Book Review: The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey: Unearthing the Origins of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans, by Chris Beard. Reviewed By: Thomas RigginsRead Now
MONKEYS AND MARXISM
That we have all evolved from the monkeys is not a new thought for Marxists. When Darwin first suggested this with the publication in 1859 of The Origin of Species Marx and Engels were quick to give their support to his ideas. They hailed his book as a great scientific advance. A few years later Engels wrote about human origins himself, in an unfinished essay called "The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man" and now included in his The Dialectics of Nature.
What Engels had to say, while technically out of date, is not so far off the mark as many people might think. For example, in Engels’ day the Earth was thought to be about 100 or so million years old not the 4.5 billion years we think today. Thus Engels’ writes:
“Many hundreds of thousands of years ago, during an epoch, not yet definitely determinable,... the Tertiary period... a particularly highly-developed race of anthropoid apes lived somewhere in the tropical zone-- probably on a great continent that has now sunk to the bottom of the Indian Ocean..... They were completely covered with hair, they had beards and pointed ears, and they lived in bands in the trees.”
German (in which Engels wrote) uses the same word for "monkey" and "ape." Engels is basing himself on Darwin and is describing the early anthropoid ancestors of what we now know to be the great apes and humans. The Tertiary period is today measured in millions not hundreds of thousands years, and there is no lost continent on the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Engels wrote before we knew about continental drift. These bands did live in a tropical environment only it was in Asia, more specifically in places such as China and neighboring areas.
Engels further says that "Hundreds of thousands of years.... certainly elapsed before human society arose out of a troupe of tree climbing monkeys. Engels’ is correct if we substitute "tens of millions" for his "hundreds of thousands." Engels was definitely on the right tract, but we have learned a great deal more about this monkey troupe, these dawn monkeys, since the 1870s when his essay was written. It would be nice to have some updated information.
This has been done for us by Chris Beard notably the winner of a MacArthur "genius grant" but who makes his living by being the curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
The vertebrates he is especially interested in are us, or more particularly our relatives and fellow primates the apes and monkeys-- both the quick and the dead. His book is a well written, minimally technical, popular account of the most recent discoveries, many made by Dr. Beard himself, and theories concerning our origins and evolutionary development.
What we want to know is, who are these "dawn monkeys" and what have they it to do with us? Early on we are informed that "virtually all paleoanthropologists" believe that the lineage leading to humans developed in Africa between five and seven million years ago. It was in this two million year fuzzy time period, between the 7 and 5, that the animals that eventually became us split off from the common ancestor that we share with the chimpanzees. In other words J. Fred Muggs and Donald Trump had the same great, great, etc., for many more greats, grandparents (as do we all).
Beard is interested in pushing back the knowledge of our origins to even more remote time periods. If human primates diverged from apes, where did those apes come from? Have we found enough fossils to answer this question? Not only the "where" question but how long ago as well-- certainly the apes and their ancestors must have developed many millions of years before we and the chimpanzees separated and went our different ways.
A little time perspective is needed here. The dominance of the Age of Dinosaurs ended about 65 million years ago (mya) at the end of the geologic period called the Mesozoic. The period called the Cenozoic (Recent Life ) then began. This period is divided into seven divisions: the Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Holocene. The Eocene (dawn period) beginning about 55 mya and lasting until about 35 mya is where we are headed, incidentally, as the name of Beard’s book indicates.
There are around 35 species of living primates and the Eocene fossil primates mostly look like the "primitive" primates of today (the prosimians). But today we also have a group that, since it includes us, we like to call the "higher primates"-- these are the "anthropoids" and includes the monkeys, apes, and humans.
Now since we humans came from the apes, we have found that the apes came from the monkeys, so if we find the earliest monkey, that is if we find the earliest anthropoid we will push our family tree back to that point. Beard writes, "one of the most controversial issues in paleoanthropology today is how, when, and where the first anthropoids-- the common ancestors of monkeys, apes, and people-- evolved."
Beard has a "bold new hypothesis," based on recent fossil discoveries he has made in China, that will upset the hitherto existing scientific consensus regarding anthropoid origins. His theory moves the origin of the anthropoids from Africa to Asia and adds tens of millions of years to the age of this lineage. These new ideas all depend on the fossils Beard has called "the dawn monkey" (Eosimias) and how they are to be interpreted.
It appears that it won’t be an easy task that Beard has set himself since, as he says, for "the past several decades, all undisputed early anthropoids had been discovered in Africa" mostly due to the work of Dr. Elwyn Simons of Duke University working in the Fayum oasis in Egypt. So, a revolutionary new paradigm is afoot!
Beard says that his views are in the minority (this is because all new theories start out this way) but he gives three solid reasons to support his views. First, there is a small prosimian (pre-monkey like primate such as the lemur of today) known as a tarsier which seems to be closest in evolution to the first anthropoids. Beard thinks that their geological range points to an Asian origin for the first anthropoids. Based on the most recent DNA evidence he concludes that "the simplest hypothesis requires us to view tarsiers and anthropoids as descendants of a common ancestor." No tarsier or tarsier relatives "have ever been found in Africa. Second, there are fossils from Burma, found decades ago, which appear to be primitive anthropoids, and finally, Beard’s own discovery of Eosimias in China which he says is definitely a primitive anthropoid and is older than any African anthropoid discovery(except for one, as we shall see)..
The African anthropoids date from the next geological era, the Oligocene, while Eosimias dates from the Eocene era, many millions of years earlier. The dawn monkey’s remains show that it is intermediate between the prosimians of today and the modern monkeys. It is thus a real candidate as the ancestor of all modern anthropoids-- i.e., all living monkeys, apes, and humans.
After several chapters in which Beard discusses the ways in which primate fossils are classified and also their distribution in Asia, Europe, North America and Africa, he concludes that the African Oligocene anthropoid remains are too modern to represent the originating ancestors of modern anthropoids. Therefore we "have no choice but to plunge back into the mysterious void known as the Eocene." The void is "mysterious" because of the paucity of primate fossils in this era as compared with the Oligocene. Nevertheless, if the Oligocene remains are too advanced to represent transitional forms between the prosimians and the anthropoids, then it is to the Eocene that we must turn to look for such transitional forms. Here we should be mindful of a basic evolutionary rule, namely, "that similar features indicate descent from a common ancestor." This is a rule not a law but, except for examples of convergent and parallel evolution, it generally holds.
In two very interesting chapters ("Received Wisdom" and "The Birth of a Ghost Linage"), Beard discusses three of the most influential theories of anthropoid origins as well as more techniques used by paleontologists and paleoanthropologists in sorting out and classifying fossils. This is all very interesting and very nontechnical. A "ghost lineage" is a hypothetical set of fossils that should be intermediate between a "primitive" and an "advanced" form. This lineage gives us some idea of what we should expect to find in the deduction is correct. If we find such fossils-- very good-- it is evidence that our theory may be correct.
Beard claims that the tarsiers and the ur-anthropoids (ur= first) branched off from each other (that is from a common ancestor) at least 50 million years ago. So he needs to construct a ghost linage-- say from some early tarsier like creature to the Oligocene type monkeys and then see if he can find a fossil to verify the lineage. This is where Eosimias comes in.
It was in China that Beard and his associates and Chinese paleoanthropologists all working together came upon the fossil remains of a small marmoset sized primate with the distinctly hypostisized anthropoid characteristics they were on the lookout for. The remains predated the oldest African remains from the Fayum by at least 10 million years.
Beard waxes, I think, a little too poetically over this discovery:
“China’s historic role as the cradle of one of the world’s great and enduring civilizations might now be extended tens of millions of years back in time, to an interval when the earliest members of the most diverse and successful branch of modern primates-- the anthropoids-- were just beginning to evolve the diagnostic features (like bigger brains, robustly constructed jaws, and associated changes in behavior and ecology) that would ensure their biological success.”
In the world of the Eocene, when Africa, Europe, Asia, and India were separated from one another by water, the world of 50 million years ago, it doesn’t make much sense to talk of "China." Be that as it may, in today’s world, Chinese scientists can be proud of the essential role they played in this discovery-- which was actually made by Chinese members of the team.
Beard’s theory, however compelling, was not supported by a sufficient range of fossil evidence to convince the majority of scientists working in this field. Therefore, after its initial presentation, he and his collaborators and Chinese associates spent four years doing intensive field work in China. The result of this activity was the discovery of many new fossil primates, including anthropoids and different species of Eosimias. Now Beard had the evidence he needed to shore up his hypothesis of anthropoid origins.
"Our knowledge of Eosimias-- an animal that I had only recently ushered onto the scientific stage," he writes, "had improved rapidly and immensely. Eosimias had been introduced to the paleoanthropological community as a humble waif of a fossil whose claim to anthropoid status dangled by the thread of two scrappy jaws. Now, its place near the base of the great anthropoid branch of the primate family tree rested on a firm anatomical foundation.... No other fossil bearing on the very root of the anthropoid family tree can marshal such an extensive litany of anatomical features to support its pivotal evolutionary position."
This information, according to Beard, overthrows the heretofore established orthodoxy regarding the origin of the anthropoid line. The orthodox theory, based on the theories of Le Gros Clarke a generation ago, held that the anthropoid line (and the hominid line eventually arising out of it) arose in Africa some 34 million years ago at the Eocene/Oligocene border. The ancestral ape that gave rise to gorillas, chimpanzees and humans dates from the Miocene, the next geological age. Beard’s evidence, however, transplants the origin of anthropoids in both time and place: to the Paleocene/Eocene border around 55 million years ago-- 20 million years earlier than previously thought. Now that several species of Eosimias have subsequently been discovered, Beard can confidently assert that eosimiids are "the most primitive anthropoids currently known."
Nevertheless, we should remember that while our ancestors originated in Asia, these "Asian anthropoids remained persistently primitive, while their African relatives evolved into increasingly advanced species" including us.
Now there is a fly in this ointment. Namely, the remains of an even older anthropoid than Eosimias have been found in Morocco. This is Altiatlasius koulchii from the Paleocene. How can Beard maintain that anthropoids originated in Asia if the oldest anthropoid remains ever discovered (Altiatlasius) are actually from Africa? The chapter "Into the African Melting Pot" deals with this problem. The short answer is that primitive anthropoids migrated from Asia to Africa earlier, by a factor of millions of years, than anyone had previously thought. Beard bases this on the fact that while Asia can show the development of the anthropoid line from the split with a common ancestor of the tarsiers, i.e., out of a tarsiod line, Africa not only doesn’t have any fossil tarsiers, it doesn’t have any primates at all antecedent to Altiatlasius. "Accordingly, Altiatlasius does not indicate that anthropoids originated in Africa. Rather, it signals that Asian anthropoids arrived there at a surprisingly early date."
Beard’s last chapter ("Paleoanthropology and Pithecophobia") reminds us that even though the anthropoids may have arisen first in Asia, our own branch of the anthropoid line has distinctly African origins. In this chapter the author recounts the history, basically in the early 20th Century, of trying to prove that humans evolved independently of the great apes, the early culmination if you will of the African anthropoids.
Because of DNA analysis the scientific consensus today is that humans and chimpanzees branched off from a common ancestor about seven million years ago. This would be just around the Miocene/Pliocene border-- the Pliocene would have begun about five or six mya and ended about 1mya with the start of the Pleistocene.
All of the early 20th Century programs to establish a non-ape ancestor for humans, Beard points out, were mostly motivated by racism, commitments to theories of eugenics, religious prejudices, and human arrogance. In a final coda Beard laments the fact that "pithecophobia" is still a force to be reckoned with. He suggests it may be behind the continuing human attitude of absolute superiority to and difference from all other animals. One of the negative attitudes resulting from this is that there are not enough serious attempts being made to prevent the extinction of gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild (their numbers had declined by 50% from 1980 to 2000 — mostly killed by humans for the "bushmeat" trade). This decline is accelerating due to climate change. It is estimated that by 2060 80% of the present populations (2021) will be gone. I will quote Beard’s parting words: "Humanity as a whole is embedded within a rich biological tapestry. The living legacy of that common evolutionary journey deserves to be celebrated rather than despised. Pithecophobia in all of its manifestations conflicts with our own deep roots." The only salvation is to create the world Marx, Engels and Lenin told us was possible.
The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey: Unearthing the Origins of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans, Chris Beard, University of California Press, 2004.
Postscript: Beard’s book was published 17 years ago. Wikipedia 2021 says:”Most eosimiid species are documented by unique or fragmentary specimens. This, as well as the strong belief that simians originated in Africa has made it difficult for many to accept the idea that Asia played a role in early primate evolution. Although some continue to challenge the anthropoid resemblances found in Eosiimidae, extensive anatomical evidence collected over the past decade substantiates its anthropoid status.” Engels was right.
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.
“It feels like we are at the end of an era,” Bárbara Sepúlveda tells me on October 12, 2021. Sepúlveda is a member of Chile’s Constitutional Convention and of the Communist Party of Chile. The era to which Sepúlveda refers is that of General Augusto Pinochet, who led the U.S.-backed coup in 1973 that overthrew the popularly elected government of President Salvador Allende. During the Pinochet era, the military acted with impunity, and the left was assassinated and sent into exile—while big business (both Chilean and foreign) received all the blessings of the dictatorship. That’s the era that has slowly been sputtering to a halt since Pinochet’s removal in 1990 and since the Chilean people voted to throw out the dictatorship’s Constitution of 1980 and write a new one.
Neoliberalism was born in Chile, as the popular slogan goes, and it will die in Chile. This slogan seems to have come true with the ending of the Pinochet era.
But Sepúlveda is not sure about what comes next. “Everybody knows everything is uncertain,” she says frankly. “That is an opportunity to begin a new era.” The first decade and a half after Pinochet’s removal seemed bleak. Then, in 2006, a cycle of student protests rattled the country. These were led by young students, whose black-and-white school uniforms gave the protests a name--La Revolución Pingüina, or the Penguin Revolution. The young people demanded a new national curriculum as well as a reduction in public transportation fares and examination fees. When the government failed to deliver on these demands, a second cycle of protests mobilized in 2011-2013 with the same demands. Their leaders—including Camila Vallejo of the Communist Party and Giorgio Jackson of the Democratic Revolution—are now important figures of the left project in Chile. Once more in 2011-2013, the students were met with a stalemate, with the Constitution of 1980 being a barricade to their ambitions.
A third cycle of student protests began in early October 2019 following a hike in public transportation fares. The “penguins” led a campaign of fare evasion (under the slogan ¡Evade!). The protesters were met with a harsh repression campaign including violent clashes with the Chilean police. On October 18, the right-wing government, led by President Sebastián Piñera, issued a two-week state of emergency, authorizing the deployment of the Chilean Army against the protests, which only intensified. The violence used to suppress the protests resulted in the emergence of the slogan Piñera Asesino (Piñera the assassin) among protesters and their supporters.
Sepúlveda says of the 2019 mobilization that the breaking point on “October 18 moved the axis [of Chilean politics] further to the left.” Although the third cycle of protests had initially been a response to the transportation fare hike, the government’s reaction made it clear that the country faced much deeper underlying structural issues including, Sepúlveda says, “overwhelming inequality” and corruption. Sepúlveda, a lawyer who co-founded Chile’s association of feminist lawyers (ABOFEM) in 2018 and was its executive director during the 2019 protests, saw at the time that changing these structural issues could not be done from within the existing system; at the very least, the country needed a new constitution and a more progressive government. And so the protest expanded to include the demands of the feminist movement and the Indigenous movement, pushing for broader economic and social changes to address the inequality at the root.
Two Sites of Struggle
The search for the new era in Chile has two important avenues: the writing of the new constitution, which is what the 155 members of the Constitutional Convention are doing, and the presidential election to be held on November 21, 2021.
The convention began work in July 2021 by voting in its president (Elisa Loncón) and vice president (Jaime Bassa); both Loncón and Bassa lean toward the left. So far, the convention has drafted its rules, which—Sepúlveda says—is more than half the work. Discussion about substantial issues began on the symbolic date of October 18, 2021, two years after the turning point of the third wave of protests. Sepúlveda is confident that agreements on social rights—for gender parity and for the environment—will happen. She says that “social changes of [these kinds] are inevitable”—even if there will be a fight from the calcified right wing to block them. The real dispute will take place around a new development model. Will the new constitution roll back the structural austerity program that the post-Pinochet period so far has not been able to undermine?
On October 14, I spent a few hours with Giorgio Jackson, one of the student leaders from the 2011-2013 protests, who is a member of Chile’s Chamber of Deputies and a close adviser to Gabriel Boric’s presidential campaign. Boric, a leader of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) party and the Apruebo Dignidad (Approve Dignity) coalition, is the candidate of the left in the November presidential election. Jackson shared some elements of a new development model that a Boric administration would adopt, if Boric wins the presidential election. In the first year of the next presidency, the budget of Piñera would have to be followed, so only small changes can be made. From the start, Jackson told me, a priority for the Boric government would be to push to reform the health and pension systems, two arenas of great distress for Chile’s people. Building robust public health and pensions systems will require funds, which a left government would raise from royalties on copper extraction and by ensuring better prevention of tax evasion. Such an agenda would deepen a debate over a new development model, Jackson said.
But, Jackson admits, people are uneasy with the idea of having public provision of goods. Daniel Jadue, the communist leader and mayor of Recoleta, agrees that the real dispute will be over economic and social policy. He tells me that the answers to Chile’s problems could emerge from close cooperation between municipalities. If people have a positive experience with local public provision of social goods, it might change the general sentiment of suspicion surrounding the expansion of public health and pensions systems in the country, he noted. The work of mayors such as Jadue is crucial to the overall project for the construction of a new development model.
As far as the upcoming presidential election is concerned, Piñera cannot run for reelection, and besides, he is deeply unpopular. The open fascist in the race—José Antonio Kast—is popular, but he is being challenged by the center-right’s candidate Yasna Provoste for the right-wing votes. Meanwhile, capital has begun to flee Chile in anticipation of the introduction of a more progressive constitution and the potential ushering in of a Boric presidency after the November election.
In one corner of Bárbara Sepúlveda’s living room sits her collection of Rubik’s Cubes of varying difficulty. She’s a whiz at them. Sepúlveda picks one up and toys with it. “This one is easier to do,” she says of a cube that seems impossible to untangle. The cube is a great symbol for Chile. If people like Sepúlveda, Jadue, Jackson, and Boric can find a way to solve the puzzles before them, then perhaps there will be greater clarity on Chile’s new era.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including "The Darker Nations" and "The Poorer Nations." His latest book is "Washington Bullets," with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
The long unheeded and potentially bipartisan policy advocated by thinkers like the late Sherle R. Schwenninger, co-founder of the New America Foundation and my friend, may finally have its moment.
During the autumn of 2020, the United States lost one of its most brilliant, incisive, yet unheralded thinkers in Sherle R. Schwenninger.
One of Schwenninger’s many gifts was his ability to anticipate far in advance trends that would shape U.S. foreign policy and the global political economy. He was also one of the first thinkers to promote an alternative to the stale liberal internationalism and neoconservatism that have dominated the foreign policy discussion in Washington. According to Schwenninger, “The progressive realist critique… centered around international law; non-intervention; disarmament; and winding down the worst excesses of the post-9/11 period.” Though he sadly did not live to see it, perhaps history is finally moving in Schwenninger’s direction as far as U.S. foreign policy is concerned.
The idea, progressive realism, was the focus of a special issue of the Nation on foreign policy that was edited by Schwenninger during the week Donald Trump took office in January 2017.
In an unsigned introductory note, Schwenninger wrote that “progressives would be wise to avoid two tendencies” in the coming years. He further said:
“The first is defining a progressive foreign policy as simply a rejection of whatever Trump says or does. Of course, he has already appointed some dangerous extremists to important foreign-policy positions, and Trump himself is erratic at best… But some of his statements—his calls to work with Russia, end America’s destructive wars, and create more equitable trade agreements—are not so far removed from ones that we ourselves have embraced. We will need to champion our own progressive version of these positions rather than simply reject them outright.
“The second tendency we should avoid is falling into nostalgia for the Obama era.”
The advice he offered American liberals and progressives, which now hardly needs pointing out, was resoundingly rejected.
Indeed, building a viable progressive foreign policy alternative after 2017 was made virtually impossible by the childish hysteria that marked the liberal reaction toward Trump. On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, out of the entire Democratic caucus, only three—Bay Area Reps. Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley—seemed receptive to such a policy, with hardly anyone else showing any enthusiasm for it. And attempts by Schwenninger and others on lobbying with stakeholders who should have been natural allies within the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign to adopt such a policy were met with frustration.
Needless to say, for years there had been hardly any enthusiasm for progressive realist ideas at the leading think tanks and graduate schools of international relations in Washington. This was particularly true with regard to the New America Foundation, the think tank Schwenninger founded in the 1990s with Michael Lind, Ted Halstead and Walter Russell Mead, which is now known as New America.
The direction New America took in recent years was something of a sore spot for the otherwise equanimous Schwenninger, who was appalled by the turn it took in the years since it was taken over by Anne-Marie Slaughter, who served as foreign policy adviser under Hillary Clinton’s State Department. It was Slaughter who turned the organization into a well-funded platform for the very types of intellectuals Schwenninger distrusted most: Liberals in search of the next war.
By the time he and I became friends, the major organs of opinion in Washington and New York had become incredibly hostile toward the few of us who publicly objected to the idea that the U.S. must wage not only nine illegal and unconstitutional wars but a two-front cold war with Russia and China as well. Schwenninger could only shake his head at the spectacle of the otherwise intractable Trump opponents transforming themselves, in the blink of an eye, into his loudest cheerleaders when he decided to bomb Syria.
At the same time, Schwenninger caught sight of another troubling trend: the emerging alliance between Silicon Valley, the Pentagon and Wall Street. Schwenninger frequently lamented what he said was the “progressive totalitarianism” of the left when it came to foreign policy; during the Trump years, anyone who dared suggest that détente with Russia might be a sensible policy, or that, perhaps, the war in Syria was a bit more complicated than the pro-Islamist narrative being propagated by corporate media (particularly CNN and the Washington Post), would, more often than not, be immediately labeled as a Putin and/or Assad apologist… or worse.
That these attacks were coming from liberals and progressives who were consciously turning their backs on their own tradition of anti-McCarthyism made this spectacle all the more pathetic.
But something has changed over the past year or so, owing, I believe, to a change in the “atmospherics” in Washington brought about by Trump’s departure. All of a sudden, it now seems that space has opened up for those seeking to promote a kind of “Schwenningerian” foreign policy. The first mainstream group that appeared willing to do so was the Charles Koch and George Soros-funded Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, which was founded in 2019. In the years following, long-established think tanks such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Atlantic Council have established in-house programs that promote a more realistic and restrained U.S. foreign policy.
Still more encouraging, in his speech announcing the end of the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan, President Joe Biden repeatedly invoked “national interest” in defense of his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. For Biden, this was the end of “an era of major military operations to remake other countries.”
In the speech by Biden on August 31, he further said:
“To those asking for a third decade of war in Afghanistan, I ask: What is the vital national interest?…
“I respectfully suggest you ask yourself this question: If we had been attacked on September 11, 2001, from Yemen instead of Afghanistan, would we have ever gone to war in Afghanistan—even though the Taliban controlled Afghanistan in 2001? I believe the honest answer is ‘no.’ That’s because we had no vital national interest in Afghanistan other than to prevent an attack on America’s homeland and our friends.
“The fundamental obligation of a President, in my opinion, is to defend and protect America.…
“I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars a year in Afghanistan.”
In doing so, Biden seems to have adopted a number of themes that scholars like Schwenninger have long advocated.
Though he sadly did not live to see it, perhaps history is finally moving in Schwenninger’s direction as far as U.S. foreign policy is concerned.
James W. Carden is a writing fellow at Globetrotter and a former adviser to the U.S. State Department. Previously, he was a contributing writer on foreign affairs at the Nation, and his work has also appeared in the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft, the American Conservative, Asia Times, and more.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Shocking Death on Set Shows What’s at Stake in IATSE Film and TV Crew Contract Fight. By: Sarah HughesRead Now
In September, 99 percent of voting IATSE members authorized a strike over dangerous—or even deadly—working conditions. Photo: Twitter user @runolgarun
The union representing 60,000 film and television crew workers reached a tentative agreement with Hollywood producers October 16. The deal averted a first-ever national strike by the Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE), which was set to begin the next night—at least for the time being. The contracts will be voted on in the next several weeks.
Matthew Loeb, IATSE president since 2008, hailed the agreement as “historic.” But though Loeb calls the agreement a “Hollywood ending,” for the tens of thousands of members who voted to authorize a strike, the credits aren’t rolling yet. Initial responses on social media seem mixed at best, and many members are publicly calling on their colleagues to vote no.
IATSE has never called a national strike in its 128 years. But film and TV workers were eager to make history this year to end some of the industry’s most exploitative practices. In September, 99 percent of voting members authorized a strike, with a huge 90 percent turnout. Two different master agreements covering 36 locals both expired, and the strike authorization tally includes both: the Hollywood Basic, which covers Los Angeles projects, and the Area Standards Agreement, which covers work outside of LA and NYC.
“Below-the-line” crew like grips, designers, makeup artists, and camera operators are anxious to end common practices like “Fraturdays”—long Friday shoots that go all night and continue into Saturday; weeks with multiple 15-plus hour days; and missed meal and bathroom breaks. Producers routinely pay the contractual penalties rather than provide breaks.
Leading up to the strike vote, a new Instagram account, @IA_stories, exploded with horror stories submitted by crew members. Contributors described car accidents from falling asleep at the wheel after long shoots, infections from delayed bathroom breaks, and the emotional toll of working while bereaved, hours after the birth of a child, or through family emergencies, just to keep their jobs.
The pandemic had changed workers’ expectations of what might be possible. In March 2020, the film industry ground to a halt. When it resumed a few months later, health and safety protocols scaled back production capacity. Fewer people could be on set at a time, days were shorter, and crews got a glimpse of a better work-life balance.
Another major issue was the need to cover a $400 million projected deficit in the Pension and Health Plan, partially the result of outdated agreements with “new media” companies who make streaming content.
Many of the agreement’s details hadn’t been released as of press time. But the union is publicizing a few of the improvements and the concessions it fought off. Some of the lowest-paid workers, like script coordinators and writers’ assistants who currently make $16 an hour, will reportedly see their wages rise to $23.50 next year and to $26 over the three-year contract.
The deal provides for a 10-hour “turnaround,” the minimum time you have from the end of your shift until your next call time, and weekend rest periods of at least 54 or 32 hours, depending on the job.
An old carve-out for streaming services, once considered risky “new media” but now dominated by profitable giants like Amazon and Netflix, has let these services pay less than the studios. The tentative agreement promises improvements there, as well as diversity initiatives, expanded sick leave, and additional penalties for skipped meal breaks. IATSE reportedly maintained the pension eligibility standard—now 400 hours a year—which the studios had proposed raising to 950 hours.
But expectations were heightened when IATSE members got a taste of their power during the strike authorization vote and the outpouring of public support. Some feel that the tentative agreement doesn't reflect this newfound strength.
"[The union started the negotiations] thinking they had a minor league team, and then realizing you have Michael Jordan in his prime," said Fae Weichel, a first assistant camera and member of Local 600.
Member Naomi Markman is not satisfied. “Ten hours [off work] is not enough,” she wrote to Labor Notes. “And there are major carve-outs where turnarounds can be eight hours. Fraturdays will continue. Exhausted driving will continue.” She feels the penalties for skipping meal breaks are still just a slap on the wrist, especially compared to studio profits.
“We asked for conditions that would allow us to live our lives,” Markman wrote. “To see our families. To sleep a reasonable amount. This ‘deal’ gives us none of that.”
PRESSURE TO TOE THE LINE
President Loeb is the chief negotiator for all the contracts. In the 2018 negotiations he engaged in a public, rancorous fight with a local leader who spoke out against a tentative agreement—Cathy Repola, the executive director of the Motion Pictures Editors Guild Local 700.
Repola issued a video and letter to members arguing that the agreement didn’t go far enough on the demands for working conditions and excluded Editors from some provisions. She and the local bargaining team recommended a no vote. Local 700 was the only local to vote down the agreement, which still passed.
Soon after, Repola was removed from her positions on IATSE’s pension and health boards, positions appointed by Matt Loeb.
During negotiations, Loeb and all the union locals maintain a media blackout. The effect was that members heard little about what was proposed or agreed to until after the strike had been called off. Bargaining had started in the spring and had included pandemic “return-to-work” negotiations as well, leaving members confused about what was on the table and when.
Labor Notes obtained a video of Mike Loomer, a Local 44 executive board member, explaining to members that to “leak” updates would violate the National Labor Relations Act requirement to bargain in good faith.
The NLRA does not require a media blackout for good faith bargaining. Negotiators must adhere to the ground rules decided by the teams, but locals in industries from schools to newsrooms to health care manage to provide members with regular updates; some even open up bargaining sessions to general member participation.
In 2018 the Area Standards Agreement was settled a few months after the Hollywood Basic Agreement, but IATSE tweeted on October 20 that the two agreements would vote concurrently this time. They're negotiating that agreement now, based on the Hollywood Basic pattern.
The contract is voted on by an “electoral college-style board,” as described by Variety. Members of 36 locals will vote; the majority in each local will determine whether all of their delegates vote yes or no. A contract that receives a popular majority of “no” votes could be ratified anyway. Voting dates have not yet been announced.
In 2018, the Cinematographers Guild, Local 600, topped the delegate count with 76, followed by the Editors Guild, with 73. The smallest, Local 884, had just two.
Members aren’t getting much information from the IA about what would happen if they voted no. Some are worried about “how strong we would be if we returned to the table,” according to Weichel, or whether a no vote would automatically lead to a strike. (It would not.)
But whatever the outcome, IATSE members appear to be emerging from the pandemic and from this contract battle with a greater sense of power. “This is a turning point for IATSE,” said Weichel, a leader in the union’s young worker committee. “Regardless of this vote, I am very excited for the next round.”
Update: an earlier version of this article referred to "script supervisors" as some of the lowest-paid workers in the industry. This has been changed to "script coordinators" for accuracy.
Luis Feliz Leon contributed reporting to this article.
This article was produced by Labor Notes.
The dictator and the wanna-be, Mussolini and Trump. | Photos: Mussolini public domain / Trump campaign
Trump & Co. had a five-point plan to undo the presidential election and overthrow the government. They sought to:
The mob that stormed the Capitol on that fateful day in January was the spear’s edge of the assault.
The main features of these chilling designs are described in the book Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
It could have worked. And it would have worked had the ever-loyal, browbeaten vice president succumbed and been “brave,” in the words of Trump. The White House occupant pushed Pence to unilaterally declare Electoral College votes invalid, at one point proffering a “wouldn’t-it-be-cool-to-have-that-kind-of-power” temptation. As proposed in a now infamous how-to memo on overthrowing the government devised by Trump lawyer John Eastman, the election, then, would have been decided in the House, where the GOP holds a slim margin in state delegations.
Such an action would have undoubtedly precipitated a constitutional crisis with hitherto unthinkable consequences, including the employment of the Insurrection Act, martial law, and worse—a scenario adhering closely to the Communist movement’s classic description of a key element in fascism’s ascent to power—the substitution of one state form of government by another.
“The accession to power of fascism is not an ordinary succession of one bourgeois government by another, but a substitution of one state form of class domination of the bourgeoisie—bourgeois democracy—by another form—open terrorist dictatorship,” wrote Georgi Dimitrov in his United Front: The Struggle Against Fascism and War.
Those who continue to think the fascist danger overblown or mask it in classless, “authoritarian,” and “white nationalist” vagaries, would do well to consider that some closest to the process, while late in sounding the alarm, had no such misgivings about terminology. Why is this important? Because in battle, it’s vital to know who you’re fighting against and on what terrain to engage them. “Authoritarian white nationalism,” a bourgeois liberal term if there ever was one, tells us nothing about the class and social forces behind the Trump counterrevolution, in other words, who is footing the bills and pulling the strings. Fascism, on the other hand, as defined in Marxist terms, points to banking and other capital as the chief culprits.
With respect to understanding what’s at stake, the alarmed Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn is described in Peril as “studying up on fascist histories with a focus on Italy. He saw Trump as America’s Benito Mussolini in waiting.”
The book also relates a story told by Congressman Adam Smith of Washington State. Smith, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, enjoyed the unhappy experience of boarding a commercial flight home filled with January 6th insurrectionists, several of whom spoke openly about something called 6MWE—6 Million Wasn’t Enough—a reference to the Jews murdered by Hitler. Smith also shared the experience with Joint Chiefs chair Mark Milley in a phone conversation on January 8th. He later told colleagues, “My fear with Trump was always that he was going to engineer a fascist takeover of the country.”
After January 6th, Milley, who later apologized after donning battle fatigues and joining Trump in the infamous Bible-toting walk across a Lafayette Square cleared by force, compiled a list of several fascist organizations that presented a clear and present danger to the Republic. On the list were 6MWE, Extreme Tea Party, QAnon, Patriot Movement, We the People Movement, Nazis, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, NewsMax, and Epoch Times.
As Woodward and Costa write: “Some were the new Brown Shirts, a U.S. version Milley concluded, of the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party that supported Hitler. It was a planned revolution. Steve Bannon’s vision coming to life. Bring it all down, blow it up, burn it, and emerge with power.”
Bannon himself is reported to have told Trump, “We’re going to bury Biden on January 6th, fucking bury him.”
Even Trump’s CIA directors—people who know a thing or two about fascist coups—saw the danger. Secretary of State Pompeo, reacting to the Sidney Powell and Giuliani team’s stewardship of Trump’s post-election legal fight, said, “The crazies are taking over.” The CIA’s Gina Haspel warned Milley, “We’re on the way to a right-wing coup.”
Importantly, Woodward and Costa mention a little-reported statement by the Joint Chiefs, joining the choir of those condemning January 6th. “The violent riot in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, was a direct assault on the U.S. Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process,” the statement read. “We witnessed actions inside the Capitol building that were inconsistent with the rule of law. The rights of freedom of speech and assembly do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition, and insurrection.”
The Joint Chiefs go on to say that the newly elected president “will” take office on January 20th.
Yes, after shamelessly enabling, coddling, and defending Trump, key members of his administration seem to have broken with him as, to use Dimitrov’s phrase, the soon-to-be ex-president attempted to substitute one form of state power for another. Milley, in particular, is cast in a heroic light, standing up to Trump repeatedly, on debates ranging from attacking Iran to placing active-duty troops on U.S. streets during the mass democratic people’s uprising after George Floyd’s murder.
What led up to these ruptures, however, is anyone’s guess. And that’s where Peril fails as a journalistic history of the 2020 election. By focusing almost exclusively on the Republican and Democratic high command, the well-known class and social forces acting in both background and foreground are obscured from sight. The book does not consider, for example, to what degree the Chamber of Commerce’s decision to accept the election results influenced the actors, the impact of interventions by Wall Street, or even the coverage provided by Fox News, which is given little attention save Trump’s anger at their early call of the Arizona election for Biden.
As a moment in time, January 6th was much more than, as Mike Pence recently termed it, “a day in January.” Birthed on that same day was also the insurrection’s antithesis and remedy: the election of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the great state of Georgia and the movement that made it happen. While mentioned in Peril, it’s done only in passing as the authors’ gaze remained fixated on high, missing almost completely what’s taking place at the grassroots—but then again that’s bourgeois journalism.
Still, there’s a lot revealed in Woodward and Costa’s treatment and many more threads to be unraveled, including an interesting tidbit about GOP strategy from House minority leader Kevin McCarthy who, when celebrating last November’s Congressional wins, remarked, “You know who I’m going to recruit? Small business owners…. They have a passion; they can see what abuse government can do to your own life.” Historically, small businesses, in country after country have been the mass base of fascist movements.
Thus as the country seeks to understand and defend itself against a present and ongoing fascist danger, Peril will be an important resource, despite its blind spots.
Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa
Simon and Schuster, September 2021
Hardcover and Kindle editions
Joe Sims is co-chair of the Communist Party USA (2019-). He is also a senior editor of People's World and loves biking.
This article was produced by People's World.
'Let's Put a Wrench in Things Now': Deere Workers Strike as Company Rakes in Record Profits. By: Jonah FurmanRead Now
Members of UAW Local 74 at John Deere's Ottumwa Works are among 10,000 workers on strike at the farm equipment maker. Photo: Chris Laursen
Ten thousand John Deere workers in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas launched an open-ended strike October 14.
The strike came after workers overwhelmingly voted down a first tentative agreement negotiated by the Auto Workers (UAW). Among the over 90 percent of members voting, 90 percent voted no.
Members’ frustrations ranged from inadequate wage increases to an end to the pension for new hires, switching to a “Choice Plus” plan that many felt was scant on details. And they feel emboldened by a tight labor market and pandemic-related parts shortages that have made it hard for Deere to build up inventory.
At Deere’s Tractor Cab & Assembly Operations in Waterloo, Iowa, the 8000 tractor line—which workers refer to as the “money-maker”—was already over 800 units behind schedule at the start of the strike, according to Dana Thibadeau, a third-shift steward. That line produces tractors that can cost up to $800,000.
“When you factor in the pandemic, being deemed essential workers, and in our case, having a company turning a record profit, the CEO giving himself a 160 percent raise, and giving a 17 percent dividend raise, we kinda feel like we’re left to kick rocks,” said a UAW member at Iowa's Davenport Works who asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Deere is in the midst of its most profitable year ever. The farm and construction equipment manufacturer expects to rake in $5.7 to $5.9 billion in net income this year, far exceeding its previous high of $3.5 billion in 2013.
This is the first strike for nearly all current Deere workers, though some recall walking the picket lines with their parents and grandparents during the last Deere strike, a five-month walkout that began in 1986.
GOT TO SEE THE CONTRACT
A tentative agreement was initially announced October 1, hours after the contract expiration was extended. Members had been expecting to strike that night, and many were frustrated with an agreement that they felt would just allow Deere to build up more inventory before a potential strike.
Workers have long been dissatisfied with the union’s secretive bargaining process. The last contract, in 2015, passed by fewer than 200 votes. Many members were frustrated at the time that they only got to see the details—in a highlights document—during their two-hour ratification meetings.
“Everything is always a damn secret with them,” said Trever Bergeron, an iron pourer with Local 838 at the Waterloo foundry. “We are the last thing they think about.”
Since then, according to Chris Laursen, former president of Local 74 in Ottumwa, Iowa, some local presidents had pushed amendments at the UAW’s Deere Council (made up of all the Deere locals) to guarantee that members would get to see the full contract—not just highlights—well in advance of the vote. Laursen himself put forward a resolution in 2019 to release the contract at least a week before a ratification vote. It failed, but eventually, a motion was passed guaranteeing members would get to see the contract three days ahead.
Members also got to hear the company’s initial offer, which contained a host of concessions, at strike authorization meetings in September. Deere proposed ending the plant closure moratorium, doing away with overtime pay after eight hours, eliminating seniority-based wage progressions, forcing workers to pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums, and many other draconian concessions.
“That was a slap in the face,” said the Davenport member. “Some company folks were trying to rationalize it: this is just the first offer, you never accept the first offer. If someone were selling a home for $160,000, and your first offer was $40,000, that would break down the good-faith negotiations.”
Members voted 99 percent to authorize a strike.
A THIRD TIER
Deere backed down from most of these concessions at the bargaining table. The agreement members rejected on October 14 would have maintained the current premium-free health insurance plan. It also would have reinstated the cost-of-living adjustment, which was eliminated in the previous contract.
But it introduced a new major concession: no pensions for new hires.
Deere already has two tiers of workers: “pre-97” and “post-97.” In 1997, Deere lowered wages, health care benefits, and pensions for all new hires and eliminated their post-retirement health care. This division of the workforce has for many defined their work experience; the most active hub of rank-and-file communication is the “Post 97” Facebook group. Many of those hired after 1997 have long hoped to win back retiree health care.
The tentative agreement would have created a third tier, a concession many workers are unwilling to accept. “We’ve been fighting against this pre-97, post-97 bullshit for years,” said Thibadeau. “And then we're going to do it again? To the new hires? What on earth?”
The new tier wasn’t the only clause that got members fired up. The tentative agreement included an 11 percent raise over six years, including a 5 percent raise in year one. In 2022, 2024, and 2026, workers would have received 2 percent lump sums instead of wage increases.
That wasn’t enough for most Deere workers, who are fed up with watching the company’s profits, dividends, and executive pay soar while their own wages stagnate. “Maybe it looks like, ‘Hey, five percent seems somewhat reasonable, but it’s just over a dollar an hour, and it’s comparable to what people in 1997 were making,” said Brad Lake, a 14-year Deere employee with Local 838.
Under the 2012 contract, pre-1997 hires in the most common pay grade were making a base wage of $20.86. In the current offer, the company is offering post-1997 hires in the same pay grade a base wage of $20.80, nine years later.
At the ratification meeting in Milan, Illinois, Local 79 education chair Dave Parkin emphasized the divergence between the company’s profits and workers’ incomes: “In 1997, Deere reported a net income of $817 million. In 2021, they are projected to make $5.7 billion.” Meanwhile, the starting wage at Deere has gone from just under $15 in 1997 to just over $20 in the current offer. “While Deere profit has grown almost 700 percent since 1997, our buying power has shrunk by 35 percent,” Parkin told members.
In a flyer distributed at the plants just before the strike, headlined “Making the Best Wages BETTER,” Deere claimed that workers typically make $60,000 a year, and that the new contract would bring workers up to almost $72,000 per year. But that figure assumes year-round full-time work—ignoring Deere’s common seasonal layoffs, which can range from weeks to months.
Workers’ compensation is also dependent on a complicated piece-rate system known as the “Continuous Improvement Pay Plan” (CIPP, pronounced “kip”). Deere’s figure assumes that workers are performing at a rate of 120 percent of the target set by management—but many departments are failing to reach their quotas, given parts shortages and the fact that management wants productivity to increase by 2 percent every six months, making targets harder to hit.
One worker shared their annual pay with Labor Notes: they made less than $40,000 in 2020, and have worked at the company for over a decade. For some, CIPP provides big payouts that can take workers past the $60,000 figure. But many see little to no CIPP money at all. “What you can potentially make on paper versus what is guaranteed and what you come home with are three different numbers,” said the Davenport member.
CALL AN AMBULANCE
Deere is attempting to run the plants with salaried employees—some engineers but many white-collar office workers as well. According to one of these workers, some had to buy steel-toed boots in preparation for their strikebreaking deployment.
Just hours into the strike, an ambulance had already been called at the Drivetrain Operations in Waterloo. At the Tractor Cab and Assembly Operations across town, a salaried worker crashed a tractor into a pole on the first day. In Coffeyville, Kansas, members on the picket line reported hearing alarms repeatedly going off in the plant, and it was rumored that a salaried employee attempting to operate the furnace had been calling members and retirees for advice.
White-collar Deere workers, who are not union members, have their own gripes. Deere cut hundreds of salaried jobs in 2020 and forced some of the remaining employees into lower pay grades and contractor status, according to salaried workers. Now, hundreds of these workers find themselves working 12-hour days, six days a week, in jobs they are not trained for and did not sign up for. About 650 were reassigned to the Parts Distribution Center in Milan, Illinois.
“If Deere wanted to piss off all of their employees simultaneously, they've done a very good job of doing so,” one white-collar worker wrote to Labor Notes.
Since they went on strike, members have been maintaining 24/7 picket lines. Locals have printed shirts that read “DEEMED ESSENTIAL IN 2020. PROVE IT IN 2021. CAN’T BUILD IT FROM HOME.”
On October 18, the strike's fifth day, several locals made a push for large morning pickets. In Waterloo, members reported a three-hour backup of salaried workers and management employees attempting to cross the line; in Davenport, two and a half hours. A mass “show of force” last night by Local 865 at Deere’s Harvester Works in East Moline, Illinois, drew 1,000 picketers and stretched for 15 blocks, according to one striker’s estimate.
Wall Street sounds worried. Bank of America’s analysis on day one of the strike was headlined, “Deere likely has limited appetite for extended strike.”
Workers were conscious of the financial implications as well. “The fiscal year for Deere ends October 31, so this puts a real cramp on them at the end of the quarter and end of the year.” said Lake. “That was a huge issue of why we wanted to do it now. Because if we give them another extension they’re going to finish out their fiscal year, and this’ll be all on their 2022 books, so let’s put a wrench in things now.”
“The quicker we can put a financial dent on them, the better off we are when it comes to showing them that we mean business,” said the Davenport worker.
The company plans to cut off workers’ health insurance by the end of October. The UAW, which has a $790 million strike fund, is picking up COBRA payments and providing strike pay of $275 per week.
The union and Deere resumed negotiations this week.
The Deere contract is the biggest deal negotiated by the UAW since the resignation of President Gary Jones over corruption charges in November 2019. Former Vice President Norwood Jewell, who led bargaining on the last Deere contract, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for taking illegal payments from Fiat Chrysler. While there’s been no evidence connecting the Deere negotiations to the corruption scandal, many members mistrust the International.
Yesterday, the UAW’s 400,000 active members and 600,000 retirees began voting in a mail-ballot referendum on whether to move to direct elections for the union’s top officers, rather than the delegate system that has maintained one-party control over leadership positions for the past seven decades. Anger over two-tier contracts and secretive bargaining will impact that vote.
UAW members with the Unite All Workers for Democracy reform group, who are pushing for a “yes” vote in the referendum, organized a solidarity fund to bring supplies to the Deere picketers. In the first 24 hours, they raised $45,000 from supporters.
For updates on the strike, follow @JonahFurman on Twitter.
This article was produced by Labor Notes.
CPs of Australia, Britain, and U.S. condemn nuclear submarine deal. By: Communist Party USA, Communist Party of Britain, Communist Party of AustraliaRead Now
Image: frostu (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
The Communist Party of Australia, the Communist Party of Britain and the Communist Party of the USA met on 1 October to discuss the implications of the formation of AUKUS, a trilateral Australian-British-US military alliance targeting China. The three parties issued the following statement:
The Communist Party of Australia, the Communist Party of Britain and the Communist Party of the USA unequivocally condemn AUKUS, a trilateral Australian-British-US military alliance and the plan for Australia to purchase or lease nuclear-powered attack submarines.
The Communist Party of Britain and the Communist Party USA declare their support and solidarity with the Communist Party of Australia which has called on its members and supporters and all peace-loving men and women to actively oppose the Government’s decision to join the AUKUS agreement; to buy nuclear-powered submarines; to purchase cruise missiles and other offensive weapons; and for Australia to host more US troops, warships, weapons, and planes.
AUKUS is a response to changes in the global economy which are promoting a direct challenge to neoliberal norms of government across the globe. The US is determined to maintain its political and economic hegemony in the economically expanding Asia-Pacific region.
In the face of declining US economic power, AUKUS aims to tie Australia even more tightly to US imperialism’s plans to contain and control the People’s Republic of China and to consolidate Australia as a US launching pad for coercion and even war.
The US and UK feel the world slipping through their fingers, prompting ever greater aggressiveness, rather than face economic and geopolitical reality. Instead of seeking to peacefully join a multilateral world as equal partners, they are turning to military alliances to try to hold onto their fading power.
AUKUS is an aggressive and destabilizing military alliance which jettisons what vestiges of sovereignty Australia still retained. It is part of the US-led imperial system which prioritizes the rights of private investors over the sovereignty of most states.
In post-Brexit Britain AUKUS feeds Prime Minister Johnson’s dream of aggressive expansionism for a “global Britain.” The UK already has a strike group in the South China Sea. This will not be welcome, as British imperialism was particularly brutal in the Asia-Pacific region, from impoverishing India to starting the Vietnam War, to laying the basis for ethnic conflicts in Fiji and Sri Lanka and inflicting near genocide on the Aboriginal owners of Australia and the Maori of Aotearoa.
The governments of our three countries rob jobs, education, the environment, the vital health budget, welfare, and much more to pay for unnecessary war preparations that benefit only the armaments corporations.
Military spending does create some jobs but not nearly as many jobs as a comparable investment in productive industry. In the US $1 billion of federal investment in the military creates 11,200 jobs, whereas the same investment in clean energy technology would yield 16,800, in health care 17,200, and in education 26,700 jobs.
Working people need work that creates benefits for the people of the world, not work that produces more efficient people-killing machines. Rather than sinking resources into the creation of tools that further destroy resources, both people and goods, production that meets human needs is required.
Many Asia-Pacific nations have only recently emerged from a long period of oppressive European imperialism. Many view AUKUS as an attempt to re-impose an imperialist dominated military and economic hegemony in the region. Inevitably, tensions will increase, as already suggested by the Indonesian and Malaysian responses to AUKUS.
The introduction of nuclear-powered submarines opens the way for the development of an Australian nuclear power industry and for a nuclear weapons capacity. All this weakens current non-proliferation agreements and threatens independence, security, and the environment in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Communist Party of Australia, the Communist Party of Britain, and the Communist Party of the USA join with peace and environmental movements, trade unions, churches, welfare and aid organizations, and many other groups around the world to demand:
►No war on China. No new Cold War on China.
►Australia, the UK, and the USA must sign and implement the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
►An end to military alliances and their replacement with multilateralism, diplomacy, and cooperation with China to address the existential threats of the pandemic and the climate crisis.
►Cuts to military budgets and an end to the economic drain of military spending and its replacement with profitable peace-time economies creating useful consumer goods.
Nothing less than the future of our planet depends on ending the new Cold War between the United States and China.
Communist Party USA, Communist Party of Britain, Communist Party of Australia
this article was produced by CPUSA.
Image: Jared Cummings, Kellogg Union Members Appreciation Page (Facebook).
The class struggle is sharpening. Workers all across the country are striking and engaging in other job actions, large and small. Fed up with company attempts to impose two-tier wages, long hours, and inadequate pay, despite rising productivity and skyrocketing corporate profits, unions in several industries have had it. Now they’re marching on the picket lines. As late as last weekend, over 100,000 workers had voted to authorize strikes, and over 169 have occurred so far this year, the largest uptick since the wave of job actions in 2018–19. The AFL-CIO has aptly labeled this month #striketober.
There is deep anger, unrest, and growing militancy among the working class. Why? Companies want more while labor is repeatedly asked to do with less. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that “manufacturing sector labor productivity increased 8.0 percent in the second quarter of 2021, as output increased 5.5 percent and hours worked decreased 2.3 percent.”
Overall, productivity “grew an average of 3 per cent in the first half of 2021. Unit labour costs fell 0.8 per cent during the same period.”
But at what cost to the worker? Wages are too low to pay for the rising cost of housing, hours are too long to allow adequate time for caregiving, and lack of health care benefits force many to go to work sick. Workers are tired of supplying profits to billionaires like Jeff Bezos to fuel their rocket rides and egos.
As the nation emerges from the pandemic, literally millions are so dissatisfied that they’re simply quitting in what some have described as a silent general strike. “The seriousness of the situation was confirmed by the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report showing that a record 2.9 percent of the workforce quit their jobs in August, which is equivalent to 4.3 million resignations.”
According to one poll, ”employees were so dissatisfied with their situation that more than one-quarter (28%) of all respondents left their jobs without another job lined up.” One of the main reasons workers are leaving is burnout, cited by 40% of the poll respondents.
Big business is alarmed at the political significance of the resignations. The “Great Resignation,” Forbes writes, “is a sort of workers’ revolution and uprising against bad bosses and tone-deaf companies that refuse to pay well and take advantage of their staff.”
Contributing to the spike in labor activism is growing confidence in collective action and knowledge that you can strike and win. A glut in job openings despite still significant unemployment has improved the unions’ bargaining position and power. Pro-union sentiment among the broad public is at its highest level in several decades. A Gallup poll released in the beginning of July showed that 68% of Americans approve of labor unions, up significantly from the 48% approval in 2009 during the throes of the Great Recession. In this regard, the Biden-Harris administration’s pro-union stance should not be underestimated, not the least of which is reflected by new appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.
The new general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, for example, has “signaled that she is willing to reconsider all kinds of twisted and outdated precedents that have vastly favored bosses during a nearly four-decades-long union-busting drive . . . she’s indicated a willingness to issue bargaining orders — not elections — for new unions when employers commit Unfair Labor Practices, to certify minority members-only bargaining units to help unions establish a foothold, and to be more creative about ‘make whole’ financial remedies for terminated union activists.”
As Peoplesworld.org reports, 10,000 workers at John Deere are among the latest to go out: “The strike wave that has hit John Deere has been building nationwide for more than a month. Last week Kellogg workers went on strike and over the summer Mondelez, the maker of Nabisco Oreos walked out. Coal miners in Alabama have been on strike for months.”
While uneven, the working class and people’s forces in local communities and workplaces are gathering in strength for the class and democratic battles that lie ahead. Today they’re focused on bread-and-butter issues of survival. But with the GOP blocking everything from strengthening voting rights to spending on climate change and human infrastructure, these economic struggles are becoming political. When that material force takes off and as the mid-terms loom — watch out.
Big days are coming. But it’s a mistake for friends of labor to sit around awaiting their arrival. Visit the picket lines and be sure to bring your walking shoes. A box of donuts and coffee would be appreciated but more important are the smiles and solidarity of friends. Talk, learn, listen, and afterwards share the experience. In so doing you’ll add to the growing class-consciousness and militancy that’s sweeping the nation. It will do everyone concerned a whole lot of good.
Building community support for striking workers is vital, calling on local politicians, clergy, and neighborhood leaders to lend solidarity. Letters to the editor along with social media campaigns can help build pro-strike sentiment. Community pickets at retail outlets and dealerships might also be helpful. Solidarity should also include boycotts and other forms of public pressure against companies that refuse to provide good wages, health care, working conditions and rights in the workplaces.
Yes, there’s a rising tide of struggle occurring deep within our class. Let’s give it our every support.
Joe Sims is co-chair of the Communist Party USA (2019-). He is also a senior editor of People's World and loves biking.
This article was produced by CPUSA.
The trade union movement will mobilize alongside the entire people against those who are determined to undermine Cuba’s sovereignty and the conquests we have collectively achieved, wielding its most powerful weapons: unity and patriotism.
Photo: Prensa Latina
Given the latest escalation of subversive campaigns against the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Workers (CTC) issued a statement outlining the national proletariat’s intransigent position rejecting the most recent maneuvers orchestrated by "internal political operators, led and encouraged from abroad," who have announced “the intention to conduct a march which they present as peaceful and lawful, invoking the Constitution."
In reference to Articles in the Magna Carta, the CTC recalled that no legal demonstration can disturb citizen tranquility, incite overthrowing the established order, infringe on the rights of others, affect collective security, general welfare or the public order, and must always be conducted with respect for the law.
On the contrary, the statement asserts, the poorly disguised objective of the mercenary ruckus is to provoke a change in Cuba’s political system and a return to capitalism; noting that this is made clear by "the decisive support, evident in the avalanche of messages on social networks, by figures abroad clamoring for a U.S. military intervention, notorious terrorists, counter-revolutionary figures in Florida and even the remains of the defeated mercenary Brigade 2506."
In the face of such aggression, the statement reaffirms that "Cuban workers, united around the Federation of Cuban workers and its affiliated trade unions, are advancing in the construction of a new society and updating our economic model to build a better country, strongly condemn those who promote destabilization. We are convinced that no provocation will succeed in demoralizing or intimidating those of us struggling here for the present and the future of the nation."
The statement reiterated that the Cuban trade union movement will mobilize alongside the entire people against those who are determined to take away our independence, our sovereignty and the conquests achieved with collective sacrifice. In this exercise of legitimate defense, "We will wield our most powerful weapons: unity and patriotism."
National News Staff
This article was produced by Granma.
A few months ago I read an intriguing proposition by Terrell Carver about feminism; He writes “Feminism is a theory of women’s oppression: feminist practices are constructed and pursued in relation to the attested facts through which oppression is understood and experienced. I have put this proposition to a number of small, seminar-size classes, and I have then asked the question- what causes this oppression? Who’s doing it? The answers are remarkably consistent: tradition, patriarchy, culture, religion, social forces, history, attitudes, ideologies, sexism, social structures and suchlike. I have found it really interesting that not one person has ever mentioned the word ‘MEN’ in an answer.”
This inspired me to write about my lived experience of teaching Feminist Theory in a public-sector university based in Pakistan. My undergrad students are predominantly from striving lower middle class- and mix of upper middle class (representing majority of Pakistan’s population) few from the elite, with an equal proportion of male and female. This is perhaps one of the most interesting part of my lecture-series: everyone participates and has a word or two to say, from across a wide social and economic spectrum of society. I observed, contrary to Terrell- that female students quite explicitly hold men responsible for their oppression and would openly- talk about how they have been oppressed in one way or another in their private and public spheres.
I wondered if this implied that Pakistani women’s engagement with feminism is shaped by their personal trajectories and experiences, rather than the state and other institutions. It was beginning to be clear to me that Islam and feminism were not necessarily incompatible for the majority of females which leads them to join feminist movements such as Aurat Azadi March, while also seeking gender equality within the- framework of Islamic feminism. For the majority of males and a few females, feminism is a Western, secular morally suspect ideology that does not fit with the effort to live a pious lifestyle in accordance -with Islamic law; indeed they often criticize language/posters and even dresses of Aurat March organizers. On the other hand, among the elite, secularization of the state is seen as paramount to give women rights. Perhaps most strikingly, all of the students dissect feminism through a heteronormative lens. However, the heated debate on “feminist theory” unlike Terreal’s observation would end up a debate on “Islam vs Feminism”, with the majority talking about Islamic feminism.
I was keen to grasp how students both male and female, connected these ideas. These interactions also underscored a key question for me during my lecture: What new kinds of agency might arise from intersections between Islam and feminism? Does this cross-cultural empirical analogy raise a complex set of questions? Are women’s problems universal? What made men think; that feminism is a white neo-liberal idea? Conversely, what made a few students think that secularization of the state is required to give women equal -rights? How they adopt and synthesize these frameworks in their activism tells us much about their -agency in an age when religion and politics are increasingly intertwined.
In a politicized global context; in the decade after 9/11, the headscarf became a renewed focus of global debate, and nowhere more so than in Europe. In these contentions over Muslim dress, concerns about immigration and assimilation were expressed through the language of women’s right (Bowen 2006; Scott 2007). It has become acceptable to exclude or marginalize Muslims because of their allegedly misogynistic and illiberal gender practices. This discussion is new in a long history of attempts to cast Islam and feminism as opposites, with Islam depicting all that is backward and- traditional and feminism symbolizing the modern and liberal West.
It is an argument that has a corollary -in Muslim society, with many Muslims arguing that feminism is un-Islamic because it is secular and -liberal (Joppke 2009). This holds true in Pakistan, where a grassroot Islamic political party named Jamaat-e-Islami’s democratization has resulted in a surge of women identifying themselves as pious and empowered Muslims- who oppose secular feminist politics in Pakistan. Feminism in Pakistan has nonetheless continued- with pioneering Islamic feminists arguing that Islam provides women with dignity and endorses their self-esteem more than any religion or philosophy including secularism.
Secular feminists on the other hand argue that their position is political and is based not on the absolute separation of state and Islam per se, but is rather about separation of religion from the policies of state, the undoing of the Islamic -legal system along with its supporting institutions and clerical organizations. Afiya Shehrbano Zia, a secular feminist, while talking to EPW, intelligently put forth the ideology of feminist politics in Pakistan. She writes, “Women action forum(WAF)- a women’s rights organization, decided to take the identity of a secular movement and pursue secular politics in Islamic Republic of Pakistan, after nearly a decade of debate, dialogue and strategic lessons (injustices against women and religious minorities critiquing Islamic laws introduced during Zia military dictatorship).
This decision wasn’t born out of reaction or some western liberal secular Islamophobia which has become a fashionable - allegation against secular feminist politics in Pakistan, but it was a strategic decision, which was - interested and invested in resisting Islamic Majoritarianism and also political Mullah led national conservatism and all of this was patronize and promoted by the state. WAF consensus of adopting secular identity emerged from the realization that there were lots of limitations to the project of reclaiming feminist rights within Islam, and that it was impossible to strip religious discourse entirely of its patriarchal baggage in any meaningful way that would enable feminist transformation, of-course -religion can empower and give rights but not transformation.
She further added, “If feminism is the resistance against patriarchy, then what is the resistance for religious politics? And that secular resistance, in my observation and examples I have used, have enabled changing and challenging the gendered order and obstacles, that do not allow women equal pay for equal work, and I have seen the results of it. They make women autonomous.” As a response to Aurat March demonstration and protest. Jamaat-e-Islami launched the “Istehkam-e-Khandan” (Protection of Family Institution) campaign to create -awareness and mobilize the public against the western cultural onslaught and the organized conspiracy to destroy the Muslim family institution, Islamic values and the modesty of women.
Let’s examine the intersection between Islam and feminism in the Muslim world through Saba Mahmood’s brilliant work. “Mahmood proposed a critique of white liberal neo-imperialist feminists and anthropologists -who went to Middle Eastern Nations and analyzed/studied Muslim women from a diverse geography within their white-liberal conceptual frameworks. From their perspective, if a Muslim woman was observant , she was oppressed. Accordingly, the less Islamic they were, the more liberated. What’s the -point of anthropology, understanding cultures and societies in their diversity, if you already know -what’s good or bad for groups before-hand, if you can just slot them into an oppression/liberation -narrative?
So Mahmood made her thought more flexible, and researched a group of Muslim women in the ‘Women’s Mosque Movement’ in Cairo after the Egyptian Revolution. Mahmood saw how the way white liberal feminists understood “submission” was, for the Mosque movement, irrelevant. For the -practitioners of this all women mosque movement- , ‘submission to Islamic values was not an oppressive, passive, docile or dogmatic act. Submission meant an active- , intellectual and bodily molding of the self in order to internalize Islamic values and practices until they emerged from the self -and body without conscious effort. Submission was a form of empowerment.
To understand this, Mahmood had to deconstruct dominant European conceptions of agency, the body and freedom and in turn see how much the concepts, applied to the Mosque movement , concealed rather than revealed -something of the culture which Mahmood was studying. Much Euro-American academia (-especially anthropology-), if it doesn’t question itself and its political agendas, it can violently assimilate sociocultural differences to its own terms, hierarchies and views of the world.”
Secular feminists assert that, post 9/11, the framing of feminism in Pakistan was inspired by Talal Assad- and Saba Mehmood’s work on the “Politics of Piety”. This new body of scholarship, which was post-secularist and mostly produced by the Pakistani diaspora or those who choose to pursue academic careers outside Pakistan, largely rehabilitates Muslim-ness as an alter parity source of rights, while another group on the left focuses almost entirely on imperialism, and the war on terror.
Both of these types of scholarship bypassed or suspended the critique and in some cases were even sympathetic to -patriarchal practices of Muslim men, as they didn’t want to reinforce global stereotypes of Muslim men- and -mostly focused on religious identity and pity. Secular feminists believe this body of work wasn’t fruitful for feminist politics, discredited or ignored the liberal secular feminist movements- and downplayed women’s -struggles and oppression- as if Pakistani women were devoid of any liberal desires or secular politics.
Finally, we must examine from where the heteronormative idea of feminism emerges. The marginalization of transgender people in South Asia dates back to the colonial State’s creation of a “new public order”, which was a redefinition of masculinity in accordance with the colonist’ ideology, the British man represented the pinnacle of masculinity. This heteronormative approach was introduced to the sub-continent through Victorian law, with women being excluded from the public order except under the protection of their respective male partners.
The colonial State attempted to control and ultimately obliterate gender diverse people and communities as visible social categories by “criminalizing” them under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, thereby, this pattern of control continues to this day. Paula Sanders work showed us; “Strategies of medieval Muslim jurists worked to preserve the gendered integrity of the social world, which was founded upon a strict binary opposition of two true sexes, male and female. One of the most important conclusions resulting from this body of work is that male/female was not the only gender dichotomy in medieval Islamic societies; there was also male/not male”.
The Transgender Persons -(Protection of Rights) Act, 2018, was a bill passed in Pakistan which was endorsed by the Council for Islamic Ideology (CII). The law accords citizens the right to self-identify as male, female or a blend of both genders, or neither, regardless of the sex they were assigned at birth, and to have that identity -registered on all official documents. Moreover, number of laws that are -often regarded as oppressive to women and LGBTQ Arabs (Muslims) were introduced to the Middle East via the "French Civil Code of 1804" (Napoleonic code) and the severe hollowing - out of the sharia in modern history.
Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and Human Rights Watch have long been involved in the creation of normative heterosexuality and heterosexual - families, for example a few days back an advertisement by USAID- US Agency for International Development- appeared in Pakistan’s leading English-language newspaper, Dawn, which depicts the institutionalization of gender stereotypes, i.e. Women seen doing all domestic/household work. The media, curriculum in schools and literature have a mitigating part to play too which doesn’t reflect the reality of a two-income household. Instead, they still show women as being in the domestic space -as the primary caretaker- (not that there’s anything wrong with this)- which doesn’t reflect the reality of a lot of working women in Pakistan.
Saba Mahmood’s and Lila Abu Lughod’s scholarly work have clearly showed us; liberal feminism`s assumptions and binaries as to what constitute “feminist politics” or “feminist causes” are based on fallacious argument. According to secular feminist Afiya Zia, the secularization of the state is a prerequisite to give women rights in Pakistan. To counter this proposition, it is necessary to address the question of women in the Western secular world who are facing similar pattern of oppression, as well as, those Muslim, Christian and Orthodox Jewish women who don’t seek gender equality outside their religion.
When the domestic abuse of women by men in the Muslim world and in the Western secular world is scripted in radically different terms, with the connotation of Islam and its assumed oppression of women, the reader should pause and realize that they are not reading about Islam, but are rather reading within a discourse -about Islam. As to why women in Pakistan directly hold men responsible for their oppression, I reckon -women here are free thinkers and Islam as a religion has empowered and liberated them vis-à-vis white institutional structures which are intrinsically oppressive to women. The conclusion I draw from this cross-cultural analogy is this: women’s problems are universal but the thought process behind their ideas are -shaped by male centric/dominated institutions- systems- laws, culture, religion and what is fed to them through literature and the media.
There is a need for the creation of more theoretical space to unpack and comprehend- feminism in a religious and socially conservative society, also to create frameworks and safe spaces to accommodate hermaphrodites and nonbinary gendered people. Its practices, demands, and outlook might be different from the Western approach, but its aspirations are equally revolutionary and transformative. Perhaps we must look to build an inclusive Eastern feminist model which derives its inspiration from both Islamic and secular feminist politics?
Abu-Lughod , Lila . 2002 . “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological
Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others .” American Anthropologist
104 ( 3 ): 783–90.
Bowen , John . 2006 . Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves: Islam, the State, and Public
Space . Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press .
Carver, Terrell. 2019. “The M-WORD.” Critical South Blog
Joppke , Christian . 2009 . Veil: Mirror of Identity . London : Polity Press.
Mahmood , Saba . 2005 . The Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject.
Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press .
Scott , Joan Wallach . 2007 . The Politics of the Veil . Princeton, NJ : Princeton
University Press .
Zia, Afiya. 2020 “Who's Afraid of Pakistan's Aurat March?” Economic and Political Weekly
I am Sonia Gulzeb Abbasi, originally from a superb village of KPK Province in Pakistan, also I
By The Manifesto of the Communist Party, every Marxist knows the A, B, Cs of historical materialism or the materialist conception of history. The history of all human society, since the breaking up of the ancient Stone Age societies is a history of class struggles between oppressor and oppressed. Classes are groups that associate in a division of labor to produce their material means of existence. In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels asserted an elementary anthropological, or "human nature", rationale for this conception. In a section titled "History: Fundamental Conditions" they say: " Life involves before everything else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing, and many other things.
The first historical act is thus the production of material life itself. And indeed, this is a ... fundamental condition of all history, which today, as thousands of years ago, must daily and hourly be fulfilled merely in order to sustain human life." Production and economic classes are the starting point of Marxist analysis of human society, including in the Manifesto, because human life, like all plant and animal life must fulfill biological needs to exist as life at all. Whatever, humans do that is "higher" than plants and animals, we cannot do if we do not first fulfill our plant/animal like needs. Therefore, the "higher" human activities are limited by and dependent upon the productive activities. This means that historical materialism starts with human nature, our natural species qualities.
Yet, it is fundamental in biology that the basic life sustaining processes of a species are twofold. There is, in the first place, obtaining the material means of life and subsistence, or survival, of the living generation ("production"). But just as fundamentally there is reproduction or success in creating a next generation of the species that is fertile and survives until it too reproduces viable offspring. Whoever heard of a one generation species? In fact, one test of two individual animals being of the same species is their ability to mate and produce fertile offspring. We can imagine a group of living beings with the ultimate success in eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing, and many other things. But if they do not reproduce, either they are not a species or they are an extinct species (unless they are immortal individuals!). Thus, having premised their theory in part on human biology, our "species-being", Marx and Engels were obligated to develop historical materialism, the theory of the Manifesto, based not only on the logic of subsistence production, but also on the logic of next generation reproduction.
In The German Ideology, they do recognize reproduction as a "fundamental condition of history" along with production. However, they give reproduction, or at least, "the family" a subordinate "fundamental" status when they say:
"The third circumstance, which from the very outset, enters into historical development, is that men (sic) who daily remake their own life begin to make other men, to propagate their kind: the relation between man and woman, parents and children, the family. The family, which to begin with is the only social relationship, becomes later, when increased needs create new social relations and the increased population new needs, a subordinate one..."
My thesis in this comradely critique is that the mode of reproduction (in the larger sense, including, but not limited to social institutions called "the family") of human beings remains, throughout human history, equally fundamental with the mode of production in shaping society. This is true even after classes arise, even with the "new social relations" that come with "increased population." For there to be history in the sense of many generations of men and women all of the way up to Marx, Engels and us today, men had to do more than "begin to make other men." Women and men had to complete making next generations by sexually uniting and rearing them for thousands of years. Otherwise, history would have ended long ago. We would be an extinct species. An essential characteristic of history is its existence in the "medium" of multiple generations. Thus, with respect to historical materialism, reproduction is as necessary as production. The upshot is women's liberation must be put on the same footing with workers' liberation in the Marxist project.
Not only did Marx and Engels in The German Ideology give reproduction a "subordinate" fundamental status compared with production. They did it by the following sleight of hand: in part population increase or the success of reproduction somehow makes reproduction less important in "entering into historical development" as a "fundamental condition" (or "primary historical relation" in another translation, or "basic aspect of social activity" in another).
This is quite a misogynist dialectic, given that "men" are in the first premise and the third premise, but women only are mentioned explicitly in the latter. It is also an idealist philosophical error, because the theory now tends to abstract from the real social life of individuals in reproduction. Another passage in The German Ideology demonstrates the same sort of magical rather than scientific use of "dialectic" with respect to reproduction, and in this case the impact on the materialist philosophical consistency of their argument is more direct and explicit. They say:
"Only now, after having considered four moments, four aspects of primary historical relations, do we find that man also possesses "consciousness". But even from the outset this is not "pure" consciousness. The "mind" is from the outset afflicted with the curse of being "burdened" with matter, which here makes its appearance in the form of agitated layers of air, sounds, in short, of language. Language is as old as consciousness...language like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with other men...Consciousness is, therefore, from the very beginning a social product, and remains so as long as men exist at all. Consciousness is at first of course, merely consciousness concerning the immediate sensuous environment and consciousness of the limited connection with other persons and things outside the individual who is growing self-conscious.
This sheep-like or tribal consciousness receives further development or extension through increased productivity, the increase in needs, and, what is fundamental to both of these, the increase in population. With these there develops the division of labor, which was originally nothing but the division of labor in the sexual act, then the division of labor which develops spontaneously or "naturally" by virtue of natural predisposition (e.g. physical strength, needs, accidents, etc.) Division of labor becomes truly such from the moment when a division of material and mental labor appears. From this moment onwards consciousness can really flatter itself that it is something other than consciousness of existing practice, that it really represents something without representing something real (as the semioticians' signifier is arbitrarily related to what it signifies-C.B); from now on consciousness is in a position to emancipate itself from the world and to proceed to formation of "pure" theory, theology, philosophy, morality, etc."
In this paragraph, we see that Marx and Engels's early formulation and explanation of the origin of what Engels later famously dubbed the fundamental question of philosophy (materialism or idealism?) is rooted in the "second" original division of labor. For some reason, the "first" original division of labor, which gives women equivalent complementary status with men, just disappears, and is replaced by a productive division of labor, between "men's" minds and hands. And to make it worse, once again, the "reason" the reproductive division of labor disappears as an ongoing fundamental determinant throughout history is its own success in creating a population explosion.
This seems to be an error of substituting a negative and destructive dialectic in thought for what is the most fundamentally positive and fruitful dialectic in human history--reproduction. Here is a key connecting point: then Marx and Engels (whom I love dearly) substitute for the reproductive division of labor a productive division of labor as the fundamentally determining contradiction of historical development. This division of labor, between predominantly mental and predominantly physical labor, becomes the root of development of classes, the importance of which is declared in the first sentence of the Manifesto.
Yet, Marx and Engels commit the same error of abstraction at one level that they criticize at the next level: the error of mental laborers in abstracting from the concrete reality of physical labor. In addition, they keep depending on "population increase", which is another name for reproduction and "the sexual act", to explain the origin of increased "productivity" and "needs". These, in turn, seem to be the "premises" for the division between material and mental labor (and are because of the role of material surpluses in making possible the creation of the class of predominantly mental laborers). Thus, we might say that the original idealist philosophical inconsistency of Marxist materialism is abstraction from reproduction. For a fuller historical materialism, the theories of workers' liberation and women's liberation must be integrated. This may be done on the basis of Marx and Engels's fundamental logic carried out more consistently. Feminism, therefore, is derived from, not added on to, the original premises.
By 1884, with the impact of anthropological studies (and perhaps greater interaction with women in his maturity) in the Preface to the First Edition of The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Engels says:
"According to the materialistic conception, the decisive element of history is pre-eminently the production and reproduction of life and its material requirements. This implies, on the one hand, the production of the means of existence (food, clothing, shelter and the necessary tools); on the other hand, the generation of children, the propagation of the species. The social institutions, under which the people of a certain historical period and of a certain country are living, are dependent on these two forms of production; partly on the development of labor, partly on that of the family."
The change in this formulation from that in The German Ideology supports our fundamental thesis in this essay: that reproduction is an equally fundamental, not a subordinate, process with production in shaping society from its origins to modern (and post-modern) times. But Engels's formulation in The Origin is after Marx's death and late in their heroic joint project in developing Marxism. Thus, the main classic writings of Marxism, and Marx and Engels's political activity, focused on production and political economy, not the family and the other institutions of reproduction. The Origin's is the best scientific formulation of the materialistic conception of history, even when we consider that "the family" is, in later stages of history, surrounded by larger social institutions, as asserted in the passage from The German Ideology, quoted above.
Even under capitalism, many of the social relations and institutions that are quantitatively greater then those in the "nuclear" family (See anthropologist G.P. Murdock on the "nuclear" family) are part of reproduction, such as school and training, as well as medical services and recreation. More importantly, reproduction and production have qualitatively different functions, both fundamental in constituting the existence of our species, our species-being.
In other words, not only are reproductive relations not quantitatively less important in determining history, but from the beginning, from the true original division of labor as in the sexual act, reproduction has had a qualitatively, necessarily complementary relation with production in creating history. From the standpoint of our uniquely human character (our culture), it might be said that production makes objects and reproduction creates subjects. Thus, problems in dealing with subjectivity in the history of Marxism (see my "Activist Materialism and the ' End ' of Philosophy") may in part be remedied by rethinking Marxism based on equating and even privileging reproduction over production in interpreting and acting to change the world.
This becomes especially important when we consider that there is now for Marxism a scientific, materialist, truth-seeking and urgent need for intellectual affirmative action in using empirical study of reproduction to re-explain history to compensate for the sole focus on production. Reproduction has always been scientifically coequal, as demonstrated by Marx and Engels's clipped comments and "admissions" quoted previously. They never refute their own words about the importance of reproduction in historical materialist theory. They simply (and uncharacteristically) fail to develop one of their own stated fundamental materialist premises. Living Marxists must creatively redevelop historical materialism based on this compensation.
Dialectical materialism holds that the relationship between subject and object is dialectical, of course. It is "vulgar" materialism that portrays the subject as one-sidedly determined by the object. Reproduction and production are complementary opposites, and their unity in struggle is the fundamental motive force of history today as in ancient times.
However, when I say, "reproduction creates subjects", I mean reproduction in a broader sense than only sexual conception and birth. Reproduction includes all child-rearing, from the home through all school and any other type of training. It is all "caring labor" as defined by Hilary Graham in "Caring: A Labour of Love" (1983). Reproduction is all of those labors that have, as a direct and main purpose, making and caring for a human subject or personality as contrasted with those labors of production which have as a direct purpose making objects useful to humans. Reproduction includes affirmative self-creation.
A Wikipedia item gives a fuller definition of what I call "caring labor". "Care work is a subcategory of work that includes all tasks that directly involve care processes done in service of others. Often, it is differentiated from other forms of work because it is intrinsically motivated, meaning that people are motivated to pursue care work for internal reasons, not related to money. Another factor that is often used to differentiate caring labor from other types of work is the motivating factor. This perspective defines care labor as labor undertaken out of affection or a sense of responsibility for other people, with no expectation of immediate pecuniary reward. Despite the importance of this intrinsic motivation factor, care work includes care activities done for pay as well as those done without remuneration.
Specifically, care work refers to those occupations that provide services that help people develop their capabilities, or their ability to pursue the aspects of their life that they value. Examples of these occupations include childcare, all levels of teaching (from preschool through university professors), and health care of all types (nurses, doctors, physical therapists, and psychologists). Care work also includes the array of domestic unpaid work that is often disproportionately done by women.
Often, care work focuses on the responsibilities to provide for dependents--children, the sick, and the elderly. However, care work also refers to any work done in the immediate service of others, regardless of the recipient's dependent or nondependent status. Care work is becoming a popular topic for academic study and discussion. "This study is closely linked with the field of feminist economics and is associated with scholars including Nancy Folbre, Paula England, Maria Floro, Diane Elson, Caren Grown and Virginia Held."
Under capitalism with alienation, production's impact in making subjects is primarily "negative" or indirect. Conversely, reproduction indirectly makes objects, in the sense that the subject, the human laborer, who is the direct and "positive" purpose of reproduction, is the possessor of labor power, the active factor making objects in production (directly). Production makes objects; reproduction creates subjects. This conception of reproduction is consistent with Marx's basic reasoning in Capital. In his famous development of the concept of the labor theory of value (beyond Adam Smith and Ricardo) and surplus value, he asserts that human labor is the only source of new value in the production process. The human laborer and the means of production (tools and raw materials) all add exchange value to a commodity. But the means of production add no more value to the commodity than the values added to them by a previous human laborer in the production of the means of production.
The human labor power is the only element in the process that can add more value to the commodity than the values that went into producing the labor power itself. The labor of a worker in one-half day (or now one-quarter of a day) produces enough value to pay for the necessities creating the worker's labor power for a full day's work. The value produced by the worker in the second half of the day is the surplus value exploited by the capitalist. The creation of the worker's labor power is done in reproduction, in the broad sense we have been using that concept here. Thus, reproduction is the "only source" of the only source of new value. Subjectivity is the "source" of the unique ability (over the means of production) of the human component in the production process to produce more value than went into producing it.
Subjectivity is the source of a sort of Marxist "mind over matter." Reproduction is the source of subjectivity. In relation to the discussion of the primacy of reproduction as the original division of labor (as Marx and Engels said) over the division of predominantly material and predominantly mental labor, we might deduce that it was (and is) within reproduction that the mind and matter are non-antagonistically related as opposites (when "men" were simultaneously theoreticians in their practice as mentioned in "The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844").
Sociology and common experience teach that historically, women have been the primary reproductive laborers - from childrearing to housework, from elementary and high school teaching to nursing. Beyond pregnancy, women's "assignment" to reproductive roles is historically and ideologically caused, not biologically or genetically caused or necessary (see, for example, Not in Our Genes, by Richard Lewontin, et al.). But as a result, women are, historically, an exploited and oppressed reproductive class, whose defining labor is as fundamental to our material life as that of the productive laborers on whom Marx and Engels focused. Thus, the materialist conception of history must be modified, and women's liberation put on equal footing with workers'(women's and men's) liberation in the Marxist project. It is especially incumbent on male Marxists to be and to be known as champions of women’s liberation.
Marx did write the following in 1844: "In the approach to woman as the spoil and hand-maid of communal lust is expressed the infinite degradation in which man exists for himself, for the secret of this approach has its unambiguous, decisive, plain and undisguised expression in the relation of man to woman and in the manner in which the direct and natural species-relationship is conceived. The direct, natural, and necessary relation of person to person is the relation of man to woman. In this natural species-relationship man’s relation to nature is immediately his relation to man, just as his relation to man is immediately his relation to nature – his own natural destination. In this relationship, therefore, is sensuously manifested, reduced to an observable fact, the extent to which the human essence has become nature to man, or to which nature to him has become the human essence of man. From this relationship one can therefore judge man’s whole level of development. From the character of this relationship follows how much man as a species-being, as man, has come to be himself and to comprehend himself; the relation of man to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being. It therefore reveals the extent to which man’s naturalbehaviour has become human, or the extent to which the human essence in him has become a naturalessence – the extent to which his human nature has come to be natural to him. This relationship also reveals the extent to which man’s need has become a human need; the extent to which, therefore, the other person as a person has become for him a need – the extent to which he in his individual existence is at the same time a social being." https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/comm.htm
Charles Brown is a political activist in Detroit, Michigan. He has degrees in anthropology and is a member of the bar. He teaches anthropology at Community College. His favorite slogan is "What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
Steven Estrada speaks on behalf of residents and workers impacted by the closure of Kroger's grocery stores in Long Beach. They closed so they wouldn’t have to pay a temporary hazard pay increase. | via Estrada Campaign
LONG BEACH, Calif.—Steven Estrada, a community organizer, U.S. Army veteran, and proud member of Long Beach’s working class, is running for the City Council seat in District 1. If elected, he would serve for a four-year term alongside eight others representing different council districts.
All but one of the present City Council members are Democrats, and the mayor, Robert Garcia since 2014, is as well, though the election itself is non-partisan. The primary for this seat will be held in June 2022, and the top two candidates will go on to the general election in November.
Through his work developing free food programs for the city’s homeless, mobilizing against police injustice, and advocating for other working people’s needs in the city, Estrada has become a familiar presence, dedicating himself in service to the everyday people that make his city run.
“Years of government inaction, corruption, and lack of solutions to municipal problems,” he says, “made it clear that it is time for a bold vision for the future of our city.”
City Councilwoman Mary Zendejas got into office through a special election in 2019 and will be defending her seat for the first time next June. PW asked Estrada why he’s running against her. Not bold enough?
“There are glaring contradictions in the way Long Beach is run,” Estrada replies. “It’s a diverse city, racially, ethnically, with good LGBTQ representation. But on economic issues, there’s high poverty, homelessness, rent increases, no tenants’ rights in a majority rental city. The real estate developers have the final say on what happens in Long Beach, and the people suffer. In District 1, 22-25% are below the federal poverty line. It was time for a candidate to run on a pro-worker program.”
Steven Estrada’s life is a testament to the resilience and strength commonly found among working-class people. He was born in Glendora, Calif., and raised with an absent father in Riverside, primarily by his grandmother during his formative years. It was from her that he picked up his conversational Spanish, though he claims it’s not yet quite adequate enough for him to explain the programmatic points of his campaign. His wife, from Perris, Calif., came from a Spanish-speaking home and it’s her first language.
“I feel a strong connection to others who went into the service, though I see it now as exploitative, targeting underserved people. I knew my immediate jobs and assignment, but I was confused and disillusioned about what it was that we were doing. What was the bigger picture? My reading now shows me we were in service to the rich, against poor people in other countries. But service doesn’t need to be that way. Long Beach has a large VA hospital, several recruitment centers, and a lot of vets live in Long Beach. There was a Veterans for Peace chapter in Long Beach, and some of us are trying to revive it.”
Upon his return to civilian life, he attended community college in Riverside, then commuted for a time to Long Beach State University, finally moving to the city in 2018. He graduated in 2019 with a degree in sociology and trained as a legal assistant. Now a veteran and a father, he uses his skills and experiences as a community organizer “to build worker power.”
Since moving to Long Beach, he has helped found mutual aid networks that feed the unhoused population in Long Beach, has aided in the organization of anti-war protests, and been a vocal critic against police violence. His work providing groceries and meals left him wanting something more, a national structure for effecting change, and he started looking into the Communist Party. He’s been a member for about two years now.
Steven’s party club has been active in the campaign, often going door-to-door wearing Long Beach CPUSA t-shirts. Others are involved as well—“people I knew before, family members, helping with online work and graphics. My mom went to one outreach event and got a whole lot of petitions signed, so she’s growing politically, having never been involved before. When we’re getting ready to leave the house to do campaign work, my six-year-old daughter asks, ‘Are we going out to do Power to the People?’”
As the representative of District 1 on the City Council, Steven Estrada believes it is only through the organization and unity of working people that we can solve poverty, unaffordable housing, and make Long Beach home again. The campaign is “completely grassroots,” he tells PW. “We have no affiliation to real estate consulting firms, no large political contributions, such as police unions, PACs, or developers. The campaign depends on people who work for a wage because those are the people we are beholden to should we win.”
PW inquired about the campaign’s color scheme, and Steven chuckled at the question. “I actually did a lot of research into colors,” he answered. “The yellow stands out bright and bold, like the sun, a new era. I didn’t like the ‘socialist red.’ This red is deeper and darker, with a seriousness to it, bold but moderate.”
Priorities for Long Beach
The Estrada campaign is focused on a number of key issues that have emerged out of long hours of meet-ups and discussions in the district:
No Poor People in a Rich City. District 1 is in the midst of a poverty crisis that has raised rates of homelessness, increased crime, and economically devastated the community. Estrada proposes major reinvestment in urban neighborhoods by providing free job training, city grants for debt alleviation, and immediate financial relief for the city’s unemployed.
Public Transportation Fixes the Parking Crisis. To solve issues of parking and overcrowded streets, public transportation must be transformed. The Estrada plan will increase ridership and decrease the need for parking by investing in making public transportation faster, safer, more reliable, and fare-free for all Long Beach residents.
A Renters’ Bill of Rights. The City Council has shown itself to be deep in the pockets of large banks and luxury developers, which have failed to build affordable housing for all. The Estrada campaign proposes to establish a Renters’ Bill of Rights that would: grant renters direct control over the types of housing built in the city; protect tenants’ rights to organize; cancel back rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and end all evictions in the city.
Planet Over Profit. West Long Beach is home to some of the highest levels of pollution that negatively affect community health and disproportionately impact the working-class and Black and brown neighborhoods. Estrada will fight to make Long Beach green, sustainable, and healthy for all of its residents.
The would-be Communist Councilman
So, what kind of response is he getting as an open Communist in the community? “It’s varied. In the most working-class areas without public services, people are more receptive, especially about free public transportation. Nine out of ten are not fazed by my presenting myself as a Communist. There’s not a lot of hostility—most of that we see online. We’re just now getting the full spectrum of reaction. I expected some public backlash, and I felt I was prepared for it. I think I can handle it.”
When he was growing up, Estrada recalls, “I didn’t have people to identify with, so I feel the campaign is important for people to see someone running who looks like them, overwhelmingly Black and brown and working-class.”
PW asked one final question, based on some of his campaign photos where he can be seen sporting prominent tattoos on both forearms. “I’m not hiding any aspect of who I am. I’m open and honest about everything, not hiding any of the choices I made, like being a veteran. The whole campaign is about that. Actually the imagery is Buddhist and it’s about “duality, or dialectical materialism.” He still considers himself a Buddhist.
Eric A. Gordon is the author of a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein, co-author of composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography, and the translator (from Portuguese) of a memoir by Brazilian author Hadasa Cytrynowicz. He holds a doctorate in history from Tulane University. He chaired the Southern California chapter of the National Writers Union for two terms and is director emeritus of The Workers Circle/Arbeter Ring Southern California District. In 2015 he produced “City of the Future,” a CD of Soviet Yiddish songs by Samuel Polonski. Aside from numerous awards for his writing from the International Labor Communications Association, he received the Better Lemons “Up Late” Critic Award for 2019. His latest project is translating the nine books of fiction by Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese. The first volumes are already available from International Publishers NY.
This article was produced by People's World.
On no subject is the bipartisan consensus more unshakable than on the Russian threat.
In his latest book, The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency, American political scientist John Mueller demonstrates that since the end of World War II, American policymakers have developed a kind of addiction to threat inflation by “routinely elevating the problematic to the dire… focused on problems, or monsters, that essentially didn’t exist.” And with regard to the American foreign policy establishment’s current twin obsessions, Russia and China, Mueller, ever the iconoclast, counsels complacency.
No matter how much the U.S. may disagree with one or another of Russia and China’s domestic policies, Mueller believes that both countries are more interested in getting rich and receiving the recognition they believe is their due as world powers than in military conquest. Mueller writes that “neither state seems to harbor Hitler-like dreams of extensive expansion by military means, and to a considerable degree it seems sensible for other countries, including the United States, to accept, and even service, such vaporous, cosmetic, and substantially meaningless goals.”
Yet among the legacies of the first Cold War was the creation of a self-anointed caste of foreign policy alarmists in Washington who, according to Mueller, specialize in inferring “desperate intent from apparent capacity.” Well, plus ça change… U.S. policy toward Putin’s Russia remains driven by threat inflation, emotion and the duplicitous lobbying of various foreign interest groups on Capitol Hill, rather than a level-headed assessment of American national security interests.
As Mueller shows, at every turn a bipartisan cast of serial alarmists proclaims that the United States faces a global threat environment that is unprecedented. As an example, Mueller points to the 2018 Commission on the National Defense Strategy for the United States, which proclaimed that the “security and wellbeing of the United States are at greater risk than at any time in decades.” The congressionally appointed 12-member commission included a mix of neoconservative and liberal interventionists including former CIA Director Michael Morell, former U.S. Ambassador Eric Edelman and think tank fixture Kathleen Hicks, who now serves as the U.S. deputy secretary of defense.
And on no subject is the bipartisan consensus more unshakable than on Russia. In the years since the start of the Ukrainian civil war in 2014, the U.S. foreign policy establishment adopted the position that Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for the rebellion in eastern Ukraine was only the beginning: they believed that Putin had his sights set on bigger things like seeking control of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states.
But was that really the case?
Mueller, citing the work of Robert Person, an associate professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, notes that for Russia, Ukraine carries “deep symbolic meaning” as well as strategic importance due to the Russian naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea. But by contrast, Russia has “long recognized that the Baltics are culturally and historically different from Russia.”
To Mueller, the idea, so vigorously promoted by U.S. foreign policy elites in 2014 (and beyond), that Putin was on an expansionary mission “seems to have little substance.” Indeed, according to Mueller, Putin’s Ukrainian adventure seems more like “a one-off—a unique, opportunistic, and probably under-considered escapade that proved to be unexpectedly costly to the perpetrators.”
Mueller observes that Russia, like China, “does not seek to impose its own model on the world.” In that sense, both countries follow a mainly Westphalian foreign policy of noninterference in the affairs of other countries—and in the instances in which Putin has veered from that vision, including the at-times farcical effort to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Russia has paid an unenviable price.
James W. Carden is a writing fellow at Globetrotter and a former adviser to the U.S. State Department. Previously, he was a contributing writer on foreign affairs at the Nation, and his work has also appeared in the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft, the American Conservative, Asia Times, and more.
This article was produced by Globetrotter in partnership with the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord.
The U.S. Killer Drone Program Stays Afloat on the Back of Lies and Pentagon Propaganda. By: Leonard C. GoodmanRead Now
A wrongly targeted Afghan aid worker and his family are among the latest casualties.
On August 29, in the final days of our 20-year occupation of Afghanistan, the United States launched a drone strike, firing a 20-pound Hellfire missile at an aid worker named Zemari Ahmadi as he parked his car outside his home in a residential neighborhood of Kabul. The lethal strike killed Ahmadi and nine members of his family, including seven children, five of whom were younger than 10. The children had come outside to meet Ahmadi as he returned home from his job at an American NGO where he distributed food to Afghans displaced by the war. He and his family had applied for refugee resettlement in the United States.
When a surviving member of Ahmadi’s family complained publicly about the errant strike that slaughtered so many members of his family, the Pentagon did what it has been doing for 20 years in Afghanistan. It lied.
According to the New York Times, the Pentagon claimed that Ahmadi was a facilitator for the Islamic State, and that his car was packed with explosives, posing an imminent threat to U.S. troops guarding the evacuation at the Kabul airport. General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., commander of the U.S. Central Command, said the drone strike dealt ISIS Khorasan a crushing blow. General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called it a “righteous strike.”
When it was confirmed that children as young as two had died in the strike, the Pentagon suggested that any civilian deaths resulted from the detonation of explosives inside the vehicle that was targeted. The military produced an assessment that the occupants of the vehicle were wearing suicide vests and that the car itself was packed with explosives.
Most of our drone strikes take place in remote areas and no follow-up investigation is ever conducted. However, the slaughter of Ahmadi’s family took place 2 miles from the Kabul airport, at which American reporters were stationed covering the chaotic evacuation of U.S. troops and allies. In the days following the deadly drone strike, reporters from the New York Times conducted a thorough investigation, visiting Ahmadi’s home and place of work, viewing video footage from security cameras, and consulting with weapons experts.
This investigation quickly confirmed that every official statement of the Pentagon was false. Ahmadi did not visit an Islamic State safe house on the day of his death; he visited his office. His car was not loaded with explosives; it was loaded with water canisters he was bringing home to his family because there was a water shortage in his neighborhood.
After the publication of the New York Times investigation, the Pentagon conceded that it had made a tragic, but “honest” mistake when it assassinated Ahmadi and his family by drone. No one has been held accountable for the deadly mistake.
Targeted drone killing is an innovation of the war on terror. It facilitates continuous war by making it appear less costly and more humane. Indeed, President Biden has already announced that the U.S. will continue launching drone strikes from afar after its withdrawal from Afghanistan. Similar language was used when Biden announced an end to American support “for offensive operations in the war in Yemen,” while reserving the right to continue killing Yemenis if it believes they are linked to ISIS or Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
And of course don’t expect any peace dividend from the end of the Afghan war. In September, the House approved, in bipartisan fashion, $778 billion in military spending for 2022, a $37 billion increase over our 2021 military budget. More than half the funds we’ve sent to the Pentagon since 9/11—or about $8 trillion—has ended up in the pockets of private corporations such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman. These companies then use some of those taxpayer dollars to lobby Congress and the president to keep the wars going and the money flowing into their pockets.
President Eisenhower warned of the danger that a profit-seeking “military-industrial complex” will produce a state where wars are not fought with an intention of winning them but to ensure that they never end. The author George Orwell articulated these dangers in his classic novel 1984 (published in 1949) wherein he described continuous war as an opaque, low-intensity conflict whose primary purpose was to siphon off resources and perpetuate itself.
Begun under President George W. Bush, the drone program was fully embraced and escalated under the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. President Obama assured Americans that our drones are so “exceptionally surgical and precise,” “narrowly target[ed]… against those who want to kill us” while not putting “innocent men, women and children in danger.”
The claim that drones are humane and effective has always been a lie. But by classifying the program as top secret and by aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers, the U.S. has been able to hide the truth about drones from most Americans. Ironically, of course, the people targeted by our drones know the truth about who is being killed. Thus the classification of all information about drones does nothing to protect national security; rather it protects government officials from any accountability.
I have asked several members of the U.S. Senate about the drone program and have never received a straight answer. In the fall of 2009, I attended a fundraiser for Senator Chuck Schumer at a Chicago law firm. The United States had just suffered one of its deadliest months in Afghanistan in which more than 50 Americans were killed. Schumer assured the group that Obama was turning things around with his unmanned killer drone program. I asked Schumer about civilian deaths and whether the CIA (which then ran the drone program) had ever studied whether drones killed more terrorists than they created. The senator said he was pretty sure the CIA did reach such a conclusion.
In fact, as WikiLeaks later revealed, the CIA had conducted such a study in July 2009. But that study, called “CIA Best Practices in Counterinsurgency,” reached the opposite conclusion: that the clandestine drone and assassination program was likely to produce counterproductive outcomes, including strengthening the very “extremist groups” it was allegedly designed to destroy, particularly if “non-combatants are killed in the attacks.” This report was classified as “secret,” meaning it could be read by Senator Schumer, but not by you or me, until 2014, when WikiLeaks released it to the public.
Others have come forward to expose the official lies told about our drone program. In 2014, a former signals intelligence analyst in the U.S. Air Force named Daniel Hale leaked internal documents exposing how, in one five-month period in Afghanistan, 90 percent of the people killed by our drones were not the intended target. Hale also disclosed how children in areas targeted by our drones cannot go out and play on clear days because that is when the drones fly. Hale said that drone operators reported having to kill a part of their conscience to keep doing their job. Hale was prosecuted under the Espionage Act for leaking these documents and has been sentenced to 45 months in prison.
The investigation by the New York Times into the drone assassination of Mr. Ahmadi and his family is an important step in bringing some sunlight into the clandestine world of drone warfare. Sadly, most victims of our drones still remain anonymous as the strikes take place in remote areas of faraway countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Much of the work to reveal the truth about drones still falls on independent investigative journalists and whistleblowers like Mr. Hale. They are our best hope to begin holding those responsible accountable and bringing an end to this dangerous lie.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Taken together with a sharp increase in union strikes, the mass resignations of individuals indicate a deep worker dissatisfaction across the nation.
On September 14, a young woman in Louisiana named Beth McGrath posted a selfie Facebook video of herself working at Walmart. Her body language shows a nervous energy as she works up the courage to speak on the intercom and announces her resignation to shoppers. “Everyone here is overworked and underpaid,” she begins, before going on to call out specific managers for inappropriate and abusive behavior. “I hope you don’t speak to your families the way you speak to us,” she said before ending with “f**k this job!”
Perhaps McGrath was inspired by Shana Ragland in Lubbock, Texas, who nearly a year ago carried out a similarly public resignation in a TikTok video that she posted from the Walmart store where she worked. Ragland’s complaints were similar to McGrath’s as she accused managers of constantly disparaging workers. “I hope you don’t talk to your daughters the way you talk to me,” she said over the store intercom before signing off with, “F**k the managers, f**k this company.”
The viral resignations of these two young women are bookending a year of volatility in the American workforce that economists have branded the Great Resignation. Women in particular are seen as leading the trend.
The seriousness of the situation was confirmed by the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report showing that a record 2.9 percent of the workforce quit their jobs in August, which is equivalent to 4.3 million resignations.
If such a high rate of resignations were occurring at a time when jobs were plentiful, it might be seen as a sign of a booming economy where workers have their pick of offers. But the same labor report showed that job openings have also declined, suggesting that something else is going on. A new Harris Poll of people with employment found that more than half of workers want to leave their jobs. Many cite uncaring employers and a lack of scheduling flexibility as reasons for wanting to quit. In other words, millions of American workers have simply had enough.
So serious is the labor market upheaval that Jack Kelly, senior contributor to Forbes.com, a pro-corporate news outlet, has defined the trend as, “a sort of workers’ revolution and uprising against bad bosses and tone-deaf companies that refuse to pay well and take advantage of their staff.” In what might be a reference to viral videos like those of McGrath, Ragland, and the growing trend of #QuitMyJob posts, Kelly goes on to say, “The quitters are making a powerful, positive and self-affirming statement saying that they won’t take the abusive behavior any longer.”
Still, some advisers suggest countering the worker rage with “bonding exercises” such as “Gratitude sharing,” and games. Others suggest increasing trust between workers and bosses or “exercis[ing] empathetic curiosity” with employees. But such superficial approaches entirely miss the point.
The resignations ought to be viewed hand in hand with another powerful current that many economists are ignoring: a growing willingness by unionized workers to go on strike.
Film crews may soon halt work as 60,000 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) announced an upcoming national strike. About 10,000 employees of John Deere, who are represented by the United Auto Workers, are also preparing to strike after rejecting a new contract. Kaiser Permanente is facing a potential strike from 24,000 of its nurses and other health care workers in Western states over poor pay and labor conditions. And about 1,400 Kellogg workers in Nebraska, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Tennessee are already striking over poor pay and benefits.
The announced strikes are coming so thick and fast that former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich has dubbed the situation “an unofficial general strike.”
Yet union representation remains extremely low across the United States—the result of decades of concerted corporate-led efforts to undermine the bargaining power of workers. Today only about 12 percent of workers are in a union.
The number of strikes and of striking workers might be far higher if more workers were unionized. Non-union workers like McGrath and Ragland hired by historically anti-union companies like Walmart might have been able to organize their fellow workers instead of resorting to individual resignations. While viral social media posts of quitting are impactful in driving the conversation around worker dissatisfaction, they have little direct bearing on the lives of the workers and the colleagues they leave behind.
One example of how union organizing made a concrete difference to working conditions is a new contract that 7,000 drug store workers at Rite Aid and CVS stores in Los Angeles just ratified. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 negotiated a nearly 10 percent pay raise for workers as well as improved benefits and safety standards.
And when companies don’t comply, workers have more leverage when acting as a collective bargaining unit than as individuals. Take Nabisco workers who went on strike in five states this summer. Mondelez International, Nabisco’s parent company, saw record profits during the pandemic with surging sales of its snack foods. So flush was the company with cash that it compensated its CEO with a whopping $16.8 million annual pay and spent $1.5 billion on stock buybacks earlier this year. Meanwhile, the average worker salary was an appallingly low $31,000 a year. Many Nabisco jobs were sent across the border to Mexico, where the company was able to further drive down labor costs.
After weeks on the picket line, striking Nabisco workers, represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, returned to work having won modest retroactive raises of 2.25 percent, $5,000 bonuses and increased employer contributions to their retirement plans. The company, which reported a 12 percent increase in revenue earlier this year, can well afford this and more.
Taken together with mass resignations, such worker strikes reveal a deep dissatisfaction with the nature of American work that has been decades in the making. Corporate America has enjoyed a stranglehold over policy, spending its profits on lobbying the government to ensure even greater profits at the expense of workers’ rights. At the same time, the power of unions has fallen—a trend directly linked to increased economic inequality.
But now, as workers are flexing their power, corporate America is worried.
In the wake of these strikes and resignations, lawmakers are actively trying to strengthen existing federal labor laws. Business groups are lobbying Democrats to weaken pro-labor measures included in the Build Back Better Act that is being debated in Congress.
Currently, corporate employers can violate labor laws with little consequence as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) lacks the authority to fine offenders. But Democrats want to give the NLRB the authority to impose fines of $50,000 to $100,000 against companies who violate federal labor laws. Also included in the Build Back Better Act is an increase in fines against employers that violate Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.
The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which is a business lobby group that wants anything but democracy in the workplace, is deeply concerned about these proposed changes and sent a letter to lawmakers to that effect.
It remains to be seen if corporate lobbyists will succeed this time around at keeping labor laws toothless. But as workers continue to quit their jobs, and as strikes among unionized workers grow, employers ignore the warning signs of rage and frustration at their peril.
Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.