Socialism With American Characteristics By: Luke Pickrell and Myra JanisRead Now
The Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2019 and signs would appear to augur well for the organization in the coming years. Recently, the party discussed running candidates for office.1 Membership numbers are rising,2 and the party credits itself and its allies for the “broad front” that defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.3 Having abandoned the Democratic Socialists of America, an organization in a crisis of political direction, and gazed upon the desolate expanse that is revolutionary socialism in the United States, some comrades have turned away from the red rose toward the tried and true hammer, sickle, and gear. Unfortunately, these comrades will not have escaped the politics of class collaborationism by fleeing DSA and may find themselves in even hotter water.
The CPUSA marked its centenary with an updated version of the party platform: “The Road to Socialism USA.”5 Reading through the document is daunting. An astounding 61-pages long, it meanders across ten disorganized primary sections and dozens of subsections. Boundaries are porous: the introduction contains a conclusion, ideas repeat, and lists of occasionally intriguing demands are relegated to sidebars. Friedrich Engels’ critique of the German Social Democratic Party’s Erfurt Programme - “The fear that a short, pointed exposition would not be intelligible enough, has caused explanations to be added, which make it verbose and drawn out”6 - applies just as accurately to the CPUSA. These comrades, hoping to attract as large an audience as possible, have thrown everything but the kitchen sink toward the proverbial wall in a desperate attempt to make something stick. Asked to accept the program, one struggles for solid footing. How can one determine agreement with such an incomprehensible document?
But determination brings rewards. Cutting through girth and clearing away the tired abstractions (“injustice,”7 “a better world,”8 “the 1%,”9 “epic struggles,”10 “the greed of the few,”11 “fascism”12) reveals two fundamental flaws: a commitment to the decades-old People’s Front policy of alliances with anything left of the “extreme right”13 and dedication to the Constitution and the parameters of the capitalist state. In other words, socialism with American characteristics. What follows is an elaboration on these two flaws. While the comrades in the CPUSA may be motivated by a genuine desire to fight for the interests of the working class, their program provides no path forward and opens the door to opportunistic zigzags and the internal rule of bureaucrats.
Continuing the People’s Front
This is far from an exhaustive chronicle of the ups and downs of the Communist Party (a job that E. J. Hobsbawm described as presenting unique difficulties).14 Rather, reading the CPUSA program allows one to reflect on the rise and fall of American Communism and the world socialist movement more generally. At its height, the Party contributed several victories to the class struggle in the United States. It carried out exceptional work in organizing the unemployed during the Great Depression15 and defended the Scottsboro Boys when the NAACP refused.16 The Party’s victories in states such as Alabama17 and New York18 are well-documented.
The United Front strategy - how the party relates to the political institutions of the capitalist state to win members and strengthen the fighting power of the working class - began during a period of global defeat for communism.19 Having emerged victorious from the Russian Civil War, the newly formed Third International expected a quick succession of civil wars and Communist victories across Europe. But defeats in Germany, Poland, and Hungary augured ill. The working masses had not rallied behind the banner of the Communist Parties, and the Bolsheviks were left isolated in Russia. After fending off his ultra-left detractors, Lenin oversaw the entry of the Communist Parties into alliances with non-Communist working class political forces (including Social Democratic parties) under the explicit condition of retaining organizational independence and freedom to criticize the reformist leadership. In theory, the United Front was sound.
Principled alliances with reformist parties were scrapped when Stalin came to power. The Communists had zigged right, only to zag left during the Third Period of 1928 to 1933. The Peoples’ Front (America’s version of the Popular Front) began a final lurch back to the right in 1935 in the context of impending war and the rise of German Nazism. Ben Rose described the People’s Front as a “gradual shift towards a search for alliances and influence with the leadership of organizations believed to be instrumental in fighting domestic and international fascism, as well as those capable of pressuring the Roosevelt administration.”20 Tactical alliances with a section of the capitalist class subordinated working class independence to the goals of capitalists. The goal of socialism in America was abandoned, and in 1937 the Party dropped its slogan, “Toward a Soviet America.” The day-to-day practice of fighting for reforms submerged the goal of a classless society, and socialism with American characteristics - socialism, after all, being just as American as baseball and apple pie - became the norm. As Mike Macnair explains: “‘Official communist’ and Maoist parties committed themselves to rejection of the most elementary Marxist principle - the independent political organization and representation of the working class - in favor of ‘democratic’ coalitions which repeat the projects Marx and Engels fought against - or, worse, in favor of coalitions for ‘national independence’, which subordinate the working class to the party of order.”21
The call for a People’s Front continues today. In the name of fighting the extreme right - a nefarious entity that is “inadequate and incompetent”22 and “backward”23 one moment, and “fascist”24 the next - the program urges unity with all progressive forces in “defeating the extreme right’s implicit and explicit drive toward fascism.”25 Divisions within the capitalist class “contain opportunities for working-class and progressive forces. On some issues, the more moderate, more realistic sections of the capitalist class and their political operatives move parallel to the people’s movements, as important though partial and temporary allies. They can be pressured to adopt a more progressive stance by the strength of the people’s movements and mass sentiment.”26
The program encourages alliances with the Democratic Party because it is “not identical”27 with the Republican Party. The Democratic Party’s history - the “main vehicle used by African American and Latino communities to gain representation, as well as the main mechanism used to elect labor, progressive, and even Left activists to public office…”28 - supposedly demonstrates differences with its elephant brother. Furthermore, alleged rifts within the Party can be used to workers’ advantage. One reads: “[T]here exists an internal struggle within the Democratic Party among centrist forces who collaborate with the right wing, centrist forces opposed to the right wing, and more progressive, even socialist, trends.”29 Any desire to build a mass party must bow to the existing facts of the power of the capitalist class and the Constitutional regime.
With Friends Like These…
Calls for an alliance with the Democratic Party and the NGO complex against the far right are equivalent to asking the fox to guard the hen house: the fox eats its plump ward every time. Such proposals are the equivalent of trusting the bourgeoisie of the French Third Republic to eradicate the threat of a clerical-monarchical Thermidorian reaction. During the Third Republic, the proletariat was lured away from independent politics by liberals who incessantly hollered about a grave threat to the Republic as justification for uniting under one banner. With danger knocking at the door, this was no time to wage the class struggle. Karl Kautsky explained the reality behind the facade: “...the bourgeois liberal politicians have every interest in the struggle against the Church, but by no means in triumphing over it. They can only count on an alliance of the proletariat as long as this struggle continues.”30 Ultimately, a definitive victory is illusory. The imperative to unite against a bigger-bad never ends. How ironic that the Communist Party now advocates politics far to the right of those espoused by Second International Marxism’s famous pope-turned-renegade during his period as a revolutionary thinker.
The Democratic Party is more concerned with maintaining the rule of law than prosecuting an effective campaign against an increasingly right-wing and authoritarian Republican Party and its hangers-on. See, for example, their impotent attempt to understand and resolve the events of January 6th, 2022, compared to their focus on the chauvinistic conspiracy theory of Russiagate. The state’s repressive apparatus is far more concerned with countering perceived threats from the left than from the right. The bourgeois state fundamentally cannot grapple with the real social issues (poverty and economic precarity, first and foremost) upon which the seeds of far-right extremism germinate. Without class independence, the proletariat stays moored to the dock of bourgeois politics. Worse, if the working class does not create independent organizations of political power, it will be unable to stop a real fascist threat. One finds a terrifying historical specter in Chile during the Allende period when the Popular Unity government disarmed its supporters in the face of an impending coup. When the time came, the working class could not defend itself or the Allende government from Pinochet’s forces.
The CPUSA program describes the all-people's-front as an “essential strategy for this historical period, not just a temporary tactic.”31 Socialism is thus always something for the distant future, a goal to pursue once the present task is complete. Yet, like Sisyphus and his boulder, the task is never concluded. An all-people’s-front will not permanently defeat the far right. Only a socialist republic can eliminate the excrement produced by capitalism in decline, and only a socialist political party can make a new republic a reality.
Bill of Rights Socialism and Constitutional Cultism
The Constitution is an eminently undemocratic document that stands in the way of working-class political rule. It creates an entire “political playing field”32 that sucks in well-intentioned reformers and keeps them busy fiddling over minutia. The Constitution cannot be ignored or corralled through tricks or slights of hand. Yet, the CPUSA program ducks the issue by proposing a “Peoples’ Bill of Rights” and explaining that “Once the power of the corporations is broken, the vast majority of the country can use the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, a Socialist Bill of Rights, and local governments to build real democracy and equality.”33 The Party’s belief that a “fundamentally new economic system” can be built on the existing Constitution is explicit; it is a hallowed document equivalent to the sacred tablets of the Ten Commandments. This devotion is apparent when they describe a speculative people’s Bill of Rights as “guaranteed” upon being “enshrined” in the Constitution.34
The insistence on maintaining the existing state apparatus is an abdication of the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Once in power, the party must implement the minimum demands to upend and transform the existing state apparatus into a democratic republic - the state form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. From this position, the working class can begin the transition to communism. The CPUSA comrades are correct that the fullest expression of democracy is in the interests of the working class. Democracy is the light and air needed by the proletariat to wage an effective struggle.
However, the extension of democracy does not cease at the doors of the White House, the shrine of the Constitution, the halls of the Supreme Court, or the pentagonal grounds of the Department of Defense. The indirectly elected president holds an ever-increasing amount of power and directs the military of the world’s foremost imperial power. The Constitution (designed to guard against change) enshrines the separation of powers to hedge against the boogeyman of popular will in the House of Representatives (the only body with a nominal claim to popular representation) and slows down the process of legislation by directly elected representatives. The Supreme Court is not elected by universal and direct suffrage and works primarily to defend the Constitution. The recent overturning of Roe v. Wade also led many people to question the Court’s ability to take up lower court rulings. Finally, the Department of Defense provides the physical force necessary to safeguard the sanctity of private property and bourgeois law and order.
The CPUSA’s loyalty to the Constitution leads them to abandon a revolutionary position. The demand for a Socialist Bill of Rights leaves the bourgeois state unscathed; in fact, it strengthens the state. So long as the existing constitutional order remains intact, demands for “liberty, and equality; free quality health care and education; living-wage jobs and decent housing; and a healthy environment”35 are just reforms. While the revolutionary party does include reforms as part of its demands, they exist as a means to create a democratic republic. A set of demands that leave the existing state intact serves only as a screen to hide bourgeois rule. The party plucks the fig leaf from absolutism only to become “oneself a screen for its nakedness.”36
In trying to adapt Marxist-Leninism to the United States, the comrades absorbed all the elements of the constitutional regime and dropped most of the Marxism they carried. What little remains lies mutilated beyond recognition. The program’s assurance that “socialism in the United States will have distinctive characteristics because it will emerge from our unique political culture”37 is just another superficial justification for reformism. Minimum demands must strengthen the working class while weakening the state. Such demands include a single legislative assembly elected by proportional representation; the abolition of the independent presidency and the Supreme Court's right of judicial review; the election of judges and other state officials; the expansion of jury trials and state-funded legal services; the unrestricted right of free speech; the abolition of copyright laws and monopolies of knowledge; and the abolition of police and standing army in favor of a people's militia characterized by universal training and service, with democratic rights for its members. The process could begin with organizing a nationwide election via direct, universal, and equal suffrage for an assembly tasked with writing a new Constitution for popular consideration rather than the radically minoritarian process enshrined in Article 5 of the existing Constitution.38 Enacted in full, these demands smash the existing order and create a democratic republic.
Monopolies and Stages
Like a Matryoshka doll that has gone west, the CPUSA program contains multiple programs corresponding to different stages on an imagined path to socialism. The first stage is the formation of a People’s Front to defeat the extreme right. After eliminating the first threat, the People’s Front will grow in strength, evolve into an anti-monopoly coalition, and turn its attention toward “the multinationals” (the nationalist assumption being that ‘genuinely American’ capitalists would join the fight). The defeat of the multinationals will signal the beginning of a new stage in which the anti-monopoly coalition will build proletarian consciousness and progress toward socialism. Multiple coalitions will merge with the Communist Party to create a force capable of pushing through the Socialist Bill of Rights. At some point, communism will emerge.
To the untrained eye, the discussion of monopolies is a bizarre aspect of an already strange program. Yet, references to the despotic power of monopolies - along with constant references to “the people” - have roots in older forms of American populism that pitted “the people'' versus “the elites.” The affinity towards populist rhetoric is explained by the reformist character of the CPUSA and its desire to create cross-class alliances in which, ultimately, workers’ interests play second fiddle. In addition, the program’s conception of revolution beginning only after defeating a series of foes follows the stagist theory of history often, though incorrectly, attributed to orthodox Marxism.38 In decades past, the stagist model was used to justify the fundamental impossibility of communism in one country. Today, it appears in the CPUSA’s program as a justification for continued reformism.
Road to Nowhere
The Communist Party’s program contains noble sentiments. We do not doubt these comrades' desire to realize a “system in which working-class people control their own lives and destinies.”39 Socialism is the fullest extension of democracy. The social republic overcomes the division between social and political existence. The final goal remains a society in which everyone contributes what they can and receives what they need to actualize their unique potential.
The CPUSA comrades are correct in declaring the need for a revolutionary party. They correctly state that victory is not abstract: it “relies not on slogans, gimmicks, or conspiracies but rather on developing the understanding of millions cultivated in hard struggles, an understanding that grows into full class and socialist consciousness.”40 Yet, their program is brimming with slogans. Take the assertion that the revolutionary party must be “dedicated to the interests of the whole class, dedicated to the long-term vision necessary for winning fundamental change.”41 An intrepid reader finishes the program without understanding the meaning of fundamental change. After so many pages, the phrase remains a floating signifier capable of the most opportunistic interpretations. This reversion to obscurity is a long way away from the concluding paragraph of the Socialist Party of America’s 1912 program: “Such measures of relief as we may be able to force from capitalism are but a preparation of the workers to seize the whole powers of government, in order that they may thereby lay hold of the whole system of socialized industry and thus come to their rightful inheritance.”42 As a party founded by the principled Left-Wing of the SPA and once animated by the fire of the Bolshevik Revolution, the CPUSA has fallen quite a long way.
The program is the loadstone of a socialist political party. A good program presents the demands necessary for taking power and creating a democratic republic (the minimum program) to initiate a transition to the ultimate goal of communism (the maximum program). Means and ends are united and never lose sight of each other. Demands are expansive though concrete, and resonate with the condition of all oppressed minority groups. Furthermore, a good program is clear, concise, and memorable. It leaves elaboration to party propagandists and trusts in the ability of the masses to decode an unfamiliar term and infer what is left unsaid. The latest CPUSA program is a mess. Quantity does not transform into quality; in this case, the former works against the latter. The working class will not find a road to power within its numerous pages. Its confusing proposals will lead only to the underwhelming and all-too-familiar dead end of class collaboration within the existing constitutional order.
Today, the Communist Party USA rests upon a mixed historical legacy marked by moments in which it acted as a vanguard of the working class in the highest sense of the phrase, as well as a long period in which it continues to be plagued by the lowest possible opportunism. In criticizing its present class collaborationist program, we hope to provide a resource to those in the Communist Party chafing under this orientation. As in the Democratic Socialists of America, the time has come for genuine communists to rebel against the dominant opportunism of the largest organizations of the working class political movement in the United States. We encourage Marxists in the Communist Party USA to begin openly discussing the course and future of their party and the entire socialist movement. The pages of Cosmonaut are open to them, and replies from defenders of the Communist Party’s current orientation are welcome as well - if only to train the arguments of their critics.
May the rebels prevail!
4. See Lenin’s comments on the relationship between anarchism and opportunism in chapter four of “Left Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder.” https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch04.htm
6. Friedrich Engels. A Critique of the Draft Social Democratic Program of 1891. https://marxists.architexturez.net/archive/marx/works/1891/06/29.htm
7. https://cpusa.org/party_info/party-program/ p.11
8. Ibid. p.2
9. Ibid. p.2
10. Ibid. p.60
11. Ibid. p.1
12. Ibid. p.33
13. Ibid. p.3
14. E. J. Hobsbawm, Revolutionaries, p.6: “The problem of those who write the history of communist parties is therefore unusually difficult. They must recapture the unique and, among secular movements, unprecedented temper of bolshevism, equally remote from the liberalism of most historians and the permissive and self-indulgent activism of most contemporary ultras. There is no understanding it without a grasp of that sense of total devotion which made the party in Auschwitz make its members pay their dues in cigarettes (inconceivably precious and almost impossible to obtain in an extermination camp), which made the cadres accept the order not merely to kill Germans in occupied Paris, but first to acquire, individually, the arms to do so, and which made it virtually unthinkable for them to refuse to return to Moscow even to certain imprisonment or death. There is no understanding either the achievements or the perversions of bolshevism without this, and both have been monumental; and certainly no understanding of the extraordinary success of communism as a system of education for political work.”
17. Kelley, Robin G.D. Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015.
18. Naison, Mark D. Communists in Harlem During the Depression. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.
19. For a more in-depth discussion on the united front, see chapter six of Mike Macnairs’ “Revolutionary Strategy.” http://ouleft.org/wp-content/uploads/Macnair-Revolutionary-Strategy.pdf
22. https://cpusa.org/party_info/party-program/ p.21
23. Ibid. p.3
24. Ibid. p.4
25. Ibid. p.41
26. Ibid. p.41
27. Ibid. p.41
28. Ibid. p.41
29. Ibid. p.41
30. For Karl Kautsky’s description of the various tricks used against the working class in the French Third Republic, see his “The Republican and Social Democracy in France.”
31. https://cpusa.org/party_info/party-program/ p.35
33. https://cpusa.org/party_info/party-program/ p.54
35. https://cpusa.org/party_info/party-program/ p.52
36. Friedrich Engels. A Critique of the Draft Social Democratic Program of 1891. https://marxists.architexturez.net/archive/marx/works/1891/06/29.htm
37. https://cpusa.org/party_info/party-program/ p.53
38. For a detailed explanation of the logistics behind organizing a democratic vote for a new U.S. Constitution, see Johan Martell’s ‘Fight the Constitution! Demand a New Republic!’ https://cosmonautmag.com/2021/03/fight-the-constitution-demand-a-new-republic/
39. For Jack Conrad’s discussion of the sordid historiography of stagism, see https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1417/memory-wars/#fnref5
40. https://cpusa.org/party_info/party-program/ p.2
41. Ibid. p.56
42. Ibid. p.56
43. Socialist Platform 1912. http://sageamericanhistory.net/progressive/docs/SocialistPlat1912.htm
*The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Midwestern Marx Institute or its editors. Our Institute values having an open space for dialogue between Marxist forces seeking to advance the struggle of the working class.
Luke Pickrell and Myra Janis are members of the Marxist Unity Group (MUG), a faction within the Democratic Socialists of America dedicated to building class independence and programmatic unity. The authors hope to engage CPUSA comrades and wider sections of the left in a discussion about building party programs capable of charting a strategic path forward for socialists.
God is Still Love: Shakerism’s Enduring Relevance Today By: Mitchell K. JonesRead Now
Shakerism is not, as many would claim, an anachronism; nor can it be dismissed as the final sad flowering of 19th century liberal utopian fervor. Shakerism has a message for this present age–a message as valid today as when it was first expressed. It teaches above all else that God is Love and that our most solemn duty is to show forth that God who is love in the World- Sabbathday Lake Maine -Shaker Congregation
Most Americans know Shakerism, if they are aware of it at all, as a peculiar cult that mostly existed in the nineteenth century and ultimately died out due to their celibacy doctrine. Mother Ann Lee took over the Wardley Society in the 1760s to lead the Shakers who would later be known as the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing by declaring herself the earthly manifestation of divine light. It was not until after her death her followers claimed her to be the second coming of Christ’s appearing. Sometime in the early 1770s, Mother Ann declared a revelation from God proscribing sexual intercourse saying, “I felt the power of God flow into my soul like a fountain of living water. From that day I have been able to take up a full cross against all the doleful works of the flesh.” Far from dying out after this revelation, the Shakers' numbers grew exponentially from a handful of followers in 1770 to around 6000 almost a century later. The Era of Manifestations, when they received elaborate gifts from heaven in trance states, was the peak of Shakerdom’s popularity. However, into the 20th century Shakers continued to have relatively stable numbers and had a great deal of commercial success in their many businesses. Many Americans may be familiar with the Shaker peg, Shaker broom and Shaker chair without realizing the historical and spiritual significance of these simple but brilliant inventions. By the mid-20th centuries they numbered in the hundreds. By the end of the 20th century only a handful remained. Today there are two practicing Shakers, Brother Arnold Hadd and Sister June Carpenter who live and worship at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in Maine. They still hold services on Sundays and a small, but more liberal, congregation usually attends the public services. Most of the other 18 Shaker villages throughout the country are today museums.
Mother Ann said, “A strange gift never came from God.” The Shakers made a practice of welcoming strangers and the Sabbathday Lake Shakers still do today. In fact, as practicing Inspriationist Peter Hoehnle pointed out, of all the groups that transcendentalist writer Charles Nordhoff visited for his 1875 book The Communistic Societies of the United States only the Inspirationists in Amana, Iowa and the Shakers of Sabbathday Lake, Maine still have active congregations. So what does Shakerism have to teach us today? What is its enduring relevance for today’s world? How can Shakerism help heal America?
The first lesson of Shakerism is community, or, that is today, communitarianism, believing in community and living it. Friedrich Engels wrote of the Shakers, “For communism, social existence and activity based on community of goods, is not only possible but has actually already been realized in many communities in America….” The Shakers lived what they preached. They worked communally and shared everything in common. They called each smaller subset of the village a family, whether or not they were biologically related (usually not). They called each other Brother and Sister as a title, but in a sense, they were all one family. It was not unusual to see a Shaker Brother or Sister gardening the herb garden, washing the dishes after a communal lunch, shoveling manure or leading a prayer service. Because of their separate gendered spheres, it was necessary for everyone to do a little bit of everything. That meant domestic, agricultural and industrial duties on a rotating basis. The male and female elders’ co-governance of the communities meant that men and women had equal say in the overall affairs.
Although today, we may not take with us the Shakers celibacy or their gender segregation, Shakers were truly equal. They governed their communities based on love, not on sexual attraction. By giving up sex they freed themselves to truly love each other as brothers and sisters in one holy family all working for a common goal. So often even (and especially) those who espouse communitarian values, socialist economics and the correction of historical injustices fail to see others as their brothers and sisters in the human family. Che Guevara, despite leading an army that killed others, said, “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” How are we exhibiting universal love for humankind in our daily lives? Do we shun those with whom we disagree? Do we dehumanize and degrade our enemy. Jesus commanded his followers to “Love thy enemy.” The Shakers practiced love in everyday living as a precious example to future generations of what is possible when you let your heart be guided by love and not by division, prejudice, bitterness and hatred that clouds judgment and makes us see “through a glass darkly,” as the bible says.
They shared all things in common. One of the things I was most impressed with most about the Shaker village in Canterbury, New Hampshire is their system of numbering laundry. They numbered everything and assigned each member a corresponding number. That way they could make sure that each member had all the clothing and other necessities that they needed. The communal laundry was a large undertaking. The Shakers would collect the laundry of everyone in the village and wash it all together. Then they would sort it according to the numbering system. They even invented a washing machine to make the task easier. The job was assigned on a rotating basis to both women and men.
Today we struggle through hard times. The Shakers too lived through hard times and economic panics. However, their communist economy helped them weather the economic storms. By uniting they were able to have economic security. There was also no class division in Shaker society. Today we are divided primarily by economic class, but also by race, gender, sexuality and religion. Although we may reject the strictness of Shaker belief and discipline, we can respect that for Shakers giving of themselves to the greater community and to God was the greatest gift. They believed that God presented them with gifts from heaven as reward for their pious life. How many of us have rejected all morality and virtue because we have suffered from abuses of religious and secular authorities, only to find that sin for sin’s sake leaves us unhappy, no matter how many excuses we try to make for why our behavior is actually ethical. How many of us invent new kinds of morality and ethics to fit what we ourselves want to do? How many of us feel we have to constantly express our deepest thoughts no matter how hurtful they may be to others? How many of us narcissistically feel that the world owes it to us to cater to our every idiosyncrasy?
The Shakers were separatist. They took seriously Jesus’ command to be in the world, but no part of the world. To follow Jesus, they made their own heaven on earth to prepare the way for the end of the world, when all of earth would be restored to a paradise like the Garden of Eden.
Although we may find it necessary to engage with society and fight for what is right, we can also be in the world but no part of it in our own way. We can refuse to accept the terms of the debate the way the rulers frame it. Instead of Democrat vs Republican, left vs right, individualist vs collectivist, black vs white, North vs South, West vs East, we should see it as humanity struggling to survive by any means it can. The rulers who are destroying the planet are destroying their own and their own children’s futures.
Shakers were simple. Shakers believed that simplicity was the closest thing to divinity. Despite some Americans’ misconception, the Shakers were not against technology. Shaker villages were in fact some of the first to have electric generators. As I mentioned earlier, they even invented an electric washing machine. However, the beauty of Shaker innovation was in its simplicity. Shaker meetinghouses, with their simple design, offer as much transcendence and grace as a massive Gothic Cathedral. Shaker pegs have a little button on the end so that you can put things on them and they do not fall off. A very simple invention, but imagine how much easier it made peoples’ lives? Can you imagine trying to hang your coat on just a straight dowel peg? It would just fall off!
How many of us justify our overuse of toxic, mind poisoning social media and garbage entertainment as being for some greater purpose? How many of us feel like if we do not post then we have not done our part for the issue of the day? How many of us know consciously that the algorithms are purposefully designed to manipulate our thinking, but remain addicted to the manipulation nonetheless? The internet has revolutionized communication, and in many ways, for the good. It has made archival documents and scholarly research available to millions that would have never had access to such information in the past. At the same time, the capitalist nature of technological development has led to some extremely destructive trends in human communication. Verbal abuse and reprehensible behavior have become the norm. It is not just online anymore, it has bled into everyday life. We have merged our consciousness with the consciousness of the cold, calculating, bean counting machine. We need to remember to turn off and enjoy simplicity. We need to turn off the computer and go for a walk. Get some fresh air. Literally hug a tree and literally touch some grass. Nature grounds us in creation. It reminds us of our belonging and oneness with the universe. It reminds us that our lives literally depend on the lives of others - other people, plants, animals and other living beings.
Shakers were peaceful. They sought in all their affairs to have peace and tranquility. This included their neighbors. Where Shaker settlements ended up in the way of land disputes between natives and settlers, Shakers maintained friendly relations with both. They revered the indigenous as holy peoples close to God and communicated with the spirits of dead chiefs in trances during the Era of Manifestations. They lived both outside of governmental authority and nonresistant to outside governmental authority. Even though they opposed slavery and mostly were supportive of the Union, they refused military service during the Civil War. They did act as medics, but felt they must provide care to both the Confederate and Union sides. Lincoln ended up exempting them from the draft, making them some of the first conscientious objectors in American history.
Today we must remember peace is a better solution than war. Our disagreements with our neighbors may be strong, but it is virtuous to settle disagreements with diplomacy and negotiation rather than violence and coercive force. We must oppose wars between nations, we must seek peace rather than escalation of conflict, we must avoid nuclear war. Those of us who are already anti-war must remember to be patient with those whose eyes are clouded by the fog of war. We must remember to talk to each other as human beings rather than lash out at every chance we get. We must also remember that, as the bible says, there is a time to speak and a time to listen. There is a right time for everything. Be patient, forgiving and kind. It does not mean we do not boldly speak truth to power and decry injustice when we see it, but we must not misdirect our anger at those who, like us, are just trying to survive. We must see that the only way to change our society is to get the majority of the people to understand the universal experience of mystery that an illogical, unjust system based on greed, not love, offers and then offer a beautiful, glorious, yes! utopian alternative.
Let us finally take it upon ourselves, each and every one of us, to shine brightly as bold examples showing that God is Still Love and to bring forth into the world that God that is love.
Mitchell K. Jones is a historian and activist from Rochester, NY. He has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a master’s degree in history from the College at Brockport, State University of New York. He has written on utopian socialism in the antebellum United States. His research interests include early America, communal societies, antebellum reform movements, religious sects, working class institutions, labor history, abolitionism and the American Civil War. His master’s thesis, entitled “Hunting for Harmony: The Skaneateles Community and Communitism in Upstate New York: 1825-1853” examines the radical abolitionist John Anderson Collins and his utopian project in Upstate New York. Jones is a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
March 3, 2023 - Two years after the revolution: Thomas Sankara on Franco-African relations By: Thomas Sankara; translation by Maxime Delafosse-Brown and Gabriel RockhillRead Now
" This article was originally published on Liberation School on February 27, 2023"
This is the first English translation of an interview with Thomas Sankara, originally published here in French under the title, “We vote for Le Pen too much in Ouagadougou.” The interview took place on August 5, 1985 and was first printed in Le Matin de Paris (a publication close to the French Socialist Party).
This is the fifth installment in Liberation School’s Thomas Sankara translation project. This series is the result of a collaboration with ThomasSankara.net, an online platform dedicated to archiving work on and by the great African revolutionary. We would like to express our gratitude to Bruno Jaffré for allowing us to establish this collaboration and providing us with the right to translate this material into English for the first time.
The contentious Franco-Burkinabe relationship (as framed by Le Matin de Paris)
Relations between Thomas Sankara and the French government have been “heated” since 1983. France, the principal provider of funds in the Upper Volta, has often been annoyed by the “anti-imperialist” speeches made by Prime Minister Sankara, which have called its status into question.
Arrested at the time by the president Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo, Thomas Sankara accused the advisor of the President of France, Guy Penne, then present in Ouagadougou, of having overseen his arrest. In June 1984, following the execution of seven people in Ouagadougou for “conspiracy,” the French Socialist Party refused to receive the Burkinabe Minister of State, Blaise Compaoré, in Paris.
Finally, there was the Sigué Affair: Sankara’s Head of Security, who was of French descent through his mother, was arrested by the French police while he was traveling through Roissy for common law crimes that he had been blamed for in France. France is, moreover, accused by Burkina Faso of backing opponents to their regime.
“We vote for Le Pen too much in Ouagadougou:” Interview with Thomas Sankara by Etienne Gingembre
Le Matin: You have applauded the measures taken by France against Pretoria . Do you think France, whom you qualify as an imperialist power, is going in the same direction as you?
Thomas Sankara: If there is one fundamental critique that has to be leveled against the French Socialist Party’s African policy, it is that they continue to use the same ways of thinking for Africa. However, these ways of thinking are outdated and only misunderstanding can come about. Each time France makes a decision that does not seem just to us, we will firmly combat it. People with bad intentions call this systemic obstruction, or an anti-French politics. We think that it is the most sincere way to establish a healthy rapport with the people.
However, we do not hesitate to support France when it takes a position that we believe to be just. For example, when France withdrew from Lebanon, we were the first and the only Africans to send them a message. And when France decided to boycott Pretoria, we not only made a declaration but we asked our ambassador in New York to mobilize the non-aligned, which allowed the French measure to pass.
Le Matin: So you are no longer “disappointed with socialism”?
Thomas Sankara: In the left project, there were some courageous options that we have appreciated.
Unfortunately, because the power of the Left has let itself be carried away by some predictable political contradictions, it is today bound hand and foot and is incapable of fulfilling a certain number of promises. This power compromised itself in France, and it compromised itself outside of France.
Le Matin: You have just received Bernard Stasi . Do you have good relations with certain French personalities?
Thomas Sankara: Stasi told me that he had a very positive impression of his stay and had noted the big changes that were made in the country. I appreciated the man. Otherwise we have relationships with non-governmental organizations that are sometimes very positive (just recently, by the way, we decorated a French progress volunteer). Unfortunately, for a very long time, a French oligarchy came here to reach agreements with a Burkinabe oligarchy on the backs of the people. You’ll understand that our people have ended up throwing back on the French people the negative actions committed in Africa by French leaders. This is what provokes sectarian and ultimately racist rejections. Our two people have no interest in harming one another, quite the contrary, but the French government must take another approach today.
Le Matin: Which one, for example?
Thomas Sankara: As long as your representatives think that Burkina Faso is its exclusive territory or that its voice must go through certain African capitals or through men who have been fossilized in institutions by several decades of power…
Le Matin: Because these men no longer represent their people?
Thomas Sankara: A group of African leaders can ask France to intervene in Chad, but if you do a poll, you will see that the African popular masses totally reject, as a whole, this intervention. This is why France will always commit an error when they neglect the masses by saying: “It was your presidents that asked us to do this.” Tomorrow, the socialists will need to answer for these acts, in perfect agreement with the African leaders but in disagreement with the masses. Let’s not repeat what happened in Algeria.
Le Matin: But if tomorrow the Right replaced the Socialist Party in power in France, don’t you fear that this would make your relations with France more difficult?
Thomas Sankara: I would not be honest if I said that we did not dread this. We will take on our responsibilities. But you know, the Right, we are already living with it here: we vote for Le Pen too much in Ouagadougou. Every day the right strives to harm the revolution here, to poison our relations with France, to make it so that foreigners think that Ouagadougou is a cordoned-off city where all it takes is white skin to be rounded up. When we take note of this bad faith, we understand what the situation could be like if these people had more power.
We hope for our part that those who will have the power to guide the destiny of France, whether they are on the Right or the Left, will be committed to not provoking an international coalition against France as a result of the racist and colonialist behaviors of their compatriots in Africa. In Burkina Faso, we will not remain idle with our arms crossed in the face of these repeated provocations.
Le Matin: Does this mean that you will take action?
Thomas Sankara: For now, I will only stand by this declaration. But we will fulfill our responsibilities to the end: those who attack our people, we will attack them.
Le Matin: Does this mean that your patience is reaching its limits?
Thomas Sankara: It’s starting to reach that point…
Le Matin: Amnesty International has reproached you for human rights violations: arbitrary imprisonments, torture, disappearances. Is this disinformation?
Thomas Sankara: This reaction on the part of international opinion is normal because it’s founded on the information to which it has access. Unfortunately, this is conditioned information. You cannot know the number of plots we have foiled in the last two years. At first, we weren’t taken seriously. However, we do what we say. And what we do is assessed from the outside, to the point that a demand is formulated. Then they decide to slaughter us. And they recount all kinds of things to international opinion. In other African countries, people disappear into dungeons without any protest in France. Better yet, France celebrates and congratulates some of these countries. I’ll cite for you the case of the Agence France-Presse, whose representative in one country keeps coming to write in Burkina Faso…
Le Matin: That of Niamey?
Thomas Sankara: I did not want to name the country. He keeps coming to write about what he sees as negative in Burkina Faso, but he never writes about other countries, even the one where he resides. This is a double standard. It should come as no surprise, therefore, if today international opinion is more interested in what happens in Burkina Faso.
Le Matin: But do you nevertheless accept criticisms?
Thomas Sankara: Yes, but these criticisms do not correspond to reality. You are told that some people were arrested, tortured and even killed. We have, several times, heard talk about people killed, while they are here and they are playing cards with their guards. We are in a very politicized country, so our opposition focuses international opinion on things done here that they judge to be negative. Because they can no longer speak publicly due to the risk of being properly put back in their place by whoever is concerned, our opposition calls international opinion to its aid in order to spread claims against the Burkinabe.
Le Matin: But does your opposition still have legal rights in Burkina Faso?
Thomas Sankara: We really do not fight this opposition as firmly as we say we do. Even when we are pushed to the limit, and we arrest certain people, we do not fail to release them. And this opposition itself is falling apart because it is no longer credible. This is why, from the Left as from the Right, these people do not hesitate to plot against us. And most of these plots are remote controlled from abroad…
Le Matin: By who?
Thomas Sankara: For now, we choose not to disclose this information.
Le Matin: Do you think, like it has often been said here, that France and the United States have supported these plots?
Thomas Sankara: We reaffirm that powerful support has come from these countries. But we will catch these thieves red-handed.
Le Matin: Are all measures for national reconciliation currently excluded?
Thomas Sankara: No, and the people know that we do not hesitate to extend help and support to those who want to take us up on them.
Militants find this to be sentimentalism, while our detractors take it to be weakness. They are trying to discredit us by engaging us in an escalation of violence. They manipulate people who provoke us. A provocation that, if repeated, would drive us to commit extremely violent acts, as a last resort.
Le Matin: What do you have in mind?
Thomas Sankara: I am thinking, for example, of death sentences.
Le Matin: Do you envision carrying them out today?
Thomas Sankara: No, I don’t want us to have to do that. But we are being pushed in that direction so that we can then be denounced. Either you kill your adversaries, in which case you are condemned for violating human rights, or you do not kill them, in which case your opponents overthrow you.
Le Matin: Last year, you said that you committed one error per day. Is that still the case?
Thomas Sankara: This year, we are committing more than three per day, because we are doing even more things, and we are making more decisions. If, out of 3,000 decisions, 2,800 are bad, there are nonetheless 200 that are good. And if, out of 9,000, we only have 500 good decisions, then this progression has not improved the ratio, but, all the same, that makes 300 more good decisions. This is why we are still committing more errors.
 In July 1985, the South-African President Pieter Botha, an outspoken opponent of communism and democracy for Blacks, declared a state of emergency in certain districts as a purported response to mobilizations on the part of the Black community. The French government responded by recalling its ambassador, enacting a moratorium on new French investments in South Africa, and submitting a resolution to the UN Security Council condemning Pretoria (which was ratified). – Trans.
 Stasi was a French politician generally affiliated with the Christian democratic Right or center Right. – Trans.
Thomas Sankara; translation - Maxime Delafosse-Brown and Gabriel Rockhill
Asking the Oppressed to Be Nonviolent Is an Impossible Standard That Ignores History By: Justin PodurRead Now
In January 2023, after five police officers killed Tyre Nichols, President Joe Biden quickly issued a statement calling on protesters to stay nonviolent. “As Americans grieve, the Department of Justice conducts its investigation, and state authorities continue their work, I join Tyre’s family in calling for peaceful protest,” said Biden. “Outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable. Violence is destructive and against the law. It has no place in peaceful protests seeking justice.”
In June 2022, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Biden made the same call to protesters. “I call on everyone, no matter how deeply they care about this decision, to keep all protests peaceful. Peaceful, peaceful, peaceful,” Biden said. “No intimidation. Violence is never acceptable. Threats and intimidation are not speech. We must stand against violence in any form, regardless of your rationale.”
It is a curious spectacle to have the head of a state, with all the levers of power, not using that power to solve a problem, but instead offering advice to the powerless about how to protest against him and the broken government system. Biden, however, showed no such reluctance to use those levers of power against protesters. During the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, when Biden was a presidential candidate, he made clear what he wanted to happen to those who didn’t heed the call to nonviolence: “We should never let what’s done in a march for equal rights overcome what the reason for the march is. And that’s what these folks are doing. And they should be arrested—found, arrested, and tried.”
In the face of murderous police action, Biden called on protesters to be “peaceful, peaceful, peaceful.” In the face of non-nonviolent protesters, Biden called on police to make sure the protesters were “found, arrested, and tried.”
Are protesters in the United States (and perhaps other countries where U.S. protest culture is particularly strong, like Canada) being held to an impossible standard? In fact, other Western countries don’t seem to make these demands of their protesters—consider Christophe Dettinger, the boxer who punched a group of armored, shielded, and helmeted French riot police until they backed off from beating other protesters during the yellow vest protests in 2019. Dettinger went to jail but became a national hero to some. What would his fate have been in the United States? Most likely, he would have been manhandled on the spot, as graphic footage of U.S. police behavior toward people much smaller and weaker than Dettinger during the 2020 protests would suggest. If he survived the encounter with U.S. police, Dettinger would have faced criticism from within the movement for not using peaceful methods.
There is a paradox here. The United States, the country with nearly 800 military bases across the world, the country that dropped the nuclear bomb on civilian cities, and the country that outspends all its military rivals combined, expects its citizens to adhere to more stringent standards during protests compared to any other country. Staughton and Alice Lynd in the second edition of their book Nonviolence in America, which was released in 1995, wrote that “America has more often been the teacher than the student of the nonviolent ideal.” The Lynds are quoted disapprovingly by anarchist writer Peter Gelderloos in his book How Nonviolence Protects the State, an appeal to nonviolent protesters in the early 2000s who found themselves on the streets with anarchists who didn’t share their commitment to nonviolence. Gelderloos asked for solidarity from the nonviolent activists, begging them not to allow the state to divide the movement into “good protesters” and “bad protesters.” That so-called “antiglobalization” movement faded away in the face of the post-2001 war on terror, so the debate was never really resolved.
For the U.S., the UK, and many of their allies, the debate over political violence goes back perhaps as far as the white pacifists who assured their white brethren, terrified by the Haitian Revolution, which ended in 1804, that abolitionism did not mean encouraging enslaved people to rebel or fight back. While they dreamed of a future without slavery, 19th-century abolitionist pacifists understood, like their countrymen who were the enslavers, that the role of enslaved people was to suffer like good Christians and wait for God’s deliverance rather than to rebel. Although he gradually changed his mind, 19th-century abolitionist and pacifist William Lloyd Garrison initially insisted on nonviolence toward enslavers. Here Garrison is quoted in the late Italian communist Domenico Losurdo’s book Nonviolence: A History Beyond the Myth: “Much as I detest the oppression exercised by the Southern slaveholder, he is a man, sacred before me. He is a man, not to be harmed by my hand nor with my consent.” Besides, he added, “I do not believe that the weapons of liberty ever have been, or ever can be, the weapons of despotism.” As the crisis deepened with the Fugitive Slave Law, Losurdo argued, pacifists like Garrison found it increasingly difficult to call upon enslaved people to turn themselves back to their enslavers without resistance. By 1859, Garrison even found himself unable to condemn abolitionist John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.
The moral complexities involved in nonviolence in the antiwar movement were acknowledged by linguist, philosopher, and political activist Noam Chomsky in a 1967 debate with political philosopher Hannah Arendt and others. Chomsky, though an advocate for nonviolence himself in the debate, concluded that nonviolence was ultimately a matter of faith:
“The easiest reaction is to say that all violence is abhorrent, that both sides are guilty, and to stand apart retaining one’s moral purity and condemn them both. This is the easiest response and in this case I think it’s also justified. But, for reasons that are pretty complex, there are real arguments also in favor of the Viet Cong terror, arguments that can’t be lightly dismissed, although I don’t think they’re correct. One argument is that this selective terror—killing certain officials and frightening others—tended to save the population from a much more extreme government terror, the continuing terror that exists when a corrupt official can do things that are within his power in the province that he controls.”
Several writings have sounded the warning that nonviolence doctrine has caused harm to the oppressed. These include Pacifism as Pathology by Ward Churchill, How Nonviolence Protects the State and The Failure of Nonviolence by Peter Gelderloos, Nonviolence: A History Beyond the Myth by Domenico Losurdo, and the two-part series “Change Agent: Gene Sharp’s Neoliberal Nonviolence” by Marcie Smith.
Even the historic victories of nonviolent struggles had a behind-the-scenes armed element. Recent scholarly work has revisited the history of nonviolence in the U.S. civil rights struggle. Key texts include Lance Hill’s The Deacons for Defense, Akinyele Omowale Umoja’s We Will Shoot Back, and Charles E. Cobb Jr.’s This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed. These histories reveal continuous resistance, including armed self-defense, by Black people in the United States.
Even before these recent histories, we have Robert Williams’s remarkable and brief autobiography written in exile, Negroes With Guns. Williams was expelled from the NAACP for saying in 1959: “We must be willing to kill if necessary. We cannot take these people who do us injustice to the court. … In the future we are going to have to try and convict these people on the spot.” He bitterly noted that while “Nonviolent workshops are springing up throughout Black communities [, n]ot a single one has been established in racist white communities to curb the violence of the Ku Klux Klan.”
As they moved around the rural South for their desegregation campaigns, the nonviolent activists of the civil rights movement often found they had—without their asking—armed protection against overzealous police and racist vigilantes: grannies who sat watch on porches at night with rifles on their laps while the nonviolent activists slept; Deacons for Defense who threatened police with a gun battle if they dared turn water hoses on nonviolent students trying to desegregate a swimming pool. Meanwhile, legislative gains made by the nonviolent movement often included the threat or reality of violent riots. In May 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, for example, after a nonviolent march was crushed, a riot of 3,000 people followed. Eventually a desegregation pact was won on May 10, 1963. One observer argued that “every day of the riots was worth a year of civil rights demonstrations.”
As Lance Hill argues in The Deacons for Defense:
“In the end, segregation yielded to force as much as it did to moral suasion. Violence in the form of street riots and armed self-defense played a fundamental role in uprooting segregation and economic and political discrimination from 1963 to 1965. Only after the threat of black violence emerged did civil rights legislation move to the forefront of the national agenda.”
Biden’s constant calls for nonviolence by protesters while condoning violence by police are asking for the impossible and the ahistorical. In the crucial moments of U.S. history, nonviolence has always yielded to violence.
Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer and a writing fellow at Globetrotter. You can find him on his website at podur.org and on Twitter @justinpodur. He teaches at York University in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Neruda was assassinated with a biological weapon, nephew denounces By: Juan M. GarciaRead Now
Rodolfo Reyes, a lawyer and nephew of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, charged on Tuesday that the reports from two laboratories in Canada and Denmark confirm the assassination of the Nobel Prizewinner for Literature with a biological weapon.
In an exclusive interview with Prensa Latina, Reyes affirmed that the expert opinion delivered to the Supreme Court ratifies the presence in the remains of the writer and politician of a large amount of the Clostridium botulinum bacterium, which is incompatible with the life of any human being.
The bacterium, whose name is Alaska E43 and is toxic, was injected into Neruda’s body and caused his death, Reyes stressed.
Neruda died at the Santa Maria clinic in this capital, 12 days after Augusto Pinochet’s military coup against the Popular Unity Government of President Salvador Allende, and one day before a scheduled trip to Mexico.
“The cause of his assassination is out in the open. After Allende’s death and the assassination of Victor Jara, the other national icon that was alive was Pablo Neruda,” Reyes stated.
He recalled that the poet had been a candidate for the presidency, a senator, an ambassador, a consul, a member of the Communist Party, so he was a well-known politician, as well as a writer.
President Luis Echeverria had offered Neruda a plane to travel to Mexico, but it was not convenient for the dictatorship for him to leave Chile alive because he had unified many people against Augusto Pinochet, Reyes said.
Asked by Prensa Latina about the coincidence of these revelations on the 50th anniversary of the coup d’état, Reyes noted that this investigation, which began 14 years ago, will show that Neruda did not die of cancer, nor because of his age, but due to a direct intervention of Pinochet’s agents.
“They took his life,” he said.
“For me, as a nephew, it is an agreement to be able to rightly say that Neruda was assassinated, but, on the other hand, I feel very sorry that this great man has suffered the pain caused by poisoning,” he concluded.
Juan M. Garcia
This article was republished from Monthly Review.
THE BATTLE OF STALINGRAD 1942-1943: HISTORICAL CONTEXT AND IMPORTANCE By: Jacques PauwelsRead Now
1942: After aerial bombardment has almost totally cleared their path into the city of Stalingrad, German troops make their way through the ruined suburbs. Almost every standing building in Stalingrad served as a firing point for Germans or Soviets, forcing house-to-house combat. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
A war against the Soviet Union was wanted by the industrialists, bankers, large landowners and other members of Germany’s upper class, the “elite” of the land. That was one of the reasons, and arguably the paramount reason, why they had enabled the coming to power of Hitler, a politician of whom it was widely known that he considered the destruction of the Soviet Union as the great task entrusted to him by providence. Hitler’s so-called “seizure of power”(Machtergreifung) was in reality a “transfer of power,” and this transfer was orchestrated, logically enough, by those who, behind the democratic façade of Weimer Germany, ensconced in the army, judiciary, state bureaucracy, diplomacy, and so forth, wielded power, namely the upper-class.
However, to win the great war planned by Hitler, Germany, a highly industrialized country but lacking colonies and therefore woefully short of strategic raw materials, had to win it fast, before the depletion of the stockpiles of imported rubber and above all petroleum that Germany could establish before the start of the conflict. These reserves, much of which consisted of imports from the US, could not be adequately replenished by synthetic fuel and rubber produced at home (on the basis of coal) and/or oil supplied by friendly or neutral countries such as Romania and – after the Hitler-Stalin Pact of August 1939 – the Soviet Union. It is in this context that the Nazis developed the strategy of Blitzkrieg, “lightning warfare”: synchronized attacks by massive numbers of tanks, airplanes, and trucks (for transporting infantry), piercing the defensive lines behind which the bulk of the enemy’s forces were typically ensconced in the style of World War I, then encircling these forces, leaving them to face either annihilation or capitulation.
In 1939 and 1940, this strategy worked perfectly: Blitzkrieg produced Blitzsieg, “lightning victory,” against Poland, Holland, Belgium, and – spectacularly so – against France, supposedly a great military power. When, in the spring of 1941, Nazi Germany was poised to attack the Soviet Union, everyone–not only Hitler and his generals but also the army commanders in London and Washington – expected a similar scenario to unfold: the Red Army would be finished off by the Wehrmacht within a maximum of two months. Hitler and his1 generals despised the Soviet Union as a ‘giant with feet of clay”, whose army, presumably “decapitated” by Stalin’s purges during the thirties, was nothing more than “a joke,” as the Führer himself put it on one occasion. On the eve of the attack, Hitler felt supremely confident: he reportedly “fancied himself to be on the verge of the greatest triumph of his life.”
Soviet sharpshooter. Stalingrad, September 1942. (Photo by: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
From the Ostkrieg, their Blitzkrieg in the east, on what would later be called the “eastern front,” Hitler and his generals expected much more than from their previous lightning campaigns. Their stockpiles of fuel and rubber had already dwindled after their gas-guzzling planes and panzers had embarked on a conquest of Europe from Poland to France via Norway; by the spring of 1941, the remaining supplies of fuel, tires, spare parts, etc. sufficed to wage motorized war for no more than a couple of months. The shortfall could not be compensated by imports from the Soviet Union as part of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of August 1939, as is claimed by some historians. According to a meticulous study by Canadian history professor Brock Millman, published in The Journal of Contemporary History, merely four percent of Germany’s fuel came from Soviet sources. In 1940 and 1941, Germany depended mostly on petroleum imported from two countries: first, Romania, initially a neutral country but an ally of Nazi Germany as of November 1940; second, the United States, whose “oil barons” supplied the Hitler regime with enormous quantities of “liquid gold” via neutral countries such as Franco’s Spain and occupied France; these exports were to continue until the United States entered the war in December 1941. As for the relatively modest imports of Soviet petroleum, they actually troubled Hitler deeply because according to the terms of the 1939 Pact, Germany had to deliver high-quality industrial products and state-of-the-art military technology, used by the Soviets to strengthen their defenses in preparation for a German attack that they expected sooner or later.
Hitler believed this dilemma could be resolved by attacking the Soviet Union, and by attacking as soon as possible, even though stubborn Britain had not yet been vanquished: the“lightning victory” that was confidently expected to materialize quickly in the east would deliver to Germany the rich oil fields of the Caucasus, where the gas-guzzling Panzers and Stukas would in future be able to fill their tanks to the brim at any time. Germany would then be a truly invincible über-Reich, capable of winning even long, drawn-out wars against any antagonist. This was the plan, code-named “Barbarossa,” and its implementation got underway on June 22, 1941; but things would not work out as its architects in Berlin had expected.2
Soviet morale boost: German prisoners parade in Moscow, 1944. Stalingrad and other great defeats ended up entrusting the Soviet Union with more than three million German prisoners, a colossal figure to care for in a nation practically destroyed, and lacking essentials even for its own population.
While the Red Army took a terrible beating at first, it had not massed its forces at the border but opted for a defense in depth; withdrawing in relatively good order, it managed to elude destruction in one or more of the kind of huge encirclement battles that Hitler and his generals had dreamed of. It is this “defense in depth” that prevented the Wehrmacht from destroying the Red Army, as Marshal Zhukov has emphasized in his memoirs. The Germans advanced, but increasingly slowly and at the price of great losses. By late September, that is, two months after the start of Barbarossa, when victory should have been a fait accompli and the German soldiers ought to have been heading home to be welcomed there as conquering heroes, they were still a very long way from Moscow and even farther from the Caucasian oil fields, a major object of Hitler’s desires in his Ostkrieg. And soon the mud, snow and cold of fall and early winter were to create new difficulties for troops that had never been expected to fight in such conditions.
In the meantime, the Red Army had recuperated from the blows it had received initially, and on December 5, 1941, it launched a devastating counter-offensive in front of Moscow. The the Nazi forces were thrown back and had to adopt defensive positions. With great difficulty, they would manage to arrest the Red Army’s offensive and survive the winter of 1941-1942. In any event, on the evening of that fateful fifth of December, 1941, the generals of the Wehrmacht’s high command reported to Hitler that, on account of the failure of the Blitzkrieg strategy, Germany could no longer hope to win the war. The Battle of Moscow heralded the failure of the lightning-war strategy against the Soviet Union. From a Blitzsieg, a “lightning-like victory,” on the eastern front, in 1941, Nazi Germany’s political and military authorities had expected that it would have made a German defeat in the entire war impossible, and that would almost certainly have been the case. It is probably fair to say that if Nazi Germany had defeated the Soviet Union in 1941, Germany would today still be the hegemon of Europe, and possibly of the Middle East and North Africa as well. However, in front of Moscow, in December 1941, Nazi Germany suffered the defeat that made an overall German victory impossible, not only victory against the Soviet Union itself, but also victory against Great Britain and victory in the war in general. In other words, December 5, 1941, was the real turning point of the Second World War. It ought to be noted that at that point –a few days before Pearl Harbor – the United States was not yet involved in the war against Germany. In fact, the US only became involved in that war because of the Battle of Moscow.3
Shortly after Germany’s Führer received the bad news from Russia, he learned that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7 and that the Americans had reacted with a declaration of war against Japan, but not against Germany, which had nothing to do with this attack. However, Hitler himself declared war on the United States, namely on December 11. His alliance with Japan did not require him to do so, as some historians have claimed, because it required to come to the aid of a partner that was attacked by a third country; however, the land of the rising sun was not attacked but had itself initiated the hostilities. With this dramatic gesture of solidarity vis-a-vis his Japanese partner, Hitler undoubtedly hoped that would cause Tokyo to reciprocate and declare war on his own mortal enemy, the Soviet Union. In this case, the Red Army would have to fight a war on two fronts, and this might have revived German prospects for victory in the titanic Ostkrieg. But Japan did not take the bait, and Nazi Germany was thus saddled with another formidable enemy, though it would take a long time before American forces would engage in actual combat against Nazi troops.
The Battle of Moscow was definitely the turning point of World War II, but other than Hitler and his generals, hardly anyone knew that Germany was henceforth doomed to lose the war. The general public certainly was not aware of this, not in Germany, not in the occupied countries, not in Britain, and certainly not in the US. It looked as if the Wehrmacht had suffered a temporary setback, presumably – according to Nazi propaganda – due to the unexpectedly early onset of winter; but it was still ensconced deep in Soviet territory and continued to occupy a huge part of the country. It was therefore expected that the Germans would resume the offensive in 1942, as indeed they would.
In the spring of 1942, Hitler scraped together all available forces for an offensive —code-named “Operation Blue” (Unternehmen Blau) – in the direction of the oil fields of the Caucasus. He had convinced himself that he still had a chance of winning the war, but certainly not “if he did not get the petroleum of Maikop and Grozny.” The element of surprise had been lost, however, and the Soviets still disposed of huge masses of men, oil, and other resources. The Wehrmacht, on the other hand, could not compensate for the huge losses it had suffered in 1941 in its “crusade” in the Soviet Union: 6,000 airplanes and more than 3,200 tanks and similar vehicles; and more than 900,000 men had been killed, wounded, or gone missing in action, amounting to almost one-third of the average strength of the German armed forces.4
The forces available for a push toward the oil fields of the Caucasus were therefore extremely limited and, as it turned out, insufficient to achieve the offensive’s objective. Under those circumstances, it is quite remarkable that in 1942 the Germans managed to make it as far as they did. But when their offensive inevitably petered out, in September of that year, their weakly held lines were stretched along many hundreds of kilometres, presenting a perfect target for a Soviet counterattack. This is the context in which an entire German army was bottled up, and ultimately destroyed, in Stalingrad, in a titanic battle that started in the fall of 1942 and ended in early February 1943, precisely eighty years ago. After this sensational victory of the Red Army, the ineluctability of German defeat in World War II was obvious for all to see. It is for this reason– but also because of the long duration of the battle, the huge numbers of troops involved, and the unprecedented losses suffered by both sides – that most historians consider this battle, rather than the Battle of Moscow, as the turning point of the worldwide conflict of 1939-1945. It must be recognized that, from a strictly military point of view, the Battle of Moscow of September 1941 had already ensured that the bulk of the German armed forces would be tied down on the eastern front, with a length of approximately 4,000 kilometers, and that it was there that the Germans would have to use the bulk of what remained of their meager resources in petroleum and rubber.
This situation had eliminated the possibility of any new German military initiatives against the British and made it impossible to supply Rommel in North Africa with sufficient men, equipment, and fuel to prevent his defeat at El Alamein in the fall of 1942. However, it is obvious that the fiasco at Stalingrad made the lamentable military situation of the Reich infinitely worse and made it impossible to station a sufficient number of troops on the Atlantic coast of Europe to deal with an Anglo-American invasion that was certain to materialize sooner or later. In June 1944, at the time of the landings in Normandy, the Western Allies experienced considerable difficulties, even though they only confronted a small fraction of the Wehrmacht, while the once fearsome Luftwaffe was virtually absent from the skies over the beaches because of a debilitating shortage of fuel. Without the successes of the Red Army, first in front of Moscow and then around Stalingrad, the entire Wehrmacht would have been available to fight on the western front, and the Luftwaffe would have disposed of inexhaustible quantities of Caucasian petroleum. An Anglo-American landing in Normandy would have been “mission impossible.”5
If, after the Battle of Stalingrad, they wanted to get rid of Hitler, it was because they feared that he would drag them with him into ruin. Awareness of the significance of the German defeat on the banks of the Volga similarly demoralized the allies of Nazi Germany and caused them to start looking for ways to exit the war. As for the neutral countries, many of which had hitherto sympathized with Nazi Germany, mostly because their rulers shared Hitler’s anti-Sovietism, they became considerably more benevolent towards the members of the “anti-Hitler coalition,” and above all towards the “Anglo-Americans.” Franco, for example, pretended not to notice the allied airmen whose planes had been shot down over occupied countries and who, assisted by resistance fighters, crossed the Pyrenees from France into Spain to return that way to England.
In France and in other occupied countries, the leading political, military, but also economic collaborators, that is, bankers and industrialists, started to discreetly distance themselves from the Germans. Relying on the benevolent services of the Vatican and the Franco regime, they sought contact with the Americans and the British, from whom they received sympathy and assistance as both sides were eager to preserve the established capitalist social-economic order. (The French historian Annie Lacroix-Riz has focused on this little-known aspect of the war in a couple of her thoroughly researched and documented books.) Conversely, the news from Stalingrad boosted the morale of Germany’s enemies everywhere. After many long years of darkness, when it had seemed that Nazi Germany would dominate all of Europe forever, resistance fighters in France and elsewhere finally perceived the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. And their ranks were now increasingly reinforced by many who had been too lethargic before they received the happy tidings from Stalingrad. In France, in particular, the name of Stalingrad became a battle cry of the resistance. After the great victory of the Red Army on the banks of the Volga, the specter of an inevitable defeat haunted 6 Germany, while in the occupied countries everybody knew that the hour of liberation approached– slowly, perhaps, but surely.
Let us know consider the post-Stalingrad situation from the viewpoint of Uncle Sam and his British (junior) partner. There is no doubt about it: the prospect of Germany being defeated and of France and the rest of Europe being liberated by the Red Army caused alarm bells to ring in the halls of power in London and Washington. The Western Allies had been happy to remain on the sidelines, minimizing their losses and maximizing their military strength, while the Nazis and Soviets were locked in mortal combat on the Eastern Front. While the Red Army provided the cannon fodder needed to vanquish Germany, they would be able to intervene decisively, like a deus ex machina, whenever the Nazi enemy as well as the unloved Soviet ally would be exhausted. With Britain on its side as a junior partner, the USA would then be able to play the leading role in the camp of the victors and dictate the terms of the peace to the Soviets as well as the Germans. It is for this reason that, in 1942, Washington and London had refused to open a “second front” by landing troops in France. Instead, they had implemented a “southern” strategy by sending an army to North Africa in November 1942 to occupy the French colonies located there. Because of the outcome of the Battle of Stalingrad, the situation had changed dramatically.
Of course, from a purely military perspective, Stalingrad proved to be a boon to the Western Allies, because this defeat had impaired the Nazi enemy’s war machine to their advantage as well. But Roosevelt and Churchill were far from happy with the fact that the RedArmy was now grinding its way towards Berlin and possibly even farther westward, and that the Soviet Union – and its socialist social-economic system – now enjoyed enormous popularity among patriots in all the occupied countries and encouraged the resistance movements in France and elsewhere to make plans to introduce far-reaching, virtually revolutionary changes after the liberation of their countries. Conversely, the “Anglo-Saxons” were far from popular in countries such as France, partly because of their hitherto meagre contribution to the fight against Nazism, and partly because their air raids on cities in France and other occupied countries caused considerable civilian casualties; it was also unhelpful that Washington had long maintained diplomatic relations with the collaborator government of Marshal Pétain in Vichy and was known to look unfavourably on the plans for radical changes after liberation. In view of all this, it “became imperative for American and English strategy to land troops in France,” as two7 American historians, Peter N. Carroll and David W. Noble, have written and thus to prevent Western Europe and most of Germany to fall “in Soviet hands” or at least under Soviet influence.
Despite the Hollywood hoopla, the D-Day landings had a far less noble purpose than what Anglo-American media, politicians, and historians would admit.
However, when the news of the Soviet triumph at Stalingrad became known and its implications started to sink in, which was in early 1943, it was too late to plan a landing in France for that same year, so things had to wait until the spring of 1944.
The landings in Normandy in June 1944 did not constitute the turning point of World War II. Militarily, Nazi Germany had already received fatal blows at the Battles of Moscow and Stalingrad, and again, in the summer of 1943, at the Battle of Kursk. And while the landings officially purported to liberate France and the rest of Europe, their “latent,” that is, unspoken but real function was to prevent the Soviet Union from singlehandedly liberating Europe, possibly including Western Europe all the way to the English Channel– a prospect that was first raised by the Red Army’s victory on the banks of the Volga. Liberating France – or occupying it, much as the Germans had occupied the country, as General de Gaulle described the outcome of the Normandy landings on one occasion! – also purported to prevent the French resistance leaders, of whom the majority had great sympathy and admiration for the Soviets, as did the rank-and-file, from playing a major role in the reconstruction of their country.
Washington and London detested this “philosovietism,” which was actually shared at the time by the majority of the French population. But it was feared, above all, that these patriots might come to power and proceed to implement radical social-economic reforms, including the nationalization of corporations and banks that had collaborated with the Nazis. (Dire warnings to that effect were emanating regularly from the leading American spy based in Switzerland, Allen Dulles, later to become head of the CIA.) To sabotage the radical projects of the Resistance, which were incompatible with the American plans for France and all of Europe, namely the introduction of a capitalism as unbridled as possible, Washington and London decided, after much hesitation, to rely on General Charles de Gaulle, a rare bird in the sense that he was a popular resistance leader who was conservative. The Americans considered him to be an annoying megalomanic, but eventually realized his usefulness and made it possible for him to come to power in liberated France. That strategy involved orchestrating a kind of triumphant entry into Paris for de Gaulle, featuring a rather theatrical stroll down the Champs Elysées, during which other, arguably equally or even more important resistance leaders were forced to follow behind him. Even so, working with de Gaulle 8 would prove to be far from easy for the Americans. It proved impossible, for example, to prevent him, once he had been anointed as head of the government, from adopting some radical reforms wanted by the resistance and by a majority of the French people. Without him, however, the Left might have come to power and many more far-reaching, quasi-revolutionary changes might have been introduced. And in that case, the Americans would not have been able to integrate France into the anti-Soviet alliance they were to set up in Europe after the defeat of Nazi Germany and in the context of the Cold War. In fact, membership in this so-called alliance equated vassalage to Uncle Sam, and the alliance’s objective proved to be the same as that of operation Barbarossa, namely, the destruction of the Soviet Union.
As the Second World War came to an end, and for quite a few years afterward, most denizens of Western European countries victimized by Nazi Germany, but France in particular, were keenly aware that the libération of their homeland was above all due to the efforts and sacrifices of the Soviet Union, a fact that had become evident a the time of the Red Army’sglorious victory in the Battle of Stalingrad. It was a period of time when these same people, in stark contrast to the present situation, harboured enormous gratitude and goodwill vis-à-vis the Russians and other ethnic groups – Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians, Azeris, Uzbeks, etc. – of the Soviet Union. The name given in June 1945 to one of the largest squares in Paris still recalls that distant and brief moment in time: Place de la Bataille-de-Stalingrad, ‘Square of the Battle of Stalingrad.
(Sources are available on request) 9
Resident historian Jacques R. Pauwels is the author of The Myth of the Good War: America in the Second World War, Big business and Hitler, The Great Class War 1914-1918, and Myths of Modern History.
This article was republished from Greanville Post.
Amílcar Cabral – African Marxist liberation leader – murdered 50 years ago by agents of Portuguese colonialism By: Carlos Lopes PereiraRead Now
The author, a former member of the Secretariat of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), writes of African events for Avante, the newspaper of the Portuguese Communist Party. Translation: John Catalinotto.
Half a century ago, on Jan. 20, 1973, Amílcar Cabral, a prominent leader of the national liberation movement, was assassinated in Conakry [Guinea] by agents of colonialism on behalf of the fascist government of Portugal.
The crime provoked revulsion and indignation throughout progressive humanity. The United Nations, the Organization of African Unity and governments, parties and personalities from different parts of the world condemned the ignoble action by Portuguese colonialism.
The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), then operating underground in Portugal, asserted that although the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), and the entire national liberation movement, had lost a unique leader, the objectives of the colonialists who commanded the assassins would remain unmet. It expressed its full confidence that the struggle for which Cabral gave his life would continue until the final victory.
The PCP paid tribute to the ardent patriot, who was wholly devoted to the liberation struggle of his people, to the consistent revolutionary leading the construction of a progressive society in his liberated homeland, to the irreconcilable enemy of Portuguese colonialism and sincere friend of the people of Portugal, whom he always considered an ally in the struggle against the common enemy. And the party reaffirmed to the PAIGC and to the peoples of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde the entire solidarity and the active and fraternal support of the Portuguese communists in all circumstances.
Can’t assassinate the struggle!
Cabral’s assassination failed to destroy the independence of the Guinean and Cape Verdean peoples. The PAIGC continued to fight on various fronts and intensified the armed struggle, winning significant victories over the colonial army.
In July 1973, the Second Congress of the PAIGC elected Aristides Pereira as secretary-general of the party. On Sept. 24, the Popular National Assembly, meeting in the liberated zone of Boé in eastern Guinea-Bissau, proclaimed the State of Guinea-Bissau — and most U.N. countries immediately recognized the young republic. [Washington didn’t recognize Guinea-Bissau’s independence until a year later, when the new Portuguese government did. — WW]
With Portugal’s heavy political, military and diplomatic defeats in Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Angola, and the rise of the workers’ and people’s struggles in Portugal, Portuguese colonialist fascism was at death’s door. On April 25, 1974 — 15 months after Cabral’s assassination — the Armed Forces Movement (MFA) overthrew the dictatorship in Portugal. The military uprising and the popular uprising that followed paved the way for the April Revolution. [Called the “Carnation Revolution,” it involved a deepgoing worker uprising in Portugal — WW.]
Following talks between the new Portuguese authorities and the PAIGC, an agreement was signed in Algiers on Aug. 26, in which Portugal recognized the Republic of Guinea-Bissau and reaffirmed the right of the people of Cape Verde to self-determination and independence. The Portuguese government recognized the de jure independence of Guinea-Bissau on Sept. 10, 1974, and Cape Verde became independent on July 5, 1975.
The peoples of the two countries proclaimed Cabral their national hero and the founder of both the Guinean nation and the Cape Verdean nation.
Nothing can stop the march of history
Son of Cape Verdean parents, Cabral was born on Sept. 12, 1924, in the city of Bafatá, in the then-colony of Guinea. Years later, the family moved to the island of Santiago, in Cape Verde, and there the young Amílcar finished elementary school. Between 1938 and 1944, he attended São Vicente High School. A brilliant student, he promoted cultural initiatives, wrote poetry, presided over the students’ association and played soccer.
In 1945, Cabral came to Portugal with a scholarship and enrolled at the Instituto Superior de Agronomia in Lisbon. In the post-World War II environment, with the defeat of Nazi-fascism, the growing prestige of the Soviet Union, and the emergence of emancipatory struggles of peoples in Asia, Latin America and Africa, Cabral studied and socialized with other Portuguese and African youth.
Among his colleagues were Agostinho Neto, Mário de Andrade and Lúcio Lara, from Angola; Marcelino dos Santos and Noémia de Sousa, from Mozambique; Alda Espírito Santo, from São Tomé and Príncipe; Vasco Cabral, from Guinea, among others. Cabral participated in the activities of the Empire’s Student House, created an African Studies Center (for the “re-Africanization of the spirits”), gave literacy classes to workers, demonstrated against the rise of NATO and was an active member of the Youth Democratic Unity Movement (MUD), which opposed the fascist dictatorship.
After finishing his degree and internships with high marks, he chose in 1952 to work for the Guinea Agricultural and Forestry Services. In the then-colony, as an agricultural engineer, Cabral held several positions and directed the agricultural census of the territory, thus deepening his knowledge of the reality on the ground. In 1954, he tried to create a sports and recreational association in Bissau, but the colonial authorities considered it subversive, forbade it and forced him to leave his native country.
Cabral builds a liberation movement
Cabral went on to live and work in Portugal and Angola — where he came into contact with patriots who would later form the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) — with brief trips to Guinea. On one of these trips, on Sept. 19, 1956, he founded the African Independence Party (PAI) in Bissau with other patriots, which later became the PAIGC. In January 1960, he left Lisbon for good, and in May he set up the PAIGC leadership in Conakry, in the Republic of Guinea [a former French colony bordering Guinea-Bissau].
From then on, Cabral and his companions — among them Luís Cabral, his brother, and Aristides Pereira, who would become the first presidents of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau and the Republic of Cape Verde — prepared the conditions for the coming struggle. First he attempted, once again, a peaceful solution for the liquidation of colonial domination in the two territories. On Dec. 1, 1960, the PAIGC sent the Portuguese government a memorandum proposing negotiations on independence. It received no response.
Thus, faced with the total intransigence of the Portuguese fascist and colonialist dictatorship and, on the other hand, with the widening of the political struggle and the increase of international support, on Jan. 23, 1963, the PAIGC opened the armed struggle for national liberation in Guinea with an attack on the military barracks of Tite, in the south of the territory.
From then on the struggle developed constantly, both politically and militarily, and diplomatically, with successive successes by the PAIGC, which coordinated the liberation struggle with the MPLA, which began the armed struggle in Angola in 1961, and FRELIMO, which proclaimed a “general armed insurrection” in Mozambique in 1964.
In desperation, the colonialists tried to stop the PAIGC’s advances — especially the proclamation in the liberated regions of the national state of Guinea-Bissau, the first in its history — by assassinating Amílcar Cabral.
A few days before his death, in his New Year’s message to his party militants in January 1973, the PAIGC leader warned that “the situation in Portugal is deteriorating rapidly, and the Portuguese people are asserting, with increasing vigor, their opposition to the criminal colonial war.” And that for this reason, “the fascist colonial government and its agents in our land are in a hurry to see if they can change the situation before they are completely lost in their own land.”
Anticipating the future, Cabral predicted: “But they are wasting their time, and they are wasting in vain and without glory the lives of the young Portuguese they send to war. They will commit even more crimes against our people; they will make many more attempts and maneuvers to destroy our Party and our struggle. They will certainly carry out many more acts of shameless aggression against neighboring countries.
“But all in vain. Because no crime, no force, no maneuver or demagogy of the criminal Portuguese colonialist aggressors will be able to stop the march of history, the irreversible march of our African people of Guinea and Cape Verde toward independence, peace and the true progress to which they are entitled.”
A valuable contribution to the peoples’ struggle
Cabral’s assassination was not the first attempt by the Portuguese colonialists and their servants to destroy the PAIGC and halt the struggle for national and social emancipation of the peoples of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde.
As early as the late 1950s and early 1960s, while the party was being established and strengthened, “the criminal Portuguese colonialists and other enemies of our people used opportunists to create false movements outside our territory, to throw confusion around our struggle, to bar the way to the glorious march of our Party,” Cabral recalled, less than a year before his death.
In a March 1972 circular entitled: “We will reinforce our vigilance to unmask and eliminate the agents of the enemy, to defend the party and the struggle and to continue to condemn to failure all the plans of the Portuguese colonialist criminals,” the PAIGC secretary-general denounced that, over the years, “the Portuguese colonialist criminals have spared neither effort nor money to try to buy off party leaders and officials.”
Along with bribing and recruiting traitors, the colonialists promoted permanent campaigns based on racism, “tribalism” and religious differences, seeking to sow division in the Party’s ranks, to break its unity and to “destroy the PAIGC from within.” And they always made plans to arrest or kill the party leaders, particularly the secretary-general, because they were convinced that the arrest or death of the main leader would mean the end of the party and the struggle.
In November 1972, the liquidation of the PAIGC leader was the main objective of the Portuguese colonialists’ and their lackeys’ participation in the invasion of the Republic of Guinea, in the failed Operation Mar Verde, organized at the highest level by the fascist and colonialist government of Portugal.
The fascist colonialists never gave up on decapitating the PAIGC, until they physically eliminated its leader on Jan. 20, 1973, in an attempt to stop the struggle of the people of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde for liberation. But their effort was in vain, as history has shown.
Today, the legacy of Amílcar Cabral, revolutionary, patriot and internationalist, constitutes a valuable contribution to the struggle of the peoples for freedom, sovereignty and independence, for social progress, as well as a heritage of those who fought against the Portuguese fascist and colonialist regime.
This article was republished from Workers World.
Throughout 2022, monopoly capitalism, with the US at its core, continued to erode from within and buckle under pressure exerted by sovereign states and peoples’ movements alike. Relentless blows reigned down on the empire. These were some of the most memorable:
January 30: Prior to the Winter Olympics in Beijing, the leaders of China and Russia meet, the first visit between Xi Jinping and any world leader in over two years. A Russia–China joint statement heralded the dawning of a “new era,” warned against “the negative impact of the United States' Indo-Pacific strategy on peace and stability in the region,” and confirmed support for each others’ security policies. In comparison with the previous year, trade between the two countries increased by 32% in 2022. The February 7 report of the meeting by conservative rag The New Yorker had a nice ring to it: Putin and Jinping “unveiled a sweeping long-term agreement that also challenges the United States as a global power, NATO as a cornerstone of international security, and liberal democracy as a model for the world.”
February 19: Two Benin bronze sculptures are returned to a traditional palace in the former Kingdom of Benin, now Edo State, Nigeria. Several thousand bronze, brass, wood and ivory sculptures, cultural patrimony of the Benin dating back to the 13th century, were looted by the British and scattered across the imperial core in the colonial era. An estimated 90% of Africa’s cultural heritage is currently housed in Europe. Other artifacts are kept in Europe, Japan, Canada, or New Zealand. Throughout the year, a trickle of Benin bronzes returned to Nigeria. In addition to enslaving about three million Africans, the British extracted untold billions from today’s Nigeria through the Royal Nigeria Company (RNC), a corporation with an army that was granted a monopoly to exploit the area. In 1900, the RNC sold Nigeria to the British for £865,000, or about 37 million USD today.
February 21, 2022: Russia declares its recognition of the sovereignty of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR, respectively). In his address, President Putin recognizes the US role in overthrowing Ukraine’s elected government in 2014: “Radical nationalists took advantage of the justified public discontent and saddled the Maidan protest, escalating it to a coup d'état in 2014. They also had direct assistance from foreign states. According to reports, the US Embassy provided $1 million a day to support the so-called protest camp on Independence Square in Kiev. In addition, large amounts were impudently transferred directly to the opposition leaders’ bank accounts, tens of millions of dollars. But the people who actually suffered, the families of those who died in the clashes provoked in the streets and squares of Kiev and other cities, how much did they get in the end? Better not ask.”
February 24: Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine begins. On the left, a rift opens between those who view Russia as a semi-peripheral country bravely standing up to US imperialist hegemony and those who insist that Russia is a non-socialist aggressor state and must, therefore, be condemned. Whether you agree with it or not, the Russian incursion constituted an affront to US global supremacy.
The bottomless pools of sympathy and generosity, military and humanitarian, offered to the people and leaders of Ukraine by mainstream media across the imperial core made it very clear that the country was, in fact, a US puppet state. The outpouring of charity starkly contrasted with the indifference expressed towards the murder of millions of Iraqis, Afghanis, Libyans, Yugoslavians, Syrians, or Palestinians by US and NATO troops and their allies. The now ubiquitous Ukrainian flag began showing up on social media profiles, in dollar stores, and in promotional campaigns by banks, fast food restaurants, and gas stations across the West.
Photo: Colton’s Restaurant, Facebook
February 27: The UN Resolution “calling on Russia to halt its invasion and withdraw its forces from Ukraine” receives a tepid international response, particularly from African leaders. In total, 24 out of Africa’s 54 countries refused to condemn Russia’s military operation.
“The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from amongst its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region,” said South Africa’s President Ramaphosa.
“While Western powers impose sanctions on Russia, many countries in the Global South blame the US and NATO for the Ukraine war,” wrote Ben Norton for Multipolarista. “China, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Mexico, Vietnam, and more remain neutral. These represent the majority of the world’s population.”
March 5: Mixed reactions follow the announcement that a delegation of high-ranking US officials visited Venezuela to meet with President Nicolás Maduro. The US, of course, does not formally recognize Maduro’s presidency but instead backs a little-known former parliamentary deputy, Juan Guaidó, who declared himself leader of the oil-rich country one day in a Caracas plaza, having never received so much as one vote for the position. While many leftists would like to see the US starved of valuable oil by Venezuela’s socialist government, reality dictates otherwise: Venezuelans will greatly benefit from increased revenue from the oil industry, which saw its sales drop by 99% following its targeting by US economic warfare.
“Undoubtedly, Washington’s move represents a tacit recognition of the Nicolás Maduro administration,” wrote Caracas-based Orinoco Tribune, “a clear step towards the White House’s final admission of the failure of its Guaidó strategy, and a recognition of the geopolitical position of strength that Venezuela currently holds.”
March 23: Mainstream news outlets report that Russia will now insist that unfriendly countries pay for its oil and gas exports in Russian rubles. These sales are normally processed using US dollars, also known as petro dollars, which props up the value of the US dollar. A month later, these same hegemonic media outlets were reporting that “the Russian ruble keeps rising, hitting a seven-year high” (New York Times, June 21), and that “Russian ruble is the best-performing currency of 2022 despite sanctions” (The New Yorker, June 23).
May 10: During the press conference that he holds each morning, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) declares that he will not attend the so-called Summit of the Americas, hosted in Los Angeles, California, in June, following indications that the US would not invite representatives from Cuba, Nicaragua, or Venezuela. “If there is exclusion, if everyone is not invited… I will not go,” AMLO said, one of numerous inspiring comments that he made throughout the year.
Following AMLO’s statement, other countries, including Bolivia, Honduras, Guatemala, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, either did not attend or refused to send high-level delegates. In one of his rare moments of bravery, Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández, who did attend the summit, spoke out on behalf of the uprising: “the fact of being the host country of the Summit does not grant the capacity to impose a ‘right of admission’ on the member countries of the continent.”
May 31: The United Nations accepts a new member country, in a sense, as “Türkiye” becomes the official name for the nation formerly known as Turkey. Western media continue to defy the wishes of Türkiye’s government and still refer to the country as “Turkey”—as they do for “Burma,” which changed its name to Myanmar over 30 years ago.
June 19: Former Marxist guerrilla Gustavo Petro wins the presidential election in Colombia. Petro is widely described as Colombia’s first left-wing president while his running mate, Francia Márquez, is the country’s first Afro-Colombian vice president. Among his first orders of business were reversing Colombia’s policy towards Venezuela and reopening the 2,200-kilometer border between the countries. Under the previous president, US pawn Iván Duque, Colombia began recognizing Juan Guaidó as leader of Venezuela. Venezuela’s President Maduro and Petro met in person on November 1, consolidating a new era of friendly relations between the two countries, formerly joined in Gran Colombia, under the presidency of Simón Bolívar, in the early 19th century.
Photo: New York Times
June 20, 2022: The last remaining tooth of Patrice Lumumba, independence leader and first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is returned to his daughters in Kinshasa. In 1961, Belgian special forces, the CIA, and the secret services of the UK and Canada conspired to abduct Lumumba and murder him. Then, they dissolved his remains in battery acid—a futile attempt to diminish the impact of his heroic legacy in the afterlife. A Belgian police officer later bragged about stealing a single tooth of Lumumba’s from the grisly scene.
“For my part, I would like to apologize here, in the presence of his family, for the way in which the Belgian government influenced the decision to end the life of the country's first prime minister,” said Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. “A man was murdered for his political convictions, his words, his ideals.”
June 23: General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping, chairs the 14th BRICS Summit. The BRICS countries, which comprise about 40% of the world’s population, announce they will focus on the creation of a new reserve currency backed by natural resources, particularly gold. It is widely reported that at least a dozen countries, including oil-producing giants such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria, and very populous nations such as Egypt or NATO member Türkiye, wish to join the international economic partnership.
June 27: In 1904, German General Lothar von Trotha issued an order to shoot all Herero people on sight. The Herero and the Nama were the two most populous cultures in Namibia when it fell under German rule in the early 20th century. Over 80% of Herero and 50% of Nama were murdered in the ensuing holocaust. On June 27, Berlin promised to return at least 24 artifacts stolen from Namibia. Empty apologies and the repatriation of a tiny fraction of the wealth stolen from former colonial possessions does not suddenly constitute the just distribution of wealth on a global scale, but it opens the door to a larger discussion about reparations for the vast labor and natural resources plundered from oppressed nations over the last few centuries.
July 7: The buffoon serving as UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, resigns to a chorus of laughter. Whether we consider its definite end as 1956 or 1997, the decisive collapse of the British Empire—which once controlled at least a quarter of the world’s total land area—constitutes a tangible demonstration of imperial collapse that provides hope to us all.
August 15: Following mass protests against colonialism that erupted in January, and after Mali’s government issued an edict that French military occupation of the country must cease, the last French troops depart Mali. France promptly blamed the government’s statements on Russian interference. There may have been a grain of truth to the accusation: demonstrators were frequently filmed waving Russian flags and displaying pro-Russia and pro-China slogans. The landlocked West African country had been more or less occupied by French troops since the late 19th century and shackled into the economic bonds of the Franc Zone since 1984. Doubtlessly, potential alliances with any non-European powers are viewed by the people of Mali as a welcome alternative to decades of looting at the hands of the West. “Mali’s break with France is a symptom of cracks in the Transatlantic Alliance,” Vijay Prashad wrote for MROnline in December.
Photo: Anadolu Agency
September 8: Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, social media explodes with virulent attacks on the colonialist, imperialist policies carried out under her 70-year rule. Particularly popular were photos of her wearing the largest cut diamond in the world, valued at about $400 million and stolen from South Africa in 1905. The queen’s funeral was attended by about a million people—a far cry, for example, from the estimated six million who attended the funeral of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who liberated Egypt from British rule and led Egypt for 14 years. An estimated 45 people died during the raucous outpouring of grief following Nasser’s death in 1970.
September 28: Climate chaos impacts the imperial core as Hurricane Ian, Florida’s deadliest storm in over 80 years, strikes the US state, killing 146.
September 30: Following referendums in the DPR and LPR, the two breakaway states join the Russian Federation. President Putin’s address on the occasion was an assault on the imperialist core: “The West is ready to cross every line to preserve the neo-colonial system which allows it to live off the world, to plunder it thanks to the domination of the dollar and technology, to collect an actual tribute from humanity, to extract its primary source of unearned prosperity: the rent paid to the hegemon. The preservation of this annuity is their main, real, and absolutely self-serving motivation.”
October 5: In defiance of the wishes of the US and its vassal states, the international Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC) announces that it will cut oil production by two million barrels a day. As Indian economist Prabhat Patnaik commented, “the fact that they [OPEC] have been able to stand up to the pressure being exerted by the US to keep output unchanged is a sign of the changing times, of the challenge to US hegemony that is emerging even among countries that were its staunchest allies.”
October 22: The so-called klimakleber (climate gluers), who made news all year by defacing priceless works of European art and gluing themselves to roadways and monuments across the continent, smear mashed potatoes all over Claude Monet’s Les Meules, on display at the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany.
“We are in a climate catastrophe and all you are afraid of is tomato soup or mashed potatoes on a painting,” said an activist from Germany’s Leztze Generation (Last Generation). “You know what I am afraid of? I am afraid because science tells us that we won’t be able to feed our families in 2050… Does it take mashed potatoes on a painting to make you listen? This painting is not going to be worth anything if we have to fight over food. When will you finally start to listen? When will you finally start to listen and stop business as usual?”
Photo: Last Generation
October 30: After spending 580 days in jail on charges that were ultimately thrown out, Brazil’s working-class leader Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva wins the country’s presidential elections, paving the way for his return to the presidency. The left-leaning Lula served as president of Latin America’s most populous country and largest economy from 2003-2011, and was then locked up and prevented from running again by the US-trained judge Sergio Moro and US-backed neo-fascist politician Jair Bolsonaro. In fact, after Bolsonaro’s presidential election victory in 2018, these two made an unprecedented personal visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Lula’s return to power will mean reinvigorated relations with Venezuela and a higher standard of living for the impoverished people of Brazil. Among his campaign proposals was the creation of a common currency for Latin America.
November 3: The annual ritual repudiating the economic warfare waged on the Cuban people by the US takes place at the United Nations. In a vote that functions as a barometer measuring extreme servility to the imperial core, 185 countries voted to condemn the campaign of US economic war—euphemistically referred to as sanctions—waged against Cuba for 60 years. Only the USA and the apartheid state voted against the resolution, while Ukraine and Brazil (a parting gift from departing Bolsonaro) abstained.
December 9: Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping tells Gulf countries that China will begin paying for oil and gas in yuan (or renminbi), a decision that will further weaken the US dollar and US global economic dominance.
December 21: Historic winter storm Elliott, the deadliest winter storm to hit the country in over 100 years, pummels the US east coast, leaving at least 102 dead, including 34 in Buffalo, New York.
December 28: "I'm worried about capitalism," admits US billionaire Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, in a year-end interview with Financial Times.
December 31: Three of the four opposition parties in Venezuela’s G4 platform vote to remove their erstwhile leader, US puppet Juan Guaidó, from his made-up position as “interim president” of the country. The vote dealt a final blow to the scheme initiated in 2019 by the US and its vassal states. However, assets worth billions continue to be held by the leaderless parallel government, leaving the complete disintegration and defeat of the Guaidó strategy as something we can look forward to in the new year.
This article was republished from Steve Lalla.
Ana Belén Montes, an Exemplary Hero, Will Be Freed By: Stansfield SmithRead Now
Photo composition in sepia with the face of Ana Belén Montes, a document labeled “top secret” and another sheet of paper containing a complex diagram. Photo: CNN.
On January 8, 2023 the US has to release one of its many political prisoners, most being fighters against its repression of Third World peoples. Ana Belén Montes, heroic defender of Cuba’s sovereignty, will be freed after over 21 years in a federal military prison. She was a top official on Latin America in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) who, solely out of moral conviction, gave Cuba information on top secret US military plans and operations. Unrepentant in her trial, she defended herself saying, “I obeyed my conscience rather than the law. … I felt morally obligated to help the island defend itself from our efforts to impose our values and our political system on it.”
She is one of the many exemplary people who have taken an honorable and moral stance, opposing the reprehensible actions of the government, and have been accused of being traitors or spies. Edward Snowden was another, who exposed how the National Security Agency spied on the US population and leaders of other countries, now forced to live in exile to avoid facing life in prison.
While the US movement in defense of Cuba did not champion her case as with the very similar case of the Cuban Five, she is recognized as a hero in Cuba. In 2016, famous Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez dedicated a song to her, explaining, “The prisoner I mentioned yesterday… is Ana Belén Montes and she was a high official of the US secret services. When she knew that they were going to do something bad to Cuba, she would pass on the information to us. That is why she is serving a sentence of decades…Much evil did not happen to us because of her. Freedom for her.”
She did not receive any money from Cuba for her 16 years of work. Knowing the dire risks she faced, she acted out of love for justice and solidarity with Cuba. For over 60 years, the country has suffered under a US blockade – repeatedly condemned by the United Nations – imposed in retaliation for choosing national sovereignty over continued neo-colonial status. US supported terrorism against Cuba killed 3,478 and caused 2,099 disabling injuries.
One of the charges brought against Ana Belén was having helped assure Bill Clinton and George W. Bush that Cuba represented no military threat to the US, and therefore contributed to avoiding another US imperial war that would have meant the death of countless Cubans. She also acknowledged having revealed the identities of four American undercover intelligence officers working in Cuba.
Who is Ana Belén Montes?
Born in West Germany on February 28, 1957, a Puerto Rican citizen of the United States, and a high official in the Defense Intelligence Agency, she was convicted as a spy for alerting Cuba to the aggressive plans that were being prepared against the Cuban people.
In 1984 while working as a clerk in the Department of Justice, she began her relation with Cuban security. She then applied for a job at the DIA, the agency responsible for foreign military intelligence to the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The DIA employed her in 1985 until her arrest at work 16 years later. She became a specialist in Latin American military affairs, was the DIA’s principal analyst on El Salvador and Nicaragua, and later Cuba.
Because of her abilities, she became known in US intelligence circles as “the Queen of Cuba”. Montes’ work and contributions were so valued that she earned ten special recognitions, including Certificate of Distinction, the third highest national-level intelligence award. CIA Director George Tenet himself presented it to her in 1997. “She gained access to hundreds of thousands of classified documents, typically taking lunch at her desk absorbed in quiet memorization of page after page of the latest briefings,” which she would later write down at home and convey to Cuba.
How did US Spy Agencies Uncover Her?
On February 23, 1996, the Cuban Ministry of Defense asked visiting American Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll to warn off Miami Brothers to the Rescue planes that planned to again fly over Havana. Carroll immediately informed the State Department. Instead of ending the provocations, the US let the planes fly, and two “Brothers to the Rescue” planes were shot down over Cuba the next day. The US used this to sabotage the growing campaign to moderate the US blockade on the island. The US official who arranged Admiral Carroll’s meeting was Ana Belén. Her explanation that the date was chosen only because it was a free date on the Admiral’s schedule was accepted.
Nevertheless, a DIA colleague reported to a security official that he felt Montes might be cooperating with Cuban intelligence. He interviewed her, but she admitted nothing. She was given, and passed a polygraph test.
She had access to practically everything the intelligence community collected on Cuba, and helped write final reports. Due to her rank, she was a member of the super-secret “inter-agency working group on Cuba”, which brings together the main analysts of federal agencies, such as the CIA, the Department of State, and the White House itself. The Washington Post reported, “She was now briefing the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council and even the president of Nicaragua about Cuban military capabilities. She helped draft a controversial[!] Pentagon report stating that Cuba had a “limited capacity” to harm the United States and could pose a danger to U.S. citizens only “under some circumstances.”
Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a US agent in Cuba’s Ministry of Interior that Cuba had uncovered and imprisoned, was released and traded for three of the Cuban 5 in 2014. He had “provided critical information that led to the arrests of those known as the “Cuban Five;” of former State Department official Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers; and of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s top Cuba analyst, Ana Belén Montes.”
In 1999 the National Security Agency intercepted a Cuban communication. It revealed a spy high in the hierarchy, who was associated with the DIA’s SAFE computer system. It meant the person was likely on staff of the DIA. The suspect had also traveled to Guantánamo Bay in July 1996. Coincidentally, Montes had traveled to the Bay on DIA business. The NSA knew the person was using a Toshiba laptop, and it was discovered she had one. The FBI decided to break into her apartment and copy the hard drive.
Since the case being put together indicated she was providing information to Cuba, she was arrested by FBI agents on September 21, 2001 while in her DIA office. She was charged with conspiracy to commit espionage for Cuba. “She told investigators after her arrest that a week earlier she had learned that she was under surveillance. She could have decided then to flee to Cuba, and probably would have made it there safely.” But her political commitment made her feel “she couldn’t give up on the people (she) was helping.”
Owei Lakemfa presented ten reasons he thought Ana Belén Montes avoided detection during her 16 years in the DIA. She was extremely discreet and kept to herself. She lived alone in a simple apartment north of the US capital, and memorized documents, never taking any home. She never received unexplainable funds.
Ironically, her brother was an FBI special agent, and her sister an FBI analyst who “played an important role in exposing the so-called Wasp Network of Cuban agents [the Cuban 5 and 7 others] operating in Florida.”
Ana Belén avoided the death penalty for high treason, highly likely in the post September 11 atmosphere, by pleading guilty before the US federal court handling her case. Since she acknowledged her conduct, and told the court how she worked, she was sentenced to “only” twenty-five years. However, she was imprisoned in conditions designed to destroy her, as the case with Julian Assange today. She was sent to special unit of a federal prison for violent offenders with psychiatric problems.
Ana Belén Montes’ Noble Defense of her Conduct
In her October 16, 2002 trial statement, she declared that she obeyed her conscience:
“There is an Italian proverb that is perhaps the one that best describes what I believe: The whole world is one country. In that ‘world country’, the principle of loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself, is an essential guide for harmonious relations between all our ‘nation-neighborhoods’.
This principle implies tolerance and understanding for the different ways of others. It mandates that we treat other nations the way we wish to be treated – with respect and compassion. It is a principle that, unfortunately, I believe we have never applied to Cuba.
Your Honor, I got involved in the activity that has brought me before you because I obeyed my conscience rather than the law. Our government’s policy towards Cuba is cruel and unfair, deeply unfriendly; I feel morally obligated to help the island defend itself from our efforts to impose our values and our political system on it.
We have displayed intolerance and contempt for Cuba for four decades. We have never respected Cuba’s right to make its own journey towards its own ideals of equality and justice. I do not understand how we continue to try to dictate how Cuba should select its leaders, who its leaders cannot be, and what laws are the most appropriate for that nation. Why don’t we let Cuba pursue its own internal journey, as the United States has been doing for more than two centuries?
My way of responding to our Cuba policy may have been morally wrong. Perhaps Cuba’s right to exist free of political and economic coercion did not justify giving the island classified information to help it defend itself. I can only say that I did what I thought right to counter a grave injustice.
My greatest wish would be to see a friendly relationship emerge between the United States and Cuba. I hope that my case in some way will encourage our government to abandon its hostility toward Cuba and work together with Havana in a spirit of tolerance, mutual respect and understanding.
Today we see more clearly than ever that intolerance and hatred – by individuals or governments – only spreads pain and suffering. I hope that the United States develops a policy with Cuba based on love of neighbor, a policy that recognizes that Cuba, like any other nation, wants to be treated with dignity and not with contempt.
Such a policy would bring our government back in harmony with the compassion and generosity of the American people. It would allow Cubans and Americans to learn from and share with each other. It would enable Cuba to drop its defensive measures and experiment more easily with changes. And it would permit the two neighbors to work together and with other nations to promote tolerance and cooperation in our one ‘world-country,’ in our only world-homeland.”
Her Brutal Prison Conditions were Designed to Destroy Her
Jürgen Heiser of the German solidarity Netzwerk-Cuba reported that “Ana Belén has been isolated in conditions that the UN and international human rights organizations describe as ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ and torture. Her prison conditions were further exacerbated after her trial, when she was placed in the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Carswell, outside of Fort Worth, Texas. The FMC is located on a US marine compound and previously served as a military hospital… It includes a high security unit set aside for women of “special management concerns” that can hold up to twenty prisoners. A risk of “violence and/or escape” are specified as grounds for incarceration in the unit. This is where the “spy” Ana Belén is being held in isolation, in a single-person cell.”
Her cell neighbors have included one who strangled a pregnant woman to get her baby, a longtime nurse who killed four patients with massive injections of adrenaline, and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, the Charles Manson follower who tried to assassinate President Ford.
The Fort Worth Star Telegram has regularly covered the abuses against the women inmates at Fort Carswell Carswell prison, which has also housed two other political prisoners Reality Winner and Aafia Siddiqui. Detainees have suffered gross violations of their human rights, including documented cases of police abuse, suspicious deaths where the investigations into them have been blatantly obstructed, deaths due to the denial of basic medical attention, rape of prisoners by guards, and exposure to toxic substances. In July 2020, 500 of the 1400 prisoners had Covid. The Star Telegram reported “the facility showed a systemic history of covering misconduct up and creating an atmosphere of secrecy and retaliation…”
Ana Belén wrote, “Prison is one of the last places I would have ever chosen to be in, but some things in life are worth going to prison for, or worth doing and then killing yourself before you have to spend too much time in prison.”
She has been subjected to extreme conditions in that prison, akin to those imposed on Assange. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has reported that:
She can only have contact with her closest relatives, since her conviction is for espionage.
No one can inquire about her health or know why she is in a center for people with mental problems, when she does not suffer from them.
She cannot receive packages. When her defenders sent her a letter, it has been returned by certified mail.
Only people on a list (no more than 20 who have known her before her incarceration and have been approved by the FBI) can correspond, send books, and visit Ana. Few people have visited her besides her brother and niece.
She cannot interact with other detainees in jail, and was always alone in her cell.
She is not allowed to talk on the phone, except to her mother once a week for 15-20 minutes.
She could not receive newspapers, magazines or watch television. After a dozen years in prison, this was slightly modified.
Karen Lee Wald noted in 2012, “If she is taken out of her cell in the isolation unit for any reason, all other prisoners are locked in their cells so they cannot speak to her. Basically, she has been buried alive.”
Soon to be freed, Ana Belén Montes embodies the very essence of solidarity with the peoples of Latin America. She sacrificed her personal safety and comfortable life to serve her conscience. She is a hero and example not just for Cuba solidarity, but for all people fighting for a better world in the face of the US empire.
David Rovics, our present day working class songwriter, was moved to pay tribute to her in song. Oscar Lopez Rivera, former Puerto Rican political prisoner, and honorary Chair of the Free Alex Saab campaign, said, “I think that every Puerto Rican who loves justice and freedom should be proud of Ana Belén. What she did was more than heroic. She did what every person who believes in peace, justice and freedom and in the right of every nation to govern itself in the best possible way and without the intervention or threat of anyone, would have done.” Indeed, the famous statement of Che Guevara, “the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love … love of humanity, of justice” is meant for her.
Stansfield Smith is a Chicago based anti-imperialist activist. He was active for over a decade in the Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban 5. His work is now on ChicagoALBASolidarity.wordpress.com. He has written on Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs and on North Korea for Counterpunch and others.
This article was republished from Orinoco Tribune.
The forgotten holocaust: The 1965-66 massacre against Indonesia's communists By: Nikos MottasRead Now
Without any doubt, the WWII Holocaust and the 1915 Armenian genocide consist the two largest mass slaughters of the 20th century. They are crimes which must never be erased from the collective memory of the peoples, no matter how many decades will pass.
However, there are also less known sides of History, the “forgotten” holocausts to which the bourgeois historiography has given little importance, either by downgrading them as insignificant details of world history or by distorting their true dimensions.
A major example of such a “forgotten” holocaust is the mass slaughter of the communists in Indonesia by Suharto's dictatorship during the 1965-66.
The criminal called General Suharto was the man who, with the tolerance and silence of the U.S. and British governments, was responsible for one of the most barbaric bloodshed of the previous century: the mass slaughter of more than 1,000,000 people, mostly communists, members and supporters of the Communist Party of Indonesia .
If we want to have a comprehensive image of the social and political conditions that led to the 1965-66 massacre, we must refer to the historical background of developments in Indonesia after the end of Second World War. These developments are related to the role of the British and Dutch imperialists, the conditions under which the independence of the Republic of Indonesia took place, the formation of the class struggle in the country and, of course, the position of Indonesia in the post-WWII imperialist plans which led to the active involvement of the US in the domestic political processes.
In the mid of 1960s, the sharpening of the intra-bourgeois contradictions (with the steady interference of US-British governments) led to a series of military coups and counter-coups that ultimately resulted to the overthrow of the elected president Sukarno. In the morning of October 2, 1965, numerous military vehicles were patrolling at the streets of Jakarta in order to capture the insurgents and lead them to prison. A day earlier, a failed coup attempt had been organised by the commander of the presidential guard Colonel Untung. From his side, in a message transmitted via radio, the Colonel had justified the coup attempt by arguing that its role was to prevent a conspiracy planned by the CIA and army officials to overthrow President Sukarno.
The army crushed the failed coup's insurgents, with a General called Suharto playing a decisive role. This man would subsequently override Sukarno's leadership thus becoming the new powerful leader of the country. Suharto and his imperialist allies point the Communist Party of Indonesia as the source of the failed coup – after all, the well-organised and popular Communist Party had played a leading role in the anticolonial struggle and had significant influence in Sukarno's policies.
The rise of General Suharto- a man who had the support of the US imperialists- in Indonesia's leadership led to unprecedented violent persecutions against communists, including mass killings, executions, tortures and every kind of barbaric act. Even the CIA had admitted in a subsequent report that the 1965-66 events were “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century” . Of course, both the CIA and the British intelligence services had an active role in the massacre by supporting the Suharto regime. Information about the role of the governments of the United States, Britain and Australia in the anticommunist holocaust of Indonesia were unveiled years later.
On May 17, 1990, based on testimonies by personnel who had worked at the US embassy in Jakarta during the 1960s, an article by the States News Service of Washington DC reported that the US embassy had provided Suharto regime lists with over 5,000 names of communists and supporters of the Communist Party .
The role of the imperialists in the Indonesia massacre has been confirmed by professors and researchers. For example, Professor Brad Simpson of Princeton University and author of “Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development and US-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968”, has said that the U.S and British governments did “everything in their power” to ensure that the Indonesian army would carry out the mass killings . The massacre against the communists in Indonesia was followed by an organised plan for the entry of foreign monopoly capital in the country. According to the documentary “The New Rulers of the World” (2001) by Australian journalist and researcher John Pilger, the dictatorial regime of Suharto proceeded to business deals with known monopoly and banking groups such as General Motors, Daimler-Benz, Chase Manhtattan Bank, Siemens, Standard Oil etc.
Imperialism cares to erase its bloody past in order to safeguard its future
The massacre of the communists in Indonesia by the authoritarian Suharto regime, with the support and tolerance of the US-British imperialists, consists one of the darkest pages of the 20th century. It consists a deliberately “forgotten” holocaust that the bourgeois propaganda tries to downgrade as a “collateral damage” of the Cold War. They try to downgrade the historical significance of the 1965-66 massacre of Indonesia's communists because it is one more example that exposes imperialist brutality.
Imperialism tries to erase its bloody past in order to safeguard its future. For that reason, the imperialists distort History in every possible way. Because they know the actual power that the working class, the proletariat in every country, has. That is why the working people, the people, must know their history and fight against distortion and oblivion, in order to have a powerful weapon in the struggle against the big enemy of humanity which is the rotten exploitative system that generates barbarity, poverty and wars.
 The Communist Party of Indonesia, the first one established in Asia (1920), reached during the 1960s a significant party strength with approximately 3,000,000 members, especially in the Java region. However, opportunist political choices by its leadership led to the subsequent weakening of the party ties with broader masses. Despite its organisational strength and the extraordinary large number of its members, the CPI didn't avoid the trap that had been set by both its domestic enemies and their imperialist allies.
 Blumenthal, T.L.H. McCormack (Ed.), The Legacy of Nuremberg: Civilising Infuence or Institutionalised Vengeance?. International Humanitarian Law Services, Martinus Nijhoff.
 I.A. Tie Asserted in Indonesia Purge, The New York Times, July 12, 1990.
 The 1965-1966 Indonesian Killings Revisited, Conference at the National University of Singapore, 17-19 June 2009.
Nikos Mottas is the Editor-in-Chief of In Defense of Communism.
This article was republished from In Defense of Communism.
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
A Critique of Gerald Horne’s ‘The Counterrevolution of 1776’: A case study of the US left’s retreat from materialist history By: Marius TrotterRead Now
(I want to credit Fred Schelger for his excellent analysis of Horne’s book posted on the World Socialist Website 17 March 2021. A lot of his critiques that I get into here are ones he pointed out in his own article. For the sake of coherence and completeness, I go over some of the same ground that he covers in his article, while adding a number of observations of my own)
The New York Times 1619 Project, unveiled in 2019, was a watershed in the woke cultural revolution during the Trump years. Supposedly a clear eyed interrogation of the continuing legacy of slavery in American economics, politics and culture, the project was mired in controversy. One of the most incendiary claims made in the pages of the newspaper of record was the introductory essay by NY Times columnist Hannah Nicole Jones, who made the inflammatory assertion that the American Revolution was waged to preserve the institution of slavery for fear that the British were about to abolish it:
“Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery. By 1776, Britain had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution that had reshaped the Western Hemisphere. In London, there were growing calls to abolish the slave trade. This would have upended the economy of the colonies, in both the North and the South…In other words, we may never have revolted against Britain if some of the founders had not understood that slavery empowered them to do so; nor if they had not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue”
This claim aroused furious indignation on the right and passionate defense of this position on the left. After being pressured to provide a source for this claim, Jones said in a tweet that was later deleted that the source was the book ‘The Counter Revolution of 1776’ by University of Houston history professor Gerald Horne.
In this book, published by the New York University Press in 2014, Horne makes four central claims: First, Horne argues that the British Empire in the late 18th century was moving in the direction of the abolition of slavery. Horne places special emphasis on the Somerset court decision in London on June 22, 1772 (more on this later), as well as the Lord Dunmore proclamation of November 7, 1775.
Second, Horne contends that the British were pressured in this direction by a wave of violent slave rebellions, both in the Caribbean and North American colonies as well as free maroon communities in the Spanish colonies, particularly Spanish ruled Florida. Thus Horne argues, the British decided peaceful emancipation was preferable to the violent overthrow of the institution.
Third, Horne contends the British Empire’s move towards abolition provoked a violent backlash from the white colonists, who opted towards independence in order to preserve the institution. In essence, what happened in 1776 was little different from the secession of the Confederacy in 1861, the difference being that the insurgents in 1776 succeeded.
Fourth, this therefore means that the American Revolution of 1776 was not a progressive step forward in world history, but a reactionary event. The logical inference that results from this line is that people of African descent (as well as Native Americans) would have been better off had British rule continued, or perhaps could have maneuvered into a position where they could have thrown off white domination entirely. The bourgeois democratic revolutions of America as well as France were not only distinct from, but directly antagonistic to the liberation movements of the enslaved and colonized, and remain so to this day, Horne argues.
How do these claims stand up to factual scrutiny? Let us examine each in turn.
1. The British Empire in the late 18th century was moving in the direction of the abolition of slavery
Horne spills a considerable amount of ink on detailing the Somerset case, a 1772 court decision which ruled the practice of chattel slavery illegal in England or Wales. This law did not apply to Britain’s overseas empire, where nearly all of the nearly one million Africans enslaved by the British actually resided. Nonetheless, Horne insists that the colonists in the 13 colonies saw the ruling as a bellwether for eventual abolition in North America, and this spurred them to rebellion.
As evidence that this court ruling was infuriating to the pro slavery colonials, Horne starts off by quoting a Virginia newspaper supposedly opposing the ruling:
“Is it in the power of Parliament to make such a Law? Can any human law abrogate the divine? The laws of Nature are the laws of God”
The source cited, a 1772 issue of the Virginia Gazette, available online in its original text, says something quite different:
“It has been said that Lord Mansfield has advised a law respecting the property of Negroes in England. Is it in the power of Parliament to make such a Law? Can any human law abrogate the divine? The Laws of Nature are the laws of God. By those laws a Negro cannot be less free than a man of any other complexion. If Negroes are to be slaves on account of their colour, the next step will be to enslave every Mulatto in the Kingdom, than every Portuguese, next the French, then the brown complexioned English, and so on till there be only one free man left, which will be the man of the palest complexions in the three kingdoms!”
What Horne presents as a pro slavery argument is in fact an anti slavery one, and an anti racist one at that. And this is only on the very first page of the book.
This is only the beginning of the problems with Horne’s assertions about the importance of the 1772 Somerset trial as an instigating event. There is no reference to this trial in any of the vital documents of the American Revolution, not the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitutional Convention, not the Articles of Confederation, nowhere.
None of the Founding Fathers- not George Washington, nor Thomas Jefferson, nor Alexander Hamilton, nor James Madison, nor Patrick Henry, made any statement in their voluminous public statements or private correspondence about the Somerset court ruling being a motivating factor in desiring independence, or that they felt slavery as an institution was under threat.
The 1770’s was not a politically correct era. If preserving the institution of chattel slavery was at issue, men like the Founders would have had no problem declaring so. By analogy, every one of the Southern states which broke from the Union in 1861 to preserve slavery when they considered it under threat openly and proudly gave that as the reason in their documents of secession.
The only Founding Father who had anything at all to say about the Somerset ruling was Benjamin Franklin, well known as a prominent abolitionist. His remarks on it, published in the London Chronicle, were:
“It is said that some generous humane persons subscribed to the expence of obtaining liberty by law for Somerset the Negro.2 It is to be wished that the same humanity may extend itself among numbers; if not to the procuring liberty for those that remain in our Colonies, at least to obtain a law for abolishing the African commerce in Slaves, and declaring the children of present Slaves free after they become of age…Pharisaical Britain! to pride thyself in setting free a single Slave that happens to land on thy coasts, while thy Merchants in all thy ports are encouraged by thy laws to continue a commerce whereby so many hundreds of thousands are dragged into a slavery that can scarce be said to end with their lives, since it is entailed on their posterity!”
Thus, the only Founder to have a recorded opinion on the case disparaged it as meaningless symbolism, not to mention hypocrisy. In his 252 page book, Horne only briefly mentions Franklin four times, and nowhere does he mention this quote.
The other event that Horne emphasizes as an indication that the British Empire was on the cusp of abolishing slavery is the Proclamation of Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, in November 1775, offering freedom to slaves who volunteered to fight for the British Crown.
Again, this can simply be refuted by basic chronology alone. Dunmore’s proclamation couldn’t have incited the rebellion of the colonists for the very simple reason that the rebellion had already started. In November 1775, the war had already been going on for six or seven months. The opening skirmishes of Lexington and Concord were on April 19, 1775, the siege of Boston by Patriot militias began two days later, the Battle of Bunker Hill was on June 17, 1775, King George III officially declared the 13 North American colonies to be in rebellion on August 23, 1775. Dunmore’s proclamation was responding to events as a war measure, not instigating them.
Horne presents this order as evidence that the British were an abolitionist force, yet he himself admits that George Washington also made offers to free slaves in exchange for military service, yet “observers should view with skeptical restraint the crassly pragmatic post 1776 attempt by rebels to recruit and assuage Africans- as suggested by Washington’s orders to free Negroes- a solicitude that virtually disintegrated on cue after London was ousted from the 13 colonies”. How can this exact same logic not be applied to the British? Why is it a bold abolitionist move when London did it, but only ‘crassly pragmatic’ when the Patriots offered it? Both sides were leveraging support from Africans for an advantage on the battlefield, neither was interested in abolishing slavery as an institution.
The reliability of Horne’s citations aside, another problem with this narrative of the late 18th century British Empire moving in the direction of abolition is that it is at odds with the well documented imperial policy of London in that time period. For the second half of the 1700’s and into the early 19th century, the Crown was not only not drawing down the slave trade, it was actively using armed force to expand and accelerate the practice.
For example, Horne discusses the British conquest of Havana, Cuba, in 1762 several times in the course of his text. Yet he omits a crucial aspect of the ten month British occupation of Havana. During that brief time period, the British imported 4,000 additional slaves, a huge increase given that a total of 60,000 slaves had been brought into Havana over the previous 243 years of Spanish rule, an average of only 250 a year. In this one year, the British imported 8-10% of ALL slaves sent to Cuba up to that point. The British authorities also expanded the plantation system focused on the export of sugar, which came to dominate Cuba’s economy well into the 20th century. Even after the city was returned to the Spanish, the British merchants continued to traffick slaves to Havana on a large scale. This occupation, although brief, is widely believed to have locked Cuba into a dependant relationship on the northern Atlantic British free trade system- including their slave trade.
At variance with these facts, Horne asserts, incredibly, that “there was so much anger on the [North American] mainland about London’s decision to limit the slave trade to Cuba during its brief rule”!
Thirty years later, the British undertook another aggressive military expedition to strengthen the slave trade, also in the Caribbean. In August 1793, the revolutionary French republic, in the face of the Haitian slave rebellion, issued a proclamation declaring slavery abolished in the northern half of its colony. The very next month (September 1793), the British invaded Haiti and were welcomed as liberators by the French slave owners, who were monarchists that despised the new French republic. Everywhere the British soldiers went, they put the slaves back in bondage. They were driven back and defeated by a combined French/black rebel army led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, but only after five years of brutal fighting, 60,000 of their men dead, and millions of pounds of the British treasury wasted- one of the most costly defeats the British Empire suffered in its history.
Is this the behavior of an empire that was anywhere near abolishing slavery? Hardly.
It also presents a problem for Horne’s thesis of a divergence of interests between overseas colonial merchants passionately believing in the free market, and the British Crown attempting to restrain them. The reality is that classical liberal economics and the iron fist of the Royal Navy went hand in hand- the raw power of the British military forcefully broke open any societies that had the temerity to attempt to close their ports to British commerce.
When the British finally did abolish slavery in all their colonies for good by 1838, it was a full 62 years after the American colonies had declared their independence. Every one of the Founding Fathers (unless you count John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams) was dead and buried by that point. In an era when much of humanity still didn’t live beyond the age of 40, this was almost two entire generations after 1776.
But that’s not the end of the story. Even when slavery was abolished in Britain’s formal colonies, slavery was still integral to the British economy. Their textile industry was highly dependant on cotton imported from the American South, picked by slaves.
When the American Civil War broke out, the British elite was heavily predisposed to favoring the Confederacy. For the first two years of the war, despite being officially neutral, Britain acted as an unofficial ally of the South, actively assisting their war effort. Confederate blockade runners and warships were built in the shipyards of Liverpool, a city which had prospered for centuries from the slave trade.
What deterred Britain from overtly intervening on the side of the South was mass opposition from the British working class, which identified with the democratic and egalitarian values of the Union cause. As recounted by WEB Dubois in ‘Black Reconstruction’:
“The [Emancipation] Proclamation had an undoubted and immediate effect upon England. The upper classes were strongly in favor of the Confederacy, and sure that the Yankees were fighting only for a high tariff and hurt vanity. Free trade England was repelled by this program, and attracted by the free trade which the Confederacy offered…Notwithstanding this, the English workers stood up for the abolition of Negro slavery, and protested against the intervention of the English…During the winter of 1862-63, meeting after meeting in favor of emancipation was held. The reaction in England to the Emancipation Proclamation was too enthusiastic for the government to take any radical step. Great meetings in Manchester and London stirred the nation…In the monster meeting of English workingmen at St. James Hall, London, March 26, 1863, John Bight spoke, and John Stuart Mill declared that ‘Higher political and social freedom has been established in the United States’. Karl Marx testified that this meeting held in 1863 kept Lord Palmerston from declaring war on the United States”
Thus, nearly a century after Horne declares that Britain was moving rapidly towards slave emancipation, the British government was seriously considering going to war to defend slavery, and their hand was only stayed by their own working class.
2. The British were pressured in the direction of abolition by a wave of violent slave rebellions, both in the Caribbean and North American colonies.
Horne makes a convoluted and contradictory argument in this regard. He spends six chapters building a case that the system of slavery in the colonial British ruled American South was under constant threat from slave revolt, especially emanating from free ‘maroon’ communities of runaway slaves operating in French and Spanish territories, especially Spanish ruled Florida. Chapter 4 of Horne’s book goes into great detail about how Georgia was originally founded as an all white colony in 1735 to function as a ‘white wall’ to protect the institution of slavery in South Carolina, a colony where enslaved Africans outnumbered whites. By forbidding the presence of Africans in Georgia, there was a physical buffer against both slaves escaping South Carolina and maroon insurgents sowing discord from Spanish Florida. Horne spends Chapter 5 on the Stono slave rebellion in 1739 South Carolina, in which 24 whites were killed, indicating the fragility of the slave system there at the time.
The problem with Horne’s contention is that the threat of successful slave insurrection rapidly receded from that point onwards in the decades leading up to the American Revolution. This was due to a series of British military victories which pushed both the Spanish and the French out of North America, depriving rebellious slaves of their safe havens, first in the so-called War of Jenkins Ear from 1739 to 1748 (a subset of the War of Austrian Succession), and finally the French and Indian War of 1756 to 1763 (a subset of the global Seven Years War). Spain lost its colony of Florida in 1763, which passed to British control for twenty years(1763-1783).
Losing their safe havens, rebellious activity amongst the slaves went into marked decline in the latter half of the 18th century in North America. After the 1739 Stono revolt and the (alleged) slave conspiracy in New York in 1741, there are no significant slave rebellions or conspiracies on record until the 1800 Gabriel Prosser conspiracy in Virginia(after the American Revolution succeeded). In his classic work ‘American Negro Slave Revolts’, Herbert Aptheker notes that after 1741: “So far as available records go the next generation is one during which there was a marked decline of organized rebellious activity on the part of the Negro slaves”
After expending close to 100 pages talking about how mortified colonists were at the prospects of slave revolution emanating from Spanish Florida, Horne does a baffling about face. He claims -incredibly- that the destruction of the rebellious havens of maroons and the retreat of foreign powers who could aid slave revolts gave the colonists more confidence to rebel against the Crown!:
“The apparent eradication of the threat from both France and Spain to the mainland set the stage for the North American colonies to follow up aggressively on their wartime intimate dealings with London’s European antagonists and forge what amounted to a de facto alliance against Britain, as was reflected in 1776.”
But why? Why would the extirpation of the threats that bedeviled the colonists for decades make them rebel against Britain? Wouldn’t the British triumph in North America make the institution of slavery more secure than ever? And as already demonstrated previously, London wasn’t in any hurry to abolish slavery contrary to Horne’s claims, so what was the impetus for this explosion of rebellion in the 1770’s, except for reasons unrelated to slavery?
Seemingly to distract the reader from this dilemma, Horne spends a lot of time going into great detail about slave rebellions in the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Antigua, which remained constant even in the period when they were in decline in North America. But this simply raises more questions. If the rebellion of the 13 colonies was motivated by a desire to preserve slavery from a supposedly abolitionist British Empire, why was there no movement for independence in the West Indies? Why didn’t the Founding Fathers of the United States make an alliance with their fellow planters in Jamaica and elsewhere against London? The white population was far smaller, and more vulnerable to the menace of slave insurrection then it was anywhere in the 13 colonies. Yet the white settlers in Britain’s Caribbean colonies remained staunchly loyal to the Crown. These islands did not become independent until the 1950’s and 60’s. Horne simply ignores this gaping hole in his thesis.
3. The British Empire’s move towards abolition provoked a violent backlash from the white colonists, who opted towards independence in order to preserve the institution.
A prime example of supposed colonial backlash to London’s moves towards abolition put forward by Horne contains one of his books most blatant fabrications- his account of the so called ‘Gaspee’ incident of 1772:
“June 1772 proved to be a watershed, clarifying- in the eyes of many settlers- that London was moving towards abolition, which could jeopardize fortunes, if not lives…This was the import of the Somerset’s case, but, likewise, the same could be said of the Gaspee Affair…A climax was reached on 10 June 1772 in the wee hours of the morning, when a brig arriving from Africa, the Gaspee, entered Newport and was boarded by officers of the Crown. In response, a mob of about five hundred male settlers rioted, burning the British ship”
Nothing written here about this incident is factual. The ‘Gaspee’ was a British customs vessel attempting to prevent illegal smuggling out of Rhode Island. It was pursuing an American vessel ‘The Hannah’, which escaped the British when the ‘Gaspee’ vessel ran aground. Neither ship was arriving from Africa, none of the primary sources on this incident make any mention of this fact, as the Gaspee had been patrolling the Narragansett bay for months. It appears Horne simply invented this detail to imply the American vessel(actually the British one), had some sort of connection with slavery. In this vital section, two entire pages of this lengthy description of the Gaspee incident don’t have any footnote whatsoever, without even a hint of a source for this claim.
Another major problem with Horne’s argument is that if the American colonists were motivated to fight against the Crown to preserve slavery, then logically speaking the colonies where slavery was the most predominant economically would be hotbeds of Patriot sentiment.
Unfortunately for Horne’s thesis, the main strongholds of Loyalist, pro British sentiment amongst the colonists were in two places where slavery was the most widespread. New York City, where as many as one in five residents in the 18th century were slaves, was a hotbed of Loyalist sentiment. New York saw over 23,000 white colonists sign up to fight for the Crown, more than any other single state. The Southern states, particularly the Carolinas, also had large numbers of Loyalists, which was a large part of the reason why the British military strategy focused on those areas under the commands of Clinton and Cornwallis, hoping that operating in regions with a more friendly population would bring about a British victory. In South Carolina, a heavily slave dependent state Horne’s book puts so much emphasis on, approximately 25% of the white male colonist state population actively fought for the Crown or resisted the Patriots in some way, with many more passively refusing to obey Whig authority. New England, where slavery was least predominant as an institution, was where Loyalist sentiment was the weakest.
Horne completely ignores the fact that after the American rebels expelled the British, slavery was abolished in every colony north of Maryland in the thirty years after the Declaration of Independence. Pennsylvania abolished slavery in 1780, in 1783 Massachusetts and New Hampshire abolished slavery, in Rhode Island and Connecticut it was abolished in 1784. New York abolished the practice in 1799, and in New Jersey slavery was abolished in 1804. Why did they go through all the trouble of expelling the British to preserve an institution they immediately made illegal? Horne often likes to point to the fact that the British abolished slavery in their empire thirty years before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, yet the northern US states got rid of the practice thirty years before that.
4. The American Revolution of 1776 was not a progressive step forward in world history, but a reactionary event.
First, a word of clarification is in order. When Marxists use the term ‘progressive’, it is at odds with how the millennial American left nowadays employs it. When the latter use the term, they mean that a historical or current development, movement, or leader is ‘progressive’ in line with contemporary US progressive conceptions of racial or gender justice. In other words, the yardstick it uses is largely cultural and social. But this is not what Marxists mean when they use the term ‘progressive’. For an event, movement or leader to be ‘progressive’, that means it represents a transition to, or at least a movement towards, a more advanced economic mode of production. From hunter-gatherer societies to slave systems, from feudalism to capitalism, from capitalism to socialism.
By that criteria, the American Revolution of 1776 was certainly a progressive event- it represented the transition from the colonial, aristocratic monarchical system imposed on the 13 colonies by Britain to an independent bourgeois republic which allowed for the rise of American capitalism and the unleashing of its free market and industrial productive forces, which ushered in the modern era not only in America but the entire world. That many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves, did not see woman as equals, and considered those without property unworthy of the vote does not at all change the progressive nature of this event under this definition. The process that they set in motion was objectively of world historic importance, with consequences and implications far beyond even their subjective intentions.
Horne contends otherwise, claiming that the continuation of British rule would have been somehow to the benefit of people of African and indigenous descent:
“It is not self evident the aristocracy of class and ancestry that obtained in London was less humane and more retrograde than the aristocracy of ‘race’ that emerged in the aftermath of 1776…Canada, this massive nation is a kind of a control group allowing for a measurement of the fruits of 1776: is it the case that those groups- for example, Africans and the indigenous in the first place- who have been disfavored south of the St. Lawrence Seaway have fared worse than who of like ancestry north of this artery, notably in a way that would justify and sacralize the bloodletting that created the republic?…it is quite telling that Australia, so similar to the US in so many ways, has endured a raging controversy about its origins as a violently implanted redoubt of white supremacy in a way that dwarfs and overshadows any such conversation in the presumed revolutionary republic”
Canada didn’t have the climate or agriculture to sustain the sort of slave economy that the American South or the Caribbean did, thus the lack of a history of slavery there is due more to geography than anything else. As for the fate of the indigenous, this is simply a bizarre point to make. Indigenous people were subjected to the same genocide and land theft in Canada that they were in the United States. To this very day new mass graves of Native American children in residential schools are discovered in Canada- exactly like those in the United States. The record of the American republic towards Native Americans is a disgrace and a horror, yet the example of Canada shows that the defeat of the American Revolution would have made little difference in that regard.
The other example of Australia is dumbfounding- were not the Aborigines exterminated and massacred in the so called ‘Black Wars’? Why does it matter to the survivors that there is a ‘raging controversy’ amongst guilty liberals centuries after the fact? Have there not been countless ‘raging controversies’ in the United States about the legacy of slavery and indigenous genocide as well?
For Horne to contend that aristocratic and monarchial privilege was perhaps not as bad as, or even preferable to the racialized caste slave system that existed in the antebellum United States is to present a false dichotomy. The latter grew quite naturally out of the former, and once the first was overthrown, justifying the abolition of the latter became much more conceivable and justifiable. To quote historian of the American Revolution Gordon Wood:
“For a century or more the colonists had taken slavery more or less for granted as the most base and dependent status in a hierarchy of dependencies…Rarely had they felt the need to criticize black slavery or defend it. Now, however, the republican attack on dependency compelled Americans to see the deviant character of slavery and confront the institution as they never had before. It was no accident that Americans in Philadelphia in 1775 formed the first anti slavery society in the world. As long as most people had to work merely out of poverty…slavery and other forms of enforced labor did not seem all that different from free labor. But the growing recognition that labor was not simply a common necessity of the poor but was in fact a source of increased wealth and prosperity for ordinary workers made slavery seem more and more anomalous.
Americans now recognized that slavery in a republic of workers was an aberration, a ‘peculiar institution’, and that if any Americans were to retain it…they would have to explain or justify it in new racial and anthropological ways that their former monarchial society had never needed. The Revolution in effect set in motion ideological and social forces that doomed the institution in the North and led inexorably to the Civil War”
It is worth remarking on the fact that Horne considers himself to be coming out of the Marxist and Marxian tradition. Yet Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and many other socialist and Communist revolutionaries praised the 1776 American Revolution as a progressive event in its time, and a source of inspiration for their own revolutionary projects.
Lenin declared in his 1918 ‘Letter to American Workers’ that: “The history of modern, civilised America opened with one of those great, really liberating, really revolutionary wars of which there have been so few…That was the war the American people waged against the British robbers who oppressed America and held her in colonial slavery, in the same way as these ‘civilised’ bloodsuckers are still oppressing and holding in colonial slavery hundreds of millions of people in India, Egypt, and all parts of the world”. Mao Zedong said in a 1965 interview that “The United States…had first fought a progressive war of independence from British imperialism, and then fought a civil war to establish a free labor market. Washington and Lincoln were progressive men of their time. When the United States first established a republic it was hated and dreaded by all the crowned heads of Europe. That showed that the Americans were then revolutionaries”. Ho Chi Minh used words from the American Declaration of Independence when declaring Vietnam independent of French colonial rule on September 2, 1945.
Horne briefly acknowledges this, but tries to glibly explain it away, by saying that Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and other revolutionaries were merely being motivated ‘more by diplomatic niceties and protocol than anything else’. The notion that leaders of revolutionary projects which were literally at war with US imperialism would be primarily motivated by diplomatic niceties is, again, something that is very difficult to believe.
What’s also rather stunning about Horne’s treatment of the American Revolution is the lack of engagement with previous Marxist scholarship on the subject, odd for someone who claims to come from that tradition. In ‘The Counter Revolution of 1776’, there is not even a passing acknowledgement of the foundational work of WEB Dubois, Herbert Aptheker [especially his classic work ‘Negro Slave Rebellions’], Eugene Genovese and so many others who had written on the American Revolution and slavery while applying a Marxist class analysis. The notion that all these sharp scholars, famed for training their laser eyes on aspects of history buried or obscured by the ruling class, would have failed to uncover a historical fact as enormous as the American colonial rebellion of 1776 being motivated by slavery, strains credulity to a breaking point.
In addition to being shoddy scholarship, ‘The Counter Revolution of 1776’ has a quite reactionary message- it presents the British Empire as a politically progressive historical force, at the very least more progressive than the anti monarchical, anti aristocratic revolutions which challenged it. Given the known historical record of British imperialism in India, Ireland, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, China and countless other places, to anyone with even a passing knowledge of history this is a bizarre position to advance, not to mention hideous for anyone that's a proponent of left wing politics. The fact that it has been smuggled into liberal/left discourse inside the Trojan horse of anti-racism is all the more alarming.
There are many more factual errors, contradictory arguments, and questionable citations that abound in Horne’s tome. It was quite a labor to try to concisely fit the most egregious examples into a single article. In light of the problems with the book, the more important question is why has this woke Anglophile narrative of history acquired such currency amongst the American liberal/leftist intelligentsia? That is what the next article will attempt to address.
 Shelger, Fred. ‘Gerald Horne’s Counter Revolution Against 1776’, World Socialist Website, 17 March 2021. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/03/18/horn-m18.html
 Jones, Nikole-Hannah. ‘Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans fought to make them true’. New York Times, published August 14, 2019.
 Nikole Hannah-Jones (@nhannahjones), Twitter, December 21, 2019: ‘Sure, you can start with the texts cited in our response. Also, Gerald Horne’s Counter Revolution of 1776. Sylvia Frey, Water from the Rock. All these should be helpful. Thank you for the respectful exchange.’
 Horne, Gerald. ‘The Counter Revolution of 1776, NYU Press, 2014. P. 1
 Virginia Gazette, August 20, 1772, Rockefeller Library Collections: https://research.colonialwilliamsburg.org/DigitalLibrary/va-gazettes/VGSinglePage.cfm?IssueIDNo=72.PD.37
 Horne, pages 19, 209, 230, 234
 Horne, p. 239.
 The 1762 British siege of Havana is discussed on eleven separate occasions in Horne’s book, as listed in the index
 Childs, Matt D. 1812 Aponte Rebellion in Cuba and the Struggle against Atlantic Slavery, University of North Carolina Press, 2006, p. 24.
 Horne, p. 193
 Dubois, Laurent (2005). Avengers of the New World. Harvard University Press, p. 167.
‘Liverpool’s Abercromby Square and the Confederacy during the US Civil War’, website of the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative, Charleston College
 Dubois, WEB. ‘Black Reconstruction’, pp. 87-89.
 Aptheker, Herbert. ‘American Negro Slave Rebellions”, Columbia University Press, 2008 edition, p.196
 Horne, p. 182
 Horne, pages 203-204.
 Horne, p.250
 Wood, Gordon. ‘The Radicalism of the American Revolution’, Vintage Books(Random House), 1991., pages 186-87.
 Lenin, Vladimir I. ‘Letter to American Workers’, Pravda, 20 August 1918. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/aug/20.htm
 Zedong, Mao. ‘South of the Mountains To North of the Seas’, Interview with Edgar Snow, 9 January 1965.
 ‘Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’ http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5139/
 Horne, p. 250.
Marius Trotter is a writer residing in Massachusetts. He comments on history, politics, philosophy and theory. He can be reached by his email firstname.lastname@example.org
Since 1975, thousands of Sahrawi people have lived in five refugee camps in the Algerian Sahara. They named these camps after cities in Western Sahara: Ausserd, Boujdour, Dakhla, Laayoune, and Smara. In a straight line, Smara the camp is some 400 kilometers from Smara the city. But a sand berm, built in the 1980s by Morocco, makes the distance unassailable. At 2,700 kilometers, the berm is the second-longest military fortification in the world, after the Great Wall of China. Reinforced with ditches and barbed wire fences, artillery and tanks, guarded outposts, and millions of land mines, the sand berm partitions Western Sahara—separating 80 percent of Western Sahara controlled by Morocco from the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic—which is recognized by the United Nations as the last “non-self-governing territory” in Africa. In 1991, MINURSO, the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, announced a plebiscite that would give the Sahrawi people a choice: independence or integration with Morocco. In April 1991, the Sahrawi people packed their belongings in boxes, choosing the former.
Seeking access to Western Sahara’s rich coastline, Spain first seized the territory after European colonizers partitioned Africa at the West African Conference of Berlin that took place from November 1884 to February 1885. By the 1970s, facing resistance from the Sahrawi people and increasing internal pressures, the regime of Francisco Franco in Spain agreed to hold a referendum on independence, which never took place. Spain eventually pulled out from Western Sahara. Meanwhile, to the south and the north, Mauritania and Morocco had set their sights on Western Sahara’s resources. In November 1975, despite a judgment from the International Court of Justice that neither Mauritania nor Morocco had territorial sovereignty over the land, Morocco sent 25,000 troops and 350,000 settlers to Western Sahara. On November 14, Spain signed the tripartite Madrid Accords with Morocco and Mauritania, effectively ceding Western Sahara to its invaders.
The Polisario Front, a national liberation movement formed in 1973 to oppose Spanish colonialism, now fought on two fronts. Supported by Algeria, it defeated the Mauritanians in 1978. But Morocco retained its control over Western Sahara—with significant backing from Western powers, including the United States and members of NATO. At the Museum of Resistance in the camps, the Polisario keeps weapons of war captured during its struggle—tanks, airplanes, artillery, and armored vehicles from Austria, Germany, France, Spain, the U.S., Belgium, and apartheid South Africa.
Morocco controls 80 percent of Western Sahara. In the other 20 percent, the Polisario Front governs the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a state battling for recognition. Armed conflict continued until Morocco and the Polisario agreed to a ceasefire in September 1991 overseen by MINURSO. “I was just coming back from Syria, a young graduate, having lived my entire life within this liberation process,” Oubi Bachir, a diplomat for the Polisario Front, told me. “I discovered not just hope, but jubilation. Finally, we were going home.” The Sahrawi people packed boxes to take their belongings back to Western Sahara. But as the boxes gathered dust, jubilation turned to frustration. The independence referendum has failed to take place—and the possibilities for armed struggle only reemerged when Morocco broke the ceasefire in 2020. The Sahrawi liberation movement, Bachir said, was “built on the armed struggle as the dominating pillar of action. That was taken away with no practical process in its place.”
Imperialism in Western Sahara
Western Sahara is a rich land. It has some 72 percent of the world’s phosphate deposits, which are used to manufacture fertilizers. By the end of November 2021, Morocco reported revenues of $6.45 billion from phosphates, an amount that increases each year. Western Sahara’s fishing grounds accounted for 77.65 percent of Moroccan catches in 2018, representing the majority of its income from fishing that year. The European Union, too, operates a fleet in these waters. In 2018, a judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU struck down the 2000 Euro-Mediterranean Agreement between Morocco and the EU as “incompatible with the principles of self-determination.” But the EU continues to act in violation of the judgment, funding highly destructive fishing practices in the occupied territory. Scientists warn that overfishing in Western Sahara is rapidly destroying a critical biodiversity hotspot.
Morocco and its international backers have their sights on two other resources abundant in the territory: wind and sunlight. In 2018, using German technology, the UK firm Windhoist built the 200 MW Aftissat wind farm in Western Sahara. Vigeo Eiris, a UK-French company that has been “investigating companies operating in occupied Palestine,” certified Moroccan energy investments on Sahrawi land. General Electric signed a contract to build a 200 MW wind farm in Western Sahara. Greenwashing its occupation in Western Sahara, Morocco uses the infrastructure in reporting toward its climate targets. Western Sahara Resource Watch estimates that the wind power plants in the territory could account for 47.2 percent of Morocco’s wind capacity and up to 32.64 percent of its solar capacity by 2030.
The People Bloom
“We call this the desert within the desert,” Mohamed El Mamun, a Polisario Front representative, told me on a drive between two camps. The sand is so salty, the water so scarce, that few things can grow. Yet in the five decades since the five camps have existed, the Sahrawi people have made great strides toward building a dignified society in them. They eliminated illiteracy. They built universal education and the infrastructure to extract and distribute water to the people. Mass movements ensure the participation of women, workers, and the youth in the project of liberation. Health care is free, and a small experiment in aquaponic farming promises to grow food in one of the most arid places on Earth.
The camps depend almost entirely on foreign aid, a resource that is rapidly depleting. As of November 10, 2022, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Algeria mission, a key source of humanitarian assistance to the Sahrawis, was only 39 percent funded. The UN has warned that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict risks further eroding that support. Here, socialist internationalism plays an important role. In the Smara camp, Venezuela and Cuba built a school. The Simón Bolívar School is staffed by Cuban teachers. More than 100 Sahrawis have graduated from the school since it opened in 2011. Some of the alumni went on to study in Cuba, returning as doctors, engineers, and teachers. Nearby, a man who calls himself Castro established the Center for Education and Integration, which prepares children with severe disabilities to live a dignified life. Above its entrance, a sign reads: “Neither plants nor trees grow here, but people bloom.”
Paweł Wargan is an organizer and researcher based in Berlin and the coordinator of the secretariat of the Progressive International.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Of, by, and for the elite: The class character of the U.S. Constitution By: Crystal KimRead Now
“Founding Father” George Washington was a rich slave owner who owed his fortune to the stolen labor of kidnapped Africans. Image: Popular Graphic Arts. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Contrary to the mythology we learn in school, the founding fathers feared and hated the concept of democracy—which they derisively referred to as “tyranny of the majority.” The constitution that they wrote reflects this, and seeks to restrict and prohibit involvement of the masses of people in key areas of decision making. The following article, originally written in 2008, reviews the true history of the constitution and its role in the political life of the country.
The ruling class of today—the political and social successors to the “founding fathers”—continues to have a fundamental disdain for popular participation in government. The right wing of the elite is engaged in an all-out offensive against basic democratic rights and democracy itself. This offensive relies heavily on the Supreme Court and the legal doctrine of constitutional “originalism”. Originalism means that the only rights and policies that are protected are ones that are explicitly laid out in the constitution, conforming with the “original” intentions of the founders. As the article explores, this was a thoroughly anti-democratic set up that sought to guarantee the power and wealth of the elite.
In history and civics classrooms all over the United States, students are taught from an early age to revere the “Founding Fathers” for drafting a document that is the bulwark of democracy and freedom—the U.S. Constitution. We are taught that the Constitution is a work of genius that established a representative government, safeguarded by the system of “checks and balances,” and guarantees fundamental rights such as the freedom of speech, religion and assembly. According to this mythology, the Constitution embodies and promotes the spirit and power of the people.
Why, then, if the country’s founding document is so perfect, has the immense suffering of the majority of its people—as a result of exploitation and oppression—been a central feature of the U.S.? How could almost half of the population be designated poor or low income? Why would the U.S. have the world’s largest and most extensive prison system? If the Constitution, the supreme law of this country, was written to protect and promote the interests of the people, why didn’t it include any guarantees to the most basic necessities of life?
This contradiction between reality and rhetoric can be understood by examining the conditions under which the U.S. Constitution was drafted, including the class background of the drafters. Although it is touted today as a document enshrining “democratic values,” it was widely hated by the lower classes that had participated in the 1776-1783 Revolutionary War. Popular opposition was so great, in fact, that the drafting of the Constitution had to be done in secret in a closed-door conference.
The purpose of the Constitution was to reorganize the form of government so as to enhance the centralized power of the state. It allowed for national taxation that provided the funds for a national standing army. Local militias were considered inadequate to battle the various Native American nations whose lands were coveted by land speculators. A national army was explicitly created to suppress slave rebellions, insurgent small farmers and the newly emerging landless working class that was employed for wages.
The goal of the Constitution and the form of government was to defend the minority class of affluent property owners against the anticipated “tyranny of the majority.” As James Madison, a principal author of the Constitution, wrote: “But the most common and durable source of factions [dissenting groups] has been the various and unequal distribution of property” .
The newly centralized state set forth in the Constitution was also designed to regulate interstate trade. This was necessary since cutthroat competition between different regions and states was degenerating into trade wars, boycotts and outright military conflict.
The U.S. Congress was created as a forum where commercial and political conflicts between merchants, manufacturers and big farmers could be debated and resolved without resort to economic and military war.
Conditions leading to the U.S. Revolution
To understand the class interests reflected in the Constitution, it is necessary to examine the social and economic conditions of the time. In the decades leading up to the U.S. revolutionary period, colonial society was marked by extreme oppression and class disparities.
The economies of the colonies were originally organized in the interests of the British merchant capitalists who profited by trade with the colonies. These interests were guaranteed by the British monarchy headed by King George III. In the southern colonies like Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas, a settler class of slave-owning big planters grew rich providing the cotton that fed Britain’s massive textile manufacturing industry.
In the northern colonies, merchant economies in the port cities and associated small manufacturing industries formed the basis for the division between rich and poor. In the countryside, huge landowners who owed their holdings to privilege in Europe squeezed the limited opportunities of small farmers.
In 1700, for example, 75 percent of land in colonial New York state belonged to fewer than 12 individuals. In Virginia, seven individuals owned over 1.7 million acres . By 1767, the richest 10 percent of Boston taxpayers held about 66 percent of Boston’s taxable wealth, while the poorest 30 percent of taxpayers had no property at all . Similar conditions could be found throughout the colonies. Clearly, there was an established ruling class within the colonies, although this grouping was ultimately subordinate to the British crown.
On the other hand, the majority of society—Black slaves, Native Americans, indentured servants and poor farmers—experienced super-exploitation and oppression. Women of all classes had, like their peers in Europe, no formal political rights.
With these growing class antagonisms, the 18th century was characterized by mass discontent, which led to frequent demonstrations and even uprisings by those on the bottom rung of colonial society.
Between 1676 and 1760, there were at least 18 uprisings aimed at overthrowing a colonial government. There were six slave rebellions as well as 40 riots like the numerous tenant uprisings in New Jersey and New York directed against landlords . Many of these uprisings were directed at the local elite and not the British Empire.
This local elite in colonial society found itself squeezed between the wrath of the lower working classes, on one side, and the British Empire, on the other.
Following the 1763 British victory in the Seven Years’ War in Europe, which included the so-called French and Indian War in North America, the French position as a colonial power competing with Britain was seriously downgraded as a result of their defeat. The French did send troops and military aid to support the colonists in their war for independence from Britain a decade later.
Following the defeat of the French in 1763, George III attempted to stabilize relations with Native Americans, who had fought primarily alongside the defeated French, by issuing the Proclamation of 1763. This decree declared Indian lands beyond the Appalachians out of bounds for colonial settlers, thereby limiting vast amounts of wealth the settlers could steal from the indigenous people. Chauvinist expansionism thus became fuel for anti-British sentiment in the colonies.
Making matters worse for the colonists, the British Empire began demanding more resources from the colonies to pay for the war. In 1765, the British Parliament passed the fourth Stamp Act, basically increasing taxes on the colonists. The Stamp Act of 1765 incited anger across all class strata, including British merchants, and was ultimately repealed in 1766.
The struggle around the Stamp Act demonstrated a shift in power relations between the colonists and the British Empire. While the local American elites were in less and less need of Britain’s assistance, the British Empire was in ever growing need of the wealth and resources of the colonies.
In summary, there were at least four factors that would motivate the American “new rich” to seek independence from the British crown. First, the anger of the poor and oppressed against the rich could be deflected from the local elite and channeled into hatred of the British crown—developing a new sense of patriotism. Second, the wealth produced and extracted in the colonies would remain in the pockets of the local ruling class rather than being transferred to the British Empire. Third, the local ruling class would greatly increase its wealth through the confiscation of property of those loyal to Britain. And lastly, independence would nullify the Proclamation of 1763, opening up vast amounts of Native land.
Two points qualified the drive to independence, which ultimately manifested itself in the sizable “Loyalist” or pro-British population during the revolution. First, despite the conflict between the colonists and the British government over wealth, colonists and colonizers were united against the Native American population, whom both tried to massacre and loot. The revolutionary struggle was not against exploitation, but to determine who would do the exploiting.
Secondly, in spite of the disputes over who got how much of the wealth generated by the colonies, this wealth primarily depended on the integration of the economy with British merchant capitalism. While the revolutionists wanted political distance from the empire, they could not afford a complete break.
The leaders of the U.S. Revolution
Revolutionary sentiment among the lowest classes of colonial society was largely spontaneous and unorganized. Leadership of the anti-British rebellion, groups like the Sons of Liberty, originated from the middle and upper classes. Some poor workers and farmers did join their ranks, allowing their leadership to garner popular support.
These leaders were conscious of the fact that only one class would be really liberated through independence from Britain: the local ruling class. However, in order to carry this out, they would have to create a façade of liberating the masses.
This is why the 1776 Declaration of Independence—the document used to inspire colonists to fight against Britain—includes language that was so much more radical than that of the 1787 U.S. Constitution. In fact, Thomas Jefferson had originally drafted a paragraph in the Declaration of Independence condemning George III for transporting slaves from Africa to the colonies and “suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce” . Jefferson himself personally owned hundreds of slaves until the day he died, but he understood the appeal such a statement would have.
Instead, the final draft of the Declaration accused the British monarchy of inciting slave rebellions and supporting Indian land claims against the settlers. “He [the king] has incited domestic insurrection amongst us,” the final version read, “and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages.”
Sixty-nine percent of the signers of the Declaration of Independence held colonial office under England. When the document was read in Boston, the Boston Committee of Correspondence ordered the townsmen to show up for a draft to fight the British. The rich avoided the draft by paying for substitutes, while the poor had no choice but to fight.
Slavery existed in all 13 British colonies, but it was the anchor for the economic system in the mid-Atlantic and southern states.
Thousands of slaves fought on both sides of the War of Independence. The British governor of Virginia had issued a proclamation promising freedom to any slave who could make it to the British lines—as long as their owner was not loyal to the British Crown. Tens of thousands of enslaved Africans did just that. Thousands managed to leave with the British when they were defeated, but tens of thousands more were returned to enslavement after the colonies won their “freedom” in 1783.
Following the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which established the independence of the colonies, vast amounts of wealth and land were confiscated from Loyalists. Some of this land was parceled out to small farmers to draw support for the new government.
While most Loyalists left the United States, some were protected. For instance, Lord Fairfax of Virginia, who owned over 5 million acres of land across 21 counties, was protected because he was a friend of George Washington—at that time, among the richest men in America .
The drafting of the Constitution
In May 1787, 55 men—now known as the “Founding Fathers”—gathered in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention to draft the new country’s legal principles and establish the new government. Alexander Hamilton—a delegate of New York, George Washington’s closest advisor and the first secretary of the treasury—summed up their task: “All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well-born, the other the mass of the people… Give therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government” . Indeed, the task of the 55 men was to draft a document that would guarantee the power and privileges of the new ruling class while making just enough concessions to deflect dissent from other classes in society.
Who were the Founding Fathers? It goes without saying that all the delegates were white, property-owning men. Citing the work of Charles Beard, Howard Zinn wrote, “A majority of them were lawyers by profession, most of them were men of wealth, in land, slaves, manufacturing or shipping, half of them had money loaned out at interest, and 40 of the 55 held government bonds” .
The vast majority of the population was not represented at the Constitutional Convention: There were no women, African Americans, Native Americans or poor whites. The U.S. Constitution was written by property-owning white men to give political power, including voting rights, exclusively to property-owning white men, who made up about 10 percent of the population.
Alexander Hamilton advocated for monarchical-style government with a president and senate chosen for life. The Constitutional Convention opted, rather, for a “popularly” elected House of Representatives, a Senate chosen by state legislators, a president elected by electors chosen by state legislators, and Supreme Court justices appointed by the president.
Democracy was intended as a cover. In the 10th article of the “Federalist Papers”—85 newspaper articles written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay advocating ratification of the U.S. Constitution—Madison wrote that the establishment of the government set forth by the Constitution would control “domestic faction and insurrection” deriving from “a rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal distribution of property, or for any other improper or wicked project.” During the convention, Alexander Hamilton delivered a speech advocating a strong centralized state power to “check the imprudence of democracy.”
It is quite telling that the Constitution took the famous phrase of the Declaration of Independence “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and changed it to “life, liberty and property.” The debates of the Constitutional Convention were largely over competing economic interests of the wealthy, not a debate between haves and have-nots.
The new Constitution legalized slavery. Article 4, Section 2 required that escaped slaves be delivered back to their masters. Slaves would count as three-fifths of a human being for purposes of deciding representation in Congress. The “three-fifths compromise” was between southern slave-holding delegates who wanted to count slaves in the population to increase their representation, while delegates from the northern states wanted to limit their influence and so not count slaves as people at all.
Furthermore, some of the most important constitutional rights, such as the right to free speech, the right to bear arms and the right to assembly were not intended to be included in the Constitution at all. The Bill of Rights was amended to the Constitution four years after the Constitutional Convention had adjourned so that the document could get enough support for ratification.
As a counter to the Bill of Rights, the Constitution gave Congress the power to limit these rights to varying degrees. For example, seven years after the Constitution was amended to provide the right to free speech, Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1798, which made it a crime to say or write anything “false, scandalous or malicious” against the government, Congress or president with the intent to defame or build popular hatred of these entities.
Today, many people look to the Constitution—and especially to the Bill of Rights—as the only guarantor of basic political rights. And while the Constitution has never protected striking workers from being beaten over the heads by police clubs while exercising their right to assemble outside plant gates, or protected revolutionaries’ right to freedom of speech as they are jailed or gunned down, the legal gains for those without property do need to be defended.
But defending those rights has to be done with the knowledge that the founding document of the United States has allowed the scourge of unemployment, poverty and exploitation to carry on unabated because it was a document meant to enshrine class oppression. A constitution for a socialist United States would begin with the rights of working and oppressed people.
During the period leading to the second U.S. Revolution, commonly known as the Civil War, militant opponents of slavery traveled the country to expose the criminal institution that was a bedrock of U.S. society. On July 4, 1854, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison burned a copy of the Constitution before thousands of supporters of the New England Anti-Slavery Society. He called it a “covenant with death and an agreement with hell,” referring to its enshrining of slavery.
The crowd shouted back, “Amen” .
Although slavery has been abolished, the property that is central to the Constitution—private property, the right to exploit the majority for the benefit of the tiny minority—remains. In that sense, Garrison’s words still ring true.
References James Madison, Federalist Papers, No. 10. Available here.
 Michael Parenti, Democracy for the Few, 9th ed. (Boston: Wadsworth, 1974/2011), 5.
 Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Longman, 1980), 65.
 Ibid., 59.
 Ibid., 72.
 Ibid., 84.
 Cited in Howard Zinn, Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology (New York: Harper Collins, 1990), 152.
 Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 89.
 Zinn, Declarations of Independence, 231.
This article was republished from Liberation school.
Human Prehistory—Why New Discoveries About Human Origins Open Up Revolutionary Possibilities By: Jan Ritch-FrelRead Now
Discoveries in the fields of human origins, paleoanthropology, cognitive science, and behavioral biology have accelerated in the past few decades. We occasionally bump into news reports that new findings have revolutionary implications for how humanity lives today—but the information for the most part is still packed obscurely in the worlds of science and academia.
Some experts have tried to make the work more accessible, but Deborah Barsky’s new book, Human Prehistory: Exploring the Past to Understand the Future (Cambridge University Press, 2022), is one of the most authoritative yet. The breadth and synthesis of the work are impressive, and Barsky’s highly original analysis on the subject—from the beginnings of culture to how humanity began to be alienated from the natural world—keeps the reader engaged throughout.
Long before Jane Goodall began telling the world we would do well to study our evolutionary origins and genetic cousins, it was a well-established philosophical creed that things go better for humanity the more we try to know ourselves.
Barsky, a researcher at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution and associate professor at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain, who came to this field through her decades of studying ancient stone tool technologies, writes early in her book that lessons learned from the remote past could guide our species toward a brighter future, but “that so much of the information that is amassed by prehistoric archeologists remains inaccessible to many people” and “appears far removed from our daily lives.” I reached out to Barsky in the early stage of her book launch to learn more.
Jan Ritch-Frel: What would you suggest a person consider as they hold a 450,000-year-old handaxe for the first time?
Deborah Barsky: I think everyone feels a deep-seated reverence when touching or holding such an ancient tool. Handaxes in particular carry so many powerful implications, including on the symbolic level. You have to imagine that these tear-shaped tools—the ultimate symbol of the Acheulian—appeared in Africa some 1.75 million years ago and that our ancestors continued creating and re-creating this same shape from that point onwards for more than a million and a half years!
These tools are the first ones recognized as having been made in accordance with a planned mental image. And they have an aesthetic quality, in that they present both bilateral and bifacial symmetry. Some handaxes were made in precious or even visually pleasing rock matrices and were shaped with great care and dexterity according to techniques developed in the longest-enduring cultural norm known to humankind.
And yet, in spite of so many years of studying handaxes, we still understand little about what they were used for, how they were used, and, perhaps most importantly, whether or not they carry with them some kind of symbolic significance that escapes us. There is no doubt that the human capacity to communicate through symbolism has been hugely transformative for our species.
Today we live in a world totally dependent on shared symbolic thought processes, where such constructs as national identity, monetary value, religion, and tradition, for example, have become essential to our survival. Complex educational systems have been created to initiate our children into mastering these constructed realities, integrating them as fully as possible into this system to favor their survival within the masses of our globalized world. In the handaxe we can see the first manifestations of this adaptive choice: to invest in developing symbolic thought. That choice has led us into the digital revolution that contemporary society is now undergoing. Yet, where all of this will lead us remains uncertain.
JRF: Your book shows that it is more helpful to us if we consider the human story and evolution as less of a straight line and more so as one that branches in different ways across time and geography. How can we explain the past to ourselves in a clear and useful way to understand the present?
DB: One of the first things I tell my students is that in the field of human prehistory, one must grow accustomed to information that is in a constant state of flux, as it changes in pace with new discoveries that are being made on nearly a daily basis.
It is also important to recognize that the pieces composing the puzzle of the human story are fragmentary, so that information is constantly changing as we fill in the gaps and ameliorate our capacity to interpret it. Although we favor scientific interpretations in all cases, we cannot escape the fact that our ideas are shaped by our own historical context—a situation that has impeded correct explanations of the archeological record in the past.
One example of this is our knowledge of the human family that has grown exponentially in the last quarter of a century thanks to new discoveries being made throughout the world. Our own genus, Homo, for example, now includes at least five new species, discovered only in this interim.
Meanwhile, genetic studies are taking major steps in advancing the ways we study ancient humans, helping to establish reliable reconstructions of the (now very bushy) family tree, and concretizing the fact that over millions of years multiple hominin species shared the same territories. This situation continued up until the later Paleolithic, when our own species interacted and even reproduced together with other hominins, as in the case of our encounters with the Neandertals in Eurasia, for example.
While there is much conjecture about this situation, we actually know little about the nature of these encounters: whether they were peaceful or violent; whether different hominins transmitted their technological know-how, shared territorial resources together, or decimated one another, perhaps engendering the first warlike behaviors.
One thing is sure: Homo sapiens remains the last representative of this long line of hominin ancestors and now demonstrates unprecedented planetary domination. Is this a Darwinian success story? Or is it a one-way ticket to the sixth extinction event—the first to be caused by humans—as we move into the Anthropocene Epoch?
In my book, I try to communicate this knowledge to readers so that they can better understand how past events have shaped not only our physical beings but also our inner worlds and the symbolic worlds we share with each other. It is only if we can understand when and how these important events took place—actually identify the tendencies and put them into perspective for what they truly are—that we will finally be the masters of our own destiny. Then we will be able to make choices on the levels that really count—not only for ourselves, but also for all life on the planet. Our technologies have undoubtedly alienated us from these realities, and it may be our destiny to continue to pursue life on digital and globalized levels. We can’t undo the present, but we can most certainly use this accumulated knowledge and technological capacity to create far more sustainable and “humane” lifeways.
JRF: How did you come to believe that stone toolmaking was the culprit for how we became alienated from the world we live in?
DB: My PhD research at Perpignan University in France was on the lithic assemblages from the Caune de l’Arago cave site in southern France, a site with numerous Acheulian habitation floors that have been dated to between 690,000 and 90,000 years ago. During the course of my doctoral research, I was given the exceptional opportunity to work on some older African and Eurasian sites. I began to actively collaborate in international and multidisciplinary teamwork (in the field and in the laboratory) and to study some of the oldest stone tool kits known to humankind in different areas of the world. This experience was an important turning point for me that subsequently shaped my career as I oriented my research more and more towards understanding these “first technologies.”
More recently, as a researcher at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES-CERCA) in Tarragona, Spain, I continue to investigate the emergence of ancient human culture, in particular through the study of a number of major archeological sites attributed to the so-called “Oldowan” technocomplex (after the eponymous Olduvai Gorge Bed I sites in Tanzania). My teaching experience at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and Rovira i Virgili University (Tarragona) helped me to articulate my findings through discussions and to further my research with students and colleagues.
Such ancient tool kits, some of which date to more than 2 million years ago, were made by the hands of hominins who were very different from ourselves, in a world that was very distinct from our own. They provide a window of opportunity through which to observe some of the cognitive processes employed by the early humans who made and used them. As I expanded my research, I discovered the surprising complexity of ancient stone toolmaking, eventually concluding that it was at the root of a major behavioral bifurcation that would utterly alter the evolutionary pathways taken by humankind.
Early hominins recognizing the advantages provided by toolmaking made the unconscious choice to invest more heavily in it, even as they gained time for more inventiveness. Oldowan tool kits are poorly standardized and contain large pounding implements, alongside small sharp-edged flakes that were certainly useful, among other things, for obtaining viscera and meat resources from animals that were scavenged as hominins competed with other large carnivores present in the paleolandscapes in which they lived. As hominins began to expand their technological know-how, successful resourcing of such protein-rich food was ideal for feeding the developing and energy-expensive brain.
Meanwhile, increased leisure time fueled human inventiveness, and stone tool production—and its associated behaviors—grew ever more complex, eventually requiring relatively heavy investments into teaching these technologies to enable them to pass onwards into each successive generation. This, in turn, established the foundations for the highly beneficial process of cumulative learning that was later coupled with symbolic thought processes such as language that would ultimately favor our capacity for exponential development. This also had huge implications, for example, in terms of the first inklings of what we call “tradition”—ways to make and do things—that are indeed the very building blocks of culture. In addition, neuroscientific experiments undertaken to study the brain synapses involved during toolmaking processes show that at least some basic forms of language were likely needed in order to communicate the technologies required to manufacture the more complex tools of the Acheulian (for example, handaxes).
Moreover, researchers have demonstrated that the areas of the brain activated during toolmaking are the same as those employed during abstract thought processes, including language and volumetric planning. I think that it is clear from this that the Oldowan can be seen as the start of a process that would eventually lead to the massive technosocial database that humanity now embraces and that continues to expand ever further in each successive generation, in a spiral of exponential technological and social creativity.
JRF: Did something indicate to you at the outset of your career that archeology and the study of human origins have a vital message for humanity now? You describe a conceptual process in your book whereby through studying our past, humanity can learn to “build up more viable and durable structural entities and behaviors in harmony with the environment and innocuous to other life forms.”
DB: I think most people who pursue a career in archeology do so because they feel passionate about exploring the human story in a tangible, scientific way. The first step, described in the introductory chapters of my book, is choosing from an ever-widening array of disciplines that contribute to the field today. From the onset, I was fascinated by the emergence and subsequent transformation of early technologies into culture. The first 3 million years of the human archeological record are almost exclusively represented by stone tools. These stone artifacts are complemented by other kinds of tools—especially in the later periods of the Paleolithic, when bone, antler, and ivory artifacts were common—alongside art and relatively clear habitational structures.
It is one thing to analyze a given set of stone tools made by long-extinct hominin cousins and quite another to ask what their transposed significance to contemporary society might be.
As I began to explore these questions more profoundly, numerous concrete applications did finally come to the fore, thus underpinning how data obtained from the prehistoric register is applicable when considering issues such as racism, climate change, and social inequality that plague the modern globalized world.
In my opinion, the invention and subsequent development of technology was the inflection point from which humanity was to diverge towards an alternative pathway from all other life forms on Earth. We now hold the responsibility to wield this power in ways that will be beneficial and sustainable to all life.
Jan Ritch-Frel is the executive director of the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.