Saturday, September 29, 2012

Experience, combativity and self-confidence: US SWP 2012 campaign statement

Fight for massive jobs program!
(SWP campaign statement)

Among the most striking features of bourgeois politics in the 2012 election race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney—in which the pundits all say the economy and jobs are the number one issue—is that neither of the bosses' parties has any plan that could actually alleviate the high unemployment that plagues the working class.

Since the historic crisis of production and trade deepened with the economic contraction in 2008, joblessness has soared and remained high—higher than official government statistics claim and devastatingly high for youth and workers who are Black.

The capitalist rulers have no solution to their crisis. Their only "plan" is that being carried out by Federal Reserve Chairman "Helicopter" Ben Bernanke: print $40 billion a month and throw it to the banks. But this won't create a single job.

The one thing the bosses all agree on is to make our class pay for their crisis with attacks on our wages, working conditions and social and political rights.

Meanwhile, joblessness promotes competition among workers for jobs, used as a lever by the bosses to tear up union contracts and squeeze higher returns from our labor.

The working class, labor, socialist campaign of James Harris for president and Maura DeLuca for vice president puts forward an action program of immediate demands for workers to fight around that can put us in a stronger position to forge solidarity and more effectively stand up to the bosses' assaults.

Among these demands, the SWP campaign calls for a massive government-funded jobs program to put millions to work at union-scale wages to build homes, schools, hospitals, child care centers, roads, bridges and public transportation—things that workers need.

Through various struggles, like the fight for jobs, we can gain experience, combativity and self-confidence and discuss how we can best organize to fight against the root cause of the assaults on our class and its allies—the capitalist system itself.


Romney '47%' talk stirs up bourgeois debate over role of government
Remarks by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made at a fundraiser in May recently went viral in the press, drawing attention to the challenge he has in concealing his bourgeois contempt for working people and fueling the debate between the two bosses' parties on the role of government.

Like his Democratic rival Barack Obama, Romney is learning the hard way not to say what he thinks about those he is asking to vote for him.

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for [Obama] no matter what," Romney told participants at a private fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla., May 17 that was first disclosed by Mother Jones Sept. 17.

This 47 percent, according to Romney, "are people who pay no income tax" and are therefore deaf to his platform. They are people, he said, "who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. … And so my job is not to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Obama similarly let his guard down more than once before he started working harder on subduing his anti-working-class disdain. Speaking to supporters at a home in San Francisco's exclusive Pacific Heights neighborhood during his 2008 campaign for president, for example, Obama frankly expressed his view of workers in the small Pennsylvania towns where he had just been campaigning, and in "a lot of small towns in the Midwest."

Job opportunities for workers in these areas have been falling, said Obama. "And it's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

While Democrats seized on the opportunity to score points against Romney, his remarks—which he later characterized as "inelegant"—were also received with widespread criticism from conservative commentators.

Many pointed out the fallacy in his contention: A large majority of those who don't pay federal taxes do pay substantial payroll taxes. Of those who pay neither, most are elderly and retired. The remainder, about 7 percent of the population, have annual incomes below $20,000. Given that reality, they said, it's not a good idea to disparage a huge cross-section of society, a substantial portion of whom in fact represent your base of support.

"Surely a man as smart as the former CEO of Bain Capital can give a better speech on taxes and dependency than he delivered at the fundraiser," wrote the Wall Street Journal. "If he can't he'll lose, and he'll deserve to." Lesson: Ditch the country club talk when you're running for office.

In an opinion column in the Sept. 19 Washington Post titled "Romney's Drift from the True Heart of Conservatism," Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute pointed out that it was conservatives who "created the child tax credit in 1997 and expanded it in 2001 to reduce the tax burdens" for those on low incomes.

Debate on 'entitlements'
The media frenzy around Romney's remarks fed into the debate within bourgeois politics on the role of government, so-called entitlements, and how fast to slash government expenses on social programs. Romney sought to re-cast and defend his remarks shortly after they went public by focusing on this debate: "The president's view is one of larger government; I disagree," he said in a Sept. 18 interview on Fox News. "I think a society based on a government-centered nation where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money, that's the wrong course for America."

U.S. government expenses have been rising for many decades, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. A deficit in the capitalists' government budget has mushroomed as a result of their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, growing interest payments on the national debt, and the impact of the worldwide capitalist crisis. Today, both candidates are pledging to rein in this deficit and present this as a problem that all citizens must accept—one that requires "shared sacrifices."

In seeking support for his pledge to do more than his Democratic rival to cut government expenses and simultaneously reduce taxes, Romney demagogically appeals to workers who rightly oppose the increasing intrusion of government in their lives and are adverse to feeling dependent on it. And conservative politicians hope to gain a hearing from workers who are becoming more distrustful of a government that is continually chipping away at constitutional protections—a bipartisan course that neither candidate speaks a word about.

Dependency on gov't bureaucracies
On the other hand, there's the left liberal view characteristic of the self-styled "enlightened meritocracy" of which Obama is a leading spokesperson. Lurking behind their feigned empathy for the impact of the capitalist crisis on our lives is a combination of disdain and fear. They seek to breed and reinforce attitudes of dependency on government bureaucracies and their patronage peddlers. And under current economic conditions and the absence of mass social struggles, many workers find themselves susceptible to this trap as well.

In this view the government is not the state power to manage the affairs of the capitalist rulers, but your "community." This notion was succinctly presented at the Democratic Party Convention by Rep. Barney Frank. He said, "There are things that a civilized society needs that we can only do when we do them together, and when we do them together that's called government."

Social wages such as unemployment compensation and welfare were won through working-class struggles and represent the recapturing of a small portion of the social wealth the working class alone creates. The promotion of "entitlements" as a gift from the government for which we are supposed to be grateful, on the other hand, represents an attempt to turn these gains into their opposite.

The premise behind the traditional conservative view, however, is that social problems can and should be solved by individual initiative and at the family and community level, with minimal government interference.

The latter part of this—with minimal government interference—is an outlook shared by communists, consistent with the views put forward by Karl Marx, Frederick Engels and Vladimir Lenin. This stands in stark contrast to benevolent big government visions of liberals, petty-bourgeois left radicals and Stalinists.

Our greatest social problems are created and reproduced by social relations under capitalism. Only with the working class in political power can the creative initiatives and energies of working people at the most basic level—local, neighborhood and community—be unleashed and social problems confronted and solved by the toilers themselves. This is what the experiences of socialist revolutions in Russia and Cuba show.

The function of a revolutionary government of the toilers is to maintain the political power of the working class and to wither away as the threat of capitalist restoration recedes. The socialist society will have no need for cops and prison guards, lawyers and bureaucrats. Teachers and doctors will perform their social services in the neighborhoods where they live with other workers of all kinds.

Many commentators, liberal and conservative, predicted Romney's comments would result in plummeting support at the polls. But so far there is little evidence of any major impact and the race remains close. Perhaps workers were not so shocked or surprised. Maybe instead of changing their vote, more will simply stay home.

Easing and decline

Fed action kicks up stock prices as bosses kick us
Graph shows percentage of population employed and negligible effect of Federal Reserve's "quantitative easing" and other monetary schemes. Employment to population ratio is used here because unlike official jobless rate it can't easily be "calculated" to obscure reality.

Graph indicates Fed's monetary fiddling has helped reinflate stock market even further out of whack with actual production, "kicking the can" of financial paper down the road, building up inflationary pressures and paving way for greater crises down the road.

Graph shows relative changes in manufacturing output and number of workers employed in manufacturing, based on 100 representing average levels in 2007. Output has leveled out around 5 percent below pre-recession levels. Widening gap in last part of graph is indication of bosses' intensification of labor, which has helped capitalists boost short-term profits.

More than three years into the so-called recovery, employment levels have in fact remained unchanged since bottoming out at the opening of 2010. The length of this stagnation following a sharp drop is an unprecedented development in U.S. history.

Manufacturing output has barely begun to recover after a drastic decline in 2008. And this is being accomplished on the backs of working people, as increased job speedup and falling real wages are touted as "progress" against "our" competitors in Europe and Asia.

Not to worry: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is cranking the valve wide open on the Fed's money hose again. This time for an indefinite period. And all without an impediment from some pretence of a democratic-style decision-making process, like a vote from the legislature.

Saying he hoped to "nudge the economy in the right direction," Bernanke announced Sept. 13 the third round of "quantitative easing," ostensibly aimed at providing incentives for bosses to expand production and hiring.

With QE3 the Fed will purchase $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities from banks each month on an indefinite basis. These claims on cash flows from payments on mortgage loans are considered of questionable value and hard for banks to sell as more and more people are unable to maintain payments.

This scheme, which amounts to printing money and injecting it into the banking system, will spur the economy we are told. It's modeled after QE1 and QE2, implemented between November 2008 and June 2011. These measures had no discernable effect on employment, not even a temporary one.

The Fed also seeks to keep short-term interest rates near zero at least until 2015. It aims "to drive down long-term interest rates and push investors into other assets, like stocks," notes the Wall Street Journal.

Running concurrently with QE3 is the Fed's "Operation Twist" program, begun a year ago, in which an additional $45 billion is spent each month to purchase long-term U.S. Treasury bonds. This program is scheduled to run at least through the end of the year.

Bernanke argues all this "should spur more spending, investment and exports," according to the Journal.

But "spending," or what economists often refer to as "consumption," can't be spurred without more jobs and a permanent increase in incomes on a large scale. Printing money can't help there.

When speaking of "investment" the question becomes investment in what? As the Journal said, Fed policies are primarily driving capitalists to put more money in stocks, driving up stock prices and giving the false appearance to some—workers not among them—that something positive is happening.

Upon the announcement of QE3, the S&P 500 stock index rose 1.6 percent to its highest level since 2007—14 percent since the start of June, reported the Economist. Its inflated levels stand in sharp contrast to the lack of any recovery in jobs and expanding production.

Since the late 1960s, the average rate of industrial profit has been gradually going down. The capitalists have more and more been holding back on expenditures for expanding productive capacity or large-scale employment of labor. Instead, they're plowing their money into more speculative investments from stocks to other forms of fictitious capital in hopes that bets on rising or falling paper values will yield a bigger return.

On the other hand, huge chunks of cash are increasingly being held by banks and corporations in their own coffers. "The economy's not short of money," commented Investor's Business Daily about QE3. "Banks today have $1.5 trillion in reserves. And companies have $2 trillion in cash stowed away."

The money hose may temporarily spur U.S. exports, as another goal of QE3 is to push down the value of the dollar against other currencies, making U.S. goods cheaper on the world market.

This approach is tantamount to a declaration of war on the value of the dollar. And Washington's rivals are responding. Six days after Bernanke's announcement, the Bank of Japan said it would move to drive down the relative value of the yen. And a similar process is under way in relation to the euro.

The Fed's money printing "could cause a dollar collapse and spur inflation later," noted the Journal. While the money hose becomes less and less effective in staving off financial crises, it does pave the way for greater crises down the road.

Look at the charts on this page. Graph A shows the negligible effect of the Fed's monetary policies on employment. The employment to population figure is used here, because unlike the official unemployment rate, it can't be falsified by simply lifting "discouraged" workers out of the official workforce.

Graph B indicates that those policies have helped to spur a rebound in stock prices to their pre-recession levels, which means they are even more inflated relative to actual production than before, paving the way for harder falls.

Graph C shows the partial recovery in manufacturing has not led to any substantial hiring. The widening gap between output and employment at the end of the graph is one indication of the bosses' successful "productivity" drive to squeeze more out of each worker, while tens of millions remain jobless. This, along with the assault on wages, like the expanding multi-tier pay rates in auto plants and other factories, is the only substantive development for the capitalists' so-called recovery.

It's through such assaults on the working class that the U.S. rulers seek to become more competitive against their rivals as they drive for markets and trade—a race to the bottom with no end.

This "boom would be based on the continued decline in US unit labour costs," noted a Sept. 24 Financial Times column. "By 2016, according to Boston Consulting Group, the gap with China would have narrowed to just seven cents an hour."

China's Arctic route

China's icebreaker "Snow Dragon" docked Thursday in Shanghai after becoming the first vessel from China to cross the Arctic Ocean.
By Trude Pettersen
September 27, 2012

With melting icecaps accelerating the opening of new shipping routes and the exploration of oil, gas and mineral deposits in the Arctic, China has been eager to gain a foothold in the region. Though it has no territorial claims in the Arctic, China has been lobbying for permanent observer status on the eight-member Arctic Council in a bid to gain influence.

Another way into the Arctic, as Beijing sees it, is by showing presence.  The Chinese icebreaker "Xuelong", also known under the name "Snow Dragon", with a 119-member team aboard, became the first Chinese polar expedition has sailed all along the Northern Sea Route into the Barents Sea and upon return sailing a straight line from Iceland to the Bering Strait via the North Pole.

Xuelong returned to its base in Shanghai on Thursday after wrapping up the country's fifth Arctic expedition, which kicked off from Qingdao in east China's Shandong Province on July 2. The expedition team has performed various scientific research tasks during the expedition, including a systematic geophysical survey, installing of an automatic meteorological station, as well as launch of investigations on oceanic turbulence and methane content in the Arctic area.

They also held academic exchanges with their counterparts in Iceland, and the two groups conducted a joint oceanic survey in the waters around Iceland.

"Xuelong" left Akureyri, north on Iceland on August 20 and sailed to the edge of the Arctic ice-cap between Greenland and Svalbard. The giant icebreaker sailed into the ice north of Svalbard on August 25, heading for the so-called "future central Arctic shipping route" across the Arctic Ocean.

During the three-month voyage, the icebreaker traveled 18,500 nautical miles, including 5,370 nautical miles in the Arctic ice zone, Xinhuanet reports.

China established its first Arctic station, named Yellow River Station, in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard in Oct. 2003.

Socialism? Never heard of it!

What’s next after March on Wall Street South

Friday, September 21, 2012

ILWU Longview contract

Another Look at the "Battle of Longview"

By David Walters

For many months in the fall and winter of 2011 the "Battle of Longview" in the state of Washington captured the imagination of labor and Occupy activists across the United States and around the world. A small grain-loading local of the West Coast International Longshore Warehouse Union (ILWU Local 21) went up against a scab-herding, union-busting multinational conglomerate EGT.

Pitched battles pitted the longshore workers and their supporters in the broader labor movement in Washington and Oregon, on the one hand, against the ruling class' cops and courts, on the other. More than 200 members of Local 21, or 95% of the local membership, were arrested, as were numerous members of other unions and members of the Longview Occupy encampment.

Support for Local 21 was massive: Mobilizations and demonstrations, including two port and coast shutdowns on the West Coast, were held, involving tens of thousands of workers. Statements of solidarity came in from around the world and, most important, a threat of a massive West Coast mobilization in Longview (and another coast-wide shutdown) was issued in the event EGT attempted to load any more grain for export using scab labor. This threatened to elevate the class struggle to levels not seen since the 1930s, as thousands of West Coast workers and activists would have been drawn in to do battle with the pro-EGT forces.

The Organizer newspaper reprinted a statement at that time from the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Central Labor Council, which includes Longview, Wash. It read, in part:

    EGT is attempting to break the ILWU. EGT is operating on public port property where the ILWU have worked for decades. They are in violation of their lease agreement, which states that the ILWU is to be the workforce on port property. Longshoremen have done work in port grain elevators before the ILWU was formed [in the 1930s]. If EGT succeeds, they will have essentially broken the ILWU.

    First, they will set a precedent that work on public port docks is no longer automatically Longshore Jurisdiction. Then within less than a year, when the northwest grain handler's agreement is set to be negotiated, all the other grain elevators will seek to either go non-ILWU or will seek to match the eroded standard EGT creates. Shortly thereafter in 2014, the ILWU will negotiate its master contract with the Pacific Maritime Association. If they lose, you can bet the PMA will take notice and hit hard.

    Most important to note is that grain accounts for 30% of the ILWU health and welfare package. If you lose a third of your bargaining power and your traditional jurisdiction on port property, what are you left with? Either no ILWU, or a union that would resemble nothing like what it once was. There would be little or no collective power up and down the West Coast, and no way to fight for social justice or defend the working class, just as the ILWU has done for so long, in its entrenched and strategic position at the gates of international commerce.

For the First Time in ILWU History, Members Do Not Vote on Contract

In late January 2012, like many, we thought the issue was coming to a close. The Organizer reported the following on January 25, 2012:

    We all learned Monday afternoon (January 23) of a 'tentative agreement' reached in the bitter struggle between the 225-member ILWU Local 21 and the EGT grain corporation in Longview, Washington. This tentative agreement was announced just days before a scab grain cargo ship was slated to arrive into the port of Longview and that ILWU Local 21 supporters nationwide were readying to mobilize in large numbers to prevent EGT from loading grain from the new terminal in that port. …

    But no agreement that is reached between the ILWU leadership and EGT management is final until the members of ILWU Local 21 vote for it. On Tuesday afternoon (January 24), a number of postings were sent out over the internet indicating that ILWU 21 members had already voted on the contract, but this turned out to be an unfounded rumor. At this writing, there has been no contract vote by Local 21 members. …

    According to Occupy activist Michael Munk, 'Rumor last week was that a "small number" of ILWU Local 21 members will be allowed to work in the new terminal but, presumably, not in all the 30 or so jobs EGT designated to scabbing Oregon Operating Engineers Local 701.'

    If this rumor were confirmed, this would not be a win for the longshore workers by any stretch of the imagination.

What we did not know at the time of the settlement that ended the picketing was that at no point did Local 21 ever vote on that agreement that was negotiated for them by the leadership of the ILWU. The only vote ever taken by the membership of Local 21 was giving the ILWU president and officers the right to conduct the actual negotiations.

The ILWU membership in all its divisions gets to vote on contracts. This is written into the ILWU Constitution as an assurance of rank-and-file democratic control over the final language of any contract. But the ILWU leadership, more in the traditions of corrupt "business-unionism," violated the union's own rules and democratic traditions in order to implement an agreement more to the liking of EGT and the Democratic Party governor of Washington.

What's at Stake?

The final agreement that was negotiated was a concessionary contract, according to several rank-and-file ILWU activists who issued a statement on June 21 titled, "Danger! ILWU Headed in Wrong Direction! EGT-Longview Longshore Contract – Worst Ever!" The statement, reads in part:

    1. The historic gain of the '34 Big Strike, the union hiring hall, was gutted. This contract completely surrenders a fair order of dispatch and allows the employer to establish their own lists, one for the ship and one for shoreside, and to fire any worker without cause. For the first time the slave labor Taft-Hartley Act, intended to destroy the union hiring hall and militant actions, has been codified into our contract. A sad first in our proud history of fighting Taft-Hartley!

    2. For the first time ever this contract allows employers to do our work with superintendents and sub-contractors, i.e. scabs during 1) stop work meetings, 2) health and safety beefs, 3) bona fide picket lines! And to top it all off, 4) Bloody Thursday which we commemorate every year for the labor martyrs of the 1934 Maritime Strike killed by police by shutting down all West Coast ports!

    3. The ILWU International claims a jurisdiction 'victory' at EGT. What victory? Local 701 Operating Engineers scabs are still working at EGT. If we take job action to kick out the scabs, we're fired at the 'sole discretion of the employer.' No arbitration. That point is emphasized 14 times in the 15 page document. So where's longshore division jurisdiction that we supposedly won?! Our ship clerks were left out and so was IBU, our marine division, that backed us 100%.

    4. After every successful contract negotiation there is always a 'no reprisal' or amnesty clause to protect members and officers that were on the front lines of the battle. In the EGT contract there is NO protection for our members who inspired workers across the country by their bold actions in defense of our union and now they're going to jail while our union is facing big fines. Where are our "leaders"?

    5. The employers can rip up the contract and hire scabs if longshore workers take 3 job actions like the ones that built our union in the first place or if we don't pay a company-dictated fine of $1,500 per hour of a work stoppage within 15 days.

    6. Worst is that the membership of Longview Local 21 never even had a chance to read the contract first, then vote on it as the ILWU International Constitution guarantees. That violates the ILWU International Constitution (Article XIII Section 1. Agreements, Strikes, Lockouts and Boycotts). After leading the biggest labor struggle in years, Local 21 members were denied the most basic union right–the right to vote on their contract!" (1)

A Huge Setback

It doesn't take a Master's degree in labor history to see what a huge setback this contract represents not only for the members of Local 21 (or even for the ILWU as a whole), but for the labor movement, which sorely needs a victory in its battle against union-busting and concessionary bargaining. While the union was able to retain union recognition, the ILWU leadership signed a contract without the membership voting on it that destroyed the hiring hall, allowed continued employment of scabs side-by-side with ILWU members, and eliminated ILWU jobs in the control center of the port.

As noted in the January 2012 article in The Organizer newspaper, the Pacific Northwest Grainhandlers Association, the association of the bosses covered by the Grain Agreement with the ILWU, waited a full year before negotiating the new agreement, waiting to see how the EGT's attack on Local 21 would play out. They are now ready to negotiate a new agreement with the boilerplate of a concessionary contract forced on Local 21.

But wait, there's more! In 2014 the entire Pacific Coast Longshore Master Agreement negotiations begin. If the Grainhandlers Association is able to implement the EGT-like contract across the board in the Northwest (Puget Sound and Columbia River Valley ports), the profit-driven operators of the West Coast's main freight terminals will be next in line in terms of breaking the long-held gains that the ILWU has taken 60 years to win.

This concessionary contract now places the ILWU in the rest of the Northwest grain operations in jeopardy, with the operators now gloating over a contract that strips the ILWU of job control via the smashing of the hiring hall and the loss of the clerks' positions within the contract. The bosses will now use this victory for them as a way of generalizing similar concessions and take-always for all grain-handling contracts.

These are the stakes facing the members of the ILWU — and the labor movement as a whole.

Fighting Taft-Hartley

While we in Socialist Organizer and others in the labor movement worked to build a united front in defense of the gains of the ILWU, and we will continue to do so, the actions of the trade union misleaders cut directly across this perspective. The bureaucracy in our unions today live in fear of the Taft-Hartley Act, a piece of legislation that was passed in the wake of the post-World War II strike wave that outlaws many of the tactics historically used by unions to win against the bosses.

The Taft-Hartley Act is a vicious anti-labor piece of legislation that cannot be taken lightly. It is used as a threat by the capitalists to whip-saw militant unions into line should their struggles start to spread or increase in militancy. But it is also an Act that is used by the trade union officialdom as a way of demobilizing the membership and making concessionary contracts seem inevitable.

Indeed, it was at the very moment that momentum was building for a powerful confrontation on the Longview waterfront — a struggle that could possibly have succeeded in imposing a fair contract for the workers — that the Democratic Party governor of Washington intervened and secured the agreement of the ILWU leadership to force an unacceptable contract down the throats of its union members.

Fearing that the bosses and the government would invoke Taft-Hartley, the ILWU leadership refused to mobilize its own 40,000 members in support of its local in Longview, to the point of actually sabotaging any form of solidarity by other unions and large Occupy contingents that had begun to mobilize across the West Coast in solidarity with the Longview workers.

There is an urgent need to develop a class-struggle left wing in the labor movement that can organize against the cuts and concessions that have been thrown down against the working class. This means that unions, in the best traditions of the U.S. labor movement, have to play hard-ball and stand up to Taft-Hartley and its provisions. It means developing a movement in the unions that not only understands the need to build solidarity through united front actions, but understands that a "legal strike is a lost strike."

By creating the political situation of confrontation with the provisions of Taft-Hartley through truly mass mobilizations of the union membership and its working class community allies, we can roll over Taft-Hartley and smash its effectiveness. This can only be done by all union members relying only on ourselves and the unity of rest of our class — and not the concessionary "share-the-pain" Democrat and Republican party politicians.


(1) The actual contract can be download from the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee web site here:
The 10 Guiding Principals of the ILWU (synopsis of the ILWU Constitution) can be downloaded from here:

Lessons of the Chicago teachers strike


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Recruitment: WIL

Why I Joined the WIL
Written by Marcus Mayo
Thursday, 20 September 2012 00:39

I can remember the first feelings of passion I had for oppressed peoples beginning to percolate around the time I started listening to Public Enemy way back in junior high school. Songs like "Fight the Power" and "Can't Truss It" made me more aware of the struggles, frustrations, and anger of oppressed black people. Inspiring and insightful lyrics discussing topics like the civil rights movement, slavery, and the struggle of humanity in general contributed, among other things at the time, to feelings of strong frustration, rebellion, and an overall sense of anger at the plight of humanity.

I think over the years during junior high and high school, some of these feelings manifested themselves in some negative ways. Luckily, as I grew up and matured, I was able to channel these feelings into motivation to dig below the surface, and to try to find out how this world really works. I started reading and learning more and more. The more knowledge I acquired, the hungrier I grew for more. I learned that the world is really controlled by a small percentage of people, people with concentrated wealth and power, and that these people are pulling the strings affecting so many other people's lives.

I don't know everything about socialism yet, but what I do know is that the system we have now is not working. It's not just broken, it's fundamentally flawed, and something has to change. There has to be something different. All my life I have grown up with a simplistic understanding of socialism: the intellectually lazy notion that all socialism is inherently bad; socialism equals Stalin; the Evil Empire of Russia; and that it "sounds good on paper, but can never work."

Basically, I grew up with the same understanding that probably many people in the U.S. had and still have to this day. Part of the misconception as to what genuine socialism is is due to people simply not being very educated on Marxist philosophy, and only having a minimal grasp of what went on in Russia around the first quarter of the twentieth century, myself included.

However, perhaps an even greater cause of the common misconceptions, falsehoods, and myths about socialism, is the common practice of popular political pundits, especially on the Right, deliberately distorting and misrepresenting the ideas of socialism. The ruling capitalists and their sophisticated system of think tanks and so-called "grass roots" organizations have done a good job of turning "socialism" and "communism" into bad words. Not until I began discussing with WIL members a couple of years ago did I actually begin to develop a basic understanding of genuine Marxism and socialism, and how at its core it is a much more democratic system than what we have today.

We live in a very turbulent but exciting time. I feel that the world is at a crossroads: Capitalism has, for the past two hundred years or so, allowed humanity to make tremendous gains, but not without tremendous expense. We are now at peak oil and the environment is in a mess. Capitalism does not offer the possibility of resolving these problems.

It is also becoming more and more apparent that the worldwide financial crisis really stems from the larger and main crisis of capitalism. The capitalists rush from problem to problem, applying temporary and reactionary fixes, like sailors rushing around with buckets desperately dumping out the gushing water on their sinking ship. The world is beginning to wake up; even in the U.S., the capitalist foundations are beginning to show cracks.

I'm very excited to be with the group. I have wanted to get involved in some sort of activism for several years now, to do something other than work and simply exist; to contribute to a larger cause. I appreciate the scientific and logical approach that Marxists take, and have enjoyed the informative discussions so far in the meetings I have attended.

I look forward to being an active member, gaining a solid understanding of Marxism and socialism, so that I can get to the point where I can educate other people and explain to them confidently what Marxism truly is and strip down people's apprehensions and fears with facts and knowledge. We need a world that is not controlled by elite plutocracies, oligarchies and authoritarians; we need a world where everyone has a voice.

CTU Strike: PSL Summation

Chicago strike results in victory for the teachers
Strikers show that money can be found to fund education

By John Beacham
September 20, 2012

In a little over a week since their courageous strike began, the Chicago teachers have won a very important victory. By going out, they won a much better contract than the one being forced on them by the Chicago Public School bosses and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The teachers won concessions from the city government and Emanuel, one of the most powerful politicians in the U.S. and a Democratic Party big wig, that seemed impossible to win during the current period of capitalist austerity.

The victory is even more important when you consider that destroying public education and smashing teachers' unions is at the very top of the agenda for both Wall Street and Emanuel, who is a former banker himself. Billionaires are bankrolling the attacks on public education and teachers unions. Penny Pritzker, one of the richest people in the world, sits on the Chicago Public School board.

The strike exposed the lie that there is not enough money to fund public education and pay workers.

The strike also shows that, if we want things to get better for workers, we need to struggle against the policies and schemes of the politicians of the twin capitalist parties instead of helping get them elected.

Thousands of parents, students and allies were drawn to the strike by their shared interests with the teachers. Withholding our labor remains our most potent weapon.

In Chicago, the teachers have provided a concrete example to other workers, inside and outside of education, that instead of taking hit after hit, we can take the struggle to the bosses and win.

According to the Chicago Teachers Union, the 800 member House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly on Sept. 18 to suspend the strike and send the tentative contract to the members for a ratification vote.

The teachers' union has characterized the tentative contract as a victory based on a number of concessions that include the following:

    No increases to health care premiums in return for enrollment in a wellness program.

    Chicago Public Schools must hire over 600 additional teachers in Art, Music, Physical Education and other subjects.

    Limits on class size preserved—pushing back Mayor Emanuel's threats to remove all class size limits and crowd 55 students into a class.

    An increase in pay over what CPS was offering.

    Defeated bogus "merit" pay demanded by CPS, keeping increased pay based on experience.

    Needed textbooks will be available to students on the first day of school instead of six weeks after the start of school.

    Promotion of racial diversity in hiring at CPS—fighting the loss of African American teachers in Chicago's schools.
    Lowering of the focus on standardized testing by beating the percentage of our evaluations from test scores down to the legal minimum. Added an appeal process to the evaluations.Considering that the ruling class is waging war on unions and public education and that our class is only beginning to fight back—even where we are organized we are clearly on the defensive and have been taking loss after loss—all progressive people should support what the teachers have won in this strike.

Is the contract perfect? That's really not the correct question. No union contract under capitalism will meet all the needs of workers. Only a socialist society can do that. A union contract, properly understood, can be compared to a truce between two camps at war with each other. During a labor struggle, the central questions is: How can we get the best deal at this particular time based on the relationship of forces?

The tentative agreement between the CTU and CPS reduces the amount of time teachers will remain in a displaced teacher's pool with pay and benefits from 10 months to 5 months. This is a huge concern for teachers in the district and for the future of public education. CPS is threatening to close up to 100 schools.

The teachers will have to continue fighting to defend and expand the gains in the contract if it becomes reality. We will support them in this struggle—because it is our struggle too. As a class, we will have to continue the fight to defend education from a ruling class that wants establish a for profit apartheid-style education system.

The strike is workers' most powerful weapon against the bosses

Even when we withhold our labor, exercising our greatest collective power in capitalist society, we struggle on an uneven playing field dominated by a repressive state that works in the interests of the capitalist class. It is always better to come away from a conflict with a clear victory if it is possible.

The Chicago teachers have undeniably done that—the strike ended with demonstrable gains. It is not clear whether staying out on strike after Sept. 18 would have led to an expansion of the tentative contract's gains or even to a victory for the teachers.

On Sept. 17 Emanuel threatened the teachers by filing an injunction to declare the strike illegal and force the teachers back to work. The judge delayed hearing the injunction until Sept. 19, after the teachers were scheduled to vote on whether or not to continue the strike.

In order to continue the strike on Sept. 18 and achieve a positive outcome, the teachers must have been prepared to defy the law, had the ability to stay united under those circumstances and a reasonable assurance that other unions and workers would rally to their defense in the great likelihood that the state started jailing the leadership of the union for "breaking the law."

The victory in Chicago should provide great encouragement to workers all across the country to take matters into their hands and fight back. The struggle should be studied and emulated.

The uprising in Madison in 2011 was an important catalyst to the labor movement. It was a real life precursor to the struggle in Chicago. Madison showed that action can get results. The takeover of the Capitol stopped the union busting bill in its tracks and mobilized thousands of workers. But the only path to defeating the bill was not taken. In order to defeat the bill, the workers needed to go out on strike followed by a general strike if necessary.

The Chicago strike has provided the answer to the immediate question of what is to be done to stop the war on workers. We need to make the strike a dominant weapon in our struggle against the bosses.

Content may be reprinted with credit to

Berger's Spinoza

Bento's Sketchbook—John Berger's "Way of Seeing" Spinoza

By Kamilla Vaski
20 September 2012

Bento's Sketchbook, by John Berger, Pantheon Books, 2011 (in Great Britain, Verso)

A reader has submitted a review of a new work by the well-known cultural critic and historian, John Berger.

The more an image is joined with many other things, the more often it flourishes. The more an image is joined with many other things, the more causes there are by which it can be excited.

(Spinoza, Ethics, Part V, Proposition XIII, Proof)

Drawing is one of the earliest known forms of human art. The cave paintings of Chauvet, France, dating back at least 30,000 years, reveal a high level of aesthetic sophistication on the part of their creators. The viewer of these images can believe that the people who made them had an overwhelming need to create such works, as witness and record of how they saw their world. Later on in human history, a basic knowledge of drawing was widespread among educated men and women, and it was common practise to carry around a sketchbook in which to capture one's impressions, the same way a camera does today.

cover Cultural critic-historian and novelist John Berger's Bento's Sketchbook is a collection of stories, some of them simply vignettes, always connected to a drawing, either as the source of the story or the result of it. The "Bento" of the book's title is Baruch or Benedict de Spinoza (November 24, 1632—February 21, 1677), who holds an important place in the development of modern Western thought. A Jew of Portuguese descent, he was raised in Amsterdam, living alongside distinguished contemporaries such as Rembrandt.

In spite of the comparatively liberal attitude toward religious diversity that prevailed in Amsterdam—a port city that welcomed people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds—Spinoza was excommunicated from his synagogue for his heretical ideas. He left Amsterdam, eventually settling in The Hague, and while making a modest living as a lens-grinder, wrote the works that were to establish him posthumously as one of the great theorists of the Enlightenment.

His writings helped to replace the edifice of medieval scholastic thinking with a rational vision in which all things that exist, including minds, can be understood as parts of a whole ("nature") not influenced or controlled by anything outside itself. His Ethics, a remarkable document that he withheld from publication during his lifetime, was a refutation of the mind-body dualism of Descartes.

In the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Spinoza dissected religious and political attitudes prevailing at the time, rejecting nationalism along with the concept of Jews as the "chosen people," and asserted that the Bible was not a divinely revealed text, but one compiled from many sources. It was Hegel who said: "You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all." Marx was also without question influenced by his reading of Spinoza, though the extent of that influence has been debated.

BergerJohn Berger

Spinoza is known to have kept a sketchbook of his own drawings, which has not survived. John Berger engages in a conversation with the philosopher, imagining himself together with Spinoza seeing and drawing the world around him. Having written extensively about the meaning of painting and photography, Berger here turns his attention to the reasons for drawing, why it is important for humans to draw. Objects, people and events are asking to be drawn, to be described by an articulate witness who can interpret their meaning and worth, and pass it on to others.

We who draw do so not only to make something observed visible to others, but also to accompany something invisible to its incalculable destination. (Page 14)

We are drawn into a variety of settings, including Berger's home village, a public swimming pool in Paris, a hard-discount megamart where employees and customers alike are trapped in a kind of managerial hell all too familiar to countless numbers of the urban poor. There is a humorous depiction of the author himself, an old man getting kicked out of the National Gallery in London for stubbornly leaving his pack on the floor while drawing a copy of Antonello da Messina's painting of the Crucifixion. Ordered to leave by a member of the contracted security staff—who has no sense of connection to the art works he is there to protect—Berger loses his temper and swears at him.

There is a tribute to Berger's first publisher, Erhard Frommhold of Dresden, who was accused of "formalism and bourgeois decadence" by the East German Stalinist bureaucracy and sacked from his position as director of the Verlag der Kunst…not imprisoned but sentenced to perform "socially useful work" in a public park as a gardener's assistant.

After each encounter, we are given a quotation from Spinoza that captures the essence of the experience.

We sense and experience that we are eternal. For the mind no less senses those things which it conceives in understanding than those which it has in the memory. For the eyes of the mind by which it sees things and observes them are proofs. So although we do not remember that we existed before the body, we sense nevertheless that our mind in so far as it involves the essence of the body under a species of eternity is eternal and its existence cannot be defined by time or explained by duration.

(Spinoza, Ethics, Part V, Proposition XXIII) (Page 15)

John Berger (born 1926) has produced a remarkable body of work, as art critic, novelist, essayist, and writer for stage and film. His previous works include The Success and Failure of Picasso (1965, updated 1989), which presents a daringly critical view of the celebrity artist while he was still alive, and Art and Revolution: Ernst Neizvestny and the Role of the Artist in the USSR (1969), in which the author describes the artist's effort to maintain his vision of the true social role of art in the face of official disapprobation and censorship.

In A Fortunate Man (1967, Vintage International Edition 1997) a photographic essay written in collaboration with the Swiss photographer Jean Mohr, Berger takes the efforts of a country doctor to articulate the meaning of his life and work as the basis for an exploration of the meaning of all human endeavour. Individual essays by Berger also stand out in the memory, including The Moment of Cubism (1969) and Ernst Fischer: a Philosopher and Death (1972).

It was the 1972 BBC television series Ways of Seeing, and the book based upon it, that established Berger as a public figure. (Many college students today are familiar with Berger's name only in connection with Ways of Seeing, which continues to be assigned as a text.) The series was a response to Kenneth Clark's Civilisation, and presented a critique of the view of Western art as it was set forth in Clark's program.

Berger examined the history of European art from a materialist perspective, influenced by the thought of Walter Benjamin (whose essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" he credited as a direct source for his ideas). In one episode, devoted to the role of the nude in Western art, Berger forcefully counters Clark's views by showing how the nude (mainly female) body has been commodified and exploited. There is also a delightful segment in which the views of children as interpreters of famous art works are treated with the utmost respect.

Ways of Seeing had a tremendous impact on art criticism at the time of its release. In the years since, the influence of post-modernism has had its negative effect. Berger's presentation, eye-opening to many at the time, of how the Western art tradition is bound up with the interests of the ruling classes and of capitalism, has been dismissed by reactionary commentators as old-fashioned, even quaint. From a socialist perspective, his apparent alignment with certain conceptions of the Frankfurt School and academic "left" (for example, his contention that capitalism can appropriate virtually any concept, including revolution, to serve its own ends) has its negative implications. His prolific output continues to be unknown to many who know of him only through Ways of Seeing.

Berger long ago left England to live in the French Alps, in a village set steeply into the mountains, allowing for only a limited amount of mechanization. He has written extensively about why he chose to commit himself to a simpler way of life: in particular, he has been at pains to explain that he did so in order to be a witness to the way in which a marginalized class of people (European peasants) manage to survive and make the transition to a new, urbanized way of life (as chronicled in his trilogy Into Their Labours).

Living in geographical isolation (though travelling extensively), Berger has continued to identify with others around the world who are marginalized, not by choice. He has written eloquently about migrant workers, people displaced by war and famine and the plight of the Palestinian people. He is adamant about his opposition to the present world order, and vocal in his support for those who are oppressed by it.

But Berger does not align himself with any clear program for the socialist transformation of society—a legitimate criticism. When asked, "Are you still a Marxist?" his response is, "I am still, among other things." Berger's political evolution took him from ambiguous support for the Stalinist oppression of the Hungarian uprising of 1956 (in an early novel, A Painter of Our Time), through the activist period of the 1960s, to the broad humanism of his more recent writings.

Unlike other radicals who enjoyed a measure of fame during the 1960s, he has not turned his back on the ideals that animated him from the beginning of his career; however, his belief in their realization appears to have wavered. There is an elegiac and wistful element now in much of his writing that often seems like a lament for a lost faith: "It was history then, not brand-names, that began with a capital letter." (Page 41)

But there is no doubt about his humanity and his heart, or his unique voice. Reading Berger can be an experience of the power of the written word in the hands of a gifted writer to create subtle and intense mental images and feelings. He has a devotion to the authenticity of sensual and emotional experience, and an ability to be present in several centuries at once, that brings to the reader a vivid sense of being part of a history of struggle for art and human dignity. His influence can be detected in the style of other writers (Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje is a well-known example).

Berger is particularly eloquent in describing the process of attention and assimilation involved in creating a work of art, the need to face uncertainty and the mystery of experience, in a way that makes art an antidote to the degrading of human consciousness that characterizes capitalism. The words of the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf come to mind: "The impractical is the only practical in the long run." The process of art can never be controlled by managers.

I live in a state of habitual confusion. By confronting the confusion I sometimes achieve a certain lucidity. You showed us how to do this. (Page 139)

It must be admitted that Berger's acceptance of uncertainty and confusion indicates that he has to some degree resigned himself to a less than complete commitment to real social change, or to a definite program for achieving it. Berger has faith in humanity, in our ability to save our creative potential from destruction by a system that is hostile to its realization. But his faith in the inevitable end of capitalism is not so apparent. His great gifts as a storyteller can be appreciated, while recognizing the inadequacy of his political vision.

Here is a link to John Berger reading excerpts from Bento's Sketchbook.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Republicans, Democrats & Benghazi


The Occupy movement in the USA and the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor

Breaking with the Democrats: essential for labor

 An Electoral-Season Note to My Liberal Friends

Well into the silly season, the heat is turned up on the Left to fall in line and support the Democratic Party. On one hand, the independent Left is diminished by not being "in the game." On the other hand, the Left is still excoriated for having been "in the game" with Nader during the Gore-Bush Presidential race of 2000.

Specious arguments pile on top of specious arguments for why the spurned progressive, liberal, and labor voter should reward those who have disregarded their interests and broken their campaign promises. The arguments come in every size and shape, but always from self-described "friends" and "committed leftists." Oddly enough, they feel no compunction to explain why their past admonitions or their previous enthusiasms produced no real change in the political landscape when Democrats took power.

They smugly ask if independent-thinking leftists actually believe that there are no differences between the two parties. Only an idiot would respond defensively to this deceptive, distracting tact. Of course there are differences, just as there are differences between Pepsi and Coke. But the relevant question is: Are there any differences that matter, any differences that -- in the dynamics of two-party governing-- will effectively alter the plight of the majority of the US population for the better?

If the Democrats hold the Presidency, there is every reason to believe that they will do no more than they did when they had the rare dominance of all three governing branches. Indeed there is every reason to believe that Obama would relish compromising with the Republican agenda, an approach that he previously embraced even when he had no reason to do so.

On the other hand, should the Republicans gain the Presidency, the Democrats will, as they have in the past, show much more eagerness to demonstrate differences with Republicans and more vigorously attack Republican initiatives. They will offer a more leftward agenda since there is no danger of having to implement progressive policies. And they will embrace the Left insofar as it will mount the sharpest and most coherent attack on Republican policies, while doing so in a loud and demonstrative way.

A Democratic Party out of power is a belligerent, feisty party that will even spread some cash around to support left and progressive causes. Of course, that financial link secures a certain loyalty that perhaps explains the
enthusiasm shown for the Democrats by many of our progressive brothers and sisters in every election cycle.

For decades, we have been warned of the dangers wrought by Republican victories: an unfriendly supreme court, an attack on welfare, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, war mongering and aggression, etc. Yet despite the handing of power back and forth for nearly forty years, the dangers have continued to deepen—the US has suffered a constant rightward drift since the middle of the Carter administration. Apparently, the "Vote Democratic" argument is only an argument about the pace of that drift.

But the greatest victims of the Democratic Party love-fest are truth and honesty. Take Paul Krugman, for example. His soap box in The New York Times has served to excoriate the Obama administration for doing far too little to bring the US economy back from the grip of crisis. On many occasions, he has warned of the dangers of closing the stimulus program and embracing austerity, policies that he acknowledges Obama has endorsed. Reviewers of his new book note the dominant theme of political inaction and the dangers that ensue.

Yet Krugman holds his nose and delivers a ringing endorsement of Obama's economic policies in a recent column: "But is the mess really getting cleaned up [by the Administration]? The answer, I would argue, is yes… So, as I said, the odds are that barring major mistakes, the next four years will be much better than the past four years… So Bill Clinton basically had it right: For all the pain America has suffered on his watch, Barack Obama can fairly claim to have helped the country get through a very bad patch, from which it is starting to emerge."

Following the lead of the old huckster, Bill Clinton, Krugman dutifully salutes the President with approval of the Administration's economic program contrary to his often-voiced disparagement. Krugman gets kudos for loyalty to the Party, but shame for despoiling honesty. If the next four years "will be much better" under Obama's stewardship, then why should we take Krugman's constant dire warnings at all seriously?

Democratic partisans will cry foul. For them, criticizing Krugman's waffling is another example of left "purity." But truth and honesty do not allow for shadings or gradations. The people deserve better. And they want better, as opinion polls consistently show.

The corruption of politics in the US is neither an aberration nor an accident. Instead it is the logical evolution of a political system in the era of state-monopoly capitalism operating freely and without the counter force of a strong, independent working class movement. The process of that evolution is revealing.

Looking Back

It is easy to forget that not so long ago there were currents and trends in the Democratic Party that represented more than the authority of markets, the interests of corporations, and the enthusiastic approval of military adventure. That is not to say that the Democratic Party was not a bourgeois party, a party of capitalism. It is and always has been. But there was a time when the party's course was disputed terrain; a variety of interests wrestled for its direction.

The Democratic Party's defeat in the 1980 election was presaged by an enormous fund-raising advantage by the Republicans. The Republican Party as a whole raised $130.3 million in the 1979-80 period over the Democrats' meager $23 million. Perhaps more than any other factor in the Reagan victory, this glaring inequity cast the mold for the future Democratic course. In addition, organized labor's decline and the falling electoral participation of poor and working people spurred new rightist trends in the Party.

Going into the 1984 election, the Democratic Party found itself torn between three ideological currents. While all agreed that an answer to the successful extreme right victory in 1980 was critical, factions differed on how to respond. These differences were fought out in the primaries.

Walter Mondale represented old-school Cold War liberalism. While drifting to the right to accommodate Reaganism, Mondale claimed to uphold New Deal values, though without offering any new social programs. He drew support from the entrenched leadership of the New Deal coalition: labor, minorities and liberals.

A new trend emerged around the candidacy of Gary Hart. Appealing to the well-off middle strata that moved into the Democratic Party in large numbers after the Nixon debacle, Hart proposed a "third way" (prescient of the Blair/Clinton developments to come) between traditional liberalism and the Reagan/Thatcher rightist turn. Hart and his ilk saw themselves as social liberals and fiscal conservatives, combining lifestyle tolerance with corporate friendliness and market-based policies. This third way promised to retain the cultural veneer of liberalism while gutting its Keynesian, welfare-state directed policies that supported and bolstered the well-being of workers and the poor. A not inconsequential bonus was that business-friendly policies would draw greater campaign contributions from corporations and the wealthy.

Some in the Party recognized the rightward drift of the old guard and viewed the launching of the new Reagan-lite model with alarm. Jesse Jackson, in a letter to former progressive flag-bearer, George McGovern, wrote: "Too many Democrats have gone along with Republicans on every Reagan policy." In response, Jackson launched a national primary campaign to win the Democrats away from the right turn that he correctly anticipated. With a base in the long-neglected African-American community, Jackson reached out to labor and other progressive constituencies.

Despite deeply embedded racism and Democratic Party sabotage, Jackson waged an impressive campaign garnering almost 20% of the vote and winning 5 primaries, all without substantial funding and Party support.

Nonetheless, Mondale won the nomination and went on to lose overwhelmingly to Ronald Reagan.

Ignoring  the strong showing of the progressive Left, the Democratic leadership moved forward with what The Nation magazine previously dubbed "Reaganism with a human face" (6-26-1982).

The new direction for the Democratic Party was sealed with the creation of a wide-ranging policy statement in August of 1986. Entitled "New Choices in a Changing America," the slick, comprehensive document gave the imprimatur of the Party leadership to the path of economic conservatism, market-based policies, and limited government action. The Democratic leadership had heard the gospel of Reagan and found a way to call it their own. The answer to unemployment, poverty, and declining living standards was partnership with the private sector, rising worker productivity, and clearing the regulatory barriers to growth. While conceding that the working class and the poor had seen their living standards devastated since 1970 (including six years of Reaganism), the Democrats chose to march hand-in-hand with the Reaganauts.

Writing in September of 1986 (People's Daily World), Si Gerson, the Communist Party's long respected and experienced electoral expert, wrote:

Certain right-wing factions, supported largely by big money people, are particularly unhappy about the results [progressive wins in Senatorial primaries] and, above all, by the rising popular movement for peace and the increasing militancy of labor and its allies… They want the Democratic Party leadership's rightward drift to be set in concrete… They have… codified it in a 71-page statement released last week by the Democratic Policy Commission. Entitled "New Choices in a Changing America," the statement on basic questions simply parrots Reagan—even on points he has begun to mute somewhat… The underlying theory of the document is that the country has gone to the right and if the Democratic Party is to win the Senate in 1986 and the White House in 1988 it too must go to the right.
Gerson was correct to recognize this effort by the Democratic Party leadership to turn their party into a carbon-copy of Reagan's party. He recalled a previous warning by a venerated figure among Democrats:

Perhaps the clearest answer to this manifesto was delivered months ago by someone who can hardly be called a left-wing Democrat. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the historian who was a fixture in the Roosevelt New Deal, branded as "Reaganite fellow-travelers" those who say "me-too" to Reagan policies. Writing in the New York Times of July 6, Schlesinger said: "Today me-tooism is an infection within the Democratic Party. It finds expression in quasi-Reaganite formations like the Democratic Leadership Council and the Coalition for a Democratic Majority… One can only add that for the Democrats' me-tooism is a recipe for disaster,"

Unfortunately, "Me-tooism," the strategy of shadowing the Republican Party and maintaining a position ever-so-slightly closer to the center, won the day and remains the approach of Democratic Party leaders to this day.

Notably, the Left mounted a noble effort in 1988, again behind the primary candidacy of Jesse Jackson. The campaign charged ahead, winning primaries and caucuses and surprising the old guard. But when the campaign began to draw significant and militant labor support, a stealth campaign of slander and racial fear diminished the outcome. Nonetheless, Jackson and the Left captured nearly seven million votes.

Like the quixotic Progressive Party campaign of 1948, the Jackson campaign was smothered by the effort of a Democratic Party resolute in following a path blazed by the extreme right and scandalizing the opposition with red- and race-baiting. Through fear and intimidation, Democratic leaders denied the emergence of a viable left bloc, a counter force to the domination of monopoly capital.


With the victory of corporate Democrats—fiscally conservative, socially liberal—the problem of fund-raising has been solved. In the 2008 election, corporate Democrats actually raised more than their corporate Republican counterparts. In this election cycle, they may well fall behind the Republicans. But they will never know again the vast inequity of 1980. Their fealty to monopoly capital ensures some measure of campaign-fund parity.

At the same time, the dominance of corporate Democrats and the Democratic Party leadership's comfort with this relationship, denies any insurgency within the Party, not that rebellion would be countenanced in any case. Those who continue to argue for "inside/outside" strategies will continue to find themselves outside—neither "in the game" nor with a coherent political strategy.

The only viable force capable of changing this regular exercise in futility is the labor movement or some subset of it. Organized labor has the resources and apparatus to launch a new, independent political vehicle that would neither be beholden to corporate power nor restrained by false friends. Necessarily, labor must stop throwing these resources at the feet of the Democratic Party; labor leaders must reject their current vassalage to Democratic Party officials. It's a tough challenge to work for these changes, but one far more worthy than hustling for political swindlers.

In the mean time, don't bother asking, I'm enthusiastically voting for Jill Stein of the Green Party. She was arrested recently trying to stop home foreclosures in Philadelphia. And your candidate?

Zoltan Zigedy

OWS birthday takes NYC by storm

Obama and the Democrats: a greater, not a lesser, evil

Freedom Rider: Mitt Romney: The Less Effective Evil
by BAR editor and senior Margaret Kimberley

"Romney is very ambitious but not very bright, which is the cause of his latest campaign troubles."

At Black Agenda Report we have long argued against the canard of supporting the "lesser of two evils." After all, one is still supporting evil and the rightward shift in American politics means that the so-called lesser evil is generally nothing of the sort.

Barack Obama is not, as most Democrats argue, the lesser of two evils, he is actually the more effective evil. Mitt Romney is simply no match for Obama, who clearly surpasses him in intellect and political shrewdness. Obama knows how to give his supporters the back of his hand and still get their undying love and loyalty. Romney doesn't have anyone's loyalty and is living proof of the power of white privilege and the entitlements that come with wealth.

Romney's presidential campaign is only viable because of deep pocketed right wing contributors and deeply racist white Americans who cling to the Republican Party regardless of the quality of its candidates. The Romney campaign has weathered many missteps on the part of the candidate, who managed to insult the British during a simple photo opportunity at the Olympics and who was unable to run an effective convention, which is now nothing more than a glorified commercial. He followed his lackluster event with hastily made and just plain incorrect statements about the killing of the American ambassador to Libya and followed that public relations disaster by stating that middle income Americans earn $200,000 per year. Mitt Romney is a conservative, turned moderate, turned conservative again. He is very ambitious but not very bright, which is the cause of his latest campaign troubles.

During a May fund raising event Romney was recorded saying the following about Obama supporters:

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax."

For good measure, he added, "[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives"

"Romney doesn't have anyone's loyalty and is living proof of the power of white privilege and the entitlements that come with wealth."

His remarks were not that shocking considering past statements about not caring about poor people, but his obvious obedience to right winger red meat makes him unappealing to the millions of people who don't pay income taxes because they only have Social Security to live on.

In contrast, Barack Obama also sucks up to wealthy patrons at private events but isn't nearly as ham fisted about it. During a $30,000 per plate fund raiser at the Greenwich, Connecticut home of one Richard Richman (his real name) Obama took the opportunity to sneer at his progressive critics and was so unconcerned about any reaction that he posted his comments on the White House web site, complete with indication of when the well heeled group had a laugh at the expense of his supporters.

"Now, the second reason I'm telling you this is because Democrats, just congenitally, tend to get -- to see the glass as half empty. (Laughter.) If we get an historic health care bill passed -- oh, well, the public option wasn't there. If you get the financial reform bill passed -- then, well, I don't know about this particularly derivatives rule, I'm not sure that I'm satisfied with that. And gosh, we haven't yet brought about world peace and -- (laughter.) I thought that was going to happen quicker. (Laughter.) You know who you are. (Laughter.)"

The teflon president let his host know that he remembers where his bread is buttered without insulting half of the population in the process.

"Austerity is killing the economy and causing terrible hardships, but liberals didn't make that case."

Liberals leapt upon the words which even Romney called "inelegantly stated" and in the process showed their own brand of evil. Liberals could have pointed out that Americans should expect decent housing and medical care. They could have noted that there are nations around the world who do provide for their citizens' basic needs, and that they are more advanced as a result.

Instead of shooting fish in the barrel when even conservative pundits piled on the Romney condemnation, they could have advocated for a different conversation about the role of government in our lives. Austerity is killing the economy and causing terrible hardships, but liberals didn't make that case. Because there are enough Americans with some degree of need for government support, the Romney comments made for great political theater. But if liberals were interested it could have been an opportunity for so much more.

Obama proved that he has no more regard for people living on the margins than Romney has when he put Social Security and Medicare on the budget cutting table. He convened a budget deficit commission and packed it with pro-austerity conservatives without anyone in either party having asked him to do so. If he is re-elected he will waste no time in making another grand bargain with the Republicans which will come at the expense of the 47%.

A few gaffes won't ruin a campaign, but the cumulative effect of repeated examples of incompetence make it unlikely that Romney will be the next president. He is no match for Barack Obama, a master of marketing and slickness. Men dumber than Romney have won presidential elections, but they weren't up against the likes of Obama. If anyone is the lesser of two evils, it is Mitt Romney. He isn't really less evil, he is just not as good at hiding it.

Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)

Imperialist rivalry for the Arctic

Race Is On as Ice Melt Reveals Arctic Treasures

NUUK, Greenland — With Arctic ice melting at record pace, the world's superpowers are increasingly jockeying for political influence and economic position in outposts like this one, previously regarded as barren wastelands.

At stake are the Arctic's abundant supplies of oil, gas and minerals that are, thanks to climate change, becoming newly accessible along with increasingly navigable polar shipping shortcuts. This year, China has become a far more aggressive player in this frigid field, experts say, provoking alarm among Western powers.

While the United States, Russia and several nations of the European Union have Arctic territory, China has none, and as a result, has been deploying its wealth and diplomatic clout to secure toeholds in the region.

"The Arctic has risen rapidly on China's foreign policy agenda in the past two years," said Linda Jakobson, East Asia program director at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia. So, she said, the Chinese are exploring "how they could get involved."

In August, China sent its first ship across the Arctic to Europe and it is lobbying intensely for permanent observer status on the Arctic Council, the loose international body of eight Arctic nations that develops policy for the region, arguing that it is a "near Arctic state" and proclaiming that the Arctic is "the inherited wealth of all humankind," in the words of China's State Oceanic Administration.

To promote the council bid and improve relations with Arctic nations, its ministers visited Denmark, Sweden and Iceland this summer, offering lucrative trade deals. High-level diplomats have also visited Greenland, where Chinese companies are investing in a developing mining industry, with proposals to import Chinese work crews for construction.

Western nations have been particularly anxious about Chinese overtures to this poor and sparsely populated island, a self-governing state within the Kingdom of Denmark, because the retreat of its ice cap has unveiled coveted mineral deposits, including rare earth metals that are crucial for new technologies like cellphones and military guidance systems. A European Union vice president, Antonio Tajani, rushed here to Greenland's capital in June, offering hundreds of millions in development aid in exchange for guarantees that Greenland would not give China exclusive access to its rare earth metals, calling his trip "raw mineral diplomacy."

Greenland is close to North America, and home to the United States Air Force's northernmost base in Thule. At a conference last month, Thomas R. Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, said the Arctic was becoming "a new frontier in our foreign policy."

In the past 18 months, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea have made debut visits here, and Greenland's prime minister, Kuupik Kleist, was welcomed by President José Manuel Barroso of the European Commission in Brussels.

"We are treated so differently than just a few years ago," said Jens B. Frederiksen, Greenland's vice premier, in his simple office here. "We are aware that is because we now have something to offer, not because they've suddenly discovered that Inuit are nice people."

Chinese activity in the Arctic to some extent mirrors that of other non-Arctic countries, as the region warms.

The European Union, Japan and South Korea have also applied in the last three years for permanent observer status at the Arctic Council, which would allow them to present their perspective, but not vote.

This once-obscure body, previously focused on issues like monitoring Arctic animal populations, now has more substantive tasks, like defining future port fees and negotiating agreements on oil spill remediation. "We've changed from a forum to a decision-making body," said Gustaf Lind, Arctic ambassador from Sweden and the council's current chairman.

But China sees its inclusion "as imperative so that it won't be shut out from decisions on minerals and shipping," said Dr. Jakobson, who is also an Arctic researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. China's economy is heavily dependent on exports, and the polar route saves time, distance and money to and from elsewhere in Asia and Europe, compared with traversing the Suez Canal.

So far there has been little actual exploitation of Arctic resources. Greenland has only one working mine, though more than 100 new sites are being mapped out. Here, as well as in Alaska, Canada and Norway, oil and gas companies are still largely exploring, although experts estimate that more than 20 percent of the world's oil and gas reserves are in the Arctic. Warmer weather has already extended the work season by a month in many locations, making access easier.

At one point this summer, 97 percent of the surface of Greenland's massive ice sheet was melting. At current rates, Arctic waters could be ice-free in summer by the end of the decade, scientists say.

"Things are happening much faster than what any scientific model predicted," said Dr. Morten Rasch, who runs the Greenland Ecosystem Monitoring program at Aarhus University in Denmark.

Ownership of the Arctic is governed by the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, which gives Arctic nations an exclusive economic zone that extends 200 nautical miles from land, and to undersea resources farther away so long as they are on a continental shelf. The far northern Arctic Ocean belongs to no country, and conditions there are severe. In a place where exact boundaries were never much of a concern, haggling over borders has begun among the primary nations — between Canada and Denmark, and the United States and Canada, for example.

The United States has been hampered in the current jockeying because the Senate has refused to ratify the Convention of the Law of the Sea, even though both the Bush and Obama administrations have strongly supported doing so. This means the United States has not been able to formally stake out its underwater boundaries. "We are being left behind," Deputy Secretary Nides said.

But experts say boundary disputes are likely to be rapidly resolved through negotiation, so that everyone can get on with the business of making money. There is "very little room for a race to grab territory, since most of the resources are in an area that is clearly carved up already," said Kristofer Bergh, a researcher at the Stockholm Institute.

Even so, Arctic nations and NATO are building up military capabilities in the region, as a precaution. That has left China with little choice but to garner influence through a strategy that has worked well in Africa and Latin America: investing and joining with local companies and financing good works to earn good will. Its scientists have become pillars of multinational Arctic research, and their icebreaker has been used in joint expeditions.

And Chinese companies, some with close government ties, are investing heavily across the Arctic. In Canada, Chinese firms have acquired interests in two oil companies that could afford them access to Arctic drilling. During a June visit to Iceland, Premier Wen Jiabao of China signed a number of economic agreements, covering areas like geothermal energy and free trade.

In Greenland, large Chinese companies are financing the development of mines that are being developed around discoveries of gems or minerals by small prospecting companies, said Soren Meisling, head of the China desk at the Bech Bruun law firm in Copenhagen, which represents many of them. A huge iron ore mine under development near Nuuk, for example, is owned by a British company but financed in part by a Chinese steel maker.

Chinese mining companies have proved adept at working in challenging locales and have even proposed building runways for jumbo jets on the ice in Greenland's far north to fly out minerals until the ice melts enough for shipping.

"There is already a sense of competition in the Arctic, and they think they can have first advantage," said Jingjing Su, a lawyer in Bech Bruun's China practice.

The efforts have clear political backing. Greenland's minister for industry and mineral resources was greeted by Vice Premier Li Keqiang in China last November. A few months later, China's minister of land and resources, Xu Shaoshi, traveled to Greenland to sign cooperation agreements.

Western analysts have worried that China could leverage its wealth, particularly in some of the cash-poor corners of the Arctic like Greenland and Iceland.

But Chinese officials have cast their motives in more generous terms. "China's activities are for the purposes of regular environmental investigation and investment and have nothing to do with resource plundering and strategic control," the state-controlled Xinhua news agency wrote this year.

Michael Byers, a professor of politics and law at the University of British Columbia, said the Chinese were unlikely to overstep their rights in a region populated by NATO members. "Despite the concerns I have about Chinese foreign policy in other parts of the world, in the Arctic it is behaving responsibly," he said. "They just want to make money."

Next February, the Arctic Council is scheduled to choose the countries that will be granted permanent observer status, which requires unanimity vote. Though Iceland, Denmark and Sweden now openly support China's bid, the United States State Department, contacted for comment, declined to say how it would vote.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Update: Scribd account cancelled

FYI: Scribd has cancelled my membership. Hope you all got the materials you wanted before last night!

Friday, September 14, 2012



            Average per Day ................ 234           
            Average Visit Length .......... 2:40           
            This Week .................... 1,637   

OWS: Year One

Occupy Wall Street – A Positive Response to the Crisis

George Gruenthal

On September 17, 2011, a group of about 1,000 mainly white young people took over Zuccotti Park, a block-square private park in the New York financial district. Calling themselves 'Occupy Wall Street' (OWS), they stated that they represented the interests of the '99%' against the '1%.' They had support and financing from the liberal Canadian non-profit foundation, 'Adbusters,' and called for non-violent protest. For the first days the police, clearly following instructions from the local ruling class, particularly New York's multi-billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, left them alone. The assumption was that they would make some noise for a short while and then pack up and go home.

But this did not turn out to be the case. In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, OWS continued to attract support. This was not only in the form of additional young people coming to hang out, hold discussions and camp in the park, which they renamed Liberty Square. They called demonstrations that struck a chord, including among workers. One of their main slogans has been: 'Banks Got Bailed Out; We Got Sold Out.' In one of the early demonstrations on October 1, a march across the Brooklyn Bridge that connects lower Manhattan with the borough of Brooklyn, the cops carried out mass arrests, rounding up about 700 people. On October 5, a demonstration was held in Foley Square, near the courts and the Federal Government building. The police, having barricades set up for maybe a thousand people, found themselves penned in by the many thousands of demonstrators who showed up.

As the weather in New York City started to get colder, and OWS still showed no signs of folding up, the Mayor and the police decided that this exercise in free speech had gone on long enough. They declared that people would no longer be allowed to sleep in the park. On November 15, police raided the park, driving out the demonstrators and making a big show of 'cleaning' the park (which OWS with its sanitation team had already done a good job of). They then ringed the whole block with barricades, and only allowed people in through one small gap after police checked that they did not have such 'dangerous' items as sleeping bags or other overnight gear. The raid was apparently part of a national attack on OWS in a dozen cities, coordinated by the Federal government, including so-called 'Homeland Security.' Two days later, some 30,000 people marched in protest in various parts of New York City. While the police raid basically did prevent the park from being used as an organising centre, it by no means put an end to OWS; rather it pushed them indoors and somewhat changed the form of their political activity.

Before continuing with this narrative, it is important to examine more closely the class and political nature of OWS. In any economic crisis, the working class is the main class affected, but it is not the only one. There are many petty-bourgeois youth, including those with a college degree, who are not able to find jobs, or at most find low-paid jobs in the service industry. In the absence of a strong working class movement, these youth are attracted to a variety of petty-bourgeois outlooks, particularly anarchism. This has been one of the main ideological trends within OWS. It is seen first of all in their refusal to use class terms, simply lumping together the workers, petty-bourgeoisie and all others outside the monopoly capitalist class as the '99%,' while the '1%' or Wall St. is clearly the monopoly capitalists.

Of course, this also does not correctly reflect the line-up of class force, as the 1% is aided by a whole constellation of other forces that hold the mass of working people in line, including management personnel, trade union bureaucrats and the police. This contradiction has come out most clearly with regard to the police. In OWS marches, some demonstrators chanted slogans such as 'the cops are the 99%,' which was quickly opposed by others (including this writer), who chanted 'the cops protect the 1%.'

The anarchists among the OWS also object to 'demands,' seeing these as having a limiting effect on their movement. Even a simple call for a massive government programme to provide jobs to alleviate the severe unemployment caused by the crisis was defeated at a 'General Assembly' by a 'block.' This is a totally anti-democratic procedure that allows as few as 10% of those voting to block a measure that they are strongly opposed to.

OWS also refuses to apply for permits, including sound permits which are required by the police for any event at which amplified sound is used. They have been able to get around this by the effective if somewhat cumbersome procedure of a 'people's mike' in which the words of the speaker are repeated by concentric rings of demonstrators until everyone has heard them.

Despite shortcomings, OWS has had an important effect on the political climate, not only in New York City but throughout the U.S. and even worldwide. In New York City, workers, particularly in the public sector, are under attack. The ruling class, through the city, state and federal governments, has been trying to push the burden of the crisis onto the backs of the workers. There have been layoffs of city workers, particularly in the powerful Transport Workers Union (TWU – bus and subway workers) and of low-paid clerical workers. State workers have been forced to accept furloughs (unpaid days' off). The Federal government is threatening to close thousands of Post Offices throughout the country, laying off up to 200,000 workers, including closing 34 post offices in New York City with the loss of thousands of jobs. While these attacks have led to rather isolated demonstrations by individual unions, there has not yet been a class-wide fight-back. Although OWS has not been able to turn this situation around, (this is not even their perspective nor would they have a way to carry it out), they have had an effect on the trade union movement. While the union leaderships have been generally reluctant to put forward anything that smacks of political demands, some, such as the TWU, have invited OWS members to speak at their rallies. There they have often taken up political questions and taken militant stands. Other unions have allowed OWS groups to use their halls for meeting places.

In some parts of the country the relation between OWS and the unions has been even closer. The dock workers on the West Coast are represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), historically one of the most militant unions in the country. The ILWU was formed in San Francisco in 1934, when a strike of dock workers and sailors led to one of the most important city-wide general strikes in the U.S. In more recent years, they have held one-day work stoppages around political issues, such as against Apartheid in South Africa, for the freedom of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, on May Day in protest against the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and others. In 2011, they were the subject of a serious attack, when a large grain monopoly, EGT, threatened to use scab labour to load their ships. In the early hours of September 8, some members and sympathisers of the ILWU broke into an EGT terminal and dumped the grain on the ground. On November 2, members of the ILWU, OWS and others shut down the port of Oakland, and on December 12 they shut down ports along the West Coast. In this situation, EGT called on the government for help, and the U.S. Coast Guard threatened to escort a ship into the small town of Longview, Washington, to be loaded with scab grain. ILWU members, OWS and others again mobilised and were prepared to lead tens of thousands of people to blockade the port. In the face of this mobilisation, EGT backed down and signed an agreement recognising the ILWU as their sole supplier of labour power.

To continue our narrative, after the closing of Zuccotti Park as a permanent organising site, OWS largely went indoors for the winter. It spun off almost a hundred 'working groups,' many of which are made up largely of people who were not part of the original OWS. On any day in the winter, one was likely to find several of these working groups meeting in the atrium, a 'public space' on Wall St.. Some of the groups include a Labour Outreach Committee, consisting largely of leftists in the trade union movement, 'Occupy the Department of Education,' which is fighting against the closing of public schools and the privatisation of education through 'Charter Schools,' and neighbourhood groups from Occupy Queens to Occupy Harlem.

OWS is also helping to forge a united May Day demonstration in New York City this year. For several years, especially since 2006 with the attempted passage of a bill to criminalise some 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., May Day has been reclaimed largely by immigrant workers and militant trade unionists marching under the banners of the May 1 Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights. This group has marched from Union Square, the traditional site of May Day rallies, to Foley Square. In response to this, for the last two years some unions have called a smaller, separate rally in Foley Square (though even in 2011 they were forced to hold a united concluding rally with the May 1 Coalition). This year, four forces, the May 1 Coalition, the Foley Square group. OWS May Day and other, mainly NGO immigrant groups, have agreed to a united May 1 march from Union Square to Foley Square. It is hoped that this will be one of the largest May Day rallies since 2006. The fact that there will be a united rally is itself a victory that OWS has played a key part in.

The working class and revolutionary movement in the United States still lags behind that of other countries, including that of Western Europe. But the crisis, and the consequent rise of groups like OWS, is having a slow but important effect. It is to be hoped that the politically backward U.S. will catch up with the rest of the world in the not-too-distant future.

New York City, USA

Revolutionary Democracy Vol. XVIII, No. 1 and 2, April-September, 2012