“When history cannot be written by the pen, then it must be written by the rifle.”
- Farabundo Martí
When you think of famous socialist historical figures, a handful of names usually come to mind. Karl Marx. Friedrich Engels. Vladimir Lenin. Joseph Stalin. Mao Zedong. These are the revolutionaries most commonly cited in the West. When it comes to famous socialist historical figures from Latin America, the known list gets even smaller. Fidel Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and Hugo Chávez are likely the three most well-known revolutionaries from the region. While all of the individuals named are worth studying — and in my opinion, are worthy of praise for their long standing service to the working class — there’s another little-known socialist revolutionary from Latin America who is just as important to learn about. An Indigenous man who founded one of the first communist parties in one of the smallest and poorest countries of Latin America. A proletarian internationalist, who traveled to Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, and the United States, to build a global communist movement. A humble campesino, who waged armed struggle against a national military dictatorship and a multinational agricultural corporation. This is the story of Agustín Farabundo Martí, the father of Central American communism.
Life and Work
Agustín Farabundo Martí was born on May 5, 1893, in Teotepeque, a small rural village in La Libertad, El Salvador. Martí shares the same birthday as Karl Marx, whom he would later take ideological inspiration from. He was born to parents Socorro Rodríguez and Pedro Martí, small coffee farmers who lived in extreme poverty. He was the sixth of fourteen brothers; five of whom died in their infancy due to a lack of resources and medicine.
Martí grew up at a time when a rising multinational coffee oligarchy dispossessed Indigenous and peasant communities, using a U.S.-backed military dictatorship as its strongarm. He lived through extremely turbulent times, which began a few years prior to his birth, when land privatization laws were imposed in 1881 and 1882. Corporate coffee growers from abroad set up industrial factories in El Salvador and bankrupted thousands of independent small farmers. Most of these farmers were forced to become workers in the new businesses, selling their exploited labor as wage earners in the factories.
Martí graduated from the Salesiano Santa Cecilia High School in Santa Tecla, near the capital city of San Salvador. Despite growing up in extreme poverty and illiteracy, he worked tirelessly to educate himself, graduating from high school with honors. He went on to study law at the University of El Salvador, where he was first introduced to the theoretical works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Ironically, it was also where Martí realized that the revolutionary theories of Marx and Engels shouldn’t be confined to urban bourgeois academics. Instead, they should be propagated among rural working class campesinos, who formed the majority of El Salvador’s population at the time. He fell in love with the ideas of national revolution and proletarian internationalism, dedicating the rest of his life to liberation of the working class. He dreamed of a socialist revolution across Central America, similar to the one which had just been constructed in the Soviet Union.
In 1920, Martí was arrested for organizing a student protest against the right-wing dictatorship of Jorge Meléndez Ramírez and Alfonso Quiñónez Molina. Both of these individuals ruled the country with an iron fist, suppressing any and all worker-led uprisings against their capitalist policies, which generally served the interests of foreign multinational coffee companies. His arrest subsequently led to his exile from the country, and he took up residence in Guatemala and Mexico between 1920 and 1925.
In Guatemala, Martí lived among the Indigenous Maya people of the rural Quiché region and the exploited workers of Guatemala City. He took up the most humble and varied trades to earn a living, such as bricklaying and farmwork. He was able to experience firsthand the exploitation suffered by Guatemalans under capitalism in both urban and rural environments. This was also a time of revolutionary activism in Guatemala, amid mass uprisings against the dictatorship of Manuel José Estrada Cabrera, a lackey of the United Fruit Company.
Shortly after arriving in Guatemala in 1920, Martí traveled to neighboring Mexico, which was also rife with insurrection. The Mexican Revolution, during which armed groups successfully overthrew the dictatorship of General Porfirio Díaz, had just come to a close in 1920. The Revolution, led by Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, resulted in the transformation of Mexico’s political system, aiming to create a more centralized, democratic, and populist government. Unfortunately, Zapata and Villa were assassinated, and many of the stated goals of the Mexican Revolution, such as nationwide land redistribution, never came to fruition. However, the radical ideas of the Mexican Revolution lived on for decades in the country; and many revolutionaries from abroad, like Martí, were deeply inspired by it.
While in Mexico, Martí had a transformative political experience. He met with members of the Red Battalions, which were armed groups of the Casa del Obrero Mundial (The Home of the Global Worker). This workers’ organization subscribed to the ideology of anarcho-syndicalism, which views radical industrial unionism in urban areas as the only means by which to overthrow capitalism. This strand of anarchism is largely European in nature, and is hostile to both Marxism and organizing amongst the peasantry. As it turns out, Mexico’s Red Battalions were used by the reactionary forces of the Mexican government to fight against the revolutionary forces of Zapata and Villa.
The Red Battalions were launched against the revolutionaries by the government of Venustiano Carranza, a wealthy landowner and politician. This, in exchange for concessions for the Casa del Obrero Mundial, which described Zapata and Villa as “peasant counter-revolutionaries.” These words mirror those used by Leon Trotsky in Russia and anarcho-syndicalists in China, to describe Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, who successfully organized peasants for socialist revolution. Martí wrote unfavorably about these so-called Red Battalions, saying they were “deceived by the bourgeoisie” in numerous letters.
This experience was crucial in his political formation. Not only did it solidify his orientation as a Marxist scientific socialist, understanding the need for building an organized communist movement of workers and peasants. It also helped him better understand the limits of anarchism and utopian socialism, which lend themselves to narrow-minded and short-sighted thinking.
There were two other contemporary events that were pivotal in his political formation during his exile. The first event was the 1921 centennial anniversary of Central America’s independence from the Spanish Empire.
On September 15, 1821, the modern-day nations of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica proclaimed their freedom from the Spanish crown after centuries of colonization. From 1823 to 1841, the five nations were united as member states of the Federal Republic of Central America. The federation was led by Francisco Morazán of Honduras, who is considered to be the liberator of Central America from Spanish colonization.
Morazán, the second and final President of the Central American Federation, fought tirelessly to maintain the integration of Central America. He understood that if Central America remained united, it would have a better chance of standing up to the rising threat of U.S. and British imperialism because of its key geopolitical position. Central America is the thinnest stretch of land between the world’s two largest oceans: the Atlantic and the Pacific. This unique aspect of geography is reflected in the blue and white stripes of most Central American flags. The region is also equidistant to both North and South America, allowing it to serve as a mediator of trade between both continents. Morazán was aware of the fact that Central America would maintain maritime and commercial dominance in the region if it were to stay united.
Unfortunately, his dream of a united and prosperous Central America was crushed by the forces of empire. Morazán was murdered in battle against conservatives allied with the U.S. and the United Kingdom. The Federal Republic of Central America was dismantled into five separate nations. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica were subjected to countless U.S. military invasions. And multinational corporations extracted endless wealth and resources from the region, making it the poorest part of continental Latin America today.
In 1921, exactly a century after Central America liberated itself from Spanish colonization, Martí vowed to pick up the historic task set out by Morazán: to reunite Central America and build it up into a prosperous, sovereign, and multinational people’s democratic federation.
The second contemporary event that was pivotal in Martí’s political development was the 1922 formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The roots of the USSR are grounded in the October Revolution of 1917. This was when the Bolsheviks, guided by the Russian Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the pro-Western Provisional Government that had previously replaced the Russian Empire. The October Revolution led to the creation of the Russian Soviet Republic, the world's first socialist nation. By 1922, following years of war against imperialist invaders and ultra-leftist traitors, the communists under Lenin emerged victorious, officially forming the Soviet Union. The USSR was a federation of fifteen national republics spanning eleven time zones, governed by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The largest and one of the most populous countries in the world was now carrying out the revolutionary principles of Marxism-Leninism. Within a handful of years, the Soviet Union was able to lift millions of impoverished Eastern Europeans and Asians out of poverty, bringing political and economic power to the working class.
To Martí, who was living on the other side of the planet, the idea of workers and peasants leading a successful revolution and building a proletarian state guided by Marxism-Leninism was very impressive. Especially considering the fact that the Soviet peoples were united, despite the dozens of religions, hundreds of languages, and thousands of miles that separated them. In his mind, there were important lessons to be drawn from the Soviet experience that could be adapted and applied to the conditions of El Salvador, and Central America overall.
His revolutionary ideology transformed into a synthesis of Marx and Morazán: communism with Central American characteristics. His revolutionary activism was oriented toward building a united, socialist Central America. Upon returning to Guatemala from Mexico in 1925, he worked tirelessly to do just that.
In 1925, Martí co-founded the Socialist Party of Central America in Guatemala City, along with representatives from El Salvador and Honduras. The organization later came to be known as the Communist Party of Central America, distinguishing itself from liberal and reformist social democratic groups that posed no real challenges to the ruling class. Although the Communist Party of Central America eventually broke off into smaller, country-based parties, they continued to work together well into the 1970s and 80s; decades that witnessed mass socialist uprisings in the region.
A few months later, in 1925, Guatemalan General José María Orellana, then President of Guatemala, ordered a crackdown on foreign residents. Many of these were revolutionaries in exile, like Martí, who was arrested and expelled from the country. Martí was forced to take up residence, albeit for a short period of time, in nearby Nicaragua. It was in Nicaragua where Martí met a lifelong comrade with whom he would organize alongside for the rest of his life: the revolutionary anti-imperialist hero Augusto César Sandino. Sandino organized a guerrilla army in defense of workers, campesinos, and Indigenous peoples. Sandino’s forces fought against the U.S. Marines and their local lackeys who continually invaded and occupied Nicaragua, later serving as inspiration for the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front. After spending no more than a few weeks in Nicaragua, but building a life-long friendship with Sandino, Martí returned to El Salvador to continue his revolutionary organizing at home.
In 1925, Martí organized a local chapter of International Red Aid, a communist alternative to the Red Cross. International Red Aid was founded in 1922 by the Communist International to provide material and medical support for working class and oppressed peoples around the world. Martí worked closely with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, led at the time by comrade Joseph Stalin, who championed the national liberation struggles of the Global South. Through the local branch of International Red Aid, Martí was able to help other poor and underprivileged Salvadorans while also building a communist mass movement.
From 1925 to early 1928, Martí joined the Regional Federation of Salvadoran Workers, a trade union center bringing together diverse sectors of El Salvador’s working class. As a leading organizer for the group, he was known for being a powerful agitator against the bosses and a compassionate companion to his comrades. Among the workers, he was affectionately called “El Negro Martí” (The Black Martí), because of his sun-tanned complexion. He would spend countless hours working alongside and organizing workers in the agricultural fields. He was also called “El Volcán” (The Volcano), according to a biography published by the Socialist Central American magazine. The magazine cites a comrade of Martí who once said of him: “He was like an indomitable volcano from whose bowels emerged red hot burning lava of heroic indignation against the local oligarchy, which crushes our people, and the brutality of imperialism, which fattens itself off of the bodies of the Latin American masses.”
In the Spring of 1928, Martí traveled to New York City to represent Central America at the conference of the Anti-Imperialist League of the Americas. The League was an international mass organization of the Soviet-led Communist International established in 1925. Its purpose was to organize against U.S. and European imperialist intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean. William Z. Foster, the heroic Marxist-Leninist and Stalin-aligned leader of the CPUSA, played a key role in building international solidarity with Latin American communists like Martí. During Martí’s visit to the headquarters of the Anti-Imperialist League in New York City, police raided the building and arrested him, along with other comrades. During his arrest and short imprisonment in New York City, Martí experienced firsthand the racism, anti-communism, and viciousness of the Yankee state apparatus. He was eventually released and deported back to El Salvador.
His return to El Salvador was brief and temporary. He used the time to prepare for his trip to Las Segovias, Nicaragua, along the border with neighboring Honduras, to join the guerrilla armies of his old friend, Sandino. A year earlier, in 1927, U.S. Marines descended upon and occupied most of Nicaragua, suppressing popular insurgencies against the right-wing government. By 1928, the U.S. had 2,000 well-armed troops in Nicaragua under the command of General Logan Feland. Sandino’s guerrilla army, despite being out-numbered and under-equipped, dealt the Marines numerous humiliating defeats. Not only did they have the backing of the predominantly peasant population. They also understood the mountainous terrain better than the foreigners, using its features to their advantage.
While in Nicaragua, Martí organized a contingent of Salvadoran and Honduran communists, named “La Regional” (The Regional), to provide military and humanitarian aid to the Sandinista struggle against U.S. imperialism. In a public letter addressed from Sandino’s guerrilla camp, Martí wrote on June 22, 1928, that he had joined the Defensive Army for the National Sovereignty of Nicaragua, the official name of Sandino’s forces. The letter, directed at his comrades back in El Salvador, urged more people to come to Nicaragua and aid their brothers in the struggle for liberation.
According to the testimony of General Carlos Quezada, the General Staff of Sandino's army, Martí was at the forefront of the armed struggle, never hesitating to go into battle. Quezada explained that one day, while Martí was writing on a typewriter, the U.S. Marine Corps Aviation forces were bombing the nearby army positions of the Sandinistas. As the bombing persisted, Martí put aside his typewriter and said his most famous quote aloud: “When history cannot be written with the pen, then it must be written with the gun.” Immediately afterwards, according to Quezada, he picked up a gun, took cover in a tree, and began shooting at the U.S. planes. For his distinguished participation in guerrilla movement, Martí was awarded with the official title of Colonel of the Defensive Army for the National Sovereignty of Nicaragua.
Martí also served as Press Secretary and Head of International Relations for Sandino’s army. His international connections were crucial in building global solidarity for the Sandinista movement, arousing the attention of and support from socialist governments around the world.
In 1929, during the height of Nicaragua’s military conflict, Martí assisted Sandino in clandestinely traveling to Mérida, Mexico, to seek aid for his guerrilla movement. Mexico, which had just experienced a nationwide revolution, was home to many socialists and communists sympathetic to Sandino’s cause. While in Mexico, Martí and Sandino stayed at the Gran Hotel in the city of Mérida, located on the Yucatán Peninsula. According to reports, they discussed their agreements, disagreements, dreams, political views, and their shared vision of a united Central America. Martí had planned to temporarily return to El Salvador to build more support for the guerrilla movement, and then go back to Nicaragua. Unfortunately, this would be the last time the two comrades see each other. Sandino, who went back to Nicaragua, was executed just a few years later after being captured by enemy forces. Martí headed for Mexico City, where he would remain until June of the following year, 1930, when he was expelled by the Mexican government for his revolutionary communist activities.
When Martí returned to El Salvador in mid-1930, the country was embroiled in intensifying class conflict. Amid the crisis of world capitalism, known as The Great Depression, El Salvador experienced years of deepening misery. The international crisis caused a drop in the prices of coffee, a key export of El Salvador. Poverty increased in the countryside, banks went bankrupt, government revenues fell, and thousands of people became unemployed. Small farmers, indebted with loans and mortgages, were forced to default and handover their land to usurers and large landowners. This led to a greater concentration of land in the hands of a few wealthy foreign elites, who now hired back these small farmers as low-wage workers on their own lands.
Meanwhile, El Salvador’s right-wing government issued two separate decrees in August and October of 1930 that banned all protests and meetings of workers, small farmers, and union leaders, labeling them as “communist agitators.” It also banned the printing and circulation of all workers’ publications, authorizing police to indefinitely detain anyone caught with what they described as “communist propaganda.” Amid growing poverty and state violence, Martí continued to organize the Salvadoran working class in their struggle for socialist revolution. Along with continuing his work for International Red Aid, he founded and directed the Communist Party of El Salvador, while playing a leading role in the Regional Federation of Salvadoran Workers.
By the Fall of 1931, now at the age of 38, Martí returned to his roots and focused most of his organizing on defending the lands of small farmers, just like those of his parents. With the backing of International Red Aid and the Communist International, as well as broad support among the Salvadoran masses, El Salvador was on the heels of a major socialist uprising.
On September 22, 1931, hundreds of Salvadoran farm workers defied the ban on protests and held a mass demonstration near San Salvador. They spoke out against a wealthy landowner and the inhumane work conditions on his hacienda. The landowner immediately called for detachments of local police and the National Guard, who, without warning, massacred the unarmed protesters. Fifteen workers were killed and 33 were seriously injured; many of them were women and children. Martí and his comrades immediately mobilized a protest in solidarity with the murdered workers, resulting in their imprisonment. They were released a few days later. In celebration of Martí’s release, large demonstrations were held in several towns across the country. Thousands of Salvadorans were out in the streets, expressing their solidarity with Martí and the Communist Party of El Salvador. Now Martí was on the Salvadoran government’s radar more than ever, especially because he had developed a mass following.
According to news reports, Salvadoran President Arturo Araujo summoned Martí for a meeting. Araujo urged him to renounce his communist ideas and join the ranks of the liberal reformist Labor Party. He even went as far as offering him a post in his government. However, the conversation was fruitless. Martí laughed in his face, flatly rejected the deal, and vowed to intensify his revolutionary organizing. A few days later, Martí was detained and deported to Guatemala, where he stayed a few days.
On December 2, 1931, nine months after the liberal president Araujo was inaugurated, he was overthrown in a U.S.-backed military coup. Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, a Salvadoran military officer and a leader of the far-right National Party of the Fatherland, became dictator of the country. He reigned as president for almost 12 years, during which time his fascist and anti-communist political party was the only legal one in the country.
The military coup immediately generated a popular, indigenous, and peasant uprising, which culminated in January of 1932. Martí spearheaded the uprising, as the head of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of El Salvador. On January 22, the Salvadoran communists and Indigenous peasants of the Pipil nation waged an armed nationwide insurrection against the Salvadoran military dictatorship. According to historical records, over 70,000 rebels were involved in the uprising. The insurrectionists, led by Martí, liberated several cities across western El Salvador. Red flags adorned with the hammer and sickle were unfurled on numerous municipal buildings. The Communist Party of El Salvador was taking command of and redistributing key infrastructure. The Central American country was at the cusp of complete socialist revolution.
Tragically, the uprising was ultimately crushed by the dictatorship. By January 24, the military dictatorship declared martial law and sent in the military to violently suppress the rebellion. Colonel Marcelino Galdámez sent hundreds of army units into the departments of Sonsonate and Ahuachapán, areas which are home to large Indigenous populations. On January 25, the military dictatorship began mass public executions and hangings of suspected insurrections, many of whom were Indigenous Pipils. Thousands were murdered in cold blood. In numerous villages across El Salvador, the entire male population was gathered in the town's center and killed by firing squads. The mass executions continued until February 1, when the dictatorship claimed that the region had been “pacified.” It was on this day, February 1, 1932, when Martí was assassinated on the direct orders of Martínez. He, along with some of his closest comrades, was shot to death in a town plaza. Martí was 38 years old.
Between 10,000 to 40,000 people were killed as a result of the brutal crackdown, according to historians Joseph Tulchin and Gary Bland. John Beverly, another historian who specializes in Salvadoran history, provides evidence that around 30,000 people, or four percent of the country’s population, were killed by the government. As a result of the mass murders, which included the assasination of Martí, the historical event has come to be known as “La Matanza” (The Massacre).
Martí’s anti-imperialist and communist vision was embraced decades later by new generations of young Salvadorans who fought against successive military dictatorships. In 1980, an alliance of five political parties and guerrilla movements joined forces and founded the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, known as the FMLN. The FMLN was an alliance of the Communist Party of El Salvador, the Farabundo Martí Popular Liberation Forces, the People's Revolutionary Army, the National Resistance, and the Revolutionary Party of Central American Workers. Throughout the 1980s, the FMLN heroically fought back against another right-wing military dictatorship backed by the United States under Ronald Reagan. By September of 1992, the FMLN transformed itself into a legal political party after the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords, which put an end to sixty years of military dictatorship in El Salvador.
Despite the brutal defeat of the peasant uprisings in the 1930s; despite the political shortcomings of the FMLN in the modern electoral era; the revolutionary legacy of Agustín Farabundo Martí lives on in the collective memory of working class people in El Salvador, Central America, and the entire Global South.
Martí, the father of Central American communism, an Indigenous man who founded one of the first communist parties in one of the smallest and poorest countries of Latin America, is a revolutionary we can all draw inspiration from.
Ramiro Sebastián Fúnez is a Honduran anti-imperialist based in Los Angeles, California.
It may come as a surprise to many Americans that the state with the lowest level of homelessness is also its poorest. Mississippi, with a poverty rate of 19.4%, also has the nation’s lowest homelessness rate of 5 per 10,000 people.
But how has Mississippi, a state with a consistently Republican government, managed to tackle homelessness? To put it simply, it hasn’t.
Mississippi’s homelessness rate is so low largely because it is a rural state which keeps its cost of living low and many of its renters pay significant portions of their incomes to live in dilapidated housing.
In Mississippi 54% of the population lives in rural areas. 1 And with only its largest city, Jackson, breaking 100,000 people, there are few densely populated areas where cost of living tends to be highest. As such, the cost of living in Mississippi is incredibly low – around 15% below the national average. 2 With housing prices being particularly sensitive to population density, most people in Mississippi are able to find a place to live. 3
One additional factor driving down Mississippi’s cost of living is its neoliberal policy to maintain low taxes and little regulation. But before conservatives get too excited, it is important to note this policy is also a driving force for the immiseration of Mississippi’s poorest citizens. While housing costs are low, so are incomes. With a median income of $49,111, one of the lowest in the country, Mississippi’s state government has prioritized support for middle-class homeownership and business interests over affordable housing for low-income residents. 4
On the federal level the majority of spending on housing assistance goes to households with incomes over $100,000 usually in the form of tax deductions. In 2015 households with incomes over $200,000 per year received an average benefit of $6,076 while those making below $20,000 received an average benefit of $1,529. 5 According to the National Realtors Association in Mississippi 188,100 households filed a mortgage interest deduction claim at an average benefit of $6,400, and 218,700 households claimed real estate tax deductions at an average benefit of $2,050. 6
This tendency had been exacerbated by the devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina as Mississippi state officials, in typical shock doctrine fashion, used the disaster to promote business development. Particularly hard hit by this neoliberal revanchism were cities along Mississippi’s gulf coast like Biloxi where the state government has made efforts to promote tourism through the expansion of the gaming industry. 7
Prior to Katrina, Biloxi’s casinos brought in over $1 billion and state officials hoped to expand this by loosening regulations on casino construction and diverting federal recovery funds to economic expansion projects. In October of 2005 Mississippi passed House Bill 45 which ended Mississippi’s previous requirement that all casinos be non-land based and permitted casino construction up to 800 feet inland in Mississippi’s three southernmost counties of Harrison, Hancock, and Jackson. 8 Further, auxiliary buildings such as hotels and parking lots can now be constructed beyond this threshold into areas categorized as waterfront property. This has benefited many homeowners who received buyouts from expanding casinos, but has meant a decrease in land available for residential construction resulting in higher rents for low-income residents. 9
Beyond this, state officials also diverted emergency relief funds from affordable housing projects to business development and relief for homeowners. Following Katrina the U.S. Congress approved $5.5 billion dollars in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for Mississippi and gave the state’s Republican governor Haley Barbour almost total discretion over how the money was disbursed. Almost immediately Mississippi officials applied for a waiver from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which HUD quickly granted, freeing it from program stipulations to prioritize low-income housing.
Of the $5.5 billion given to Mississippi for recovery around $2.7 billion was allocated to housing. Of that $2.7 billion over $1.3 billion (around 50%) was allocated to a non-income targeted program benefitting middle and upper-income homeowners, while $536 million (around 20%) was allocated to assistance for low-income residents. Meanwhile, over $600 million was allocated for the expansion of the Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport and $200 million was assigned to economic development in Hancock county.10
Thus, it should come as no surprise that Mississippi is still experiencing a shortage of quality affordable housing. Among all occupied housing units around 26% of Mississippi residents spend 30% or more of their income on housing. Mississippi does have a high homeownership rate with just above 69% of housing units occupied by owners, but its renters face an acute struggle.
While only 19% of homeowners in Mississippi spend more than 30% of their income on housing, among Mississippi’s more than 342,000 renters the number rises to over 40%. And these figures are heavily determined by race as over 50% of renters in Mississippi are black while black people comprise only 28.5% of homeowners.
Beyond affordability many Mississippi residents also struggle with the quality and safety of their housing. Significantly, over 40% of housing units in Mississippi were built before 1978, the year lead-based paint was banned from use in residential construction. 11 While this does not guarantee lead contamination in a building, it does serve as an indicator, and Mississippi’s regulatory agencies have been too understaffed and resource strapped to properly inspect buildings. According to a study conducted by Mississippi Today, approximately three percent of children in Leflore County had high levels of lead in their blood. 12
Further, data collected by physicians indicates that the state’s official reported number of 3,000 children suffering from lead poisoning is a significant undercount and a more accurate representation would place the number around 16,000. 13 Just as troubling is the quality of water delivered to residents. Since 2018 utilities serving approximately 328,000 residents have experienced contamination violations. 14 These issues have been particularly acute in Jackson, Mississippi whose residents, 83% of whom are black, have experienced lead contamination in their water supply for years. With one of the oldest water systems in the country, Jackson residents are frequently issued notices to boil their water and faced a complete water outage for several days last summer. 15
On top of all this, Mississippi’s low homelessness rate may be deceptive. Most data on the homeless population in the U.S. is based on what are known as “point in time” counts where local agencies tally how many homeless people are in their community. These are usually conducted in the last ten days of January when people are most likely to seek shelter, but because the population in rural areas is so spread out and there are less shelters where the homeless can congregate, it is often difficult to track the number of homeless in rural communities. 16 And there are indications homelessness in rural communities may be a bigger issue than previously thought.
A survey conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health found that one in three rural Americans reported homelessness was a problem in their community. 17 In Mississippi local activists have reported seeing an uptick in people living in their vehicles, although these numbers have been difficult to verify. 18
While Mississippi’s government has done little to address the problem, community groups have stepped in. Groups like the Central Mississippi Continuum of Care and Mississippi United to End Homelessness perform outreach to Mississippi’s homeless and attempt to provide them with temporary housing and services intended to help them obtain permanent housing. 19 The work of these groups is impressive and commendable, however, their service orientation hampers their ability to push for the significant structural changes needed to address the root causes of homelessness- poverty, lack of healthcare, and the commodification of housing.
While I do not doubt these groups may play a significant role in keeping Mississippi’s homelessness rate low, state residents are faced with state government officials who have suggested privatizing Jackson’s water systems. 20 By that I mean the causes of the housing issues in Mississippi are fundamentally political and service groups are no replacement for organizations with a clear political vision.
It is obvious that Mississippi’s state government is not going to provide the funding for the necessary regulatory bodies, affordable housing construction, or public utilities without the political pressure of organized workers and tenants.
Alex Zambito was born and raised in Savannah, GA. He graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2017 with a degree in History and Sociology. He is currently seeking a Masters in History at Brooklyn College. His Interest include the history of Socialist experiments and proletarian struggles across the world.
Produced and published in concert with Arkansas Worker.
On March 23, CEO of TikTok Shou Zi Chew testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee addressing concerns over the popular social media app’s data collection practices and parent company ByteDance’s alleged links to the Chinese government. Though TikTok is a subsidiary of ByteDance, which is based in Beijing, it operates as an independent entity. Chew has maintained the company has never shared user data with the Chinese government, and would refuse if pressed to do so. Still, the Congressional hearings amounted to nothing more than racist political theater, a McCarthyite witch trial, in which members of Congress who demonstrated little understanding of how basic social media algorithms--or even home Wi–Fi networks—work attempted to spuriously link Chew, who was born, raised, and currently lives in Singapore, to the Communist Party of China.
At one point during the hearings, Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona asks Chew, “Do you agree that the Chinese government is persecuting the Uyghur population?” to which a perplexed Chew firmly responds, “Congresswoman, I’m here to describe TikTok and what we do as a platform.”
Make no mistake: the TikTok hearings had nothing to do with the baseless threat of Chinese surveillance and everything to do with maintaining the dominance of U.S. capitalism. TikTok is the most popular and most frequently downloaded social media app worldwide, boasting 150 million users in the United States alone. The overall time users spend on TikTok now far exceeds some of its U.S. competitors, and it has been rapidly pulling digital advertising away from these same companies.
The hearings were just the latest in the U.S. tech war against China—a key front in the new Cold War—and Silicon Valley has found as its ally rising anti-Chinese sentiment and, through the arm of the capitalist state, is weaponizing such Red Scare tactics to ensure tech dominance. This explains why the U.S. government is trying to force the sale of TikTok to a U.S. company, or ban it entirely, which would drive its users to U.S. competitors like Meta, Instagram Reels (owned by Meta), Snapchat, or YouTube Shorts.
Either way, Silicon Valley stands to benefit. And even if the U.S. government doesn’t go through with a TikTok ban, the spectacle of the hearings and fearmongering over Chinese surveillance was enough to drive up stocks for Meta and Snapchat.
Facebook’s war against TikTok
TikTok is especially popular among Gen Z, a key demographic which Facebook has almost completely lost. In order to regain this target age group, its parent company Meta has played an instrumental role in fanning the supposed dangers of its competitor.
In 2022, The Washington Post uncovered internal emails revealing that Meta had hired consulting firm Targeted Victory to launch a nationwide lobbying and media campaign to eliminate its competitor by portraying it as a “danger to American children and society.” As part of this campaign, operatives were instructed to use TikTok as a way to divert attention and criticism away from Facebook’s own data collection practices. Other tactics included publicizing stories in local media about “dangerous teen trends” which had supposedly gone viral on TikTok (with many of them actually originating on Facebook) and writing op-eds and letters to the editor posing as concerned parents critical of TikTok to local newspapers. One such letter, published in The Denver Post from a “new parent” raised the concern about the Chinese government’s ability to access TikTok’s U.S. user data. “Many people even suspect China is deliberately collecting behavioral data on our kids (the Chinese government and TikTok deny that they share data),” it read. “We should all be alarmed at the grave consequences these privacy issues present.”
Of course, data privacy concerns are not unique to TikTok. Facebook itself surveils its users, using the location tracking feature to monitor user activity in order to better predict what type of targeted ads to show—this feature works even when the app is closed, constantly collecting information about the user. Facebook even appears to go as far as tracking text messages and phone calls and having the ability to access photos on user devices.
The issue lies not with individual apps themselves, but that Congress refuses to pass any kind of comprehensive privacy legislation regulating social media apps and protecting users from tech companies misusing their data. And the reason for this is that Silicon Valley represents a powerful political force in Washington: in 2021, the top seven tech companies spent over $70 million lobbying to fight legislation regulating the industry. These firms spent more money than other lobbying giants like the pharmaceuticals, oil, and gas industries.
The previous year, in 2020, Meta alone had spent a record $20 million lobbying Congress, breaking its previous year’s record of $19 million. These are just a few of the bills Meta lobbied against within the past couple of years:
Along with data privacy legislation, Meta, along with other tech giants Amazon, Google, and Apple, have lobbied against bills promoting competition in the tech industry.
It should also be noted that Meta is one of the top stocks owned by members of Congress.
Silicon Valley capital and the state
The issue of TikTok for the U.S. government is not one of national security or the CPC obtaining American user data—the issue is that the government itself wants access to that data and cannot strongarm ByteDance into handing it over like they can U.S. tech companies, who often comply with Justice Department officials when requested to release information. How often do U.S. government officials request data from these tech firms? According to The New York Times:
Google said that it received 39,500 requests in the United States over that period [in the first half of 2020], covering nearly 84,700 accounts, and that it turned over some data in 83 percent of the cases. Google did not break down the percentage of requests in which it turned over basic data versus content, but it said that 39 percent of the requests were subpoenas while half were search warrants.
Facebook said that it received 61,500 requests in the United States over the period, covering 106,100 accounts, and that it turned over some data to 88 percent of the requests. The company said it received 38,850 warrants and complied with 89 percent of them over the period, and 10,250 subpoenas and complied with 85 percent.
This reveals the mutually beneficial relationship here between tech companies and the U.S. government: the state protects the interests of Silicon Valley capital, and in return, Big Tech complies with its data requests.
CPC “brainwashing” and “cognitive warfare”
Aside from the fearmongering around granting the CPC ability to access U.S. user data, another narrative pushed during the lead up to, and immediately following, the Congressional hearings was that TikTok is part of the CPC’s “cognitive warfare” psychological operations campaign to control Americans’ minds. This is an absurd accusation recycled from Red Scare propaganda from the last Cold War, in which the U.S. government incited fear among its citizens of Soviet and Chinese brainwashing.
In a November 2022 interview, Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, tells 60 Minutes, “In [China’s] version of TikTok [Douyin], if you’re under 14 years old, they show you science experiments you can do at home, museum exhibits, patriotism videos, and educational videos. And they also limit it to only 40 minutes per day. Now they don’t ship that version of TikTok to the rest of the world. So it’s almost like they recognize that technology is influencing kids’ development, and they make their domestic version a spinach version of TikTok, while they ship the opium version to the rest of the world.”
Putting aside the extremely poor taste accusation about “digital opium”, considering China is a nation that lost two wars trying to put a stop to Europeans flooding its ports with real opium in the 1800s resulting in its “century of humiliation,” this is another case of imperialist media and its mouthpieces shifting the blame for American societal issues onto the CPC. TikTok and its Chinese counterpart Douyin show different kinds of videos, because unlike the U.S., the Chinese government regulates the content that children consume on social media apps—a move which U.S. politicians often decry as “authoritarian” overreach. Once again, the issue is one of lack of government regulation at the behest of Silicon Valley tech companies.
Despite this, members of the ruling class continued to parrot this Sinophobic propaganda point. “The algorithms that determine what you see on TikTok [are] determined out of Beijing by China,” claimed Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee Mark Warner in February. “If you look at what Chinese kids are seeing on their version of TikTok, which emphasizes science and engineering, versus what our kids and kids around the world are seeing, it is dramatically different. So both from a data collection, and from frankly, a propaganda tool, it is of huge concern.”
And during the Congressional hearings, when questioning Chew, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers accused TikTok’s algorithm of promoting suicide, drug use, self-harm, and eating disorders to children, while noting that this same type of content was banned on Douyin.
After the Congressional testimony, Rep. Mike Gallagher, chair of the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, emphasized the imperative to take swift action against TikTok, proclaiming on ABC’s This Week, “It’s not just exfiltrating data from an American phone, it’s what they’re able to push to Americans through the algorithm—control our sense of reality, control the news, meddle in future elections.”
Unsurprisingly, the accusation that China is engaging in psychological warfare and “brainwashing,” like so many others, is another case of U.S. projection. The U.S. government has itself orchestrated disinformation campaigns on social media to promote “pro American narratives” in places like Iran, China, and Russia. In fact, as early as 2011, The Guardian reported that the US military had even contracted out the development of software to create internet personalities to influence online conversations to more easily spread pro-American propaganda, and it was again brought to light last year. And even more recently still, the release of the Twitter files earlier this year revealed the extent to which government agencies maintain close ties to online platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Apple, influencing online conversations to support the Saudi-led war on Yemen, pro-U.S. presence in Syria, and anti-Iran messaging in Iraq, among other propaganda campaigns.
And one shouldn’t forget that in 2010, the U.S. government funded the development of ZunZuneo in Cuba, a social media platform similar to Twitter, in order to promote political propaganda in the hopes of inciting a “Cuban Spring” youth revolt to topple the socialist government.
The U.S. seeks to eliminate economic competition
Like its ban on the sale and import of Chinese technology giant Huawei products to the U.S., the hysteria over TikTok has little to do with national security, and is instead rooted in fears over a Chinese company threatening U.S. dominance over the tech sector.
Not long ago, the U.S. ruling class was content to use China as a source of cheap labor and super profits, in exchange for American technological transfer. Now that China has begun to overcome its under-development and managed to build up its own tech sector, U.S. corporations seek to eliminate their economic competitor.
Originally published in Liberation News
The U.S. has had a hand in numerous projects intent on destabilizing Ukraine’s governments including two CIA programs that attempted to install Nazi leadership in the country.
A recent declassification of over 3,800 documents by the Central Intelligence Agency has revealed it operated two major programs intent on not only destabilizing Ukraine but ‘Nazifying’ it with followers of the World War II Ukrainian Nazi leader Stepan Bandera.
The documents, which were released in 2016, said that programs, spanning over four years, provided funding and equipment for such anti-Soviet Ukrainian resistance groups as the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council among a host of others.
The papers gave details of the AERODYNAMIC program which intended to destabilize Ukraine, using exile Ukrainian agents in the West who were infiltrated into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
“The purpose of Project AERODYNAMIC is to provide for the exploitation and expansion of the anti-Soviet Ukrainian resistance for cold war and hot war purposes,” the formerly top secret document dated July 13, 1953 says of the project.
“Such groups as the Ukrainian Supreme Council of Liberation (UHVR) and its Ukrainian Insurgent Army (OUN), the Foreign Representation of the Ukrainian Supreme Council of Liberation (ZPUHVR) in Western Europe and the United States, and other organizations such as the OUN/B will be utilized,” the document continued.
The CIA documents show that under the AERODYNAMIC program the CIA operated an affiliate project codenamed CAPACHO.
According to the Signs of the Times magazine CAPACHO “took on more of a psychological warfare operation veneer,” with the CIA setting up a propaganda company in Manhattan that “catered to printing and publishing anti-Soviet ZPUHVR literature that would be smuggled into Ukraine.”
The AERODYNAMIC and CAPACHO projects continued in operation through the Richard Nixon administration during the 1970s.
But the U.S. continues to implement destabilizing projects in Ukraine.
Former U.S. agent Scott Rickard told Russia Today in 2014 that United States foreign aid agencies pumped US$5 billion into the groups protesting against democratically-elected Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted from office in early February 2014. The head of state had indicated his intent to move closer to Russia instead of the EU and the West.
Baxter Dmitry is a writer at News Punch. He covers politics, business and entertainment. Speaking truth to power since he learned to talk, Baxter has travelled in over 80 countries and won arguments in every single one. Live without fear.
First Published in NewsPunch
Whoever picks up the first volume of Capital and begins to read, realizes, almost immediately, that its author is establishing, on a scientific basis, a colossal body of economic knowledge
It is well known that in the monument that heads Marx's tomb, in the pedestal under his giant head, there is that thesis that stated that philosophers had only interpreted the world in different ways; when all it was about was to transform it.
Whoever picks up the first volume of Capital and begins to read, realizes, almost immediately, that its author is establishing, on a scientific basis, a colossal body of economic knowledge.
And like any monumental effort, he begins by defining the epistemology that will guide his endeavor. By this, he establishes what are called categories, and that natural scientists speak of variables that will be approppriate to what is being studied.
After the definitions, come the theorems. And Marx did all this on the assumption that objective reality determined the rest of things, and did so, reality, in the ever-changing dynamics of its existence.
We call this dialectical materialism, and if we are consistent with it, we will have to understand that, in science, truth is sought from reality and verified in it, not in more or less enlightened gatherings.
Science is not done like the ancient Greeks, when materialism or idealism, equally, did not go beyond the realm of speculation, and the fate of the debate was determined by the charisma of those who debated there, or by the preparation of the opponents. The truth is that, apart from that, philosophy had not gone much beyond that state of affairs.
Those close to him say that Marx immersed himself day after day, week after week, month after month, in the British library, rummaging through the accounting books of the companies. He sought, as the scientist he was, that objective reality that had been measured and reflected in the books in order to arrive at certainties from its analysis.
And Marx was not a person who withdrew from controversy, but they, in their just social function, served to contrast the hypotheses that emerged and that ultimately had to be confronted again with the data that reflected the reality external to the subjectivity of individuals.
On March 14, Marx was declared dead. Since then, the act of killing him has occurred repeatedly, too many times, too few for his executors.
However, the reality is that, when we stop believing in it, it remains in front of us. The consecutive act of eliminating it only speaks of the systemic failure to achieve it.
I dare to assert, against the evidence of the image, that Marx's head on the Highgate pedestal, smiles.
Ernesto Estévez Rams
Originally Published in Granma
A massive three-day strike by school support staff and teachers recently shut down Los Angeles schools. They stand together to demand better wages and benefits for the school district’s most vulnerable workers.
Tens of thousands of Los Angeles teachers went on strike March 21-23, 2023, for the first time in four years, shutting down the nation’s second-largest school district for three rain-soaked days. But this time the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) did not walk out in order to demand better working conditions for educators. Rather, they were engaging in a remarkable act of solidarity with their lesser-paid colleagues—the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)’s support staff of about 30,000 people who are in their own union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99. It was the first time that the two unions—the largest two in Los Angeles—went on strike together.
SEIU Local 99’s demands for the district to offer a 30 percent pay raise and health benefits may sound ambitious. But that’s only because the district’s campus aides, teaching assistants, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, gardeners, and other support staff make an average of only $25,000 a year with no benefits. In Southern California, where everything from housing costs, to health care, to groceries are far higher than the national average, this is an untenable wage. Although LAUSD is offering the workers a 23 percent salary raise along with a 3 percent bonus, the double-digit bump is not nearly enough to make ends meet relative to the appallingly low wages they currently earn.
On March 23, 2023, the third and final day of the three-day action, thousands of workers gathered in Los Angeles State Historic Park for a final joint rally. Among them was Maria, a campus aide at Eagle Rock High School, who spoke with me and preferred not to use her last name. She tells me, “we live paycheck to paycheck, and we have to work some days unpaid on top of it all.”
Suraya Duran, a community parent representative at Eagle Rock High School and member of SEIU Local 99, was also at the rally. She says, “These essential employees worked through the pandemic with no raise, no benefits, and the uncertainty of stable hours.” In contrast, Duran points out, “it’s egregious to hear that the [school] superintendent makes more than the president of the United States.” She’s referring to LAUSD’s latest head, Alberto Carvalho, who makes $440,000 annually, the most that’s ever been paid to a district superintendent in LA.
It’s not as if the district can’t afford to pay its lowest-paid workers a living wage. It currently has at its disposal a $4.9 billion reserve fund, of which about $2.3 billion has not been spoken for. The unions argue that this money can and should be used to meet worker demands for higher wages. “There is money. It’s whether they choose to invest in these workers. That’s the bottom line,” says Duran.
Superintendent Carvalho spun the strike to suggest the workers were letting down low-income students of color by walking out for three days. He released a statement on Twitter the day before the strike began, saying that the COVID-19 pandemic was particularly difficult for “kids who are English language learners, students in poverty and students with disabilities,” who “cannot afford to be out of school.”
But Duran, whose job involves liaising between a school and parents, points out that many of the support staff’s own children attend schools in LAUSD. She says that it is common for workers to juggle multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. “They come to the school during the day, and then they’re going to a graveyard shift.” She adds, “They deserve to have a wage that is comparable to today’s standards.”
Maria says, “I feel that we are underpaid, and we feel unappreciated by the district. We are the ones that get paid less, but we are the ones that make sure the campus is safe, and, most important, that the kids are safe.” The public generally considers educators as the only school workers worthy of compensation. The strike served to uplift the voices of support workers like Maria who often remain invisible, but whose jobs are essential to the functioning of schools.
UTLA secretary Arlene Inouye pointed out in an op-ed that “24 percent of SEIU 99 members report that they don’t have enough to eat. One in three report that they have been homeless or at high risk of becoming homeless while working for LAUSD.” This underscores the injustice of a district sitting on more than $2 billion while relying on severely underpaid workers to continue operations. If Carvalho is so concerned about children living in poverty, he could directly address some of that by meeting the wage demands of their parents who work in the district.
Instead, he ridiculed the unions in a now-deleted Tweet that SEIU Local 99 captured in a screen grab. “1,2,3…Circus = a predictable performance with a known outcome, desiring of nothing more than an applause, a coin, and a promise of a next show,” wrote Carvalho in February 2023 after the strike was announced. He added, “Let’s do right, for once, without circus, for kids, for community, for decency.”
But strikes serve the explicit purpose of moving the ramifications of closed-door negotiations out into the open for all to see. Perhaps it is the visibility of LAUSD’s refusal to meet the wage demands of its lowest-paid workers that Carvalho most objected to when he referred to the strike as a “circus.” The UTLA-SEIU joint strike served a powerful narrative purpose: to highlight the appalling working conditions of tens of thousands of workers in LA public schools and to warn the district that workers have each other’s backs.
Although SEIU workers and their UTLA colleagues returned to school campuses after their three-day walkout, the district has, as of this writing, remained firm on its lowball offer. However, the strike did prompt LA’s newly elected mayor Karen Bass, who initially remained on the sidelines, to get involved. Bass is now actively mediating between the district and unions.
Alejandra Sanchez, a special education assistant at Eagle Rock High School, has a message for the superintendent: “Mr. Carvahlo, we are not ‘clowning around’ as you implied [in your tweet]; we are here today as one, UTLA and SEIU, fighting together for a better future, for respect, better wages, and stable hours. Our work is not a joke.”
Highlighting the solidarity between teachers and support staff and their refusal to stay silent, one teacher at Sanchez’s school wore a rain poncho while picketing that sported the words, “Hey Carvalho, in our ‘circus,’ you’re the saddest clown.”
Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Revolutionary Havana youth describe the process of building legislation in dialogue with the people.
On September 25, 2022, Cuba passed one of the world’s most progressive codes on families. All in one go, the small island nation legalized same-sex marriage, defined and upheld the rights of children, the disabled, caregivers, and the elderly, and redefined “family” along ties of affinity rather than blood. This opens the concept of “family” to include nontraditional forms of familial relations, which exist outside the model of the heterosexual nuclear family.
Hailed as “revolutionary” by many in Cuba, the code will help provide protections to people who would have otherwise faced discrimination in society while ensuring that Cubans in same-sex relationships who wish to marry now have the legal right to do so.
According to young Cubans and social movement leaders, whom I spoke to about the Family Code while attending a conference titled “Building Our Future” in Havana in November 2022, the code is a reflection of a dialogue between the Cuban people and their government.
In the time since the code was passed, the Cuban government remains in dialogue with the people. The Ministry of Justice is still holding seminars in provinces throughout Cuba for people seeking answers to questions that have come up during the implementation process. The Family Code has been influencing everything from sports to property relations. Notably, in just the first two months of the law being passed, 112 same-sex marriages were registered.
A Revolutionary Code
“It’s a revolutionary code that will change the thinking and the vision that Cubans have regarding… discriminations that can happen in society,” said Jose Luiz, a third-year international relations student at the Higher Institute of International Relations Raul Roa García. The Family Code legalizes and broadens the definition of a “family” far beyond the traditional definition. The code “will bring new protections to people who have, in one way or another, been discriminated against,” Luiz told me.
Cuba ratified a new constitution in 2019. The constitution was written through “popular consultations” with the Cuban people. Through this process, Cubans participated in community discussions with government officials to both discuss and amend the constitution. Article 68, which called for defining marriage as a union between two people, thus legalizing same-sex marriage, was mentioned in 66 percent of popular consultation meetings. A majority of the Cuban people involved in these processes supported maintaining the definition of marriage as being a union between a man and a woman. This is partly due to historic prejudices against LGBTQ+ people that are prevalent across the Americas, and partly due to Cuba’s growing conservative evangelical movement, which opposes progressive social reforms such as same-sex marriage.
After intense debate regarding Article 68 among the Cuban people, the constitutional commission decided not to include the proposed language in favor of same-sex marriage and instead pushed the decision of addressing the matter through a future “family code” legislation. This legislation became the 2022 Family Code.
‘Popular Consultation’: A Government in Dialogue With Its People
In order to overcome social conservatism to pass one of the most progressive Family Codes in the world, Cuba underwent a meticulous process of popular consultation, from February 1, 2022, to April 30, 2022. The National Assembly of People’s Power stressed the importance of Cubans familiarizing themselves with the code, in order to prevent feelings of uncertainty. Through this process, the Cuban people made more than 400,000 proposals, many of which were included in the finalized code. Minister of Justice Oscar Manuel Silvera Martínez said that the 25th version of the code, presented to and approved by the National Assembly, “was more solid because it was imbued with the wisdom of the people.”
Young people played a central role in the process leading up to the approval of the Family Code. “The Cuban youth… are involved in all tasks that are deployed by the Cuban revolution,” said Luiz. “We also participated in our referendum for our constitution in 2019. We were in popular committees, discussing the constitution and we contributed to that.”
In 2019, Cuba held a referendum on a new constitution. The referendum passed with a majority vote of 86.85 percent, which is about 73.3 percent of the total electorate. The referendum was preceded by a popular consultation process, in which a draft constitution was discussed in 133,000 public meetings nationwide, where the people of Cuba submitted 783,000 proposals for changes. Cuban officials stated that almost 60 percent of the draft constitution was modified based on the proposals submitted by the public during the popular consultation process.
“I remember at my college, we had meetings to explain the [Family Code], and for us as students to give our perspective of the code and propose something for the code,” Neisser Liban Calderón García, also a Cuban international relations student, told me. “But after we did that at college, we had the same thing in our community, with a different perspective because at college we are with our friends, with [other] students; but in the community, we are with people from all ages and from different families.” García, who has a boyfriend, told me that he is glad that he will now have the opportunity to marry in the future.
The results of this popular process speak for themselves: With 74.01 percent of eligible voters participating, the Family Code passed in a landslide victory with 66.87 percent of votes in favor.
“The day that… [the Cuban people] voted for the Family Code in the popular referendum, I also participated directly in the polling station,” said Luiz. “I could see the high participation of the people in the process, and the high acceptance and eagerness for the approval of the code.”
As Luiz mentioned, some young people had the opportunity to participate in an even more direct way. “Through the University Student Federation [FEU], we have meetings with the leadership of the country. For example, my institute had a meeting with the president. And in that meeting, we described the vision we have as revolutionary and communist youths, the vision we have of the change that needs to happen regarding the base and the leaders of the country,” Luiz said. “We have a voice [as youth] in every space that we have, including the president of FEU [who at the time was law student Karla Santana]. She is part of the National Assembly of People’s Power in Cuba. And she shares her perspective with the Cuban government regarding the thinking of the youth and its tradition in the Cuban revolution.”
Gretel Marante Roset, international relations officer for the Federation of Cuban Women, told me that the women of Cuba played a special role in the process of creating the Family Code. “Our commander in chief [Fidel Castro] said that the Federation of Cuban Women is a revolution within another revolution. Women in Cuba are beneficiaries and protagonists of our own development.” Women hold half of all national parliamentary seats in Cuba.
“The Federation of Cuban Women was part of the commission writing the draft of the Family Code to propose the text and interpretation of gender equality,” Marante Roset told me.
“About the Family Code, I think that the document is for the future. It is based on love… recognizing other types of families, joint human rights… I think that this is the future for Cuba,” Marante Roset said.
Natalia Marques is a writer at Peoples Dispatch, an organizer, and a graphic designer based in New York City.
Trash cans burning in Paris, France, as protests continue in the country against the government's pension reform. Photo: AP/Jean-Francois Badias.
Over one million people participated in demonstrations against the pension reform bill across France, according to the French Interior Ministry, while unions give the estimate at over three million.
The Interior Ministry said 1.089 million demonstrators took to the streets in France on Thursday, March 23, double the number present at the previous manifestation on March 15; however, it was less than at the demonstrations on January 19, 31 and March 7, the French media reported. Then, the number of protesters reportedly amounted to around 1.2 million.
However, France’s largest union, CGT, reported that a record 3.5 million people took part in the protests across the whole country.
The Paris demonstrations gathered around 120,000 people, according to the police, while according to the union, 800,000 people participated.
Clashes between black bloc radicals and law enforcement officers broke out in the French capital during today’s protests. A Sputnik correspondent reported that the police used tear gas to disperse protesters who managed to reach the Place de la Republique, demanding the area be cleared through loudspeakers. A water cannon was also seen at the scene.
As of Thursday evening, 80 people were detained across France, and some 120 police officers were injured, French Interior Ministry said.
Moreover, during a demonstration in the city of Rouen, a 40-year-old woman had her thumb blown off by a grenade, local media reported. Her injuries were seen to by medical workers. The report said the injured woman was a college teacher and had two children.
In the southwestern city of Bordeux protests and clashes saw fire engulf the front door of the city’s town hall building. Although it remained unclear who exactly ignited the flames, the blaze was later extinguished by officials.
France’s leading unions announced that the 10th nationwide protest against the pension reform would take place on March 28, according to local TV.
Later in the day, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne commented on clashes between the demonstrators and police.
“The violence and damage we saw today are unacceptable. I am grateful to the police and emergency services that were mobilized,” Borne said on Twitter.
On March 16, Borne announced that the government had adopted a law on raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030 by invoking Article 49.3 of the constitution, which allowed the bill to get passed without parliamentary approval. The decision sparked a strong backlash, prompting people to take to the streets across the country.
The opposition tried to prevent the adoption of the law on Monday through a vote of no confidence in the French government, but failed to secure an absolute majority in the parliament twice.
There have been several nationwide strikes and hundreds of demonstrations in France within the last two months, with over 1 million people taking part in most of them. During the protests, clashes often broke out between the police and the protesters.
this article was republished from Orinoco Tribune.
It is said that even “a broken clock is right twice a day,” meaning that even a buffoon or a criminal (e.g. somebody like former US President Trump, who is both in equal measure) is capable of a correct opinion or cogent utterance.
This has never been truer than with a recent foreign policy speech Trump gave wherein he spoke with refreshing clarity about the real threat to the American people, arguing that it comes not from abroad but from within.
“The greatest threat to Western civilization today is not Russia, it’s probably more than anything else ourselves,” he declared, specifically condemning the “horrible, USA-hating people that represent us.”
“These globalists want to squander all of America’s strength, blood and treasure, chasing monsters and phantoms overseas while keeping us distracted from the havoc they’re creating here at home,” Trump said.
He slammed the “entire globalist neocon establishment,” “defense bureaucracy” and NATO, as it is currently organized and funded – viz. the tools of the US empire.
He pointed to a “sick and corrupt establishment” in need of eviction, asserting that “these forces are doing more damage to America than Russia and China could ever have dreamed.”
He argued that “the abolition of our national borders,” a rising crime rate, and “the collapsing of the nuclear family and fertility rates” threatened the country more than any foreign power. He also alluded to the gutting of America’s manufacturing base, condemning “the globalist class that has made us totally dependent on China and other foreign countries that basically hate us.’
Not Up to the Task
In a time of rampant warmongering from Democrats and Republicans alike, Trump’s speech came as a breath of fresh air. But he still gets it wrong most of the time, and no one should suppose that a second stint in the White House would be any less disastrous than his first.
Recall that as much as Trump may have wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq, the same neocon establishment he rails against now prevented his doing so. It’s also impossible to overlook his role in the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Suliamani, his deployment of the MOAB (Mother of All Bombs) in Afghanistan, and his continuing coziness with the Israel Lobby, at the expense of the Palestinians and American security.
So Trump was, and would again become, either a liar and hypocrite, or too weak as president to effectively take on the despised deep state.
However, it’s just as undeniable that his calling out US aggression presents an opportunity for leftists to recruit from the Trump fandom, finding common ground in opposition to the empire.
Who are you calling ‘Marxist?’
Alongside crime and fertility rates, the “globalist class,” and the rest of Trump’s litany of internal threats to the US, we find his assertion that “the Marxists” are also part of the problem, who he says “would have us become a godless nation, worshiping at the altar of race and gender and environment.”
On the one hand, this is a kind of political hangover on his part; an instance of embarrassing Boomer paranoia.
But more significantly, it’s also an indictment of the synthetic left of the present generation; of professed “Marxists” who care more about feminism, gender ideology or racial grievance than they do about the liberation of working people, all of whom (regardless of color or gender) deserve to partake in the country’s prosperity and a voice in its destiny; this means, at minimum, a living wage, guaranteed education, housing and healthcare, ample free time and family leave.
One look at the way that social justice issues of equity and inclusion are co-opted time after time by the corporate elite and billionaire class should tell anyone how much real “Marxism” can be found in them.
And it is not “the Marxists” who would transform the US into a godless nation: The capitalists have already accomplished this. Neither are Marxists to blame for the “collapse of the nuclear family and fertility rates,” when the fault is rather with the capitalist elite, to whom you and I appear more like livestock than like fellow human beings, worthy of happy families and dignified, prosperous lives.
There is so much to applaud in Trump’s anti-imperialist message, and while we may dare hope to overthrow the entrenched US establishment and its endless global entanglements, it does not follow that he is the one for the job. Our task is to take what’s correct and valuable in that message and to transplant it; to see it take root in the anti-capitalism that American workers so desperately need. The sooner, the better!
This article was republished from The Revolution Report.
As we demand an end to the U.S. war machine, peace and an end to imperialism everywhere, we have to take the time to talk about the current political situation in Haiti. It has been reported that in coordination with Washington, Canada has begun a “significant military deployment in Haiti,” as admitted by the Canadian Ambassador to Haiti, Sébastien Carrière.
Carrière continued by saying, “We took over … We delivered armor. There have been two deliveries since October. There would be a third delivery in the next few days, and another one later in February. There is this CP-140 surveillance operation, intelligence sharing, there are ships arriving. Listen, it’s still military deployment in a significant way.” Devastating weapons, mass surveillance technology and Canadian soldiers have been on the ground in Haiti for weeks to further repress the nation. But this isn’t new for the first free Black nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Haiti has been under attack by imperialists since its revolution in 1804. The U.S. slave-owning class, threatened by Haiti’s successful revolution, chose to isolate Haiti economically and politically, refusing to accept a free Black-led republic. While France agreed to recognize Haitian independence in 1825, they did so in exchange for the large sum of 150 million franc for the loss of “property” — the formerly-enslaved Black people of Haiti. Faced with isolation, Haiti felt obligated to pay this debt of $21 billion over 122 years — paying France until 1893, and then the United States until 1947 — keeping Haiti in a constant state of debt.
Imperialist forces of France, United States and Germany interfered with Haitian affairs leading to desabilization in the country, the assassination of Haiti’s president in 1915, and the U.S. military invasion and occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1947. As detailed in Eugene Puryear’s analysis, “Haiti: between a rock and a revolution,” foreign military interventions and occupations have been “efforts to destroy the popular revolution spirit of the Haitian people who have faced 2 coups, 3 dictators, 2 foreign military occupations, multiple death squads, 4 straight dodgy elections since 2006, 1 presidential assassination,” and a range of exploitative trade deals.
A U.S. Marine and a UN soldier in Haiti during a 2010 deployment. Public domain.
Now-exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide attempted to recover the billions stolen by France in 2003, and was removed from office through a coup d’état. In fact, it was a U.S. Navy SEAL team that removed Aristide from his home in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Tabarre on Feb. 29, 2004. Immediately thereafter, the United States, Canada and France landed troops in Haiti, militarily occupying the country for the following three months.
These same occupying countries met with the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank to have them pledge monetary “aid” to help strengthen Haiti’s police state to maintain peace and stability, and to respond effectively to civil unrest while “respecting human civil rights,” which resulted in a loan of $410 million to the financially victimized nation. This same predatory approach to aid was applied towards Haiti after the 2010 earthquake when $13 billion in funds raised for Haiti never made it to the Haitian people. Meanwhile, Haiti has over an 80% unemployment rate, while 60% of the population lives on less than $2 per day, with a minimum wage of $7.50 per day.
Is the struggle in Haiti really about gangs? Peaceful worker protests in Haiti are often met with violence. Through varying decrees made by the Moïse regime, all protests have been characterized as “terrorism” and incentive structures for police officers have been created to increase their violence against civil society. And now the already violent national police have even more violent, racist support with this new intervention.
Moïse was unable to control the protests and so dissolved the parliament, the judiciary and ruled by decree in dictatorial fashion until he was assassinated in 2021.
But where do these so-called gangs come from? The rise of “gang violence” has followed the rise of the mass popular movement in Haiti. Haitian elites have deployed paramilitary forces to try to “repress and intimidate” this huge popular movement against poverty wages in order to protect their private property. This has continued with state repression and paramilitary forces. Anyone is seen as a gang member when it comes to putting profit over people.
After Aristide’s removal in 2004, in June of that year, the United States handed the occupation of Haiti to the low-paid, multinational army called the UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti or MINUSTAH. Since the early 2000s, “MINUSTAH is how the U.S. has outsourced its control of Haiti,” author and activist Bill Quigley explained. MINUSTAH has helped to fortify the U.S./UN presence in Haiti. In 2010, Nepalese UN soldiers introduced cholera into the country. In her article, “Call for UN to help Haitians affected by cholera,” Victoria Klassen states:
“The peacekeeping mission inadvertently introduced cholera into Haiti’s most extensive water source in October 2010, after sewage leaked from a UN camp housing cholera-infected peacekeepers. Since 2010, confirmed cholera infections have claimed around 10,000 lives and infected over 820,000 people in the country leading to over 10,000 deaths.”
In “The UN let off peacekeepers involved in a Haitian boy’s rape” journalist Amy Bracken reported, “But it’s here, in early 2012, that local youths reported seeing UN police in a vehicle sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy who is mentally disabled.” As the title states, no UN “peacekeepers” ever faced accountability. And that is just one reported case of the violence that these invasions and occupations have caused the Haitian people.
Destabilizing what was once the colonial gem of the French empire is a critical strategy in all of this. Various UN occupations have literally uprooted Haitian elected democracy and led to installments of puppet regimes, while state institutions were dissolved at a whim, as we see in the case of Haiti’s current Prime Minister Ariel Henry.
And the Haitian people don’t want any UN intervention at all — no matter what is “reported.”
Since October of last year, hundreds of thousands of Haitians have been taking to the streets across the country demanding the resignation of the U.S.-backed de-facto president Ariel Henry and his administration — and NO UN solution in Haiti, NO MINUSTAH. The Haitian people are demanding concrete responses to their needs. They are demanding resolution to the nation’s food insecurity, rampant inflation and severe fuel shortages. Haitians demand that the de-facto government withdraw.
“… July 2021, a few days after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse a gallon (3.78 liters) of unleaded 95 has increased in price by 128%, from 250 to 570 gourdes (2.11 to 4.83 euros), while the price of diesel and kerosene is now nearly 670 gourdes, representing a 90% surge,” as reported by Jean-Michel Hauteville of Le Monde. This is a surge that is choking Haitians at the request of the International Monetary Fund.
But most importantly, the Haitian people demand that we — workers, anti-imperialists and radicals of the world — unite with Haiti, uplift its self-determination and say ‘NO’ to any UN intervention in Haiti, wherever we are and in all our work. Haiti hasn’t been silent and for Haiti’s sake, neither can we.
this article was republished by Liberation News.
Starbucks workers take nationwide coffee break and walk off the job. By: Mark Gruenberg, John Bachtell, Roberta Wood & Scott MarshallRead Now
Striking Starbucks workers took the lovable skeleton mascot out of the closet where their bosses had confined it, saying the skeleton was treated as badly as the workers. | Roberta Wood/PW
CHICAGO — How did Marvin, a lovable skeleton, become the mascot of striking Starbucks workers in this city’s historic Greektown neighborhood? This location is blocks north of the giant University of Illinois campus. It is one of more than a hundred stores in the country where the workers filed for union representation and voted to join today’s strike, even before the NLRB had a chance to schedule their union recognition vote.
According to the baristas here, management’s treatment of Marvin corresponds to their treatment of the workers and their community. Marvin “came to life” one year during the Halloween season when workers hung Marvin in the window, and he became a neighborhood fixture, decked out to celebrate whatever holiday was going on, bringing smiles to the faces of both staff and community.
“But then Starbucks District Manager Lesley Davis said we couldn’t have him,” explained Chris Allen, 22, a shift supervisor. Davis banished the beloved Marvin to the back of the house, out of sight.
“It sucks having someone else make all the decisions when you’re doing all the work daily,” Lily Haneghan, 23, told People’s World. Haneghan admitted when co-workers first discussed forming a union, she was scared. “I had no idea what a union was, and then my boss said, ‘If you unionize, you will get fired.’” That was a big threat to someone who had invested the last five years of her young life working for the company. But then she reflected, “They think of us as coffee robots. There’s no concern for our physical and emotional well-being.” Haneghan and Allen were co-strike captains.
The national Starbucks strike on March 22, at more than 115 stores from Anchorage and Arkansas to Seattle and Phoenix, preceded the showdown at the firm’s annual meeting over whether its union-busting is hurting the so-called progressive coffee chain’s brand.
The baristas and their allies walked out to protest the firm’s rampant labor law-breaking, orchestrated and directed by longtime CEO Howard Schultz.
The labor law-breaking prompted union pension funds and pro-stockholder investors to demand an independent audit of the impact of the law-breaking, which also defies the firm’s proclaimed standards. The proposal came up at its Zoomed annual meeting on March 23.
“The faux progressivism of Starbucks is being exposed for what it is: A marketing ploy,” said Starbucks Workers United (SWU), the union-sponsored group aiding the grass-roots organizing drive nationally.
The National Labor Relations Board filed federal charges against Schultz personally and over 500 charges it levied against the company. The number of complaints from exploited Starbucks workers to the NLRB is 1,200 and counting.
“The One Day Longer national unfair labor practices (ULP) strike demanded Starbucks fully staff all stores, give partners a real seat at the table, not an empty chair, and negotiate a contract in good faith,” SWU said.
That’s exactly what Schultz, his union-buster lawyers, and his managers haven’t done. The only two bargaining sessions the two sides ever had—after pressure on Schultz—lasted five minutes each, with the bosses, led by the union buster, walking out.
More than six years with Starbucks
Sean Plotts has worked six and a half years for Starbucks, including two and a half years as a shift manager at the Lincoln Village location in Chicago. A recent graduate, he holds an associate in arts degree from McHenry County College.
“They were once cutting edge in the fast food industry, but other companies have caught up. They are brutally cracking down on stores going union,” said Plotts.
Less than 300 stores are unionized out of 28,000, and 900 unfair labor practices are already filed with NLRB. “All we’re asking,” Plotts said, “is to be treated fairly, paid well for our services, and given the resources to serve the public. We love this job, but it’s stressful when they’re cutting hours and cutting floor coverage to save a couple of extra bucks at the end of the day.”
Plotts described this as a “union-busting” tactic, adding, “They want to flush out many tired employees. We’re all tired. People shouldn’t have to work as long as they do for little pay just so the stores can get a couple hundred more dollars at the end of the day.”
So far, Starbucks refuses to recognize the union at the Lincoln Village location. “We’ve had one bargaining session which lasted eight minutes, including introductions,” said Plotts, who expressed gratitude for public support for the strikers.
Shot the hours back
Another Lincoln Village worker, Autumn Graham, who sports shoulder-length hair, has been with Starbucks for five years. He started in St. Louis and moved to Chicago because of a toxic work environment at the store there.
“I worked at a store on Bryn Mawr Avenue (in Chicago),” he said. “We unionized in May, and they shut us down in October. We and the Clark and Ridge store were the first to organize in Chicago. They just stonewalled us. Cutting our work without telling us anything and then shutting it down and assigning us to other stores.
Graham depends on Starbucks’ health benefits, as meager as they are, and needs to work full-time to pay his bills. The company has slashed his hours, making life difficult.
“If you work 20 hours, you get benefits. Many workers struggle to get to 20, only get 17, and are denied benefits. When we unionized, they cut our hours from 20-25 to 15 hours and denied us benefits,” he said.
“Recently, they shot the hours back up because we’ve lost a lot of staff. They say business is slow, but I know from the receipts that we’re as busy as before. They ask us to do more with fewer people,” said Graham.
“If you’re a Starbucks customer, just fill out the review on your receipt and write ‘support the union, come to the negotiating table,'” he said. “They need to quit making excuses.”
Across the country, workers in 24 stores in California—including two in Sacramento and one each in Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Francisco—joined them. Back East, so did workers in Boston, six stores in metro D.C., three in the Baltimore area, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Flint, Mich., Buffalo, St. Louis, and St. Paul, Minn., among others.
“As Starbucks celebrates their provenance and record profits this week, my partners have to deal with the reality that we are being nickeled and dimed to extract as much labor as cheaply as possible,” said Maria Flores of Queens, N.Y. “Our shift supervisors, who make maybe $4 more an hour than baristas, are being met with resistance when picking up barista shifts or working with other shift supervisors, and they’re struggling. Where is the disconnect?
“I’m striking because the power of workers can save the world. Our union is small but now unstoppable, and we’re ready to start making moves. The walls are closing in on Starbucks and when we negotiate I think the flood gates might open!”
“Workers unite!” her Queens colleague James Carr predicted. “I’m excited to get out onto the streets with the people, enjoy the weather, and withhold my labor from Starbucks.”
“I’m excited to join the national effort in striking! It’s so reassuring and reaffirming to be a part of something that’s bigger than just Long Island. I hope Starbucks corporate starts accepting and joining us in solidarity,” said Lynbrook, L.I., worker Liv Ryan.
The workers and SWU have won union recognition elections at 294 Starbucks stores and file daily for votes at more stores. The latest unionized stores are in Oak Park, Ill., at Lake St. and Euclid, plus Pleasanton and Sunnyvale, Calif., Ashland and Portland, Ore.—at Portland State University, and Cameron, N.C. Its latest wins were in Portland, at the Pioneer Courthouse, at 10th and Market Streets in downtown Philadelphia, at Litchfield Park, Ariz., and in Hillsboro, Ore.
“Starting in May, Starbucks forced baristas and supervisors at those three Seattle stores to reapply for their existing positions under the premise of organizing the three stores into their own mini-district, where partners would be expected to work shifts at all three locations.
“Workers had no chance to say goodbye to coworkers and lost the sense of stability they had been counting on. They were also subjected to multiple meetings where managers illegally solicited grievances and promised improvements to prevent unionizing.
“The NLRB has filed a consolidated complaint for these three stores, and included in the remedy is the requirement that the company stop holding these meetings to solicit grievances and to ‘make whole’ the employees who were not rehired, and were functionally pushed out of their own stores.”
We hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, please support great working-class and pro-people journalism by donating to People’s World.
Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).
This article was republished from Peoples World.
Workers walked out of the Flint Assembly Plant in the 2019 General Motors strike. In a runoff election, UAW members have elected a full slate of reformers to lead the union into this year's Big 3 auto bargaining and beyond. Photo: Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP.
The machine will churn no more. Nearly 80 years of top-down one-party rule in the United Auto Workers are coming to an end. Reformer Shawn Fain is set to be the winner in the runoff for the UAW presidency.
As of Thursday night, Fain had a 505-vote edge, 69,386 to 68,881, over incumbent Ray Curry of the Administration Caucus. Curry was appointed by the union’s executive board in 2021. There are around 600 unresolved challenged ballots. (This story will be updated with the final vote tally when we have it.)
“By now, the writing is on the wall: change is coming to the UAW,” said Fain. “You, the members, have already made history in this election, and we’re just getting started. It’s a new day in the UAW.”
It’s a stunning upset in one of the nation’s most storied unions. Once Fain’s victory is conclusive—after remaining challenged ballots are counted—he will join Secretary-Treasurer Margaret Mock, who ran on the Members United slate and won outright in the first round, and a majority of the International Executive Board, giving reformers control of the direction of the union. The UAW Members United slate won every race it challenged—a clear rebuke to the old guard.
“Thousands of UAW members put countless hours into this historic campaign to take back our union,” said Fain. “I thank those members—no matter who they voted for—for taking an active role in our union.
“But thousands of members have lost faith, after years of corruption at the top and concessions at the bottom,” he continued. “Our job now is to put the members back in the driver’s seat, regain the trust of the rank and file, and put the companies on notice. We are ending give-back unionism and company control in the UAW.”
Fain is an electrician from Kokomo, Indiana, and on the staff of the international union.
“Shawn Fain ran a campaign on the promise of true reform in the UAW,” said Justin Mayhugh, a General Motors worker at the Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas City and a member of Unite All Workers for Democracy, the caucus formed in 2019 to fight for members’ right to vote on top officers. UAWD backed Fain’s UAW Members United slate.
“That message has resonated with the members of our union who are ready for change,” Mayhugh said. “He ran a campaign based on the needs of the rank and file, and because of that, he was able to overcome the many entrenched advantages Curry enjoyed during this election process. It’s a truly historic moment for our union.”
And not a moment too soon. The Big 3 auto contracts with Ford, GM, and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) expire in six months, and the industry is undergoing major changes with the rise of electric vehicles. The Big 3 now have less than half of the domestic auto market and more than half of all U.S. auto workers are non-union.
Agreements with the Canadian union Unifor covering some 20,000 auto workers at the Big 3 also expire in September.
“We are putting the Big 3 on notice: they should get ready to negotiate with a UAW where the membership is back in charge of this union,” Fain told Labor Notes in December after the first round of the election, where reformers won five seats outright.
LONG TIME COMING
The last time a reformer had won a seat on the UAW board was in 1986, when Jerry Tucker of the New Directions Movement became a regional director. New Directions coalesced a group of reformers into a rank-and-file resistance movement in the 1980s and early 1990s.
And going back even further, the last contested election for the presidency, except for Tucker’s run for president in 1991 and other symbolic runs, was in 1946 between RJ Thomas and Walter Reuther, heading opposing caucuses.
Reuther won and purged the Communists from the UAW staff and defeated or co-opted other opponents. He consolidated his power in a 1947 sweep that accomplished what historian Nelson Lichtenstein describes as “nothing less than the elimination of his rivals from all posts in the UAW hierarchy.”
“The UAW in the ’40s was known for this intense internal democracy,” said Lichtenstein, author of Walter Reuther: The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit. “And hopefully, with the victory of Shawn Fain, he’s not going to create a new machine. There are going to be contested elections from now on, and that’s a good, healthy thing. It brings in the rank and file and energizes people.”
The UAW has 400,000 members and a strike fund of a billion dollars. The new leaders campaigned on a militant approach to organizing, internal democracy, and solidarity against tiers, similar to the leadership shakeup in the Teamsters in 2021. The Members United slogan was “No Corruption, No Concessions, No Tiers.”
They face steep challenges. The union has seen a membership decline in its core manufacturing sector. The GM division, for example, is today about 11 percent of its 450,000-member heyday in the 1970s. Attempts to organize auto factories in the South have failed, including at a Nissan plant in Mississippi in 2017 and a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee in 2019. Other organizing opportunities are on the horizon. Ford will build four new factories to produce electric vehicle batteries and electric F-Series pickup trucks in Kentucky and Tennessee by 2025, employing 11,000 workers.
To shore up numbers, the union has brought in university workers in recent years, now accounting for 20 percent of members. University of California graduate employees, coming off a recent strike, went overwhelmingly for Fain, defying local leaders who supported Curry. Graduate worker turnout was very low, however, and they were a modest part of Fain’s vote total, 2.5 percent.
GOOD CONTRACTS ORGANIZE
The new leaders will need to fight for stronger contracts at existing shops while launching new organizing campaigns. Scott Houldieson, an electrician at Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant and a founding member of UAWD, says these goals are mutually dependent.
“When you’re negotiating concessionary contracts, it doesn’t help your organizing strategy at all,” said Houldieson. “In fact, it gives talking points to the anti-union forces.
“And while we have to do both at the same time—bargain strong contracts and do new organizing—we will do better at organizing the unorganized if we can first organize to fight back,” he continued. “The rank and file is fed up with our union officers taking the company line, each and every time we have an issue, whether it be contract negotiations or grievance settlements.”
The Big 3 are hauling in record profits, but they continue to lose market share to non-union automakers. Electric vehicle battery plants and federal investments that are part of a green industrial policy provide an opportunity to organize workers in new manufacturing jobs.
CONCESSIONS KEY BEEF
UAWD’s campaign for one-member-one-vote was seen as a long shot when it began in 2019. Even the union’s Internal Review Board once described the union as functioning like a “one-party state.” But then an investigation by the Justice Department laid bare longstanding corruption in the union, including embezzlement, kickbacks, and collusion with employers. Thirteen union officials went to jail, including two former presidents.
The consent decree that resulted from the corruption scandals made it possible for members to decide whether they wanted to directly elect their officers, as opposed to a convention delegate system. In December 2021, UAW members voted 63.6 percent in support of electing top officers through one-member-one-vote.
But the financial chicanery at the top was not enough to galvanize the rank and file, says retired Local 1700 President Bill Parker.
“Corruption was a minor issue,” said Parker. “The real problem was that the union no longer fought the company, going back to the early ’80s when it began granting concessions, and then it all went downhill from there.” The union began giving away concessions at Chrysler beginning in 1979. Ford and GM followed suit with demands for ever-deeper givebacks.
“People want the union to challenge management,” said Parker, “not lay down in front of them. So they want the collective power of the union, not just to reform the union, but to aggressively change the union into a fighting institution."
RETIREES VOTE FOR CHANGE
But the discontent has had a slow build-up. Take retirees from locals whose factories closed. Parker says they felt abandoned by the union and were favorable to reformers in both rounds of the election. (We can’t tell how most retirees voted because their votes are mixed with those of active members. But we can see how retirees from closed locals voted.)
“Forty or 50 years ago, when I started out, retirees were solidly in the camp of the Administration Caucus,” he said, “because at the time, the Administration was doing things like negotiating improvements in the pension and bonuses.
“Then in 2007, during contract negotiations, the union agreed to two tiers.” Now “the majority of Chrysler workers are second-tier employees with no pension, no retiree health care, and they’re treated poorly in the plant.”
At Chrysler Local 1268, where the company has indefinitely “idled” the Belvidere Assembly Plant where 1,350 UAW members work, workers voted over 70 percent for Fain.
“The sad reality of this is, over the last year and a half, since President Curry’s been in power… the company has awarded more than three different products, and Belvidere could have had every one of those,” Fain said on a Facebook livestream last December. “They’ve had ample opportunity to take on the company and to get product there, and prevent thousands of layoffs.”
Anger has propelled rank and filers into leadership. But the flip side of anger is lack of hope.
“The new administration is going to have to start giving the members some confidence,” said Houldieson. “Right now, they lack confidence, and for good reason—they’ve been beaten down by corporate unionism for decades now. So we’re going to have to work on building a contract campaign that gives the membership more confidence than they’ve had in a long time.”
This attitude of resignation partly explains the low turnout in the election (14 percent of the 400,000 active members and 600,000 retirees) and the slim margin of victory. In addition, reformers said that members struggled to get information about the candidates in order to make an informed decision.
At first, the AC had relied on the sleepy internal life of the union to protect it from the insurgents and tried to pretend the election wasn’t happening, giving it little publicity. “The Administration Caucus didn’t campaign much in the first round because they thought they had it in the bag,” said Houldieson. “They are used to just having their way.” But they hadn’t faced a one-member-one-vote election before.
After the reformers’ victories in December, the AC roused from its lethargy and Curry pulled out all the stops.
His strategy was to get Administration Caucus loyalists—appointed and elected officials—to campaign in Ford locals, the home base of his running mate Chuck Browning, who has been the UAW vice president in charge of Ford. Their message was that Fain, from Stellantis, would somehow discriminate against Ford workers.
Curry, who was an assembler at Freightliner Trucks in North Carolina before he became a union official, won in Region 1A to the west of Detroit and also won in large Ford plants in Region 8 in the South, where turnout increased by 41 percent in the runoff. Fain took a majority in the union’s other seven regions.
REBELLION FROM BELOW
Plucked from the shop floor, UAW Members United challenger Daniel Vicente won the runoff vote for director of Region 9, which covers western and central New York, New Jersey, and most of Pennsylvania.
What motivated him to seek union office? Vicente, a machine operator and a convention delegate representing Local 644 in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, credited a hazardous incident at his current job at Dometic, which makes steering control cables for boats, and the short shrift a local union official paid him once he brought the incident to his attention.
His nerve was steeled at the July UAW convention in Detroit when he saw delegates, in the convention’s closing hours, reverse their previous vote to boost strike pay—at the AC’s request.
In a heartfelt Facebook post on March 3, Vicente wrote about growing up in a blue-collar family and the bonds of solidarity he has forged with fellow workers on the shop floor, writing about a co-worker, Mohamed Aitqol: “You and I have pulled 12 hours shifts together, we sweated it out in the summers and froze half to death in the winters on these machines.”
He promised to carry with him that spirit of solidarity as he travels Region 9 to meet with local members and leaders to together transform the union.
“The race is done, so now the hard part begins,” he said.
Read an interview with Daniel Vicente here.
This article was republished from Labor Notes.
*This is an elongated version of a speech for the International Manifesto Group and Midwestern Marx Institute co-hosted event on the Paris Commune’s Significance. To attend Sunday March 19th at 10 am EST click HERE. You may also find the recording after the event in the IMG’s YouTube Channel HERE and in the Midwestern Marx Institute’s YouTube Channel HERE.
I would like to thank the International Manifesto Group for hosting this event, and for inviting me to say a few words about the relevance of that heroic experiment in socialist democracy which took place 152 years ago.
My discussion of the Paris Commune’s relevance, and of the relevance of Marx and Engels’s reflections on it, will revolve around three key points.
First, the worldview through which Marx and Engels approach the Paris Commune.
Second, the conclusions they derived from their study of the Commune, how the Commune helped them refine and concretize their understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and what relevance these have today.
Third, if we are faithful to the worldview through which Marx and Engels approach the Commune – and not limit ourselves to simply accepting the conclusions, we come to see that after 152 years since the birth of the Commune, we have had many socialist experiments from which we can learn in ways similar to Marx and Engels with the Paris Commune. The experience of these offers us many lessons – I would like to mention just two of them: 1 – the necessity of developing the productive forces, the sciences and technologies, and the military capacities of the state to protect its sovereignty from imperialism; and 2 – the necessity of adapting socialism to the conditions of the context it is taking root in.
1- Marx and Engels’s Approach to the Commune
As I am sure most know, in September 1870, six months before the establishment of the Paris Commune, Marx would say that “any attempt at upsetting the new government in the present crisis, when the enemy is almost knocking at the doors of Paris, would be a desperate folly.” In the coming months, as the antagonism between the bourgeois government and the armed workers developed, an attempt was made in March 18th 1871 to disarm the workers. The workers refused to give up arms, and war between Paris and the French government ensued. The Commune was elected on March 26, and proclaimed on the 28th. As the situation unfolded, Marx was turned from a skeptic to an ardent supporter of the Communard’s actions. Less than a month after the Commune was proclaimed, he would go on to say, “what resilience, what historical initiative, what a capacity for sacrifice in these Parisians!” They were “storming the heavens,” and “History has no like example of [such] greatness.”
I think the significance of this transition in Marx is often undermined. Over the last century, large sections of the Western left have expected the socialist and anti-colonial people’s movements which have arisen in the global South and East to measure up to their standards of what socialism ought to be. If these movements fail to meet the purity with which socialism is treated in their minds, they are condemned by the Western left as ‘authoritarian,’ ‘Stalinist,’ ‘state capitalist,’ or ‘not real socialism’ (which is my personal favorite because of its paradoxical character). The outlook of the Western Marxists is a complete inversion of the one which mediates Marx’s study of the Commune. The Commune was not ‘pure,’ it had its downfalls and contained serious ideological deviations from Marx and Engels’s thought, not least of which is the influence of Blanquism and Proudhonism. This did not prohibit them, however, from supporting the Commune and learning from it.
Lenin, as always, saw this with extreme clarity. He said that “when the mass revolutionary movement of the proletariat burst forth, Marx, in spite of the failure of that movement, in spite of its short life and its patent weakness, began to study what forms it had discovered.” Marx and Engels, Lenin would go on to say, “examined the actual experience of a mass proletarian movement and tried to draw practical lessons from it,” “re-examining [their] theory in light of it.” They did not treat socialism as an abstract ideal they could use to denounce emancipatory movements. Since the middle of the 1840s, Marx and Engels refused to treat communism as a static “state of affairs… an ideal to which reality [would] have to adjust itself.” Instead, their commitment was to “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.”
Today, many self-proclaimed Marxists in the West prefer to hold on to socialism as a pure unchanging ideal than to have that ideal be desecrated by the lessons which have arisen from the difficulties of constructing socialism in the imperialist stage of capitalism. Instead of learning from the successes and failures of revolutionary movements in Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Venezuela, and so on, many are content with condemning these real movements of history because they don’t measure up to the pure ideal in their heads. Samir Amin put it nicely in respect to China when he said that “China bashing panders to the infantile opinion found in some currents of the powerless Western left: if it is not the communism of the twenty-third century, it is a betrayal!” I think it is clear that the truth of this statement spans well beyond just China. It is grounded in the purity fetish outlook – a form of engagement with the world which couldn’t be any further from Marx and Engels’s dialectical materialist worldview.
Where Marx and Engels, as dialectical materialists, emphasize the material movement of history, the purity fetish of the Western left emphasizes a static pure ideal. If we are to celebrate, as we are, the Paris Commune by reflecting on the relevance of Marx and Engels’s insights on it, without a doubt the question of the worldview through which they approached the world is of utmost primacy. Without this, their genuine insights are nothing more than dead conclusions, severed from the form of thinking which would allow us to do today what Marx and Engels did 152 years ago; that is, to learn from the dialectical movement of the working masses towards freedom.
2- What the Commune Taught Marx and Engels
In emphasizing the worldview behind Marx and Engels’s assessment of the Commune I am not saying that the conclusions drawn are unimportant or outdated. Both the worldview and the conclusions must be seen in light of each other, and each in light of their context. Nonetheless, the fundamental lessons of the Commune remain today as relevant and true as ever. In the preface to the 1872 German edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels would make only one correction to that historical document explicit – they said, “One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.’”
Previously, Marx and Engels’s comments in the Manifesto on the working class’s conquest of political power said the following:
The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.
I will return to the question of the development of the productive forces in the following section, but for now, it is important to note how the Commune helped Marx and Engels refine their understanding of the state itself, and more specifically, of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In a speech given the month the Commune was overthrown, Marx would say that as the antagonism between capital and labor intensified, “state power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labor, of a public force organized for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism.” It was not simply the case that the modern state was “a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie,” but also that the state institutions and structures through which this aim was achieved – that is, the “standing army, police, bureaucracy, clergy, judicature,” and so on, were designed precisely for the sake of this function.
The proletariat could not successfully wield state power through state institutions crafted to keep labor subordinated to capital. For the proletariat, as the Manifesto urges, to be organized as the ruling class, it needed to smash the existing bourgeois state and replace it with working class institutions of “a fundamentally different order.” The Commune showed that the state had to be transformed from being “a ‘special force’ for the suppression of a particular class to the suppression of the oppressors by the ‘general force’ of the majority of the people – the workers and peasants.” Hence, Marx says that “Paris could resist only because … the first decree of the Commune … was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people.”
Qualitative changes of this character were found in the Commune’s transformations of public functionaries, which were now paid “workmen’s wages” and “revocable”; in the application of universal suffrage; in the new judicature; in the making of “education … accessible to all,” freeing science “from the fetters which class prejudice and governmental force had imposed upon it;” in short, in destroying the state as a “parasitic excrescence” which represses labor for the sake of capital, and putting in its place a genuinely democratic working class state which would use the general force of society to repress the old exploiting classes and administer state functions in the interests of the mass of people. This is what the dictatorship of the proletariat, as a higher form of socialist democracy, entails.
This lesson is more vital today in our neoimperialist stage of capitalism – as Cheng Enfu and Lu Baolin label it – than it was in 1871, and perhaps even more vital than it was in 1916 at the time of Lenin’s major writing on Imperialism. Today, any revolutionary process which sustains even the smallest space for bourgeois political parties and participation will be leaving a door open for imperialism’s entry through its collaboration with the national bourgeoisie. Since the tragic overthrow of Salvador Allende’s Chile in September 11th 1973; to the lawfare coups against Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff from 2016 to 2018; to the astroturfed 2018 protests against Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista revolution; to the propping up of the clownish Juan Guaido as ‘interim president’ of Venezuela in an effort to destroy the Bolivarian revolution; to the fascist 2019 coup in Bolivia which killed dozens of workers and indigenous protesters; it is clear that in so far as bourgeois state structures remain – even if under the control of a worker’s or socialist party – a window will always be open for the national bourgeoisie to collaborate with imperialism in bringing forth what W. E. B. Du Bois called a “counterrevolution of property.”
It is much more difficult to imagine a figure like Guaido or Jeanine Áñez getting as far as they did under worker states like Cuba, China, Vietnam, and the DPRK. Why is this the case? Let us recall the categorial distinction Mao makes in 1957 between political and economic capital. While sustaining that economic capital does not necessarily have to be stripped all at once, that is, as Marx had already noted, that it can be ‘wrested by degree’ from the bourgeoisie, in accordance with the role it plays in developing the productive forces for socialism, “political capital,” Mao says, must be “deprived … until not one jot is left to [the capitalists].” As Domenico Losurdo has eloquently noted,
It is, therefore, a matter of distinguishing between the economic expropriation and the political expropriation of the bourgeoisie. Only the latter should be carried out to the end, while the former, if not contained within clear limits, risks undermining the development of the productive forces. Unlike ‘political capital,’ the bourgeoisie’s economic capital should not be subject to total expropriation, at least as long as it serves the development of the national economy and thus, indirectly, the cause of socialism.
This is where revolutions like the Bolivarian, the Bolivian, the Nicaraguan, and others (for all their successes) have fallen somewhat short – they have not been able to fully expropriate the political capital of their bourgeoisie, and neither have they been able, subsequently, to complete the process of the proletarianization of the state, that is, of the construction of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
This is not a condemnation. I am, like Marx and Engels were with the Commune, an ardent supporter of these emancipatory movements; I consider there to be a lot to learn from them. But as Marx and Engels had already noted with the Commune, in not going far enough in their use of the repressive apparatuses of the worker’s state, the door was left open for counterrevolution. As Engels wrote in 1872, “would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?” Lenin says something similar in 1908, arguing that the Commune, “instead of destroying its enemies it sought to exert moral influence on them; it underestimated the significance of direct military operations in civil war, and instead of launching a resolute offensive against Versailles that would have crowned its victory in Paris, it tarried and gave the Versailles government time to gather the dark forces and prepare for the blood-soaked week of May.”
I think a similar question should, and from what I have seen is, asked by our comrades in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and so on – that is, to what extent can the proletarianization of the state prevent the conditions which gave rise to the disturbances of 2018 to 2020? In other words, how can the interests of the bourgeois and landholding sections of the population, those which have consistently collaborated with imperialism’s hybrid warfare to overthrow popular revolutions, be excluded from power in any of the state’s institutions? These are all complex questions which must be addressed organically as these revolutions develop. It is also clear that, in some of these left-wing governments in South and Central America (especially the more moderate ones), certain biases inherited from the sham bourgeois notion of democracy – which reduces democracy to a parliamentarian game of choosing which flavor of bourgeois rule a people will have for the next few years – must be outgrown and replaced by the concrete question of “democracy for which class?”
Without a doubt, these recent Latin American experiments in 21st century socialism have succeeded in making this transition in many areas. Who can forget, for example, the eight Silvercorp mercenaries caught in 2020 by Venezuelan fishermen and Bolivarian militias in the coastal town of Chuao? What a better example of the general force of the people taking up the role of repressing the enemies of the revolution? However, the threat presented by imperialist hybrid warfare – it seems to me at least – can be better averted as bourgeois state institutions are overcome, and proletarian and popular ones are put in their place.
3- Learning From the Many Communes of the 20th and 21st Century
Since the fall of the Commune 152 years ago we have seen many Socialist experiments arise, some which are still with us, others which suffered the same fate as the Commune. The ‘Marxists’ of the West, in their majority, have been unable to carry forth the legacy of Marx and Engels’s approach to the Commune. The plethora of Socialist experiments which have arisen have been, in one form or another, condemned for their impurities. This has prevented not only a genuine show of anti-imperialist solidarity, but also the ability to draw lessons from the successes and failures of these experiments. The failures have often been magnified, de-contextualized, and synecdochally painted as the whole experience.
Against this theoretical current dominant in the powerless Western left, we must bring forth the living spirit of Marxism to our study of 20th and 21st century Socialist experiments – the vast majority of which have been incredibly successful despite being under the boot of constant imperialist hybrid warfare. Out of this study I think two key lessons must be drawn, both of which are found already in Marx and Engels’s analysis of the Commune in a more or less implicit fashion.
First, in the age of imperialism, or Neoimperialism, socialist experiments must focus on developing not only an efficient worker’s state, but also the forces of production, the sciences and technologies, and the securities and defense structures of the state. In China, for instance, these goals were conceptualized by Zhou Enlai as the four modernizations. Without these developments, which are made exceedingly difficult by the reality of imperialism and its global dominance over intellectual property, a socialist project will be unable to flourish. Without these developments, the global inequality between the looting imperialist powers and everyone else – or, to use the despicable metaphor from EU foreign-policy chief Joseph Borrell, the inequalities between the garden and the jungle, will not be bridged, and the imperialist powers will maintain their global position unthreatened.
The success of China, which stands today as the beacon of a new, post-Columbian world, testifies to the immense importance of these developments in the battle against capitalist-imperialism.
The emphasis on developing the productive forces, of course, is seen throughout the whole corpus of Marx and Engels’s work – their writings on the Commune included. For instance, an important critique Engels levied on the Commune was that “in the economic sphere, much was left undone;” they did not take the Bank of France, which could have put “pressure on the whole of the French bourgeoisie [to have] peace with the Commune.” Lenin made a similar critique, saying that the Communards “stopped half-way: instead of setting about ‘expropriating the expropriators,’ [they] allowed [themselves] to be led astray by dreams of establishing a higher justice in the country united by a common national task.”
In our age, after the experience of the Soviet New Economic Policy, Yugoslavia’s socialist market economy, and most importantly, of China’s Reform and Opening up – where socialist markets have been developed and private ownership sustains a large but auxiliary role in the development of the productive forces – we have learned that this development can take many forms. In some cases, such as Cuba, the full expropriation of the expropriators was immediately necessary. In other cases, such as China, the development of socialism has always maintained – since the pre-49 liberated areas – a ‘mixed’ economic form, where private property and markets exist within the centrally planned state economy. Far from using cherry picked comments from Marx and Engels to condemn these developments, we should do with them what they did with the Commune. We should learn from them and attempt to understand how these forms have become necessary for the real movement of history which abolishes the present state of things.
The second important lesson which subsequent socialist experiments have taught us concerns the relationship of socialism to a people’s national history. I think here, again, the failure of the Western and US left is grounded in a problem of worldview. The dialectical worldview (both in Hegel and in Marxism) rejects the idea of an unchanging, pure, ahistorical universal, and instead urges that universals are necessarily tied to historically changing concrete particulars. Universals are always concrete – that is, they exist and take their form through the particular. “The universal,” as Hegel and Lenin emphasized, “embraces within itself the wealth of the particular.”
What does this tell us about socialism? Well, simply that there is no such thing as abstract socialism. Socialism is the universal which cannot exist unless concretized through the particular. In every country it has taken root in, socialism has had to adapt itself to the unique characteristics of the peoples that have waged and won the struggle for political power. In China this has taken the form of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics; in Cuba this has meant incorporating José Martí and the anti-colonial traditions into socialist construction; in Venezuela this has taken the form of Bolivarian socialism; in the Plurinational state of Bolivia this has taken the form of combining Marxism with the indigenous communist traditions which have been around for centuries; in the continent of Africa this has taken the form of Pan-African socialism, and so on. In each case the struggle has been, as Georgi Dimitrov had already noted in 1935, “national in form and socialist in content.”
In various parts of the U.S. left, the purity fetish outlook has obscured this historical lesson, and made rampant the phenomenon which Dimitrov called national nihilism. Their people’s history is reduced to slavery, settler colonialism, imperialism, and all the evils of capital and the state. In doing so, they reject drawing from their national past to give form to socialist content. Far from the ‘progressivism’ they see in this, what this actually depicts is a liberal tinted American exceptionalism, which thinks that the struggle for socialism in the US will itself not have to follow this concrete universal tendency seen around the world, where socialism functions as the content which takes form (i.e., concretizes) according to the unique circumstances in which it is being developed.
This has prevented the U.S. left from genuinely learning from its progressive history and connecting with its people. A perfect example of this is the fact that, from 1865 to the counterrevolution of 1876, in many previous slave states of the U.S. South, reconstruction developed a dictatorship of labor. This dictatorship of labor was headed by the black proletariat – who had recently freed itself through a general strike that converted the war to preserve the union into a revolutionary war to emancipate slave labor. It was organized by the Freedman’s Bureau and defended militarily by the federal government. It was our Paris Commune; it started before and lasted way longer than the original. Like the Paris Commune, it also fell thanks to a counterrevolution of property. Besides the few on the U.S. left who take the work of the great Dr. Du Bois serious – this legendary experience of a new worker’s democracy, not unlike the Paris Commune, is a largely erased and forgotten period of U.S. revolutionary history, and it has so, so much to teach us, both tactically and theoretically.
I am honored to have had the privilege of discussing this Titanic event in world-history with all of you today.
Whether we consider the Paris Commune the first modern dictatorship of the proletariat, or give that title to the black proletariat in the U.S. South, is somewhat irrelevant. What matters, in my view, is that the Paris Commune, as Lenin argued, by fighting “for the freedom of toiling humanity, of all the downtrodden and oppressed,” is still being honored 152 years after its fall “by the proletariat of the whole world.” This is why, in the words of Lenin, “the cause of the Commune did not die … it lives to the present day in every one of us.”
 Karl Marx, The Civil War in France (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 2021), 35.
 Karl Marx, “Marx to Kugelmann,” April 12, 1871. In Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 44, International Publishers., pp. 131-132.
 V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1970), 47.
 Lenin, The State and Revolution, 40, 30.
 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, MECW Vol. 5 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976), 49.
 Engels, MECW Vol. 5, 49.
 Samir Amin, Only People Make Their Own History: Writings on Capitalism, Imperialism, and Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2019), 110.
 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (New York: Barnes and Nobles Classics, 2005), 45.
 Marx and Engels, MECW Vol. 6, 504.
 Marx, The Civil War in France, 62, 61.
 Marx, MECW Vol. 6, 486; Marx, The Civil War in France, 61.
 Lenin, The State and Revolution, 35.
 Lenin, The State and Revolution, 36.
 Marx, The Civil War in France, 64.
 Marx, The Civil War in France, 65.
 Cheng Enfu and Lu Baolin, “Five Characteristics of Neoimperialism,” Monthly Review 73(1) (May 2021).
 W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction (New York: The Library of America, 2021), 697- 762.
 Mao Tse-Tung, “Talks at a Conference of Secretaries of Provincial, Municipal and Autonomous Regions Party Committees,” In Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung Vol 5 (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1977), 357.
 Domenico Losurdo, “Has China Turned to Capitalism?—Reflections on the Transition from Capitalism to Socialism,” International Critical Thought 7(1) (2017), 18-19.
 Engels, MECW Vol. 23, 425.
 V. I. Lenin, Collected Works Vol. 13 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978), 476.
 Lenin, Collected Works Vol. 28, 249.
 Engels, “Introduction,” in The Civil War in France, 10-11.
 Lenin, Collected Works Vol. 13, 476.
 G. W. F. Hegel, Science of Logic, Trans. A.V. Miller (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press International, 1993), 58.
 Georgi Dimitrov, The United Front: The Struggle Against Fascism and War (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1938), 61-64.
 For more on national nihilism and the Western left see my article “The Importance of Combatting National and Historical Nihilism,” Midwestern Marx Institute (February 2023): https://www.midwesternmarx.com/articles/the-importance-of-combatting-national-and-historical-nihilism-by-carlos-l-garrido or my book The Purity Fetish and the Crisis of Western Marxism (Dubuque: Midwestern Marx Publishing Press, 2023).
 Lenin, Collected Works Vol. 17, 143.
 Lenin, Collected Works Vol. 17, 143.
Carlos L. Garrido is a Cuban American PhD student and instructor in philosophy at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (with an MA in philosophy from the same institution). He is an editor at the Midwestern Marx Institute and the Journal of American Socialist Studies. Carlos is the author of the forthcoming book, The Purity Fetish and the Crisis of Western Marxism (2023) and edited and introduced Marxism and the Dialectical Materialist Worldview: An Anthology of Classical Marxist Texts on Dialectical Materialism (2022). His popular and scholarly writings are usually on topics relating to Marxist theory, U.S. socialist history, and global struggles against imperialism.
Exploring Friedrich Engels’ Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy: Part 3 – Feuerbach. By: Thomas RigginsRead Now
(Read Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE)
So what kind of Idealism is Feuerbach, according to Engels, peddling? Feuerbach is a materialist who wants to advocate a true religion for humanity. Here is a quote from him: “The periods of humanity are distinguished only by religious changes. A historical movement is fundamental only when it is rooted in the hearts of men. The heart is not a form of religion, that the latter should exist also in the heart; the heart is the essence of religion.” Religion is based on the love that humans are capable of sharing with one another. Heretofore that love has been objectified and projected upon mythical beings and has been the alienated essence of the historic religions as well as the natural religions of primitive times.
Now, in the modern world of scientific understanding, we can dispense with the mythical superstitious religious beliefs that dominate the masses (they will have to be educated of course) and have a loving religion of the heart directly practiced by humans, Engels says, “this becomes the love between ‘I’ and ’Thou.’” Sex is the highest way we can express our love; so, sexual relations become one of the highest forms of Feuerbach’s new religion.
Sexual attraction and love making are purely natural functions of the human being and they should not be circumscribed by the rules and regulations of the state or of the positive religions (positive = historically existing). All the rules and regulations about sex and the relations between loving humans that are associated with, for example, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism should be dumped as they are based on illusions and mythological premises. But the Idealism that Feuerbach manifests comes from his view that these relations do need a religious foundation, not from the positive or primitive religions, but based on the “human heart.” Speaking strictly as a materialist, the “heart” is a muscle, just as the ischiocavernosus muscle, so Feuerbach is being metaphorical. Anyway, Engels says, the major point is “not that these purely human relations exist, but that they shall be conceived of as the new, true religion.”
Here Feuerbach is a victim of his era: religion is important, and Feuerbach wants to keep the word around – he thinks it is important to have a society based on “religion.” Engels thinks it’s really ridiculous to try and have a materialist religion, one without a “God” or any supernatural ideas attached to it. The idea that religious changes are what delimit the periods of humanity is, Engels says: “Decidedly false.”
For Marxists, As Engels notes, the great epochal changes in history are economically based on changes in class relations and power politics; religious changes only accompanied these events. Meanwhile, there can be no “I-Thou” lovey-dovey relationships between humans as humans based on the natural proclivity for people to love one another, this is because our world and the globalized society we are all living in is still “based upon class antagonism and class rule.” Feuerbach’s writings on the religion of love, Engels points out, are “totally unreadable today.”
Religion remains in the 21st century what it has always been— the opium of the masses. We can work with religious people on specific progressive projects, but we should not encourage religious belief because such beliefs are rooted in Idealistic unscientific notions which prevent people from a proper understanding of reality – and this holds back the movement towards human liberation and in the long run only helps the exploiters.
Despite his writings on religions, Feuerbach has only really studied one, according to Engels, i.e., Christianity. Not only that, but it is an abstract idealized form of Christian morality which Feuerbach thinks his new religion of the heart, based on sexual intercourse, will instill in humanity. What is this “humanity” that he writes about? It is an abstract and idealized humanity that Feuerbach finds existing in all ages and climes. It is an ahistorical concept – some kind of “human nature” that Feuerbach had deduced by his concept of Christian morality.
Engels contrasts the materialist Feuerbach with the objective idealist Hegel, who also writes about Christianity and morals. Despite outward appearances, the materialist is really an idealist and the idealist a materialist. Feuerbach is a materialist because he doesn’t believe in God or a supernatural world on which to base his new religion; he bases it on the materially existing species of man on our planet and on nothing else. Sexual intercourse is at the heart of the heart of the new religion. It is really rooted in material existence. Yet his moral system is an abstract one deduced from an ideal Christianity.
Christianity, Jesus, God, etc., is nothing more than a human reflection projected into the sky for Feuerbach – the human family Is the source of all the ideals about the Holy Family, morality is just this reflection coming back to us of our own dreams and ideals. But for Engels, this reflection is devoid of the actual behavior of Christians throughout history who, besides engaging in sexual intercourse, have done a lot of unsavory activities inspired by their religion. Feuerbach who “preaches sensuousness, immersion in the concrete, in actuality, becomes thoroughly abstract as soon as he begins to talk of any other than mere sexual intercourse between human beings.” So, the materialist has produced a philosophy based on abstract mental constructions he has deduced from the Christian religion which is the basis for his morality. This is why the materialist is an idealist! A living breathing unity of opposites. (At least until 1872).
And what of Hegel? Was Feuerbach actually an improvement on Hegel? Well, here is Feuerbach’s morality in a nutshell. All human beings have an innate desire for “bliss;” but we can’t attain bliss without knowing how not to overindulge our desires, and we must also respect the social rights of others to also attain bliss – and this we do through love. Engels writes, “Rational self-restraint with regard to ourselves and love in contact with others— these are the basic rules of Feuerbach’s morality; from them all others are derived.”
Despite all Feuerbach’s comments about materialism, these rules about morality are, Engels says, banal. You can’t find “bliss” by just thinking about yourself and it is impossible to practice “love” towards others in the real world due to the actual social and economic systems humans live in. Feudal lords and surfs, slaves and masters, and in our age capitalists and proletarians are proof of the banality of Feuerbach’s pretensions to morality. Ruling (and exploiting) and ruled (and exploited) classes existing under the same social totality means that the masses will always be deprived of the material needs they require – both to find a blissful life for themselves, or to properly be able to practice unselfish “love” for others, especially for those who oppress them.
In this respect Hegel was more advanced than Feuerbach. Hegel saw morality as advancing through historical stages driven by humanity's “greed and lust for power.” Hegel explained how in each stage this struggle produced contradictions that could be resolved only by moving on to a higher stage of moral consciousness, until we reached Hegel’s day, when the idea of human equality had reached its highest bourgeois level (with the French Revolution) – all men are equal before the law (the level including women was yet to come). There was an innate drive here also, the struggle for human freedom – which was an idea struggling to come to human consciousness and history – was the result of this struggle. This was Hegel’s idealism.
For Marxists, it will be the class struggle objectively working in the material life of human beings at any point in history that is responsible for “moral” progress. “The cult of abstract man, which formed the kernel of Feuerbach’s new religion, had to be replaced by the science of real men and their historical development. This further development of Feuerbach’s standpoint beyond Feuerbach was inaugurated by Marx in 1845 in The Holy Family.” [Although this work was a joint creation of Marx and Engels, Engels here credits Marx with the breakthrough beyond Feuerbach’s materialism to what was to become Dialectical Materialism.]
Next: Part Four “Marx”
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association.
For the first time in nearly 60 years, a state is poised to reverse its “right to work” law and begin to undo the damage of a corporate-driven anti-union trend.
Michigan is expected very soon to reverse its so-called “right-to-work” (RTW) law. The repeal, led by Democrats and passing along strictly partisan lines, is a concrete outcome of the liberal party winning a narrow majority of seats in the state’s House and Senate last November and Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer winning reelection. Democrats managed to outdo Republican-led gerrymandering on Election Day and now hold a two-seat advantage in each chamber.
Showing more party discipline than their counterparts have tended to muster at the federal level in recent years, Michigan Democrats have wasted no time in using their slim legislative advantage in pushing through a repeal of their state’s RTW law. Whitmer is expected to approve the repeal when it reaches her desk.
RTW laws are a particularly insidious conservative ploy to undermine unions. The idea, which conservatives glibly couch in terms of “freedom,” is to prevent unions from collecting mandatory fees from members to sustain themselves. Unions require such fees in order to fund the operations of serving and representing their members. It’s the same with any club that offers perks—membership dues fund operations.
Unions gained the right to do this under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. But less than a decade later, that right was eroded when Congress passed the 1947 Labor Management Relations Act, also known as Taft-Hartley, which first opened the door for RTW laws. In 2018, conservative justices at the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of such laws for public sector workers, adding momentum to the rightward shift.
The National Labor Relations Board explains the current state of the Republican-led anti-union trend in this way: “If you work in a state that bans union-security agreements, (27 states), each employee at a workplace must decide whether or not to join the union and pay dues, even though all workers are protected by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the union. The union is still required to represent all workers.” Imagine calling AAA and demanding its roadside benefits without paying the auto club’s modest yearly fee.
Recognizing that dues are a source of unions’ financial power, Republicans used every advantage, including ill-gotten ones like gerrymandered districts, to push through RTW laws in more than half of all states. They used deceptive language—who doesn’t want the right to work?—and convinced voters it was in their interest to weaken unions without saying the laws were intended to weaken unions. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative pro-business think tank that we are expected to believe cares about workers’ rights, claimed that RTW laws were about “permitting workers the freedom to decide for themselves whether they want to join a union and pay dues.”
For years, I was required to pay dues to my union, SAG-AFTRA, because California, where I live, is not an RTW state. I did so happily, because even at the nonprofit community radio station where I worked, management was continuously trying to lower operating costs at the expense of workers’ wages and benefits. Union representation helped stave off staff cuts, represented workers in grievance filings, and became our collective voice during contract negotiations. Unions are not just for corporate or government workplaces. They are not just for poorly treated or underpaid workers at Amazon, Starbucks, or Walmart. All nonmanagement workers deserve the kind of power that a union brings. And it’s precisely that power that conservative lawmakers have been (successfully) chipping away at.
The data is clear: those states where RTW laws have been on the books show lower rates of unionization and lower wages overall. A June 2022 paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research examined five states where such laws had been in effect since 2011. The researchers concluded unequivocally that, “RTW laws lower wages and unionization rates.”
According to the Economic Policy Institute—which has come to similar data-driven conclusions as the aforementioned paper--Michigan’s reversal of the GOP’s anti-union statute would be “the first time a state has repealed a RTW law in nearly 60 years.” The victory is all the more significant because of the state’s historic position as having had “the highest unionization rate in the country” and correspondingly high median wages before Republicans passed an RTW law in 2012. But in the past decade, unionization rates and wages both fell in Michigan. In other words, the state’s RTW law had its intended result.
Now, following Michigan, Democrats in other RTW states such as Arizona and Virginia have introduced laws to restore union power. At the federal level, Senator Elizabeth Warren has reintroduced the Nationwide Right to Unionize Act, which would repeal all RTW state laws. The PRO Act would similarly restore the right of unions to collect member dues nationally.
Conservative Republicans are likely terrified of how Michigan might embolden pro-union momentum across the country. Unsurprisingly, Fox News published an op-ed by billionaire Doug DeVos denouncing the repeal of Michigan’s anti-union law. DeVos’s Michigan-based family made its fortune on Amway, a business that Jacobin’s Rachel T. Johnson called, “the world’s biggest pyramid scheme.” (If the name sounds familiar, he is indeed the brother-in-law of former Education Secretary under Donald Trump Betsy DeVos.)
Doug Devos’s Fox News op-ed is titled, “I know firsthand how much right to work matters,” which might be a true enough statement coming from a billionaire whose family made its fortune on the backs of workers. He also identified precisely that “What’s happening in Michigan is the direct result of the November elections. Democrats won control of the legislature for the first time in nearly four decades.”
But then he veered into the kind of unproven claims that only a pyramid schemer might have the gall to make openly, that “right-to-work states have seen faster job growth, faster income growth, and faster population growth.” He also cited, without proof (after all, it’s Fox News!), that Michigan’s RTW law led to “rising incomes,” and “falling unemployment and poverty.”
Ultimately, DeVos is worried that “Repealing right to work will send a message that our state… will suffer from… less freedom.” And there again is that vague buzzword, freedom. What DeVos really means but doesn’t say is that he thinks workers deserve the freedom to live under the thumb of their corporate bosses, the freedom to remain in jobs that pay less and less, and the freedom to walk away from poorly paid jobs.
Freedom is the blank slate on which conservatives have projected their wildest profit-driven fantasies. But those fantasies are the flip side of their fears of worker power. It’s no surprise that RTW laws stemmed from the Taft-Hartley Act, a pro-business law intended to curb the power of multiracial worker movements.
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. presciently said, “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.” In the war of words over freedom, Dr. King beats DeVos any day.
Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.