Environmental struggles in the Chilean Global South: a matter of class and global inequalities By: Camilo Godoy PichonRead Now
Last years we have seen many environmental struggles in Latin America: from the Bolsonaro’s illegal mining to mapuche people in Chile and Argentina or the Yagan people against colonialist expansion of salmon farming in the same countries.
This is not only a matter of being “green” or an emotional approach, but in the Global South (understood not only as the so called Third World’ , but also for the excluded places in the Global North) every struggle has some extra component: the indigenous or local people fight against the capitalist expansion and the destruction of nature, but also with the subordination of these regions to the Global North interests or needs.
It has been seen recently by Elon Musk's attempt to justify the bolivian coup towards Evo Morales in 2019 (“we coup whoever we want. Deal with it!”).
According to the Argentinian author Julio Sevares, Chile is the most commodity-dependent country in Latin America. This started with the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and its attempt to transform the whole country into a store for the needs of the big corporations. Chilean forestry has been thought of as an export to the US, China and Japan, as same as mining. Even lithium mining, which Chile is one of the most important owners in the world has been kept legally -and also by the “social democratic” current government of Gabriel Boric- with an ambivalent intervention of the state and the clear policy of not industrialising, for not teasing big countries. Chicago Boys’ doctrine was to develop a country based merely on commodities, which has been destroying our lands, lakes, animals and local communities during recent years.
In this last case, in 2019 we saw how our little country was ‘invaded’ by some Scandinavian attempts to expand salmon farming to the Sub Antarctic region of Chile and Argentina. This event, with the miserable reunions from both ex Presidents Sebastian Pinera and Mauricio Macri with the Norwegian Kings, implied a serious threat for national sovereignty, for the communities and for the ecosystem.
This wasn’t a matter only about Macri and Pinera’s agenda: this means how the countries from the Global North keep seeing Latin America as their backyard and the resources provider. Because salmon farming in Chile does not have the same standards as it does in Norway: in Chile we had the most amount of antibiotics in salmon and a serious damage to the sea due to these immense pools with salmon, existing in southern Chile.
Cardenas (2019) has said that 98% of Chilean salmon goes to export. So this is clear evidence that current global capitalism looks to maintain the global inequalities at the same time it destroys our lands, our forests and animals, and especially threatens local sovereignty.
In that sense, greenwashing is the closest thing to what Marx identified as “ideology”: these commodity companies present themselves as environment-friendly and look for the validation of the global capital, with the cost of extracting and provoking contamination, which will not be seen from the consumers of the Global North that take what we produce.
A little of hope appeared from the organized local people of Ushuaia and Puerto Williams, where in the first city they made the historical triumph to suppress all salmon farming from its territory, after Macri’s attempt to expand it and take it there for the first time. These people understood that you cannot dissociate class from environmental conflicts and that the sovereignties and destinies of our peoples will prevail if we confrontate the global structure that puts us in a second place.
The interesting thing about this is that whatever Norway does internationally (bombing Libya or destroying Chilean ecosystem for example), they will keep being considered a “sustainable state,” and Scandinavian countries, perceived as an example for the rest of the world. This, while our people fight and even die, because of how neoliberal globalization functions.
Camilo Godoy Pichon is a chilean sociologist from the University of Chile and MA candidate in International Studies in University of Santiago, Chile. He has worked on topics such as environmental struggles and conflicts in the Global South, in regards to companies or corporations who promote extractivism and ecocide. He has worked with indigenous people, elders, and children from poor towns and areas from his country, along with developing academic work and research on the environmental justice' topic. He is very interested in analyzing how class influences environmental conflicts and other inequalities in South America and specially in neoliberal countries such as Chile. He has published 2 social/political poetry books both in Chile (2019) and Argentina (2022) and another poetry book on political repression during Pinochet's dictatorship, for the case of poor youngsters killed by the police in Southern Santiago in 1973, which will be published in Spain in early 2023.
Labor Leaders Provide Cover for Privatization of Medicare By: Ed GrystarRead Now
“Medicare is a pillar of the healthcare system” AFL-CIO June 13, 2022
Such a statement from the AFL-CIO would suggest that labor is determined to protect Medicare and even support improving and expanding it to all Americans. Additionally, President Biden and Democrats regularly criticize Republican threats to reauthorize and voucherize Medicare. Meanwhile, what’s left out of both the Democrat talking points and the AFL-CIO’s 2022 national resolution on healthcare is any acknowledgement that the real threat to Medicare and healthcare today is the decades’-long tax subsidized privatization supported by both major parties.
With major support from organized labor, including AFL-CIO President George Meany at the signing, Medicare was signed into law in 1965. Before Medicare, only 60% of those over 65 had insurance since it was unavailable or unaffordable via private insurance (seniors were charged 3x the rate of younger people). Not only economically beneficial to the working class, the passage of Medicare was a huge civil rights victory as payments to physicians, hospitals, and health care providers were conditional on desegregation.
While a big victory, Medicare did not provide full coverage for all services, and from its inception, there has been a drive to privatize and hand it over to profiteers. In fact, 2022 marks the 50th anniversary (1972) of Medicare permitting private insurance companies (HMOs) to participate in Medicare.
President Clinton finalized HMO participation with Congress in 1997, and in 2003, the Medicare Modernization Act, under President Bush, further boosted privatization. The year 2003 marks the beginning of Medicare Advantage plans: insurance companies essentially masquerading as Medicare.
HMOs and all the other private insurance companies introduced into Medicare after 1997 have not saved the government money, but instead, raised the cost to taxpayers much more than traditional Medicare beneficiaries. In 2005 the Government Accounting Office reported that “It is largely . . . excess payments, not managed care efficiencies, that enable plans to attract beneficiaries by offering a benefit package that is more comprehensive than the one available to FFS beneficiaries, while charging modest or no premiums. Nearly all of the 210 plans in our study received payments in 1998 that exceeded expected FFS costs….”
Under traditional Medicare, patients can go to any doctor or provider that accepts Medicare without prior authorization or restrictive networks. With privatization, profits ensue as additional restrictions are imposed, such as narrow networks, micro-managing physicians, and prior authorizations. Routine denials of care are also a common practice forcing patients into lengthy appeals with the insurers betting many will walk away. In NYC, retirees have had to file lawsuits to stop their own leaders from changing their coverage from traditional Medicare with a supplement to a Medicare Advantage plan.
These wasted tax dollars and huge profits for Medicare Advantage have skyrocketed over the years and contribute to draining the Medicare Trust Fund that supports all beneficiaries. While traditional Medicare has administrative costs of about 2%, the 10 private insurance companies that account for 80% of enrollees in Medicare Advantage have expenses of 15% including profits and advertising. The most recent Federal audits show that eight of the 10 largest Medicare Advantage companies have submitted inflated bills, and four out of five of the very largest have faced federal lawsuits with accusations of fraud. In 2020 alone, they exaggerated risk scores of patients and generated $12 billion in overpayments.
Labor Supports ACA - Vehicle For Privatization
With the passage of the ACA in 2010, the private insurance industry's role as a taxpayer subsidized vehicle for the healthcare delivery system was cemented and momentum for an alternative approach was stymied. Despite 600 union endorsements for Medicare for All Bill HR 676, union leaders joined Democrats to cheer the ACA as a resounding success.
Inserted into the passage of the ACA was language that created a new agency, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation under the Center for Medicare Services (CMS). Labeled as an office of “innovation,” it has been given the authority to establish “pilot projects” that hand traditional Medicare to corporations.
These “pilots,” established under the Trump administration and continued seamlessly by President Biden, accelerate the privatization and are even more insidious. Now called ACO REACH (Accountable Care Organizations, Reaching Equity, Access and Community Health), this program auto enrolls beneficiaries who have selected traditional Medicare into a privatized program without their consent. These programs can be eligible for profits of 25 to 40 percent. The aim of CMS is to put all beneficiaries into a privatized plan by 2030. Incredibly, it has no congressional oversight and little pushback by Congress.
Top Labor Complicit as Biden Continues to Privatize Why Should the Rank-and-File Care?
Even as labor negotiations continue to be inhibited by rising healthcare costs, labor refuses to expose the corruption and waste within the ongoing privatization of Medicare, harming its members, reducing union credibility, and contributing to the downward spiral of health benefits for all. The promotion of an official AFL-CIO Medicare Advantage plan and a do-nothing attitude towards ACO REACH must end.
The Alliance for Retired Americans, the AFL-CIO’s national retiree organization, has refused to issue any statement against the privatization of traditional Medicare. Activists around the country are reporting that they are being cautioned to not call for the cancellation of the ACO REACH privatization program.
What we are facing in 2022 is the destruction of Medicare by corporate privatization, supported by many top labor unions and their compromised “allies” in Washington. For comparison sake, take a look at labor in Canada where the top five health care unions are taking a stand to warn the public that the government in Ontario is intentionally creating a healthcare crisis to justify privatization, just like in the U.S.
What Kind of Labor Movement Will Lead This Fight?
There is ample reason for hope. A budding bottom-up movement has already garnered signatures from over 250 organizations in a letter sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra asking him to end the ACO REACH privatization program. Included were the Alameda County, CA and Austin, TX Central Labor Councils plus the state AFL-CIOs in Vermont, Maine, Washington, and Kentucky and other labor groups. There have also been resolutions passed against ACO REACH by the Seattle City Council, West Virginia Democratic Party and the Texas State Democratic Executive Committee. Labor has the resources and organizational strength to lead this battle. It needs to multiply these actions tenfold to grow a real movement on behalf of working people everywhere. These efforts accompany a broader movement for healthcare justice spanning beyond retirees which include recent referendums in counties in rural Wisconsin and parts of Illinois calling for a national healthcare program as well as supermajority support in the US for Medicare for All.
We need to be clear that change cannot be achieved without a sea change in the ideological direction of labor. Discussions and debates inside labor unions and among workers about the best strategies and tactics to tackle the corporate assault on public need are necessary. It’s clear that the current approach is not working. People are looking for answers that protect and advance the public interest. For unions to assume their proper role they must discard the petty, bureaucratic, and ossified approach of business unionism: a losing strategy which at its core is the “partnership” with corporations and a futile lobbying approach tied to the Democrats. It cannot meet the possibilities and needs of the day.
Labor needs to stop providing cover for the privatization of Medicare and join the fight to end ACO REACH. We must mobilize a broad independent movement that unites all for the public interest. It’s only the power of the people that can win this.
Ed Grystar has more than 40 years experience in the labor and healthcare justice movements. He is co-founder and current chair of the Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Single Payer Healthcare and is a steering committee member of National Single Payer. Served as the President of the Butler County (PA) United Labor Council for 15 years. Has decades of experience organizing and negotiating contracts for health care employees with the Service Employees International Union and the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals.
2022 Nobel Peace Prize recipients all have connections to the NED, a CIA offshoot. [Source: spring96.org]
Far-fetched as it sounds, this year’s winners are all connected to a CIA offshoot, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and parroted CIA / State Department / Pentagon talking points about Ukraine and Russia in their acceptance speeches
he Nobel Prize Committee has five judges, appointed by the Norwegian parliament, who are tasked with choosing Nobel Prizewinners.
But people are starting to wonder if there is a 6th Nobel Prize judge, not appointed by the Norwegian parliament, but by the CIA, who is tasked with making sure that winners of the coveted Nobel Peace Prize advance the agenda of U.S. policy makers.
Although the idea may seem far-fetched, this year’s winners all have connections to a CIA offshoot, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
Oleksandra Matviichuk, for example, who accepted this year’s Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Ukraine Center for Civil Liberties (CCL) on December 10, had received the NED’s annual Democracy Award on behalf of the CCL six months earlier.
Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) presents the 2022 NED Democracy Award to Oleksandra Matviichuk of the Center for Civil Liberties, which also won the Nobel Peace Prize. [Source: ned.org]
The NED was founded in the 1980s to promote propaganda and regime-change operations in the service of U.S. imperial interests. Allen Weinstein, the director of the research study that led to creation of the NED remarked in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”
The two other recipients of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, Ales Bialiatski, a Belarusian dissident, and Memorial, a human rights organization expelled from Russia for violating its foreign agent law, have also received NED awards and probable financing.
While the Nobel Peace Prize has previously gone to warmongers like Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama, never before has it gone to organizations that were intricately associated with a foreign intelligence agency specializing in political skullduggery and psychological warfare.
The entire Nobel Peace Prize ceremony this year seemed to be part of a public relations spectacle whose purpose was to mobilize public opinion against Russia and to support a military escalation of the war in Ukraine.
In their victory speeches, all three Peace Prize recipients ritually denounced Russian war crimes and aggression and issued support for the war in Ukraine. Oleksandra Matviichuk also directly asked the Norwegian government for more air defense for Ukraine and other types of weapons.
Matviichuk is in the lower left. [Source: covertactionmagazine.com]
Promoting a Fairy Tale Version of Reality
Matviichuk’s speech was notable for its overt Russophobia and Manichaean view of world affairs that showed a fundamental naiveté about the character of Western governments.
Matviichuk said that the West had turned a blind eye to Russia’s “destruction of its own civil society,” and “shook hands with the Russian leadership, built gas pipelines and conducted business as usual” when, for decades, “Russian troops had been committing crimes in different countries.”
Oleksandra Matviichuk delivering Nobel Peace Prize address in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, 2022. [Source: arkansasonline.com]
In Matviichuk’s telling, the “innocent” West is complicit in appeasing Russia—though for the last few decades, it was U.S. troops and its proxies that rampaged across the Middle East and committed massive war crimes.
All while Russia has often intervened in self-defense against U.S.-NATO aggression—like in Georgia in 2008—or at the request of a besieged ally, like in Syria, where it saved the country from the fate of Libya which had been destroyed by the 2011 U.S.-NATO intervention.
Matviichuk claimed in her speech that the war in Ukraine is “not a war of two states—but of two systems—authoritarianism and democracy.”
If that is the case, it is not clear which side she is on as her president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has banned eleven opposition parties, including the communist party, which is legal in Russia, and mounted a Phoenix-style operation to silence dissidents.
Matviichuk suggested earlier in her speech that the world had not adequately responded to “the act of aggression and annexation of Crimea, which were the first such cases in post-war Europe.”
Crimea, however, had historically been part of Russia and was never invaded. Its people voted to rejoin Russia in a referendum after the U.S. and EU had backed a right-wing coup in Ukraine that represented a vital security threat to Russia on its border.
Matviichuk presented more false history when she claimed that “the Russian people were responsible for this disgraceful chapter in their history [the invasion of Ukraine] and their desire to forcefully restore their former empire.”
Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, however, was not an attempt to restore the Russian empire, but was carried out in response to genuine national security threats that Russia faced as a result of the right-wing coup in Ukraine and NATO advancement on its border.
Matviichuk further omits that Russia was carrying out a genuine humanitarian intervention by trying to save the people of eastern Ukraine who had been the target of an ethnic-cleansing operation by the Ukrainian military, which left 14,000 civilians dead.
Matviichuk concluded part of her speech by stating:
“People of Ukraine want peace more than anyone else in the world. But peace cannot be reached by the country under attack laying down its arms. This would not be peace, but occupation. After the liberation of Bucha, we found a lot of civilians murdered in the streets and courtyards of their homes. These people were unarmed. We must stop pretending deferred military threats are ‘political compromises.’ The democratic world has grown accustomed to making concessions to dictatorships. And that is why the willingness of the Ukrainian people to resist Russian imperialism is so important. We will not leave people in the occupied territories to be killed and tortured. People’s lives cannot be a ‘political compromise.’ Fighting for peace does not not mean yielding to pressure of the aggressor, it means protecting people from its cruelty.”
The Nobel Peace Prize recipient in Oslo at a press conference with the Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (to her left), from whom she asked to provide her country with more weapons! [Source: ccl.org.ua]
It is astounding that someone would use the platform accorded to her by winning a major world peace prize to try to rationalize a war that her country had started—in 2014 when it attacked the people of eastern Ukraine who voted for more autonomy after a foreign-backed coup in Ukraine, and after the post-coup government imposed draconian language laws.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (2014-2019) has even disclosed that Ukraine had no intention of abiding by the Minsk peace agreements, which could have prevented a full-scale conflict with Russia. Instead, Ukraine signed those agreements as a stalling tactic to give it more time to build up its military power and accrue more weaponry and support from the U.S. so it could fight Russia from a position of strength.
Matviichuk promoted more disinformation by suggesting that the Russians had killed all the civilians in Bucha, as in-depth investigations have determined that many civilians were killed in Bucha by the Ukrainians after Russian forces were expelled.
Her true political colors were seen at the end of the speech when she praised the “people in Iran fighting in the streets for their freedom,” and people in China who were resisting its “digital dictatorship.” This is right out of the playbook of the NED, which sponsors organizations that denounce human rights abuses of independent countries targeted by the U.S. for regime change, while extolling the heroism of dissidents who would align their country with the U.S.
Shades of Obama 2009
Matviichuk’s use of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony as a forum to promote war drew on the precedent established by the drone king, Barack Obama, when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.
In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Obama provided a tortured defense of U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, stating “we must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations—acting individually or in concert—will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”
“I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago—‘violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: It merely creates new and more complicated ones.’ As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak—nothing passive—nothing naïve—in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King. But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism—it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”
Barack Obama, the drone king and a prolific killer by his own admission, giving Nobel Peace Prize speech in which he gave a torturous defense of the criminal U.S. wars of aggression in the Middle East. [Source: bydewey.com]
Honoring a Propaganda Agency That May Well Help Ignite World War III
While the Nobel Peace Prize has not always honored true peace activists, a truly ominous precedent has been set in giving it to a propaganda agency that may well help ignite World War III.
A key part of CCL’s current mission is to document Russian war crimes in Donbas—though Ukraine has been responsible for the majority of human rights crimes there since the war started after the U.S.-backed coup in 2014—when CCL started this work.
Residents from towns in eastern Ukraine have reported on widespread rapes and torture of captured prisoners by Ukrainian troops and constant shelling of civilian centers and terror bombing over an eight-year period.
This is ignored by the CCL, which instead has tried to spotlight the stories—real or imagined—of victims of sexual violence by Russian troops in Ukraine and women abducted by Russian troops and taken into captivity in Russia.
Further, the CCL has mounted an international campaign to release the Kremlin’s political prisoners, and aims to raise awareness about political persecution in what it calls Russian-occupied Crimea—which is not “occupied” since its people voted to rejoin Russia in a referendum.
CCL staffers with yellow vests out to investigate Russian war crimes. [Source: ned.org]
The CCL fashions itself as a particular champion of the Crimean Tatars, some of whom had collaborated with Nazi Germany in World War II and who had long been used by outside powers to try to destabilize Russia and foment ethnic conflict as part of a strategy of divide and conquer.
Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, who received an award from the NED in 2018, travelled to the NATO headquarters in Brussels after the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014 agitating for an armed intervention by the UN to return Crimea to Ukrainian control, and has been a militant proponent of sanctions against Russia.
NED Director Carl Gershman awarding Mustafa Dzhemilev with Democracy Service Medal. [Source: ned.org]
Matviichuk is co-author of the study, “The Fear Peninsula: Chronicles of Occupation and Violations of Human Rights in Crimea,” a one-sided propaganda pamphlet aimed at mobilizing public opinion in support of Ukraine’s efforts to reconquer Crimea—against the wishes of its people.
Belarusian Winner Also Has NED Connection
NED-backed color revolution in Belarus in 2020-2021 where protesters waved pre-revolutionary era flags. [Source: counterpunch.org]
Lukashenko is a close ally of Vladimir Putin who has supported strengthening the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), an alliance of Eurasian countries promoting trade in national currencies instead of the U.S. dollar and regional economic integration as a means of presenting a strong united front against U.S. imperialism.
Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin—two targets of American regime change. [Source: timesunion.com]
Bialiatski’s wife, Natalia Pinchuk, who received the Nobel Peace Prize on his behalf, used the opportunity to falsely denigrate Lukashenko for heading a “dependent dictatorship,” which she said Putin also wanted to impose on Ukraine. Pinchuk further condemned Lukashenko for “choosing to engage with society through the use of force—grenades, batons, stun guns, endless arrests and torture.”
Natalia Pinchuk in Nobel Peace Prize speech. [Source: heraldseries.co.uk]
These latter words hold some truth, though leaders throughout the world would react the same way as Lukashenko in the face of a foreign backed uprising, whose main purpose was to destroy Belarus’s successful socialist experiment and transform the country into another proxy of the U.S. and NATO that could be used as a staging ground for destabilizing Russia.
Bialiatski significantly was a panelist at a 2014 NED forum where he spoke alongside long-time NED Director and neo-conservative ideologue Carl Gershman. (See photo below.)
Ales Bialiatski (far right) appeared on a panel with NED Founding President Carl Gershman (far left) at the Forum 2000 Conference in 2014. [Source: ned.org]
This indicates probable NED funding for the organization that Bialiatski established--Viasna—whose purpose has been to monitor human rights abuses committed by the Lukashenko government and to advocate for anti-regime dissidents.
Yet Another NED Connection
The third winner of this year’s Nobel Peaze Price is a banned Russian human rights organization, Memorial, whose work includes preserving the memory of the victims of Soviet gulags and Joseph Stalin’s reign, and documenting political repression and human rights violations in Russia. In 2004, its director, Arseny Roginsky, was awarded the 2004 NED Democracy Award.
Arseny Roginsky (center) poses with other awardees from Russia during the 2004 Democracy Awards ceremony. [Source: ned.org]
This latter award suggests that Memorial--founded by Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov during perestroika in the 1980s—received financing from the NED, which was very generous in Russia toward civil society groups whose agenda was to denigrate the Soviet system and undermine Putin, who helped take back national control of Russia’s economy following a period of looting and Western exploitation under Boris Yeltsin.
In 2014, Memorial was in fact placed on a list of foreign agents by the Russian government, which suspected it of receiving foreign funding.
Shuttered office of Memorial after Russian authorities closed it for violating the 2012 foreign agent law. [Source: bbc.com]
Should It Be Renamed the Nobel War Prize?
The Nobel Peace Prize has tarnished its reputation through many of its past selections; but this year seems worse then ever with the Nobel ceremony providing a platform for anti-Russia war incitement.
In the future, all pretenses should be thrown aside and the prize finally renamed the Nobel War Prize.
Whereas at one time genuine peace activists—like Emily Greene Balch, Linus Pauling and Martin Luther King, Jr.—were awarded the prize, now it is being conferred on war propagandists and national traitors in the pay of foreign masters who are using them merely as pawns in a deadly game in which there are no winners.
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine. He is the author of four books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019) and The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was republished from CovertAction Magazine.
South Africans Are Fighting for Crumbs: A Conversation With Trade Union Leader Irvin Jim By: Vijay Prashad & Zoe AlexandraRead Now
In mid-December, the African National Congress (ANC) held its national conference where South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa was reelected as leader of his party, which means that he will lead the ANC into the 2024 general elections. A few delegates at the Johannesburg Expo Center in Nasrec, Gauteng—where the party conference was held—shouted at Ramaphosa asking him to resign because of a scandal called Farmgate (Ramaphosa survived a parliamentary vote against his impeachment following the scandal).
Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), told us that his country “is sitting on a tinderbox.” A series of crises are wracking South Africa presently: an unemployment crisis, an electricity crisis, and a crisis of xenophobia. The context behind the ANC national conference is stark. “The situation is brutal and harsh,” Irvin Jim said. “The social illness that people experience each day is terrible. The rate of crime has become very high. The gender-based violence experienced by women is very high. The statistics show us that basically people are fighting for crumbs.”
At the ANC conference, five of the top seven posts—from the president to treasurer general--went to Ramaphosa’s supporters. With the Ramaphosa team in place, and with Ramaphosa himself to be the presidential candidate in 2024, it is unlikely that the ANC will propose dramatic changes to its policy orientation or provide a new outlook for the country’s future to the South African people. The ANC has governed the country for almost 30 years beginning in 1994 after apartheid ended, and the party has won a commanding 62.65 percent of the total vote share since then before the 2014 general elections. In the last general election in 2019, Ramaphosa won with 57.5 percent of the vote, still ahead of any of its opponents. This grip on electoral power has created a sense of complacency in the upper ranks of the ANC. However, at the grassroots, there is anxiety. In the municipal elections of 2021, the ANC support fell below 50 percent for the first time. A national opinion poll in August 2022 showed that the ANC would get 42 percent of the vote in the 2024 elections if they were held then.
Irvin Jim is no stranger to the ANC. Born in South Africa’s Eastern Cape in 1968, Jim threw himself into the anti-apartheid movement as a young man. Forced by poverty to leave his education, he worked at Firestone Tire in Port Elizabeth. In 1991, Jim became a NUMSA union shop steward. As part of the communist movement and the ANC, Jim observed that the new government led by former South African President Nelson Mandela agreed to a “negotiated settlement” with the old apartheid elite. This “settlement,” Irvin Jim argued, “left intact the structure of white monopoly capital,” which included their private ownership of the country’s minerals and energy as well as finance. The South African Reserve Bank committed itself, he told us, “to protect the value of white wealth.” In the new South Africa, he said, “Africans can go to the beach. They can take their children to the school of their choice. They can choose where to live. But access to these rights is determined by their economic position in society. If you have no access to economic power, then you have none of these liberties.”
In 1996, the ANC did make changes to the economic structure, but without harming the “negotiated settlement.” The policy known as GEAR (Growth, Employment, and Redistribution) created growth for the owners of wealth, but failed to create a long-term process of employment and redistribution. Due to the ANC’s failure to address the problem of unemployment--catastrophically the unemployment rate was 63.9 percent during the first quarter of 2022 for those between the ages of 15 and 24—the social distress being faced by South Africans has further been aggravated. The ANC, Irvin Jim said, “has exposed the country to serious vulnerability.”
Solidarity Not Hate
Even if the ANC wins less than 50 percent of the vote in the next general elections, it will still be able to form a government since no other party will attract even comparable support (in the 2019 elections, the Democratic Alliance won merely 20.77 percent of the vote). Irvin Jim told us that there is a need for progressive forces in South Africa to fight and “revisit the negotiated settlement” and create a new policy outline for South Africa. The 2013 National Development Plan 2030 is a pale shadow of the kind of policy required to define South Africa’s future. “It barely talked about jobs,” Jim said. “The only jobs it talked about were window office cleaning and hairdressing. There was no drive to champion manufacturing and industrialization.”
A new program—which would revitalize the freedom agenda in South Africa—must seek “economic power alongside political power,” said Jim. This means that “there is a genuine need to take ownership and control of all the commanding heights of the economy.” South Africa’s non-energy mineral reserves are estimated to be worth $2.4 trillion to $3 trillion. The country is the world’s largest producer of chrome, manganese, platinum, vanadium, and vermiculite, as well as one of the largest producers of gold, iron ore, and uranium. How a country with so much wealth can be so poor is answered by the lack of public control South Africa has over its metals and minerals. “South Africa needs to take public ownership of these minerals and metals, develop the processing of these through industrialization, and provide the benefits to the marginalized, landless, and dispossessed South Africans, most of whom are Black,” said Jim.
No program like this will be taken seriously if the working class and the urban poor remain fragmented and powerless. Jim told us that his union—NUMSA—is working with others to link “shop floor struggles with community struggles,” the “employed with the unemployed,” and are building an atmosphere of “solidarity rather than the spirit of hate.” The answers for South Africa will have to come from these struggles, says the veteran trade union leader. “The people,” he said, “have to lead the leaders.”
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an 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 books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.
‘Capitalism and Slavery’, and dismantling the accepted narratives of history By: John BurnsRead Now
When British capitalism depended on the West Indies,” Eric Williams wrote in 1938,
they ignored slavery or defended it. When British capitalism found the West Indian monopoly a nuisance, they destroyed West Indian slavery.
Williams (Photo: Wikipedia)
Williams had no time for sentimental views on the abolition of slavery. The history he dealt in was more honest, more straightforward, and unafraid to confront the accepted narratives, wherever these might be found.
And confront he did. His 1945 work, Capitalism and Slavery, systematically destroyed the traditional, rose-tinted views of abolition in the UK, replacing the cozy and humanitarian with the cold and pragmatic, substituting empathy and egalitarianism with hard economic necessity. In Williams’s view, the United Kingdom reaped the immense benefits of slavery—for centuries, in fact—and dropped the practice only when it no longer served its lucrative purpose. To look at the facts in any other light is simply a pretense.
There are voices of humanitarianism within Williams’s work. There are voices of empathy, of egalitarianism. There are people whose consciences are clear, who’s hearts are true, people who fought against slavery and the British Empire’s grim association with it. There are all of these things because there were all of these things in real life. These voices existed in Georgian and Victorian Britain, and so they are present in Williams’s writing. It’s just that these voices, these notes of discord, were lost in a far larger choir. Those making all the noise—those who truly influenced governors and policymakers—were motivated by very different factors, such as economics, geopolitics, imperialism, and capitalism.
Williams received his early education in his native Trinidad and Tobago, then still part of the British Empire. As a student, he was awarded a scholarship to Oxford University, where he excelled as a student and refined many of ideas that would characterize his later work. In 1956, Williams formed the People’s National Movement (PNM), becoming the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago that same year, and eventually led the country to independence in 1962. He continued to serve at the helm of the new nation right up until his death in 1981 at age 69, in the nation’s capital, Port of Spain.
His achievements as a freedom-minded politician and global head of state may have overshadowed his earlier work in academia, but these two aspects of his career cannot be separated. His clear-eyed and honest approach to history, and to his own people’s place within that history, shaped the path he would take in the following decades. By deconstructing UK attitudes to the slave trade, and its eventual abolition, Williams laid the foundations for dismantling British imperialism in the Caribbean. His contribution to our historical understanding, and to nationhood for Trinidad and Tobago, are inextricably linked.
Williams’s ideas are not new anymore. Capitalism and Slavery was written largely as a doctoral thesis in 1938, refined and published in 1945, and has been discussed for decades since. But Penguin’s relaunch of the book in 2022 is the first mass-market edition of the work to hit the shelves in the United Kingdom. It has, deservedly, become a bestseller.
But why does this matter now? Because we are still in danger of falling under the sway of accepted truths and fantastical narratives of history. The book is a timely reminder that history is a science that helps us better understand the culture and politics of our own age—it is not sculptor’s clay, ready to be molded into whatever shape or form best suits our own blinkered, and often prejudiced, aesthetic vision. History does not owe us anything. It is not ours to manipulate or distort.
In June 2020, the statue of enslaver Edward Colston was toppled by demonstrators in Bristol—a city that appears again and again in the pages of Capitalism and Slavery, thanks largely to the profits from the trade in sugar and enslaved people that flowed across its docks. This trade was so lucrative that Bristol became the Crown’s “second city” until 1775. It was men like Colston who helped achieve this status—hence the statue.
Colston had been, but his work as a merchant, slave trader, and subsequently, a Member of Parliament is etched into the stone upon which Bristol stands. He was almost three centuries dead by time his bronze likeness was lobbed into the Bristol Channel, and he likely had very little opinion on the matter.
Fortunately for Colston, there were plenty of people in 2020 who did have opinions on the matter. History--their history—they cried, was being erased. The “armies of wokeness” and “politically correct groupthink” were destabilizing the proud heritage of the United Kingdom, they claimed. Sure, Colston traded in slaves, but it was a different time, and Colston was a great man—a true hero of the city and its people—not to mention the criminal damage, public order offenses, or the rights of the sculptor himself.
This is an example of historical distortion and manipulation at work, pursuing ends that are nothing short of racist. History has provided us with a figure—Colston—whose great wealth led to the rise of one of the UK’s most important cities. History has provided us with the facts regarding the sources of that wealth—the slave trade; the theft of dignity from our fellow human beings. History does not provide us a way with which we can separate the two—we cannot have one without confronting the other. Erecting a statue to Colston--celebrating Colston for his efforts and his achievements—means erecting a statue to the slave trade, too.
Nor does history provide us with icons who are beyond reproach. By searching history for unimpeachable icons—symbols of a particular set of values or ethics—we are destined only for failure. If, in response to our disappointment at finding flawed human beings in lieu of the pristine icons we seek, we resort to mythologizing and hagiography, we play a very dangerous game, indeed. In another of the twentieth century’s great social texts, Women, Race and Class, Angela Y. Davis examines the relationship between feminist heroes Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and the “women first, negroes last” policies of Democratic politician Henry Blackwell.
Blackwell spoke in support of women’s suffrage in the South, asserting that “4,000,000 Southern women will counterbalance 4,000,000 negro men and women”, retaining the “political supremacy of the white race.” Davis writes about the “implicit assent” of Anthony and Stanton to Blackwell’s racist logic as she explores the troubling and complex nature of women’s suffrage during its gestation.
Like Williams and his deconstruction of accepted beliefs regarding abolition, Davis’s analysis of racist attitudes in the women’s suffrage movement leads to an awkward confrontation. Stanton and Anthony made incredible contributions to the rights of women in the United States, and this should never be forgotten—but to turn a blind eye to the gross inequality that formed the backdrop to the movement is to deny this injustice altogether, leaving us with a flawed and incomplete understanding of our own history.
This approach—this honesty, this meticulousness—is found within the pages of Capitalism and Slavery, too. This is not simply an attack on the white establishment of the United Kingdom and their forbears in the heyday of the empire; this is a methodical analysis of the key drivers behind the rise and fall of the British slave trade. Williams’s work is certainly not an attack on abolition—a critical moment in establishing of a better world for all human beings—but neither does it seek to perpetuate false ideas of who and what made the moment of abolition a reality.
Two centuries before the slave trade reached its peak, the very concept of slavery was decried by the uppermost echelons of power in the British Empire. Queen Elizabeth I herself said that enslavement would “call down the vengeance of heaven,” and yet, by the eighteenth century, all sorts of mental gymnastics were deployed to justify the trade. Church leaders, Williams said, proposed that slavery could bring “benighted beings to the chance of salvation,” while conservative thinker Edmund Burke—himself a rigorous supporter of religion’s place in society—expounded on the slaveholder’s right to maintain ownership of “their property”, that is, the human beings they had paid for. It seems ethics and morality are not absolutes, and can be manipulated to support economic prosperity.
When such leaps of logic and desperate justification can support the rise of the slave trade, why should these moral contortions suddenly cease? Why should the voices of humanity win the day, defeating the barbarism of trans-Atlantic slavery and achieving a resounding—if delayed—moral victory? The answer is simple: they didn’t. Williams foreshadows the eventual collapse of the trade by presenting the views of contemporary economists Josiah Tucker and Adam Smith, who declared the trade to be expensive and inefficient. In the end, it would be economics, not ethics, that would defeat the United Kingdom’s plantations and slave ships.
If the going was good, the slave trade would continue, no matter how many horrific acts were perpetrated on the shores of Africa and on the islands of the Caribbean. When the market stopped being profitable—when the fiscal engine driving slavery forwards started to cough and sputter—the trade would cease. The laws of business and enterprise, as cold and inhuman as they are, were far stronger than any moral outrage.
More than eight decades have gone by since Williams completed his doctoral thesis, and it is pleasant to think that we have moved on a great deal since those days. After all, Williams was then a subject of the British Empire. Now, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago—along with the citizens of other former colonies—are free to determine their own path in the world. In 1965, the United Kingdom passed the Race Relations Act, outlawing discrimination on the “grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins”—a positive step towards a better, more welcoming nation.
But we should not wrap ourselves too tightly in this comfortable blanket of pleasant thought. In 1968, three years after the Race Relations Act was passed, Enoch Powell made his rivers of blood speech in Birmingham. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, division and discrimination led to violent flashpoints as riots ripped through urban centers. In 1993, the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence exposed the systematic racism at the core of UK policing. In 2018, the so-called Windrush Scandal, overseen by then-Home Secretary Theresa May, saw immigrant UK citizens stripped of their rights and their dignity. The fight against discrimination and prejudice is far from over, and no amount of historical airbrushing can compensate for this.
This is why Williams’s work is so relevant today: It reminds us to question the comforting and convenient narratives of accepted history. Twisting historical narratives to fit our own agenda—to reflect our own view of what Britain represents—is deceitful at best, and dangerous at worst. A more critical, clear-eyed, analytical approach to the past is necessary if we are to truly understand the challenges of the present.
John Burns is a freelance writer and editor from Nottingham in the United Kingdom, now residing in Yunnan, southwest China.
This article was republished from Monthly Review.
The Economic Realities We Face at the End of 2022 By: Richard D. WolffRead Now
Economies around the world were shocked and damaged over the course of 2022. Global capitalism had been brewing conflicts among the major powers (the United States, China, and the EU) for some time as their relative strengths and vulnerabilities shifted. U.S. capitalism and its empire are widely perceived as waning. Europe’s role as a U.S. ally and indeed its economic future became correspondingly riskier as a result. China’s economic growth encountered problems but continued to be remarkably positive and often crucially supportive of world economic conditions in ways that were once more closely associated with the role of the United States. China’s deepening alliance with Russia as well as its burgeoning global economic reach frightened many in the United States. Years of increasingly aggressive competition, tariff and trade wars, and bans and subsidies, mostly initiated by the United States, culminated this past year in global economic warfare.
The key fact is not the military war between Russia and Ukraine, so far a limited, secondary affair except for the massive on-the-ground suffering of the Ukrainian people and the soldiers on both sides of the conflict. The year’s key reality is rather the economic warfare between the United States and the EU versus Russia and China: sanctions and countersanctions. Their ramifications (energy price spikes, supply chain disruptions, and massive market shifts) worsened the inflation already troubling many countries. These, in turn, provoked central bank interest rate increases that added more disruptive and costly shocks to an already problematic 2022 global economy.
For decades, wealth and income have been redistributed upward—with minimal protest by the working classes who were harmed by that redistribution. During 2022, working classes in many countries were no longer willing to defer their needs in the wake of that redistribution. Labor militancy, unionization, and strikes have all been renewed with remarkable energy and enthusiasm. Increasing numbers of workers are unwilling to wait and see whether or not long sluggish center-left and center-right governments and parties would do anything adequate to change the deepening inequalities, instabilities, and injustices of contemporary capitalism.
Capitalism’s victims increasingly rediscovered and resumed alliances with its critics. Thus, they know that stagflation, not recovery, may well be the result of inflation plus interest rate hikes. The emergence of the Global South as an important player in great power politics and its current realignments took further steps during 2022. Widespread feelings that an old capitalist world is falling apart are not fading.
Those feelings emerge into public view during a period of massive contradictions—for example, the resurgence of both white supremacy and anti-fascism, or the blows against abortion access in the U.S. following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in contrast with France’s enshrining of abortion access in its constitution. Chinese workers demand better wages and working conditions while the dishonesty of global capitalist polluters gets increasingly exposed.
Meanwhile, global changes in great power alignments risk being misunderstood or undervalued because clashing capitalisms disguise themselves, yet again, in great principles. Russia versus Ukraine gets rewritten as anti-Russian North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion versus Ukrainian self-determination. U.S. capitalism’s shift from neoliberal globalization to government-led economic nationalism to counter China’s rise in the global economy gets rewritten as required by “national security.” The further fracturing of Europe’s unity gets rewritten, in truly upside-down fashion, as a rebuilt U.S.-EU-NATO alliance. Proliferating delusions need deciphering.
Global capitalism has already stumbled badly three times in this new century: the dot-com crisis in 2000, the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008, and the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. Calling each crisis by a different, conjunctural name thinly disguises a cyclic instability intrinsic to and as old as capitalism. The capitalist system that dominates globally today organizes 99 percent of its workplaces/enterprises with a small minority of employers who direct the large majority of employees. It forces today’s great powers (the United States, the EU, and China) to mobilize their allies and compete to shape the decisions of the Global South. The post-World War II years of U.S. hegemony governed and held together a particular global arrangement of economies. The culmination of short-term instabilities and long-term trends inside and outside the great powers has undermined U.S. hegemony. A struggle to shape the emerging “new world order” is underway. That struggle is the economic reality as 2022 ends.
The hegemonic war of maneuver is our context now; it will last until or unless a new global arrangement arrives. The French think tank École de Guerre Économique (EGE) has for 25 years been studying the shadow wars for dominance over the global economy with interesting, provocative results. In October 2022, EGE released a book, Guerre Économique: Qui Est l’Ennemi? (Economic War: Who Is the Enemy?), which presented the findings of a survey of French business experts that was conducted by EGE’s Centre de Recherche 451 (CR451) in July 2022. Respondents were asked to name five foreign powers that most threaten France’s interests. They answered that the United States was France’s greatest threat, with China, Germany, Russia, and the UK following, in descending order.
It would be wishful thinking to mistake this result as peculiar to the French. Many leaders and influencers around the world criticize and resent the last 75 years of economic hegemony wielded by the United States. That perspective on current events has only strengthened in recent years as the U.S. global empire has lost power, the United States lost wars in Asia, and China emerged as the first serious economic competitor against the United States since at least 1945. The Ukraine war has so far served mainly to validate and thus harden that perspective.
The U.S.-China conflict has provoked ongoing changes and shifts among all players in the global economy. After more than two decades of doing poorly in competition with China, the United States has shifted from a policy of neoliberal globalization to one of economic nationalism. The presidencies of Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and now Joe Biden illustrate the shift (even as orthodox economics finds it awkward having celebrated laissez-faire for so long). Objections from European, Canadian, and other corners flood into Washington against new U.S. subsidies for automobiles produced inside the United States. Those self-serving U.S. policies are said to threaten deindustrialization elsewhere. Europe’s traditional subordination to and alliance with the United States since 1945 is fraying, notwithstanding the loud claims to the contrary coming from the United States and the EU. The deep economic and political decline of the UK before and especially after Brexit has the United States considering reliable, alternative agents for its European interests. Germany is the likeliest candidate if it could play that role without jeopardizing its dependence on exports to China. Maneuvers inside Europe force the UK and each EU member to strategize how best to respond to them as well as to the United States and China. Oil and gas price inflation resulting from the U.S.-EU sanctions against Russia intensified all these conflicts because they disadvantage Europe relatively more compared to the other players in the world economy and also European nations vis-à-vis one another.
Secondary themes distract many from grasping the global reorganization now underway. Among these are principles like “national self-determination,” “freedom of the seas,” and “rules-based international order.” They serve mostly to hide the global reorganization as if, suddenly, such principles were the dominant reality requiring protection. The principles, rather, provide convenient veneers for another period of great power realignments like those witnessed in capitalism before.
Before 1914, contesting capitalisms fought over their respective colonial possessions amid those capitalisms’ shifting relative strengths. A declining British empire struggled with the major aspiring contestants to replace that empire (the United States and Germany) and the minor aspirants (France, Russia, and Japan). Caught up in their global power struggles were a disintegrating China and a Global South that was prioritizing decolonization above all else. Within each nation, class struggles—especially a rising socialism challenging capitalism—further complicated their external power maneuvers. Those conflicts culminated in World War I. That war also changed everything: the global power configuration and, likewise, the internal class struggles.
The U.S. empire replaced the British empire. The USSR replaced Russia. Germany’s empire was erased. Japan tried to build an Asian empire and splinter China. Anti-imperialism gained strength everywhere. But so did the capitalist economic system—the structure of production that positions a tiny minority of owners/directors—the employers—over a vast majority of workers—the employees. True, the USSR led global movements against capitalism, but they mostly focused on displacing private employers with state officials as employers. For most in that generation, capitalism meant private employers, whereas socialism meant state employers. Capitalism’s basic workplace structure—employers versus employees—persisted in both its state and private forms. Capitalism’s two forms contested and worked their profound influences everywhere, culminating in World War II.
Britain, Germany, Japan, and Russia were all deeply damaged and weakened, leaving the United States to expand and solidify its empire for the next 75 years. The USSR was strong enough to provide some counterweight to U.S. military power, chiefly by creating space for the emergence of replicas of its socialism (state employers rather than private employers, in conjunction with state-planned distributions rather than free markets). China took advantage of that space but soon diverged into its own version of socialism, a hybrid of Soviet-style state enterprises and private capitalist enterprises, both with similar employer-employee structures.
Now, yet again, capitalism’s contradictions are driving toward another war that would, likely, once again change everything. But now we can discern a certain pattern that would likely be repeated, more or less. An old empire (the United States) is now clearly in decline, and a new one (China) is emerging. The only other potential major power is the EU, but the disunity among its members greatly weakens its competitiveness relative to the United States and China. Secondary global powers are Japan and Russia, which are aligned with the United States and China, respectively. Lagging behind the major and secondary powers by varying degrees, there are other countries, including many in the Global South, that have become economically stronger but whose economic power remains relatively limited given their own divisions and divisiveness, as some play the major powers against one another (or try to).
The collapse and disappearance of Eastern European socialism after 1989 and China’s major opening to both Chinese and foreign private capitalist investments in recent decades have combined to produce a broad crisis in socialism. European social democracy has steadily lost support across the continent. Neoliberalism had undermined social democracy ideologically even as economic realities provoked socially divisive immigration, automation, and job exports. Much the same had happened in the United States to the center-left represented by the Democratic Party, thereby paving the way for Trump. China’s rise has challenged the declining U.S. empire and provoked it to adopt increasingly desperate economic nationalism in response. BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and other related international blocs reflect and advance the rising strength and voice of many in the Global South who are moving toward alliances with China and Russia (accelerated by the Ukraine war and sanctions regime).
Propaganda, trials, and errors characterize efforts by all sides to navigate a dangerous, tension-filled time of change. One side’s “freedom fighters” are characterized by the opposing side as agents of domination by major powers. One side’s expansion of its international trade and capital is branded “aggressiveness” by another side rattling its swords. Shifts from neoliberal globalization to assertive economic nationalism are all rationalized as requirements of “national security.” Decades earlier, devotees of neoliberalism celebrated its contributions to “peace” by merely existing as a passive contrast to economic nationalism and its characteristic propensity for wars. The less fantastic propaganda has its traces of truth, but they are faint. Repression of internal dissent occurs in all powers, more or less. Efforts by socialists and other working-class advocates are repressed or barely tolerated if carefully disconnected from global power politics.
Socialists were split by World War I. On one side were those (Rosa Luxemburg, Eugene Debs, and Vladimir Lenin) who upheld the primacy of the anti-capitalist class struggle and transition to a post-capitalist economic and social system. On the other side were those who took sides in the global power struggles of capitalist powers and found convenient socialist-sounding rationales for doing so. World War I split socialists even as it strengthened a broadly defined socialism. World War II did the same. It not only hardened the splits within socialism (such as social democracy and Soviet socialism) but also extended the social reach of socialist variants of anti-capitalism, especially to the former colonies and China.
Capitalism has been the context and ultimate cause of world history’s two worst wars. Many had thought, hoped, and worked so that those horrific wars might enable and empower first the League of Nations and later the United Nations. The goals of these organizations were to secure peace in place of global power politics moving toward war. They tried to achieve that goal without fundamentally challenging capitalism, the organization of an economy whose production entails a powerful minority (private or state) owning and operating enterprises. These organizations seem to have failed, but their failure left a lesson we can learn and build on.
A truly internationalist socialism would not tolerate the inequalities within and among the nations of the world. Drastically reducing those would be the top priority. Providing full guarantees of food, clothing, and housing for all—across each individual’s lifetime—would be the second-highest priority. Democratizing not only political life (one person, one vote for all major community decisions) but also economic life (ensuring each employee has one vote on all major workplace decisions) would be the third key priority. A world committed to these goals—the concrete meaning of “going beyond capitalism” or “socialism”—could overcome causes of capitalist wars and hopefully also of wars in general.
Richard D. Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, in New York. Wolff’s weekly show, “Economic Update,” is syndicated by more than 100 radio stations and goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV. His three recent books with Democracy at Work are The Sickness Is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or Itself, Understanding Marxism, and Understanding Socialism.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
War, it seems, was the only option Russia’s opponents had ever considered.
Russian President Vladimir Putin with then German Chancellor Angela Merkel on May 10, 2015, at the Kremlin. (Russian Government)
Recent comments by former German Chancellor Angela Merkel shed light on the duplicitous game played by Germany, France, Ukraine and the United States in the lead-up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.
While the so-called “collective west” (the U.S., NATO, the E.U. and the G7) continue to claim that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was an act of “unprovoked aggression,” the reality is far different: Russia had been duped into believing there was a diplomatic solution to the violence that had broken out in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine in the aftermath of the 2014 U.S.-backed Maidan coup in Kiev.
Instead, Ukraine and its Western partners were simply buying time until NATO could build a Ukrainian military capable of capturing the Donbass in its entirety, as well as evicting Russia from Crimea.
In an interview last week with Der Spiegel, Merkel alluded to the 1938 Munich compromise. She compared the choices former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had to make regarding Nazi Germany with her decision to oppose Ukrainian membership in NATO, when the issue was raised at the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest.
By holding off on NATO membership, and later by pushing for the Minsk accords, Merkel believed she was buying Ukraine time so that it could better resist a Russian attack, just as Chamberlain believed he was buying the U.K. and France time to gather their strength against Hitler’s Germany
The takeaway from this retrospection is astounding. Forget, for a moment, the fact that Merkel was comparing the threat posed by Hitler’s Nazi regime to that of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and focus instead in on the fact that Merkel knew that inviting Ukraine into NATO would trigger a Russian military response.
Rather than reject this possibility altogether, Merkel instead pursued a policy designed to make Ukraine capable of withstanding such an attack.
War, it seems, was the only option Russia’s opponents had ever considered.
Merkel and Joe Biden kissing at 2015 Munich Security Conference with then Secretary of State John Kerry. (Mueller/MSC/Flickr)
Putin: Minsk Was a Mistake
Merkel’s comments parallel those made in June by former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to several western media outlets. “Our goal,” Poroshenko declared, “was to, first, stop the threat, or at least to delay the war — to secure eight years to restore economic growth and create powerful armed forces.” Poroshenko made it clear that Ukraine had not come to the negotiating table on the Minsk Accords in good faith.
This is a realization that Putin has come to as well. In a recent meeting with Russian wives and mothers of Russian troops fighting in Ukraine, including a few widows of fallen soldiers, Putin acknowledged that it was a mistake to agree to the Minsk accords, and that the Donbass problem should have been resolved by force of arms at that time, especially given the mandate he had been handed by the Russian Duma regarding authorization to use Russian military forces in “Ukraine,” not just Crimea.
Putin’s belated realization should send shivers down the spine of all those in the West who operate on the misconception that there can now somehow be a negotiated settlement to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
None of Russia’s diplomatic interlocutors have demonstrated a modicum of integrity when it comes to demonstrating any genuine commitment to a peaceful resolution to the ethnic violence which emanated from the bloody events of the Maidan in February 2014, which overthrew an OSCE-certified, democratically-elected Ukrainian president.
Response to Resistance
Ukrainian government tank fire against Donbass. (Ukraine MOD)
When Russian speakers in Donbass resisted the coup and defended that democratic election, they declared independence from Ukraine. The response from the Kiev coup regime was to launch an eight-year vicious military attack against them that killed thousands of civilians. Putin waited eight years to recognize their independence and then launched a full-scale invasion of Donbass in February.
He had previously waited on the hope that the Minsk Accords, guaranteed by Germany and France and endorsed unanimously by the U.N. Security Council (including by the U.S.), would resolve the crisis by giving Donbass autonomy while remaining part of Ukraine. But Kiev never implemented the accords and were not sufficiently pressured to do so by the West.
The detachment shown by the West, as every pillar of perceived legitimacy crumbled — from the OSCE observers (some of whom, according to Russia, were providing targeting intelligence about Russian separatist forces to the Ukrainian military); to the Normandy Format pairing of Germany and France, which was supposed to ensure that the Minsk Accords would be implemented; to the United States, whose self-proclaimed “defensive” military assistance to Ukraine from 2015 to 2022 was little more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing — all underscored the harsh reality that there never was going to be a peaceful settlement of the issues underpinning the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
And there never will be.
War, it seems, was the solution sought by the “collective West,” and war is the solution sought by Russia today.
Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.
On reflection, Merkel was not wrong in citing Munch 1938 as an antecedent to the situation in Ukraine today. The only difference is this wasn’t a case of noble Germans seeking to hold off the brutal Russians, but rather duplicitous Germans (and other Westerners) seeking to deceive gullible Russians.
This will not end well for either Germany, Ukraine, or any of those who shrouded themselves with the cloak of diplomacy, all the while hiding from view the sword they held behind their backs.
Scott Ritter is a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD. His most recent book is Disarmament in the Time of Perestroika, published by Clarity Press.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
This article was republished from Consortium News.
Staughton Lynd: Thinking history, doing politics, from below By: Julius GavrocheRead Now
What we are about is a new set of values, the practice of solidarity. Capitalism developed within feudalism as the practice of the idea of contract. What was imagined was a society in which free and equal members of civil society would enter into mutually binding agreements. Thus, the free city. Thus, the guild of artisans. Thus, the congregation of Protestant believers bound together by a “covenant” (a different kind of contract). And thus, the capitalist corporation, its investors, its shareholders. Of course, the reality was and is that the parties to capitalist labor contracts were and are not equal, and therefore the ideological hegemony of the bourgeois idea of contract has always been and still is based on a sham.
Counter-hegemonically, we practice solidarity. Solidarity might be defined as drawing the boundary of our community of struggle as widely as possible. When LTV Steel first filed for bankruptcy in 1986, Youngstown retirees debated whether they should seek health insurance only for steel industry retirees or for everyone. They decided, for everyone. When LTV Steel recently filed for bankruptcy a second time, the United Steelworkers of America made the opposite choice: they asked Congress to subsidize the so-called “legacy costs” of the steel industry, not for universal health care.
Staughton Lynd, ¡Presente!
People’s historian Staughton Lynd died on Nov. 17 after an extraordinary life as a conscientious objector, peace and civil rights activist, tax resister, professor, author, and lawyer.
Lynd inspired us with his role as a people’s historian, always working in solidarity with struggles for justice today.
Lynd served as director of the Freedom Schools in the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project. He worked with prisoners and challenged the prison-industrial complex.
While teaching at Spelman College, his family and Howard Zinn’s developed a lifelong friendship. Zinn said of Lynd, “He is an exemplar of strength and gentleness in the quest for a better world.”
Among Lynd’s many books is Doing History from the Bottom Up, in which he described three key perspectives that are guides for any teacher or student of history.
1. History from below is not, or should not be, mere description of hitherto invisible poor and oppressed people: it should challenge mainstream versions of the past.
2. The United States was founded on crimes against humanity directed at Native Americans and enslaved African Americans.
3. Participants in making history should be regarded not only as sources of facts but as colleagues in interpreting what happened.
After Freedom Summer, Lynd got involved in anti-Vietnam War organizing.
Despite his talents as a scholar, academia closed their doors to him after he traveled on a fact-finding mission to Hanoi. In a 2013 essay about Lynd, Andy Piascik explains what happened next:
Lynd never looked back. He became an accomplished scholar outside the academy and one of the most perceptive and prolific chroniclers of “history from below,” with a special interest in working class organizing. From a series of interviews, he and [his wife] Alice produced the award-winning book Rank and File, which begat the Academy Award-nominated documentary film Union Maids.
In a memorial tribute to Howard Zinn at the Organization of American Historians, Lynd said, “When a comrade dies in the struggle for nonviolent revolution, we try to pick up his dreams.” May we all do that now: pick up Lynd’s dreams and his principled, grassroots approach to making those dreams a reality.
Remarks on Solidarity Unionism
Speech at the 2005 IWW Centenary in Chicago, Illinois
To Begin With
The greatest honor I have ever received is to be asked to speak to you on the occasion of the IWW’s 100th birthday.
But I am not standing here alone. Beside me are departed friends. John Sargent was the first president of Local 1010, United Steelworkers of America, the 18,000-member local union at Inland Steel just east of Chicago. John said that he and his fellow workers achieved far more through direct action before they had a collective bargaining agreement than they did after they had a contract. You can read his words in the book Rank and File. Ed Mann and John Barbero, after years as rank and filers, became president and vice president of Local 1462, United Steelworkers of America, at Youngstown Sheet & Tube in Youngstown, and toward the end of his life Ed joined the IWW. Ed and John were ex-Marines who opposed both the Korean and Vietnam wars; they fought racism both in the mill and in the city of Youngstown, where in the 1950s swimming pools were still segregated; they believed, as do I, that there will be no answer to the problem of plant shutdowns until working people take the means of production into their own hands; and in January 1980, in response to U.S. Steel’s decision to close all its Youngstown facilities, Ed led us down the hill from the local union hall to the U.S. Steel administration building, where the forces of good broke down the door and for one glorious afternoon occupied the company headquarters. Ed’s daughter changed her baby’s diapers on the pool table in the executive game room. Stan Weir and Marty Glaberman, very much alone, moved our thinking forward about informal work groups as the heart of working-class self-organization, about unions with leaders who stay on the shop floor, about alternatives to the hierarchical vanguard party, about overcoming racism and about international solidarity.
These men were in their own generation successors to the Haymarket martyrs and Joe Hill. They represented the inheritance that you and I seek to carry on.
How I First Learned About the IWW
It all began for me when I was about fourteen years old.
Some of you may know the name of Seymour Martin Lipset. He became a rather conservative political sociologist. In the early 1940s, however, he was a graduate student of my father’s and a socialist, who wrote his dissertation on the Canadian Commonwealth Federation.
Marty Lipset decided that my political education would not be complete until I had visited the New York City headquarters of the Socialist Party. The office was on the East Side and so we caught the shuttle at Times Square. I have no memory of the Socialist Party headquarters but a story Marty told me on the shuttle changed my life.
It seems that one day during the Spanish Civil War there was a long line of persons waiting for lunch. Far back in the line was a well known anarchist. A colleague importuned him: “Comrade, come to the front of the line and get your lunch. Your time is too valuable to be wasted this way. Your work is too important for you to stand at the back of the line. Think of the Revolution!” Moving not one inch, the anarchist leader replied: “This is the Revolution.”
I think I asked myself, Is there any one in the United States who thinks that way? A few years later, in my parents’ living room, I picked up C. Wright Mills’ book about the leaders of the new Congress of Industrial Organizations, The New Men of Power. Mills argued that these men were bureaucrats at the head of hierarchical organizations. And at the very beginning of the book, in contrast to all that was to follow, Mills quoted a description of the Wobblies who went to Everett, Washington on a vessel named the Verona in November 1916 to take part in a free speech fight. As the boat approached the dock in Everett, “Sheriff McRae called out to them: Who is your leader? Immediate and unmistakable was the answer from every I.W.W.: ‘We are all leaders’.”
So, I thought to myself, perhaps the Wobblies were the equivalent in the United States of the Spanish anarchists. But here a difficulty held me up for twenty years. If, as the Wobblies seemed to say, the answer to the problems of the old AF of L was industrial unionism, why was it that the new industrial unions of the CIO acted so much like the craft unions of the old AF of L?
Industrial Unionism and the Right to Strike
The Preamble to the IWW Constitution, as of course you know, stated and still states:
The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry ….
Clearly these words, when they were written, referred to a workplace at the turn of the last century where each group of craftspersons belonged to a different union. Each such union had its own collective bargaining agreement, complete with a termination date different from that of every other union at the work site. The Wobblies called this typical arrangement “the American Separation of Labor.”
The Preamble suggested a solution:
These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its workers in any one industry, or all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one the injury of all.
The answer, in short, appeared to be the reorganization of labor in industrial rather than craft unions.
It seemed to Wobblies and like-minded rank-and-file workers that if only labor were to organize industrially, the “separation of labor” — as the IWW characterized the old AF of L — could be overcome. All kinds of workers in a given workplace would belong to the same union and could take direct action together, as they chose. Hence in the early 1930s Wobblies and former Wobblies threw themselves into the organization of local industrial unions.
A cruel disappointment awaited them. When John L. Lewis, Philip Murray, and other men of power in the new CIO negotiated the first contracts for auto workers and steelworkers, these contracts, even if only a few pages long, typically contained a no-strike clause. All workers in a given workplace were now prohibited from striking as particular crafts had been before. This remains the situation today.
Nothing in labor law required a no-strike clause. Indeed, the drafters of the original National Labor Relations Act (or Wagner Act) went out of their way to ensure that the law would not be used to curtail the right to strike. Not only does federal labor law affirm the right “to engage in … concerted activities for the purpose of … mutual aid or protection”; even as amended by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, Section 502 of what is now called the Labor Management Relations Act declares:
Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require an individual employee to render labor or service without his consent, nor shall anything in this Act be construed to make the quitting of his labor by an individual employee an illegal act; nor shall any court issue any process to compel the performance by an individual employee of such labor or service, without his consent; nor shall the quitting of work by an employee or employees in good faith because of abnormally dangerous conditions for work at the place of employment of such employee or employees be deemed a strike under this chapter[;] and for good measure, the drafters added in Section 13 of the NLRA, now section 163 of the LMRA: “Nothing in this Act, except as specifically provided for herein, shall be construed so as either to interfere with or impede or diminish in any way the right to strike ….”
In the face of this obvious concern on the part of the legislative drafters to protect the right to strike, the leaders of the emergent CIO gave that right away. To be sure, the courts helped, holding before World War II that workers who strike over economic issues can be replaced, and holding after World War II that a contract which provides for arbitration of grievances implicitly forbids strikes. But the courts are not responsible for the no-strike clause in the typical CIO contract. Trade union leaders are responsible.
Charles Morris’ new book, The Blue Eagle at Work, argues that the original intent of federal labor law was that employers should be legally required to bargain, not only with unions that win NLRB elections, but also with so-called “minority” or “members-only” unions: unions that do not yet have majority support in a particular bargaining unit. We can all agree with Professor Morris that the best way to build a union is not by circulating authorization cards, but by winning small victories on the shop floor and engaging the company “in interim negotiations regarding workplace problems as they arise.” But Morris’ ultimate objective, like that of most labor historians and almost all union organizers, is still a union that negotiates a legally-enforcible collective bargaining agreement, including a management prerogatives clause that lets the boss close the plant and a no-strike clause that prevents the workers from doing anything about it In my view, and I believe in yours, nothing essential will change — not if Sweeney is replaced by Stern or Wilhelm, not if the SEIU breaks away from the AFL-CIO, not if the percentage of dues money devoted to organizing is multiplied many times — so long as working people are contractually prohibited from taking direct action whenever and however they may choose.
Glaberman, Sargent, Mann, Barbero and Weir
All this began to become clear to me only in the late 1960s, when a friend put in my hands a little booklet by Marty Glaberman entitled “Punching Out.” Therein Marty argues that in a workplace where there is a union and a collective bargaining contract, and the contract (as it almost always does) contains a no-strike clause, the shop steward becomes a cop for the boss. The worker is forbidden to help his buddy in time of need. An injury to one is no longer an injury to all.
As I say these words of Marty Glaberman’s, almost forty years later, in my imagination he and the other departed comrades form up around me. We cannot see them but we can hear their words. John Sargent: “Without a contract we secured for ourselves agreement on working conditions and wages that we do not have today…. [A]s a result of the enthusiasm of the people in the mill you had a series of strikes, wildcats, shut-downs, slow-downs, anything working people could think of to secure for themselves what they decided they had to have.” Ed Mann: “I think we’ve got too much contract. You hate to be the guy who talks about the good old days, but I think the IWW had a darn good idea when they said: ‘Well, we’ll settle these things as they arise’.” Stan Weir: “[T]he new CIO leaders fought all attempts to build new industrial unions on a horizontal rather than the old vertical model…. There can be unions run by regular working people on the job. There have to be.”
Rumbles In Olympus
Here we should pause to take note of recent rumbles — in both senses of the word — on Mount Olympus. What is about to happen in the mainstream organized labor movement, and what do we think about it?
This is a challenging question. Our energies are consumed by very small, very local organizing projects. It is natural to look sidewise at the organized labor movement, with its membership in the hundreds of thousands, its impressive national headquarters buildings, its apparently endless income from the dues check-off, its perpetual projects for turning the corner in organizing this year or next year, and to wonder, Are we wasting our time?
Moreover, there is not and should not be an impenetrable wall between what we try to do and traditional trade unionism at the local level. My rule of thumb is that national unions and national union reform movements almost always do more harm than good, but that local unions are a different story. Workers need local unions. They will go on creating them whatever you and I may think, and for good reason. The critical decision for workers elected to local union office is whether they will use that position merely as a stepping stone to regional and national election campaigns, striving to rise vertically within the hierarchy of a particular union, or whether they will reach out horizontally to other workers and local union officers in other workplaces and other unions, so as to form class wide entities — parallel central labor bodies, or sometimes, even official central labor bodies — within particular localities.
Such bodies have special historical importance. The “soviets” in the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 were improvised central labor bodies. Both the Knights of Labor and the IWW created such entities, especially during the first period of organizing in a given community when no single union was yet self-sufficient. My wife and I encountered a body of exactly this kind in Hebron in the occupied West Bank, and the Workers’ Solidarity Club of Youngstown was an effort in the same direction. The “workers’ centers” that seem to spring up naturally in communities of immigrant workers are another variant. What all these efforts have in common is that workers from different places of work sit in the same circle, and in the most natural way imaginable tend to transcend the parochialism of any particular union and to form a class point of view.
Because many Wobblies will in this way become “dual carders,” and often vigorously take part in the affairs of local unions, the line between our work and the activity of traditional, centralized, national trade unions needs to be drawn all the more clearly. From my point of view, it is a case of Robert Frost’s two roads diverging within a wood: on the one hand, to mix metaphors, toward endless rearranging of the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic; on the other hand, toward the beginnings of another world.
As you know I am an historian. And what drives me almost to tears is the spectacle of generation after generation of radicals seeking to change the world by cozying up to popular union leaders. Communists did it in the 1930s, as Len DeCaux became the CIO’s public relations man and Lee Pressman its general counsel; and Earl Browder, in an incident related by historian Nelson Lichtenstein, ordered Party members helping to lead the occupation of a General Motors plant near Detroit to give up their agitation lest they offend the CIO leadership. Trotskyists and ex-Trotskyists in the second half of the last century repeated this mistaken strategy of the Communist Party in the 1930s with less excuse, providing intellectual services for the campaigns of Walter Reuther, Arnold Miller, Ed Sadlowski, and Ron Carey. And Left intellectuals almost without exception hailed the elevation of John Sweeney to the presidency of the AFL-CIO in 1995. Professors formed an organization of sycophantic academics, and encouraged their students to become organizers under the direction of national union staffers. In a parody of Mississippi “freedom summer,” “union summers” used the energy of young people but denied them any voice in decisions.
In all these variations on a theme, students and intellectuals sought to make themselves useful to the labor movement by way of a relationship to national unions, rather than by seeking a helpful relationship with rank-and-file workers and members of local unions. In contrast, students at Harvard and elsewhere organized their own sit-ins to assist low-wage workers at the schools where they studied, and then it was John Sweeney who showed up to offer support to efforts that, to the best of my knowledge, young people themselves controlled. I want to say a few more words about two exemplars of the paradigm I criticize: almost a century ago, John L. Lewis; and today, the not so dynamic duo, John Sweeney and Andrew Stern. Lewis is an historical conundrum. In the 1920s and early 1930s, he established dictatorial control over the United Mine Workers union and smashed individuals who sought to challenge him from below, like John Brophy and Powers Hapgood, and dissenting organizations like the Progressive Miners here in Illinois.
However, to read his biographers from Saul Alinsky to Melvyn Dubofsky, like Paul on the road to Damascus the miners’ leader experienced conversion in 1932–1933. He seized on section 7(a) of the National Industrial Recovery Act and sent his organizers throughout the coal fields with the message, “The President wants you to join the union.” Then, confronting the standpat leadership of the AF of L, Lewis and other visionary leaders like Sidney Hillman led their members out of the AF of L to form, first the Committee for Industrial Organization, and then, after definitively seceding, the Congress of Industrial Organizations. James Pope of Rutgers University Law School has been into the sources and tells a different story. It was not Lewis, but rank-and-file miners in western Pennsylvania, who before the passage of the NIRA in spring 1933 began to form new local unions of the UMW. Lewis and his staff opposed them. Moreover, when in the summer and fall of 1933 the miners went on strike for union recognition, Lewis and his colleague Philip Murray repeatedly sought to settle strikes over the head of the workers on the picket lines although the goal of these massive direct actions had not been achieved.
Yes, Lewis wanted more members, just as the leaders of the five rebelling unions today wish to increase union “density.” But what characterizes the national union leaders of the past and of the present is an absolute unwillingness to let rank-and-file workers decide for themselves when to undertake the sacrifice that direct action requires.
Consider John Sweeney. Close observers should have known in the fall of 1995 that Sweeney was hardly the democrat some supposed him to be. Andrea Carney, who is with us today, was at the time a hospital worker and member of Local 399, SEIU in Los Angeles. She tells in The New Rank and File how the Central American custodians whom the SEIU celebrated in its “Justice for Janitors” campaign, joined Local 399 and then decided that they would like to have a voice in running it. They connected with Anglo workers like Ms. Carney to form a Multiracial Alliance that contested all offices on the local union executive board. In June 1995 they voted the entire board out of office. In September 1995, as one of his last acts before moving on to the AFL-CIO, Brother Sweeney removed all the newly-elected officers and put the local in trusteeship.
This action did not deter the draftsmen of the open letter to Sweeney I mentioned earlier. Appearing at the end of 1995 in publications like In These Times and the New York Review of Books, the letter stated that Sweeney’s elevation was “the most heartening development in our nation’s political life since the heyday of the civil rights movement.” The letter continued:
[T]e wave of hope that and energy that has begun to surge through the AFL-CIO offers a way out of our stalemate and defeatism. The commitment demonstrated by newly elected president John J. Sweeney and his energetic associates promises to once again make the house of labor a social movement around which we can rally.
The letter concluded: “We extend our support and cooperation to this new leadership and pledge our solidarity with those in the AFL-CIO dedicated to the cause of union democracy and the remobilization of a dynamic new labor movement.” Signers included Stanley Aronowitz, Derrick Bell, Barbara Ehrenreich, Eric Foner, Todd Gitlin, David Montgomery, and Cornel West.
Closely following Sweeney’s accession to the AFL-CIO presidency were his betrayals of strikes by Staley workers in Decatur, Illinois, and newspaper workers in Detroit. In Decatur, workers organized a spectacular “in plant” campaign of working to rule, and after Staley locked them out, there were the makings of a parallel central labor body and a local general strike including automobile and rubber workers. Striker and hunger striker Dan Lane spoke to the convention that elected Sweeney, and Sweeney personally promised Lane support if he would give up his hunger strike. But Sweeney did nothing to further the campaign to cause major consumers of Staley product to boycott the company. Meantime the Staley local had been persuaded to affiliate with the national Paperworkers’ union, which proceeded to organize acceptance of a concessionary contract.
In Detroit – as Larry who is here could describe in more detail — strikers begged the new AFL-CIO leadership to convene a national solidarity rally in their support. Sweeney said No. On the occasion of Clinton’s second inauguration in January 1997, leaders of the striking unions — including Ron Carey — decided to call off the strike without consulting the men and women who had been walking the picket lines for a year and a half. Only then did the Sweeney leadership call on workers from all over the country to join in a, now meaningless, gathering in Detroit.
What should the several dozen signers of the open letter to Sweeney have learned from these events? SEIU president Andrew Stern apparently believes that the lesson is that the union movement should be more centralized. What kind of labor movement would there be if he had his way? Local 399 had a membership of 25,000 spread all over metropolitan Los Angeles. The SEIU local where I live includes the states of Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. This is topdown unionism run amok. The lesson for us is that, however humbly, in first steps however small, we need to be building a movement that is qualitatively different.
The Zapatistas and the Bolivians: To Lead by Obeying
And so of course we come in the end to the question, Yes, but how do we do that? Another world may be possible, but how do we get there? The Preamble says: “By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.” But if capitalist factories and mainstream trade unions are not prototypes of the new society, where is it being built? What can we do so that others and we ourselves do not just think and say that “another world is possible,” but actually begin to experience it, to live it, to taste it, here and now, within the shell of the old?
In recent years I have glimpsed for the first time a possible answer: what Quakers call “way opening.” It begins with the Zapatistas, and has been further developed by the folks in the streets of Bolivia. Suppose the creation of a new society by the bourgeoisie is expressed in the equation, Rising Class plus New Institutions Within The Shell Of The Old = State Power. All these years I have been struggling with how workers could create new institutions within the shell of capitalism. What the Zapatistas have suggested, echoing an old Wobbly theme, is that the equation does not need to include the term “State Power.” Perhaps we can change capitalism fundamentally without taking state power. Perhaps we can change capitalism from below.
All of us sense that something qualitatively different happened in Chiapas on January 1, 1994, something organically connected to the anti-globalization protests that began five years later. What exactly was that something? My wife Alice and I were in San Cristóbal a few years ago and had the opportunity to talk to a woman named Teresa Ortiz. She had lived in the area a long time and since then has published a book of oral histories of Chiapan women.
Ms. Ortiz told us that there were three sources of Zapatismo. The first was the craving for land, the heritage of Emiliano Zapata and the revolution that he led at the time of World War I. This longing for economic independence expressed itself in the formation of communal landholdings, or ejidos, and the massive migration of impoverished campesinos into the Lacandón jungle.
A second source of Zapatismo, we were told, was liberation theology. Bishop Samuel Ruiz was the key figure. He sponsored what came to be called tomar conciencia. It means “taking conscience,” just as we speak of “taking thought.” The process of taking conscience involved the creation of complex combinations of Mayan and Christian religiosity, as in the church Alice and I visited where there was no altar, where a thick bed of pine needles was strewn on the floor and little family groups sat in little circles with lighted candles, and where there was a saint to whom one could turn if the other saints did not do what they were asked. Taking conscience also resulted in countless grassroots functionaries with titles like “predeacon,” “deacon,” “catechist,” or “delegate of the Word”: the shop stewards of the people’s Church who have been indispensable everywhere in Latin America.
The final and most intriguing component of Zapatismo, according to Teresa Ortiz, was the Mayan tradition of mandar obediciendo: “to lead by obeying.” She explained what it meant at the village level. Imagine all of us here as a village. We feel the need for, to use her examples, a teacher and a storekeeper. But these two persons can be freed for those communal tasks only if we, as a community, undertake to cultivate their milpas, their corn fields. In the most literal sense their ability to take leadership roles depends on our willingness to provide their livelihoods.
When representatives thus chosen are asked to take part in regional gatherings, they are likely to be instructed delegates. Thus, during the initial negotiations in 1994, the Zapatista delegates insisted that the process be suspended for several weeks while they took what had been tentatively agreed to back to the villages, who rejected it. The heart of the process remains the gathered villagers, the local asemblea.
Only upon reading a good deal of the Zapatista literature did an additional level of meaning become clear to me.
At the time of the initial uprising, the Zapatistas seem to have entertained a traditional Marxist strategy of seizing national power by military means. The “First Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle,” issued on January 2, 1994, gave the Zapatista military forces the order: “Advance to the capital of the country, overcoming the federal army ….”
But, in the words of Harvard historian John Womack: “In military terms the EZLN offensive was a wonderful success on the first day, a pitiful calamity on the second.” Within a very short time, three things apparently happened: 1) the public opinion of Mexican civil society came down on the side of the Indians of Chiapas and demanded negotiation; 2) President Salinas declared a ceasefire, and sent an emissary to negotiate in the cathedral of San Cristóbal; 3) Subcomandante Marcos carried out a clandestine coup within the failed revolution, agreed to negotiations, and began to promulgate a dramatically new strategy.
Beginning early in 1994, Marcos says explicitly, over and over and over again: We don’t see ourselves as a vanguard and we don’t want to take state power. Thus, at the first massive encuentro, the National Democratic Convention in the Lacandón jungle in August 1994, Marcos said that the Zapatistas had made “a decision not to impose our point of view”; that they rejected “the doubtful honor of being the historical vanguard of the multiple vanguards that plague us”; and finally:
Yes, the moment has come to say to everyone that we neither want, nor are we able, to occupy the place that some hope we will occupy, the place from which all opinions will come, all the answers, all the routes, all the truth. We are not going to do that.
Marcos then took the Mexican flag and gave it to the delegates, in effect telling them: “It’s your flag. Use it to make a democratic Mexico. We Zapatistas hope we have created some space within which you can act.” 
What? A Left group that doesn’t want state power? There must be some mistake. But no, he means it. And because it is a perspective so different from that traditional in Marxism, because it represents a fresh synthesis of what is best in the Marxist and anarchist traditions, I want to quote several more examples.
In the “Fourth Declaration from the Lacandón Jungle,” on January 1, 1996, it is stated that the Zapatista Front of National Liberation will be a “political force that does not aspire to take power[,] … that can organize citizens’ demands and proposals so that he who commands, commands in obedience to the popular will[,] … that does not struggle to take political power but for the democracy where those who command, command by obeying.”
In September 1996, in an address to Mexican civil society, Marcos says that in responding to the earthquake of 1985 Mexican civil society proved to itself that you can participate without aspiring to public office, that you can organize politically without being in a political party, that you can keep an eye on the government and pressure it to “lead by obeying,” that you can have an effect and remain yourself ….
Likewise in August 1997, in “Discussion Documents for the Founding Congress of the Zapatista Front of National Liberation,” the Zapatistas declare that they represent “a new form of doing politics, without aspiring to take power and without vanguardist positions.” We “will not struggle to take power,” they continue. The Zapatista Front of National Liberation “does not aspire to take power.” Rather, “we are a political force that does not seek to take power, that does not pretend to be the vanguard of a specific class, or of society as a whole.”
Especially memorable is a communication from the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) dated October 2, 1998 and addressed to “the Generation of Dignity of 1968,” that is, to former students who had survived the massacre in Mexico City prior to the 1968 Olympics. Here Marcos speaks of “the politics of below,” of the “Mexico of those who weren’t then, are not now, and will never be leaders.” This, he says, is the
Mexico of those who don’t build ladders to climb above others, but who look beside them to find another and make him or her their compañero or compañera, brother, sister, mate, buddy, friend, colleague, or whatever word is used to describe that long, treacherous, collective path that is the struggle of: everything for everyone.
Finally, at the zocalo in March 2001, after this Coxey’s Army of the poor had marched from Chiapas to Mexico City, Marcos once more declared: “We are not those who aspire to take power and then impose the way and the word. We will not be.”
For the last four years the Zapatistas and Marcos have been quiet, presumably building the new society day by day in those villages of Chiapas where they have majority support. If one wishes further insight as to how the politics of below might unfold, the place to look may be Bolivia. It’s too soon to say a great deal. The most substantial analysis I have encountered describes the movement in the language of “leading by obeying”:
without seizing power directly, popular movements … suddenly exercised substantial, ongoing control from below of state authorities ….
the … insurrectionists did not attempt to seize the state administration, and instead set up alternative institutions of self-government in city streets and neighborhoods … and in the insurgent highlands …. Protesters, who took over the downtown center, intentionally refrained from marching on the national palace. This was to avoid bloodshed, but also a recognition that substantial power was already in their hands. International Solidarity.
There remains, finally, the most difficult problem of all. “An injury to one is an injury to all” means that we must act in solidarity with working people everywhere, so that, in the words of the Preamble, “the workers of the world organize as a class.”
This means that we cannot join with steel industry executives in seeking to keep foreign steel out of the country: we need a solution to worldwide over-capacity that protects steelworkers everywhere. We cannot, like the so-called reform candidate for president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters a few years ago, advocate even more effort to keep Mexican truck drivers from crossing the Rio Grande. We should emulate the Teamsters local in Chicago where a resolution against the Iraq war passed overwhelmingly after Vietnam vets took the mike to share their experience, and the local went on to host the founding national meeting of Labor Against The War.
I believe the IWW has a special contribution to make. Wobblies were alone or almost alone among labor organizations a hundred years ago to welcome as members African Americans, unskilled foreign-born workers, and women. Joe Hill not only was born in Sweden and apparently took part in the Mexican Revolution, but, according to Franklin Rosemont, may have had a special fondness for Chinese cooking. This culture of internationalism can sustain and inspire us as we seek concrete ways to express it in the 21st century. I have concluded that no imaginable labor movement or people’s movement in this country will ever be sufficiently strong that it, alone, can confront and transform United States capitalism and imperialism.
I am not the only person who has reached this conclusion, but most who do so then say to themselves, I believe, “OK, then I need to cease pretending to be a revolutionary and support reform instead.”
I suggest that what we need is an alternative revolutionary strategy. That strategy, it seems to me, can only be an alliance between whatever movement can be brought into being in the United States and the vast, tumultuous resistance of the developing world.
Note that I say “alliance,” as between students and workers, or any other equal partners. I am not talking about kneejerk, uncritical support for the most recent Third World autocrat to capture our imaginations.
We in Youngstown have taken some very small first steps in this direction that I would like to share. In the late 1980s skilled workers from Youngstown, Aliquippa, and Pittsburgh made a trip to Nicaragua. Ned Mann, Ed Mann’s son, is a sheet metal worker. He helped steelworkers at Nicaragua’s only steel mill, at Tipitapa north of Managua, to build a vent in the roof over a particularly smoky furnace. Meantime the late Bob Schindler, a lineman for Ohio Edison, worked with a crew of Nicaraguans doing similar work. He spoke no Spanish, they spoke no English. They got on fine. Bob was horrified at the tools available to his colleagues and, when he got back to the States, collected a good deal of Ohio Edison’s inventory and sent it South. The next year, he went back to Nicaragua, and travelled to the northern village where Benjamin Linder was killed while trying to develop a small hydro-electric project. Bob did what he could to complete Linder’s dream.
About a dozen of us from Youngstown have also gone to a labor school south of Mexico City related to the Frente Autentico del Trabajo, the network of unions independent of the Mexican government.
These are tiny first steps, I know. But they are in the right direction. Why not take learning Spanish more seriously and, whenever we can, encourage fellow workers to join us in spending time with our Latin American counterparts?
And on down that same road, why not, some day, joint strike demands from workers for General Motors in Puebla, Mexico; in Detroit; and in St. Catherine’s, Ontario?
Instead of the TDU candidate for president of the Teamsters criticizing Jimmy Hoffa for doing too little to keep Mexican truck drivers out of the United States, why not a conference of truck drivers north and south of the Rio Grande to draw up a single set of demands?
Why not, instead of the United Steelworkers joining with US steel companies to lobby for increased quotas on steel imports, a task force of steelworkers from all countries to draw up a common program about how to deal with capitalist over-production, how to make sure that each major developing country controls its own steelmaking capacity, and how to protect the livelihoods of all steelworkers, wherever they may live?
Perhaps I can end, as I began, with a story. About a dozen years ago my wife and I were in the Golan Heights, a part of Syria occupied by Israel in 1967. There are a few Arab villages left in the Golan Heights, and at one of them our group was invited to a barbecue in an apple orchard. There was a very formidable white lightning, called arak. It developed that each group was called on to sing for the other. I was nominated for our group. I decided to sing “Joe Hill” but I felt that, before doing so, I needed to make it clear that Joe Hill was not a typical parochial American. As I laboriously began to do so, our host, who had had more to drink than I, held up his hand. “You don’t have to explain. We understand. Joe Hill was a Spartacist. Joe Hill was in Chile and in Mexico. But today,” he finished, “Joe Hill is a Palestinian.”
Joe Hill is a Palestinian. He is also an Israeli refusenik. He is imprisoned in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, where his Koran along with the rest of his belongings is subject to constant shakedowns and disrespect. He works for Walmart and also in South African diamond mines. He took part in the worldwide dock strike a few years ago and sees in that kind of international solidarity the hope of the future. Recently he has spent a lot of time in occupied factories in Argentina, where he shuttles back and forth between the workers in the plants and the neighborhoods that support them. In New York City, Joe Hill has taken note of the fact that a business like a grocery store (in working-class neighborhoods) or restaurants (in midtown Manhattan) are vulnerable to consumer boycotts, and if the pickets present themselves as a community group there is no violation of labor law. In Pennsylvania, he has the cell next to Mumia Abu Jamal at S.C.I. Greene in Waynesburg. In Ohio, he hangs out with the “Lucasville Five”: the five men framed and condemned to death because they were leaders in a 1993 prison uprising. He was in Seattle, Quebec City, Genoa, and Cancun, and will be at the next demonstration against globalization wherever it takes place. In Bolivia he wears a black hat and is in the streets, protesting the privatization of water and natural gas, calling for the nationalization of these resources, and for government from below by a people’s assembly. As the song says, “Where workingmen are out on strike, it’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.”
Let’s do our best to be there beside him.
 Our word is our weapon: selected writings [of] subcomandante Marcos , ed. Juane Ponce de León (Seven Stories Press: New York, 2001), p. 14.
 John Womack, Jr., Rebellion in Chiapas: An Historical Reader (New York: The New Press, 1999), p. 43.
 Id. , p. 44.
 Shadows of Tender Fury: The Letters and Communiques of Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation , trans. by Frank Bardacke and others (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1995), p. 248.
 Id. , pp. 249–51.
 Rebellion in Chiapas , pp. 302–02.
 “Civil Society That So Perturbs,” Sept. 19, 1996, Our word is our weapon, p. 121 (emphasis added).
 Rebellion in Chiapas , pp. 333, 335–36.
 Our word is our weapon , pp. 144–45.
 Id. , p. 159.
 Forrest Hylton and Sinclair Thomson, “Revolutionary Horizons: Indigenous and National-Popular Struggles in Bolivia,” New Left Review (forthcoming), pp. 7, 35.
Conventional definitions of union democracy are too limited to encompass the broad majority of people in and outside unions who are struggling for control over their workplaces. In particular, denotation of U.S. labor law and trade union perspectives of union democracy are far too narrow to give workers participatory power. Thus the concept of union democracy must be reinterpreted to include workers of all kinds (unionized workers, nonunion workers, and farmers); protection of the rights to strike, picket, and slow down; and the demand for worker-community ownership. This article examines two recent examples of workers’ democracy: the Serbian revolution of 2000 and the Zapatistas’ ongoing struggle in Chiapas, Mexico.
What kind of democracy do workers need? Those who answer, “Union democracy,” generally mean by that term the free exercise of rights protected by Title I of the Landrum-Griffin Act, together with the right to elect union officers and ratify contracts by referendum vote of the rank and file. (A referendum vote is protected by Title I only if provided in the constitution and bylaws of the union to which the complaining worker belongs.)
“Union democracy,” thus defined, is critically important for the one worker in eight who belongs to a union. The right to speak your piece at a meeting, to belong to a caucus without retaliation, to circulate leaflets and petitions, and to run for office represent labor law equivalents to many of the rights protected by the First Amendment.
Even for the worker who belongs to a union, however, union democracy understood in First Amendment terms does not encompass all the democracy that a worker needs. Labor law in the United States as expressed in the National Labor Relations Act as amended (otherwise known as the Labor Management Relations Act) has a number of features that are found in few other countries and that are a threat to democratic values.
In the United States, federal labor law as interpreted by the National Labor Relations Board and the courts provides that:
To my mind, the four constraints just enumerated take away much more democracy than any federal law such as Landrum-Griffin can give back. It is a sad fact that in our country the worker who does not belong to a union or whose union has not yet achieved recognition may have more legal protection to engage in the classic forms of working-class self-activity—strikes, slow-downs, and picketing—than has the union member.
Thus, “union democracy” should be understood in a much broader manner than has been the practice of those mainly concerned with union elections. Union democracy requires protection of the worker ’s right to engage in self-activity and self-organization from below, even when these activities are not approved or are even bitterly opposed by union officials.
Participatory Democracy for Workers, Too
But we have thus far only scratched the surface of the worker’s need for democracy. What does democracy mean when a company unilaterally decides to close a plant? Labor law protects the company’s action by excluding investment decisions from the so-called “mandatory subjects of bargaining.” This means that a union that seeks to ensure in its bargaining that a given workplace—or all workplaces represented by the union—will not be closed during the duration of the contract cannot legally insist on such language.
Moreover, like the no-strike clause present in most contracts, in almost all contracts the union agrees to a “management prerogatives clause” that expressly gives management the right to close plants, transfer work, get out of any particular line of business, go to Mexico, or whatever the company may in its infinite wisdom decide to do with the surplus value that workers produce. (Example: The largest employer in the Youngstown area is Delphi Packard, which makes electric assemblies for vehicles. In 1980, the company had 15,000 workers in the Youngstown area and no workers in Mexico. Now it has 4,800 workers in Youngstown and 80,000 in Mexico.)
Is this democracy? What do we mean by democracy anyhow? The Port Huron Statement adopted by the Students for a Democratic Society in 1962 advocated a “participatory democracy,” whereby the “individual [would] share in those social decisions determining the quality and direction of his life.” Is closing a plant such a decision? Of course it is: Ask the young worker forced to leave his or her community of origin in order to find work; the middle-aged worker with a mortgage, children approaching college age, and no transferable skills; or the older worker, as at Enron, worried about whether his or her pension and (especially) health care benefits are still there. No kind of decision in our society has a greater impact on the lives of individuals than corporate decisions to shut down facilities, to relocate production, to merge, to declare bankruptcy, and the like. If the democracy we say we believe in is participatory democracy, workers must have a voice in such decisions.
I am not talking about adding an international union officer to a corporate board of directors, nor do I have in mind requiring the company to give a sixty-day notice of what it has unilaterally decided to do. Workers (and their communities) must have an effective veto. When a company decides that it no longer wishes to make steel in, say, Youngstown or Cleveland, the workers of that community must be given an opportunity to do the job themselves. For such an imagined right to be made real, there must be a public source of funds permitting public entities to exercise the same right of “eminent domain” with respect to an abandoned industrial facility as they routinely exercise with respect to abandoned residential structures. In Anglo-American law, exercise of the right to eminent domain requires payment of fair market value. Absent the financial assistance to make such a “taking” possible, the right itself is only a cruel hoax.
Still, we have not gone far enough. A society in which workers can acquire the plants that their employers abandon, and run the plants themselves, is not the society in which we presently live. Socialism in one steel mill is not going to happen. What can happen in one steel mill—as at Weirton Steel in West Virginia, where workers engaged in an employee stock ownership plan—will not be socialism or workers’ democracy either. To have a society in which workers can realistically come to view a facility as “theirs” because they mix their labor with it over a long period of time and securely look forward to working there until retirement, there must be deep structural changes. Democracy, it would appear, is going to require revolution.
But what kind of revolution? And how can it happen in a way that will not destroy democracy in the process? The twentieth century offers many cautionary examples as well as many hopeful ones.
Democracy and Revolution, Marxism and Anarchism
The new movement for change emerging in the Lacondón jungle of southern Mexico, and in the streets of Paris (in 1995), Seattle, and Quebec City, is a movement that draws on both Marxism and anarchism. The Marx it looks back to is the author of The Civil War in France (1990) about the Paris Commune of 1871. The Lenin to which it relates is the author who, in State and Revolution (1993), demanded that all power pass to improvised central labor bodies known as soviets.
Where can we find examples of this libertarian socialism in practice? And what is the role within it of workers’ democracy?
In fall 2000, Serbia had what can fairly be called a nonviolent revolution. A political movement won an election. When the incumbent regime initially refused to recognize the election results, an outraged populace poured into the streets. On the evening of Friday, September 29, the coal miners of the Kolubara region, who produce the coal required for half of Serbia’s out-put of electricity, declared an indefinite general strike. The general in charge of the armed forces, and police from the Interior Ministry, showed up at the mines on Tuesday, October 3, and Wednesday, October 4. The miners adopted a dual strategy. On the one hand, they removed vital parts from the mine machinery and challenged the soldiers to mine coal with bayonets. On the other hand, they summoned 20,000 supporters from nearby communities. The police held their ground but made no arrests. The next day, Thursday, October 5, hundreds of thousands of people in Belgrade—forty miles away—seized the parliament and the state TV station, and the police in Kolubara melted away.
The Kolubara strike was coordinated not by a “trade union” but by a “workers’ committee.” All over Serbia, following Vojislav Kostunica’s accession to power, local committees of workers displaced hated factory managers. I realize that a cynic might say that this was a transition from socialism to capitalism, not the other way around. But surely Serbia also shows us that fundamental social transition, revolution, remains possible in the twenty-first century, and that neutralizing the armed forces by mass nonviolent direct action on the part of workers and their supporters can be a critical component of the process.
Mexico 1994 to Now
The Zapatista movement in Mexico for indigenous self-determination seems extraordinary in at least the following ways.
1. Without participating in electoral politics, the Zapatistas have ended seventy-one years of uninterrupted government by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. How have they done this? One critical component is a vast effort at popular education. Mayan peasants, who had never before left their native villages, traveled all over Mexico meeting with popular organizations such as the network of independent trade unions, the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT).
2. The Zapatistas are not nonviolent in any traditional sense. But neither are they a traditional Latin American guerrilla movement. Without giving up either their arms or the principle of armed struggle, they have carried on for the last five years an essentially nonviolent resistance.
For example, the Mexican government has sought to build roads into the Lacandón jungle, which is the Zapatista stronghold. The government claimed that this plan was to help farmers get their produce to market. The real reason, obviously, was to be able to move soldiers and military gear into the area.
At the western edge of the jungle is a village named Amadór. During the summer and fall of 1999, the soldiers seeking to build the road were met each day by a cordón (a picket line) of women from Amadór. Since many of the soldiers were indigenous, the women appealed to them to recognize their true interests and to put down their weapons. To prevent this dialogue, the government played music through loudspeakers.
After Vicente Fox became president, he announced the abandonment of a number of military bases in Chiapas. The first base to be abandoned was at Amadór.
3. When my wife and I briefly visited San Cristobal, Chiapas, in 1999, we talked with Teresa Ortiz, who for years has worked with indigenous communities in the area. She was completing a book of interviews titled Never Again a World Without Us: Voices of Mayan Women in Chiapas, Mexico (2001). She told us that in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, three historical forces prepared the way for Zapatismo. The first was Mayan tradition, according to which, she said, “Everything is done through assemblies.” The second was the Mexican Revolution of 1917, which declared a right to land. No one was supposed to own more than a certain amount. Poor people were authorized to form associations called “ejidos” and to acquire land as a community that no individual could sell.
The third historical force was the Second Vatican Council and Catholic Liberation Theology. Base communities were formed--Mayan base communities, in which there was a “marriage of traditions.” The key demand that emerged from this confluence of traditions (we were told) was for autonomy, that is, self-administration by the indigenous according to traditional law, “uso de costumbre.” When Marxists showed up in Chiapas in the mid-1980s, a movement formed by these forces was already in existence. The movement influenced the Marxists, we were told, more than the Marxists influenced the movement.
The way it works in an individual village is as follows. The village may be wholly “autonomous” (the word the Zapatistas use to describe themselves), or it may have some autonomous families and some families loyal to the PRI.
In the assembly of the autonomous, trusted individuals are asked to perform certain full-time functions; for example, as storekeeper or as a worker in a health clinic or a school. These persons “lead by obeying.” Someone else cultivates their cornfields so they can perform their new tasks. The store, the clinic, and the school serve all the families in the village, even those that are pro-PRI.
The Zapatista communities make joint decisions by a representative process. Each local assembly of the “autonomous”—whether it is composed of all or some of the families in a particular village—is open to persons above a certain age. Each assembly comes to a consensus and sends delegates to the next level. The delegates are bound to be spokespersons for the decisions of the local assemblies they represent.
It is an honor to be chosen as a representative, just as it is an honor to be chosen as a storekeeper or teacher. Consensus is sought at every level. A “straw vote” may be taken to give participants a sense of how widely particular outcomes are desired.
In Ortiz’s opinion, the Zapatista movement does not resemble other guerrilla movements. The movement it most resembles is the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s.
To respond to this new movement, to take part in it helpfully, to give it leadership in a direction promising results, requires those interested in workers’ democracy to start thinking outside traditional boxes. If we pursue only traditional models—for example, waiting for trade unions (however democratic they may become) or Marxist vanguard parties to make the revolution—we may be waiting a long time. By contrast, workers who act on their own initiative to refuse overtime or to take part in a wild-cat strike speak of their sense of liberation, their experience of literally getting “outside the box” represented by the plant and the daily routine.
I advocate an alternative perspective that I call “solidarity unionism.” It asks workers to reach out to other workers horizontally, rather than relying on higher bureaucratic levels of the unions to which they may belong. It proposes that workers seek ways in which they can begin to act together without waiting for approval from their international union or even their local union. It suggests that, as needed, they form their own organizational structures outside of (or, as in the case of a stewards’ council, overlapping with) traditional unions.
For example, suppose I work in a plant owned by a company that operates another plant in which you work. The company discontinues a shift in your plant, and you and your colleagues begin to experience layoffs. The workers at my plant, me included, find ourselves working overtime to compensate for the loss of production at your place.
Historically, workers confronted with such cutbacks in production—whether or not they belonged to a union—have often resolved to share whatever work was available, regardless of seniority. The legal services office where I worked in the 1980s did this when President Reagan cut our budget by 20 percent. Without touching the compensation of secretaries, who were underpaid to begin with, all the lawyers reduced their work-week to four days. A group of visiting nurses, whom my wife and I helped to organize an independent union, did likewise. And in a book Alice and I edited, The New Rank and File (2000), Mia Giunta tells how women workers of many nationalities in a Connecticut electronics plant that Mia helped to organize adopted the same practice.
In a shutdown or cutback situation for a fellow worker in another workplace owned by the same employer, I can express solidarity unionism by refusing overtime. (The collective bargaining agreement may mandate overtime, or be silent. Each situation will present a somewhat different tactical challenge.) Hopefully I won’t act all by myself. When our group becomes stronger, we may be able to strike in your behalf should you decide to hit the bricks. Our slogan then would be “If you go, we go.”
I think workers’ democracy means improvising such small steps of resistance as workers can take without excessive danger of being fired. I think it means trying to learn from what is going on around us. It means, I believe, affirming with students and workers in the streets that another world—a qualitatively different world—is possible.
Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich. 1993. State and Revolution, trans. Robert W. Service. New York: Viking Penguin.
Lynd, Staughton. 1997. Living Inside Our Hope: A Steadfast Radical’s Thoughts on Rebuilding the Movement. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Lynd, Staughton, and Alice Lynd. 2000. The New Rank and File. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Marx, Karl. 1990. The Civil War in France. New York: International Publishers.
Ortiz, Teresa. 2001. Never Again a World Without Us: Voices of Mayan Women in Chiapas, Mexico. Washington, DC: Epica.
Remembering Staughton Lynd
Throughout his life, Staughton Lynd affirmed that another world is possible and sought means to get from here to there. He was one of the greatest historians and libertarian socialists of our time. The Admirable Radical. Our friend. Rest in power, dear Scrapper.
Below is the excerpt of the Introduction by Andrej Grubacic from From Here to There: The Staughton Lynd Reader.
In November 2008, French academic Max Gallo argued that the great revolutionary parenthesis is closed for good. No more “magnificent barefoot men marching on a dazzled world” whom Victor Hugo had once admired. Any revolutionary transformation, Gallo said, inevitably means an eruption of violence. Because our societies are extremely fragile, the major responsibility of intellectuals and other public figures is to protect those fragile societies from such an eruption.
Gallo is hardly alone in putting forth this view, either historically or within the current moment of discussion and debate. Indeed, his cautionary plea was quickly echoed by another man of letters, and another notable French leftist, historian François Furet. Furet warned that any attempt at radical transformation was either totalitarian or terrorist, or both, and that the very idea of another society has become almost completely inconceivable. His conclusion was that we are, in a certain sense, condemned to live in the world in which we live.
And then, only one month later, in December, there was the Greek rebellion. The Greek miracle. Not a simple riot, most certainly not a “credit crunch rebellion,” but a rebellion of dignity and a radical statement of presence: of real, prefigurative, transformative and resisting alternatives. Rebellion that was about affirming the preciousness of life.
I am writing this Introduction on the anniversary of the murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos, the act that put the fire to the powder keg of the Greek December. While writing, I am reminded of words from Staughton Lynd in a personal communication written to me during those days:
At the same time, just as we honor the gifts of the Zapatistas, we should ceaselessly and forever honor the unnamed, unknown men, women and children who lay down their lives for their comrades and for a better world. There sticks in my mind the story of a Salvadoran campesino. When the death squad arrived at his home, he asked if he might put on his favorite soccer (“football”) shoes before he was shot. The path to a new world cannot be and will not be short. Any one of us can walk it only part of the way. As we do so we should hold hands, and keep facing forward.
But how do we walk? How do we begin walking?
The aim of this Introduction is to suggest the relevance of Staughton Lynd’s life and ideas for a new generation of radicals. The reader will undoubtedly notice that it has been written in a somewhat unconventional tone. My intention is to describe the process that led me, an anarchist revolutionary from the Balkans, to discover, and eventually embrace, many of the ideas espoused by an American historian, Quaker, lawyer and pacifist, influenced by Marxism. This task is not made any easier by the fact that Staughton, through the years of our friendship, has become a beloved mentor and co-conspirator. Staughton Lynd, for many good reasons that you are about to discover in reading this collection, has earned a legendary status among people familiar with his work and struggles.
It is impossible even to begin to conceive of writing a history of modern day American radicalism without mentioning the name of Staughton Lynd. He lived and taught in intentional communities, the Macedonia Cooperative Community and the Society of Brothers, or Bruderhof. He helped to edit the journal Liberation with Paul Goodman and David Dellinger. Together with Howard Zinn he taught American history at Spelman College in Atlanta. He served as director of SNCC organized Freedom Schools of Mississippi in 1964. In April 1965, he chaired the first march against the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C. In August 1965, he was arrested together with Bob Moses and David Dellinger at the Assembly of Unrepresented People in Washington, D.C., where demonstrators sought to declare peace with the people of Vietnam on the steps of the Capitol. In December 1965, Staughton—along with Tom Hayden and Herbert Aptheker—made a trip to Hanoi, in hope of clarifying the peace terms of the North Vietnamese government and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. He was one of the four original teachers at Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation Training Institute founded in 1968-1969. He stands as one of the original protagonists of the New Left assertion of “history from the bottom up,” which is today so celebrated and widely appreciated. He fought as a lawyer for the rank-and-file workers of Youngstown, and for prisoners at the supermaximum security prison in Youngstown who know him as “Scrapper.” Staughton has been and remains a guru of solidarity unionism as practiced by the Industrial Workers of the World.1
This list could very easily go on. But I do not set out here to write a history of Staughton’s life. There are other books and articles that have done that.2 Rather, I would like to describe how my own politics have changed in the course of my intellectual engagement and friendship with Staughton Lynd, and why I today believe in, and continually profess the need for, a specific fusion of anarchism and Marxism, a political statement that I refused for much of my life as a militant, self-described, and unrepentant anarchist. The aim of this short Introduction is to explain why I believe that the ideas of Staughton Lynd are crucially important for the revolutionaries of my generation, and to offer some suggestions for a possible new revolutionary orientation, inspired by his ideas.
I was born to a family of revolutionaries. I come from Yugoslavia, or what is left of Yugoslavia. It is called something else now. Although I moved to the United States in 2005, I was already a foreigner well before that moment. My grandparents were socialists and Titoists, partisans and anti-fascists, dreamers who believed in self-management and the Yugoslav “path to socialism.”3 This idea—and especially the Yugoslav and Balkan dream of an inter-ethnic, pluricultural space—was dramatically dismantled in the 1990s, when I found myself living in a country that was no longer my own. It was ruled by people I could not relate to, local tyrants that we used to call “aparatciki,” bureaucrats of ideas and spirit. That was the beginning of my struggle to understand my own identity and the problem of Yugoslav socialism. I went on to look for another path to what my grandparents understood as communism. It seemed to me that the Marxist-Leninist way of getting “from here to there,” the project of seizing the power of the state, and functioning through a “democratically” centralized party organization, had produced not a free association of free human beings but a bureaucratized expression of what was still called by the official ideology of a socialist state, “Marxism.” Yugoslav self-management was, like so many other failures in our revolutionary history, a magnificent failure, a glimmer, not unlike those other ones that Staughton Lynd and I discuss in our book, Wobblies and Zapatistas.
Being thus so understandably distrustful of Marxism, I became, very early on, an anarchist. Anarchism, to my mind, means taking democracy seriously and organizing prefiguratively, that is, in a way that anticipates the society we are about to create. Instead of taking the power of the state, anarchism is concerned with “socializing”power—with creating new political and social structures not after the revolution, but in the immediate present, in the shell of the existing order. With the arrival of the Zapatistas in 1994, I dedicated all of my political energy to the emerging movement that many of us experienced as a shock of hope, and what journalists would later come to describe as a potent symbol of a new “anti-globalization movement.” With the kind help of many generous friends, I found a refuge in the United States, at the SUNY Binghamton and its Fernand Braudel Center. It is here in the libraries of New York State University, in fact, where the story of my friendship with Staughton Lynd should properly begin.
One day, as I was working in the university library—and quite by accident, or with the help of what Arthur Koestler calls library angels— my eyes were drawn to a shelf in front of me and a book with a somewhat tacky cover.5 There was an American eagle, an image I did not particularly like, and a title that I was similarly not immediately fond of: Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism. This was not my cup of tea. I wanted to write about “coloniality,” post-structuralism, and other exotic things that academics seem to find interesting. As I started reading it, however, I simply could not make myself put it down. What I had in my hands was the best kind of a history-from-below: a breathtaking reconstruction of American radicalism, a moving story of anabaptists and abolitionists, of communal experiments and direct democracy, of the “ordinarily inarticulate,” a tradition of “my country is the world.” It spoke of “bicameralism from below,” a vision that is “not simply a utopian vision but a means of struggle toward that vision.” At the heart of this vision is revolution understood as a process that begins when, by demonstrations or strikes or electoral victories in the context of supplementary direct action, the way a society makes its decisions is forced to change: “That is something very real even when the beginnings are small. It means, not just that a given decision is different in substance, but that the process of decision-making becomes more responsive to the ordinarily inarticulate. New faces appear in the group that makes the decision, alternatives are publicly discussed in advance, more bodies have to be consulted. As the revolutionary situation deepens, the broadening of the decision-making process becomes institutionalized. Alongside the customary structure of authority, parallel bodies—organs of “dual power,” as Trotsky called them—arise. . . . [A] new structure of representation develops out of direct democracy and controlled by it. Suddenly, in whole parts of the country and in entire areas of daily life, it becomes apparent that people are obeying the new organs of authority rather than the old ones. . . . The task becomes building into the new society something of that sense of shared purpose and tangibly shaping a common destiny which characterized the revolution at its most
These institutional improvisations are made easier if there are pre-existing organizations of the poor, institutions of their own making, such as the “clubs, the unorthodox congregations, the fledgling trade unions” that are “the tangible means, in theological language the ‘works,’ by which revolutionaries kept alive their faith that men could live together in a radically different way. In times of crisis resistance turned into revolution, the underground congregation burst forth as a model for the Kingdom of God on earth, and an organ of secular ‘dual power.’”7
I remember reading, again and again, the last passage of the book. “The revolutionary tradition is more than words and more than isolated acts. Men create, maintain, and rediscover a tradition of struggle by the crystallization of ideas and actions into organizations which they make for themselves. Parallel to Leviathan, the Kingdom is dreamed, discussed, in minuscule form established. Within the womb of the old society—it is Marx’s metaphor—the new society is born.”8
I don’t think I had ever before encountered a more lucid and beautiful description of a revolutionary process. Years later, I find myself going back to these words often. And it was this magnificent little book that ultimately made me decide to change the subject of my thesis and to write about experiences of inter-racial and inter-ethnic mutual aid in American history instead. Quite an ambitious project for a young historian from Yugoslavia to take up, and thus a further testament to the level of inspiration I drew from this book.
At its very roots, Staughton’s approach resonated with my perspective as an anarchist and how I understood anarchism. And very interestingly enough for me, this was what was drawn from the work of an explicitly self-identifying Marxist historian! But could there be a better way of writing history from the perspective of an anarchist? Is there a more apt way of being an anarchist than practicing what Staughton Lynd calls “guerrilla history” as it is described in “Guerrilla History in Gary” and “A Vision of History” (Essays 14 and 15)? And could there be a more urgent topic for someone from Yugoslavia, someone struggling to understand the intertwined legacy of inter-ethnic conflict and inter-ethnic solidarity? Soon after I put Intellectual Origins back on the shelf, I went to look for Staughton Lynd. I found him in Youngstown, Ohio.
I remember vividly our first meeting. We met in New York, a few hours before he gave the talk at the War Resisters League included in this Reader under the title, “Someday They’ll Have a War and Nobody Will Come” (Essay 24). I will never forget Staughton’s question to me: “How can I join your movement?” After a long conversation I made him the promise that I would help him to do that, but also that I would join his. Two years later, after meeting a group of young activists in Portland who were reading with excitement our Wobblies and Zapatistas, I felt I had made good on my promise.
Staughton still likes to ask me why it is that I went to see him. Why didn’t I look for some famous Italian or French radical theorist? I suspect that he knows the reason well, but I indulge him nonetheless, by answering that we all make mistakes. Still, the question deserves a longer response. After all, I was one of the activists and writers who advocated a “new anarchism”: a movement free of the burden of the traditional political practice, but rather emerging out of the organic practice of contemporary, global and networked struggles. I penned article after article criticizing the “weight of the old.”
However, the truth is that I moved to the United States, to use an expression that Staughton likes, as a broken-hearted lover. Networks and connections that were built during the cycle of the 1990s were still in place, but 9/11 in the United States, and Genoa in Europe, as well as some profound mistakes made by the movement, brought us to a situation where there was not a coherent response to imperial globality and neo-liberal violence. The World Social Forum was in a serious crisis, and Peoples Global Action had more or less disappeared from the revolutionary horizon. Groups with which I used to work were nowhere to be found, and the global movement was in a process of a search for a new orientation. Networks were becoming not-works. It became clear to me that, at least in the long term, we should not anchor our efforts in the hope for encounters and summits. The lifestyle of activists who “summit hop” from one brief-lived action to the next is, in the long run, unsustainable. There was a need for a new emancipatory program. It was my feeling that in running away from traditional models of organizing we ended up running too far, and far too quickly.
The whole context that David Graeber and I optimistically described as a coalescing “new anarchism” was in a state of evident confusion.9 Even today, in times that are perceived by most as a serious crisis of the capitalist system, the movement in the United States is still far from having achieved any strategic clarity. The Left is without the movement. Or the movement is without the Left. Wobblies and Socialists are not organizing “encampments” in rural Oklahoma, as they used to do before the inter-racial Green Corn Rebellion of 1917. Times are as serious as they were then, if not more so, but somehow there are no “penny auctions” this time around. Meanwhile, intellectuals are writing serious political essays that no one who hasn’t spent years in graduate school can hope to understand. Ivy league professors are telling us that to hope and work for an inter-racial movement is a waste of time. White workers are irrevocably generalized as racists, class is “multitude,” and we are all part of the post-alpha generation suffering from the pathologies of “semiocapitalism.”
On the other side of the world, news from Yugoslavia, or whatever other name local elites and foreign embassies now use to describe it, was and remains equally disconcerting. I was an outsider trying to make sense, from the outside, of what has happened to my movement and to the country from which I came. I felt we needed a revolutionary synthesis of a new kind. That is why I went to find Staughton Lynd. I went to Youngstown to listen, to try to understand what went wrong, and I found myself in a conversation.
In the forthcoming years of our friendship and intellectual partnership, we came up with a suggestion for a new revolutionary orientation that would be premised on a fusion, or synthesis, of what we recognized as indispensable qualities of both anarchism and Marxism. It would perhaps be accurate to say that, in the process, I became a bit of a Marxist and Staughton a bit of an anarchist. In Wobblies and Zapatistas, we offered the following approach:
What is Marxism? It is an effort to understand the structure of the society in which we live so as to make informed predictions and to act with greater effect. What is anarchism? It is the attempt to imagine a better society and insofar as possible to “prefigure,” to anticipate that society by beginning to live it out, on the ground, here and now. Isn’t it perfectly obvious that these two orientations are both needed, that they are like having two hands to accomplish the needed task of transformation? These two viewpoints had been made to seem to be mutually exclusive alternatives. They are not. They are Hegelian moments that need to be synthesized. 10
These two viewpoints had been made to seem to be mutually exclusive alternatives. They are not. They are Hegelian moments that need to be synthesized.
We argued that in North America there is a tradition we termed the Haymarket synthesis, a tradition of the so-called “Chicago school” of anarchism, represented by Albert Parsons, August Spies, and the other Haymarket martyrs, all of whom described themselves as anarchists, socialists, and Marxists. This tradition was kept alive by the magnificent band of rebels known as the Wobblies, and today by rebels in Chiapas, the Zapatistas. Our responsibility today, in the United States, is to revive the Haymarket synthesis, to infuse it with new energy, new passion and new insights. To discover libertarian socialism for the twenty-first century. To rekindle dreams of a “socialist commonwealth,” and to bring socialism, that “forbidden word,” into a new and contemporary meaning. It is my belief that the ideas collected in the Reader before you present an important step in this direction. They suggest a vision of a libertarian socialism for the twenty-first century organized around the idea and practice of solidarity.
The essays in this collection do not tell us about one and only one way of getting “from here to there.” As Staughton writes in “Toward Another World” (Essay 25), “I am glad that there does not exist a map, a formula or equation within which we must act to get from Here to There. It’s more fun this way, to move forward experimentally, sometimes to stumble but at other times to glimpse things genuinely new, always to be open to the unexpected and the unimagined and the not-yet-fully-in-being.”
In this spirit, without offering or imposing blueprints, I would like to suggest that libertarian socialism for the twenty-first century, a contemporary reworking of the Haymarket synthesis, could be organized around three important themes:
1. Self-activity. In creating a libertarian socialism for the twenty- first century we should rely not on a fantasy that salvation will come from above, but on our own self-activity expressed through organizations at the base that we ourselves create and control.
2. Local institutions or “warrens.” Crucially important for a new revolutionary orientation is what Edward Thompson called a warren, that is, a local institution in which people conduct their own affairs.
3. Solidarity. We need to build more than a movement, we need to build a community of struggle.
We can understand self-activity in two ways. One is through what the Industrial Workers of the World call “solidarity unionism.” In different parts of this Reader, Staughton describes solidarity unionism as a horizontal expression of workers’ self-activity. In “Toward Another World” (Essay 25), he explains:
An easy way to remember the basic idea of solidarity unionism is to think: Horizontal not vertical. Mainstream trade unionism beyond the arena of the local union is relentlessly vertical. Too often, rank-and-file candidates for local union office imagine that the obvious next step for them is to seek higher office, as international union staff man, regional director, even international union president. The Left, for the past seventy-five years, has lent itself to the fantasy that salvation will come from above by the election of a John L. Lewis, Philip Murray, Walter Reuther, Arnold Miller, Ed Sadlowski, Ron Carey, John Sweeney, Andrew Stern, or Richard Trumka.
Instead we should encourage successful rank-and-file candidates for local union office to look horizontally to their counterparts in other local unions in the same industry or community. This was labor’s formula for success during its most creative and successful years in memory, the early 1930s. During those years there were successful local general strikes in Minneapolis, Toledo, San Francisco, and other, smaller industrial towns. During those years local labor parties sprang up like mushrooms across the United States. Today some organizers in the IWW, for example in Starbucks stores in New York City, once again espouse solidarity unionism.
Instead of following the top-down, bureaucratic traditions of the founding fathers of the labor movement, and their fascination with national unionism, we should follow another path, the one that, as Staughton points out in “From Globalization to Resistance” (Essay 19), “takes its inspiration from the astonishing recreation from below throughout the past century of ad hoc central labor bodies: the local workers’ councils known as ‘soviets’ in Russia in 1905 and 1917; the Italian factory committees of the early 1920s; solidarity unions in Toledo, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and elsewhere in the United States in the early 1930s; and similar formations in Hungary in 1956, Poland in 1980-1981, and France in 1968 and 1995.” What is important, he explains, is that these “were all horizontal gatherings of all kinds of workers in a given locality, who then form regional and national networks with counterpart bodies elsewhere.”
A second form of self-activity, closely related to the practice of solidarity unionism, is the Mayan idea of “mandar obediciendo” that informs the contemporary practice of the Zapatistas. This vision of a government “from below” that “leads by obeying” calls for separate emphasis, as Lynd says in his concluding essay, “because of the preoccupation of socialists for the past century and a half with ‘taking state power.’” As I read the communiques from the Lacondón jungle, he writes, “I realized that at least from a time shortly after their initial public appearance, the Zapatistas were saying: We don’t want to take state power. If we can create a space that will help others to make the national government more democratic, well and good. But our task, as we see it, is to bring into being self-governing local entities linked together horizontally so as to present whoever occupies the seats of government in Mexico City with a force so powerful that it becomes necessary to govern in obedience to what Subcomandante Marcos calls ‘the below.’”
What the Zapatistas mean by this is an intention, an active effort to create and maintain a horizontal network of self-governing communities. This is what a new kind of libertarian socialism would look like. As Staughton writes on the last page of Wobblies and Zapatistas: “imagining a transition that will not culminate in a single apocalyptic moment but rather express itself in unending creation of self-acting entities that are horizontally linked is a source of quiet joy.”11
2. Local Institutions or “warrens”
As for warrens, in “Edward Thompson’s Warrens” (Essay 21)—one of the most important pieces in this collection—we learn about a metaphor that is central to Thompson’s understanding of a revolutionary process: a rabbit warren, that is, a long-lasting local institution. I remember once reading somewhere about a Spanish revolutionary and singer who said that we lost all the battles, but we had the best songs. I never liked this attitude, as noble and poetic as it might be. Any new revolutionary perspective ought to go beyond this. For much of my life as a revolutionary I have been haunted by what I call “Michelet’s problem.” Michelet was a famous French historian, who wrote the following words about the French revolution: “that day everything was possible, the future was the present and time but a glimmer of eternity.” But, as Cornelius Castoriades used to say, if all that we create is just a glimmer of hope, the bureaucrats will inevitably show up and turn off the light.12 The history of revolutions is, on the one hand, a history of tension between brief moments of revolutionary creativity and the making of long-lasting institutions. On the other hand, the history of revolutions often reads like a history of revolutionary alienation, when the revolutionary was, more than anything else, ultimately and almost inevitably alienated from his or her own creations. Michelet’s problem is about resolving this tension between brief epiphanies of revolutionary hope and the hope for long-term institutionalization of revolutionary change.
The crucial question then is how to create such lasting institutions, or better yet, an ongoing culture of constructive struggle. In Wobblies and Zapatistas, Staughton asserts that “every single one of the ventures or experiments in government from below that we have been discussing existed for only a few months or years. In many societies they were drowned in blood. In most cases underlying economic institutions, that provided the matrix within which all political arrangements functioned, did not change. The leases on Hudson Valley manors after the Revolution did not differ dramatically from such leases before the Revolution.”13 So what is missing? How can we try to approach the answer to what I have called Michelet’s problem?
In the contemporary anarchist movement, if we can speak of one, there is a lot of talk about “the insurrection” and considerable fascination with “the event.”14 The French accent and sophisticated jargon are perhaps new and in fashion, but these are not new topics. They appear to crop up, with disturbing regularity, with every new generation of revolutionaries. The old refrain that organizing is another word for going slow is being rediscovered by some of the new radicals. This is the topic of “The New Radicals and Participatory Democracy” and, especially, “Weatherman” (Essays 6 and 8).
I think we can say that there are, risking some oversimplification, two ways of thinking about revolution. In his essay on Thompson’s warrens, Staughton says that “Thompson implicitly asks us to choose between two views of the transition from capitalism to socialism.” One is expressed in the song “Solidarity Forever” when the song affirms, “We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old.” In this perspective, “the new world will arise, phoenix-like, after a great catastrophe or conflagration. The emergence of feudalism from pockets of local self-help after the collapse of the Roman Empire is presumably the exemplar of that kind of transition.” This is the negative idea of revolution, very much present in contemporary movement literature.15
A second view of the revolution is positive, comparing it to the transition from feudalism to capitalism.
The preamble to the IWW Constitution gives us a mantra for this perspective, declaring that “we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.”
Thompson opted for the second paradigm. . . . For a society to be criss-crossed by underground dens and passageways created by an oppositional class is, in Thompson’s 1960s vocabulary, to be “warrened.” British society, he wrote, is “warrened with democratic processes—committees, voluntary organizations, councils, electoral procedures.” Because of the existence of such counter-institutions, in Thompson’s view a transition to socialism could develop from what was already in being, and from below. “Socialism, even at the point of revolutionary transition—perhaps at this point most of all—must grow from existing strengths. No one . . . can impose a socialist humanity from above.”
We have here an image of a constructive, not apocalyptic, revolution: built on the positives of a socialist commonwealth emerging from existing creations improvised from below. In Thompson’s words:
[S]uch a revolution demands the maximum enlargement of positive demands, the deployment of constructive skills within a conscious revolutionary strategy—or, in William Morris’ words, the “making of Socialists.” . . . Alongside the industrial workers, we should see the teachers who want better schools, scientists who wish to advance research, welfare workers who want hospitals, actors who want a National Theatre, technicians impatient to improve industrial organization. Such people do not want these things only and always, any more than all industrial workers are always “class conscious” and loyal to their great community values. But these affirmatives exist, fitfully and incompletely, with the ethos of the Opportunity State. It is the business of socialists to draw the line, not between a staunch but diminishing minority and an unredeemable majority, but between the monopolists and the people—to foster the “societal instincts” and inhibit the acquisitive. Upon these positives, and not upon the debris of a smashed society, the socialist community must be built.
We should always cherish these beautiful words. But what is Thompson’s warren? And why do I insist that it represents a formula for success? It is, first and foremost, a local institution in which people conduct their own affairs—an immigrant center or local union, for example—that expands in time of crisis to take on new powers and responsibilities, and then, after the revolutionary tide ebbs, continues to represent, in institutionalized form, an expanded version of what existed to begin with.
It would be impossible to understand the Russian revolution—the long Russian revolution (from 1890 to 1920)—without looking at the middle-class convocations, the student demonstrations, the workers’ petitions: all forms of direct action, within the context of pre-existing and new “warrens,” such as local unions, universities, and soviets. After the failure of the December 1905 uprising in Moscow and Petrograd, soviets lived on in popular memory until they were re-created by workers in 1917. In American labor history the most important meetings and organizations, including the ones that led to formation of the CIO in the 1930s, took place in pre-existing local institutions, such as fraternal societies, credit unions, burial associations, singing clubs, churches and newspapers.
In “Remembering SNCC” (Essay 4), an essay that ought to become required reading for anyone interested in the movement of the Sixties, we discover that one cannot hope to understand what happened in the South and in the civil rights movement without understanding that student action emerged from pre-existing warrens such as African American churches and college campuses. In the last section of the Reader, we learn that the Zapatistas provide perhaps the clearest example of all: hundreds if not thousands of years of life in pre-existing asambleas, and a decade of as yet unchronicled “accompaniment” by a group of Marxists-Leninists from the universities of Mexico City.
A way of looking at what happened in all these cases is that revolutionaries can often light a spark—not a prairie fire!—but whether or not a fire will catch on depends on the response of people in their pre-existing local unions, factory committees, benefit associations, and other local institutions. Some of the self-governing institutions will be old entities (warrens) that have taken on new powers and objectives. In Chiapas, Mayan asambleas play this role. In Russia, soviets were the heart of the revolution. The nature of a revolutionary process is such that the distinction between old and new local institutions becomes blurred. The role of libertarian socialists is above all to nurture the creation, the spread, and the authority of local “warrens,” to defend the existence, the legitimacy, and the autonomy of such formations.
Finally, how do we do that? How do we build communities of struggle?
If capitalism developed as a practice of the idea of contract, libertarian socialism should be developed as a practice of solidarity. There are several kinds of solidarity. On the one hand, we might say, solidarity can be defined as drawing the boundary of our community of struggle as widely as possible. There are many examples of solidarity thus defined. In “Henry Thoreau: The Admirable Radical” (Essay 1) and especially in “The Tragedy of American Diplomacy” (Essay 23), Staughton speaks very fondly of Thoreau, who, in his essay on civil disobedience, famously observed that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race, should find good citizens in the only house in a slave state in which a free man can abide with honor, namely, in prison behind bars.
This is one way of understanding solidarity. Another way of understanding solidarity is by pointing out, as Staughton does in his essay “From Globalization to Resistance” (Essay 19), is that there is a problem with the concept of organizing. There are several ways to organize. One way is Leninist vanguardism: the idea that the working class, left to itself, is able to develop only trade-union consciousness. The proper revolutionary consciousness could only be brought to workers “from without.” In the United States, during the 1930s and 1970s, this process was known as “colonization.” Revolutionaries would go to a factory and “colonize” the workplace. It is not all that different with trade-union organizers, irrespective of how courageous or resourceful they might be: when they organize in a way that implicitly assumes an “outside,” it creates a certain inequality between organizer and organized.
The anarchist response to this, in the last couple of decades, was twofold. One way was to offer a perspective of “contaminationism.” As David Graeber explains, “On a more immediate level, the strategy depends on the dissemination of the model: most anarchists, for example, do not see themselves as a vanguard whose historical role is to ‘organize’ other communities, but rather as one community setting an example others can imitate. The approach—it’s often referred to as ‘contaminationism’—is premised on the assumption that the experience of freedom is infectious: that anyone who takes part in a direct action is likely to be permanently transformed by the experience, and want more.”16
The other, loosely-defined anarchist approach was to behave like a social worker, tending the communities from the outside, not as a fellow student or a fellow worker with a particular understanding of a situation shared with others, but as an “activist” or professional in social change—a force outside of society, organizing those “inside” on their own behalf. There are many successful and admirable examples of this kind of organizing. However, the same problem of implicit inequality still stands.
A far better alternative than these two responses, and one that I would like to advance here, is a process that Staughton calls “accompaniment.” Revolutionaries should accompany workers and others in the creation and maintenance of popular self-governing institutions. In this process, we should not pretend to be something we are not. Rather, we can walk beside poor people in struggle just as we are, hopefully providing support and certain useful skills.
I experienced this vision of accompaniment while I was still living in Yugoslavia. A few of us, students from Belgrade University, recognized that the only organized resistance to the encroaching tide of privatization and neo-liberalism was coming from a group of workers in the Serbian countryside. We decided to go to northern Serbia, to a city called Zrenjanin, and approach the workers. These workers were very different from ourselves. Some of them had fought in the recent Yugoslav wars. Most of them were very conservative, patriarchal, and traditional. We went there and offered our skills. We had a few. We spoke foreign languages. We had internet access and know-how in a country where only two percent of the people used this service. We had connections with workers and movements outside Serbia. Some were good writers. A few had legal expertise. These workers were grateful but understandably quite skeptical, as were we. Soon, however, something like a friendship emerged. We started working together and learning from each other. In the process of struggling against the boss, the private armies he sent to the factory, and the state authorities, we started to trust each other. We both changed—workers and students.
Staughton and his wife Alice encountered the notion of accompaniment in Latin America. In “From Globalization to Resistance” (Essay 19), we find these lines:
In Latin America—for example, once again, in the work of Archbishop Romero—there is the different concept of “accompaniment.” I do not organize you. I accompany you, or more precisely, we accompany each other. Implicit in this notion of “accompañando” is the assumption that neither of us has a complete map of where our path will lead. In the words of Antonio Machado: “Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar.” “Seeker, there is no road. We make the road by walking.
Accompaniment has been, in the experience of myself and my wife, a discovery and a guide to practice. Alice first formulated it as a draft counselor in the 1960s. When draft counselor meets counselee, she came to say, there are two experts in the room. One may be an expert on the law and administrative regulations. The other is an expert on what he wants to do with his life. Similarly as lawyers, in our activity with workers and prisoners, we have come to prize above all else the experience of jointly solving problems with our clients. They know the facts, the custom of the workplace or penal facility, the experience of past success and failure. We too bring something to the table. I do not wish to be indecently immodest, but I will share that I treasure beyond any honorary degree actual or imagined the nicknames that Ohio prisoners have given the two of us: “Mama Bear” and “Scrapper.”
In “Toward Another World” (Essay 25), Staughton writes:
In the annual pastoral letters that he wrote during the years before his assassination, Romero projected a course of action with two essential elements. First, be yourself. If you are a believing Christian, don’t be afraid of professing it. If you are an intellectual don’t pretend that you make your living by manual labor. Second, place yourself at the side of the poor and oppressed. Accompany them on their journey.. . . One last point about accompaniment is that it can only come about if you—that is, the lawyer, doctor, teacher, clergyman, or other professional person—stay in the community over a period of years. . . . I feel strongly that if more professionals on the Left would take up residence in communities other than Cambridge, New York City, and Berkeley, and stay there for a while, social change in this country might come a lot more quickly.
. . . One last point about accompaniment is that it can only come about if you—that is, the lawyer, doctor, teacher, clergyman, or other professional person—stay in the community over a period of years. . . . I feel strongly that if more professionals on the Left would take up residence in communities other than Cambridge, New York City, and Berkeley, and stay there for a while, social change in this country might come a lot more quickly.
“The Two Yales” (Essay 12) and “Intellectuals, the University and the Movement” (Essay 13) are perhaps the most radical critique of the arrogance of campus intellectuals I ever came across. In Wobblies and Zapatistas, Staughton added:
I have a hard time with theorizing that does not appear to arise from practical activity or lead to action, or indeed, that seems to discourage action and consider action useless.
I don’t think I am intellectually inept. Yet I confess that much of what is written about “post-Marxism,” or “Fordism,” or “deconstruction,” or “the multitude,” or “critical legal studies,” or “whiteness,” and that I have tried to read, seems to me, simply, both unintelligible and useless.
What is the explanation for this universe of extremely abstract discourse? I yearn to ask each such writer: What are you doing? With what ordinary people do you discuss your ideas before you publish them? What difference does it make, in the world outside your windows and away from your word processor, whether you say A or B? For whom do you consider yourself a model or exemplar? Exactly how, in light of what you have written, do you see your theoretical work leading to another world? Or would it be more accurate to suggest that the practical effect of what you write is to rationalize your comfortable position doing full-time theorizing in a college or university?17
In the pages of the same book Staughton offers a similarly trenchant critique of some anarchist practices:
As a lifelong rebel against heavy-handed Marxist dogmatism I find myself defending Marx, and objecting to the so-called radicalism of one-weekend-a-year radicals who show up at a global confrontation and then talk about it for the rest of the year.
These are harsh words. But I consider them deserved. Anarchists, above all others, should be faithful to the injunction that a genuine radical, a revolutionary, must indeed swim in the sea of the people, and if he or she does not do so, is properly viewed as what the Germans called a “socialist of the chair,” or in English, an “armchair intellectual.”
It is a conspiracy of persons who make their living at academic institutions to induce others who do the same to take them seriously. I challenge it and reject it. Let them follow Marcos to the jungles of Chiapas in their own countries, and learn something new.18
In this project of “accompaniment,” the model should be that of the Mexican intellectuals, students and professors, who went to live in the jungle, and after ten years came forth as protagonists of a revolution from below. The Zapatistas were not footloose: they went to a particular place and stayed there, in what must have been incredibly challenging and difficult circumstances, for a decade of accompaniment. The central component of accompaniment is that we should settle down in particular places so that when crises come we will already be trusted friends and members of the community.
When I argue for accompaniment in my university talks I am usually accused of proposing a practice that defers, without criticism, to whatever poor and oppressed people in struggle believe and are demanding at the moment. It is to these critiques that Staughton answers in Wobblies and Zapatistas:
In his fourth and last Pastoral Letter, written less than a year before his death, Romero says that the preferential option for the poor does not mean “blind partiality in favor of the masses.” Indeed:
In the name of the preferential option for the poor there can never be justified the machismo, the alcoholism, the failure in family responsibility, the exploitation of one poor person by another, the antagonism among neighbors, and the so many other sins that [are] concurrent roots of this country’s crisis and violence.
I submit that the foregoing is hardly a doctrine of unthinking subservience to the momentary beliefs or instructions of the poor.
I challenge those who offer this critique of “accompaniment” to explain, in detail, how they go about relating to the poor and oppressed. I suspect that they do not have such relationships at all. That makes it easy to be pure: without engagement with the world, one need only endlessly reiterate one’s own abstract identity.
“Accompaniment” is simply the idea of walking side by side with another on a common journey. The idea is that when a university-trained person undertakes to walk beside someone rich in experience but lacking formal skills, each contributes something vital to the process. “Accompaniment” thus understood presupposes, not uncritical deference, but equality.19
It is interesting to note the similarity between accompaniment and another form of praxis emerging from Latin America. In some parts of the continent anarchists have developed a praxis of involvement in social movements that they call “Especifismo.” The mainstay of Especifismo is the engagement called “social insertion.” This means activists being focused on activity within, and helping to build, mass organizations and mass struggles, in communities and neighborhoods, in various social spheres. This does not mean people from outside intervening in struggles of working people, but is about the focus of organizing radicals within the communities of struggle. Various struggles can include strikes, rent strikes, struggles for control of the land, struggles against the police and gentrification, struggles against sexism, for the right to abortion, against bus fare increases, or any other issue that angers working people and moves them to act.20
But accompaniment can be taken even further, to the very issue of revolutionary agency. In “From Globalization to Resistance” (Essay 19) we encounter a hypothesis, further developed in “Students and Workers in the Transition to Socialism” (Essay 20), that the concept of “accompaniment,” in addition to clarifying the desirable relationship of individuals in the movement for social change to one another, also has application to the desirable relationship of groups. A great deal of energy has gone into defining the proper relationship in the movement for social change of workers and students; blacks and whites; men and women; straights and gays; gringos, ladinos and indígenas; and no doubt, English-speakers and French-speakers. An older wave of radicalism struggled with the supposed leading role of the proletariat. More recently other kinds of division have preoccupied us. My question is, what would it do to this discussion were we to say that we are all accompanying one another on the road to a better society?
It appears that in Hungary, as well as later in France and the United States, and before that in revolutionary Russia, students came first, and workers subsequently joined in.
Why do students so often come first? One can speculate. To whatever extent Gramsci is right about the hegemony of bourgeois ideas, students and other intellectuals break through it: they give workers the space to think and experience for themselves. Similarly, the defiance of students may help workers to overcome whatever deference they may be feeling toward supposed social superiors.
It is of great importance to stress that solidarity must be built outside of the university library and on the basis of practice, not shared ideas. Solidarity only can be built on the basis of action that is in the common interest. In the pages of “Nonviolence and Solidarity” (Essay 17) we learn that in “the world of poor and working-class resistance . . . action often comes before talk, and may be in apparent contradiction to words that the actor has used, or even continues to use in the midst of action. The experience of struggle gives rise to new understandings that may be put into words much later or never put into words at all.” In these situations, “Experience ran ahead of ideology. Actions spoke louder than organizational labels.”
The most convincing example of this is the prison uprising at Lucasville, Ohio, a rebellion inside a maximum security prison which Staughton discusses in “Overcoming Racism” (Essay 18).21
The single most remarkable thing about the Lucasville rebellion is that white and black prisoners formed a common front against the authorities. When the State Highway Patrol came into the occupied cell block after the surrender they found slogans written on the walls of the corridor and in the gymnasium that read: “Convict unity,” “Convict race,” “Blacks and whites together,” “Blacks and whites, whites and blacks, unity,” “Whites and blacks together,” “Black and white unity.”
The five prisoners from the rebellion on death row—the Lucasville Five—are a microcosm of the rebellion’s united front. Three are black, two are white. Two of the blacks are Sunni Muslims. Both of the whites were, at the time of the rebellion, members of the Aryan Brotherhood.
Could Lucasville’s example provide us with glimpses of how to create an interracial movement?
In the 1960s and early 1970s, the self-organized protest movement of blacks created a model for students, women, workers, and eventually, soldiers. In the same way, the self-organized resistance of black and white prisoners can become a model for the rest of us in overcoming racism. Life will continue to ask of working people that they find their way to solidarity. Surely, there are sufficient instances of deep attitudinal change on the part of white workers to persuade us that a multi-ethnic class consciousness is not only necessary, but also possible.
This is one of the aspects of Staughton’s thought that influenced me the most. I started exploring American history and, while falling short of discovering many examples of a “usable past,” I was able to discern a current of inter-racial, inter-ethnic mutual aid that we could follow from the early days on the frontier to the interracial unionism of the Wobblies in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, SNCC, and Lucasville. The important thing is not to romanticize these experiences. A legacy of conquest and a legacy of mutual aid co-exist in American history and American politics, just as they do in the Balkans. A new anti-capitalist inter-racial movement is possible only in the context of practical, lived solidarity, that transcends and overcomes differences. Libertarian socialism for the twenty-first century needs to be built on the understanding that the only movement worthy of that name is an inter-racial movement built on the process of accompaniment.
What about solidarity in the context of internationalism? In Intellectual Origins Staughton explores the tradition articulated by a series of working-class intellectuals in the United States whose credo was, “My country is the world.” In one of the most beautiful passages of Wobblies and Zapatistas, Staughton says the following:
Surely this is the form of internationalism we should espouse. It makes it possible for us to say, “Yes, I love my country! I love the fields of New England and Ohio, and also the mistcovered mountains and ravines of Chiapas and Nicaragua. I love the clarity of Thoreau, the compassion of Eugene Debs and the heroism of Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the paintings of Rembrandt, the music of Bach. I admire the conductors of the Underground Railroad and the self-organizing peasants and artisans in revolutionary Spain. My country is the world.
Finally, there is another kind of solidarity, one that must be nurtured not only in struggle but in our communities of struggle. This is very hard but necessary. If we can’t build an organization in which human beings trust one another as brothers and sisters, why should anyone trust us to build a better society? Within the pages of Wobblies and Zapatistas, Staughton urges:
We need to proceed in a way that builds community. There must be certain ground rules. We should practice direct speaking: if something bothers you about another person, go speak to him or her and do not gossip to a third person. No one should be permitted to present themselves in caucuses that define a fixed position beforehand and are impervious to the exchange of experiences. We must allow spontaneity and experiment without fear of humiliation and disgrace. Not only our organizing but our conduct toward one another must be paradigmatic in engendering a sense of truly being brothers and sisters.
In my years as an anarchist organizer, one of the most disturbing patterns I noticed is exactly the problem Staughton describes here: the inability to practice comradeship to keep our networks, our social centers and affinity groups alive. I would see one group after another destroyed by corrosive suspicion and distrust. In order for us to be effective as revolutionaries, our communities of struggle must become affective communities—places where we practice direct dialogue and prefigurative relationships.
The new generation of revolutionaries has a huge responsibility today, most of all in the current crisis of capitalist civilization. We need to muster imagination and prefigurative energy to demonstrate that radical transformation of society is indeed possible, despite the words of those two distinguished professors mentioned at the beginning of this Introduction. Forr this we need a new kind of synthesis. Perhaps the one that I tried to propose: a reinvented and solidarity-centered libertarian socialist synthesis that combines direct democracy with solidarity unionism. Strategy with program, accompaniment with warrening, structural analysis with prefigurative theory arising from practice; stubborn belief in the possibility of overcoming racism with affective anti-sectarianism. This proposed synthesis is, perhaps, woefully inadequate, simplistic or naive. Even if this is so—even if this is not that map which will take us safely from here to there—I hope that it can at least provoke and inspire a conversation moving toward these ends and ideals.
George Lukács ends his book, Theory of the Novel, with the sentence, “the voyage is over, now the travel begins.” This is what happens at the moment when the revolutionary glimmer has been extinguished: the voyage of a particular revolutionary experience may be over, but the true journey is just starting. At this very moment, I hear that the Polytechnic school in Athens has been occupied once again. People are in the streets. The spirit of December, one year after the rebellion, is everywhere.
Marxist political economists say that capitalist civilization is crumbling. This might be so. If it is, good riddance. We should hear the voice of Buenaventura Durruti speaking to us, across decades, that we should not be in the least afraid of its ruins. But the path to a new world that we carry in our hearts, a path to a free socialist community, can be built only on existing strengths, on practices of everyday communism and mutual aid, and not “upon the debris of a smashed society.” Upon the positives, with our collective prefigurative creativity, we should venture to re-make another world. It is indeed a long journey. But as Staughton Lynd never ceases to remind us—as we walk we should hold hands, and keep facing forward.
1. Because of his advocacy and practice of civil disobedience, Staughton was unable to continue as a full-time history teacher. The history departments of five Chicago-area universities offered him positions, only to have the offers negated by the school administrations. In 1976, Staughton became a lawyer. He worked for Legal Services in Youngstown, Ohio from 1978 until his retirement at the end of 1996. He specialized in employment law, and when the steel mills in Youngstown were closed in 1977-1980 he served as lead counsel to the Ecumenical Coalition of the Mahoning Valley, which sought to reopen the mills under worker-community ownership and brought the action Local 1330 v. U.S. Steel. He has written, edited, or co-edited with his wife Alice Lynd more than a dozen books. The Lynds have jointly edited four books. They are Homeland: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (New York: Olive Branch Press, 1994); Nonviolence in America: A Documentary History, revised edition (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995, now in its sixth printing); Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers, third edition (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1988); and, most recently, The New Rank and File (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), which includes oral histories of labor activists in the past quarter century. Their memoir of life together is published under the title Stepping Stones (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009).
2. See especially Carl Mirra, The Admirable Radical: Staughton Lynd and Cold War Dissent, 1945-1970 (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2010).
3. See my book Don’t Mourn, Balkanize (Oakland: PM Press, 2010).
4. A very good introduction to the anti-globalization movement is News from Nowhere, We Are Everywhere (New York: Verso, 2004).
5. Staughton Lynd, Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism, new edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
6. Intellectual Origins, pp. 171-172.
7. Intellectual Origins, p. 173.
9. David Graeber and Andrej Grubacic, “Anarchism, or the Revolutionary Movement of the Twenty-first Century,” http://www.zmag.org/ znet/viewArticle/9258.
10. Staughton Lynd and Andrej Grubacic, Wobblies & Zapatistas:
26. From Here to There Conversations on Marxism, Anarchism and Radical History (Oakland: PM Press, 2008), p. 12.
11 Wobblies & Zapatistas, p. 241.
12 Cornelius Castoriadis, Political and Social Writings (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), p. 131.
13 Wobblies & Zapatistas, p. 81.
14 See Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009).
15 See Derrick Jensen, A Language Older than Words (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2004).
16 David Graeber, Direct Action: An Ethnography (Oakland: AK Press, 2009).
17. Wobblies & Zapatistas, p. 215.
18. Wobblies & Zapatistas, p. 23.
19. Wobblies & Zapatistas, p. 176.
20. See Michael Schmidt and Lucien Van Der Walt, Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (Oakland: AK Press,2009).
21. Staughton Lynd has written about the Lucasville rebellion in “Black and White and Dead All Over,” Race Traitor, no. 8 (Winter 1998); “Lessons from Lucasville,” The Catholic Worker, v. LXV, no. 7 (Dec. 1998); and “The Lucasville Trials,” Prison Legal News, v. 10, no. 6 ( June 1999). This work is gathered together in Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004). Staughton has also contributed to a play by Gary Anderson about the Lucasville events.
This article was republished from Autonomies
After months of denial, U.S. admits to running Ukraine biolabs By: Steve SweeneyRead Now
A woman brandishes the Ukrainian flag on top of a destroyed Russian tank in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 10, 2022
Washington has been urged to come clean over its biolab program in Ukraine after the Department of Defense admitted its existence.
The Pentagon said on Thursday that it has operated 46 biolabs in Ukraine handling dangerous pathogens, after previously dismissing the charges as Russian propaganda.
China has joined calls for the United States to explain the role and capacity of the laboratories following the Pentagon’s stunning reversal after months of denial.
In March leaked papers appeared to suggest that its operations in Ukraine were sensitive while Kiev was reportedly blocked from public disclosure about the program.
According to a document signed between the two nations, Ukraine is obliged to transfer the dangerous pathogens to the U.S. Department of Defense for biological research.
Those who had raised concerns over the presence of the biolabs have been dismissed as conspiracy theorists and accused of regurgitating Russian disinformation.
But comments made by U.S. Deputy Secretary of state Victoria Nuland in March prompted further suspicions when she appeared to confirm the biological program, saying she feared the labs would “fall into Russian hands.”
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Friday that the U.S. must explain its activities and called on it to stop “single-handedly opposing the establishment of a verification mechanism for the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).
“As I stressed time and again, the U.S. conducts more bio-military activities than any other country in the world.
“Moreover, the U.S. is the only country opposing the establishment of a verification mechanism for the BWC.
“The international community has long had concerns over this. Recently, Russia has further revealed the US’s bio-military activities in Ukraine and raised clearly that the US has violated the BWC.
“According to the stipulations of the BWC, the U.S. is under an obligation to provide clarifications on Russia’s allegation so as to restore the international community’s confidence in the U.S.’s compliance,” he said.
Washington denies Russian claims that it has experimented on humans after it was alleged that testing of pathogens was carried out on psychiatric patients from Kharkiv.
The United States has been accused of engaging in biological warfare in the past.
Late Cuban leader Fidel Castro claimed that its operatives had introduced swine fever and dengue fever into the country, with a previously unknown strain of the latter created in a laboratory.
The aim was to create “the largest number of victims possible,” he said.
Former Daily Worker international correspondent Alan Winnington and Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett were accused of treason and had their passports canceled after exposing the US biological war in Korea in the 1950s.
Despite the denials, an International Scientific Commission headed by Cambridge University’s Professor Joseph Needham concluded that China and North Korea had been subjected to bacteriological weapons.
Steve Sweeney writes for Morning Star, the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. He is also a People's Assembly National Committee member, patron of the Peace in Kurdistan campaign, and a proud trade unionist. Steve Sweeney escribe para Morning Star, el diario socialista publicado en Gran Bretaña. También es miembro del Comité Nacional de la Asamblea Popular, patrocinador de la campaña Paz en Kurdistán y un orgulloso sindicalista.
this article was republished from People's World.
The U.S. Egged on the Coup in Peru By: Vijay Prashad & José Carlos Llerena RoblesRead Now
On December 7, 2022, Pedro Castillo sat in his office on what would be the last day of his presidency of Peru. His lawyers went over spreadsheets that showed Castillo would triumph over a motion in Congress to remove him. This was going to be the third time that Castillo faced a challenge from the Congress, but his lawyers and advisers—including former Prime Minister Anibal Torres—told him that he held an advantage over the Congress in opinion polls (his approval rating had risen to 31 percent, while that of the Congress was just about 10 percent).
Castillo had been under immense pressure for the past year from an oligarchy that disliked this former teacher. In a surprise move, he announced to the press on December 7 that he was going to “temporarily dissolve the Congress” and “[establish] an exceptional emergency government.” This measure sealed his fate. Castillo and his family rushed toward the Mexican Embassy but were arrested by the military along Avenida España before they could get there.
Why did Pedro Castillo take the fatal step of trying to dissolve Congress when it was clear to his advisers—such as Luis Alberto Mendieta—that he would prevail in the afternoon vote?
The pressure got to Castillo, despite the evidence. Ever since his election in July 2021, his opponent in the presidential election, Keiko Fujimori, and her associates have tried to block his ascension to the presidency. She worked with men who have close ties with the U.S. government and its intelligence agencies. A member of Fujimori’s team, Fernando Rospigliosi, for instance, had in 2005 tried to involve the U.S. Embassy in Lima against Ollanta Humala, who contested in the 2006 Peruvian presidential election. Vladimiro Montesinos, a former CIA asset who is serving time in a prison in Peru, sent messages to Pedro Rejas, a former commander in Peru’s army, to go “to the U.S. Embassy and talk with the embassy intelligence officer,.” to try and influence the 2021 Peruvian presidential election. Just before the election, the United States sent a former CIA agent, Lisa Kenna, as its ambassador to Lima. She met Peru’s Minister of Defense Gustavo Bobbio on December 6 and sent a denunciatory tweet against Castillo’s move to dissolve Congress the next day (on December 8, the U.S. government—through Ambassador Kenna--recognized Peru’s new government after Castillo’s removal).
A key figure in the pressure campaign appears to have been Mariano Alvarado, operations officer of the Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG), who functions effectively as the U.S. Defense attaché. We are told that officials such as Alvarado, who are in close contact with the Peruvian military generals, gave them the greenlight to move against Castillo. It is being said that the last phone call that Castillo took before he left the presidential palace came from the U.S. Embassy. It is likely he was warned to flee to the embassy of a friendly power, which made him appear weak.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an 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 books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.
Solidarity with Railroad Workers: Expel Class Enemies from the Democratic Socialists of AmericaRead Now
A Statement from Class Unity
December 1, 2022
If you are a DSA member, please sign onto this statement here.
We stand in solidarity with the railroad workers of America fighting for a better contract.
On Wednesday the 30th of November 2022, three D.S.A. U.S. representatives – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO), and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) – voted to impose on the railroad workers a contract they had democratically rejected. By standing with President Biden and the railroad companies against the workers and making it illegal to strike, these representatives have shown themselves to be enemies of the working class.
The representatives have turned their backs on the movement that brought them to office. The black mark they have left on the name of socialism will be a liability for American socialists well into the future.
We condemn the traitorous actions of these representatives and call for their immediate censure and expulsion from the Democratic Socialists of America.
When the far right-dominated Euromaidan protests broke out in Ukraine in 2014, Ukrainian-Americans did more than just participate in the protests: they fully seized the moment. Finally, their decades-long efforts to influence Ukrainian politics would fully pay off.
Razom for Ukraine was born out of the frustration of Ukrainian-Americans. Physically detached from their homelands, they sought out other tech-savvy Ukrainians to organize under the banner of regime change. Razom for Ukraine (also known as Razom, Inc.) attracted young Ukrainian and Ukrainian-American intellectuals, differing from older Ukrainian civil society groups in that the organization worked to influence Euromaidan through social media.
Razom lost momentum in the years following Maidan, but after the Russian invasion of Ukrainian-controlled territory in Donbass, the organization regained support almost overnight. According to metrics on SocialBlade, Razom’s Instagram account grew by 50 thousand followers between February 24th and February 28th. The organization's account is filled with calls for donations to support various aid funds, including their own, as well as images from pro-Ukrainian protests in New York City calling for a NATO no-fly zone over Ukrainian airspace; a call which many have understood as an incitement to potential nuclear war.
Razom boasts of their prolific fundraising efforts: the nonprofit has amassed over $57 million in donations to aid the Ukrainian war effort, receiving $100,000 from the New York Jets and $1 million from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings alone. Their projects include their Emergency Response Fund, Ukrainian policy initiatives in the U.S. government, and their Veteran IT programming training, funded by George Soros’ International Renaissance Fund and the European Union in Ukraine, as Razom has vowed to build a Ukraine modeled after “European values.”
Despite claiming to have raised $57 million and distributed $30 million in aid to Ukraine to date, in 2020 Razom reported receiving only $238,448 in contributions. As we await updated their tax records (Razom hasn’t filed a report in three years), the non-profit has likewise given no further reports indicating all of the Ukrainian organizations they are working with and how much funding they’ve provided in detail. This is alarming, given Ukraine’s recent history as a hub for foreign embezzlement and rampant corruption, with even Ukrainian President Zelensky’s own appearance in the Pandora Papers for having profited from offshore companies.
Who is Theodora Chomiak?
From St. George Ukrainian Church Facebook
In an interview with Forbes, Theodora Choiak, Razom’s founder and current president, describes her first visit to Soviet Ukraine in 1989 as a “cultural shock” citing a sense of “sameness”, a classic anti-communist trope. She then returned to her native New York City all the more passionate to influence regime change efforts against the Soviet government, or, “committed herself to its cause”, the struggle for the nationalist Independent Ukraine.
After the dissolution of the USSR, the Princeton graduate received a $7 million grant from George Soros’ Renaissance Foundation to open the Ukrainian Independent Information Agency (UNIAN), which later joined infamous oligarch Igor Kolomoisky’s 1+1 Media Group.
Source: Chomiak’s LinkedIn
Chomiak, raised outside of Washington D.C., was one more torch-carrier in the struggle for an independent Ukraine: as Forbes Editorial Director Katya Soldak writes, “fighting for Ukraine has been, in a sense, like coming home for Chomiak.” Chomiak follows in the footsteps of her grandfather, Danil Bohachevsky, who fought in the ranks of the nationalist Ukrainian National Army during the 1918 Ukrainian Civil War, and she would later take his struggle into the world of civil society.
Family of Spooks
But of course Theodora is not the only Ukrainian-American engaged in influencing U.S. policy on Ukraine. She isn’t even the only Chomiak doing so: Theodora is one of two daughters to Ukrainian immigrants Rostyslav Chomiak and Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak who each have played their own role in nationalist organizing.
Rostyslav “Ross” Chomiak was born in Austro-Hungarian controlled Lviv, Ukraine, immigrating to Canada from the Bad Wörishofen Displaced Persons Camp in the 1950s. From Canada, Rostyslav moved to New York City, where he began working for the US-funded networks Voice of America and Radio Free Europe (now Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty). From these platforms, the elder Chomiak broadcasted media into the Ukrainian SSR which instigated dissent against the Soviet government. He later transitioned to working for The Ukrainian Weekly, a newspaper agency headed by the nationalist Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), also based in New York City, and wrote fondly of the activities former OUN leaders like Mykola Lebed and Yaroslav Stetsko, nationalist leaders who the U.S. would have gone on trial for genocide in the USSR had the US not saved them.
Rostyslav’s wife, Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak, was likewise highly active in New York Ukrainian society. Ideologically in line with the Ukrainian nationalist feminist group FEMEN, Bohachevsky is best known for her extensive writing on Ukrainian women and patriarchy. In 2000, Bohachevsky-Chomiak served as the Director of the U.S. Fulbright Office in Ukraine, reinstituting the Ukrainian intelligentsia in power. In Defeating Authoritarian Leaders in Postcommunist Countries, she describes her efforts in destabilizing the Ukrainian SSR (despite immigrating to the U.S. at just 10 years old from a displaced persons camp in Germany).
In her article “World War I – A Personal Story” Bohachevsky-Chomiak describes her father, a veteran of the first World War and soldier in the Ukrainian Galician (Halychnya) Army who filled her with “wonderful” stories of Symon Petliura and his dream of an independent Ukraine. Petliura, incidentally, was a nationalist politician who oversaw the Ukrainian People’s Republic's pogroms against Ukrainian Jews on the basis of their supposed Bolshevik sympathies.
In 1992, Bohachevsky-Chomiak presented the 1991 Antonovych Prize to prominent Cold warrior and Carter-administration National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, praising Brzezinksi for “identifying Ukraine as important, now an accepted thesis, when all others considered it to be irrelevant.” Author of The Grand Chessboard, Brzezinski dedicated his career to destabilizing and overthrowing the Communist-led governments of Eastern Europe on behalf of the U.S. empire. Brzezinski later boasted of having lured the USSR into war in Afghanistan by heavily funding the mujahideen via the Central Intelligence Agency. Brzezinski is best known for developing the tactic of the color revolution, a method employed by the U.S. government during and after the Cold War to incite revolution in foreign countries.
Following in her parent’s footsteps, Theodora’s Chomiak’s sister Tania Chomiak-Salvi, a graduate of the Fletcher School, went on to work first as a press attaché in Kazakhstan and later on NATO issues at the Bureau of European Affairs. Chomiak-Salvi finally wrapped up her 24-year career with the U.S. State Department in 2017.
In October 2014, Chomiak-Salvi also participated in CIA-funded agency Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberaty’s panel Promoting Free Media: Informing the 1989 Velvet Revolution and the Challenge Today to celebrate the anniversary of the anti-communist victory of the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, a movement which was heavily funded by the U.S. government.
Razom is only a single facet of decades of Ukrainian nationalist civil society organizing, well funded and connected to the U.S. State Department behind the facade of a grassroots campaign of mass Ukrainian-American unity.
From the German displaced persons camps, thousands of Ukrainian collaborators and anti-communist nationalists fled to Western Europe and North America. It was here that they formed their civil society organizations with the ample support of the U.S. government. Ukrainian nationalist historian John Paul-Himka states that 80% of refugees from Western Ukraine in the Displaced Persons camps (like Chomiak and Bohachevsky-Chomiak) remained loyal to Stepan Bandera, the leader of the fascist OUN-b. Chomiak and Bohachevsky-Chomiak in practice remained true to the OUN-b’s mission, as their life’s work furthered nationalist’s agenda in attempting to destabilize the USSR and promote a reactionary Ukrainian national identity.
Often we hear the tale of Ukrainian-Americans “spontaneously” organizing together for democracy in their homeland, but underneath this mask lies decades of nationalist efforts to create organizations that promote the nationalist myth of the “independent Ukraine,” the idea of a national-socialist Ukrainian state, their own Valhalla .
Referring to what Razom calls “Maidan Energy,” Ukrainian civil society groups in the diaspora wield disproportionate influence over the Ukrainian government.
In “The Transnational Activism of Young Ukrainian Immigrants,” Serhiy Kovalchuk writes that Ukrainian-Americans were extremely influential– both politically and financially –in the success of anti-Russian pro-Western parties during the 2015 Maidan coup as Ukrainian-Americans lobbied U.S. politicians to support Maidan and even went so far as to participate in the protests themselves.
Within two months following the start of the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, Razom for Ukraine was incorporated as a nonprofit organization. All the while, Razom campaigned online for sanctions against Ukraine under the Yanukovych administration, a move intended to achieve regime change by economically suffocating Ukrainians.
While Razom is often praised as deriving from a grassroots movement of united Ukrainian-New Yorkers struggling for self-determination, Chomiak is not the only member of Razom’s Board of Directors of Razom who has connections to U.S.-based intelligence groups. Former Vice President and Operations Manager Natalia Shyrba has spent over a decade of research and management in private intelligence consulting firms such as Washington-based GlobalSource LLC and TD International LLC. Shyrba worked as a consultant with the Odessa Regional Administration on “democratization efforts” in post-Maidan Ukraine, later going on to create the Reformers Without Borders program with Razom.
Emulating efforts to build the Silicon Valley of Ukraine, former President and co-founder of Razom Lyuba Shipovich later worked for exiled Georgian ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili’s team on the digital agenda for the Odessa Region and Odessa Region Administration. In May 2015, fleeing persecution in Georgia, Saakashvili was appointed Governor of the Odessa Oblast by Maidan coup president Petro Poroshenko, a reward for Saakashvili’s support in the Euromaidan color revolution. Razom wasted no time in assisting the pro-Western oligarch Poroshenko’s “democratization” reforms in Ukraine.
On Razom’s page “Ukraine and the Maidan,” the organization massively downplays the role far right and neo-Nazi paramilitaries had in the Euromaidan color revolution. Yet in August of 2014, neo-Nazi paramilitary Right Sector USA, Razom for Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Congress Committe of America (UCCA) coordinated to hold a Ukrainian Unity protest. Starting in Manhattan’s Ukrainian Village, protesters marched up to the Consulate-General of Russia. They were joined by an assortment of Eastern European nationalists brandishing far-right nationalist emblems, including the UPA’s black-and-red flag and the Pahonia flag, the symbol of the Nazi collaborators of Belarus.
Most bewilderingly, in the report Razom praises the policy initiatives set forth by the Reanimation Package of Reform’s “fiscal decentralization” measures, highlighting the increase of household gas prices to market levels, stating that civil society organizations such as the RPR were responsible for nearly all of the neoliberal, hyper-privatization reforms passed since Maidan with support from Neo-Nazi parties such as Svoboda.
The Razom-endorsed RPR is a coalition of pro-neoliberal, pro-Western civil society organizations including nationalistic youth groups such as the Plast Scouting Organization, the Ukrainian Youth Association, and the Youth Nationalistic Congress. Among the RPR’s founding member organizations is the USAID-funded Center for Studies of the Liberation Movement headed by Ivan Patrilych, a member of the underground OUN-b, who spearheaded many of the controversial “decommunization” laws passed in 2015. The underground OUN-b and members of other nationalist organizations, through the RPR, have been able to completely transform the Ukrainian state’s ideology into one of ultra nationalism while privatizing the economy to be exploited by foreign investors, all of which Razom considers to be “democratization”.
Razom and other young, Ukrainian groups of their ilk dress their nationalist endeavors with liberal aesthetics, making a departure from older organizations in that they reject American conservatism, instead embracing European-style liberal values. But while Razom may try to distance itself from the Ukrainian nationalist movement for PR purposes, it’s evident that they have no qualms about working in conjunction with ultra nationalist organizations, so long as they are rebranded into credible, civic groups.
But these groups did not form in a vacuum: CIA-supported Ukrainian Nazi emigrees from the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists were crucial in establishing Ukrainian civil society groups, especially in New York.
Following World War II, the CIA helped Ukrainian fascists and German Nazi collaborators escape prosecution in the USSR under the cover of the UN Displaced Persons Act, nearly 100,000 Ukrainians alone (the majority of whom were pro-OUN) immigrated into the U.S.
Among those Ukrainians. were figures wanted in the USSR for crimes such as treason and genocide for their activities in the all-Ukrainian 14th SS Waffen Division, the UPA, and other nationalist groups. These individuals included people like Mykola Lebed, who was given asylum in the U.S. despite having ordered pogroms of Ukrainian Jews and Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia.
Lebed immigrated into the U.S. in 1949, obtaining U.S. citizenship in 1957. He had gotten work through the CIA Operation Project Aerodynamic in assisting members of the underground OUN-b to train and develop anti-Soviet agents to infiltrate the Ukrainian SSR and develop Ukrainian-American civil society for “cold war and hot war” purposes, as stated by CIA declassified documents.
Using CIA funds, Lebed and other members of the OUN-B created the Prolog Research Corporation, a New York-based research and publishing house that produced anti-Soviet nationalist propaganda in English and Ukrainian. The organization ceased operations in 1988 when the Bush administration ordered the CIA to cease funding Project Aerodynamic. Lebed then spent the latter decades of his life on the board of the Ukrainian Society of Foreign Studies in Munich and Toronto, ultimately dying in Pittsburgh in 1998, never facing justice for his participation in the Holocaust.
The fact of the matter is that the OUN-b never went away: it simply remained underground. The OUN and CUN had tasked the underground members to create and infiltrate Ukrainian diaspora civil society groups, using these institutions to pass on their political legacy to their children, all in the effort of the “independent Ukraine.” The OUN-b adapted to changing political conditions and was offered extensive resources by the U.S. government, bringing individuals who the USSR alleged to be terrorists into the daily lives of Ukrainian-Americans. This was particularly dangerous, as in addition to being well funded, they developed a centralized and culture-centered organizational style, a method that enabled the growth and credibility of Ukrainian-American civil society.
But the bulwark of Ukrainian nationalists’ efforts lies with the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA). Since its inception on May 24th, 1940, the UCCA has functioned as a national umbrella organization, uniting the struggle for the independent Ukraine.
In its ranks stand the Society of Veterans of Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the Ukrainian American Youth Association (UAYA), the Brotherhood of Veterans of the 1st-Division of the Ukrainian National Army, the Ukrainian-American Freedom Foundation (UAFF), the Center for U.S.-Ukraine Relations (CUSUR) and the Ukrainian American Educational Council (UAEC), all of which blatantly glorify Ukrainian Nazis and Ukraine’s collaboration with the German fascists as a means to win “independence from the Soviets.” Many of these groups were created and continue to be led by members of the underground OUN-b.
From its inception, under its ranks included diaspora groups founded by western Ukrainian nationalists like the Association of Ukrainian Sich Riflemen (veterans of the UNR) and the Ukrainian National Women's League of America, of which Bohachevsky-Chomiak is a member of. As stated in the UCCA’s “Milestones in History”, the purpose of the unification was to allow the organizations to “act in concert” and to “raise a meaningful voice in defense of our [their] ancestral homelands,” solidifying their role as part of the vanguard of Ukrainian nationalism abroad.
Later, the organization lobbied heavily for the Displaced Persons Act, which opened pathways for Ukrainian migration into North America as they greatly opposed Ukrainian repatriation to the USSR, allowing them to create a broad, committed base of nationalists in the West.
But it would not be until 1949, under the leadership of Lev Dobriansky, that the UCCA began to make influential ultra-nationalist advances in US-Ukraine politics.
In 1953, the UCCA created the Educational Council of the UCCA, which developed a curriculum for Saturday Schools for Ukrainian-American children to attend. These schools were designed as a tool of indoctrination that would use revisionist Ukrainian history to build national identity. This was done under the direction of Lev Dobriansky, a Ukrainian-American diplomat who became the chair of the UCCA in 1949.
Born in New York City in 1918, Dobriansky lived a career of staunch anti-communism, serving on the National Captive Nations Committee, an umbrella organization of emigres from socialist countries. Then in 1960, Dobriansky testified in the before the House Un-American Activities Committee in support of establishing Holodomor as a man-made genocide led against the Ukrainian people, ultimately leading to U.S. recognition of the Holodomor.
Dobriansky soon joined the underground OUN-b, expanding the organizatio’s work through the Anti-Communist Bloc of Nations, led by OUN-b Deputy Yaroslav Stetsko (who Dobriansky also assisted in immigrating to the U.S.).
As an OUN leader, it was Stetsko who declared Ukrainian independence following the German invasion of the USSR. The OUN at this time believed their ideological brothers, the Nazi Party, would endorse an independent, anti-Soviet state. Instead, Stetsko and Bandera were arrested by German authorities. In the OUN-b “Struggles and Activities” Stetsko had declared Jews and Russians the enemies of the Ukrainian people, ordering patriotic Ukrainians to take violence against them, thus making collaboration in the Holocaust a duty for the OUN-b.
Instead of facing justice for ordering massacres of the OUN-b’s “enemies,” Stetsko became a soldier for the U.S. in the Cold War alongside his colleague Dobriansky. Their tireless work for the OUN-b through the UCCA and other allied organizations fueled Cold War antagonism between the USSR and the U.S. while increasing financial support to Ukrainian nationalist organizations.
According to researcher and analyst Moss Robeson, who studies the Banderite movement, as the nationalists continued their underground activities infiltrating organizations and assuming positions of power, the Ukrainian Liberation Front (an extension of the OUN-B) staged a “coup” within the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America in the 1980s. They have led the organization ever since. Members of the Ukrainian Liberation Front managed to climb their way up the ladder through other UCCA membership organizations including the Ukrainian-American Freedom Foundation and have overrun organizations sympathetic to their cause: national-socialist control over Ukraine.
In 2019, Robeson writes, an anonymous Ukrainian-American whistleblower filed a complaint with the New York State Attorney General’s office on the illegal activity of the underground OUN faction within UCCA member organizations like the ULF. The whistleblower would go on to claim fraud, embezzlement, and support for and organization of terrorist activities related to Ukraine’s war on Donbass. The complaint states that the Center for U.S.-Ukraine Relations and Ukrainian-American Freedom Foundation are hotbeds of antisemitic fascists, who recruit from Ukrainian-American civil society groups and among young people via the Ukrainian American Youth Association (UAYA).
Source: The Ukrainian Weekly on UAYA Camp in Ellenville, NY holding red and black UPA flag
While the Ukrainian-American nonprofit industry has accelerated the nationalist takeover in Ukraine, it works in tandem with Ukrainian youth organizations that carry out fascist indoctrination. Together, these sectors have integrated civil society to a crusade of ethnic nationalism.
Kayla Popuchet is a Peruvian-American CUNY student studying Latin American and Eastern European History, analyzing these region's histories under a scientific socialist lens. She works as a NYC Housing Rights and Tenants Advocate, helping New York's most marginalized evade eviction. Kayla is also a member of the Party of Communists USA and the Progressive Center for a Pan-American Project.
Civil Rights, the Working Class, and Roe v. Wade By: Richard St. JamesRead Now
It is not “pro-life” to subject women to potentially dangerous circumstances and harmful, or even life-threatening consequences. Let’s make that clear. Removing legal abortion access doesn’t stop abortions from happening; it just makes them less safe. There is a metric ton of data on this. We know what happens; women are forced to seek unsafe abortions from unlicensed and unregulated sources.
Virtue-signaling Republicans are presenting the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade as a victory to their supporters, but like most “victories” within the bourgeois system, nothing has fundamentally changed. No one is “protecting life” or “stopping abortions”. They have simply assured that only those women who can afford to go to another state (excluding the vast majority of women, who are working class) have access to proper doctors and facilities.
And where are the Democrats on this issue? They wield considerable governmental power, and could make significant moves to protect safe access to abortion and the lives of women, but they don’t. They did not lift a finger to try to codify the Roe Vs. Wade decision, or even do a single thing in that direction. Instead, they let this happen, and many are now using it as an opportunity to rally support for re-election. In their exploitation of this issue, the Democrats expose themselves as a self-serving political party, ready to sell out our supposed civil “rights” in order to be in a position to “fight” for them.
This is no accident or coincidence. The government--which is dominated by a handful of ultra-rich interests--is trying to divide the working people of this country and turn them against each other. Their institutions, think tanks, and media cartel keep working people from demanding real, fundamental changes that could improve our lives.
It is time for a new approach and response to the abortion question; one that can unify people on both sides of this issue, creating a broad peoples movement centered on material demands. In this task, the Communist Party USA–the flagship political party representing the working class–must lead the charge, win the people’s support, and present an alternative to the ruling class and their two political parties. After all, the two-party system only serves itself, and the peoples’ necks are the stepping stones on which the Democrats and Republicans build their power.
Women seek abortions primarily for economic reasons, e.g., because they do not have the resources to meet the demands of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. A real “pro-life” movement would advocate for safe access to abortions so that the lives and futures of women and girls are protected. A real “pro-life” movement--one that seeks to lessen or end abortion--would advocate for policies that meet the needs of impoverished women and children. And a “pro-choice” movement that really cares about women would address women’s needs beyond the issue of abortion.
It is time to develop a program that acknowledges the urgent needs of working-class women and their families, and is capable of uniting all working people. Such a program would demand, but is not limited to, the following:
Whereas the age-old “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” framework surrounding the ‘abortion debate’ leads to nothing but endless bickering over morals and ideals to the benefit of the ruling class, the above program provides a new, unifying approach that could create real change. All of these measures would undoubtedly improve the lives of working-class people in this country, and thus are demands any conscious, self-interested worker can get behind. Only by uniting as a class and building a society that respects and values women, mothers, and children through addressing their unique material needs and concerns, can we drastically reduce the need for abortions.
Therefore, it is time for the Communist Party, in all its work, to begin to popularize these demands. In the mass organizations, which most often are aimed at working within the existing electoral confines, the Party should put forward these demands, coupled with the following question for politicians: “will you use your position and influence to demand that Joe Biden issue an executive order providing nation-wide abortion access?”
Our platform demanding real change for women will contrast greatly with the lack thereof put forward by the Democrats, and our pointed question will expose their opportunism. It will also expose the Republicans, who claim to be “pro-life”, but do not address the material roots of abortion, or life after birth, generally. Thus, the Party will distinguish itself as the vanguard fighter for the interests of the proletariat.
The Party should then focus upon putting forward its own candidates, while also building coalitions with individuals and organizations who support its demands. It should go door-to-door, canvassing in communities all over the country, building support for its candidates, and these demands, which would improve life for all working women and families. It should talk to the people about their needs and concerns, and work to address those. In doing so, the Party can begin to redirect the electoral energy that thus far has been in favor of the Democrats.
This is a historic moment. The crisis extends far beyond “reproductive rights,” and affects the lives of every American. The masses are agitated and coming into motion. Comrades cannot forget now, or ever, that the immediate aim of the Communist Party is the “conquest of political power by the proletariat.”
It’s time for the Party to declare to the masses: “The Communist Party is back, and it fights for you!”
Richard St. James is an American patriot, oil worker, and member of the Communist Party USA. He is most interested in bridging the gap between Christianity and the Communist movement, and the reconnection of the Communist movement with the American revolutionary tradition.
Peru’s Oligarchy Overthrows President Castillo By: Manolo De Los SantosRead Now
June 6, 2021, was a day which shocked many in Peru’s oligarchy. Pedro Castillo Terrones, a rural schoolteacher who had never before been elected to office, won the second round of the presidential election with just over 50.13% of the vote. More than 8.8 million people voted for Castillo’s program of profound social reforms and the promise of a new constitution against the far-right’s candidate, Keiko Fujimori. In a dramatic turn of events, the historical agenda of neoliberalism and repression, passed down by former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori to his daughter Keiko, was rejected at the polls.
From that day on, still in disbelief, the Peruvian oligarchy declared war on Castillo. They made the next 18 months for the new president a period of great hostility as they sought to destabilize his government with a multi-pronged attack that included significant use of lawfare. With a call to “throw out communism,” plans were made by the oligarchy’s leading business group, the National Society of Industries, to make the country ungovernable under Castillo.
In October 2021, recordings were released that revealed that since June 2021, this group of industrialists, along with other members of Peru’s elite and leaders of the right-wing opposition parties, had been planning a series of actions including financing protests and strikes. Groups of former military personnel, allied with far-right politicians like Fujimori, began to openly call for the violent overthrow of Castillo, threatening government officials and left-leaning journalists.
The right-wing in Congress also joined in these plans and attempted to impeach Castillo on two occasions during his first year in office. “Since my inauguration as president, the political sector has not accepted the electoral victory that the Peruvian people gave us,” Castillo said in March 2022. “I understand the power of Congress to exercise oversight and political control, however, these mechanisms cannot be exercised by mediating the abuse of the right, proscribed in the constitution, ignoring the popular will expressed at the polls,” he stressed. It turns out that several of these lawmakers, with support from a right-wing German foundation, had also been meeting regarding how to modify the constitution to quickly remove Castillo from office.
The oligarchic rulers of Peru could never accept that a rural schoolteacher and peasant leader could be brought into office by millions of poor, Black, and Indigenous people who saw their hope for a better future in Castillo. However, in the face of these attacks, Castillo became more and more distanced from his political base. Castillo formed four different cabinets to appease the business sectors, each time conceding to right-wing demands to remove leftist ministers who challenged the status quo. He broke with his party Peru Libre when openly challenged by its leaders. He sought help from the already discredited Organization of American States in looking for political solutions instead of mobilizing the country’s major peasant and Indigenous movements. By the end, Castillo was fighting alone, without support from the masses or the Peruvian left parties.
The final crisis for Castillo broke out on December 7, 2022. Weakened by months of corruption allegations, left infighting, and multiple attempts to criminalize him, Castillo was finally overthrown and imprisoned. He was replaced by his vice president, Dina Boluarte, who was sworn in after Congress impeached Castillo with 101 votes in favor, six against, and ten abstentions.
The vote came hours after he announced on television to the country that Castillo was dissolving Congress. He did so preemptively, three hours before the start of the congressional session in which a motion to dismiss him for “permanent moral incapacity” was to be debated and voted on due to allegations of corruption that are under investigation. Castillo also announced the start of an “exceptional emergency government” and the convening of a Constituent Assembly within nine months. He said that until the Constituent Assembly was installed, he would rule by decree. In his last message as president, he also decreed a curfew to begin at 10 o’clock that night. The curfew, as well as his other measures, was never applied. Hours later, Castillo was overthrown.
Boluarte was sworn in by Congress as Castillo was detained at a police station. A few demonstrations broke out in the capital Lima, but nowhere near large enough to reverse the coup which was nearly a year and a half in the making, the latest in Latin America’s long history of violence against radical transformations.
The coup against Pedro Castillo is a major setback for the current wave of progressive governments in Latin America and the people’s movements that elected them. This coup and the arrest of Castillo are stark reminders that the ruling elites of Latin America will not concede any power without a bitter fight to the end. And now that the dust has settled, the only winners are the Peruvian oligarchy and their friends in Washington.
Manolo De Los Santos is the co-executive director of the People’s Forum and is a researcher at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He co-edited, most recently, Viviremos: Venezuela vs. Hybrid War (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2020) and Comrade of the Revolution: Selected Speeches of Fidel Castro (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2021). He is a co-coordinator of the People’s Summit for Democracy.
CALL OF DUTY IS A GOVERNMENT PSYOP: THESE DOCUMENTS PROVE IT By: Alan McleodRead Now
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II has been available for less than three weeks, but it is already making waves. Breaking records, within ten days, the first-person military shooter video game earned more than $1 billion in revenue. Yet it has also been shrouded in controversy, not least because missions include assassinating an Iranian general clearly based on Qassem Soleimani, a statesman and military leader slain by the Trump administration in 2020, and a level where players must shoot “drug traffickers” attempting to cross the U.S./Mexico border.
The Call of Duty franchise is an entertainment juggernaut, having sold close to half a billion games since it was launched in 2003. Its publisher, Activision Blizzard, is a giant in the industry, behind titles games as the Guitar Hero, Warcraft, Starcraft, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Crash Bandicoot and Candy Crush Saga series.
Yet a closer inspection of Activision Blizzard’s key staff and their connections to state power, as well as details gleaned from documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that Call of Duty is not a neutral first-person shooter, but a carefully constructed piece of military propaganda, designed to advance the interests of the U.S. national security state.
It has long been a matter of public record that American spies have targeted and penetrated Activision Blizzard games. Documents released by Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA, CIA, FBI and Department of Defense infiltrated the vast online realms such as World of Warcraft, creating make-believe characters to monitor potential illegal activity and recruit informers. Indeed, at one point, there were so many U.S. spies in one video game that they had to create a “deconfliction” group as they were wasting time unwittingly surveilling each other. Virtual games, the NSA wrote, were an “opportunity” and a “target-rich communication network”.
However, documents obtained legally under the Freedom of Information Act by journalist and researcher Tom Secker and shared with MintPress News show that the connections between the national security state and the video game industry go far beyond this, and into active collaboration.
In September 2018, for example, the United States Air Force flew a group of entertainment executives – including Call of Duty/Activision Blizzard producer Coco Francini – to their headquarters at Hurlburt Field, Florida. The explicit reason for doing so, they wrote, was to “showcase” their hardware and to make the entertainment industry more “credible advocates” for the U.S. war machine.
“We’ve got a bunch of people working on future blockbusters (think Marvel, Call of Duty, etc.) stoked about this trip!” wrote one Air Force officer. Another email notes that the point of the visit was to provide “heavy-hitter” producers with “AFSOC [Air Force Special Operations Command] immersion focused on Special Tactics Airmen and air-to-ground capabilities.”
“This is a great opportunity to educate this community and make them more credible advocates for us in the production of any future movies/television productions on the Air Force and our Special Tactics community,” wrote the AFSOC community relations chief.
Francini and others were shown CV-22 helicopters and AC-130 planes in action, both of which feature heavily in Call of Duty games.
Yet Call of Duty collaboration with the military goes back much further. The documents show that the United States Marine Corps (USMC) was involved in the production of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Call of Duty 5. The games’ producers approached the USMC at the 2010 E3 entertainment convention in Los Angeles, requesting access to hovercrafts (vehicles which later appeared in the game). Call of Duty 5 executives also asked for use of a hovercraft, a tank and a C-130 aircraft.
This collaboration continued in 2012 with the release of Modern Warfare 4, where producers requested access to all manner of air and ground vehicles.
Secker told MintPress that, by collaborating with the gaming industry, the military ensures a positive portrayal that can help it reach recruitment targets, stating that,
For certain demographics of gamers it’s a recruitment portal, some first-person shooters have embedded adverts within the games themselves…Even without this sort of explicit recruitment effort, games like Call of Duty make warfare seem fun, exciting, an escape from the drudgery of their normal lives.”
Secker’s documentary, “Theaters of War: How the Pentagon and CIA Took Hollywood” was released earlier this year.
The military clearly held considerable influence over the direction of Call of Duty games. In 2010, its producers approached the Department of Defense (DoD) for help on a game set in 2075. However, the DoD liaison “expressed concern that [the] scenario being considered involves future war with China.” As a result, Activision Blizzard began “looking at other possible conflicts to design the game around.” In the end, due in part to military objections, the game was permanently abandoned.
FROM WAR ON TERROR TO FIRST-PERSON SHOOTERS
Not only does Activision Blizzard work with the U.S. military to shape its products, but its leadership board is also full of former high state officials. Chief amongst these is Frances Townsend, Activision Blizzard’s senior counsel, and, until September, its chief compliance officer and executive vice president for corporate affairs.
Prior to joining Activision Blizzard, Townsend spent her life working her way up the rungs of the national security state. Previously serving as head of intelligence for the Coast Guard and as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s counterterrorism deputy, in 2004, President Bush appointed her to his Intelligence Advisory Board.
As the White House’s most senior advisor on terrorism and homeland security, Townsend worked closely with Bush and Rice, and became one of the faces of the administration’s War on Terror. One of her principal achievements was to whip the American public into a constant state of fear about the supposed threat of more Al-Qaeda attacks (which never came).
Before she joined Activision Blizzard, Frances Townsend worked in Homeland Security and Counterterrorism for the Bush White House. Ron Edmonds | AP
As part of her job, Townsend helped popularize the term “enhanced interrogation techniques” – a Bush-era euphemism for torturing detainees. Worse still, Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, the officer in charge of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, alleged that Townsend put pressure on him to ramp up the torture program, reminding him “many, many times” that he needed to improve the intelligence output from the Iraqi jail.
Townsend has denied these allegations. She also later condemned the “handcuff[ing]” and “humiliation” surrounding Abu Ghraib. She was not referring to the prisoners, however. In an interview with CNN, she lamented that “these career professionals” – CIA torturers – had been subject to “humiliation and opprobrium” after details of their actions were made public, meaning that future administrations would be “handcuffed” by the fear of bad publicity, while the intelligence community would become more “risk-averse”.
During the Trump administration, Townsend was hotly tipped to become the Director of National Intelligence or the Secretary of Homeland Security. President Trump also approached her for the role of director of the FBI. Instead, however, Townsend took a seemingly incongruous career detour to become an executive at a video games company.
ENTER THE WAR PLANNERS
In addition to this role, Townsend is a director of the NATO offshoot, the Atlantic Council, a director at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a trustee of the hawkish think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a group MintPress News has previously covered in detail.
Funded by weapons companies, NATO and the U.S. government, the Atlantic Council serves as the military alliance’s brain trust, devising strategies on how best to manage the world. Also on its board of directors are high statespersons like Henry Kissinger and Conzoleezza Rice, virtually every retired U.S. general of note, and no fewer than seven former directors of the CIA. As such, the Atlantic Council represents the collective opinion of the national security state.
Two more key Call of Duty staff also work for the Atlantic Council. Chance Glasco, a co-founder of Infinity Ward developers who oversaw the game franchise’s rapid rise, is the council’s nonresident senior fellow, advising top generals and political leaders on the latest developments in tech.
Game designer and producer Dave Anthony, crucial to Call of Duty’s success, is also an Atlantic Council employee, joining the group in 2014. There, he advises them on what the future of warfare will look like, and devises strategies for NATO to fight in upcoming conflicts.
Anthony has made no secret that he collaborated with the U.S. national security state while making the Call of Duty franchise. “My greatest honor was to consult with Lieut. Col. Oliver North on the story of Black Ops 2,” he stated publicly, adding, There are so many small details we could never have known about if it wasn’t for his involvement.”
Oliver North is a high government official gained worldwide infamy after being convicted for his role in the Iran-Contra Affair, whereby his team secretly sold weapons to the government of Iran, using the money to arm and train fascist death squads in Central America – groups who attempted to overthrow the government of Nicaragua and carried out waves of massacres and ethnic cleansing in the process.
REPUBLICANS FOR HIRE
Another eyebrow-raising hire is Activision Blizzard’s chief administration officer, Brian Bulatao. A former Army captain and consultant for McKinsey & Company, until 2018, he was chief operating officer for the CIA, placing him third in command of the agency. When CIA Director Mike Pompeo moved over to the State Department, becoming Trump’s Secretary of State, Bulatao went with him, and was appointed Under Secretary of State for Management.
There, by some accounts, he served as Pompeo’s personal “attack dog,” with former colleagues describing him as a “bully” who brought a “cloud of intimidation” over the workplace, repeatedly pressing them to ignore potential illegalities happening at the department. Thus, it is unclear if Bulatao is the man to improve Activision Blizzard’s notoriously “toxic” workplace environment that caused dozens of employees to walk out en masse last summer.
After the Trump administration’s electoral defeat, Bulatao went straight from the State Department into the highest echelons of Activision Blizzard, despite no experience in the entertainment industry.
Trump stands with then-CIA Chief Operations Officer Brian Bulatao at CIA Headquarters, May 21, 2018, in Langley, Va. Evan Vucci | AP
The third senior Republican official Activision Blizzard has recruited to its upper ranks is Grant Dixton. Between 2003 and 2006, Dixton served as associate counsel to President Bush, advising him on many of his administration’s most controversial legal activities (such as torture and the rapid expansion of the surveillance state). A lawyer by trade, he later went on to work for weapons manufacturer Boeing, rising to become its senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary. In June 2021, he left Boeing to join Activision Blizzard as its chief legal officer.
Other Activision Blizzard executives with backgrounds in national security include senior vice president and chief information security officer Brett Wahlin, who was a U.S. Army counterintelligence agent, and chief of staff, Angela Alvarez, who, until 2016, was an Army chemical operations specialist.
That the same government that was infiltrating games 10-15 years ago now has so many former officials controlling the very game companies raises serious questions around privacy and state control over media, and mirrors the national security state penetration of social media that has occurred over the same timeframe.
These deep connections to the U.S. national security state can perhaps help partly explain why, for years, many have complained about the blatant pro-U.S. propaganda apparent throughout the games.
The latest installment, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, is no exception. In the game’s first mission, players must carry out a drone strike against a character named.
The latest installment, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, is no exception. In the game’s first mission, players must carry out a drone strike against a character named General Ghorbrani. The mission is obviously a recreation of the Trump administration’s illegal 2020 drone strike against Iranian General Qassem Soleimani – the in game general even bears a striking resemblance to Soleimani.
The latest Call of Duty game has players assassinate a General Ghorbrani, a nebulous reference to Iranian General Qassem Solemani, pictured right
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II ludicrously presents the general as under Russia’s thumb and claims that Ghorbrani is “supplying terrorists” with aid. In reality, Soleimani was the key force in defeating ISIS terror across the Middle East – actions for which even Western media declared him a “hero”. U.S.-run polls found that Soleimani was perhaps the most popular leader in the Middle East, with over 80% of Iranians holding a positive opinion of him.
Straight after the assassination, Pompeo’s State Department floated the falsehood that the reason they killed Soleimani was that he was on the verge of carrying out a terror attack against Americans. In reality, Soleimani was in Baghdad, Iraq, for peace talks with Saudi Arabia.
These negotiations could have led to peace between the two nations, something that the U.S. government is dead against. Then-Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi revealed that he had personally asked President Trump for permission to invite Soleimani. Trump agreed, then used the opportunity to carry out the killing.
Therefore,, just as Activision Blizzard is recruiting top State Department officials to its upper ranks, its games are celebrating the same State Department’s most controversial assassinations.
This is far from the first time Call of Duty has instructed impressionable young gamers to kill foreign leaders, however. In Call of Duty Black Ops (2010), players must complete a mission to murder Cuban leader Fidel Castro. If they manage to shoot him in the head, they are rewarded with an extra gory slow motion scene and obtain a bronze “Death to Dictators” trophy. Thus, players are forced to carry out digitally what Washington failed to do on over 600 occasions.
A mission from “Call of Duty: Black Ops” has players assassinate a hostage-taking Fidel Castro
Likewise, Call of Duty: Ghosts is set in Venezuela, where players fight against General Almagro, a socialist military leader clearly modelled on former president Hugo Chavez. Like Chavez, Almagro wears a red beret and uses Venezuela’s oil wealth to forge an alliance of independent Latin American nations against the U.S. Washington attempted to overthrow Chavez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, multiple times. During the sixth mission of the game, players must shoot and kill Almagro from close range.
The anti-Russian propaganda is also turned up to 11 in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019). One mission recreates the infamous Highway of Death incident. During the First Iraq War, U.S.-led forces trapped fleeing Iraqi troops on Highway 80. What followed was what then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell described as “wanton killing” and “slaughter for slaughter’s sake” as U.S. troops and their allies pummeled the Iraqi convoy for hours, killing hundreds and destroying thousands of vehicles. U.S. forces also reportedly shot hundreds of Iraqi civilians and surrendered soldiers in their care.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare recreates this scene for dramatic effect. However, in their version, it is not the U.S.-led forces doing the killing, but Russia, thereby whitewashing a war crime by pinning the blame on official enemies.
A mission in “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” has players recreate the infamous highway of death
“Call of Duty, in particular, has been flagged up for recreating real events as game missions and manipulating them for geopolitical purposes,” Secker told MintPress, referring to the Highway of Death, adding,
In a culture where most people’s exposure to games (and films, TV shows and so on) is far greater than their knowledge of historical and current events, these manipulations help frame the gamers’ emotional, intellectual and political reactions. This helps them turn into more general advocates for militarism, even if they don’t sign up in any formal way.”
Secker’s latest book, “Superheroes, Movies and the State: How the U.S. Government Shapes Cinematic Universes,” was published earlier this year.
In today’s digitized era, the worlds of war and video games increasingly resemble one another. Many have commented on the similarities between piloting drones in real life and in games such as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Prince Harry, who was a helicopter gunner in Afghanistan, described his “joy” at firing missiles at enemies. “I’m one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I’m probably quite useful,” he said. “If there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game,” he added, explicitly comparing the two activities. U.S. forces even control drones with Xbox controllers, blurring the lines between war games and war games even further.
The military has also directly produced video games as promotional and recruitment tools. One is a U.S. Air Force game called Airman Challenge. Featuring 16 missions to complete, interspersed with facts and recruitment information about how to become a drone operator yourself. In its latest attempts to market active service to young people, players move through missions escorting U.S. vehicles through countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, serving up death from above to all those designated “insurgents” by the game.
Players earn medals and achievements for most effectively destroying moving targets. All the while, there is a prominent “apply now” button on screen if players feel like enlisting and conducting real drone strikes on the Middle East.
U.S. Armed Forces use the popularity of video games to recruit heavily among young people, sponsoring gaming tournaments, fielding their own U.S. Army Esports team, and directly trying to recruit teens on streaming sites such as Twitch. The Amazon-owned platform eventually had to clamp down on the practice after the military used fake prize giveaways that lured impressionable young viewers onto recruitment websites.
Video games are a massive business and a huge center of soft power and ideology. The medium makes for particularly persuasive propaganda because children and adolescents consume them, often for weeks or months on end, and because they are light entertainment. Because of this, users do not have their guards up like if they were listening to a politician speaking. Their power is often overlooked by scholars and journalists because of the supposed frivolity of the medium. But it is the very notion that these are unimportant sources of fun that makes their message all the more potent.
The Call of Duty franchise is particularly egregious, not only in its messaging, but because who the messengers are. Increasingly, the games appear to be little more than American propaganda masquerading as fun first-person shooters. For gamers, the point is to enjoy its fast-paced entertainment. But for those involved in their production, the goal is not just making money; it is about serving the imperial war machine.
Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.org, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.
This article was republished from MintPress News.