keep it on the streets, but where to go from there and for what goal? Everybody agrees that a common goal is to have Darren Wilson arrested and tried for murder. There was also a general consensus that the problem was way beyond Darren Wilson. What to do about that? A common call – one made by both the black chief of the state police as well as by some in the community – is for more black police. There was also talk about requiring that Ferguson’s police live in Ferguson. But in other parts of the country we have more black cops and women cops. Has that changed anything? Really, will where they live make a real difference?
Angry Youth vs. Moderates
Clearly, some real steps to solve all the problems lie not in gathering in a church or back where nobody can see in a parking lot and listening to some respected community leaders. Nor will the federal Department of (in)Justice solve the problem. They are part of the problem.
There are another group of respected leaders – the leaders of the unions. I met a few union members over the few days I was in Ferguson – members of the Painters Union, the United Auto Workers (UAW), the Postal Workers. But they were all there on their own. In fact, the UAW member told me that his leadership had told him “it’s not our problem.” Can you imagine that?
Just imagine if the union leaders called out their members, and there were hundreds of union members marching up and down West Florissant with their union banners. But those who control the unions are another wing of the respected leaders. They are completely tied in with the (Democratic) politicians and with the bosses on the job.
Another part of the problem is how Hollywood along with the education system and others have managed to squash the real traditions of the Civil Right Movement. It’s as if we almost have to start all over again.
Those who resisted the respected leaders had to win the hearts and the minds to a different goal and a different strategy, but what could that be? Many people have no problem with the idea of a “revolution”, but where to begin and where to go from there?
Of course Darren Wilson should be put on trial for murder. But will that solve the problem?
And as some said who I talked with, there are also the other problems – no decent jobs, an education system that is collapsing, etc. What other steps can and should the movement take?
Only having been there a few days, all I can do is ask: Would it make sense to organize to hold a public meeting – maybe at the QT lot – about police abuse? Of course, this would mean mobilizing to retake the lot, but people proved they can do that. And it would reverse the police offensive.
Is it possible to get some of the young people to go to work places where other community members work and together try to get an even larger crowd out to the QT lot every afternoon?
What we saw was that the only constant is change. From day to day, from hour to hour, in the heat of a battle things change quickly. We are also at a disadvantage since the media always lies and distorts. So we urge any people in Ferguson to contact us, let us know what is happening now and what they think has to be done.
Together, we can join the world revolution.
Three youth in Ferguson capture it all…
First I should say this: The most impressive thing about what is happening here is again the huge number of young people who are coming out and really taking the lead. Their leadership is in ways that old timers like me never would have thought of, and the main thing is in revving up and keeping the spirit going. People gather in the lot of the QT that was burned to the ground, but they also line the street. From time to time, a young person will march up and down the street leading chants. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” is the main one, but “No justice, no peace!” is also changed.
Then there are the carloads of young people slowly driving up and down the street blowing their horns,, hanging out the doors and windows, hands raised…
It all really looks like a new movement being born.
This afternoon there was a huge rally at a church a couple of miles away from the main gathering point for the protest. The big names spoke there – Al Sharpton, local Democrats, etc. The way it was set up, and given that the cops block off the main street where the protest is, even before it was over it was impossible to drive back to the protest and difficult to drive anywhere near it.
Could it be that that was the plan – to try to keep people off the street?
If it was, it didn’t work very well, because by nightfall the crowd was at least twice the size of Saturday night. Up and down the street we marched. Until suddenly the people at the front came running back. The cops had shot off tear gas. As far as I could see, this was totally unprovoked, as the mood was angry, yes, but also festive and there was absolutely no vandalism or anything like that.
There was massive confusion, but also order in the confusion.
I would like to write more and also post photos and video, but it’s late here and it’s been a long day. I will have a lot of photos and video up on a day or two, so to all of those I met in Ferguson: Please check back later.
This was my first day in Ferguson, MO. It seems that the entire town is involved. There were maybe 1000 or so people out in the streets, but almost every car that passed by was honking the horn, people hanging all out the cars with the new symbol – “hands up!” The other thing is that it is all generations – from six and ten year olds to teen agers to grand parents.
(Note: I took a lot of photos and video, but it seems to be painfully slow uploading it to this page. People who want to see some of the photos: I suggest you look at the Facebook page for Workers International Network.)
We have received the following message of solidarity with the people of Ferguson from Farooq Tariq, one of the leaders of the Awami Workers Party of Pakistan:
After unarmed, 18 year-old Michael Brown was gunned down by the Ferguson police, the town (just outside of St. Louis, Missouri) erupted. The government responded with even more repression, as these pictures show.
This is a new day, though, and the world is united as never before. As this story reports, people in Ferguson were getting tweets from people in Gaza. A new day is dawning.
The struggle of working class people is growing around the world. And right before out eyes, under our very noses, working class internationalism is starting to develop and a mass, working class international is struggling to be born.
*Note: Oakland Socialist and the Workers International Network urges workers and youth to send messages of solidarity to the people of Ferguson. We will help ensure that any sent to us will be received in Ferguson.
What’s happening? The world has watched in horror as Israel has continued to bombard and devastate Gaza. Millions around the globe have come out in support of the Palestinian people and against the Zionist regime, holding massive marches, demonstrations, and actions. Palestinian General Federation Trade Union (PGFTU), have called on workers around the world to refuse to handle Israel goods. Palestinians throughout Gaza, the West Bank and 1948 Palestine have demonstrated their unity in the struggle against Apartheid Israel and have taken to the streets in the tens of thousands, bravely facing Israeli military armed with US made weapons to call on the international community to stand with them as they resist Zionism throughout all of historic Palestine.
Picket the Port of Oakland!
Ask the longshoreman to stand with the people of Palestine as they have done in the past!
No business as usual for Israel in Oakland and everywhere!
Every Saturday, the Israeli owned Zim shipping line docks and unloads its cargo at the Port of Oakland. Let this action be the beginning of a sustained campaign to stop the Israeli ship from ever unloading in our town. From Seattle to Oakland to Los Angeles – turn the Israeli ship around! Join us in ensuring that Zim ships are not welcome anywhere.
Not in Palestine!
Not in the Bay Area! Not Anywhere! Stand against apartheid and racism everywhere!
Meet 5:00 a.m. at West Oakland BART and march to the Port of Oakland
From Oakland to Ferguson, Missouri, to Gaza:
The fight against racism is global!
AROC: Arab Resource & Organizing Center
Arab Youth Organizing (AYO)
Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA)
US Palestinian Community Network
Palestinian Youth Movement
American Muslims for Palestine
General Union of Palestine Students – SFSU
Students for Justice in Palestine – Cal
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
International Jewish Anti Zionist Network
Queers Undermining Israeli Terror
Haiti Action Committee
Jewish Voice for Peace
Global Women’s Strike
International Action Center
Workers World Party
American Friends Service Committee
International Socialist Organization
NorCal Friends of Sabeel
Friends of Deir Ibzi’a
Totally Radical Muslims
ONYX Organizing Committee
Justice for Palestinians
On the day after the Obama administration started bombing the Islamic State (IS – formerly ISIS) in northern Iraq, the Wall St. Journal wrote an editorial on how to defeat them. Among other things, they wrote, “If Mr. Obama finally armed a serious non-Islamist opposition (to Assad) in Syria, he could put pressure on ISIS there too.”
Yes, but the problem is that he has to find such an opposition first.
And that, exactly, defines the crisis that US capitalism is entering. As a US diplomat said in relation to the 2011 crisis in Egypt “We can’t dictate events, we can’t prescribe what’s going to happen.” That should be the motto for US capitalism world wide, and it certainly is true for its role in West Asia/North Africa.
First, they had to accept Nouri al-Maliki as Prime minister of Iraq, despite Maliki’s long time history as a politician who based himself on Shi’ite politics. It should have come as no surprise that al-Maliki suppressed the Sunni minority there, causing a vast divide in the country and opening a space for Sunni communalism.
This opened the way for IS (at that time calling itself ISIS) to win a base of support and enter western Iraq. (See this article for background.) Now they are advancing further. They’ve captured the area around the Mosul Dam, which is a huge problem for several reasons. One is that the dam controls the water supply for much of southern Iraq. Another is that the dam has inherent structural weaknesses that require daily injections of grout into its base or else it will ultimately collapse, sending a sixty foot wall of water down onto Mosul. It is unclear whether this maintenance is going on since IS has seized control.
US capitalism is now arming the Kurdish nationalists to resist IS, but in doing so they are weakening the central government and possibly antagonizing them. They would like to oust Maliki, and as of this date it looks like that might happen. Their problem is that Maliki spent long years fighting Saddam Hussein, traveling from Iran to Syria and back again. He endured much hardship and is no weakling. He is not giving up power easily, and if a struggle develops between him and al Abadi, the chose successor to Maliki, this will strengthen IS.
Everybody admits that air strikes alone will not defeat IS, and already US “advisors” have been sent to Iraq. A major reintroduction of ground troops doesn’t seem likely, though.
As for the other crisis in the region – Israel’s attack on Gaza – it seems this will give them an even freer hand. After all, this new crisis in Iraq has underlined the fact that the only regime in the region that US capitalism can count on is Israel.
This is a 45 minute video but it’s well worth listening to. Finkelstein shoots down one argument after another of the defenders of Israel. If you know anybody who is confused about the issue, get them to watch this. (NOTE: For some reason, the embed does not work with this; it shows a news short about the death of Robin Williams, so you will have to click on the link to watch it.)
Kshama Sawant was on the radio the other evening arguing for her position on Israel/Palestine and the massacre in Gaza. Unfortunately, she allowed herself to be put on the defensive for most of the discussion, and her performance offers some valuable lessons for those who get into debates on the issue. Time and again, her interviewer raised the issue of Hamas – they are terrorists, they want to exterminate the Jews, they have been putting Israel under a “siege of rocket attacks.” Time and again, this was not answered adequately.
What is the answer to these arguments?
“Israel’s bombing of schools and hospitals is due to Hamas storing rockets right nearby,” was the interviewer’s first argument. Here is how we think she should have responded and how a subsequent debate might have gone:
ANSWER: “No, let’s get this straight,” should have been the answer. “Just one incident shows what the real intent is: That is the shelling of six little boys playing soccer on the beach in Gaza. The pictures show without a doubt that the Israeli soldiers were targeting those little boys, that they were after them, trying to kill them.”
“Israel is investigating that incident.”
ANSWER: “Investigating? What do you mean ‘investigating’? They are completely covering it up and haven’t said a word since nor will they say a word. In fact, that targeting of those little boys is completely in line with what is being said by prominent Israelis. The Chief Rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba called on the Israelis “to exterminate the enemy”, and bear in mind that “the enemy” is all “Arabs”. In fact, there have been marches after marches in Israel under the slogan “kill the Arabs.”
And it is a condemnation of the US corporate media that they completely fail to cover this sort of thing. Remember Sadam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’? Remember how the corporate politicians and the corporate media had the American public convinced of that? It’s the same thing now.
“Earlier this year, the Times of Israel actually published an article entitled ‘When Genocide is Permissible’. And Ayelet Shaked, the whip in the Knesset (parliament) for the Jewish Home Party, which is part of the ruling coalition, recently advocated for the killing of ‘the entire Palestinian people… including its elderly and its women… otherwise, more little snakes will be raised.’ And there was no outcry against that.”
“Well, every country has its extremists. You can’t blame all of Israel for the comments of just a few people.”
A: “Can you imagine what would be the reaction here if any elected official called for the extermination of an entire people and called their children ‘little snakes’? No, they are not just isolated extremists. Consider the funeral last October for Ovadia Yosef, the former Chief Rabbi for all of Israel. 800,000 people turned out to mourn his passing. 800,000! This was to honor the same individual who had said that Palestinians ‘should perish from the world’ and that ‘it is forbidden to be merciful to them.’ (You want to talk about fatwah’s, by the way. That was a fatwah.)”
“Okay, granted, there may be a lot of prejudice in Israel, but that’s because of what Hamas and other terrorist groups are doing. Do you deny that Hamas is a terrorist group? Doesn’t your position really mean defending that terrorist group?”
ANSWER: “Defending Hamas? You want to talk about defending Hamas? I never supported the pro-capitalist Hamas, which is more than can be said for the State of Israel. Just like the US helped finance and support al Qaeda in its early years, Israel supported and helped finance Hamas… But let’s go further. You want to talk about terrorism? What is it when you never know, from one moment to the next whether you will be snatched up by the Israeli military, beaten, abused, thrown in prison for months on end without any formal charges brought against you? Now, Palestinian people are at risk just walking down the street in many places under the threat of gangs of Israeli thugs.
“You want to talk about Hamas? How about the rise of the openly fascist gangs of youth in Israel? Gangs that use the same slogan that the neo-fascist gangs use in Europe – ‘good night, left sector.’ And this isn’t some idle slogan. They are assaulting not only Palestinians, but also Israeli leftists, peace marches, etc. And all without any police response. How about them?”
“Well, if it weren’t for the history of terrorism by Hamas and Fatah before them, this sort of thing wouldn’t have developed.”
ANSWER: “Oh, really? And what do Africans have to do with this, then? Do you know that there is a whole group of African asylum seekers in Israel and that 32% of Israelis support physical assaults on them and 80% support locking them up in concentration camps (their term)?”
“Sure, war is ugly, and it can bring out the worst in us, but you are still defending Hamas and their rocket attacks. You always try to get away from that. Israel has a right to defend itself. You cannot deny them that right.”
ANSWER: You talk about Israel having a right to defend itself; Israel is the aggressor. How about the Palestinians – do they have a right to defend themselves? How about that?
“Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist living in the occupied territories, explained the situation. Writing in the Israeil daily Ha’aretz, she explained: ‘Those who rejected Fatah and Yasser Arafat’s peace proposal for two states have now been given Haniyeh, Hamas and BDS (boycott, divest, sanction). Those who turned Gaza into an internment and punishment camp for 1.8 million human beings should not be surprised that they tunnel underneath the earth. Those who sow strangling, siege and isolation reap rocket fire. Those who have, for 47 years, indiscriminately crossed the Green Line (into the West Bank), expropriating land and constantly harming civilians in raids, shootings and settlements – what right do they have to roll their eyes and speak of Palestinian terror against civilians?’
“And let’s look at how this present massacre (it’s hardly a war) developed: In 2012, Israel agreed to lessen the siege in exchange for Hamas ending its rocket fire. While Hamas did try to stop the rockets (and bear in mind, they aren’t in total control in Gaza; there are other groups there), Israel tightened the siege even more. They use live ammunition against Gaza fishermen who venture out just a few hundred yards beyond their own coast line, for instance. Then, on April 30, Israel assassinated a top Hamas leader in Gaza, even while the rocket firings continued to decrease. On June 11, a seven year old Palestinian boy was killed by Israel. This was followed by the kidnapping and murder of the three settler teenagers. And we should note that while Hamas was widely blamed for it, all the evidence is that they were not responsible, that it was some small, independent group.
“What happened next? First some 200 or more Hamas members in the West Bank were imprisoned. Then, coming from one of the marches which demanded “death to Arabs” a group of settler thugs kidnapped a Paletinian teen, forced gasoline down his throat and burned him alive from the inside. Can you imagine that? Sure, murder is wrong, and it was wrong to shoot those settler teens. But it’s one thing to shoot somebody and it’s something entirely different to burn them alive from the inside out. Can you imagine the sadistic sickness of those people who did that? And what was the response? Was there a general revulsion, a questioning inside Israeli society that they could produce such monsters? No, the first response was for the authorities to try to cover it up, then there was a little bit of tut-tutting, and then it was forgotten, while a ‘charitable’ tax deductible non-profit defends these accused monsters.”
“Well, sure, things are pretty ugly over there. But the Jews and the Arabs have been fighting for hundreds of years. It’s almost like it’s in their DNA, and the Jews need their own homeland. That’s what the Palestinians have to accept.”
“In the first place, it’s completely untrue that they’ve been fighting for hundreds of years. In fact, before Britain went in there as a colonial power 100 years ago, the Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine lived together in relative peace and harmony. But as a colonial power, the British knew that they needed to find a base of support in Palestine, so they supported the then-tiny Zionist movement to bring Jews over there from Europe to form, as they called it, their ‘loyal little Jewish Ulster.’ Zionism was a reactionary movement from its inception that always depended on a larger, colonial power and never would have gotten any significant support from Europe’s Jews had it not been for the crisis of capitalism (Hitler) as well as the crimes of Stalinism. Isreal, itself, was founded on terrorism. Don’t forget the town of Dir Yassin, where in the war of 1948 Israeli forces went in and killed every Palestinian man, woman and child they could find and then bragged about it to help terrorize the rest of the Palestinian population and drive them out.
“And what has changed today? Do you know about the tweets from young Israelis supporting the killing of Palestinian children? Do you know about the Israeli sniper who has openly bragged about how many children in Gaza he’s killed? It’s that entire history which is why Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, has labeled Israel a terrorist state.
“I want to get back to my earlier point: You talk about Israel’s right to defend itself. I want an answer: Do the Palestinian have a right to defend themselves? Do they?”
The way you’re talking, there will be nothing but war and death forever. You have no answer, no solution.
ANSWER: “I notice that you avoid my question, but never mind. What I’m talking is fact, actual real-live events. You and the supporters of the terrorist state of Israel have no solution. The solution lies in what was started with the Arab Spring – a mass movement of workers and youth to overthrow all the rotten dictators and their capitalist class throughout the region. On that basis, the barriers between Palestinian and Israeli workers can be overcome, but only on that basis. In other words, a socialist federation of North Africa and Western Asia.”
Socialism failed. It failed in the Soviet Union and China is turning its back on it too. You are living in the past.
ANSWER: “Socialism failed? I haven’t noticed that capitalism is such a roaring success! It’s certainly not in that region nor is it even here in the US, where the majority of people think the country is headed in the wrong direction and a plurality of young adults think positively about socialism – more than do about capitalism. What is happening in Israel/Palestine – and what is happening in Iraq too, for that matter – that shows what capitalism has in store for us in the rest of the world.”
That is the sort of response we wish Kshama Sawant had taken. Instead, she based herself on what would bring Israel “peace and security.” One could pick out a few comments here and there where she more clearly condemned Israel, but overall she allowed herself to be put on the defensive. Can it be that she was simply uninformed, or that she was overconfident and didn’t prepare properly? Or is it that she didn’t want to alienate liberal Democratic city council member Nick Licata with whom she seems to be working closely?
Whatever the reason, we all make mistakes and we hope that she and Socialist Alternative have learned from this one and will take a more bold, aggressive approach in the future. Her introduction of the letter criticizing Israel in the Seattle city council has opened up an opportunity to more fully expose Israel and Zionism, but not if she allows herself to remain on the defensive.
A while back we had a confrontation with Barbara Lee about her support for funding for Israel’s military. Since then, we wrote to her criticizing her for her vote for additional funding. Here is her reply:
Thank you for contacting me to express your concern regarding the escalating crisis.. I appreciate your input on this matter.
Last week, I cast a vote in support of Iron Dome, which is a defensive anti-rocket missile system that saves civilian lives.
I would not have supported funding for offensive military weapons in the midst of this horrific crisis. I continue to mourn the tragic loss of innocent lives in Gaza and Israel.
I have called and will continue to call for a sustained ceasefire to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis, end the blockade of Gaza and stop the loss of civilian lives.
All parties need to get back to negotiations that can lead us to a two state solution.
You may also be interested in an earlier statement on the topic: http://lee.house.gov/newsroom/press-releases/congresswoman-lee-expresses-concern-over-escalating-crisis-in-the-middle
As a longtime advocate for global peace and security and international cooperation, I will continue to work towards policies that reduce conflict, end war and address the root causes of violence.
Thank you again for contacting me. Please visit my website http://www.lee.house.gov where you can also sign up for my electronic newsletter, and receive periodic updates on my activities as your Representative in Washington.
Barbara Lee Member of Congress CA-13
What disgusting hypocrisy. Even a blind person could see that any money Israel gets for “Iron Dome” will be used by them to add their money to offense. And anyway, if that is really Lee’s main concern, then why doesn’t she call for an equal amount to be donated to the people of Gaza for them to defend themselves from Israel?
Some in the US claim that the influence of the Israel lobby is the reason that the US supports Israel so strongly. It is true that this lobby is extremely powerful and can and has determined the outcome of particular elections. However, that is only within the limits of what the US capitalist class wants. The comment from Henry Kissinger that “oil is much too important a commodity to be left in the hands of the Arabs” is the real reason, and if Corporate America wanted to counter the Israel lobby it could easily do so by swinging public opinion through their control over the media.
This is what they did with apartheid South Africa. When the struggle against apartheid threatened to overturn capitalism itself, the US capitalist class decided that South Africa must reform. Their media here in the US regularly published reports about the brutality of the South African regime and the movement against it. They helped build support for the movement in South Africa.
It’s clear that the major wings of the US capitalist class would like to see an “independent” Palestinian state – the two state “solution.” That this would be as much of a solution as the reforms in South Africa, where poverty is just as great or greater now as it was under apartheid – that is beside the point. Such a state would be under the economic, political and military domination of Israel, but it would mean greater stability in the entire region.
Now, it appears that the US media is starting to play a similar role with Israel. Whereas never before did it report on the continuing land and water theft, the brutality in the West Bank, etc., now it is starting to highlight some of what Israel is doing in its attacks on Gaza. It has actually gotten to the point that Israel is starting to worry. And this seems to be having an effect on public opinion here. That, in turn, will make it easier for some US politicians to start to criticize Israel.
They know that this is a risky business, which is why the main reporting still favors Israel. (That reached comic proportions when Nika Brzezenski interviewed the Israeli ambassador to the US on the MSNBC morning show called “The Morning Joe.” After the interview, she committed the Freudian slip of referring to the show as “The Morning Jew.” Watch it here.) The danger is that once the door to what the Israeli regime is doing starts to open just a crack, all kinds of other information can start to get out. Another question is after all these years of portraying Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East” and putting forward the need for Jewish people to have their own homeland because of the holocaust, can the American public be swayed so easily? That should not be too great of a problem; that public has proven itself to be fairly easily manipulated so far.
More difficult is whether Israel can be reformed. It would stand to reason that some major capitalists in Israel would oppose the current policies. If relations could be normalized with the surrounding states, then major profits could be made through investment and trade. However, as others have pointed out, the military industrial complex is extremely powerful in Israel, maybe even more so than in the US, and they profit mightily by these periodic attacks on Gaza. They use these attacks as a means of selling their latest weaponry, which they can point out have actually been battle tested. Well, not really battle tested, but tested on real live human beings anyway.
The other issue is the political situation within Israel: With the influence of the settlers, the prevalence of open and unashamed outright racism, the rise of even neo-fascist groups — is it politically possible for Israel to reform? Don’t forget, the comparison that many make between Israel and South Africa is wrong in one important way: The South African white working class was only a small minority whereas the Jewish working class in Israel is the majority.
This leaves completely aside the question of what reform could accomplish. In South Africa poverty is just as great or even greater than it was under apartheid. In Israel/Palestine reform means a separate Palestinian state. But such a state would never be truly independent; it would perpetually be under the economic, political and military domination of Israel, as long as capitalism rules. That is a different issue, though.
All of this makes the development of a wider working class movement in the region and throughout the world all the more important.
It is hard to see how Israel’s attacks on Gaza will not escalate.
On the one side, it does not seem that Hamas can back down from its demand that the blockade must end. If it did back down from that, it would likely lose a lot of support. On the other hand, if Netanyahu were to agree to end the blockade, this would appear to be a massive retreat for him, and it would come at a time when we are hearing repeated reports of mounting racism, of a rising far right movement within Israel. This includes calls for “death to Arabs”, celebration of the burning of alive of a Palestinian teenager, and assaults on both Palestinians and leftists in the streets of Israel. And none of this is condemned by the prominent public figures in Israel – prominent politicians, rabbis, etc. This means that the far right pressures on Netanyahu are increasing.
Given this, is a further ground assault on Gaza not possible?
But that would resolve nothing. And already we have heard talk of a return to permanent military occupation of Gaza along certain “corridors”. But even a “limited” reoccupation would have to spread as the Israeli occupying troops would inevitably come under attack.
From the outside, we get the impression that the war on Gaza has strengthened the racist far right in Israel. If that’s true, then would an occupation give them even more strength? Is it possible that some of them would try to rebuild settlements in Gaza, and if so how could these not come under attack? If they did, then it is almost certain that the Israeli military would respond with their typical brutality.
It is hard to see how this would not set off even more turmoil within not only both Israel and the West Bank, but also the region as a whole. In Egypt, for instance, the military regime has more or less allied itself with the Israeli regime. Would such developments possibly lead to renewed support for the Muslim Brotherhood and renewed turmoil in the country? As for Turkey, the Erdogan government has tried to ally itself with Israel, but every time it tries, some new event like the present war gets in the way. It seems that both the Turkish and the Iranian regimes would see an opening to try to increase their regional roles.
In other words, it seems this assault on Gaza could spread and really become a crisis for the entire region.
Of course, it already is a crisis for the people of Gaza themselves, but who cares about them? All the rulers of the region (and beyond, certainly including Obama) have proven they don’t.
Barbara Lee presents herself as a “renegade for peace and justice”, and claims to support the rights of the Palestinian people. Despite this, she writes on her own web site, “The Congresswoman is committed to maintaining the long-standing friendship between the U.S. and Israel.” She made that clear when she voted for Obama’s request for an additional $200 million in US military aid to Israel several years ago. (This was one of the few times when US aid to Israel was voted on separately.) Nor has she ever called for an end to all US support for Israel.
On Saturday, July 26, Lee held a fundraiser in Alameda, CA and a group of pickets came out to protest her support for military aid for Israel. Since many of her constituents oppose Israel’s policies, Lee had to come out and present her case to the protesters. Here is a video of that. Note that, like a typical liberal, she totally avoided the main issue: US military aid to Israel.
Update: Since this confrontation with Lee, she has voted for additional funding for the Israeli military in a special measure that all but four Congress members voted for. This shows the true, murderous nature of all these liberals.
52% Israeli Jews agree that African refugees in Israel are “a cancer”; 32% support physical assaults on Africans and African businesses. Politicians openly advocate “concentration camps” for and “gassing” of African asylum seekers. And our government supports this regime.
A one hour video, but definitely worth watching.
This evening, “my” state assemblymember, Rob Bonta – a good liberal Democrat – held a fraudulent town hall meeting in Oakland. After giving a nice speech about what wonderful things he is doing in Sacramento, he started to accept written questions. This was just a nice photo opportunity for him and a chance for some people to figure out how to feather their own nests — all while the rich are getting richer and everybody else poorer, the world is being destroyed, and the bombs are being rained down on the people of Gaza. So at that point, just as he started to read the written questions, I disrupted the meeting.
When the process is criminal, only accomplices remain silent.
On Sunday, July 20 in San Francisco, some 4-6,000 people protested Israeli atrocities in Gaza. Here is a short video of that protest.
Well worth watching.
It seems to be a world turned upside down and inside out.
A little boy with half his head blown off, a half dozen boys shelled by an Israeli naval ship while they are playing soccer on a beach in Gaza,
people nearly burned alive and others with limbs blown off, hundreds of homes destroyed and some 200 killed many more wounded, the criminal use of white phosphorous…. and the Israeli politicians claiming “Israel has acted with restraint.”
Year after year of an Israeli-imposed siege on Gaza, which includes preventing building materials from entering, sharp restrictions even on water supplies, sharply restricting Gaza fisherman from fishing in their own waters. And in the West Bank, theft after theft of Palestinians’ homes and lands and assault after assault on Palestinians (including on children) by the Israel’s settler thugs.
Checkpoint atrocities and humiliations without end…. And US President Obama talks about Israel’s “right to defend itself.”
The racist state of Israel has been carrying out creeping ethnic cleansing in the West Bank for years. Since siege is an act of war, it has been carrying out a war against the people of Gaza for years. Yet it is the “victim”.
Hamas is blamed for the rockets that have struck Israel, but Israel’s violating the cease-fire agreement of 2012 is ignored. They have continued the siege of Gaza as well as continued the attacks on Gazan farmers near the Israeli border and fishermen off the Gaza coast. Hamas is blamed for not accepting the Egypt government proposed truce, that Hamas is saying that they want a truce that includes some real steps towards resolving the issues, including ending the siege. According to this narrative, Israel is completely the “good guy”.
The corporate-controlled media in the US helps this image along. The Wall St. Journal for instance, carried a report on events in Gaza/Israel on 7/16. The article concluded with the “heart rending” story of Ana Friedman, resident of Ashdod (in Israel) who returned from a rocket attack to find the floor of her home littered with shards of glass. “I started to cry,” she said. “It was sad and depressing.”
How is this woman’s story in any way even comparable to what has been happening to the people of Gaza over the last years, never mind at present? How does it even begin to compare to what happened to those boys who were shelled by the Israeli gun boat (an event that the US media has ignored, which is to say covered up)?
And so, the US “public” continues on its way, in general swallowing the distortions, lies and half truths that the corporate media pumps out regarding Israel. (This is especially ironic since polls indicate that only about 20% of the US population has confidence in this same media.)
Not Isolated Development
Many of those on both sides of this war against the Palestinian people tend to see this conflict in isolation: Either it is simply a matter of Hamas “terrorism” or one of Zionist racism and expansionism. This is mistaken; this war against the Palestinian people can only be understood – and therefore only be successfully opposed – if it is seen in its context, both regionally as well as historically.
The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has its origins in Yassir Arafat’s PLO. Originally, the PLO had a “military” strategy similar to that of Hamas today. But this “military” strategy – a campaign of bombings, etc. – had no more chance of succeeding than did a similar strategy of the IRA in Northern Ireland or of the African National Congress (ANC) during the apartheid regime in South Africa. Fatah had to adopt this strategy because, financed as it was by the reactionary regimes of the region, it could never build a real workers’ movement. Behind this strategy lay the acceptance of capitalism, and once it got into power, it moved further and further towards accommodating itself to Israeli (and US) capitalism. The US government, for instance, basically finances the West Bank Palestinian police (to the tune of nearly $400 million and counting) and provides “training” and “advisors”.
Packed into the world’s largest open air prison and under the constant Israeli siege, the people of Gaza finally turned to Hamas to find a way forward. But who is Hamas? Founded in the second half of the 20th century, it was linked with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which itself was and is controlled by a layer of the Egyptian capitalist class. The move towards political/nationalist Islam received a boost after Israel’s smashing victory in the 1967 war with Egypt, in which the weakness of the secular Egyptian regime was revealed.
But the origins of Hamas have another side: “According to U.S. administration officials, funds for the movement came from the oil-producing states and directly and indirectly from Israel. The PLO was secular and leftist and promoted Palestinian nationalism. Hamas wanted to set up a transnational state under the rule of Islam, much like Khomeini’s Iran…. Israel was certainly funding the group at that time.”
Since Hamas has come into power in Gaza, it seems to be undergoing a transformation similar to what the PLO underwent. In 2012 it signed a ceasefire accord with the Israeli regime. Although the Israeli regime never fully implemented their commitments – especially the lifting of the siege, as well as stopping its attacks on farmers near the border and on Gaza fishermen – Hamas did try to implement its commitments, especially trying to stop many of the rocket attacks. But as a capitalist-based group, it had no alternative to the “military” strategy that appeared serious or militant. Therefore, to the degree that it stopped the rocket attacks on Israel, to that same degree it started to lose the support of the most determined and angry of the Gazan youth.
Salafis Rise in the Region
Meanwhile, events were unfolding in the region and around the world. In particular, this means the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism/nationalism in the form of al Qaeda and related groups. And just as Israel supported and helped finance Hamas originally, so did US capitalism with al Qaeda, especially as it was seen as a tool to combat the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. And while Hamas’s roots lie in its links with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, this “new” Islamic fundamentalism/nationalism has its roots in what is called “Salafi-ism”. This school of thought preaches that the Koran must be taken literally, that Islamic society must return to the ways of the original founders of the religion, which includes a return to a strict interpretation of Islamic law (sharia). This includes cultural repression and extreme repression of half of the population (women) as well as all non-Muslims. Since the Salafis have their origin in the Sunni wing of Islam, it also means attacks on and repression of the Shia wing.
As we shall see, this development has directly affected events in Israel/Palestine.
The Salafis developed as a military force, especially in the next door neighbor to Israel – Syria. There, what was originally a revolt from below was transformed into a war by proxy between US and Western European capitalism (and their allies in the region) on one side vs. Russian and Iranian capitalism on the other (with the masses of Syrians caught and hammered in-between). Their military successes in Syria led to their military assault on western and northern Iraq. (See this article, for instance.)
“Success Breeds Success”
But as they say, “success breeds success”, and the military advances of this wing, especially as represented by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which now calls itself simply “The Islamic State” (IS), started to attract a few youth in Gaza. This tendency was strengthened by the attempts of Hamas to stop or at least limit the rocket attacks (weak as they were) on Israel. There are several reports of such groups now starting to get a base inside Gaza, although Hamas denies this. (See, for instance this article.) One report includes a video allegedly shot inside Gaza.
Also significant is the report of the death of Wadih Nafedh Wash, a Gazan young man, who was killed in Syria while fighting as a member of ISIS. According to this same report, the youth’s father ‘said that his son traveled to Syria because he was being pursued by security agents in the Gaza government for launching rockets at Israel. “Hamas’ Internal Security Agency arrested my son more than six times. The last time, he was severely tortured in prison and required physical treatment that lasted two months,” he said.”’ In other words, Wadih had turned to ISIS because Hamas is turning away from the only approach that seemed to be serious enough – the “military” strategy.
Nor should we forget the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli youth in the West Bank and the subsequent kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian youth there, who was burned alive by Israeli fascists. Hamas was widely blamed for the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli youths, but they have denied responsibility. In fact, according to numerous reports a Salafi, and probably ISIS-linked group called “Dawlat al-Islam” (translation: “Liberators’ Battalion of Hebron”) has claimed credit. (It should also be noted that according to noted Israeli commentator Uri Avnery, this was a kidnapping gone awry – that the original intent was to hold them hostage in exchange for some Palestinian prisoners but that after one of the youths was able to make a cell phone call they were all killed.)
History Repeating Itself; “Military” Strategy a Failure
So we have the story repeating itself – from the PLO to Hamas and now to ISIS. Nationalist, but pro-capitalist – groups who can only appeal to the youth through terrorism. (We emphasize that the State of Israel remains the greatest terrorists in the region, but that is a different matter.) This so-called strategy will never succeed. The racist state of Israel will never be overthrown by military means. It will never be forced to give up power and control over Gaza, the West Bank or the Golan Heights (in Syria) by these means. It would create a nuclear holocaust first, so that even if it were possible (which it is not), what would be left but a smoking nuclear ruins?
And if groups like IS were able to take power, what sort of regime would they institute? Harsh repression of women, slaughter of those with religious differences (Shia’s, etc.), and complete repression of workers’ rights. (If IS seizes control of the oil refineries in Iraq, look for complete suppression of the oil workers’ unions, which historically have been the strongest sector of the Iraqi labor movement.)
Alternative to “Military” Strategy
There is another alternative to this “military” strategy. That is a class-based and truly revolutionary strategy. A hint of the potential was seen in the uprising in Syria, before that uprising was overwhelmed by the civil war. There, in the town of Taftanaz, the movement set up the beginnings of what could be called workers’ councils, a way of workers, themselves running society, as reported here. This was a movement not only against a repressive regime, it was a movement of the working class and the poor against the wealthy. Unfortunately, when this movement came under military attack, there was apparently no strategy for winning over the rank and file soldiers through a class appeal and no strategy for how to build upon and spread these workers’ councils. The result was that ex-officers from Assad’s military took control over the movement, and from there the al-Qaeda linked groups intervened.
It is a similar story in Egypt. There out of the mass occupations of the central square in Cairo and other major cities, occupation committees were formed. These committees, which could have developed into committees similar to what developed in Taftanaz, were consciously kept non-political. The result was that ultimately the Muslim Brotherhood came to power and following them Egyptian military – what seems to be Mubarakism without Mubarak.
Since then, Iraq seems to be falling into a bitter sectarian conflict between the Shia and the Sunni.
Weakened Workers’ Movement
All of this reflects the global weakening of the workers’ movement – a weakening which has left a huge vacuum into with sectarianism and reaction has stepped. It is reflected in India, where the Hindu nationalist BJP has come to power. It is reflected even in Greece where, for all the militancy of the Greek working class, there is also the rise of Greek fascism in the form of Golden Dawn. And it is most certainly reflected in Israel, where fascists and fascist types not only attack Palestinians, they also attack Israeli lefts and peace protesters.
All is not lost, however. Far from it, as the workers’ movements in Egypt, Syria and Iraq showed just recently. A campaign of youth and workers in Gaza and the West Bank that linked the national question with the economic ones would get a response even today in Egypt and elsewhere in the region. (It was not long ago that the powerful working class in Mahallah, Egypt, was even declaring its independence from the local province!) In fact, the potential for it to get a response in the Israeli working class is shown in this report: “Israel is one of the most unequal societies in the world. Between 1995 and 2011, labor’s share of national income fell more sharply there than in the US. Over the past two decades, Israeli wages have plummeted. The country has 18 billionaires, substantially more per capita (in a population of 7.9 million) than in the US. While poverty has grown, the richest 500 Israelis have tripled their wealth over the past 12 years.”
Israeli Working Class Hopelessly Racist?
It might seem that despite this, the Israeli working class is hopelessly racist, but we should recall the situation with the white working class in the US’s South. There, lynching of black people was common 100 years ago. At the same time, however, the radical Industrial Workers of the World succeeded in building integrated unions based on class interests and in one instance white workers put their lives on the line to protect a black union organizer. There must be Israeli workers who would be receptive to a similar approach. That they are hidden now simply reflects the fact that the workers’ movement in general is in retreat, but the potential is there, as it most certainly is elsewhere in the region.
Israel/Palestine a Warning
Far from being an isolated situation, the racism of the State of Israel, the rise of outright fascist groups there, the one-sided war against an entire population (Gaza), the creeping ethnic cleansing in the West Bank — all of this is a warning of the direction of capitalism in general. And far from a local or nationalist solution, the solution lies in a class-based revolutionary approach.
One final note is this: The world’s working class has a direct stake in this outcome as it will influence regional and as a result world events. Here in the US, the union leaders continue to cling to the employers and to one of the employers’ political parties – the Democrats. As a result, they support US foreign policy, including US support for the State of Israel. They do this to the same extent as they support domestic policy, meaning granting continual cuts in US workers’ standard of living. Socialists and serious unionists must oppose both aspects of this approach of the union leaders – no cuts at home, no support for Corporate America’s policies abroad, including no support for the State of Israel.
“Ali Khedery is chairman and chief executive of the Dubai-based Dragoman Partners. From 2003 to 2009, he was the longest continuously serving American official in Iraq, acting as a special assistant to five U.S. ambassadors and as a senior adviser to three heads of U.S. Central Command. In 2011, as an executive with Exxon Mobil, he negotiated the company’s entry into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.”
This is how the Washington Post describes Khedery, and why his article in that newspaper is important. It’s called Why we stuck with Maliki — and lost Iraq. In it, Khedery clearly describes the exact steps the Bush and then the Obama administrations took to keep their control over the Iraqi regime. It gives a much clearer picture to exactly how a major capitalist power such as the US controls a foreign government.
But it also gives a clear picture of something else: The weakening of US capitalism on a world scale.
In his article, Khedery describes how the Iranian regime intervened and how US capitalism was unable to stop them. Among other things, Khedery explicitly refers to the economic crisis in the US as being one factor.
The entire article is geared to prove that the sectarian dissolution of the Iraqi state was avoidable… had the Obama administration only listened to his advice. But then, he unintentionally disproves exactly that claim. He refers to “countries across the Middle East fracture(ing) along ethno-sectarian lines”. What makes him think that Iraq could be any different as long as one capitalist clique or another is in office?
The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli settler teens was criminal in every sense of the word – on both “moral” (whatever that means) as well as political grounds. It strengthens official Israeli racism. But the murder of Palestinian Abu Khdeir by Israeli settler racists is even worse; it flows naturally from a society which has racism built into its very core.
Abu Khdeir was burned alive.
In the protests that followed this heinous act, Abu’s cousin, Tariq Khdeir was viciously assaulted by Israeli police. Below is a video of this assault.
The Israeli regime claimed that this video was “doctored” but they cannot explain the condition of Khdeir’s face upon his release:
Now, six Israelis have been arrested for the murder of Abu Khdeir. Inevitably, it will be claimed that they acted alone. However, they are being defended by a shadowy (tax exempt) Israeli non-profit group called Honeinu. This group focuses on defending Israelis accused to attacking Palestinians. It is most likely in the days to come that the accused will be shown to be linked to right win settler groups and wings of the Jewish hierarchy if not to members of the Israeli Knesset (parliament).
Completely aside from this, the entire atmosphere in Israel serves to encourage this type of atrocity. For one thing, there is the issue of Israeli settler violence against Palestinians. Settler groups regularly assault Palestinians, burn their olive trees, etc. The Israeli regime encourages this by turning a blind eye.
In the days following the disappearance of the three Israeli teen agers, the general level of racism was brought to a fever pitch, not only by the statements of Israeli MK’s, rabbis, etc. but by the official behavior of the Israeli state, which carried out collective punishment of the entire Palestinian community. As reported by Uri Avnery, for instance, they made mass, indiscriminate arrests of hundreds of Palestinians, including anybody ever suspected of having been associated with Hamas in any way.
Thus the stage was set: The constant level of official racism; hundreds, possibly thousands of acts of racist violence carried out by the settlers and rarely if ever punished (see, in the photo above, the Israeli soldiers standing passively by as the Palestinian woman is attacked); and then an official policy of collective punishment of Palestinians for the disappearance (later revealed to be murder) of three Israeli teens. It was inevitable that some racists would draw the conclusion that the murder of a Palestinian was justified in response.
All of official Israel stands guilty. This in no way justifies the murder of the three Israeli teens, as we explain above, but it is the State of Israel, and their US sponsor, who are in control and have set the stage for this.
Another week, another victim of apparent police murder. Below is a link to a video, along with some commentary/reporting, of one of the latest of these murders – the apparent police murder of Oscar Perez-Giron in Seattle, WA. The testimony in this video completely contradicts the official story, as does some surrounding circumstantial evidence.
What are they hiding?
All socialists worthy of the name must speak up without hesitation on this issue!
Watch video here: Oscar Perez-Giron and the Fight for Justice.
(Note: We have contacted socialist City Council member Sawant for a statement on this. Unfortunately, they have not discussed it, but they said they will get back to us. We look forward to publishing their comments.)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…
W. B. Yeats, The Second Coming
So wrote William Butler Yeats in describing the period shortly after WWI. So he might have written today, and nowhere is this more true than describing what is happening in Iraq.
World imperialism had imposed “order” on the region through WWI, which was a colonial scramble to redivide the then-colonial world. As part of that bloody scramble, the British and French capitalists reached the Sykes-Picot Accord, which divided up the Middle East into “spheres of influence” – that is, it was an agreement over which gang of capitalists would get to rape which peoples in that part of the world. So much for the war to make the world safe for democracy…..
Iraq in Crisis
Iraq, a majority Shia society, has little history of sectarian, Sunni-Shia violence. In fact, many clans or tribes contain both wings of Muslims and intermarriage was not uncommon. And while the dictator Saddam Hussein based himself on and favored the Sunni minority, that was as much based on his tribal origins (which happened to be mainly Sunni) as it was based on religious sectarianism. In fact, Hussein sharply repressed political Islam during his reign. The US invasion of Iraq, however, disrupted this.
Among other things, the US invasion and its aftermath has been an economic disaster for the masses of Iraqis. At least under Hussein there was some government social programs as well as state run enterprises. Under US tutelage, most of this has been eliminated, yet there has been little capital investment. As a result, some 35% of Iraqis live in poverty1 and unemployment is officially running at about 20% and is especially severe amongst the youth2. To divert attention and to build some sort of base, Maliki has greatly favored the Shiite majority vs. the Sunni minority. As one article reported, “Ordinary Sunnis complain of discrimination in almost all aspects of life, including housing, education, employment and security.”3 Maliki charged the top Sunni politician, Vice President Tarek al-Hashemi, with “terrorism” and forced him to flee the country for his life.
Read entire article here: Iraq Things fall apart
Yesterday, I went to a memorial for a long-time socialist fighter who had died recently. He had never given up the struggle, and as was fitting, all of those who spoke not only talked about this comrade; they also raised the political issues to which he had dedicated his life. One comment especially struck me:
“What is lacking is the leadership, but the groundwork is there,” said one of those who paid tribute.
Almost all of those who were there and those who spoke had spent many years fighting for the working class and for socialism. And, like me, they weren’t far from the end either. As a result, they seem stuck in an earlier period, because that is exactly the point: The ground work needs to be made anew, it isn’t there any more, or it’s almost not there.
In an earlier period, there were huge workers’ parties – the social democrats and the Communist parties. They were in a position time and again of leading the working class to power, but their leadership betrayed them time and again. And now?
The Communist Parties are more or less gone. And the Social Democratic Parties, if they haven’t become out-and-out capitalist parties, they are the “next best thing”, and entire generations of workers don’t look towards them anymore. And beneath that, much of the old traditions of the class struggle have been severely weakened, almost to the point of disappearance. This is connected with the fact that the industrial sector of the working class has been severely eroded in the West, and it is that sector that best carries on these traditions.
In the document “Preparing for Revolution” these points are explained. A part of that is below. But the main point is this: The best tribute to those old socialists (such as this writer) is to recognize the new situation that has opened up and to adjust ourselves accordingly.
From “Preparing for Revolution”:
“The new crisis today finds the working class in its former strongholds politically disarmed. Its earlier traditional socialist outlook and basic class consciousness have ebbed, due to a number of factors. The most immediate of these was the collapse of the former Stalinist states, which for all their more repugnant aspects, nevertheless had still held out some fading hope of an alternative future. Other causes were the decline of formerly formidable trade unions in the by now rapidly de-industrialising countries; the erosion of industrial communities in their traditional strongholds; the prolonged upswing and development of the new technology; the new-found triumphalism of the capitalists; and the abandonment by former “left” as well as right-wing reformists of even the pretence of socialist aspirations.
“The need for trade unions, the power of the strike, the culture of class solidarity, and the obsolescence of capitalism were most strikingly obvious within the old great concentrations of industrial manufacturing workers. What remains today of 150 years of socialist tradition in the West is little more than a fading memory among diminishing circles within the older generation. In the old homeland of the proletariat, many workers today are far less conscious than previously of their role, their tasks or even their class identity.”
On Monday, June 2, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed an ordinance raising the minimum wage in that city to $15 per hour for some workers starting in April of next year and with a phase-in that will take until 2025 for all workers. (See graph) The objective basis for this is the growing mood of discontent due to rising income inequality. As Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, himself, pointed out one eighth of Seattle’s population lives in poverty while the top 20% of Seattle’s households take in more income than the bottom 50%. This is typical across the United States. There were several factors involved in pushing the (mainly) Democratic city council to pass this:
• On the one hand, there is the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). They have a national strategy of campaigning to increase the minimum wage and have organized campaigns for this from the Seattle airport (Seatac) to San Francisco to New York City. They are doing this in place of serious organizing campaigns, which they have partially retreated from. As David Rolf, president of SEIU Local 775 in Seattle put it, “Even if workers want to form a union, it’s almost impossible to pull it off. So there’s not going to be a big resurgence of shop-by-shop bargaining…. We want to build enough strength with the wage movement, city by city, to bring the national brands to the bargaining table.” The reason the union leadership thinks that organizing on the job is “almost impossible” is that they feel bound by the labor laws and the National Labor Relations Board procedures, instead of considering returning to the methods of the 1930s (sit down strikes, mass pickets, open defiance, etc.).
• The Democrats, themselves, often take up the issue of a minimum wage in order to embarrass the Republicans and win votes. From President Barack Obama to California Governor Gerry Brown, the Democrats are raising this issue in preparation for the national elections of 2016.
• The Seattle City Council was under the pressure of the openly socialist city council member Kshama Sawant. Elected on a platform that emphasized the issue of a $15 per hour minimum wage, Sawant and her group – Socialist Alternative – started organizing to win this minimum wage shortly after she came into office (January, 2014). The fact of her election not only helped to open up the question of socialism a little bit, it also helped focus the demand for a specific figure – $15 – for Seattle’s minimum wage. (This author personally experienced both of these in his visits to Seattle.)
Sawant and Socialist Alternative at first hailed the passage of the minimum wage ordinance as a “historic victory” which was due to the “grass roots campaign” of 15 Now, which is controlled in Seattle by Socialist Alternative. (They later somewhat changed their tune about this measure, as can be seen in this article.) What is the reality? Was it such a “historic victory” and how much was a “grass roots” campaign responsible for it?
Look at the facts: As Mayor Murray explains, “businesses with fewer than 500 employees (get) seven years to reach $15 an hour, or five years if tips and health care are included in the calculations. Businesses with 500 employees or more have three years to reach $15 an hour, or four years if employees are enrolled in employer-paid health plans.” In fact, it is even worse than that. When looking at the graph, you can see that some employers will actually have until 2025 to reach 15/hour (plus the official inflation rate, about which more later).
Tips and health care benefits to be included as “total compensation”, a multi-year phase-in, training wages — these are the exact kinds of loopholes that Sawant had derided as having “more holes than Swiss cheese” back in March.
Historic Attacks on Minimum Wage
It’s more than just loopholes, though. In general, the minimum wage has been exactly that – a minimum wage for all workers. The mainstream of the capitalist class, realizing that they couldn’t eliminate the minimum wage, have over the years tried to weaken it by introducing exactly the kinds of loopholes that the Seattle ordinance carries, especially a sub-minimum wage for young workers. The fact that this ordinance carries all these loopholes helps open the door to further weakening the minimum wage elsewhere and also nationally.
There is another weakness of this ordinance – one that nobody is discussing. That is how it’s tied to the federal government’s Consumer Price Index (CPI). This is the official inflation rate, and the strategy is to tie any future raises in the minimum wage to this as a way of avoiding future battles around this issue. However, as this article explains, and as the graph below shows, there has been a long term strategy (ever since the Bill Clinton presidencies) to change how the CPI is figured in such a way as to reduce it. As the graph below shows, inflation by the old way of measuring it is running at about 9% vs. the new measurement of about 2%. This means that the minimum wage will be falling further and further behind real prices, but workers will see the cause less clearly.
Neither the union leaders nor Socialist Alternative has taken up this point.
“Grass Roots Campaign” Responsible?
Sawant and Socialist Alternative deserve some of the credit for helping to focus attention on a $15/hour minimum wage. (See this article for an example.) Are they, alone, responsible? Look at San Francisco. There, SEIU introduced a ballot initiative for a $15 per hour minimum wage back in April of this year. That initiative was actually stronger than the one that Socialist Alternative introduced in Seattle, and it put the San Francisco Board of Supervisors under pressure. On June 10, the Supervisors passed a measure to put a minimum wage ordinance on the ballot as a ballot measure. It would raise the minimum wage in steps to $15 per hour in 2018. If it passes the voters, it will be a stronger measure than what was passed in Seattle, since it doesn’t have the loopholes that the Seattle measure has. It was passed without a 15 Now “grassroots campaign”. Sure, what was happening in Seattle might have influenced this, but that was far from the main factor.
Getting from there to here
What was the process in which this ordinance was passed in Seattle?
Sawant’s electoral victory and her and Socialist Alternative’s success in popularizing the slogan of 15 Now forced the (Democratic) mayor to do something. In this sort of situation, where big business is under pressure, they often put forward the Democrats to grant a few concessions, often with ticking time bombs that can undermine all the advances further on down the road, with the purpose of ensuring that no real confrontation between the classes, no independent movement of the working class develops.
The union leadership plays a key role in this process. Feeling bound to the employers like a fetus bound to the placenta by the umbilical cord, the entire union leadership from Rich Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, on down to local leaders, like David Rolf, are even more afraid of such an open, independent movement than are the bosses. After all, their entire careers are based on preventing this. So inside the unions, they are constantly arguing for the idea that the interests of the workers are tied in with those of the employers and that they are on the same team – the “team concept”. (See this pamphlet for more on this issue.) As the 19th century socialist Daniel DeLeon put it, they are the “labor lieutenants of capital”.
They also represent the Democratic Party – one of the two parities of big business – inside the unions. To do this, they have to help strengthen the “progressive” wing of the Democrats, so sometimes they will organize protests and other events, including even ballot initiatives.
This is exactly what they did in pushing through a $15 per hour minimum wage ballot initiative in the Seatac (Seattle/Tacoma) airport. That initiative passed last November, but it had a critical weakness: It excluded union workers, who make up about 40% of the airport work force. David Rolf – the key union leader in there – explained this by saying “we always want to offer an olive branch to employers of good conscience.” This is a perfect expression of the team concept in action.
Neither Sawant personally nor Socialist Alternative in general criticized this clause. In fact, this writer was told back in March by a Socialist Alternative leader that they would support such a clause in Seattle if it was necessary to win the support of the union leadership. Despite that, Sawant’s presence on the city council and the passage of the voter initiative at Seatac forced Seattle mayor Murray to do something. What he did was an absolute textbook example of the Democrats’ role.
In January, Murray appointed a mayor’s “Income Inequality Advisory Committee” to come up with a plan for a minimum wage increase. As he said, “Our goal was to increase income for low-wage workers without hurting local companies or sacrificing jobs. To get there, we pursued an intensely inclusive and collaborative approach that included… leaders from local businesses, labor organizations, non-profits and the city.” He appointed as co-chairs the ever-reliable David Rolf and Howard Wright, who represents Seattle’s restaurant and hotel industry.
Seattle’s big business organized a group called “One Seattle” to minimize the damage. In one article on their web site, they tout the “progressive” record of Seattle’s Chamber of Commerce, argue for all the loopholes that the City ended up passing, press to “finesse a fair package”, and say that “Mayor Murray and the City Council seem to be listening.” By passing a compromise measure, they say that corporate-minded union officials like Rolf “will be able to show that organized labor can still make things happen” (that is, he will save face), a “WTO moment” will be avoided, and “class warfare talk (will be relegated) to the ‘dustbin of history’ – thank you Leon Trotsky for the phrase.” This last was a clear swipe at Sawant and Socialist Alternative, and it shows that all their calculations are meant to avoid an open, independent struggle and to undercut Sawant.
Their best ally was David Rolf and the rest of the union leadership. Rolf commented after Mayor Murray first outlined his plan, “As co-chair of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee, I want to thank Mayor Murray for his leadership, and recognize Howard Wright, my co-chair, and all the committee members including my brothers and sisters from the labor movement and the business community.” His brothers and sisters in the business community! What more needs to be said?
Rolf is not unique. There was almost no support for 15 Now from any significant sector of the union leadership. Socialist Alternative explains this in a roundabout way: “If the big unions had backed the threat of a ballot initiative for a stronger $15, business could have been forced to concede much more,” they wrote after the fact.
But the very way that they put this, as well as the fact that it was only written afterwards, says a lot. Note, for instance, how they equate “the big unions” with the union leadership. Also, note that they make clear that the ballot initiative was intended as a way to pressure the Democrats, not to actually build an independent movement. That this was their intent all along was made clear during the “15 Now” conference on April 26 as well as in their timing and method of putting forward the ballot initiative. Why, for instance, did they wait until May to start the process, leaving themselves only a month or less to collect signatures? Why did they fail to really try to mobilize low wage workers – both union and non-union alike? For instance, there was the suggestion made both at the 15 Now conference and later to try to organize the low paid UFCW members (grocery clerks) to get their union to back 15 Now. This was ignored, and the only possible explanation is that the Socialist Alternative leadership did not want a conflict with the union leadership. Then there was the debate at the 15 Now conference over granting a union exclusion clause to the hotel industry. This was asked for by the UNITE/HERE union leadership because they did not want to fight the hotels for an increase in pay while at the same time keeping the health benefits – in other words, the team concept in practice again. The entire Socialist Alternative leadership campaigned for this exclusion clause. (See this report and this video.)
Union Leadership vs. the Membership
The gap between the union leadership and the membership has never been greater in the US. We can only expect that the leadership will act as they did in this struggle. For decades, union activists have worked to organize opposition caucuses inside different unions (including the UFCW). This has faced tough going because the great majority of members are pretty demoralized. However, with a high profile figure like Sawant, it might have been possible to break through this mood. Imagine if 15 Now (Socialist Alternative) had campaigned among grocery workers as advocated here. Imagine if they, with Sawant at the lead, had organized little mini-rallies inside low wage work places from the grocery stores to McDonalds to Starbucks. True, they would have antagonized almost every single union official in Seattle and beyond, but who cares? Who knows what might have come from this? It can’t be ruled out that they could have brought into activity a whole new layer of low wage workers.
Broader Program or Single Issue Campaign?
There is also the issue of program. The SA leadership ensured that 15 Now keep as its only issue the minimum wage. Doing this makes it difficult to directly appeal to other sectors of the working class, for instance the unemployed. At the 15 Now conference it was suggested that 15 Now take up the issue of unemployment. This was derailed by the SA leadership. It was also suggested that 15 Now raise the idea that the minimum wage be applied to prisoners, and that it be related to union rights for prisoners and to an end to solitary confinement (the use of which makes any union organizing in prison nearly impossible). At a time when mass incarceration is “the new Jim Crow”, when it is devastating the black communities in the US, socialists cannot ignore or minimize this issue. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the SA leadership did. If they hadn’t done this, there is the chance that it could have brought a whole new layer of the working class – and the most oppressed layers at that – into the movement. This includes both the prisoners and their families. Of course, it would have alienated the union leaders and their masters – the Democrats – but that should not scare us off.
After the fact, as we explain, the Socialist Alternative leadership mildly criticized the union leadership. Didn’t they know that this leadership would play this role? When Sawant ran against Richard Conlin the most anti-worker member on the city council, she could not even get the central labor council to endorse her. (Conlin had been the only city council member to oppose requiring Seattle’s major corporations to provide some form of health benefits, for instance.) She got all of 4% of her campaign donations through this union leadership. What else did they expect, given these facts and the historic role of the union leadership?
Despite this, the Socialist Alternative leadership operated in the hopes of winning the support of the representatives of the Democratic Party inside the workers’ movement – the union leadership. But they also have the competing pressure of their socialist traditions. This is why they veered back and forth. They waited for months to get a ballot initiative campaign under way and then they had to scramble to try to get enough signatures, only to (apparently) drop the entire initiative in the end. They first criticized the Democrats’ proposals as having “more holes than Swiss cheese”, then triumphed that what the City Council passed was a “historic victory” won by 15 Now’s “grassroots campaign”, and that the mayor’s proposal “shows leadership for the rest of the country,” only to turn around once again and criticize its weaknesses along with a mild criticism of the role of the union leadership. Their mistaken orientation towards the union leadership could be corrected were it not for the fact that they have shut themselves off from the rest of the socialist movement as well as workers in general. If this is any indication, then one can only guess that they have also clamped down on real rank-and-file discussion and decision-making within Socialist Alternative also.
Socialist Alternative made an important contribution to the workers movement and to the cause of socialism when they got Kshama Sawant elected. It is exactly for this reason that we raise these criticisms here – because so much more potentially could have been accomplished.
If Socialist Alternative had taken up the programmatic and organizational approach that is explained here, there is a chance they could have really developed the beginnings of an independent and far wider working class movement – one that included unemployed workers, prisoners and their families, low wage workers, etc. Had they succeeded, this would have wrung greater concessions from Corporate Seattle and the Democrats, but far more important is the movement itself that it might have gotten started. There’s no guarantee, but sometimes a relatively small group can be the instrument for a far movement far greater than itself.
Also, more could also have been accomplished if the Socialist Alternative leadership had really tried to build a real coalition – a real “united front” – through 15 Now, rather than trying to control things. The “15 Now” conference on April 26, for instance, was controlled by the SA leadership from start to finish. In other areas, they are trying to do the same. In Tacoma, for instance, things got so bad that the majority of 15 Now activists had to vote to ban the SA leadership from the group there!
This writer was one of the founding members of the predecessor to Socialist Alternative — Labor Militant. He is familiar with the traditions and the history of SA and their international links. One of the great strengths of their traditions used to be their ability to link the struggle for socialism to the day-to-day needs and the consciousness of ordinary workers without capitulating to the union leadership. It is difficult to imagine that there are not some members of Socialist Alternative who aren’t touched by those traditions and aren’t trying to build on them. It is our hope that this critique can contribute to any discussions around what went right and what should have been done in the Seattle $15 per hour minimum wage campaign so that socialists and the workers movement in general can move forward from here.
Added July 14
This writer was just talking with the the Seattle gov’t. offices. I was asking whether the 15 minimum wage ordinance would cover union workers – that is, whether those workers whose contract calls for less than $15 per hour will see an increase to this minimum, and if so whether this would affect the employer contributions to benefits. I was told that this is one of the “details” that is still being worked out. I was also given a web page where such questions were dealt with. When I tried to open that page I got a message “Access denied.”
We hope that 15 Now campaigners in Seattle are being kept fully aware of what is happening with these “details”.
Gerald Seib, the Wall St. Journal’s “Washington correspondent”, described matters perfectly when he wrote: “Most business leaders don’t particularly like getting their hands dirty in political fights. So they have tended to support whatever candidates the Republican Party offered up, funneled money to party or outside groups to do the heavy lifting, and hoped for the best.
“The October government shutdown, however, may prove to be a tide-turning event. Business leaders openly pleaded with Congress to avoid a showdown over raising the nation’s debt ceiling—a fight they feared would disrupt financial markets world-wide—and urged lawmakers to avoid an economically destabilizing government shutdown. They were stunned to discover, though, that their pleas fell upon deaf ears among several dozen tea-party warriors in the House who steamed toward a shutdown anyway, and were in some cases openly disdainful of the business community’s arguments.” (WSJ 12/2/2013)
Brat vs. Cantor
As a result, major business groups like the Chamber of Commerce have stepped in to finance candidates in recent Republican primaries. They financed a series of establishment Republicans against Tea Party challengers, thereby ensuring their victories. A key election was held on Tuesday, June 10, where the second in command for Republicans the US House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, faced a Tea Party supporter, David Brat. Corporate America showered $5.7 million on Cantor, who had been considered the most likely to replace current Republican leader in the House, John Boehner. Despite raising only $231,000, Brat beat Cantor, thus throwing Republican plans into a tizzy.
Last Saturday (6/7), the editor of this blog site – John Reimann – was on WEFT’s radio program “World Labor Hour,” in a discussion on what has happened in the US labor movement, especially the role of the union leadership. The old socialist Daniel DeLeon described the union leaders as “the labor lieutenants of capital” – in other words, the representatives of the employers inside the unions. Along with this, they are the representatives of the Democratic Party (one of the two political parties of the employers). This was discussed on this radio show, along with a discussion on how this played out in the struggle for a $15 per hour minimum wage in Seattle and what should have been done instead.
You can listen to this discussion at the site below. The discussion starts about 28 minutes into the show.
by Roger Silverman
The sweeping electoral victory of the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi has been greeted worldwide with a mixture of euphoria and alarm.
For big business, the justification for the euphoria lies in Modi’s record as chief minister of the state of Gujarat between 2002 and 2010, when he presided over an average growth rate of 16.6% a year. However, Gujarat’s rapid growth actually pre-dates Modi by a whole decade: it had already been the fastest-growing of India’s fourteen major states between 1991 and 1998. Moreover, even during Modi’s tenure of office, Gujarat was not in fact India’s fastest-growing state: its record was exceeded by Uttarkhand and Sikkim.
Gujarat’s rapid rate of development was based mainly on Modi’s policy of sweeping away the few remaining vestiges of state regulation to attract foreign direct investment. Modi calls his state the “global gateway to India”. But even by the measure of FDI inflows, Gujarat’s economy remains dwarfed by other traditional havens for foreign investment, such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
There is even greater justification for the alarm felt especially by India’s minorities and lower castes, and above all by India’s 176 million Muslims, in the horror of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, which was orchestrated by Modi’s government. Up to 2,000 Muslim men, women and children were hacked, burned or bludgeoned to death in an orgy of communal rioting, and 200,000 made homeless, while the police stood aside. Modi’s considered response to this bloodbath is that he feels the same level of regret as he would “if a puppy had been run over by a car”.
THE INDIAN “MIRACLE”
India and China are often bracketed together as the powerhouse of the world economy. However, this coupling is deceptive. Both India and China offer huge reserves of cheap labour; but India cannot match the incomparably more developed and efficient infrastructure provided in China by decades of state investment and planning. The fact is that India’s economy is still only one-fifth the size of China’s, and falling fast behind it.
From a high point in 2010-11, when GDP rose by 9.3%, India’s growth rate has slumped in just three years to 4.4%, and inflation is running above 8%. Despite its huge reserves of cheap labour and its desperate adoption of deregulation, the truth is that India with its rickety infrastructure and unstable administration is still an unattractive proposition for international investors. In World Bank league tables, India ranks 60th in the world in terms of productivity and competitiveness (China is 29th), 134th for “ease of doing business”, and 179th for “suitability for inward investment”.
Information technology and business process outsourcing are among the fastest growing sectors of the economy, contributing 25% of the country’s total exports in 2007–08. The growth in the IT and software sector – and of course the proliferation of call centres – are largely attributable to the availability of a huge pool of cheap, skilled, English-speaking workers. Thus, where Indians had in the past largely performed the services of cooks, housemaids and washerwomen for the British raj, globalisation and digitalisation had now elevated them to the world’s typists, receptionists and filing clerks. By 2009, seven Indian firms were listed among the top fifteen technology outsourcing companies in the world.
As for India’s manufacturing industry, it relies on a combination of cheap labour and new technology, with its textile industries especially dependent on child labour, from the fields to the mills to the clothing and carpet workshops.
With a “middle-class” population now estimated at 300 million, India offers a perfectly viable domestic consumer market capable of sustaining the booming growth of recent years. However, the economic “miracle” still leaves a vast majority of peasants and urban poor destitute and living at subsistence level, with about 400 million people in India – one third of India’s population, and one-third also of the world’s total poor – barely surviving below the poverty line of $1.25 per day. Far from bringing prosperity to the people, India’s boom has been confined to a small affluent minority. On the contrary: there has been a substantial widening of the gap between rich and poor, dating from the demolition of price controls and subsidies along with the rest of the economic “reforms” dictated at gunpoint by the IMF and the World Bank in 1991.
It should always be remembered that before colonisation, in 1700 India’s share of world income had equalled that of all Europe combined, at almost a quarter. By the time it had gained independence in 1947, India was among the very poorest countries in the world in terms of per capita income.
From independence in 1947 to the new economic turn in 1991, India’s economy had been based upon a high level of state ownership; protectionism; high tariff walls; import and exchange controls; import substitution; interventionist policies; a system of state rationing; and a dependence on favourable trade terms with the Soviet Union. There were even nominal “five-year plans”. At one point, income tax levels – which were always treated in practice as purely hypothetical – were fixed at a maximum of 97.5%. The inevitable outcome was cheating on a massive scale, smuggling, and a wholesale evasion of regulations, exchange controls and taxation – a carnival of rampant bureaucratism, corruption and inefficiency, in which the ruling class routinely violated the rules of its own administration.
The USSR had been India’s major trading partner, and its collapse in 1991, together with the spike in oil prices precipitated by the first Gulf War, created an immediate balance-of-payments crisis for India. Teetering on the brink of an outright overnight default on its loans, India was forced to beg the IMF for a $1.8 billion bailout. The price was instant de-regulation.
There followed a bonfire of state controls. Whether under the Congress governments of Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, or the BJP government of Vajpayee, regulations and subsidies were demolished and India thrown wide open to penetration by the multinationals. An influx of hot money flowed into India, and for a few years it became one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. On the basis of purely abstract fantastical hypothetical projections, it was predicted that India could overtake France and Italy by 2020, Germany, UK and Russia by 2025 and Japan by 2035. It was even projected that India was on course to overtake the USA.
THE BJP AND CONGRESS
Under the patronage of the British raj, a narrowly-based indigenous capitalist class had already begun to take root in the decades prior to independence. Today such families as the Tatas, Birlas and Mittals are world-stage tycoons. But in the early period of independence, it had suited the Indian ruling class to shelter behind a political aristocracy posing as protector of the minorities; champion of the poor; secular, democratic and even “socialist”. The flimsy pretext for this was its dependence on nationalisation, protectionism, state subsidies, friendly relations with the USSR, and above all its need to secure a home market safe from the constant risk of communal disintegration and national fragmentation.
This was always largely a cynical and hollow facade, though, long abandoned in practice even by Congress. Congress was little more than the cynical political exploiter of the insecurities of the minorities. This can be seen in its true criminal record: the formal and legal institutionalising of caste rivalries; the dictatorial Emergency regime; the regular dismissal of opposition state governments; suppression of national revolts; tolerance of caste atrocities; periodic fostering of communal riots; brutal military repression in Kashmir; successive wars with Pakistan; explicit endorsement of the massacre of Sikhs in 1984, etc…
Narendra Modi’s political vehicle the Bharatiya Janata Party is an explicitly communal Hindu outfit, the political voice of a conglomerate of reactionary and sinister forces. These include the Vishva Hindu Parishad, the Hindu communal movement which provoked conflict throughout India in 1992 by mobilising 150,000 rioters to storm the Babri Masjid mosque at Ayodhya;Shiv Sena, an overtly fascist party modelled on the Nazis and based in Maharashtra, which in early 1993 perpetrated a massacre of 3,000 Muslims in Mumbai in a pre-planned act of ethnic cleansing; and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS), a five-million strong paramilitary Hindu communal mass movement of which Modi is a lifelong member.
The RSS has five to six million members and over a million organised “volunteers” who hold regular public paramilitary drills. It was founded in 1925 as a conscious counter-weight to the growing influence of socialist ideas within India’s national liberation movement. It openly praised the ideology of Mussolini and Hitler and identified the Nazi holocaust as its model in its mission to destroy the Muslim community. (India has the second largest Muslim population in the world: more numerous than Pakistan or Bangladesh, and exceeded only by Indonesia.) In the words of one of the founders of the RSS, Golwalkar: “To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here.” It was an RSS member who assassinated Gandhi in 1948.
COMMUNALISM AND NEOLIBERALISM
For the BJP, a combination of communalism and neoliberalism is nothing new. The previous BJP government under Vajpayee (from 1998 to 2004) had presided over wholesale privatisation of state enterprises. Meanwhile, along with the VHP and RSS, BJP cadres had instigated the provocative destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya and the subsequent pogrom in Mumbai in 1993, prior to the Gujarat massacre.
However, the hands of India’s traditional ruling party Congress are hardly much cleaner. The IMF-imposed programme of privatisation and budget cuts was first introduced under the Congress administration of Narasimha Rao and further promoted under the world banker Manmohan Singh. Congress had meanwhile long abandoned in practice its always at best ambiguous and hypocritical secular stance. To take just one glaring example: in 1984 it was Congress politicians who had ordered the assault on the Golden Temple at Amritsar and then deliberately orchestrated the massacre of thousands of Sikhs in Delhi and throughout India.
In a society graphically polarised between a narrow plutocracy and the destitute masses, a class so manifestly parasitic as the Indian capitalist class has somehow to whip up an artificial mass base. Like every ruling class in its epoch of decay, ultimately its survival depends upon the magical power of myth. Today the symbol of homespun self-sufficiency represented by the spinning wheel is giving way to age-old epic Hindu mythology. True, riots and massacres are messy affairs that tend to get in the way of business. But such passions have a momentum of their own; they can’t be simply switched on and off. It is unfortunate that random eruptions of communal violence may sometimes destabilise order and discipline, but these are the political price paid by the ruling class to stay afloat.
There is a difference in the rhetoric of the two rival parties; but hardly nowadays a trace of difference in policy. The process of wholesale privatisation gained momentum under Congress and BJP governments alike. Similarly, the storming of the mosque at Ayodhya, the worst communal riots since 1947, and the pogrom in Mumbai all took place under the Congress government of Narasimha Rao.
A NEW MASS PARTY
Under capitalism, the population of India face horror without end: the daily rape and slaughter of women, the degradation of the lower castes and “untouchables”; the constant threat of communal pogroms against the Muslims and other minorities; police brutality and victimisation.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its precursor the Communist Party of India have utterly discredited themselves over decades of unprincipled political manoeuvring with the respective rival reactionary parties of the ruling class. There will be no way forward for India out of the dual torture of poverty and repression until the emergence of a new mass party voicing the needs and aspirations of the workers from call centres to textile mills, the landless peasants and farm labourers, the exploited and unemployed of the shanty towns, the women and the downtrodden.
Editor’s note: Roger Silverman is a lifelong socialist who spent many years doing political work in India. He is now a teacher in London, where he helps students put out the youth magazine, “Carbolic”, and he is active in the Workers’ International Network.
The basic problem under capitalism revolves around the clash of interests between the working class majority and the small minority who own the capital – the capitalist class. Whenever this clash comes out in the open, it is never a pretty affair. As a result, throughout history, different reformers have worked out different schemes to solve the problems without all the turmoil, bloodshed and conflict. One of the latest is the “Citizen’s Income” campaign. (We suppose, from the title, that non-citizens can be allowed to starve.) Julian Silverman reports from London, UK, on a meeting of these people.
I learn that a ‘citizens’ wage’ should really be called a ‘citizens’ income’ or ‘basic wage’.
It is the idea that there would be a basic income – a ‘floor’ below which no one could fall, working or non-working.
I was interested in the idea because of the obvious dire need for such a thing and because it removes ever so slightly the corrupting one-to-one relationship between money and ‘work’ [and refuses to beg the question of what counts as 'work'] – i.e. because it is a little glimpse of socialism [Socialism = "to each according to his/her need: from each according to his/her ability"] and yet could be possible here and now under capitalism. [It would cost no more than the present contorted and hard-to-administer regime of taxes and benefits].
It was a high-powered conference at the British Library. The people there did not look like the lefty crowd I usually associate with. They were smartly/casually dressed and spoke like the suave and solvent government underlings, self-financing charity workers that many of them were rather than the nerdy students, the unemployed, grey-haired ex-radicals, single Mums, beardy or beery trade unionists that I expected.
John McDonnell was there and spoke very well. He said that the time was right for this idea because everything else had failed. That every time Miliband said something radical his opinion poll ratings went up, but that he only spoke radical when it was absolutely safe to do so. Our job was to make it safe….I can’t remember now, but I think it was he who quoted Tony Benn who said every time a new idea comes first they say it’s bad, then they say it’s mad and finally they all claim they thought of it first. [I'm finding something like that too] Anyway Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party also spoke well, and there were others who had written books on the economics of it and there was one academic professional who spoke of the moral philosophy behind it: you know “What is the moral life? Is goodness the greatest happiness for the greatest number?” and that sort of thing. This kind of blah-blah turns me right off, but if it will help people survive the cuts then I’m all for it. Among other people present was the great Harry Shutt, author of the best book which foreold the economic collapse we are facing a full fifteen years ago. He didn’t speak. He was just in the audience.
What was bad, as far as i was concerned, was the remark that one of these clever people made that this was the age of globalism and that you could talk to business about this idea. The ideologues would not listen of course, but the reasonable ones would see that they could increase their market if people could buy their goods etc.
In the break I found myself talking to a group including an economics expert who had lectured and written books about Keynesian economics [roughly, the theory referred to above], a journalist and a man who had acted as finance adviser to the government of Tanzania. The kind of people who know all the answers without having to wait for the question.
This utopian fantasy notion is a favourite among trade unionists and the muddled left. I too would like to believe it. It would be so simple. Tell all these big industrialists how they’ve all got it wrong. They don’t need austerity, they don’t need to cut pay, cut costs, sack people, put out zero hour contracts, seize public assets, stage wars for cheap labour, expanding markets, raw materials, ruin and rob the planet etc. etc. Unfortunately things don’t work like that. Big business knows how to do business for its own advantage without our advice. It can sell its increasingly shabby stuff by putting us all into permanent debt-slavery and can do a better deal taking over Barnet council and the like, and extracting their profit from our taxes….
Do people need a basic wage for living? To live, don’t they need shelter, warmth, energy, education, social care etc.? If you make this a matter of money then it will be the money people who win. I suddenly had a horrific image. They might allow a ciizen’s income and then do nothing about housing, carry on privatising the NHS (National Health Service) etc. and say: “Well, you can’t complain. We’ve given you the money. You can pay for it yourself.” Money, after all, is nothing but an I O U which the government will accept… so this would end up helping the banks all the more…..a nightmare.
Perhaps this is not an idea whose time has come, but an idea whose time has already been and gone: a cranky notion.
Amazing that this simple act of protest brought about such repercussions. It shows the political role that athletes play in the US and worldwide.
Global oil depletion meet environmental protesters.
New supplies of the “low hanging fruit” – that is, the easy-to-reach and pump oil – is more or less gone, so capitalism is having to develop newer and more environmentally harmful sources, the main one of which is fracking. The result is this: In the past, it was mainly young idealists who concerned themselves with environmental issues like global warming. That was because the effects were not so obviously direct. But fracking has direct effects on the air and water of those living around it. As a result, a real grass roots movement is developing around this issue and that movement is global. Below is a video of such protests in Romania.
The next logical step is for the “fractivists” to start to link up globally.
The abdication of Spain’s King Juan Carlos and his replacement by his son, Felipe, reminds me of a joke that was told back in the ’80s:
It seems there was a police road block and they were asking for identification. Placido Domingo, the opera singer, came along and identified himself. The police didn’t believe him so they asked him to what he could do. “I can sing” he said, and he sang a little bit. “Yes, you’re a singer,” the police said, and they let him through.
Then along came a soccer star. He was asked the same thing. “I can dribble a soccer ball,” he said and he took out a soccer ball and dribbled it around, bounced it off his head, etc. “Yes, you’re a soccer player,” said the cops, and they let him through.
Then along came King Juan Carlos. “Let me through. I’m King Juan Carlos,” he said.
“What can you do?” the cops asked.
“Me? I can’t do anything,” replied Juan Carlos.
“Yep, you’re the king,” they said and let him through.
by Roger Silverman
Introduction: The Bharita Janaya Party (BJP) recently won the national elections in India, putting its candidate, Narendra Modi, as Prime Minister. The BJP is a Hindu nationalist party with links to organizers of anti-Muslim riots in the past. Here, Marxist Roger Silverman, who has spent many years in India, gives a little background.
In a society graphically polarised between a narrow plutocracy and the destitute masses, a class so manifestly parasitic as the Indian capitalist class has somehow to whip up an artificial mass base. Like every ruling class in its epoch of decay, ultimately its survival depends upon the magical power of myth.
In the early period of independence, it suited the indigenous capitalist class, which had already begun to take root under the patronage of the British raj, to shelter behind a political elite posing as defender of the minorities, champion of the poor; secular, democratic and even “socialist”. The flimsy pretext for this was its dependence on nationalisation, protection and state subsidies, and its need to secure a home market safe from the risk of communal and national disintegration. It was always a cynical and hollow facade, though, long abandoned in practice even by Congress, as can be seen in its true record: the institutionalising of caste rivalries; the dictatorial Emergency regime; the regular subordination of opposition state governments; suppression of national revolts; tolerance of caste atrocities; periodic fostering of communal riots; brutal military repression in Kashmir; successive wars with Pakistan; explicit endorsement of the massacre of Sikhs in 1984, etc…
Today the ruling class resorts more explicitly to such crude devices; and what more effective device than outright Hindu high-caste bigotry? True, riots and massacres are messy affairs that tend to get in the way of business. But such passions have a momentum of their own; they can’t be simply switched on and off. It is unfortunate that random eruptions of communal violence may sometimes destabilise order and discipline, but these are the political price paid by the ruling class to stay afloat.
There is a difference in the rhetoric of the two rival parties; but hardly nowadays a trace of difference in policy. The process of wholesale privatisation gained momentum under the Congress governments of Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh and the BJP government of Vajpayee alike. Similarly, the storming of the mosque at Ayodhya, the worst communal riots since 1947, and the horrific pogrom of 3,000+ Muslims in Mumbai, all took place under the Congress government of Narasimha Rao. Under the crude bigot Narendra Modi, the gulf between rich and poor will widen still further (with perhaps a limited further growth of the narrow urban middle class), and there will be more communal riots.
This site has published a couple of reports on the slaughter in Odessa. The first one saying that it was basically a fascist attack on protesters. There was another report which sharply criticized both sides. Since we don’t have any direct contact there, we thought it was important to hear all different views.
However, this report has a lot of video footage. It seems to show pretty decisively that those who died inside the building were simply murdered and that this was clearly a fascist attack on peaceful protesters, that it was not mutual combat. Not only that, but the police seemed to collaborate with this attack. It’s important for us to get a clearer view of what happened in Odessa because it seems that the who situation in Ukraine is far from resolved.
In early April, the Kaufman family set sail across the Pacific from Baja California. On their 36 foot sailboat were mom and dad – Charlotte and Eric – and their daughters: Cora, 3, and 1 year old Liza. Some 900 miles out to sea, Liza started to get very sick, including a rash all over her body, and didn’t respond to antibiotics. The Kaufman’s had to call for assistance and they were rescued off of their boat and flown to shore.
A huge hullabaloo followed, in which all sorts of people attacked the Kaufman parents for irresponsibility, for putting their kids at risk. Some even said the kids should be taken away from the parents. Even Charlotte’s brother, James Moriset, publicly attacked her. “I don’t understand what they were thinking to begin with,” he said. “I’m sorry, I don’t even like to take my kids in a car ride that would be too dangerous, and it’s like taking them out into the big ocean?”
A recent visit to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, watching kids playing in the ocean there, and reading a book on the environment (“Green Illusions”) while I was there, got me thinking more about this issue.
But first, as far as the relative dangers: Every year, hundreds – probably thousands – of families are cruising all around the globe with kids of all different ages. The reason we never hear about them is that nothing bad has happened. In fact, with modern GPS, satellite phones, etc., it’s probably safer going cruising with kids now than it was going backpacking or hiking in the back country before the days of cell phones. (Or today, for that matter, if you’re out of range of the cell phone.)
Why Risk It?
“Yes, but why put your children at risk?” some people ask. The sailing magazine “Latitude 38″ asked that of readers. Many reported on meeting young kids who were cruisers. They reported on how well adjusted these kids seemed to be, on their sense of responsibility and independence, on how well they related to adults. Having sailed to distant lands and often spent months ashore, these kids didn’t just study different cultures; they lived them. Maybe more important than anything, considering the environmental crisis that is developing, one of the most important things for our children to develop is a sense that we are part of nature, that we don’t stand above and apart from it. What better way to develop that than on a sailboat?
Risks to Children in Capitalist Society
On the other hand, there are the extreme risks raising children in modern-day capitalism – risks to both the mental and the physical health. According to one report, the average child under eleven watches some 2.8 hours of TV per day, and from 12 – 17 years old they watch 3.4 hours per day. And what do they see when they are watching?
Then there are the effects of the thousands of hours of advertising, especially on young children, who find it difficult to distinguish between fantasy and reality and also find it difficult to view advertising critically. According to another report, “The vast majority of youth-directed ads promote unhealthy foods and drinks, such as fast-food products, carbonated beverages, and cereals, candies, and other items that are high in sugar and/or fat. Compared with the foods and beverages marketed to adults, those marketed to children continue to be much less healthy overall.”
Study after study has linked TV watching with the view that material possessions equal happiness – consumerism, in other words, while at the same time being directly linked with feelings of isolation, with alcoholism, etc.
Even simply limiting TV watching – or preventing it altogether – won’t eliminate these influences since unless the parents want to raise their kids in an ivory tower they will be influenced by peer pressure.
Of course, it’s possible to raise children who are mentally and physically healthy in modern US capitalist society. But who is to say that the risks are any less than those kids who are off sailing the seven seas.
Oh, yes, and as far as Mexico: I spent nearly one entire day watching a group of little children playing in the surf. They jumped up and down, even dove into the little waves, they lay down and allowed the water to tumble them over, they ran around and laughed. For hour after hour they played, with not a fight or conflict the entire time.
It kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
We are not anarchists and usually see things very differently from them. However, when trying to figure out what is happening in Ukraine – especially what did happen in Odessa – we have to get direct reports from there. We just published a report from Borotba, which gave one slant on things. Here is a report from an anarchist group in Ukraine. It claims that both sides are led by reactionary nationalists, and labels Borotba as Stalinist.
People will have read about the massacre of some 40 people in Odessa, Ukraine. What the US media more or less covered up is that this was done by fascist forces who gathered from throughout Ukraine to march on Odessa. Below is a link to a report from Borotba, a socialist group in Ukraine:
Dear Comrades in Socialist Alternative:
Your recent 15 Now conference had some interesting debate on different issues. For me, the most important issue was that of the collective bargaining opt-out for HERE members. We will see how that issue plays out.
Whatever differences we have on those issues, I’m sure we all would like to see as strong a $15 per hour minimum wage in Seattle as possible. The official support of the unions would be a great help in that. Disgracefully, the leadership of UFCW has not jumped on board, despite the fact that union workers at QFC, Albertson’s, Safeway, etc. in Seattle start at $9.42 per hour. Their courtesy clerks top out at $9.52 per hour and workers don’t reach the top of their pay scale until they have worked 7800 hours (3.75 years if they get 40 full hours per week, 52 weeks per year, which many of them don’t.) A strong $15 per hour minimum wage ordinance would tremendously help the lives of those workers, yet their leadership is not supporting it. The reason is that they believe they have to help these stores maximize their profits, which means at the workers’ expense.
I think it would be a great advance for 15 Now to develop a campaign aimed at these workers. 15 Now supporters could go into the grocery stores and hand out leaflets to the workers there explaining what you are trying to do, explaining that their union has not endorsed 15 Now and urging them to get involved in their union, to organize to force their union to endorse, donate to and mobilize for 15 Now. The campaign could also explain that this would be the first step in organizing to change their union, to make it really fight for the membership.
In other parts of the country, including the San Francisco Bay Area and in northern California, UFCW rank and file members have been organizing along these lines for years, but their success has been limited. The reason is that most members don’t really believe that anything can change. With a prominent elected public official – Kshama Sawant – associated with this campaign, it just might break through this defeatist mood. If it did, then regardless of the outcome of the 15 Now campaign and ballot initiative, this would be a huge step forward for all workers.
This idea has its roots in our experience here: In 2003-04, there was a grocery strike in Southern California. The UFCW sent pickets up to the San Francisco Bay Area to get a boycott of Safeway going. A few of us formed a group called Bay Area Striker Solidarity Organization (BASSO). We did exactly what is described above. We had great conversations and in a few cases a shop steward or other worker actually called a work place meeting on the spot for us to speak to a group of workers. Our success was limited, but that was then and this is now, and also we didn’t have a “Kshama Sawant” to point to either. But anyway, we learned a lot from that experience. And if you would consider doing a campaign like this, I’d be happy to come up there again for a few days to use what I learned in order to help that campaign get started.
I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.
Yours in the struggle,
On Saturday, April 26, some 400 activists and socialists gathered in Seattle to participate in the national “15 Now” conference. They came primarily from Seattle, but also from all over the country, including from as far away as Mobile, Alabama.
The conference and Socialist Alternative’s 15 Now campaign should be considered in its context. For decades now, there has been a general mood of resignation within the US working class – a feeling that nothing can be done to reverse the general course of things. This ranges from the most obvious issue of income levels and economic security to other issues like poisoning of the environment. In 2012, one of the first warning signs of a new movement sprang to life in the form of the Occupy movement. According to one person I talked with here (who is not a member of any socialist group), Socialist Alternative was really the only socialist group that was very present in Occupy Seattle and consistently sided with the left wing of that movement. Most prominent of the Socialist Alternative members in Occupy was Kshama Sawant, and that played an important role in Socialist Alternative and Sawant winning a base among the radicalized youth.
It is also clear that Sawant’s election victory has helped the consciousness here in Seattle. For instance, I was in a coffee shop here and got to talking with a young mother sitting next to me. This was a pretty middle class woman, but she was definitely aware of Sawant (she liked her “passion”) as well as the issue of the fifteen dollar minimum wage. She had some doubts about it, but those doubts were easily put to rest. (See this article.)
Although Socialist Alternative had been hoping for up to 1000 at the fifteen now conference, even 400 is not a bad outcome and would not have been possible had Sawant not won the election. (Probably close to 200 were Socialist Alternative members.)
Involving Low Wage Workers
However, the conference also showed that the campaign has not really made any major headway in breaking into exactly that sector who most need a $15 per hour minimum wage – single working parents, black and Latino youth, etc. From the outside, it is impossible to know for sure if this is because of the orientation of Socialist Alternative or because it is exactly these layers who feel the most depressed and abandoned.
Whatever the reason, it must be admitted that the orientation and strategy of Socialist Alternative – who run “15 Now” – does not help.
Mayor’s “Income Inequality Advisory Committee”
Sawant was elected partly through the support of a layer of the union leadership. Several locals endorsed her and the majority of the delegates to the central labor council voted to give a joint endorsement to Sawant and her opponent. Because her campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage for all and immediately really hit a nerve, the newly elected mayor was forced to appoint an “Income Inequality Advisory Committee” to study the issue of the minimum wage. This committee, however, was stacked in favor of big business, but it had as a co-chair David Rolf, head of the SEIU local in Seattle. Clearly, the intent of the committee was to suck in the union leadership to give them the appearance that they had some real influence – “a seat at the table” as they say. That is nothing new.
What was new was the presence of Sawant. How would she relate to this?
We don’t know what she was doing for the first few months she was in office, but we do know that she had said she would try to “work with” the other city council members. What seems most likely is that this was coming from the union leadership. Although the composition of the committee made it clear that they would not come up with anything acceptable as far as a minimum wage proposal, Sawant and Socialist Alternative did not have a real strategy to combat them. The first mistake they made was to wait to file a ballot initiative until this late date. Even now, it was made clear at the conference that it was only filed to pressure the city council. “To pressure the city council, the threat of a ballot initiative has to be credible,” said Socialist Alternative leader Jess Spears. This sort of comment was repeated throughout the conference. Sawant, herself, said “If the council doesn’t do what 67% of their constituents want them to do, we’ll take the charter amendment (the ballot initiative) to the voters.”
Read More:15 Now conference report
pictures: left – victims of Deir Yassin massacre; right – Vladimir Jabotinsky, pro-fascist Zionist leader
Today, Zionism is a major force amongst the world’s Jews. Probably the great majority within the Jewish community here in the United States sympathizes with the State of Israel and its policies to some degree or another. This was not always the case, however. Up until the 1930s, Zionism was seen as a fringe movement within the Jewish communities of Europe and elsewhere.
This was because the idea of a national Jewish state did not reflect the material conditions of the Jews; they did not make up a true national grouping, as do the Kurdish or East Timorese people for instance. They were spread out throughout the entire world, often speaking different languages, eating different foods, having different cultures. While they were brutally oppressed in many regions (such as Eastern Europe and Russia), the idea of building a new nation thousands of miles away did not reflect their experiences or conditions. Those young Jews who wanted to fight against oppression of their people, in the main, turned to social democracy and later to Communism as the solution. They saw the oppression of Jews as being integrally liked with the oppression and exploitation of capitalism itself and did not see any solution within the confines of capitalism. The largest and most influential Jewish political force at that time was the Bund. (The Bund was a social-democratic, or reformist socialist, organization that existed throughout Eastern Europe.)
read more: New Apartheid 2014 edition