The US Censors Dissenting Voices: On the Attacks Against the Midwestern Marx Institute. By: Edward Liger Smith, Carlos L. Garrido, and Noah KhrachvikRead Now
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law… Abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Yet in 2023 the United States is attempting to extradite Julian Assange because he published proof of U.S. civilian executions in Iraq, systematic torture at Guantanamo Bay, and the DNC rigging of the 2016 primary election against Democratic Socialist candidate Bernie Sanders, which is itself a violation of the Democratic rights enshrined in the American Constitution. The U.S., with its supposed constitutional guarantee of free speech and media, has indicted four leaders from the African People's Socialist Party (APSP) and Uhuru Movement on flimsy claims of “advancing Russian propaganda,” simply because they challenge the narrative of the imperialist financial cartels and war mongers. Even if we look only at these examples, how can we say there is freedom of speech or press in our modern age of neoliberal capitalist-imperialism? The Political establishment has shown that it will crack down on anyone who shares information that is damaging to its foreign policy interests, and most social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter, owned by wealthy shareholders like Mark Zuckerberg and others, have proven not only to be impressionable to the influence of US intelligence agencies like the FBI and other institutions of the ruling class, but (after the release of the Twitter files) directly steered by them at times.
No social media platform is more tightly linked to the intelligence community, NATO, or US State Department than the incredibly popular Tik Tok app. In 2020 the Midwestern Marx Institute for Marxist Theory and Political Analysis, within a few months of work, amassed 375,000 Tik Tok followers when the app was still owned and operated by the Beijing, China based company Bytedance, a testament to the people-oriented algorithms of Bytedance that allow any content that is genuinely popular to go “viral”, and a stark contrast to the money-centered way our Western software works. Unfortunately, that year the Biden administration would force ByteDance to hand over management of their U.S. servers to the Texas-based company ORACLE, a company with intimate ties to the CIA. No sooner had news of this forced change of control happened would the Institute have its account, which received millions of views on many videos containing factual information that challenged the narratives of the US war machine, banned from the platform. A second account that we started when the first one was wiped quickly accumulated 200,000 followers, and right when a growth parallel to the previous account was evident, the second account would also be banned. This blatant censorship would continue without explanation as the Institute had five more accounts banned by Tik Tok after they started to quickly gain popularity. It was later revealed that Oracle had hired a litany of former US State Department and Intelligence Operatives to manage the content for Tik Tok, as well as a few NATO executives for good measure. Tik Tok said that they deleted 320,000 “Russian accounts” which included many American socialist organizers who have never been associated with Russia in any way, such as an account ran by an organization of socialist organizers called “The Vanguard” that had over 100,000 followers when it was deleted.
Countless hours of our work that helped inform millions of people were stripped from the internet with little to no explanation, while truly hateful and incendiary accounts were allowed to remain up. Our institute's co-founder and editor, Eddie Liger Smith, was doxxed twice during this period, having his phone number, job, private social media profiles, and location shared by two creators working in tandem to attack Midwestern Marx. Both responsible accounts, Cbass429 and ThatDaneshGuy, were allowed to remain up until recently, when Cbass429 was finally banned for a completely unrelated incident. However, ThatDaneshGuy still has 1.6 million followers on Tik Tok, where he consistently calls for his political opposition to be fired from their jobs. ThatDaneshGuy called for his followers to contact Eddie’s place of employment and ask for his firing, claiming that it was deserved because of Eddie’s stance against US backed regime change efforts in Iran, which Danesh conflated with support for the Iranian Government executing people. Similar campaigns to these have been waged against other Institute co-founder Carlos Garrido and Institute contributor Kayla Popuchet, the latter who, like Eddie Smith, was fired from their place of employment because of the work they do for the Institute. On Tik Tok, the voices which speak the truth and champion peace are quickly banned, while those who harass and deceive people with imperialist lies are upheld by the algorithms.
Since the transfer of power to US entities, Tik Tok users have been fed a steady diet of neoliberal and imperialist propaganda, while critical voices are systematically being censored by the app’s content moderation staff. Neoliberal commentators like Philip Defranco are never made to retract errors, such as when Phil claimed that Russia blew up the Nord Stream Pipeline, despite all the evidence at the time pointing towards a Biden Administration sabotage. Award-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh later proved this to be the case in his detailed report on the incident. Despite all this, Defranco never had his account suspended or removed for posting this misinformation, and his video remains on the platform to this day, as do his comments accusing anyone who suggested the US might have sabotaged the pipeline of believing “Putin propaganda.” The Midwestern Marx Institute had predicted that Biden sabotaged the pipeline before it was revealed in detail and was unsurprisingly attacked and reported for doing so.
Censorship, clearly, does not emerge out of a void. And so, we must ask the question: what are the social conditions which make censorship necessary? Who does the censored speech threaten? Who does it uplift? In whose interests is censorship carried out? On whose side is truth - a category our moribund imperialist era, dominated by postmodern philosophical irrationalism, scoffs at? The liberal ideal of freedom of press can never be actualized so long as the press is owned by a small ruling class, by corporations and shareholders who profit from war and the exploitation of the mass of people. They will always censor dissent and push coverage that suits their foreign and domestic interests. This has been the case throughout history, and the modern Western ruling class is, in this regard, no different from any other. It lies, it manipulates, it misinforms to the best of its ability. It needs a population that can view its actions as ethical and just, and so it must spend countless hours and dollars papering over every crack that appears in the facade its media apparatus has built around the minds of the people.
A revolving door between the media, intelligence agencies, NATO, and the U.S. State Department is only the logical result of a society based on capitalist relations of production, where capitalists not only control the production of material goods, but the production of information as well. The ruling class sees the media, including social media, as a vital part of the societal superstructure that is needed to maintain and reproduce the relations of production at the core of society. In other words, they see it as an important tool to convince you that capitalism and U.S. Imperialism are good and eternal. Under these social relations, the constitutional right to free speech and media have always been exclusive - it excludes all speech and media which substantially challenges the dominant forms of societal intercourse. The freedom of speech and media is, therefore, actually the freedom of pro-capitalist speech and media. V. I. Lenin’s description of the media in capitalist society rings truer than ever in the 2020s, it is dominated by an “atmosphere of lies and deception in the name of the ‘freedom and equality’ of capital, equality of the starved and the overfed.” Any absolute statements about the freedom of the press must be followed by the Leninist question: “freedom of the press… for which class?” The capitalist media’s freedom to deceive the masses in their defense of the existing order is in contradiction to the masses’ interests in searching for and publicizing the truth.
Those who keep our people misinformed and ignorant, who have made their life’s purpose to attack truth-tellers, do so under the insidiously categorized guise of ‘combating misinformation.’ In their topsy-turvy invented reality, as Michael Parenti called it, they posit themselves as the champions of truth and free speech – a paradox as laughable as a vegan butcher. Anyone with the courage to fight for the freedom to speak truth to power should unite in fighting this blatant attack on our constitutional rights. We must stand against this censorship from our ruling class, those who are the worst purveyors of misinformation imaginable, and who now, in the backwards-world name of ‘fighting misinformation,’ censor the truth.
There is ‘fighting misinformation,’ and there is fighting misinformation. The divide of class interests between the ruling class of the West, and the good, honest, hard-working people who live under their regime could not be clearer. One side finds it necessary to invent a reality, under the guise of fighting the ‘mis-informers,’ that paints the world in a disfigured backwardness, the other side, on the contrary, is sick to death of being lied to by the media machine, and their screams of “fake news” grow more and more common every day. The American people not only deserve the truth, but absolutely need its existence to find commonality in the world, stability, and the ability to pursue lives of meaning and dignity. They are tired of the private monopolization of media that has erased the ability for regular working people to speak on an equal playing field; they feel their voices drowned in a sea of well-funded lies by MSNBC, Fox News, and the rest of them. This struggle has crystallized into a fight over The Truth itself.
And so, if fighting misinformation is to be done, we must begin by asking: Where was the crackdown on the media outlets who got 4.5 million people killed by claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? Where are the crackdowns on those who are lying us into a third World War with nuclear-armed powers? Where are the crackdowns against those who play the drums for those marching humanity towards nuclear Armageddon? Why is it only the outlets calling for peace that are dubbed “Putin propagandists” and wiped from the internet? Where are the crackdowns on the blood-thirsty warmongers? The answer is: they are nowhere, and they will continue to be nowhere while giant corporate financial interests control the lives and realities of regular Americans. Truth is censored and lies are proliferated because it serves the interests of the ruling capitalist class, and only through the overthrow of this class can a real freedom of thought, not an abstract empty freedom to deceive the people, be achieved. Until then, all we can have – it seems – is a media and culture that elevates the most odious imperialist voices while suppressing those who seek truth and peace. Nonetheless, the fight must continue, and with the dignity that comes from the incessant speaking of truth to power, the enemies of humanity will fall.
Let us remember the words of Julian Assange, whom the imperialists have rotting in a prison because of his sterling bravery… because he is a true journalist and not a lapdog of the powerful: “if wars can be started by lies, peace can be started by TRUTH.”
Edward Liger Smith is an American political scientist and editor at the Midwestern Marx Institute.
Carlos L. Garrido is a philosophy teacher at Southern Illinois University, editor at the Midwestern Marx Institute, and author of The Purity Fetish and the Crisis of Western Marxism and Marxism and the Dialectical Materialist Worldview.
Noah Khrachvik is a working class organizer, teacher, and editor at the Midwestern Marx Institute.
He was known to be aggressive and argumentative, the kind of patron who made others at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branch uneasy.
But one day last year, the man walked into the building in a much darker mood, harassed a librarian, and threatened to kill her.
Fortunately, library workers had joined the United Steelworkers (USW) in 2019 and built safeguards into their first contract to address dangers exactly like this.
The librarian received a temporary transfer to another building. And the library system banned the patron, ensuring he wouldn’t turn up again either to look for the person he threatened or target somebody else.
April 28 is Workers Memorial Day in America and the Day of Mourning in Canada, a time to remember those killed, injured, or sickened at work. It’s also a day when union workers rededicate themselves to the fight for safer working conditions and renew their pledge to look out for one another, along with others in the workplace, leveraging all of the power that collective action provides.
“We are open to the public, which means everybody is welcome to come in, and we do our best to serve everybody,” explained David King, a steward for USW Local 9562 and a librarian in the music, film, and audio department at the system’s main location in Oakland.
“We’re proud of that. We’re sincerely proud that we’re one of the few truly public spaces still left. But that does come with some of these dangers,” he added, noting that library workers face patrons who create disruptions, brawl, carry in weapons, damage property, overdose in restrooms, and even stalk them.
Because library management failed to adequately address these risks, union members stood in solidarity together and negotiated a contract that not only provides temporary transfers for endangered workers but also includes notification procedures to alert workers at various branches when a patron is banned.
“That is a huge change from before we negotiated the contract,” King pointed out, noting that workers previously “had no recourse” if they were harassed. “They just had to put up with it. They just had to stay in the same location.”
The contract also establishes minimum staffing at the 19 branches to ensure the safety of workers and visitors, said King, noting some locations have delayed opening at times because of worker shortages.
And the union advocates for workers as other issues arise, such as when it forced repairs to the fire alarm system on the third floor of the Oakland building last summer, secured increased security after a student brawl and other violent incidents at another branch several months ago, and won systemwide protections at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Unionization gave us the power to say, ‘You need to listen to us,’” recalled Kate Buick, a Local 9562 steward who works at the North Side branch, noting the pandemic measures included remote work options, safe spacing of computers at every branch, safety walkthroughs of the buildings, and creation of a labor-management safety committee.
“Having that committee was a game-changer,” she said. “We at least knew there would be no retaliation and we could say what we wanted.”
Because they deliver these kinds of protections, unions help to ensure that workers return safely home at the end of their shifts.
A study by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for example, found that union construction sites had significantly fewer health and safety violations than nonunion ones. Another study, led by researchers at George Washington University and other institutions, revealed that unionized nursing homes had much lower COVID-19 infection and death rates than nonunion facilities.
When incidents occur, unions fight to hold employers accountable. But the drive for safer working conditions needn’t be adversarial, as a recent collaboration between the USW and Safety-Kleen in East Chicago, Indiana, shows.
The union and company sometimes disagreed on various issues. But Local 1011 President Steven Serrano repeatedly pointed out the benefits of cooperation and responded enthusiastically a few months ago when Safety-Kleen, which provides environmental services to various industries, sought the union’s help on a new safety initiative.
The parties negotiated a memorandum of agreement that, among other improvements, convened a union-management health and safety committee, established union-management incident investigations, and empowered workers to unilaterally stop work when confronted with hazardous conditions or processes.
The union’s involvement boosts the company’s efforts to obtain Voluntary Protection Program recognition from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
And it built solidarity among the 80 or so USW members at Safety-Kleen, who belong to Local 1011 along with hundreds of workers from the nearby Cleveland-Cliffs steel plant.
“Now, they have a seat at the table,” said Serrano, noting workers understand the dangers of their workplace better than anyone else. “Now, they have a voice.”
Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).
This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.
Why Julian Assange Is at the Vanguard for World Press Freedom. By: Prabir PurkayasthaRead Now
We celebrate World Press Freedom Day in May as a reminder that the role of news organizations is to speak truth to power. Not for manufacturing consent—to use Chomsky’s famous words—for the government and the ruling classes.
It’s an occasion to remember three people who exemplify the need to speak the truth: Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame and Julian Assange of WikiLeaks; and also of Chelsea Manning, without whom we would not have the proof of what the United States was doing, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but all across the globe. In doing so, I will also deal with the changing nature of government “secrets”, what outing them means then and now.
In today’s day and world, just as the scale of the government’s powers to pry into our lives and activities has increased exponentially—for example, NSA’s Prism and NSO’s Pegasus—so has the scale of the leaks. Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers were a mere 7,000 pages, and he photocopied them by hand (Daniel Ellsberg, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner). Chelsea Manning’s “papers”, which Assange outed, earning the U.S. government’s enmity, consisted of about 750,000 documents (Iraq War logs, Afghanistan War logs and U.S. diplomatic cables). Manning used her computer to copy this enormous cache of data. Ellsberg had one of the highest security clearances in the U.S. government. Snowden, a system administrator, is assumed to have “exfiltrated” more than a million NSA documents.
Manning was low down in the military ranks and a mere corporal. Assange had identified one key characteristic of our epoch: the digital revolution means the enormous centralization of information and also the ease with which it can release. In a conference in 1984, Stewart Brand, an author, in a conversation with Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, had brought this duality of information in the digital age: the centralization of information as it is so valuable for the rulers. And also the ease of its duplication and therefore liberating it from the rulers. This is why Assange set up WikiLeaks. People, who had access to this valuable information stored in “secure” government vaults, could use WikiLeaks to reach the people. Both use the power of digital technologies and their ability to produce copies but for completely different purposes.
In 1971, a little over 50 years ago that Daniel Ellsberg leaked a study carried out by the U.S. Defense Department—the Pentagon Papers—on the Vietnam War to the New York Times and subsequently to a host of other news organizations. The anti-Vietnam War movement, which had exploded in the United States then, with cascading effects around the world for my generation, had turned Ellsberg into a radical. Just as it did many of us around the world who demonstrated against the United States and its war. The Vietnam War had discredited the U.S. empire and produced a radical generation, of which Daniel Ellsberg was a proud member.
The Pentagon Papers laid out in detail why the Vietnam War was already a lost cause and why Vietnamese people would defeat the neocolonial puppet government of Ngo Dinh Diem backed by the United States in South Vietnam. Though the study was completed in 1968 that the United States could not win, the United States had enlarged the war from a land and air war against the Vietnamese liberation forces in South Vietnam to the aerial bombardment of North Vietnam and Cambodia as well. Ellsberg believed that if the U.S. public learned the truth about the Vietnam War, they would help stop the war. This is why he, and a former colleague Anthony Russo, shared the Pentagon papers with the press. The U.S. people, he believed, had a right to know about the war being waged in their name.
The exposure of Pentagon papers helped the anti-war movement but did not stop the war. It took another four years—April 1975—before Vietnamese freedom fighters liberated Saigon. The pictures of the U.S. forces leaving in ignominy, clinging to helicopters as they lifted off from the roof of the U.S. embassy, are similar to what we saw recently in Kabul.
By the time we reached the Iraq War, the world of information had changed. Information was no longer in paper form. Copies were also not on paper. Digitizing information meant that enormous amounts could be collected, stored and used in real-time for the purpose of war: both its physical-kinetic variety and also the information war. The full power of the United States, its technology might, and its money power could be wielded to build not only the U.S. war machine but also what we now call the surveillance state. Not simply its invasion of every aspect of our lives but also in creating new, invisible hands of the Ministry of Truth. This is an information war of a different kind than in the days of Ellsberg photocopying the Pentagon Papers.
This is the world that Assange saw and understood. If Ellsberg understood the world of power, Assange understood the changing nature of how information is created in vast amounts continuously by the government, stored and transmitted. The very nature of technology that permits this almost costless duplication of information and its flows also makes it vulnerable to being shared and made available to the public.
Let us look at some numbers here. At the time of Ellsberg, there were perhaps a few hundred, maybe a maximum of 1,000, who had access to Pentagon papers and could have photocopied them by hand as he did. He had a security level of GS-18, a civilian equivalent to a clearance level somewhere between major general and lieutenant general in the military. Chelsea Manning was a “specialist”, the rank equivalent to that of a corporal in the U.S. armed forces. It is the nature of the change in technology that made it possible for a specialist holding a rank of a corporal to strike a body blow in the U.S. war in Iraq and Afghanistan. You need tech specialists to make the nuts and bolts of the global information infrastructure run. They may have “low” ranks but by virtue of being closest to the information on these vast military and diplomatic networks maintained by the Governments, they have complete access. And the computer, as a copying device, is a much more potent device for copying information. And lastly, the discs on which we copy data today, including our lowly thumb drive/memory stick, can store hundreds of thousands of pages!
It was Assange and WikiLeaks that made possible for Manning’s information to reach people across the globe. And even when he and Manning have been arrested, jailed and isolated, the information on Wikileaks still continues to be accessible to all of us. Even today. the Baghdad video of Collateral Murder, posted on WikiLeaks, was seen across the world and brought home that the United States was lying and involved in a massive cover-up of its war crimes. The Diplomatic Cables on Wikileaks informed the Tunisian people about the kleptocratic rule of the Ben Ali family and started what was later named as Arab Spring.
The battle of the Chagos islanders in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), illegally removed by the UK and the United States to set up the U.S. naval base in Diego Garcia, was partly based on documents from WikiLeaks. This is only a very small fraction of the information that is now available to activists, and it cannot be erased either from the Internet or from our memory. Just as the surveillance state has invaded every nook and corner of our lives, the pathological need of the surveillance state to access and store all this information also makes the state porous and vulnerable.
The latest example of this vulnerability is that a 21-year-old lowly Air National Guard, Jack Teixeira, had access to the top secret documents of the Pentagon and the CIA on Ukraine. He shared these documents on a private Discord gaming server, not for any noble purpose of stopping the war, but for simply getting bragging rights. Whether this was the only leak, are others also leaking documents to create a fog of war, is a mixture of leaks, or are they also plants is another story. What is important to this story is that Airman Teixeira, though near the bottom of the ladder in the U.S. Air Force, has access to top secret documents, normally seen by the top echelons of the armed forces and the intelligence authorities of the United States. He was part of a team that managed the core network and was one of the 1.5 million people who had this level of access.
Yes, we today are in a panopticon of the surveillance state where our rulers can look into every part of our lives. But what Manning and Teixeira show us is that the same technology that allows them to look at what we are doing also works in reverse. As long as we have Assange, Ellsberg, Manning and others, they are also visible to us. As the English poet Shelly wrote in 1819 after the Peterloo Massacre, “Ye are many, they are few.” This has not changed in the digital age as well.
Prabir Purkayastha is the founding editor of Newsclick.in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.
This article was produced in partnership by Newsclick and Globetrotter.
The Debt Ceiling Debate Is a Massive Deception Against the Public. By: Richard D. WolffRead Now
Future historians will likely look back at the debt ceiling rituals being reenacted these days with a frustrated shaking of their heads. That otherwise reasonable people would be so readily deceived raises the question that will provoke those historians: How could this happen?
The U.S. Congress has imposed successive ceilings on the national debt, each one higher than the last. Ceilings were intended to limit the amount of federal borrowing. But the same U.S. Congress so managed its taxing and spending that it created ever more excesses of spending over tax revenues (deficits). Those excesses required borrowing to cover them. The borrowings accumulated to hit successive ceilings. A highly political ritual of threats and counterthreats accompanied each rise of the ceiling required by the need to borrow to finance deficits.
It is elementary economics to note that if Congress raised more taxes or cut federal spending—or both—there would be no need to borrow and thus no ceiling on borrowing to worry about. The ceiling would become irrelevant or merely symbolic. Further, if taxes were raised enough and spending cut enough, the existing U.S. national debt could be reduced. That situation has happened occasionally in U.S. history.
The real issue then is that when borrowing approaches any ceiling, the policy choices are these three: raise the ceiling (to borrow more), raise taxes, or cut spending. Of course, combinations of them would also be possible.
In contrast to this reality, U.S. politics deceives by constricting its debate. Politicians, the mainstream media, and academics simply omit—basically by refusing to admit or consider—tax increases. The GOP demands spending cuts or else it will block raising the ceiling. The Democrats insist that raising the ceiling is the better choice than cutting spending. Democrats threaten to blame the GOP for the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling. They paint those consequences in lurid colors depicting U.S. bondholders denied interest or repayment, Social Security recipients denied their pensions, and government employees denied their wages. The unspoken agreement between the two major parties is to omit any serious discussion of raising taxes to avoid hitting the debt ceiling. That omission entails deception.
Here are some tax increases that could help solve the problem by avoiding any need to raise the debt ceiling. The social security tax could be applied to all wage and salary incomes, not only those of $160,000 or less as is now the case. The social security tax could be applied to nonwage income such as interest dividends, capital gains, and rents. The corporate profits tax could be raised back to what it was a few decades ago: near or above 50 percent versus the current 37 percent rate. A property tax could be levied on property that takes the form of stocks and bonds. The current property tax in the United States (levied mostly at the local level) includes land, houses, automobiles, and business inventories, while it excludes stocks and bonds. Perhaps that is because the richest 10 percent of Americans own roughly 80 percent of stocks and bonds. The current property tax system in the United States is very nice for that 10 percent. Another logical candidate is the federal estate tax which a few years ago exempted under $1 million of an estate from the tax, but now exempts over $12 million per person (over $25 million per couple). That exemption makes a mockery of the idea that all Americans start or live their lives on a level playing field where merit counts more than inheritance. The U.S. could and should go back from that tax giveaway to the richest. There are many more possible tax increases.
Of course, there are strengths and weaknesses entailed in raising every tax, positive and negative consequences. But the exact same is true of raising the debt ceiling and thereby increasing the U.S. national debt. Likewise cutting spending has its pluses and minuses in terms of pain and gain. There is no logical or reasonable basis for excluding tax increases from the national debate and discussion about raising the debt ceiling and thereby the national debt.
It is rather the shared political commitments of both major parties that require and motivate the exclusion. There is no reason for U.S. citizens to accept, tolerate, endorse, or otherwise validate the debt ceiling deception perpetrated against us.
Nor is the debt ceiling deception alone. The previous national debate over responding to inflation by having the Federal Reserve raise interest rates provides another quite parallel example. That debate proceeded by debating the pros and cons of interest rate increases as if no other anti-inflationary policy existed or was even worth mentioning. Once again elementary economics teaches that wage-price freezes and rationing have been used against inflations in the past—including in the United States—as alternatives to raising interest rates or alongside them. U.S. President Nixon in 1971 used wage-price freezes. U.S. President Roosevelt used rationing during World War II. But the government, Federal Reserve, major media, and major academic leaders carried on their recent policy debates as if those other anti-inflationary tools did not exist or were not worth including in the debate.
Wage-price freezes and rationing have their strengths and weaknesses—just as tax increases do—but once again the same applies to raising interest rates. No justification exists for proceeding as if alternative options are not there. The U.S. national debate over fighting inflation was deceptive in the same way that the debate over the debt ceiling is.
Nor is the deception any less if it is covered by a claim of “realism.” Those who grasp elementary economics enough to know that tax increases could “solve” the debt ceiling issue become complicit in the deception by invoking “realism.” Since the two major parties are jointly subservient to corporations and the rich, they rule out tax increases on them. It thus becomes “realistic” to exclude that option from the debt ceiling debate. What is best for corporations and the rich thus gets equated to what is “realistic.” It is worth remembering that throughout history ruling classes have discovered, to their shock and surprise, that the ruled can and often do quickly alter what is “realistic.”
The debt ceiling deceptions favor corporations over individuals and the richest individuals over the rest of us. In our thinking and speaking too, the nation’s class structure and class struggles exhibit their influential power. The mainstream debt ceiling debate deceives by lying by omission rather than commission.
Richard D. Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, in New York. Wolff’s weekly show, “Economic Update,” is syndicated by more than 100 radio stations and goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV. His three recent books with Democracy at Work are The Sickness Is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or Itself, Understanding Socialism, and Understanding Marxism, the latter of which is now available in a newly released 2021 hardcover edition with a new introduction by the author.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
We left Havana on May 3. Tired after days of seminars, meetings with locals, and cultural activities, I was able to begin unpacking and relax, unlike many others returning home to the United States who ended up being detained at the airports of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Newark. They were granted special permission to visit Cuba under the US blockade that has been in place for more than sixty years (except for a short reprieve from 2014–2017). Yet, despite legal documents and US citizenship, the border agents harassed, threatened, and abused them like criminals. Freedom of movement does not apply to people in the land of the free.
With the recent addition of Cuba to the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list under the Biden administration, the economic barrier erected by the most comprehensive blockade in history serves more than to asphyxiate Cuba into submission; its primary goal is to prevent the world from seeing and believing in an alternative to capitalism. Fredric Jameson once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. He must have not visited Cuba.
Don’t get me wrong. Cuba is not a utopia. It is visibly struggling; infrastructure is crumbling; economic inequality exists; Cuban people are far from happy or content and some aspire to find new lives abroad. Nevertheless, what we learned in our ten-day trip in Cuba is that the left in the Global North cannot address the various issues facing us today without learning from the Cuban experience. To do this, and to concurrently strengthen anticapitalist struggles across the world, we must first and foremost break the US blockade on Cuba.
Phenomena do not exist in isolation. The US blockade must be recognized as a manifestation of the same colonial project that existed long before the Cuban revolution of 1959 and the Cuban independence movement of 1902, as this year marks the 200th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine. One misconception about Cuba is the association with a singular figure of Fidel Castro. While many ordinary Cubans profess their love for their Comandante el Jefe, Fidel’s name or image is hardly seen in Havana—it was Castro’s own wish that public commemoration be discouraged. If there were to be a personification of Cuba’s national psyche, it is poet and anticolonial fighter José Martí. More than anything, Cubans pride themselves with the progress they made in anticolonial, anti-imperialist struggles since Martí. Seeing from the outside, the Cuban people today objectively retain degrees of sovereignty above neighboring states like Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico (which remains a US colony). In real terms, while Hurricane Maria left nearly three thousand people dead in Puerto Rico and devastated the island for years, Cuba suffered few casualties and quickly rebuilt—a fact undeniable even by the Washington Post. Thus, the question of whether Cuba is a socialist country matters less than whether Cuba is able to overcome centuries of colonialism. At the same time, the former is directly related to the latter: its socialist principles are in lockstep with its national liberation project.
If you are an astute observer, you may pick out these principles traveling through Cuba. We did not need government officials, union representatives, or prominent intellectuals to tell us what they are. The lack of advertisement even at the busiest tourist corner of Havana reflects the social constraints exerted on market forces. The complete lack of police presence, even at 2 a.m. in an area with vibrant nightlife, the absence of homelessness, loitering youth, panhandling, and general wretchedness speak loud and clear about human welfare and security. Even when the buildings and sidewalks are in disrepair, music, art, and people in the community filled the public spaces. And of course, the hospitals—the successes of the Cuban healthcare system in taking care of its own people need no further elaboration. Lesser known is Cuba’s leading role in global health. We visited Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM) and met students from Congo, Chile, Palestine, and the United States (who came from underserved communities) on full scholarships; these students are trained with the socialist philosophy that sees health not as a mere biological problem but also a social issue, which prepares them to be able to serve their own community upon completion of training by gaining an understanding of their own geographical, political, and cultural contexts. This act of internationalism is but a small part of the renowned Cuban medical brigade that provides humanitarian aid to all corners of the world—to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Africa during the Ebola outbreak, Syria after the recent earthquake, to name only a few.
Claudia, a young woman we met during the visit to Centro de Inmunología Molecular (CIM), was among the medical volunteers at the peak of COVID-19 infection. She was not a physician but a scientist working on the now-approved SOBERANA vaccine. As the US blockade deprived Cuba access to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, they had to develop their own. After devoting hundreds of hours in the labs producing the basic research before vaccines can be mass manufactured, she spent months in Venezuela educating local communities on public health measures and helped distribute the million doses of SOBERANA donated from Cuba. We were deeply moved by such an embodiment of science in the service of humanity. It’s important to acknowledge that not every Cuban medical or science student is like Claudia—she told me as much; many trainees have left the country in pursuit of higher pays as physicians and scientists, and many are quitting their education to earn hard currency from the nascent tourist industry. The realization that we are the tourists still haunts the memory of this encounter. Meanwhile, Cuba’s pharmaceutical development is not entirely humanitarian, as SOBERANA under international patent rights allow for its sales and distributions in higher income countries to boost Cuba’s export. The market still dictates many facets of Cuban life.
I am reminded of Huey Newton’s famous phrase: revolution is a process. If we simply take Cuba’s achievements in medical internationalism, scientific achievement, as well as the new 2022 Family Code that granted unprecedented rights to women, elderly, and LGBTQ+ communities—a demonstration of popular democracy through which millions of votes were casted and thousands of debates, consultations, and public events were held—as discrete victories of progress, we may find exemplary counterparts in Western Europe. But seeing the Cuban society as an agent in world history, we can draw a few unique lessons for our own struggle to overcome capitalism.
First, we must study and understand how Cuba survived adversity, not just building a national and cultural identity on a resource-deprived island ninety miles off the coast of a settler-colonial empire, but actively resisting continued imperial aggression after centuries of slavery and extraction from the United States. In prioritizing human development as official policy, Cuba stands out among countries in the world for its education, medicine, science, sport, and arts. We may disagree on the verity of its socialism, but none can deny the contribution to humanity that the Cuban people have made since 1959 in healing and defending the world against colonists in Algeria, Angola, and Vietnam, etc.
Second, in studying the contradictions, problems, and challenges of Cuban society, the effect of the US blockade cannot be underplayed. Any commodities that comprise 10 percent or more manufacturing in the United States are restricted to enter Cuba; third party countries or private firms that attempt to establish trade with Cuba will need to constantly tiptoe around sanctions and fines from unilateral US law, the content of which changes regularly to discourage capital influx to Cuba. As a result of economic suffocation, Cuba’s energy and food supply are in tight balance, always in conflict with social expenditure. We experienced several blackouts during our stay, and by the end of the trip became accustomed to sudden changes of itinerary due to logistical issues. While it is all the more impressive of what Cuba was able to achieve under the blockade, it should lead us to contemplate what more would Cuba have provided to the world if it is freed from the US stranglehold?
Third, capitalism and imperialism are coevolutionary processes. We cannot win class struggle in the advanced capitalist countries at home without solidarity from the Global South—the majority of the world. This is where Cuba stands tall as a beacon of anti-imperialism since the beginning of the revolution, with its illustrious legacies of vanguarding the formations of Organización de Solidaridad de los Pueblos de Asia, África y América Latina (OSPAAAL) and the Non-aligned Movement. As the blockade not only hinders social/socialist development of Cuba and the rest of the Third World, it is a detriment to our struggles within the belly of the beast. On a superficial level, we ask how many lives would be saved if the Cuban Heberprot-P treatment for diabetic foot ulcer or CIMAvax-EGF for lung cancer are allowed for the hundred million poor people in the United States? At a deeper level, if the US rulers can continue to disregard the will of the world’s people and commit to carry out this crime against humanity, what would it do to nascent revolutionary struggles in other parts of the world (e.g., Venezuela), or under its own belly (e.g., Black and Indigenous liberation)? The Cuban sovereign project, socialist or not, is at the forefront of a totality of world struggle against capitalism and empire.
At the end of this write-up, our comrades detained at the US border are now released. They told us that their phones were immediately seized, broken into, while being denied legal consultation. We went on a trip to learn about Cuban society. Perhaps we learned just as much if not more about our own society. In order to free ourselves from repression in our own country, we must stand in solidarity with the Cuban people suffering from the same repression manifested abroad. The blockade against Cuba is a blockade against our own future, a shared vision by the people of the world fighting for peace, justice, and all that is good of humanity.
Calvin Wu is a member of the May Day Brigade organized by the International People’s Assembly. He is the secretary of the organization Science for the People and a research scientist based in Cambridge, MA.
Odessa after the massacre: nine years later the wounds are still fresh. By: Steve SweeneyRead Now
The west continues to ignore, downplay and misrepresent the trade unionists who were burned alive in Odessa’s trade union building by Nato’s fascist stormtroopers
The burning alive of antifascist protestors in Odessa’s trade union building on 2 May 2014 sent shock waves round the world. But the perpetrators of this heinous crime, far from being brought to book, have been rewarded with promotions and immunity. These are the ‘democrats’ our rulers are funding in their obsessive quest to destroy Russia.
his exclusive interview with an Odessa massacre survivor was carried out for Proletarian by Steve Sweeney in Russia.
Sasha gently rolls back the sleeve of her jumper to reveal scarred and damaged skin.
“It still hurts me sometimes even now,” she tells me as we sip coffee in a Moscow cafe. “Doctors said it would be like this for some time. But it has been nearly ten years.”
Sasha [not her real name] was one of the hundreds injured in the Odessa Trade Union House massacre on 2 May 2014.
“I was lucky, I managed to escape. They tried to burn us all alive. The police stood and watched as they shot at us and beat us.
“Many jumped from the windows and were attacked as they hit the ground. It was like hell,” she says.
At least 48 people were killed as far-right Ukrainians set the building alight after pro-Russians took shelter there from a baying mob.
Fighting for the truth
Nine years later, the survivors and the victims’ families are still seeking truth and justice for their loved ones amid a cover-up by the state and the connivance of western institutions including the Council of Europe, the European Union and others.
In fact, the only criminal cases that have been opened by the Kiev administration are against those who were attacked, as Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov explained earlier this year.
“We know the truth,” Sasha says. “We know who did this and they are being protected. But we will not give up. Those who died deserve justice. We need to heal the pain.”
She was on the streets of Odessa just months after the democratically elected government of President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in a US-backed coup after he refused to sign a deal integrating Ukraine more closely into the European Union.
“We objected to this meddling, this was not what we wanted. Fascists were taking over the country because of the west. They were helping them to control Ukraine and to kill us,” she says.
“I will never forget that day for as long as I am alive. The Banderists and fascists were killing people and the whole world looked away,” Sasha continues. “All we wanted was to be treated like humans, but they treated us like animals, cockroaches. This was terrorism.”
Fascist pogrom organised by Nato’s puppets
The pogrom was coordinated by the Right Sector, a coalition of ultranationalist forces founded by Dmytro Yarosh, a virulent antisemite and supporter of Ukrainian wartime Nazi-collaborator Stepan Bandera.
They took advantage of a football match held between Odessa and Metallist Kharkiv on the day of the massacre, rallying the support of right-wing ultras from both teams’ supporters.
“We knew there was going to be trouble on the day of the match. These teams had a reputation for violence, but police did nothing to stop them. It started when they marched in the city,” she explains.
There had been an agreement reached to peacefully clear the Kulikov field, the site of a pro-Russian encampment that had been set up in the months after the Maidan coup.
This was reportedly to make way for Victory Day celebrations on 9 May, the date which marks the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany.
But as the violence started, the camp was set ablaze, causing people to flee to the nearby trade union building for shelter.
“It is ironic we agreed to move out of the camp but then it was attacked by the Ukrainian nazis, the same people defeated [in 1945]. But here [in Ukraine] they did not go away,” Sasha says
Hundreds gathered there, and soon after it too came under attack.
“I was in a room that was filled with smoke very quickly. We could hardly breathe. As I left there were bodies on the floor. I could not help them.
“Some people started jumping out of the windows. I heard the sound of their bodies hitting the floor and they were beaten to death.
“On the ground [outside] people stopped us from leaving. I could hear the football fans chanting, singing Ukraine’s anthem …
“Nobody was coming to help. The fire was spreading and there was shooting too. I thought I was going to die,” she recalls.
The Ukrainian police were not passive bystanders – although they did nothing to help, they were filmed firing their guns into the trade union building.
Crowds below chanted “Burn, Colorado, burn”, a reference to the pro-Russian colours of ribbons worn by some of the protesters. As the fire tore through the building, the Ukrainian national anthem was sung by those gathered outside, taunting those trapped inside as they burned to death.
The Nazi-era slogan – Slava Ukraini, now frequently to be heard on the lips of Kiev’s western sponsors – was shouted as people were dying inside the building, whose walls were daubed with swastikas and the name “Galician SS”.
“We escaped, but nobody helped us,” Sasha says, adding: “It was terrifying. After the attacks people were afraid to leave their homes. We didn’t want to go outside for weeks.”
No retribution for the perpetrators
Despite the admissions and footage clearly identifying many of those responsible, the perpetrators remained free.
In the aftermath of the fire, the Right Sector celebrated the deaths, describing the massacre as “yet another bright page in our fatherland’s history”.
Yarosh, whose organisation claimed responsibility for “coordinating” the attack, even became a candidate for the Ukrainian presidency and later an MP. He was never investigated by Ukrainian authorities – and he was not alone.
Svoboda party MP Irina Farion declared: “Bravo Odessa … Let the devils burn in hell’ – yet she also was not charged.
Fatherland party lawmaker Lesya Orobets published a statement on her Facebook page on 2 May celebrating the “liquidation” of the oppositionist kolorady – a derogatory term for those who hold pro-Russian views. She accompanied her post with several photographs of headless corpses.
Aleksey Goncharenko, who took part in the Odessa protests, was later elected to the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe.
These are the so-called democrats backed by the west.
Sasha made her way to the roof as the blaze spread. Exactly what happened inside the building is unclear. Many died there, some of them outside, their bodies found riddled with bullets.
“They [Ukrainian authorities] did nothing while these people celebrated the burning. They hate us and do not have respect for life. We know who our killers are. They are the government.”
The United Nations has criticised Kiev for its unwillingness to carry out proper investigations into the massacre. But, unsurprisingly, there has been a concerted effort to cover up the truth by western powers, which have tried to shift the blame onto Russia.
Petro Poroshenko, who was later to be installed as Ukrainian president, led the charge accusing ‘Russian provocateurs’ and supporters ‘shipped in from Transnistria’ of coming to Odessa to foment violence.
He even accused Moscow of placing gas canisters in the trade union building to deliberately increase the number of casualties. But this has been widely dismissed, including by those not allied with Moscow.
An eyewitness report for the CIA-backed Radio Liberty said: “On 2 May, 48 people died. None of them were ‘Russian saboteurs’ or ‘Transnistrian fighters’ or ‘bussed-in Bandera anarchists’. All were residents of Odessa and the surrounding suburbs.”
Sasha confirmed this and said the only outsiders were the hundreds that had been bussed in the night before the provocations started, along with the football supporters who had been urged to join in with the attacks.
Western media and politicians continue to look the other way
On today’s anniversary, commemoration events have been banned in Odessa once again, as pro-Kiev forces seek to erase the event from memory. Ukraine’s western backers have also colluded in order to downplay the role of far-right Ukrainian forces in the attack.
The Council of Europe’s international advisory panel described the events of May 2014 as “clashes”, as if both groups were equally responsible for the massacre.
But the IAP drew its conclusions from the May 2 Group – made up of journalists and others – many of whom justify the actions of the Ukrainian government while denouncing criticism of Kiev as “pro-Russian propaganda”.
Solidarity for the victims of this heinous massacre has also been in short supply from ‘Ukrainiacs’. Last year passed without a mention from most of those displaying the yellow and blue flag in their social media profile pictures.
The British-based so-called ‘Ukraine Solidarity Campaign’ – in reality a front for the social-imperialist Alliance for Workers Liberty – has gone so far as shamefully to recycle claims that describing the attack as a massacre is “Russian propaganda”, blaming the victims for their own deaths.
It was, of course, these opportunists that organised the poorly attended demonstration last year which saw a handful of trade unionists chanting “Arm, arm, arm Ukraine!” as they marched through the streets of London – just as then prime minister Boris Johnson was in Kiev promising to do exactly that.
We now also know that he was there to strongarm puppet actor-president Volodymyr Zelensky and prevent him from signing a peace deal or entering negotiations with Russia to bring an end to the conflict.
Of course, these supporters of the Kiev regime cannot draw attention to the massacre, or admit who was responsible – to do so would blow a major hole in the narrative that there are no fascists or neo-nazis in Ukraine, which they hail instead as a beacon of freedom and democracy.
Nine years on from the attack, the victims of the Odessa massacre have largely been forgotten by the west, sacrificed as pawns in its proxy war against Russia and abandoned by those who claim to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
The events in Odessa were just one part of an orgy of far-right violence unleashed in the wake of the western-backed Maidan coup.
The Ukrainian neo-nazis – emboldened after the Odessa massacre – carried out another attack in the city just seven days later on Victory Day, shooting dead an unknown number of unarmed demonstrators in an incident that was not even reported in the west.
The rest is history. Today the conflict continues, having escalated into a Nato proxy war and the battle being waged in the areas now incorporated into the Russian Federation.
But for those who lost loved ones in the Odessa Trade Union House massacre, and for those who survived, the struggle for justice continues.
“Please raise our voices. Tell the world not to forget the people of Odessa and our struggle for justice,” Sasha says. “Only then can we put out the flames that continue to burn.”
Steve Sweeney writes for the Morning Star, the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. He is also a People's Assembly National Committee member, patron of the Peace in Kurdistan campaign, and a proud trade unionist.
First published by The Communists
Nationwide outrage after Black homeless man murdered by white vigilante in NYC subway. By: Natalia MarquesRead Now
Jordan Neely, the famous Michael Jackson “impersonator” who went around the NYC subway system dancing and entertaining passengers, was murdered by a white transit rider Monday
On May 1 in New York City, a white subway rider murdered Jordan Neely, a Black homeless man who was expressing his misery at going without food or water. In a train entering the Broadway-Lafayette station in lower Manhattan, Neely cried out to passengers, “I don’t have food, I don’t have a drink, I’m fed up,” according to a witness, continuing: “I don’t mind going to jail and getting life in prison. I’m ready to die.” The New York Police Department claims that Neely then proceeded to throw garbage at commuters, which prompted an argument and then a brawl with a 24-year-old white transit rider. The brawl ended in the rider, a US Marine veteran, putting Jordan Neely in a chokehold that lasted 15 minutes, ending in his death.
The police took the veteran in for questioning, only to release him shortly afterwards. The NYPD has thus far refused to release the killer’s name.
Freelance journalist Juan Alberto Vazquez witnessed the killing and took a four minute video of Neely’s final moments. While the unidentified white man has Neely in a chokehold, multiple passengers hold him down. Neely’s death has been ruled a homicide by a medical examiner.
The murder prompted outrage throughout New York City which quickly spread across the country. On Wednesday, 50 demonstrators packed onto the Uptown-bound F train platform at the Broadway-Lafayette to demand justice for Neely.
New Yorkers who watched Vazquez’s video were quick to recognize Neely was the famous Michael Jackson “impersonator” who went around the subway system dancing and entertaining passengers. “I use to see [Jordan Neely] everyday on my commute to JFK8 Amazon pre-Covid,” tweeted Chris Smalls, leader of the Amazon Labor Union. “I’ll never forget enjoying seeing him dance and sing MJ for the people.”
Meanwhile, right-wing pundits are smearing Neely’s character and arguing that the killer was justified based on the frequency of subway violence perpetrated by homeless people. This is despite the fact that according to the NYPD’s own metrics, so-called “transit crimes” are down 8% from last year.
The right-wing media has also repeatedly pointed to Neely’s 44 prior arrests as justification for his murder. However, homelessness itself is heavily policed and criminalized. Homeless people are detained repeatedly for crimes of poverty such as fare evasion and “disorderly conduct,” (both crimes which Neely was arrested for) an inevitable product of a life lived entirely in the public sphere.
Homelessness can be a product of a criminal record, as former prisoners are repeatedly denied employment and housing in the US. At the same time, homelessness can be a cause of a criminal record. Being unhoused is in itself illegal in many ways: loitering, camping out, or using the bathroom in public are all crimes a person can be arrested for. Homeless people are 11 times more likely to be arrested than those who are not homeless.
Still, violence perpetrated by homeless people in subways is not unheard of, and many New Yorkers have experienced this firsthand. Some of Neely’s arrests included four for assault. However, this reality must be combined with a sincere analysis of the ways that homelessness and poverty drive people towards violent outbursts. Mental illness is far more prevalent in the homeless versus the non-homeless. Homelessness itself has been shown to increase the likelihood of violent behavior.
When Neely was fourteen, his mother was murdered by her boyfriend while Neely slept only feet away. Christine Neely was 36 when she was killed, her body later discovered in a suitcase on the side of a highway in the Bronx in 2007. Neely testified at the murder trial.
“His moms died—she got killed too. And now him?! She got killed [by] her boyfriend. And now him? By somebody else?” Andre Zachery, Neely’s father, told New York Daily News. “I don’t know what to say.” Neely died six years younger than his mother, at age 30.
It is unclear if Neely was suffering from a mental health episode, and Vazquez claims he did not assault anyone. Either way, shouting at people does not carry the death penalty in the United States. Neither does being hungry and thirsty. And yet, by releasing Neely’s killer and protecting his identity, it seems as if the NYPD has condoned the deployment of lethal vigilante violence.
One of Neely’s father’s neighbors claimed that he used the Michael Jackson impression as a way to cope with his mental health troubles. “He wasn’t violent. He was more a don’t-look-at-me-type of person. Anxiety,” she told the New York Daily News. “I felt like that’s why he did the Michael Jackson thing—he had better confidence. It just became like that’s all he wanted to do. Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson.”
Demonstrators on the F train platform demanded to know the identity of Neely’s murderer. On the wall someone had scrawled “Who killed Jordan Neely?” On the ground of the platform, someone had spray-painted “Jordan Neely was murdered here.”
Demonstrators say that the system failed Neely. Adolfo Abreu of grassroots organization Vocal New York told Peoples Dispatch about what he believes led to Jordan Neely’s desperate cry for help. “It’s a lack of New York State and New York City government prioritizing housing first solutions and funding programs to make sure that people can get help,” he said. “Instead, we’re cutting budgets for vital social services.”
Demonstrators expressed vocal opposition to Eric Adams’ cuts to social services and deployment of the NYPD and others to sweep homeless encampments around the city. “Eric Adams cuts funding for public spaces, for spaces that are used by New Yorkers, all races, of all classes,” Isabelle Sturgis, a Brooklyn resident, told Peoples Dispatch. “They want this city to be a playground for the rich. They don’t want to have to see the homeless, they don’t want to have to deal with the homeless… [Homeless people] are New Yorkers. But they’re not seen as that. They’re not seen as New Yorkers.”
First published by Peoples Dispatch
UPS workers prepare for historic showdown with corporate giant. By: Mike KramerRead Now
In just a few months, the United States may experience a labor struggle the scale of which has not been seen in over 25 years. The contract between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and United Parcel Service will expire this year, and a strike is possible.
Much has been written about the labor upsurge of recent years. From Starbucks organizing across the country, to the wave of unionization among academic workers, to the significant public sector strikes in K-12 and higher education, it is clear that there is real potential for the revitalization of the labor movement in the United States. What we have not yet seen in recent years is organized labor taking action in a way that affects the ability of the economy to function at the national level. That may be about to change.
A mammoth player in the economy
The contract between the Teamsters and UPS is the largest private sector collective bargaining agreement in the United States. It is a national agreement, covering some 350,000 workers across the company’s vast shipping network. Because this is a national bargaining unit, there are UPS Teamsters working in every part of the country. Unlike most other labor conflicts, this is one that will touch every geographic area in the United States.
The national agreement and the large number of workers alone do not give a clear picture of the scale of this potential conflict. We must look to the powerful role that UPS plays in the economy. Every day, the equivalent of 6% of the entire economy of the United States is being transported within the UPS system. The equivalent of over 2% of the world economy is within the system on a daily basis.
The company’s massive Chicago Area Consolidated Hub is the largest ground package facility in the world and the largest intermodal container handler in the western hemisphere, moving containers between rail cars, trucks and warehouses. This facility alone employs 8,000 workers who move 2.1 million packages daily. The center of UPS’s air package operations lies further south in Louisville, Kentucky. Here, the truly massive Worldport global air hub spans some 5.2 million square feet with 300 cargo-bearing flights arriving and departing daily. Between the 12,000 workers employed at this superhub and the advanced automation throughout the facility, some 2 million packages are processed daily. In the pre-holiday peak season, this number doubles.
Looking back: the 1997 strike
While it is easy to imagine how powerful a national strike at a company this central to the economy could be, we don’t need to speculate. We can look to history. In 1997, the Teamsters engaged in a 15-day strike that resulted in UPS losing over $600 million. Retail and other industries dependent on UPS services were also significantly impacted by the strike.
The strike also enjoyed enormous public support. Some of this can be explained by the highly visible role of the UPS package car driver and the friendly relationship that many working people develop with the driver who has their route. These relationships personalized the strike for many.
The union was also very successful at projecting the primary strike issue in a way that would broadly resonate across the working class. Many of the workers in UPS warehouses are employed part-time and have to wait years to secure full-time work. The principal issue of the 1997 strike was creating more full-time jobs and accelerating this path to full-time work. The union recognized that this issue was not limited to a single employer and fought under the slogan, “Part-Time America Won’t Work.” Many workers who pieced together multiple part-time jobs or feared the part-timing of their own jobs identified with the UPS workers whose fight became a symbol of a more general struggle against corporate America’s elimination of secure full-time work.
UPS workers demand dignity and respect
There are echoes of 1997 in the demands being raised by the Teamsters in this year’s contract fight. A route to sustainable full-time work remains a core contract issue — one that is more broadly felt following a controversial provision of the 2018 agreement. This provision created a new category of package car driver, known as a 22.4 in reference to the contract article creating the classification. The current Teamsters leadership regards the creation of the 22.4 position as the launch of a two-tier system within the full-time UPS workforce. This issue is broadly felt by the membership and opposition to the 22.4 position was one of the key factors driving the “no” vote on the 2018 contract.
Overwork and other health and safety issues have also been highlighted by the union in the buildup to negotiations. Forced overtime for drivers, particularly during peak season, has been a major source of conflict and underscores the need for more full-time drivers. Protection from extreme weather has also been raised as a major issue, both in warehouses and for drivers on the road. Teamsters Local 804 president Vinnie Perrone has described the trucks and warehouses that Teamsters are working in as “infernos” that have sent workers to the emergency room.
Finally, the issue of wage increases will surely be a major subject in these negotiations. Part-time pay has long been an issue and contributes to the heavy turnover of the part-time workforce. Full-time workers have secured significantly higher hourly pay through decades of contract fights, but continuing to be the wage leader in the industry will require substantive increases, given the impact of record inflation.
Looking forward: collision course
It is impossible to know with certainty how the negotiations between the Teamsters and UPS will unfold, but several factors on both sides indicate that an intense conflict is likely. Unrest has been brewing among the ranks of UPS workers for some time.
In fact, the last contract in 2018 was voted down by the membership. Then-president James Hoffa, Jr. used an archaic provision in the union’s contract to overrule the vote and impose the contract. Current Teamsters President Sean O’Brien publicly broke with Hoffa Jr. early in the 2018 negotiations, setting up a years-long campaign for the presidency of the union. O’Brien, the head of Boston’s Teamsters Local 25, assembled a diverse coalition of former rivals united around a vision for a union that is more willing to confront the bosses.
O’Brien and his Teamsters United slate won by a landslide. Much of this vote came from UPS workers hoping to avoid a repeat of the disappointing 2018 contract. O’Brien has staked his new presidency and his image as a national figure on a successful campaign at UPS. He has been publicly talking about the need to take strike action at the company since the debacle of 2018. He needs to deliver and seems to genuinely want this fight. The thousands of UPS workers who feel that they have been falling behind for years are unlikely to accept anything less than a major contract victory.
UPS is not likely to simply roll over. The company brought in record profits of $11.3 billion in 2022, but they are forecasting a slower year in 2023. This has already been reflected in some newsworthy layoffs in the first quarter of the year. The shipping and logistics industry has been transformed by Amazon. What was once a UPS client is now also a competitor. The company must find a way to maintain its market share in a more difficult environment and a large increase in labor costs over its non-union competition — Amazon, FedEx, etc. — will not be something that the company’s decision makers will be likely to accept.
Negotiations between the Teamsters and UPS are underway. President O’Brien is chairing the negotiations himself — a break from past practice under Hoffa Jr.’s leadership and another signal of the importance of these negotiations for the new leadership. The last day of the current contract is July 31. If no new agreement is reached by August 1, a strike is very likely.
Every worker has a stake in the outcome of this crucial fight. Public support, including participation in solidarity actions coordinated with the union and support at the picket lines if a strike breaks out, will be a highly important factor in the struggle. As the expiration of the UPS contract approaches we need to spread the word far and wide about the huge importance of this impending battle between the working class and corporate America.
First published in Liberation News
Mississippi’s low homelessness rate: Too good to be true? By: Alex ZambitoRead Now
It may come as a surprise to many Americans that the state with the lowest level of homelessness is also its poorest. Mississippi, with a poverty rate of 19.4%, also has the nation’s lowest homelessness rate of 5 per 10,000 people.
But how has Mississippi, a state with a consistently Republican government, managed to tackle homelessness? To put it simply, it hasn’t.
Mississippi’s homelessness rate is so low largely because it is a rural state which keeps its cost of living low and many of its renters pay significant portions of their incomes to live in dilapidated housing.
In Mississippi 54% of the population lives in rural areas. 1 And with only its largest city, Jackson, breaking 100,000 people, there are few densely populated areas where cost of living tends to be highest. As such, the cost of living in Mississippi is incredibly low – around 15% below the national average. 2 With housing prices being particularly sensitive to population density, most people in Mississippi are able to find a place to live. 3
One additional factor driving down Mississippi’s cost of living is its neoliberal policy to maintain low taxes and little regulation. But before conservatives get too excited, it is important to note this policy is also a driving force for the immiseration of Mississippi’s poorest citizens. While housing costs are low, so are incomes. With a median income of $49,111, one of the lowest in the country, Mississippi’s state government has prioritized support for middle-class homeownership and business interests over affordable housing for low-income residents. 4
On the federal level the majority of spending on housing assistance goes to households with incomes over $100,000 usually in the form of tax deductions. In 2015 households with incomes over $200,000 per year received an average benefit of $6,076 while those making below $20,000 received an average benefit of $1,529. 5 According to the National Realtors Association in Mississippi 188,100 households filed a mortgage interest deduction claim at an average benefit of $6,400, and 218,700 households claimed real estate tax deductions at an average benefit of $2,050. 6
This tendency had been exacerbated by the devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina as Mississippi state officials, in typical shock doctrine fashion, used the disaster to promote business development. Particularly hard hit by this neoliberal revanchism were cities along Mississippi’s gulf coast like Biloxi where the state government has made efforts to promote tourism through the expansion of the gaming industry. 7
Prior to Katrina, Biloxi’s casinos brought in over $1 billion and state officials hoped to expand this by loosening regulations on casino construction and diverting federal recovery funds to economic expansion projects. In October of 2005 Mississippi passed House Bill 45 which ended Mississippi’s previous requirement that all casinos be non-land based and permitted casino construction up to 800 feet inland in Mississippi’s three southernmost counties of Harrison, Hancock, and Jackson. 8 Further, auxiliary buildings such as hotels and parking lots can now be constructed beyond this threshold into areas categorized as waterfront property. This has benefited many homeowners who received buyouts from expanding casinos, but has meant a decrease in land available for residential construction resulting in higher rents for low-income residents. 9
Beyond this, state officials also diverted emergency relief funds from affordable housing projects to business development and relief for homeowners. Following Katrina the U.S. Congress approved $5.5 billion dollars in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for Mississippi and gave the state’s Republican governor Haley Barbour almost total discretion over how the money was disbursed. Almost immediately Mississippi officials applied for a waiver from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which HUD quickly granted, freeing it from program stipulations to prioritize low-income housing.
Of the $5.5 billion given to Mississippi for recovery around $2.7 billion was allocated to housing. Of that $2.7 billion over $1.3 billion (around 50%) was allocated to a non-income targeted program benefitting middle and upper-income homeowners, while $536 million (around 20%) was allocated to assistance for low-income residents. Meanwhile, over $600 million was allocated for the expansion of the Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport and $200 million was assigned to economic development in Hancock county.10
Thus, it should come as no surprise that Mississippi is still experiencing a shortage of quality affordable housing. Among all occupied housing units around 26% of Mississippi residents spend 30% or more of their income on housing. Mississippi does have a high homeownership rate with just above 69% of housing units occupied by owners, but its renters face an acute struggle.
While only 19% of homeowners in Mississippi spend more than 30% of their income on housing, among Mississippi’s more than 342,000 renters the number rises to over 40%. And these figures are heavily determined by race as over 50% of renters in Mississippi are black while black people comprise only 28.5% of homeowners.
Beyond affordability many Mississippi residents also struggle with the quality and safety of their housing. Significantly, over 40% of housing units in Mississippi were built before 1978, the year lead-based paint was banned from use in residential construction. 11 While this does not guarantee lead contamination in a building, it does serve as an indicator, and Mississippi’s regulatory agencies have been too understaffed and resource strapped to properly inspect buildings. According to a study conducted by Mississippi Today, approximately three percent of children in Leflore County had high levels of lead in their blood. 12
Further, data collected by physicians indicates that the state’s official reported number of 3,000 children suffering from lead poisoning is a significant undercount and a more accurate representation would place the number around 16,000. 13 Just as troubling is the quality of water delivered to residents. Since 2018 utilities serving approximately 328,000 residents have experienced contamination violations. 14 These issues have been particularly acute in Jackson, Mississippi whose residents, 83% of whom are black, have experienced lead contamination in their water supply for years. With one of the oldest water systems in the country, Jackson residents are frequently issued notices to boil their water and faced a complete water outage for several days last summer. 15
On top of all this, Mississippi’s low homelessness rate may be deceptive. Most data on the homeless population in the U.S. is based on what are known as “point in time” counts where local agencies tally how many homeless people are in their community. These are usually conducted in the last ten days of January when people are most likely to seek shelter, but because the population in rural areas is so spread out and there are less shelters where the homeless can congregate, it is often difficult to track the number of homeless in rural communities. 16 And there are indications homelessness in rural communities may be a bigger issue than previously thought.
A survey conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health found that one in three rural Americans reported homelessness was a problem in their community. 17 In Mississippi local activists have reported seeing an uptick in people living in their vehicles, although these numbers have been difficult to verify. 18
While Mississippi’s government has done little to address the problem, community groups have stepped in. Groups like the Central Mississippi Continuum of Care and Mississippi United to End Homelessness perform outreach to Mississippi’s homeless and attempt to provide them with temporary housing and services intended to help them obtain permanent housing. 19 The work of these groups is impressive and commendable, however, their service orientation hampers their ability to push for the significant structural changes needed to address the root causes of homelessness- poverty, lack of healthcare, and the commodification of housing.
While I do not doubt these groups may play a significant role in keeping Mississippi’s homelessness rate low, state residents are faced with state government officials who have suggested privatizing Jackson’s water systems. 20 By that I mean the causes of the housing issues in Mississippi are fundamentally political and service groups are no replacement for organizations with a clear political vision.
It is obvious that Mississippi’s state government is not going to provide the funding for the necessary regulatory bodies, affordable housing construction, or public utilities without the political pressure of organized workers and tenants.
Alex Zambito was born and raised in Savannah, GA. He graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2017 with a degree in History and Sociology. He is currently seeking a Masters in History at Brooklyn College. His Interest include the history of Socialist experiments and proletarian struggles across the world.
Produced and published in concert with Arkansas Worker.
TikTok on trial: The latest front in the U.S. tech war on China. By: Amanda YeeRead Now
On March 23, CEO of TikTok Shou Zi Chew testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee addressing concerns over the popular social media app’s data collection practices and parent company ByteDance’s alleged links to the Chinese government. Though TikTok is a subsidiary of ByteDance, which is based in Beijing, it operates as an independent entity. Chew has maintained the company has never shared user data with the Chinese government, and would refuse if pressed to do so. Still, the Congressional hearings amounted to nothing more than racist political theater, a McCarthyite witch trial, in which members of Congress who demonstrated little understanding of how basic social media algorithms--or even home Wi–Fi networks—work attempted to spuriously link Chew, who was born, raised, and currently lives in Singapore, to the Communist Party of China.
At one point during the hearings, Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona asks Chew, “Do you agree that the Chinese government is persecuting the Uyghur population?” to which a perplexed Chew firmly responds, “Congresswoman, I’m here to describe TikTok and what we do as a platform.”
Make no mistake: the TikTok hearings had nothing to do with the baseless threat of Chinese surveillance and everything to do with maintaining the dominance of U.S. capitalism. TikTok is the most popular and most frequently downloaded social media app worldwide, boasting 150 million users in the United States alone. The overall time users spend on TikTok now far exceeds some of its U.S. competitors, and it has been rapidly pulling digital advertising away from these same companies.
The hearings were just the latest in the U.S. tech war against China—a key front in the new Cold War—and Silicon Valley has found as its ally rising anti-Chinese sentiment and, through the arm of the capitalist state, is weaponizing such Red Scare tactics to ensure tech dominance. This explains why the U.S. government is trying to force the sale of TikTok to a U.S. company, or ban it entirely, which would drive its users to U.S. competitors like Meta, Instagram Reels (owned by Meta), Snapchat, or YouTube Shorts.
Either way, Silicon Valley stands to benefit. And even if the U.S. government doesn’t go through with a TikTok ban, the spectacle of the hearings and fearmongering over Chinese surveillance was enough to drive up stocks for Meta and Snapchat.
Facebook’s war against TikTok
TikTok is especially popular among Gen Z, a key demographic which Facebook has almost completely lost. In order to regain this target age group, its parent company Meta has played an instrumental role in fanning the supposed dangers of its competitor.
In 2022, The Washington Post uncovered internal emails revealing that Meta had hired consulting firm Targeted Victory to launch a nationwide lobbying and media campaign to eliminate its competitor by portraying it as a “danger to American children and society.” As part of this campaign, operatives were instructed to use TikTok as a way to divert attention and criticism away from Facebook’s own data collection practices. Other tactics included publicizing stories in local media about “dangerous teen trends” which had supposedly gone viral on TikTok (with many of them actually originating on Facebook) and writing op-eds and letters to the editor posing as concerned parents critical of TikTok to local newspapers. One such letter, published in The Denver Post from a “new parent” raised the concern about the Chinese government’s ability to access TikTok’s U.S. user data. “Many people even suspect China is deliberately collecting behavioral data on our kids (the Chinese government and TikTok deny that they share data),” it read. “We should all be alarmed at the grave consequences these privacy issues present.”
Of course, data privacy concerns are not unique to TikTok. Facebook itself surveils its users, using the location tracking feature to monitor user activity in order to better predict what type of targeted ads to show—this feature works even when the app is closed, constantly collecting information about the user. Facebook even appears to go as far as tracking text messages and phone calls and having the ability to access photos on user devices.
The issue lies not with individual apps themselves, but that Congress refuses to pass any kind of comprehensive privacy legislation regulating social media apps and protecting users from tech companies misusing their data. And the reason for this is that Silicon Valley represents a powerful political force in Washington: in 2021, the top seven tech companies spent over $70 million lobbying to fight legislation regulating the industry. These firms spent more money than other lobbying giants like the pharmaceuticals, oil, and gas industries.
The previous year, in 2020, Meta alone had spent a record $20 million lobbying Congress, breaking its previous year’s record of $19 million. These are just a few of the bills Meta lobbied against within the past couple of years:
Along with data privacy legislation, Meta, along with other tech giants Amazon, Google, and Apple, have lobbied against bills promoting competition in the tech industry.
It should also be noted that Meta is one of the top stocks owned by members of Congress.
Silicon Valley capital and the state
The issue of TikTok for the U.S. government is not one of national security or the CPC obtaining American user data—the issue is that the government itself wants access to that data and cannot strongarm ByteDance into handing it over like they can U.S. tech companies, who often comply with Justice Department officials when requested to release information. How often do U.S. government officials request data from these tech firms? According to The New York Times:
Google said that it received 39,500 requests in the United States over that period [in the first half of 2020], covering nearly 84,700 accounts, and that it turned over some data in 83 percent of the cases. Google did not break down the percentage of requests in which it turned over basic data versus content, but it said that 39 percent of the requests were subpoenas while half were search warrants.
Facebook said that it received 61,500 requests in the United States over the period, covering 106,100 accounts, and that it turned over some data to 88 percent of the requests. The company said it received 38,850 warrants and complied with 89 percent of them over the period, and 10,250 subpoenas and complied with 85 percent.
This reveals the mutually beneficial relationship here between tech companies and the U.S. government: the state protects the interests of Silicon Valley capital, and in return, Big Tech complies with its data requests.
CPC “brainwashing” and “cognitive warfare”
Aside from the fearmongering around granting the CPC ability to access U.S. user data, another narrative pushed during the lead up to, and immediately following, the Congressional hearings was that TikTok is part of the CPC’s “cognitive warfare” psychological operations campaign to control Americans’ minds. This is an absurd accusation recycled from Red Scare propaganda from the last Cold War, in which the U.S. government incited fear among its citizens of Soviet and Chinese brainwashing.
In a November 2022 interview, Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, tells 60 Minutes, “In [China’s] version of TikTok [Douyin], if you’re under 14 years old, they show you science experiments you can do at home, museum exhibits, patriotism videos, and educational videos. And they also limit it to only 40 minutes per day. Now they don’t ship that version of TikTok to the rest of the world. So it’s almost like they recognize that technology is influencing kids’ development, and they make their domestic version a spinach version of TikTok, while they ship the opium version to the rest of the world.”
Putting aside the extremely poor taste accusation about “digital opium”, considering China is a nation that lost two wars trying to put a stop to Europeans flooding its ports with real opium in the 1800s resulting in its “century of humiliation,” this is another case of imperialist media and its mouthpieces shifting the blame for American societal issues onto the CPC. TikTok and its Chinese counterpart Douyin show different kinds of videos, because unlike the U.S., the Chinese government regulates the content that children consume on social media apps—a move which U.S. politicians often decry as “authoritarian” overreach. Once again, the issue is one of lack of government regulation at the behest of Silicon Valley tech companies.
Despite this, members of the ruling class continued to parrot this Sinophobic propaganda point. “The algorithms that determine what you see on TikTok [are] determined out of Beijing by China,” claimed Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee Mark Warner in February. “If you look at what Chinese kids are seeing on their version of TikTok, which emphasizes science and engineering, versus what our kids and kids around the world are seeing, it is dramatically different. So both from a data collection, and from frankly, a propaganda tool, it is of huge concern.”
And during the Congressional hearings, when questioning Chew, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers accused TikTok’s algorithm of promoting suicide, drug use, self-harm, and eating disorders to children, while noting that this same type of content was banned on Douyin.
After the Congressional testimony, Rep. Mike Gallagher, chair of the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, emphasized the imperative to take swift action against TikTok, proclaiming on ABC’s This Week, “It’s not just exfiltrating data from an American phone, it’s what they’re able to push to Americans through the algorithm—control our sense of reality, control the news, meddle in future elections.”
Unsurprisingly, the accusation that China is engaging in psychological warfare and “brainwashing,” like so many others, is another case of U.S. projection. The U.S. government has itself orchestrated disinformation campaigns on social media to promote “pro American narratives” in places like Iran, China, and Russia. In fact, as early as 2011, The Guardian reported that the US military had even contracted out the development of software to create internet personalities to influence online conversations to more easily spread pro-American propaganda, and it was again brought to light last year. And even more recently still, the release of the Twitter files earlier this year revealed the extent to which government agencies maintain close ties to online platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Apple, influencing online conversations to support the Saudi-led war on Yemen, pro-U.S. presence in Syria, and anti-Iran messaging in Iraq, among other propaganda campaigns.
And one shouldn’t forget that in 2010, the U.S. government funded the development of ZunZuneo in Cuba, a social media platform similar to Twitter, in order to promote political propaganda in the hopes of inciting a “Cuban Spring” youth revolt to topple the socialist government.
The U.S. seeks to eliminate economic competition
Like its ban on the sale and import of Chinese technology giant Huawei products to the U.S., the hysteria over TikTok has little to do with national security, and is instead rooted in fears over a Chinese company threatening U.S. dominance over the tech sector.
Not long ago, the U.S. ruling class was content to use China as a source of cheap labor and super profits, in exchange for American technological transfer. Now that China has begun to overcome its under-development and managed to build up its own tech sector, U.S. corporations seek to eliminate their economic competitor.
Originally published in Liberation News
Declassified CIA Documents Reveal Agency Plans to ‘Nazify’ Ukraine. By: Baxter DmitryRead Now
The U.S. has had a hand in numerous projects intent on destabilizing Ukraine’s governments including two CIA programs that attempted to install Nazi leadership in the country.
A recent declassification of over 3,800 documents by the Central Intelligence Agency has revealed it operated two major programs intent on not only destabilizing Ukraine but ‘Nazifying’ it with followers of the World War II Ukrainian Nazi leader Stepan Bandera.
The documents, which were released in 2016, said that programs, spanning over four years, provided funding and equipment for such anti-Soviet Ukrainian resistance groups as the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council among a host of others.
The papers gave details of the AERODYNAMIC program which intended to destabilize Ukraine, using exile Ukrainian agents in the West who were infiltrated into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
“The purpose of Project AERODYNAMIC is to provide for the exploitation and expansion of the anti-Soviet Ukrainian resistance for cold war and hot war purposes,” the formerly top secret document dated July 13, 1953 says of the project.
“Such groups as the Ukrainian Supreme Council of Liberation (UHVR) and its Ukrainian Insurgent Army (OUN), the Foreign Representation of the Ukrainian Supreme Council of Liberation (ZPUHVR) in Western Europe and the United States, and other organizations such as the OUN/B will be utilized,” the document continued.
The CIA documents show that under the AERODYNAMIC program the CIA operated an affiliate project codenamed CAPACHO.
According to the Signs of the Times magazine CAPACHO “took on more of a psychological warfare operation veneer,” with the CIA setting up a propaganda company in Manhattan that “catered to printing and publishing anti-Soviet ZPUHVR literature that would be smuggled into Ukraine.”
The AERODYNAMIC and CAPACHO projects continued in operation through the Richard Nixon administration during the 1970s.
But the U.S. continues to implement destabilizing projects in Ukraine.
Former U.S. agent Scott Rickard told Russia Today in 2014 that United States foreign aid agencies pumped US$5 billion into the groups protesting against democratically-elected Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted from office in early February 2014. The head of state had indicated his intent to move closer to Russia instead of the EU and the West.
Baxter Dmitry is a writer at News Punch. He covers politics, business and entertainment. Speaking truth to power since he learned to talk, Baxter has travelled in over 80 countries and won arguments in every single one. Live without fear.
First Published in NewsPunch
Whoever picks up the first volume of Capital and begins to read, realizes, almost immediately, that its author is establishing, on a scientific basis, a colossal body of economic knowledge
It is well known that in the monument that heads Marx's tomb, in the pedestal under his giant head, there is that thesis that stated that philosophers had only interpreted the world in different ways; when all it was about was to transform it.
Whoever picks up the first volume of Capital and begins to read, realizes, almost immediately, that its author is establishing, on a scientific basis, a colossal body of economic knowledge.
And like any monumental effort, he begins by defining the epistemology that will guide his endeavor. By this, he establishes what are called categories, and that natural scientists speak of variables that will be approppriate to what is being studied.
After the definitions, come the theorems. And Marx did all this on the assumption that objective reality determined the rest of things, and did so, reality, in the ever-changing dynamics of its existence.
We call this dialectical materialism, and if we are consistent with it, we will have to understand that, in science, truth is sought from reality and verified in it, not in more or less enlightened gatherings.
Science is not done like the ancient Greeks, when materialism or idealism, equally, did not go beyond the realm of speculation, and the fate of the debate was determined by the charisma of those who debated there, or by the preparation of the opponents. The truth is that, apart from that, philosophy had not gone much beyond that state of affairs.
Those close to him say that Marx immersed himself day after day, week after week, month after month, in the British library, rummaging through the accounting books of the companies. He sought, as the scientist he was, that objective reality that had been measured and reflected in the books in order to arrive at certainties from its analysis.
And Marx was not a person who withdrew from controversy, but they, in their just social function, served to contrast the hypotheses that emerged and that ultimately had to be confronted again with the data that reflected the reality external to the subjectivity of individuals.
On March 14, Marx was declared dead. Since then, the act of killing him has occurred repeatedly, too many times, too few for his executors.
However, the reality is that, when we stop believing in it, it remains in front of us. The consecutive act of eliminating it only speaks of the systemic failure to achieve it.
I dare to assert, against the evidence of the image, that Marx's head on the Highgate pedestal, smiles.
Ernesto Estévez Rams
Originally Published in Granma
The Significance of the Paris Commune 152 Years After. By: Carlos L. GarridoRead Now
*This is an elongated version of a speech for the International Manifesto Group and Midwestern Marx Institute co-hosted event on the Paris Commune’s Significance. To attend Sunday March 19th at 10 am EST click HERE. You may also find the recording after the event in the IMG’s YouTube Channel HERE and in the Midwestern Marx Institute’s YouTube Channel HERE.
I would like to thank the International Manifesto Group for hosting this event, and for inviting me to say a few words about the relevance of that heroic experiment in socialist democracy which took place 152 years ago.
My discussion of the Paris Commune’s relevance, and of the relevance of Marx and Engels’s reflections on it, will revolve around three key points.
First, the worldview through which Marx and Engels approach the Paris Commune.
Second, the conclusions they derived from their study of the Commune, how the Commune helped them refine and concretize their understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and what relevance these have today.
Third, if we are faithful to the worldview through which Marx and Engels approach the Commune – and not limit ourselves to simply accepting the conclusions, we come to see that after 152 years since the birth of the Commune, we have had many socialist experiments from which we can learn in ways similar to Marx and Engels with the Paris Commune. The experience of these offers us many lessons – I would like to mention just two of them: 1 – the necessity of developing the productive forces, the sciences and technologies, and the military capacities of the state to protect its sovereignty from imperialism; and 2 – the necessity of adapting socialism to the conditions of the context it is taking root in.
1- Marx and Engels’s Approach to the Commune
As I am sure most know, in September 1870, six months before the establishment of the Paris Commune, Marx would say that “any attempt at upsetting the new government in the present crisis, when the enemy is almost knocking at the doors of Paris, would be a desperate folly.” In the coming months, as the antagonism between the bourgeois government and the armed workers developed, an attempt was made in March 18th 1871 to disarm the workers. The workers refused to give up arms, and war between Paris and the French government ensued. The Commune was elected on March 26, and proclaimed on the 28th. As the situation unfolded, Marx was turned from a skeptic to an ardent supporter of the Communard’s actions. Less than a month after the Commune was proclaimed, he would go on to say, “what resilience, what historical initiative, what a capacity for sacrifice in these Parisians!” They were “storming the heavens,” and “History has no like example of [such] greatness.”
I think the significance of this transition in Marx is often undermined. Over the last century, large sections of the Western left have expected the socialist and anti-colonial people’s movements which have arisen in the global South and East to measure up to their standards of what socialism ought to be. If these movements fail to meet the purity with which socialism is treated in their minds, they are condemned by the Western left as ‘authoritarian,’ ‘Stalinist,’ ‘state capitalist,’ or ‘not real socialism’ (which is my personal favorite because of its paradoxical character). The outlook of the Western Marxists is a complete inversion of the one which mediates Marx’s study of the Commune. The Commune was not ‘pure,’ it had its downfalls and contained serious ideological deviations from Marx and Engels’s thought, not least of which is the influence of Blanquism and Proudhonism. This did not prohibit them, however, from supporting the Commune and learning from it.
Lenin, as always, saw this with extreme clarity. He said that “when the mass revolutionary movement of the proletariat burst forth, Marx, in spite of the failure of that movement, in spite of its short life and its patent weakness, began to study what forms it had discovered.” Marx and Engels, Lenin would go on to say, “examined the actual experience of a mass proletarian movement and tried to draw practical lessons from it,” “re-examining [their] theory in light of it.” They did not treat socialism as an abstract ideal they could use to denounce emancipatory movements. Since the middle of the 1840s, Marx and Engels refused to treat communism as a static “state of affairs… an ideal to which reality [would] have to adjust itself.” Instead, their commitment was to “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.”
Today, many self-proclaimed Marxists in the West prefer to hold on to socialism as a pure unchanging ideal than to have that ideal be desecrated by the lessons which have arisen from the difficulties of constructing socialism in the imperialist stage of capitalism. Instead of learning from the successes and failures of revolutionary movements in Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Venezuela, and so on, many are content with condemning these real movements of history because they don’t measure up to the pure ideal in their heads. Samir Amin put it nicely in respect to China when he said that “China bashing panders to the infantile opinion found in some currents of the powerless Western left: if it is not the communism of the twenty-third century, it is a betrayal!” I think it is clear that the truth of this statement spans well beyond just China. It is grounded in the purity fetish outlook – a form of engagement with the world which couldn’t be any further from Marx and Engels’s dialectical materialist worldview.
Where Marx and Engels, as dialectical materialists, emphasize the material movement of history, the purity fetish of the Western left emphasizes a static pure ideal. If we are to celebrate, as we are, the Paris Commune by reflecting on the relevance of Marx and Engels’s insights on it, without a doubt the question of the worldview through which they approached the world is of utmost primacy. Without this, their genuine insights are nothing more than dead conclusions, severed from the form of thinking which would allow us to do today what Marx and Engels did 152 years ago; that is, to learn from the dialectical movement of the working masses towards freedom.
2- What the Commune Taught Marx and Engels
In emphasizing the worldview behind Marx and Engels’s assessment of the Commune I am not saying that the conclusions drawn are unimportant or outdated. Both the worldview and the conclusions must be seen in light of each other, and each in light of their context. Nonetheless, the fundamental lessons of the Commune remain today as relevant and true as ever. In the preface to the 1872 German edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels would make only one correction to that historical document explicit – they said, “One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.’”
Previously, Marx and Engels’s comments in the Manifesto on the working class’s conquest of political power said the following:
The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.
I will return to the question of the development of the productive forces in the following section, but for now, it is important to note how the Commune helped Marx and Engels refine their understanding of the state itself, and more specifically, of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In a speech given the month the Commune was overthrown, Marx would say that as the antagonism between capital and labor intensified, “state power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labor, of a public force organized for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism.” It was not simply the case that the modern state was “a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie,” but also that the state institutions and structures through which this aim was achieved – that is, the “standing army, police, bureaucracy, clergy, judicature,” and so on, were designed precisely for the sake of this function.
The proletariat could not successfully wield state power through state institutions crafted to keep labor subordinated to capital. For the proletariat, as the Manifesto urges, to be organized as the ruling class, it needed to smash the existing bourgeois state and replace it with working class institutions of “a fundamentally different order.” The Commune showed that the state had to be transformed from being “a ‘special force’ for the suppression of a particular class to the suppression of the oppressors by the ‘general force’ of the majority of the people – the workers and peasants.” Hence, Marx says that “Paris could resist only because … the first decree of the Commune … was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people.”
Qualitative changes of this character were found in the Commune’s transformations of public functionaries, which were now paid “workmen’s wages” and “revocable”; in the application of universal suffrage; in the new judicature; in the making of “education … accessible to all,” freeing science “from the fetters which class prejudice and governmental force had imposed upon it;” in short, in destroying the state as a “parasitic excrescence” which represses labor for the sake of capital, and putting in its place a genuinely democratic working class state which would use the general force of society to repress the old exploiting classes and administer state functions in the interests of the mass of people. This is what the dictatorship of the proletariat, as a higher form of socialist democracy, entails.
This lesson is more vital today in our neoimperialist stage of capitalism – as Cheng Enfu and Lu Baolin label it – than it was in 1871, and perhaps even more vital than it was in 1916 at the time of Lenin’s major writing on Imperialism. Today, any revolutionary process which sustains even the smallest space for bourgeois political parties and participation will be leaving a door open for imperialism’s entry through its collaboration with the national bourgeoisie. Since the tragic overthrow of Salvador Allende’s Chile in September 11th 1973; to the lawfare coups against Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff from 2016 to 2018; to the astroturfed 2018 protests against Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista revolution; to the propping up of the clownish Juan Guaido as ‘interim president’ of Venezuela in an effort to destroy the Bolivarian revolution; to the fascist 2019 coup in Bolivia which killed dozens of workers and indigenous protesters; it is clear that in so far as bourgeois state structures remain – even if under the control of a worker’s or socialist party – a window will always be open for the national bourgeoisie to collaborate with imperialism in bringing forth what W. E. B. Du Bois called a “counterrevolution of property.”
It is much more difficult to imagine a figure like Guaido or Jeanine Áñez getting as far as they did under worker states like Cuba, China, Vietnam, and the DPRK. Why is this the case? Let us recall the categorial distinction Mao makes in 1957 between political and economic capital. While sustaining that economic capital does not necessarily have to be stripped all at once, that is, as Marx had already noted, that it can be ‘wrested by degree’ from the bourgeoisie, in accordance with the role it plays in developing the productive forces for socialism, “political capital,” Mao says, must be “deprived … until not one jot is left to [the capitalists].” As Domenico Losurdo has eloquently noted,
It is, therefore, a matter of distinguishing between the economic expropriation and the political expropriation of the bourgeoisie. Only the latter should be carried out to the end, while the former, if not contained within clear limits, risks undermining the development of the productive forces. Unlike ‘political capital,’ the bourgeoisie’s economic capital should not be subject to total expropriation, at least as long as it serves the development of the national economy and thus, indirectly, the cause of socialism.
This is where revolutions like the Bolivarian, the Bolivian, the Nicaraguan, and others (for all their successes) have fallen somewhat short – they have not been able to fully expropriate the political capital of their bourgeoisie, and neither have they been able, subsequently, to complete the process of the proletarianization of the state, that is, of the construction of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
This is not a condemnation. I am, like Marx and Engels were with the Commune, an ardent supporter of these emancipatory movements; I consider there to be a lot to learn from them. But as Marx and Engels had already noted with the Commune, in not going far enough in their use of the repressive apparatuses of the worker’s state, the door was left open for counterrevolution. As Engels wrote in 1872, “would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?” Lenin says something similar in 1908, arguing that the Commune, “instead of destroying its enemies it sought to exert moral influence on them; it underestimated the significance of direct military operations in civil war, and instead of launching a resolute offensive against Versailles that would have crowned its victory in Paris, it tarried and gave the Versailles government time to gather the dark forces and prepare for the blood-soaked week of May.”
I think a similar question should, and from what I have seen is, asked by our comrades in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and so on – that is, to what extent can the proletarianization of the state prevent the conditions which gave rise to the disturbances of 2018 to 2020? In other words, how can the interests of the bourgeois and landholding sections of the population, those which have consistently collaborated with imperialism’s hybrid warfare to overthrow popular revolutions, be excluded from power in any of the state’s institutions? These are all complex questions which must be addressed organically as these revolutions develop. It is also clear that, in some of these left-wing governments in South and Central America (especially the more moderate ones), certain biases inherited from the sham bourgeois notion of democracy – which reduces democracy to a parliamentarian game of choosing which flavor of bourgeois rule a people will have for the next few years – must be outgrown and replaced by the concrete question of “democracy for which class?”
Without a doubt, these recent Latin American experiments in 21st century socialism have succeeded in making this transition in many areas. Who can forget, for example, the eight Silvercorp mercenaries caught in 2020 by Venezuelan fishermen and Bolivarian militias in the coastal town of Chuao? What a better example of the general force of the people taking up the role of repressing the enemies of the revolution? However, the threat presented by imperialist hybrid warfare – it seems to me at least – can be better averted as bourgeois state institutions are overcome, and proletarian and popular ones are put in their place.
3- Learning From the Many Communes of the 20th and 21st Century
Since the fall of the Commune 152 years ago we have seen many Socialist experiments arise, some which are still with us, others which suffered the same fate as the Commune. The ‘Marxists’ of the West, in their majority, have been unable to carry forth the legacy of Marx and Engels’s approach to the Commune. The plethora of Socialist experiments which have arisen have been, in one form or another, condemned for their impurities. This has prevented not only a genuine show of anti-imperialist solidarity, but also the ability to draw lessons from the successes and failures of these experiments. The failures have often been magnified, de-contextualized, and synecdochally painted as the whole experience.
Against this theoretical current dominant in the powerless Western left, we must bring forth the living spirit of Marxism to our study of 20th and 21st century Socialist experiments – the vast majority of which have been incredibly successful despite being under the boot of constant imperialist hybrid warfare. Out of this study I think two key lessons must be drawn, both of which are found already in Marx and Engels’s analysis of the Commune in a more or less implicit fashion.
First, in the age of imperialism, or Neoimperialism, socialist experiments must focus on developing not only an efficient worker’s state, but also the forces of production, the sciences and technologies, and the securities and defense structures of the state. In China, for instance, these goals were conceptualized by Zhou Enlai as the four modernizations. Without these developments, which are made exceedingly difficult by the reality of imperialism and its global dominance over intellectual property, a socialist project will be unable to flourish. Without these developments, the global inequality between the looting imperialist powers and everyone else – or, to use the despicable metaphor from EU foreign-policy chief Joseph Borrell, the inequalities between the garden and the jungle, will not be bridged, and the imperialist powers will maintain their global position unthreatened.
The success of China, which stands today as the beacon of a new, post-Columbian world, testifies to the immense importance of these developments in the battle against capitalist-imperialism.
The emphasis on developing the productive forces, of course, is seen throughout the whole corpus of Marx and Engels’s work – their writings on the Commune included. For instance, an important critique Engels levied on the Commune was that “in the economic sphere, much was left undone;” they did not take the Bank of France, which could have put “pressure on the whole of the French bourgeoisie [to have] peace with the Commune.” Lenin made a similar critique, saying that the Communards “stopped half-way: instead of setting about ‘expropriating the expropriators,’ [they] allowed [themselves] to be led astray by dreams of establishing a higher justice in the country united by a common national task.”
In our age, after the experience of the Soviet New Economic Policy, Yugoslavia’s socialist market economy, and most importantly, of China’s Reform and Opening up – where socialist markets have been developed and private ownership sustains a large but auxiliary role in the development of the productive forces – we have learned that this development can take many forms. In some cases, such as Cuba, the full expropriation of the expropriators was immediately necessary. In other cases, such as China, the development of socialism has always maintained – since the pre-49 liberated areas – a ‘mixed’ economic form, where private property and markets exist within the centrally planned state economy. Far from using cherry picked comments from Marx and Engels to condemn these developments, we should do with them what they did with the Commune. We should learn from them and attempt to understand how these forms have become necessary for the real movement of history which abolishes the present state of things.
The second important lesson which subsequent socialist experiments have taught us concerns the relationship of socialism to a people’s national history. I think here, again, the failure of the Western and US left is grounded in a problem of worldview. The dialectical worldview (both in Hegel and in Marxism) rejects the idea of an unchanging, pure, ahistorical universal, and instead urges that universals are necessarily tied to historically changing concrete particulars. Universals are always concrete – that is, they exist and take their form through the particular. “The universal,” as Hegel and Lenin emphasized, “embraces within itself the wealth of the particular.”
What does this tell us about socialism? Well, simply that there is no such thing as abstract socialism. Socialism is the universal which cannot exist unless concretized through the particular. In every country it has taken root in, socialism has had to adapt itself to the unique characteristics of the peoples that have waged and won the struggle for political power. In China this has taken the form of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics; in Cuba this has meant incorporating José Martí and the anti-colonial traditions into socialist construction; in Venezuela this has taken the form of Bolivarian socialism; in the Plurinational state of Bolivia this has taken the form of combining Marxism with the indigenous communist traditions which have been around for centuries; in the continent of Africa this has taken the form of Pan-African socialism, and so on. In each case the struggle has been, as Georgi Dimitrov had already noted in 1935, “national in form and socialist in content.”
In various parts of the U.S. left, the purity fetish outlook has obscured this historical lesson, and made rampant the phenomenon which Dimitrov called national nihilism. Their people’s history is reduced to slavery, settler colonialism, imperialism, and all the evils of capital and the state. In doing so, they reject drawing from their national past to give form to socialist content. Far from the ‘progressivism’ they see in this, what this actually depicts is a liberal tinted American exceptionalism, which thinks that the struggle for socialism in the US will itself not have to follow this concrete universal tendency seen around the world, where socialism functions as the content which takes form (i.e., concretizes) according to the unique circumstances in which it is being developed.
This has prevented the U.S. left from genuinely learning from its progressive history and connecting with its people. A perfect example of this is the fact that, from 1865 to the counterrevolution of 1876, in many previous slave states of the U.S. South, reconstruction developed a dictatorship of labor. This dictatorship of labor was headed by the black proletariat – who had recently freed itself through a general strike that converted the war to preserve the union into a revolutionary war to emancipate slave labor. It was organized by the Freedman’s Bureau and defended militarily by the federal government. It was our Paris Commune; it started before and lasted way longer than the original. Like the Paris Commune, it also fell thanks to a counterrevolution of property. Besides the few on the U.S. left who take the work of the great Dr. Du Bois serious – this legendary experience of a new worker’s democracy, not unlike the Paris Commune, is a largely erased and forgotten period of U.S. revolutionary history, and it has so, so much to teach us, both tactically and theoretically.
I am honored to have had the privilege of discussing this Titanic event in world-history with all of you today.
Whether we consider the Paris Commune the first modern dictatorship of the proletariat, or give that title to the black proletariat in the U.S. South, is somewhat irrelevant. What matters, in my view, is that the Paris Commune, as Lenin argued, by fighting “for the freedom of toiling humanity, of all the downtrodden and oppressed,” is still being honored 152 years after its fall “by the proletariat of the whole world.” This is why, in the words of Lenin, “the cause of the Commune did not die … it lives to the present day in every one of us.”
 Karl Marx, The Civil War in France (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 2021), 35.
 Karl Marx, “Marx to Kugelmann,” April 12, 1871. In Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 44, International Publishers., pp. 131-132.
 V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1970), 47.
 Lenin, The State and Revolution, 40, 30.
 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, MECW Vol. 5 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976), 49.
 Engels, MECW Vol. 5, 49.
 Samir Amin, Only People Make Their Own History: Writings on Capitalism, Imperialism, and Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2019), 110.
 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (New York: Barnes and Nobles Classics, 2005), 45.
 Marx and Engels, MECW Vol. 6, 504.
 Marx, The Civil War in France, 62, 61.
 Marx, MECW Vol. 6, 486; Marx, The Civil War in France, 61.
 Lenin, The State and Revolution, 35.
 Lenin, The State and Revolution, 36.
 Marx, The Civil War in France, 64.
 Marx, The Civil War in France, 65.
 Cheng Enfu and Lu Baolin, “Five Characteristics of Neoimperialism,” Monthly Review 73(1) (May 2021).
 W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction (New York: The Library of America, 2021), 697- 762.
 Mao Tse-Tung, “Talks at a Conference of Secretaries of Provincial, Municipal and Autonomous Regions Party Committees,” In Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung Vol 5 (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1977), 357.
 Domenico Losurdo, “Has China Turned to Capitalism?—Reflections on the Transition from Capitalism to Socialism,” International Critical Thought 7(1) (2017), 18-19.
 Engels, MECW Vol. 23, 425.
 V. I. Lenin, Collected Works Vol. 13 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978), 476.
 Lenin, Collected Works Vol. 28, 249.
 Engels, “Introduction,” in The Civil War in France, 10-11.
 Lenin, Collected Works Vol. 13, 476.
 G. W. F. Hegel, Science of Logic, Trans. A.V. Miller (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press International, 1993), 58.
 Georgi Dimitrov, The United Front: The Struggle Against Fascism and War (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1938), 61-64.
 For more on national nihilism and the Western left see my article “The Importance of Combatting National and Historical Nihilism,” Midwestern Marx Institute (February 2023): https://www.midwesternmarx.com/articles/the-importance-of-combatting-national-and-historical-nihilism-by-carlos-l-garrido or my book The Purity Fetish and the Crisis of Western Marxism (Dubuque: Midwestern Marx Publishing Press, 2023).
 Lenin, Collected Works Vol. 17, 143.
 Lenin, Collected Works Vol. 17, 143.
Carlos L. Garrido is a Cuban American PhD student and instructor in philosophy at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (with an MA in philosophy from the same institution). He is an editor at the Midwestern Marx Institute and the Journal of American Socialist Studies. Carlos is the author of the forthcoming book, The Purity Fetish and the Crisis of Western Marxism (2023) and edited and introduced Marxism and the Dialectical Materialist Worldview: An Anthology of Classical Marxist Texts on Dialectical Materialism (2022). His popular and scholarly writings are usually on topics relating to Marxist theory, U.S. socialist history, and global struggles against imperialism.
Midwestern Marx Institute’s Endorsement of the Railroad Workers United Resolution in Support of Public OwnershipRead Now
The catastrophic train wreck in East Palestine, Ohio has received national attention. However, the disastrous damage the toxicity of the vinyl chloride has already produced on local’s health, pets, and environment – damages which can extend well over a 100 miles radius – have been a suppressed part of the coverage. This disaster and its effects, undermined by the media, the government, and Norfolk Southern, could have been prevented if the voices and demands of rail workers were heard and acted on. For years the workers at Railroad Workers United (RWU) have warned about the unsafe practices Class One carriers have proliferated in hopes of cutting production costs and thereby increasing their rate of profit. By using longer and heavier trains, an operating model known as “Precision Scheduled Railroading” (PSR), and continuing to petition the Federal Railway Administration for relief from historically necessary inspections, these companies continuously put the lives of workers, customers, and trackside communities at risk.
While rail companies and their shareholders rake in record profits, worker’s jobs are continuously cut and contracted out, leading to grueling schedules and worsening working conditions. Since 2019, twelve unions representing over 100 thousand workers have been fighting for a new contract, one which increases the quality-of-life provisions and overcomes the difficulties the companies’ production cuts have created. After three years of failed negotiations, the Biden administration – which claims to be the most pro-union ever – imposed on workers a contract they democratically voted against, and illegalized their ability to strike.
Railroad workers, whose hands create the infrastructure through which 61 tons of goods are shipped across the country, whose labor is the precondition for modern American life, have seen the fruits of their labor line the pockets of company owners and shareholders with billions of dollars. Meanwhile, this parasitical class of beings prevents workers from having the time off necessary to live decent lives and lobbies the government to the tune of tens of millions a year to represent their interest by enforcing their suppression and exploitation of workers.
The private ownership of rail – an industry so indispensable for society – makes profit, not public good, the sole purpose of its existence. With profit in command, disasters like that which occurred in East Palestine, Ohio will be commonplace, and worker’s rightful and democratic demands will continue to go unheard. Under the existing property relations in rail, expansion and development have become impossible – companies’ profit-oriented management has reached a point where it has become an obstacle in the way of progress.
The solution to hazardous railroad practices, worsening working conditions, and stifled development can be obtained only insofar as the ownership of rail is taken out of private hands which operate for the sake of profits for a few wealthy individuals, and is placed under public ownership and control. The nationalization of rail will bring forth a much-needed rejuvenation in the industry and will allow – for the first time since its temporary nationalization during WWI – for railroads to serve the American people, not employers and shareholders. The Midwestern Marx Institute, therefore, wholeheartedly endorses RWU’s resolution in support of the public ownership and control of rail.
Midwestern Marx Institute for Marxist Theory and Political Analysis
An Open Letter to All Unions, Locals, Lodges, Divisions, Worker Organizations, Environmental Groups, Rail Advocates, Transportation Justice Folks & Others
Dear Friends and Fellow Workers:
In face of the degeneration of the rail system in the last decade, and after more than a decade of discussion and debate on the question, Railroad Workers United (RWU) has taken a position in support of public ownership of the rail system in North America. We ask you to consider doing the same, and announce your organization’s support for rail public ownership.
While the rail industry has been incapable of expansion in the last generation and has become more and more fixated on the Operating Ratio to the detriment of all other metrics of success, Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) has escalated this irresponsible trajectory to the detriment of shippers, passengers, commuters, trackside communities, and workers. On-time performance is suffering, and shipper complaints are at all-time highs. Passenger trains are chronically late, commuter services are threatened, and the rail industry is hostile to practically any passenger train expansion. The workforce has been decimated, as jobs have been eliminated, consolidated, and contracted out, ushering in a new previously unheard-of era where workers can neither be recruited nor retained. Locomotive, rail car, and infrastructure maintenance has been cut back. Health and safety has been put at risk. Morale is at an all-time low. The debacle in national contract bargaining last Fall saw the carriers – after decades of record profits and record low Operating Ratios – refusing to make even the slightest concessions to the workers who have made them their riches.
Since the North American private rail industry has shown itself incapable of doing the job, it is time for this invaluable transportation infrastructure – like the other transport modes – to be brought under public ownership. During WWI, the railroads in the U.S. were in fact temporarily placed under public ownership and control. All rail workers of all crafts and unions supported (unsuccessfully) keeping them in public hands once the war ended, and voted overwhelmingly to keep them in public hands. Perhaps it is time once again to put an end to the profiteering, pillaging, and irresponsibility of the Class One carriers. Railroad workers are in a historic position to take the lead and push for a new fresh beginning for a vibrant and expanding, innovative and creative national rail industry to safely, efficiently, and properly handle the nation’s freight and passengers.
Please join us in this historic endeavor. See the adjoining RWU Resolution in Support of Public Ownership of the Railroads, along with a sample Statements from the United Electrical (UE) and the Northern Nevada Central Labor Council. If your organization would like to take a stand for public ownership of the nation’s rail system, please click on the link below, fill out the form and email it in to RWU. We will add your organization to the list! Finally, please forward to others who may be interested in doing the same. Thank you!
The RWU Committee on Public Ownership
Diversity is important. But when it is devoid of a political agenda it recruits a tiny segment of those marginalized by society into unjust structures to help perpetuate them.
The brutal murder of Tyre Nichols by five Black Memphis, Tennessee, police officers should be enough to implode the fantasy that identity politics and diversity will solve the social, economic and political decay that besets the United States. Not only are the former officers Black, but the city’s police department is headed by Cerelyn Davis, a Black woman. None of this helped Nichols, another victim of a modern-day police lynching.
The militarists, corporatists, oligarchs, politicians, academics and media conglomerates champion identity politics and diversity because it does nothing to address the systemic injustices or the scourge of permanent war that plague the U.S. It is an advertising gimmick, a brand, used to mask mounting social inequality and imperial folly. It busies liberals and the educated with a boutique activism, which is not only ineffectual but exacerbates the divide between the privileged and a working class in deep economic distress. The haves scold the have-nots for their bad manners, racism, linguistic insensitivity and garishness, while ignoring the root causes of their economic distress. The oligarchs could not be happier.
Did the lives of Native Americans improve as a result of the legislation mandating assimilation and the revoking of tribal land titles pushed through by Charles Curtis, the first Native American vice president? Are we better off with Clarence Thomas, who opposes affirmative action, on the Supreme Court, or Victoria Nuland, a war hawk in the State Department? Is our perpetuation of permanent war more palatable because Lloyd Austin, an African American, is the secretary of defense? Is the military more humane because it accepts transgender soldiers? Is social inequality, and the surveillance state that controls it, ameliorated because Sundar Pichai — who was born in India — is the CEO of Google and Alphabet? Has the weapons industry improved because Kathy J. Warden, a woman, is the CEO of Northop Grumman, and another woman, Phebe Novakovic, is the CEO of General Dynamics? Are working families better off with Janet Yellen, who promotes increasing unemployment and “job insecurity” to lower inflation, as secretary of the treasury? Is the movie industry enhanced when a female director, Kathryn Bigelow, makes “Zero Dark Thirty,” which is agitprop for the C.I.A.? Take a look at this recruitment ad put out by the C.I.A. It sums up the absurdity of where we have ended up.
Colonial regimes find compliant indigenous leaders — “Papa Doc” François Duvalier in Haiti, Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, Mobutu Sese Seko in the Congo, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran — willing to do their dirty work while they exploit and loot the countries they control. To thwart popular aspirations for justice, colonial police forces routinely carried out atrocities on behalf of the oppressors. The indigenous freedom fighters who fight in support of the poor and the marginalized are usually forced out of power or assassinated, as was the case with Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba and Chilean president Salvador Allende. Lakota chief Sitting Bull was gunned down by members of his own tribe, who served in the reservation’s police force at Standing Rock.
If you stand with the oppressed, you will almost always end up being treated like the oppressed. This is why the F.B.I., along with Chicago police, murdered Fred Hampton and was almost certainly involved in the murder of Malcolm X, who referred to impoverished urban neighborhoods as “internal colonies.” Militarized police forces in the U.S. function as armies of occupation. The police officers who killed Tyre Nichols are no different from those in reservation and colonial police forces.
We live under a species of corporate colonialism. The engines of white supremacy, which constructed the forms of institutional and economic racism that keep the poor poor, are obscured behind attractive political personalities such as Barack Obama, whom Cornel West called “a Black mascot for Wall Street.” These faces of diversity are vetted and selected by the ruling class. Obama was groomed and promoted by the Chicago political machine, one of the dirtiest and most corrupt in the country.
“It’s an insult to the organized movements of people these institutions claim to want to include,” Glen Ford, the late editor of The Black Agenda Report told me in 2018. “These institutions write the script. It’s their drama. They choose the actors, whatever black, brown, yellow, red faces they want.”
Ford called those who promote identity politics “representationalists” who “want to see some Black people represented in all sectors of leadership, in all sectors of society. They want Black scientists. They want Black movie stars. They want Black scholars at Harvard. They want Blacks on Wall Street. But it’s just representation. That’s it.”
The toll taken by corporate capitalism on the people these “representationalists” claim to represent exposes the con. African-Americans have lost 40 percent of their wealth since the financial collapse of 2008 from the disproportionate impact of the drop in home equity, predatory loans, foreclosures and job loss. They have the second highest rate of poverty at 21.7 percent, after Native Americans at 25.9 percent, followed by Hispanics at 17.6 percent and whites at 9.5 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department for Health and Human Services. As of 2021, Black and Native American children lived in poverty at 28 and 25 percent respectively, followed by Hispanic children at 25 percent and white children at 10 percent. Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s homeless are African-Americans although Black people make up about 14 percent of our population. This figure does not include people living in dilapidated, overcrowded dwellings or with family or friends due to financial difficulties. African-Americans are incarcerated at nearly five times the rate of white people.
Cynical Moral Superiority
Identity politics and diversity allow liberals to wallow in a cloying moral superiority as they castigate, censor and deplatform those who do not linguistically conform to politically correct speech. They are the new Jacobins. This game disguises their passivity in the face of corporate abuse, neoliberalism, permanent war and the curtailment of civil liberties. They do not confront the institutions that orchestrate social and economic injustice. They seek to make the ruling class more palatable. With the support of the Democratic Party, the liberal media, academia and social media platforms in Silicon Valley, demonize the victims of the corporate coup d’etat and deindustrialization. They make their primary political alliances with those who embrace identity politics, whether they are on Wall Street or in the Pentagon. They are the useful idiots of the billionaire class, moral crusaders who widen the divisions within society that the ruling oligarchs foster to maintain control.
Diversity is important. But diversity, when devoid of a political agenda that fights the oppressor on behalf of the oppressed, is window dressing. It is about incorporating a tiny segment of those marginalized by society into unjust structures to perpetuate them.
A class I taught in a maximum security prison in New Jersey wrote “Caged,” a play about their lives. The play ran for nearly a month at The Passage Theatre in Trenton, New Jersey, where it was sold out nearly every night. It was subsequently published by Haymarket Books. The 28 students in the class insisted that the corrections officer in the story not be white. That was too easy, they said. That was a feign that allows people to simplify and mask the oppressive apparatus of banks, corporations, police, courts and the prison system, all of which make diversity hires. These systems of internal exploitation and oppression must be targeted and dismantled, no matter whom they employ.
My book, Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison, uses the experience of writing the play to tell the stories of my students and impart their profound understanding of the repressive forces and institutions arrayed against them, their families and their communities. You can see my two-part interview with Hugh Hamilton about Our Class here and here.
August Wilson’s last play, “Radio Golf,” foretold where diversity and identity politics devoid of class consciousness were headed. In the play, Harmond Wilks, an Ivy League-educated real estate developer, is about to launch his campaign to become Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor. His wife, Meme, is angling to become the governor’s press secretary. Wilks, navigating the white man’s universe of privilege, business deals, status seeking and the country club game of golf, must sanitize and deny his identity. Roosevelt Hicks, who had been Wilk’s college roommate at Cornell and is a vice president at Mellon Bank, is his business partner. Sterling Johnson, whose neighborhood Wilks and Hicks are lobbying to get the city to declare blighted so they can raze it for their multimillion dollar development project, tells Hicks:
“You know what you are? It took me a while to figure it out. You a Negro. White people will get confused and call you a nigger but they don’t know like I know. I know the truth of it. I’m a nigger. Negroes are the worst thing in God’s creation. Niggers got style. Negroes got. A dog knows it’s a dog. A cat knows it’s a cat. But a Negro don’t know he’s a Negro. He thinks he’s a white man.”
Terrible predatory forces are eating away at the country. The corporatists, militarists and political mandarins that serve them are the enemy. It is not our job to make them more appealing, but to destroy them. There are amongst us genuine freedom fighters of all ethnicities and backgrounds whose integrity does not permit them to serve the system of inverted totalitarianism that has destroyed our democracy, impoverished the nation and perpetuated endless wars. Diversity when it serves the oppressed is an asset, but a con when it serves the oppressors.
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor and NPR. He is the host of show “The Chris Hedges Report.”
Originally Published in ScheerPost