Saturday, July 4, 2015

Confederate flag: ‘Symbol of fight by labor’s deadly enemies’

Confederate flag: 'Symbol of
fight by labor's deadly enemies'
Below is an excerpt from a talk by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, to a 2001 socialist conference in Oberlin, Ohio, organized by the SWP and the Young Socialists. It is taken from the chapter "Jim Crow, the Confederate Battle Flag, and the Fight for Land" in Pathfinder's book Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power . Copyright © 2009 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.


In the decade following the defeat of the slavocracy in 1865, the rising northern industrial bourgeoisie — now reknitting links with powerful landholding, commercial, and emerging manufacturing interests across the South — settled once and for all that it had no intention of meeting the aspirations of freed slaves for the radical land reform captured by the popular demand for "forty acres and a mule." Doing so, first of all, would have deprived these exploiters of a cheap supply of jobless laborers. What's more, the bourgeoisie correctly feared that an alliance of free farmers, Black and white, together with the growing manufacturing and machinofacturing working class in the cities, could pose a strong challenge to intensifying exploitation in town and country, North and South.

In 1877 the U.S. rulers withdrew federal troops from the states of the old Confederacy. These troops had been the armed force of last resort standing between the freed Black toilers, on the one hand, and gangs of well-armed reactionary vigilantes, on the other. Throughout the closing decades of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, successive generations of organizations such as the Knights of the White Camelia, the White League, the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizens' Councils, and many others — named, unnamed, or renamed — carried out an unrelenting reign of terror against the Black population in the South. …

The battles for Black freedom in rural counties, small towns, and cities across the South, and extending to the North, helped in turn to transform the possibilities for workers and farmers alike throughout this country, and throughout other parts of the world under assault by Washington. The conquests of this mass proletarian-based movement laid a foundation, among other things, for a common struggle with common demands by working farmers in the United States today, as part of a fighting worker-farmer alliance resisting the profit-driven course of the capitalist class. It attracted, politicized, and gave courage to several generations of youth who would provide the energy for struggles against the Vietnam War, against discrimination in all government employment and the armed forces, for the defense and extension of civil liberties and civil rights, for women's emancipation, and for an accompanying broad political radicalization.

The results of history remain alive for us, unresolved contradictions that never completely go away so long as the class questions posed by giant social and political conflicts remain unsettled and have yet to become a weapon in the hands of militants today. The full consequences of the defeat of Radical Reconstruction will only be uprooted following the victory of a proletarian revolution in this country.

That's why struggles over state governments displaying the Confederate battle flag, or over statues or holidays in tribute to political or military leaders of the slaveholders' rebellion, continue to have weight in the class struggle many decades — indeed almost a century and a half — after it was routed in a bloody civil war.*

These fights today in South Carolina, Mississippi, and elsewhere are not about Blacks and supporters of civil rights being mean to somebody in the South whose great granddaddy was a Confederate soldier who "fought bravely" and was "a good man." Let's stipulate that. Many Confederate soldiers did fight bravely and were good men; in their big majority they were the sons of workers and farmers, like most soldiers in any modern army, especially those in the infantry. What does that have to do with the murderous political meaning, both then and now, of the battle flag of the Confederate army, an army vanquished and crushed for all time 136 years ago?

When displayed today, that flag is an emblem of, and encouragement to, reactionary forces who are determined to preserve as much as they can of the consequences of a bloody counterrevolution that shaped the trajectory of the U.S. class struggle in the twentieth century. It is a rallying point for forces who are acting on that determination. It is a symbol of the fight by deadly enemies of labor to turn back the gains of the civil rights movement and to divide and weaken the working class in this country. It is the flag of cowards on the highways, assaulting the dignity of Blacks day in and day out with stickers and medallions on their rearview mirrors, windows, and bumpers. It is the banner under which, only a few years ago, brutal and bloody assaults against Blacks were launched. And, most important, it remains a banner under which such assaults — against African Americans, immigrants, Jews, abortion clinics, gays, and other targets of reaction — often are and will be launched until the capitalist roots of that Dixie rag are ripped out of the ground by the toilers of this country and replaced by the dictatorship of the proletariat.


* The biggest of these fights was in South Carolina. On January 17, 2000, some fifty thousand people marched in Columbia, South Carolina, to demand the Confederate battle flag be taken down from the state capitol. The flag had been raised over the building in 1962 by the all-white state legislature as an act of defiant support to Jim Crow segregation and encouragement to those carrying out violent assaults on demonstrations for Black rights. Among the organizers of the Columbia march were members of International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422 in Charleston. Three days later ILA pickets at the docks protesting the use of scab labor by a shipper were assaulted by six hundred cops in riot gear. Several unionists were injured, eight arrested, and five indicted on felony charges of instigating a riot. In November 2001, in face of a growing defense campaign involving thousands of workers around the country, prosecutors dropped the frame-up felony charges and replaced them with misdemeanors, to which the workers pled no contest and were fined $100 each.
In July 2000, by vote of the state legislature, the Confederate banner was taken down and moved to a flagpole on capitol grounds next to a monument to fallen Confederate soldiers.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Editorial: Ukraine: stop attacks on political rights!

Ukraine: stop attacks on political rights!
Working people should condemn the attacks on free speech rights by the Ukrainian government of Petro Poroshenko — from the thought-control "decommunization" law and proposed banning of the Communist Party to attempts to brand the independent miners union and all other critics of Kiev's anti-working-class policies as "fifth-column" tools of Moscow.
The labor movement and working class oppose restrictions on the right to speak freely. When the rulers move to silence any group, it sets a precedent that will unerringly be aimed at the fighting toilers. And it gives encouragement to the kind of thug actions by the bosses and rightist groups that have been directed against unionists as well as members of the CP in Ukraine.

We likewise condemn the May 28 decree by Russian President Vladimir Putin making it a criminal offense to report on the death of Russian soldiers during "special operations" — a blatant attempt to stifle criticism of Moscow's involvement in the separatist war in Ukraine.

The massive Maidan movement that overthrew the pro-Moscow regime of Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 brought new confidence to working people in Ukraine. It opened the door for new experiences, a fresh look at revolutionary continuity buried by betrayals and lies, and deepening discussion about how to chart an independent working-class road forward.

The challenges before workers in Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere demand the freest debate of political views. Protest all moves to criminalize political views and organizations! Demand a halt to assaults and intimidation against people for their political activities!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Cuban Revolution: Example of fight against Jew-hatred

Cuban Revolution: Example
of fight against Jew-hatred

Since the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro and the Cuban Communist Party have spoken and acted forcefully against anti-Semitism, making a sharp distinction between the policies of the capitalist government of Israel and the Jewish people both there and in Cuba.

The Israeli government has consistently backed the U.S. embargo aimed at overthrowing Cuba's socialist revolution. In 2014, as in past years, Tel Aviv was the only government to vote with Washington against the United Nations resolution calling for the U.S. to lift it.

While Cuba's revolutionary government has strongly opposed Tel Aviv's assaults and discrimination against Palestinians, it has refused to challenge the state of Israel's right to exist.

"I don't think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews," Castro told Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for the Atlantic magazine in a September 2010 interview.

"Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms," Castro said, referring to waves of bloody anti-Jewish riots in Russia and Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. "One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation."

"The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust," Castro said.

"Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism," Goldberg wrote. He criticized Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then-president of Iran, for denying the organized mass murder of some 6 million Jews, two-thirds of European Jewry, from 1933 by the Nazi regime in Germany, and "explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the 'unique' history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence."

Goldberg asked Castro if he thought the state of Israel had the right to exist. "Yes, without a doubt," Castro replied. When Goldberg then asked if Cuba would re-establish relations with Israel, Castro said that these things take time.

President Barack Obama was forced last December to admit Washington's embargo had failed to bring down Cuba's revolution, which — as the 1 million-strong May Day demonstration in Havana shows — maintains the overwhelming support of workers and farmers there. Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced Dec. 17 the two governments would seek to re-establish diplomatic relations.

"Will Israel follow the U.S. lead and restore ties with Cuba?" Haaretz newspaper in Israel asked two days later. After the Cuban Revolution, the two countries had maintained diplomatic relations until after the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

"I have no doubt that Cuba is interested in ties with Israel," Rafi Eitan, a former operations head of Israel's spy agency, told the Jerusalem Post after the December announcements. "Renewing diplomatic ties with Cuba depends first and foremost on Israel."

Fidel's support for Cuban Jews
"Fidel had never visited the Jewish community," Adela Dworin, a medical doctor and president of the Patronato, the Jewish Community Center in Havana, told Richard Fellman, who visited Cuba as part of a mission to the Jewish community of Cuba sponsored by a Syracuse, New York, synagogue in 2013. So when Dworin saw Castro at a meeting in 1998, she approached him.
"'You've never been to the Patronato,' I told Fidel. He smiled and replied, 'That's true. But you never invited me.'" Castro attended a Hanukkah celebration there two weeks later.

Raúl Castro led a delegation to the Patronato in December 2010, donned a yarmulke, the Jewish skullcap, and lit Hanukkah candles. First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez lit the candles in 2013.

Kosher butcher shop
A March 11 article titled "How Castro Saved Cuba's Kosher Butcher" in Haaretz describes how Fidel Castro wrote a letter in 1962 providing for the meat shop to continue functioning at a time when many businesses were being nationalized by the revolutionary government.
Yacob Berezniak Hernández, an accountant and butcher, runs the shop today under the sponsorship of the Orthodox synagogue Adath Israel, which he leads. Once a month Berezniak supervises the slaughter of 60 cows along religious guidelines at a meat plant outside Havana, taking the front halves back to his shop, where he butchers them and distributes the meat free of charge to the city's three synagogues.

Under Cuba's rationing system, each person is allocated a fixed amount of pork every day, but because Jews don't eat pork, an exception is made for the Jewish community to receive kosher beef instead.

At the time of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, there were some 15,000 Jews in Cuba. Today there are around 1,500 practicing Jews, most in Havana, and thousands more of Jewish descent who are not religious believers.

In 1991 the Cuban government allowed the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to begin sending visiting rabbis, kosher food and pharmaceuticals, and to finance celebrations to mark religious holidays and camp programs. The Patronato hosts Sunday school classes and lectures on Judaism and Cuban-Israeli relations.

"I never suffer any kind of persecution," Dworin told Emily Shire, a reporter for the Daily Beast, earlier this year. "My parents came from Poland. I decided to stay, and I made a good choice. Life here is much safer than in other Latin American countries."

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Join the fight against police brutality!


Join the fight against police brutality!
We are reprinting here an updated editorial the Militant released after our last issue was published. We don't know where the next incident of police brutality will occur, only that it will, given the nature of capitalism and the role of the police the bosses deploy to defend their rule. Join us in this fight.
We join in celebrating the filing of criminal charges May 1 against six Baltimore policemen for the killing of Freddie Gray. We call on workers, farmers and youth to press for their vigorous prosecution.

Join the demonstrations in Baltimore. Help initiate actions where you live to protest this and other cop brutality.

Killings of African-Americans at the hands of police are nothing new. Black lives matter! What is new is the growing refusal of working people — Black, Caucasian, Latino, all of us — to accept these moral outrages without a fight.

Political representatives of the capitalist rulers — Democrats, Republicans and "independents" who trail after them — aim to divide and weaken our struggles and corral us into bourgeois politics. Obama scolds us to fight the "right way" and smears workers as "thugs" and "criminals." So does Baltimore's mayor, labeling protesters "outside agitators" to boot.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch says the explosion in Baltimore was "a shattering of the peace." But there is no peace anywhere cops kill and brutalize workers with impunity.

The way to stay the hands of killer cops is to build a powerful, disciplined working-class social movement. As we do, we will transform ourselves, recognizing through struggle our own worth, our own dignity. We'll gain confidence together.

More and more working people will see the need to break from the bosses' parties and build a labor party based on the unions. A party to unite workers and our allies fighting cop brutality, for $15 and a union and against capitalism's wars and social catastrophes.

We can look to the example of the Cuban Revolution, where ordinary men and women, workers and farmers like us, took power out of the hands of the U.S.-backed capitalist rulers, changing themselves in struggle, and reorganized society based on human needs not profit.

Today the fight to keep the spotlight on the prosecution of those responsible for Freddie Gray's death builds on battles against the killings of Walter Scott in South Carolina, Eric Garner in New York City and many more. The protests draw support from those demanding higher pay at McDonald's and Walmart, from rail and oil workers fighting to impose safe conditions on the job and in surrounding communities.

Each new battle reinforces others. Join us!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Scotland independence debate in UK driven by divisions among capitalists

Scotland independence debate in UK
driven by divisions among capitalists

EDINBURGH, Scotland — After months of public debate, a high turnout is expected in Scotland for the Sept. 18 vote on whether the country should separate from the United Kingdom. In response to a recent poll indicating a slight lead for independence, the British pound took its steepest dive in more than a year.
The competing pro-independence and "Better Together" campaigns are backed by rival factions of the ruling class, both appealing to the "Scottish people" for support. But neither side has anything to offer working people — Scottish or otherwise — who share common interests and concerns throughout the U.K.

The referendum is the initiative of the Scottish National Party, the governing party in the Scottish Parliament led by Alex Salmond.

The SNP announced Aug. 28 the endorsement of the "yes" campaign by 200 business leaders, who promise a road to economic prosperity. "An independent Scotland will recognize entrepreneurs small and large as the real wealth and job creators of the nation's economic future," the letter from the 200 said.

Tony Banks, chairman of Business for Scotland, commented, "Our members know Scotland's balance sheet is relatively stronger than the U.K.'s."

The factionalism is driven in part by sharpening rivalries that grow out of the worldwide slowdown of capitalist production and trade. Among the key issues is access to tax revenue from North Sea oil. "It's Scotland's oil," declares the Scottish National Party.

The three main parties of British capitalism — Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats — are united behind the "no" campaign, concerned that the breakup would accelerate the decline of British imperialism.

"Continued union offers greater certainty and stability for our business," Ian King, chief executive of aerospace giant BAE Systems, said in March, voicing the majority sentiment of the British ruling class.

Salmond has said that an independent Scotland would retain its membership in NATO, keep the Queen as head of state, seek EU membership and keep the pound sterling as its currency.

More than economic questions are at stake. "For the second military power in the West to shatter this year would be cataclysmic in geopolitical terms," former NATO Secretary-General George Robertson, a Scot, said in a speech in Washington earlier this year.

The pro-independence section of the Scottish bourgeoisie and meritocratic layers beholden to them have lost interest in maintaining the military power necessary to defend the interests of British imperialism in the world and believe they can do fine without it. The independence campaign has called for the removal of Trident nuclear submarines from their base in Faslane, Scotland, in coming years. While the United Kingdom's ruling families insist on control over strategic nuclear weapons in the event of a breakup, the prospect of relocation presents political and military problems for them.

In a TV debate, Salmond railed against benefit and health care cuts imposed by London and used the government cuts as a club against Alistair Darling, a former Labour chancellor of the exchequer and head of the "Better Together" campaign.

Meanwhile, the SNP-led government itself has been chipping away at health care and other social gains in Scotland, alongside their counterparts throughout the U.K. "Look at the cuts in my local hospital St Johns in Livingston," said Leo Thomson, a health care worker and former coal miner.

While the pro-independence campaign is dressed up in appeals to Scottish nationalism, national sentiments or grievances are much less a factor among workers and farmers than they have been in decades past. Instead, most working people are approaching the referendum from the point of view of how its outcome may affect their living standards and working conditions, under attack by the bosses and their government.

"A 'yes' vote would mean all the wealth would be taken out of the hands of Westminster," said Jamie Devlin, a pest control worker from Glasgow. "It's not about the SNP, but the Scottish people. Independence will open up change."

"I am taking home £30 [$48] per week less now than two years ago and I'm working harder on 10-hour shifts," said Jacek Kawaleca, one of 1,700 workers, many Polish, who were laid off in February last year when the Halls meat factory in Broxburn closed. Kawaleca, who is now working at a nearby meat plant, said he hadn't decided how to vote, but feared greater uncertainty with independence.

Retired worker John Murray said he'd vote "no" because he didn't want to risk losing his state pension.

Meanwhile, what workers have in common throughout the U.K. is brought into sharper focus by initial stirrings of labor resistance. On July 24, for example, 900 workers downed tools the day Prime Minister David Cameron was due to visit the Total oil company construction site for a new gas plant in the Shetlands, a group of islands 100 miles north of the Scottish mainland. Since November 2013, when 47 workers were briefly locked out, there have been ongoing protests by the workers seeking extra pay for housing and travel time.

Last October Salmond helped lead a campaign by oil bosses to pressure workers at the Grangemouth refinery into accepting a no-strike pledge under threat of a lockout and permanent closure.

We need "better than we have now, but we'd be no better off with a 'yes' vote and Salmond," said Linda McKay from Cranhill in Glasgow, who receives disability benefits.