Afghanistan’s Socialist Years: The Promising Future Killed Off by U.S. Imperialism. By: Marilyn BechtelRead Now
Women attend a rally in Kabul in the late 1970s. | Imgur via Pinterest
In the mid-1970s and early ’80s, People’s World correspondent Marilyn Bechtel was editor of the bimonthly magazine, New World Review. She visited Afghanistan twice, in 1980 and 1981. The article below first appeared in our pages on Oct. 6, 2001—the day before the U.S. launched its war in Afghanistan—under the headline, “Afghanistan: Some overlooked history.” With the Biden administration now withdrawing all troops from the country, we present this article as a reminder that the U.S.’ longest war had roots that went beyond the terrorist attacks of 9/11, stretching back to Cold War anti-communism.
Since the horrific events of Sept. 11, much has been said about the desperate situation of the Afghani people now crushed under the heel of the theocratic, dictatorial Taliban, and about the role of the Northern Alliance and other Taliban opponents who now figure in Washington’s plans for the region.
Kabul street scene, 1979. | TASS
There has been talk, most of it distorted, about the role of the Soviet Union in the years from 1978 to 1989. There has been talk, most of it understated, about the role of the U.S. in building up the Mujahideen forces, including the Taliban.
But almost no one talks about the effort the Afghan people made in the late 1970s and ’80s to pull free of the legacy of incessantly warring tribes and feudal fiefdoms and start to build a modern democratic state. Or about the Soviet Union’s role long before 1978.
Some background helps shed light on the current crisis. Afghanistan was a geopolitical prize for 19th-century empire builders, contested by both czarist Russia and the British Empire. It was finally forced by the British into semi-dependency.
When he came to power in 1921, Amanullah Khan—sometimes referred to as Afghanistan’s Kemal Ataturk—sought to reassert his country’s sovereignty and move it toward the modern world. As part of this effort, he approached the new revolutionary government in Moscow, which responded by recognizing Afghanistan’s independence and concluding the first Afghan-Soviet friendship treaty.
From 1921 until 1929—when reactionary elements, aided by the British, forced Amanullah to abdicate—the Soviets helped launch the beginnings of economic infrastructure projects, such as power plants, water resources, transport, and communications. Thousands of Afghani students attended Soviet technical schools and universities.
After Amanullah’s forced departure, the projects languished, but the relationship between the Soviets and the Afghans would later re-emerge.
The Center for Science and Culture was built in Kabul as a gift from the people of the Soviet Union. Once U.S.-backed Mujahideen forces took power, the facility was destroyed. | TASS
In the 1960s, a resurgence of joint Afghan-Soviet projects included the Kabul Polytechnic Institute—the country’s prime educational resource for engineers, geologists, and other specialists.
Nor was Afghanistan immune from the political and social ferment that characterized the developing world in the last century. From the 1920s on, many progressive currents of struggle took note of the experiences of the USSR, where a new, more equitable society was emerging on the lands of the former Russian empire. Afghanistan was no exception. By the mid-’60s, national democratic revolutionary currents had coalesced to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Modern apartment buildings constructed in Kabul in the 1980s with Soviet assistance. | TASS
In 1973, local bourgeois forces, aided by some PDP elements, overthrew the 40-year reign of Mohammad Zahir Shah—the man who now, at age 86, is being promoted by U.S. right-wing Republicans as the personage around which Afghanis can unite.
When the PDP assumed power in 1978, they started to work for a more equitable distribution of economic and social resources. Among their goals were the continuing emancipation of women and girls from the age-old tribal bondage (a process begun under Zahir Shah), equal rights for minority nationalities, including the country’s most oppressed group, the Hazara, and increasing access for ordinary people to education, medical care, decent housing, and sanitation.
A Mujahideen Islamist fighter aims a U.S.-made Stinger missile supplied by the CIA near Gardez, Afghanistan, December 1991. | Mir Wais / AP
During two visits in 1980-81, I saw the beginnings of progress: women working together in handicraft co-ops, where for the first time they could be paid decently for their work and control the money they earned. Adults, both women and men, learning to read. Women working as professionals and holding leading government positions, including Minister of Education. Poor working families able to afford a doctor, and to send their children—girls and boys—to school. The cancellation of peasant debt and the start of land reform. Fledgling peasant cooperatives. Price controls and price reductions on some key foods. Aid to nomads interested in a settled life.
I also saw the bitter results of Mujahideen attacks by the same groups that now make up the Northern Alliance—in those years aimed especially at schools and teachers in rural areas.
The post-1978 developments also included Soviet aid to economic and social projects on a much larger scale, with a new Afghan-Soviet Friendship Treaty and a variety of new projects, including infrastructure, resource prospecting, and mining, health services, education, and agricultural demonstration projects. After December 1978 that role also came to include the introduction of Soviet troops, at the request of a PDP government increasingly beset by the displaced feudal and tribal warlords who were aided and organized by the U.S. and Pakistan.
The rest, as they say, is history. But it is significant that after Soviet troops were withdrawn in 1989, the PDP government continued to function, though increasingly beleaguered, for nearly three more years.
Somewhere, beneath the ruins of today’s torn and bloodied Afghanistan, are the seeds that remain even in the direst times within the hearts of people who know there is a better future for humanity. In a world struggling for economic and social justice—not revenge—those seeds will sprout again.
Marilyn Bechtel writes for People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986, and currently participates as a volunteer.
This article was first published by People's World.
The connection between the authoritarian personality and the working class began in earnest in the 1950s with cold war political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset. Lipset argued that since World War I, “working class groups have proved to be the most nationalistic and jingoistic sector of the population” [1959: 483.] His concept of authoritarianism is a mash-up Adorno’s ideas mixed with support for “extremist” groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Communist Party. Lipset argued that in the US, the working class authoritarianism poses a threat to democracy.
The question is: does the psychology of individuals in the working class explain Trump’s rise to power? A Marxist perspective reveals the flaws in this and other individual-level psychological explanations:
Upper class benevolence is a bourgeois fantasy.
Despite its obvious flaws, the psychological argument has a special appeal for members of the privileged class, who want to hold themselves blameless for the social ills around them. They believe they knew better, and they blame the working class to avoid facing up to their own culpability. Scapegoating the working class is known as the “myth of upper class benevolence.”
One classic study in race and ethnicity shows the fallacies in the myth of upper class benevolence and zeroes in on the ways the working class is often portrayed, incorrectly, as the source of white supremacy. In his book The Mississippi Chinese: Between black and white, the sociologist James Loewen interviewed hundreds of residents of the Mississippi Delta. He found upper middle class whites routinely blamed poor working class whites for any and all oppression of both African Americans and Chinese Americans. But looking closely at the facts gave Loewen a much different picture of culpability. It was the privileged planter- and business-class whose members had the power to keep Chinese- and African-Americans out of their neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. Working class organizations like the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and small Baptist churches were the first to welcome people of color, while upper class organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, and Episcopalians excluded them. Financial institutions acted in the interests of the privileged class and served to limit opportunities for others. Schools reserved for whites only were resource rich compared with schools that served people of color. One county in Mississippi, Loewen discovered, actually spent $45 per white pupil for every $1 per African American pupil.
Loewen rejects the widely held belief, echoed in the London Business School study mentioned earlier, that the working class, fearing economic competition, feels the most prejudice. Instead, he turns to the pioneer Marxist sociologist of race, Oliver C. Cox, who argued that to analyze racial dynamics one needs to look first at “the economic policies of the ruling class.” Cox continued, “Opposition [by the working class] to social equality has no meaning unless we can see its function in the service of the exploitative purpose of this [ruling] class.”
A working class divided by race is easier to control
A working class divided by race is easier to control and to keep unorganized than a united one, so concerted and deliberate efforts are made to encourage members of the working class to embrace authoritarian beliefs, especially white supremacy. Using corporate-funded think tanks, right-wing radio and cable television, and presidential pronouncements, the ruling class frames current events in authoritarian terms, attempting to undermine the unity of the working class and therefore weaken it. In Mississippi Loewen found that alliances between working class whites and blacks were viciously undermined and blocked by the powerful of the community. Likewise, people who challenge class oppression and racial hierarchies are singled out for condemnation and retaliation.
Newer research on intolerance shows furthermore that authoritarian beliefs are not clearly associated with membership in the working class, defined by wage dependence, low income, and job insecurity. Erasmus University sociologist Dick Houtman revisited Lipset’s theory of working class authoritarianism found that it is not class that is correlated with intolerance, but educational level and access to cultural opportunities like books, concerts, and art exhibitions. Thus another way that the ruling class tries to divide the working class is by limiting their educational opportunities. Donald Trump once famously intoned, “I love the poorly educated.” Along with his secretary of education Betsy DeVos, Trump seems intent on increasing their ranks. With working class pupils forced to attend substandard, unsafe and under-resourced schools year after year, with college costs putting post-secondary education out of reach of many, and with crippling student debt for those who do borrow for college, the ruling class aims to limit the critical thinking resources the working class needs to challenge ruling class propaganda.
For those who are in college, corporate forces have developed special interventions to encourage neoliberal and fascist accommodation. The Charles Koch Foundation, established by the head of Koch Industries, has implemented a $50 million, 32-state strategy establishing institutes, holding conferences, and funding faculty and graduate students in a concerted effort to influence policy rightward: toward denial of climate science, undermining of labor rights, and revision of history in favor of business interests. Hand in hand with these corporate forces are the white supremacist organizations that pay for speakers to visit campuses and foment hate, then cry “first amendment” when students object. Other corporate-sponsored organizations encourage students to record, expose and protest faculty who do not espouse conservative views.
In short, the psychological argument claims that authoritarian tendencies emerge from working people themselves. It’s no surprise that researchers from a business school embraced that idea, because it is what Marx and Engels refer to as a “ruling idea.” By pretending that authoritarian ideas arise organically from the working class itself, it hides the relationship between authoritarianism and the economic policies of the ruling class. In contrast, a Marxist analysis recognizes the congruence between authoritarian ideas and the economic interests of the corporate ruling class, especially its efforts to divide the working class by race, gender, citizenship status, etc. It recognizes the influence of powerful corporate forces which intentionally try to persuade workers to blame each other for their oppression, instead of the capitalists who profit from their lack of unity.
Adorno, Theodor et al. 1950. The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper.
Edsall, Thomas B. 2017. “The Trump Voter Paradox” The New York Times. 28 September. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/28/opinion/trump-republicans-authoritarian.html
Ferris, Robert. 2017. “Why voters might be choosing dominant, authoritarian leaders around the world.” CNBC, 12 June. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/12/why-voters-might-be-choosing-dominant-authoritarian-leaders-around-the-world.html
Jacobs, Tom. 2018. “Inside the minds of hardcore Trump Supporters” Pacific Standard. February 15. https://psmag.com/news/inside-the-minds-of-hardcore-trump-supporters
Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1959. “Democracy and Working-Class Authoritarianism.” American Sociological Review 24 (4), 482-501.
Loewen, James. 1988. The Mississippi Chinese: Between black and white. 2e. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
Serwer, Adam. 2017. “The Nationalist’s Delusion.” The Atlantic. November 20.
Image: Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015. Greg Skidmore/Creative Commons
Anita Waters is Professor Emerita of sociology at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and an organizer for the CPUSA in Ohio.
This article was first published by CPUSA.
Biden's National Security Guidance Document Reflects The Old Imperialist Foreign Policy. By: Alvaro RodriguezRead Now
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has indicated that when it comes to China and Russia he favors continuing the failed policies of confrontation with rather than cooperation with those countries. | Carolyn Kaster/AP
There was hope that after the world-wide pandemic, mutual cooperation and sharing would be the new normal among all the countries affected by the pandemic. And we have seen a few hopeful signs in this regard but there are serious concerns now that we may not see real international cooperation become the norm.
If we look at the Interim National Security Guidance document put out by the Biden Administration recently the indications are that in foreign policy, we are getting from this administration the same old U.S. imperialism and it will take a massive mobilization to turn that around.
While Trump’s slogan was “America First,” the Biden foreign policy might be characterized as “America is back.” There is a difference in tone but the foreign policy path the country is on is essentially the same.
Throughout the document, you see the word “strength” repeated constantly, 36 times. There are belligerent statements such as, “The United States will never hesitate to use force when required to defend our vital national interests.”
This document, even as it says it prefers to ditch confrontation, intends to continue a policy of strangling China’s technological advancement through “vigorous competition” which the administration has already shown involves lining up countries to help the US weaken China economically.
So far there is no rejection of the continued hot wars in the Middle East.
Biden calls Russia’s leader, Putin, a “killer” and threatens new sanctions against Russia, while only scolding “Bone-Saw Murderer” Mohamed bin Salman. MBS, as he is called, is the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, identified by Biden himself as authorizing the killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate. Khashoggi was a columnist for the Washington Post and a permanent resident of the United States. Biden refuses to call MBS a killer.
Why the belligerency?
The aim of U.S. imperialism is to make the world safe for U.S. finance corporations to maximize their ill-gained profits. Other aims include setting international rules suitable to U.S. extreme right class economic and military interests, keeping the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency, protecting death merchants defending the fossil fuel industry, and defending the chemical/pharma industry’s assault on the health of the planet and our international working class.
These predatory aims require the invention of enemies. In the past, these used to be the Soviet Union and later, global terrorism. Now it is China, Russia, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, and other countries trying to exercise their independence and their right to develop and choose their own economic paths.
This “national security” guidance document shows clearly who the main target will be – China. China is attacked at least 14 times. Russia is attacked five times. They are labeled as “biggest threats” and “antagonistic authoritarian powers.”
If we are to successfully achieve a world where everyone is cooperating to solve the problems of the planet these countries should be seen as partners rather than threats.
They are seen as threats because the U.S. security establishment sees them as an impediment to U.S. imperialism. As such these countries are described as enemies of “democracy” while the U.S. is held up as the epitome of democracy.
The reality is that the world is becoming more multilateral and U.S. imperialism is on the decline. That makes U.S. imperialism more dangerous. When the word “democracy” is mentioned, it is a code word for capitalism and imperialism. The U.S. intends to revitalize the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Indo-Pacific “Quad” Alliance – Japan, India, Australia, and the U.S., thus attempting to “contain” the rise of China and Russia.
In this document, Biden tries to connect the problematic foreign policy to the issue of “making life better for working families.” It is merely a cover for the promotion of imperialist policies, at odds with the true interests of the working class. Can we really have a progressive policy at home and an imperialist policy abroad? The answer is obvious. This is, in the long run, an impossibility.
In the document, Biden pretends to modernize the national security institutions while making life better for working families. It is the same old rhetorical argument made under Reagan, “Guns or Butter.” Reagan chose guns. It turns out that when this country promotes guns, little money is available for working families. What has happened to the income of working families since Reagan? There has been a significant drop in the working-class standard of life and more inequality!
More recently, a certain sector of the ruling class has decided that the higher level of inequality is an existential danger to the capitalist system itself. They are promoting a form of “inclusive capitalism” to avoid the pitchforks. “Inclusive capitalism” has no lasting substance, however, and cannot overcome the basic contradictions of capitalism.
During the pandemic, it has been easier to make the case for a Keynesian economic intervention to alleviate the worst of the pandemic-aggravated economic crisis (on top of the already existing capitalist crisis).
Underway are massive infusions of budgetary stimulus (fiscal stimulus) from the Federal spending budget plus a huge infusion from the Federal Reserve Bank (monetary stimulus). Combined between 2020 and 2021, they total about $6 trillion dollars.
The bottom line, however, is that imperialism has never been good for the country nor good for the working class. It has been very good for the stock market!
Biden’s interim national security strategic guidance, it turns out is a lot of smoke and mirrors!
Confrontation over values?
A populist leftist president in Latin America states that the main characteristic of conservatism (catchall phrase for capitalism and neoliberalist policy) is hypocrisy. By conservatism, he speaks of the ideology of resistance to change, of having to give up private unwarranted privileges and wealth. Most of this wealth is acquired through wage theft, corruption, tax avoidance, debt traps, and undemocratic practices.
While the national security guidance talks about “democracy”, “ U.S. values” and “universal” values, what they are really talking about is making the U.S. finance capital more profitable around the world.
The guidance document makes no mention of what happened during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
No mention is made of passage of laws that essentially take away the right to vote in many states.
No mention is made of the lies used to justify the war on and killing of the people of Iraq, the Afghan people, the Syrian people, the people of Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and many more nations.
No mention is made of the CIA rendition and torture programs around the world, including Guantanamo’s U.S. military base and Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
No mention is made in the “national security” strategic guidance document about U.S. “undemocratic” support for the coup that overthrew the elected President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, efforts to overthrow the elected president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, efforts to overthrow elected President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua or the U.S. supported coup that overthrew the elected presidents of Honduras, President Zelaya in 2009 (Biden was Vice- President then, nominated by Obama because of his foreign policy “expertise”).
Obviously, no mention is made of institutionalized racism in this country and the consequent political instability. No mention is made of the consequences of savage capitalism (neoliberalism) introduced in the 1980s under Reagan in the U.S. and Thatcher in the UK. This economic policy has resulted in the loss of good-paying jobs and a lower standard of life for the working class, not only in this country but around the world.
Confrontational meeting in Alaska
The U.S. and China had a joint meeting (March 18-19, 2021) between the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, U.S. National Security adviser, Jake Sullivan, Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, and chair of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office of the Chinese Communist Party, Yang Jiechi.
The U.S. sanctioned 24 Chinese officials the day prior to the meeting. The U.S. State Department also came ready with preconditions to improved relations.
The summit turned into a posturing and recrimination session on China and U.S. human rights. The facts point to this public confrontation as the real purpose of the U.S.- requested meeting.
“China urges the U.S. side to fully abandon the hegemonic practice of willfully interfering in China’s internal affairs. This is a longstanding issue, and it should be changed.” Yang Jiechi urged “the abandonment of Cold War mentality and zero-sum game.”
No communique was issued after this Biden Administration meeting with the Peoples Republic of China.
Hopefully, this is not a lost opportunity to advance solution to common problems like the pandemic, climate change, nuclear proliferation, global economic recovery after the pandemic, and to engaging in cooperation to help solve issues affecting developing countries.
Take the issue of vaccination against the pandemic. Ten developed capitalist countries are hoarding 80% of the vaccines. Mexico’s President Obrador, during an online meeting with Biden, asked the U.S. to share its vaccine. The reply by the White House press secretary was that “Joe Biden would not consider sharing its coronavirus vaccines.”
U.S. vaccines were denied in spite of hypocritical talk about the enduring partnership between the U.S. and Mexico “based on mutual respect and the extraordinary bond of family and friendship.”
Would you deny vaccines to your own “family”? Now, the U.S. plans to “lend” some of its oversupply of the AstraZeneca vaccines to both Canada and Mexico. This comes after some vaccinated Europeans experienced isolated blood-clot issues and many European countries temporarily suspended the use of that vaccine.
Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa and African Union chairman has criticized this vaccine nationalism.
China, Russia, and other countries have sent their own vaccines to developing countries in Latin America, Africa, and other locations. Socialist Cuba has developed a new COVID-19 vaccine and, in contrast to developed capitalist countries, provided exemplary international health care solidarity. Mexico has received vaccines from Belgium, China, Russia, and India. Mexico also received the active ingredient for AstraZeneca from Argentina.
Later, under international pressure and condemnation, the U.S. pledged $4 Billion to the World Health Organization’s COVAX program.
If history is a possible indicator of future actions, the Biden administration intends to continue U.S. imperialist hegemony in a world that expects more multilateralism in foreign policy, respect for the national sovereignty of nations, and more international solidarity on common issues affecting the globe, such as pandemics, climate change, war prevention, labor migration, refugees, weapons control and global poverty alleviation.
There have been some positive moves made by Biden including extension of the New Start Treaty with Russia and willingness to rejoin the Non-Proliferation Treaty with Iran. It didn’t help that Biden bombed alleged Iranian assets in Syria, however.
There is an internal conflict between Biden’s foreign policy intentions and his domestic agenda. Biden plans to pursue infrastructure jobs, raising wages, student debt forgiveness, economic recovery, and other domestic issues. There is a growing domestic mass opposition and new coalitions created to oppose a confrontational foreign policy and a bloated military budget; its slogan is – Money for Jobs, Not for War!
If you agree with this slogan, you are encouraged to join the coalition at moneyforhumanneeds.org.
Biden says he wants to work with Mexico and Central American countries in a joint economic development program initiated by Mexico to alleviate the poverty and insecurity that is driving the labor migration from Central America and southern Mexico to the U.S. Nevertheless, Biden intends to keep Trump’s original 4,000 National Guard members on the southern border with Mexico, while continuing immigrant deportations and caging of 5,000 immigrant children. Biden only offers to help Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, all of which have right-wing governments allied with the United States. Countries left out include left-led Nicaragua plus Haiti. The main reason for the labor migration and refugee exodus is poverty, an effect of global imperialist policy. Other contributing factors include climate change, wars, and gang violence.
Biden’s regional commanders (North America and Southern Command) also cautioned in a recent press conference about possible terrorists coming through the southern border. Sounds a lot like Trump’s racist and unfounded rhetoric! These outrageous remarks are an insult to Mexico.
Martin Luther King warned, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
The military budget in the U.S. takes about half the discretionary spending of the national budget, leaving little money to meet social needs. The U.S. spends (~$741 billion budgeted for 2021) more on the military budgets of the next 10 countries combined.
Alvaro Rodriguez is a long-time labor and community activist. He writes from Texas.
This article was first published at People's World
On March 8, 2021, the Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF) - Brazil’s highest court - struck down all the criminal convictions against Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Monumental in its impact, this decision finally brought an end to a ruthless lawfare campaign against Lula.
Lula was imprisoned in April 2018 at the Federal Police headquarters in Curitiba as part of Operation Car Wash for alleged corruption. From the beginning, it was evident that Lula’s imprisonment was part of lawfare - the use of law for political motives. The Supreme Court ruled, on April 5, 2018 - after a threat from Brazilian Gen. Eduardo Villas Bôas - that defendants could be jailed even before their appeals had been exhausted. This regressive judgment allowed Judge Sérgio Moro to arrest Lula at a time when he was leading in all polls. In August 2018, the polls registered that 29% of the nation preferred Lula’s Worker’s Party (PT), while the political parties that were spearheading the anti-PT campaign were rapidly declining in terms of electoral strength.
The presence of political bias in Lula’s imprisonment was confirmed when a range of materials and private conversations released by “The Intercept” proved that judge Moro discussed the case with the lead prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol, to whom Moro gave advice about how to proceed with the case. Furthermore, the Car Wash prosecutors plotted to use the investigation to undermine the campaign of the PT in the 2018 election. In November 2018, Moro joined Jair Bolsonaro’s government as his Minister of Justice, thus leaving no doubts about the political nature of the judicial proceedings against Lula.
Lula was released in November 2019 after serving 580 days, when the SFT agreed to examine his case on the basis of the judicial principle that no one can serve a sentence before it can be reviewed by the country’s highest court.
Changing Political Tides
In a welcome move, the STF confirmed on March 23, 2021, the existence of misconduct by Moro in the cases involving Lula. According to Justice Carmen Lucia, the evidence that has emerged since 2018 “may indicate the infringement on the impartiality of the judge.” “What is being discussed here is something very basic: everyone has the right to a fair trial, that includes due process and also the impartiality of the judge…New information was presented to clarify doubts about evidence of the partiality of the judge overseeing the case.”
The legal affirmation of the biased nature of Operation Car Wash is reflective of Brazil’s changing political tides. Opinion polls suggest that Lula is the best-placed politician to challenge neo-fascist Bolsonaro in 2022 elections. This was expected. The Bolsonaro administration’s toxic mix of pandemic mismanagement and savage neoliberalism stands in sharp contrast to Lula’s social sensitivity.
At a press conference held at the headquarters of the ABC Metalworkers’ Union in São Bernardo do Campo in the metropolitan region of São Paulo after the annulment of convictions, Lula heavily criticized the Bolsonaro government: “I need to speak with you about the situation in this country. It would be an error on my part to not mention that Brazil did not have to go through this.” “Many people are suffering. This is why I want to express my solidarity with the victims of coronavirus and the healthcare workers. And above all, the heroes of the SUS [Unified Health System], that were even politically discredited. If it wasn’t for the SUS, we would have lost many more people to coronavirus.”
Lula’s remarkable ability to connect with the poor masses is a direct result of his sustained involvement in grassroots politics. Born in poverty in 1945 in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Lula emerged on the national scene from the late 1970s as a confrontational union leader. On winning presidency in October 2002 after three failed attempts, he toured the country extensively, talking to the oppressed members of the society about his own life and the larger struggle for equality and justice. Today, it is highly likely that Lula - whether he runs for presidency or not - will help the Left to regain power in Brazil.
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at email@example.com. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.
Janine Wissler and Susanne Hennig-Wellsow were elected as new party leaders. LINKE
Things worked out quite differently than many in the Berlin media said they would at the congress of the LINKE, the country’s left-wing party.
The pandemic had forced postponements from June 2020 to October 2020 and from last October to March 2021, with most of the 580 delegates at home in front of a screen, microphone, and camera. Only the socially-distanced, masked leaders sat in a sparsely occupied hall in Berlin. Other political parties are meeting that way too.
The bitter, possibly fatal inner conflicts, greatly feared by some, greatly desired by others, simply did not happen. Unlike the angry quarrels, hostility, and near split-ups which troubled some earlier congresses, this time there was an amiable, friendly atmosphere throughout.
No surprise, at least for most members, was the choice of new party leaders. Their predecessors stepped down as required after two four-year terms (plus extra months due to the postponements). Only outsiders may have been surprised that both new co-chairs were women, Janine Wissler and Susanne Hennig-Wellsow, which was new.
But many were indeed moved to see the two so supportive of one another, each congratulating the other on her (separate) election and both assuring party members that they would get along very well while diving into the tough tasks ahead; a year full of elections in six states and, on September 26, in all Germany, and with the LINKE now polling at a worrisome 7 or 8 percent, too close to the 5 percent cut-off point below which a party is not entitled to seats in the country’s parliament.
Who are the two new leaders, no longer a male-female team but still the customary East-West duo?
Janine Wissler, 39, has led the LINKE opposition caucus in the legislature of the West German state of Hesse since 2014. She is known as a fighter. In the last election campaign, she covered her whole state by bicycle, speechmaking all along the route, and winning more LINKE votes than the party won in most of West Germany.
More recently, joining the protest against chopping down part of an ancient forest to build another highway, she stayed a while in one of the high tree huts aimed at holding off loggers and the police.
Susanne Hennig-Wellsow, 42, her co-chair, is also known to be plucky. Originally a speed skater, a very good one, she switched to educational issues in her East German home-town of Erfurt in Thuringia, and quickly climbed to a position equivalent to that of Janine Wissler’s just across the former East-West border, becoming chair of both the state party and its caucus in the legislature.
But unlike Wissler, she was not in opposition. Thuringia is the first and only German state with a LINKE leader, Bodo Ramelow, as minister-president (like a governor), because his party won the most seats. Since 2014 he has headed a shaky coalition with a small Social Democratic and even smaller Green caucus.
Hennig-Wellsow gained unusual fame last year after a conservative politician pushed Ramelow out as head of state, but only by accepting the votes of the neo-Nazi Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which, despite the leading role of the state’s Red, Red, Green coalition, is stronger and more rabid in Thuringia than anywhere else.
Tradition demanded that party-leader Hennig-Wellsow present the winner, any winner, with congratulatory flowers. She approached him, then suddenly let the bouquet fall to the floor. Impolite, but most anti-fascists rejoiced at what became a top YouTube hit. After a huge public outcry, the man had to step down three days later and Ramelow came back — with Hennig-Wellsow. Now, these two state leaders head the national party, and though they disagree sharply on some issues, they are in agreement on a host of others.
A striking feature of the LINKE congress that just ended was the age of the delegates. Among the delegates who spoke up electronically, with contributions strictly limited in time because so many wanted to speak, the number of young people and women was greater than ever before. This marked a change from the past when so many were aging, often male, and frequently former members of the old Socialist Unity Party, the ruling party in the GDR.
That generation is dying out. Ten years ago over 50% of Die Linke’s membership lived in the five smaller states of East Germany. Now they make up 38 percent of a total of 60,000.
With all due respect to these truly “Old Faithful,” the trend toward a new, younger generation is a greatly-needed cause for hope. And so is their militancy — which was reflected in the words and the spirit of Wissler and Hennig-Wellsow.
Most of these young members called energetically for more visible and militant action in all causes for which the party stands. A key theme was helping people recover from the pandemic, which is causing heavy debts, hardships, job losses, and bankruptcy for tens of thousands of small firms, retail shops, restaurants, and cultural workers while the biggies, from Amazon to Aldi, from Daimler-Benz to BMW rake in mountains of euros for their owners and stockholders. The LINKE demands genuine taxes on the wealthy, higher wages for the workers —a 15-euro minimum wage — and more for children and pensioners. It means much closer ties with the unions and their struggles. Some of the unions sent greetings to the congress, which still required a bit of courage.
Many stressed the related fight for the environment, too often neglected and left to the Greens. But the Greens, till now in second place in the polls ahead of the Social Democrats (SPD) but well behind the twin “Christian Union” parties, have moved ever closer to arrangements with big business, downplaying the needs of working-class people and even abandoning major principles in order to gain or keep cabinet positions, as in Hesse, where their coalition ministers concurred in sacrificing forest sectors to an unnecessary highway extension (where Wissler did some needed “tree-hugging.”)
Many delegates warned of further hospital privatization and supported the fight for affordable, publicly-owned housing to outpace the profit-based gentrification expanding through most cities.
There was praise for the LINKE in Berlin; it led local coalition partners SPD and Greens in pushing through a rent control law reversing the worst over-pricing and forbidding most increases. It also defied Green foot-dragging and SPD opposition to a referendum to buy out (or “confiscate”) Berlin’s biggest real estate giants.
Both of the two new party leaders and many delegates called for a constant, vigilant resistance to the growing menace of the fascists, some loosely bound up in local thug gangs and underground killer units, others organized on a party basis or embedded in the police, the armed services or as suspicious secret agents of the FBI-type Constitutional Defense Bureau.
There was also general agreement on re-directing billions spent on armament purchases and production toward the repair of decrepit schools, rutty roads, unsafe bridges, and all public facilities.
But general agreement on this edged onto questions dividing the party for years. Some members — and many in leadership — hope keenly that the LINKE can join with the Social Democrats and Greens in a national, governing “left-of-center coalition,” as in current state governments in Thuringia and Berlin. Former harsh rejection by the other two of any connection with the “former rulers of the GDR dictatorship” has now weakened, especially if the votes of LINKE deputies can help them over the 50% margin to victory. Since both the SPD and the LINKE adopted the color red as their symbol, this would be a Green-Red-Red coalition, or G2R, or RGR, depending on who would be top dog. Such an alliance, say its advocates, would be a bar against the right, meaning the Christian sister parties, the conservative Free Democrats, and the fascistic AfD.
The state and the national levels differ in many ways. Most important, only the latter deals with foreign and military policy, which erects big, important hurdles. Both SPD and the Greens insist on two conditions for an alliance: the LINKE must abandon its opposition to NATO and to sending Bundeswehr troops outside German borders, even on UN missions. That is their red line; No-NATO means No-go! And well-armed German troops must be able to flutter black-red-golden flags from Kabul to Bamako, from masts in the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, or any sea or coast where it serves German purposes. Roll up the tanks, drones, fighters, and armed frigates!
Some LINKE leaders call for compromises. A humanitarian mission for the UN now and then should not be a major hurdle, while replacing NATO with a Europe-wide security agreement, including Russia instead of threatening it, is currently pure fantasy, they say. In a highly controversial open letter, Matthias Höhn, a leading LINKE member, said that such matters can be agreed upon, Germany need not totally reject U.S. demands for 2% of its budget for military build-up but might cut it to 1%, with the other 1% diverted to development aid for countries of the south.
His opponents were quick to reply; they insisted that Germany was threatened by no one; the Bundeswehr was in essence an instrument of the same expansive powers which have determined bloody German policy for over a century. Bombing Belgrade and Afghanistan was also called “humanitarian,” they note, and any backsliding in these matters was really a foot in the door, a dangerous foot, and would cancel the basic claim by the LINKE to be the one and only party of peace in the Bundestag.
This question has implications for even more basic questions. Does the LINKE support or oppose Germany’s present capitalist social system? Many leaders in the East, often having experienced advantages attached to cabinet seats on a state level, insist that the LINKE can only exert political effect to improve life if it takes part on a governmental level. The other side claims that the LINKE, as a tolerated little brother in such a coalition, would be granted a few lesser cabinet ministries but be easily outvoted on important policy questions, foreign or domestic, with only two options — bow down or quit.
“No,” they say, the party wants improvements but sees the need for a full social switch. That means active opposition and not becoming part of “the Establishment,” a role which has cost it dearly in eastern Germany in poll results, elections, and reputation. Essentially, some say that support for socialism and being part of the so-called establishment contradict one another.
The dividing line also affected the two new leaders. Hennig-Wellsow from Thuringia is ready to consider a GRR coalition, even with a compromise or two. Isn’t that what realistic politics sometimes requires? Wissler from Hesse says No; she wants no cozy, weak-kneed cabinet seat for LINKE. Let the SPD and Greens change their position, she says, and adopt a genuine peace policy that abandons dangerous “east-west” confrontation.
The differing viewpoints were put to a test during the vote for six deputy chairpersons. Matthias Höhn, who sent that letter proposing a retreat on armaments and deployment, received 224 voters. Tobias Pflüger, a disarmament expert opposed to any dilution of peace positions, beat him out with 294 votes. And it was Pflüger’s views which were more frequently reflected by the overwhelmingly young speakers’ list.
Many note that the coalition question is purely hypothetical anyway. With Greens and SPD now polling at 17 percent each and the LINKE at 8 percent (but hoping to get back to double digits), reaching 50 percent is still a dream.
That explains why so many stressed instead the need to fight far less in parliaments or party meetings but far more in the streets, factories, and colleges, among machinists, teachers, medical personnel, supermarket employees, truck drivers, and all the places where those who do the country’s work must move in defense against current attacks on living standards and values. This must reach at least as many women as men, both young and old, all sexual orientations, and definitely, those hit hardest, the millions with immigrant backgrounds. Hopeful symbols were the hearty greetings from the Alevite Turkish community, from several major unions, and young activists in Fridays for Future.
Disagreement on key issues could not and will not be ignored. But the happy surprise was that this did not lead to a split, which would have meant LINKE if not general left-wing political demise! The sides agreed to disagree and now work together to win supporters — and votes — in the six state elections and the national election soon challenging the party.
There was one other aspect which surprised many and deserves attention: how many participants, especially the younger ones, dropped past shyness and stated that the current social system, now proving its decay and inhumanity more clearly than ever, must be replaced.
The goal was also named, without many former taboos; a socialist economy, no longer determined by a tiny cabal whose lust for unearned profit caused a huge, growing gap between billionaire luxury and billions facing deprivation and despair.
If this new fighting spirit and renewed orientation can be maintained, the LINKE party could play a far more potent role in strengthening opposition within Germany. And after the vicious defeat of Jeremy Corbyn’s fight in Britain and with the weakness of leftist parties in France, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe, a militant Left in central, powerful Germany could regain the importance it once possessed in the heyday of people like Rosa Luxemburg — who was born 150 years ago, on March 5, 1871!
Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive and became a freelance journalist and author. His books available in English: Crossing the River. A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany. His latest book, A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee, is about his life in the German Democratic Republic from 1949 – 1990, tremendous improvements for the people under socialism, reasons for the fall of socialism, and importance of today's struggles.
This article was first published in People’s World March 4, 2021.
Biden, at the time vice president, right, speaks to Putin, then the Russian Prime Minister, second left, during a meeting in Moscow, March 10, 2011. The two are now face each other as presidents of their respective countries. | Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
I want to start this critique of Biden’s developing foreign policy by stating clearly and unequivocally that his $1.9 trillion rescue plan deserves total support from everyone in our country. It is nothing less than a dramatic disavowal of the right-wing era launched by Ronald Reagan some 40 years ago.
Although Biden deserves praise for his domestic policy so far, his characterization on national television of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “killer” was just another indication of what is, unfortunately, turning out to be a dangerous trend in the foreign policy he is pursuing.
While his domestic policy radically departs from what we have seen in the U.S. over the last 40 years his, foreign policy—executed by stalwart representatives of the old establishment—is failed business as usual. And the unfortunate reality is that a continuation of the policy of military domination of the entire world will sooner or later require turning away from progressive domestic priorities.
As Biden begins his presidency, we are in a different and new world, one that did not exist in the Reagan-Bush-Clinton days of neoliberalism. The planet is in a very real climate emergency and is reeling under a global pandemic. Super recessions and depressions are crippling many countries economically. The wealth gap is growing day by day, and corruption in government, which has always been a problem, is even worse now, with scandals happening in almost every country in the world. Also worse than ever are the attacks on democracy happening in nations that have previously prided themselves as beacons of freedom.
Solutions for these unprecedented problems will require unprecedented international cooperation. This is not the time then for the president of the United States to be calling the president of Russia, the second-largest nuclear power on earth, a “killer.” There are indeed plenty of killers running plenty of countries these days, as there have been in the past, including in our own. But the crises of today require cooperation between the two largest nuclear powers.
Calling Putin a “killer,” however, reflects some real and far more dangerous trends in U.S. foreign policy. It reflects the control still being exercised by the old foreign policy establishment that played such a big role in bringing us the world-wide mess we have today.
The U.S., thanks to the old foreign policy establishment, has almost 800 military facilities around the world. The new domestic and worldwide realities of today require dismantling of that network of bases. That will require changing the thinking about what constitutes national security. That shift will have to be as big if not bigger than the change we have seen from the Biden administration when it comes to domestic policy.
For starters, the U.S. will have to stop military adventures around the globe, including the confrontational ones on Russia’s borders. Calling Russia’s leader a “killer” while the U.S. threatens that country with our troops along its frontiers is hardly helpful to the cause of re-ordering our priorities.
Likewise, U.S. military confrontation with China in the South China Sea will not be at all conducive to the necessary reordering of priorities. There is no real indication yet that Biden is moving in the direction of ending confrontation with either Russia or China.
In Afghanistan, the United States has been at war for more than 20 years. Trillions of dollars have been spent on that war. Many have died. Biden is now signaling U.S. troops will stay there beyond the date which Trump had claimed American forces would pull out. What amounts to institutionalized warfare, it seems, is something Biden is willing to continue. There is no hope of getting back what has been lost in Afghanistan. The only prudent course is to get U.S. troops out of there.
Biden, during his campaign for the White House, promised to revive the Iran nuclear deal he helped negotiate when he was vice president. He promised to also bring back the constitutional role of Congress in declaring war. But he instead ordered the bombing—over the objection of Democratic senators who called it a violation of the War Powers Act—of what he said was an Iranian-backed outpost in Syria.
In addition, he has delayed removal of 900 U.S. troops who are uninvited occupiers in Syria. He is maintaining troops in a sovereign country against its will and has ordered a bombing in that same country’s territory.
Biden said he is reviewing our drone policies, but so far, that review has resulted in more focused targeting and no indication that use of killer drones will be ended.
He is continuing U.S. support for regime change by continuing inhumane sanctions against Venezuela—sanctions clearly intended to overthrow its government. To no avail, the UN has called on the U.S. to end its cruel blockade tactics that deny medicine and food to the Venezuelan people.
And back to Russia, Biden is ratcheting up dangerous confrontation with that country. In the next few weeks, Biden said, in answer to a question on national television, that “we will see” how he retaliates for last year’s SolarWinds hack of U.S. cyberinfrastructure—for which Russia was allegedly responsible. Knowledgeable sources say the administration will approve still more sanctions on Russia and clandestine cyber actions against Russian state institutions.
Such an escalation is likely to trigger more and worse cyberattacks by both sides. Is that what we really want right now? In the long term, that will do no good at all for either the American or the Russian people.
On China, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has called relations with China “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century,” with the administration making a show of not just confronting China economically but also militarily in the South China Sea. U.S. naval maneuvers there continue.
As the administration does this, the Republicans put forward continued accusations in public congressional hearings that the “Chinese Communist Party” is responsible for both the pandemic and for economic problems in the U.S. resulting from the pandemic. Such anti-China rhetoric inflames the international situation while also fueling domestic anti-Asian hate crimes and attacks.
The United States cannot focus on and help solve the climate crisis, the pandemic, and worldwide economic disasters, including inequality and the wealth gap, by continuing institutionalized warfare, regime change, threats of military action, and maintaining 800 bases around the world.
No one pretends that the foreign policy of the U.S. can or will be radically changed overnight. The hope is there, however, that based on what we see happening in domestic policy, the Biden administration may yet begin to move in a better direction when it comes to foreign affairs.
You can start, Mr. President, by not grandstanding against the Russians. That’s so old, and it gets us nowhere.
John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.
Republished from Peoples World.
As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.
Due to Joe Biden appointing Ohio’s 11th Congressional District Representative Marcia Fudge to his cabinet, a special election will be held to replace Fudge, likely in August or September, 2021. Summer special elections are best known for ultra low voter turnout, perhaps 10% or lower. Since Nina Turner has announced her candidacy, leftists in America are thus faced with the question of whether or not to spend their second COVID summer in Cleveland, organizing for Bernie Sanders’ most visible African American supporter so she wins a splintered Democratic Party primary with a handful of votes. What’s a Marxist to do? Let’s ask Shaft.
In the landmark 1971 film Shaft, actors Richard Roundtree (the African American playing private eye Shaft) and Charles Cioffi (Italian American playing police lieutenant Vic Androzzi), talk about race after Shaft refuses to name names. “Warms my black heart to see you so concerned about us minority folks,” says Shaft. Androzzi responds by holding a black pen next to Shaft’s face to compare the colors. “Come on, Shaft, what is it with this black shit? Huh? You ain’t so black.” Shaft then holds a white coffee cup next to Androzzi’s face declaring, “You ain’t so white, baby!”
According to St. Xavier University professor and attorney Jacqueline Battalora, the racial concept of “white” was invented, by law, to prevent solidarity amongst slaves and indentured servants against land holding colonizers in Virginia in Maryland. Battalora argues in her 2013 book “Birth of a White Nation” that the very first appearance in law, “on planet Earth”, of the term “white” is the 1681 Anti-Miscegenation law of colonial Maryland, enacted in response to Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. The 1681 law banned marriage between “white women” and “negro slaves”. Battalora notes in a 2014 speech on her book that the 1681 law was not an extension of English common law, but entirely new law for the purpose of colonies.
In fact, the “lawmakers” of colonial Maryland who invented the human genetic sludge category of “white” were completely illegitimate tools of imperial capitalism in every conceivable way. They did not enact a “law” so much as they amended their articles of incorporation. Obviously, an English king (James I) stole the land called “Maryland” from indigenous tribes. Whatever “government” King James and his successors created on that land was constituted exclusively by male “owners” of the stolen land under “royal charters”, i.e. corporations. Indeed, the mother ship corporation that created every colonial royal charter - from the East India Company, to the Plymouth Company, to the Virginia Company - exists even today. All trace their legal birth to the City of London Corporation, an entity at least a thousand years old, which itself has no document whatsoever establishing its existence. Today, the City of London Corporation (now lovingly called “the City” or “the Square Mile”) is the center of world finance, a medieval black hole through which the undead legal tendrils of the British Empire form the City’s tax haven archipelago across the Caymans, Bermuda, etc.
That Empire Strikes Back every time we utter the words “white” or “black”, because those words are corporate imperial insertions into the mind, designed by capital, solely for the benefit of capital. Here we see Antonio Gramsci’s cultural hegemony of capital at its most brutal core; the very words around which we structure our world, thus voluntarily enforcing the value system of capital, merely pop out of our mouths. No bother is made of their origin, nor why those words work their magic. They are just...there, like air we breathe. Much is groundbreaking about the 1971 movie Shaft, hailed as the first “Blaxploitation” film, but somehow lost is this incredible scene where an Italian and an African teach each other with one glimpse that none of us are actually black, nor white.
Ohio’s “black seat”, which Nina Turner is now running to fill, has been gerrymandered by both parties for decades to be one of Ohio’s safest Democratic Party districts. Because Cleveland has been hollowed out by capital for decades, what used to be a 90% African American district now must be rather larger on a map, so is today only 54% African American. Thus, OH11’s 2021 version is a serpentine masterpiece, snaking from Cleveland’s poorest inner city African American & Hispanic precincts, then weirdly south through some of Ohio’s most affluent Cleveland suburbs, then into a sprawling exurbian no mans land of McMansion dead zones, then back into impoverished inner city precincts in Akron, to collect Democrats.
OH11 is thus less a “black” seat, than a Democratic Party seat. Another assumption which capital’s cultural hegemony enforces through our acquiescence is that whoever wins the Democratic primary for OH11 will be elected to Congress. In fact, should Nina Turner win this summer’s Democratic Party primary and rise to Congress, she will join a Democratic Party establishment in Northeast Ohio Nina herself forged with her own hands in 2009 with the most consequential political act of her life. Nina Turner was the only African American elected official to endorse a thinly veiled corporate takeover of Cuyahoga County government in 2009, via a new county charter which left as the only remaining countywide elected official besides the chief executive, guess who...the county prosecutor. That prosecutor, Bill Mason, who wrote the 2009 charter himself to preserve his own seat specifically, remains as current county executive Armond Budish’s chief of staff. Thus, Congresswoman Nina Turner will reunite with Mason, 12 years after (quite literally) creating him, at the top of Cleveland’s wholly owned subsidiary of capital, the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party.
“It is what it is.” That’s the answer you get to such obvious grotesquery from activists supporting Nina Turner for the Democratic Party nomination to the OH11 seat. Why acquiesce to this? Further, why on earth should Nina Turner acquiesce to a Democratic Party primary structure that she knows full well, based on two Bernie Sanders primary catastrophes, is rigged to its core? Because now maybe, just maybe, she can rig it herself? No, Nina, it does not need to be “what it is.” Nina Turner must refuse acquiescence to this cultural hegemony, and run as an independent for OH11. Otherwise, leftists should refuse acquiescence to Nina’s enforcement of capital’s cultural hegemony, and refuse to support her campaign.
Good news being, the circumstances this summer could not be better for refusing acquiescence to this rotted value system. First, the ultra low turnout of this special election primary will outsize the importance of the voting bloc most likely to turnout in OH11, concentrated in the largest Jewish community in America outside New York City, which would not be in this district but for capital’s total destruction of the city of Cleveland. The Democratic Party’s establishment favorite, county chair Shontel Brown, has already signaled that her entire campaign will be focused on these votes, as if she’s running to represent Israel in Congress, not Cleveland and Akron. Upon one visit to her website, you’d be forgiven for thinking Shontel Brown is the world’s most delightful black Jewish lady practically signed up for a kibbutz in some West Bank settlement. AIPAC (which paid for Shontel’s obligatory sight seeing in Israel in 2018), Democratic Majority for Israel, all the usual suspects are lined up to unload hundreds of thousands of dark money dollars and countless whisper campaigns to smear Nina with the “anti-semitism” canard that was so effective against Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, rolled out against Bernie (a Jew, we must apparently remind everyone), and used last year against Ilhan Omar. In an ultra low turnout special primary, such weaponization of identity politics will be nearly impossible to overcome, no matter how much money Nina raises, especially since Nina has proven beyond doubt she can’t build an organization to manufacture turnout.
But if Nina runs as an independent, she faces Shontel Brown’s Congresswoman for Israel routine in November, when many localities in OH11 are holding (crucially) non-partisan municipal elections, including the city of Cleveland, where Nina needs the highest turnout she can get. And guess who is likely to be running for mayor of Cleveland in 2021 - incredibly, Dennis Kucinich. An “I told you so” comeuppance 40 years in the making, the prospect of Kucinich running for mayor already has Cleveland media targeting him in a catatonic panic. Cleveland turnout in November would dwarf the pro-Israel turnout and deliver Nina to Congress over any Corbyn-esque smear campaign. And a Dennis-Nina ticket would electrify leftists nationally, mostly because it would be a total rejection of capital’s cultural hegemony.
That is the power of saying no. All around us is a Gramscian experiment, the old world dying, the new one struggling to be born. This “time of monsters”, as the saying has been bastardized, was actually coined by Antonio Gramsci in the original Italian as “morbid phenomenon”. No phenomenon is quite as morbid as the undead zombie of Northeast Ohio Democratic Party politics in a special election for U.S. Congress in early 21st century late stage capitalism. Like Shaft telling Androzzi he ain’t so white, baby, nothing has been so ripe for refusal to acquiesce.
Tim Russo is author of Ghosts of Plum Run, an ongoing historical fiction series about the charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg. Tim's career as an attorney and international relations professional took him to two years living in the former soviet republics, work in Eastern Europe, the West Bank & Gaza, and with the British Labour Party. Tim has had a role in nearly every election cycle in Ohio since 1988, including Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020. Tim ran for local office in Cleveland twice, earned his 1993 JD from Case Western Reserve University, and a 2017 masters in international relations from Cleveland State University where he earned his undergraduate degree in political science in 1989. Currently interested in the intersection between Gramscian cultural hegemony and Gandhian nonviolence, Tim is a lifelong Clevelander.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Photo Credits: Alex Brandon AP
United States Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown Jr. recently said that there was a need in the Air Force for a low cost, lightweight fighter jet to replace aging F-16 fighter jets (Axe 2021). Astute readers will know that such a jet has already been attempted, the F-35. Since 2001, the US government and Lockheed Martin have worked to create the next generation of fighter jets at a total cost of $400 billion as of 2020 (Grazier 2020). At $21 billion a year, the F-35 project alone is capable of paying almost half of the estimated cost of $48 billion a year for free college education in the United States as proposed by Senator Sanders (Golshan 2019). However, as President, Biden has within the first month in office already approved $200 million in weapons sales through Raytheon to Jordan, Chile, and a NATO agency (Mehta 2021). As such, we can likely expect the Air Force to get their wish as we once more return to Obama-era global interventionism. Whereas in the previous five years we have seen blunter edged, loud, bragging styles of military engagements through Trump, we are now more likely to see a return to what was aspired to by Donald Rumsfeld and perfected by Barack Obama: “A new kind of war,” one with “sustained engagement that carries no deadlines” is the perfect distillation and crystallization of the American Empire’s need for consumption of resources (Rumsfeld 2001). And now with President Biden we might see a proliferation of such acts.
American culture has long been critiqued for its consumerism. Post-industrial America and much of the West has been absorbed fully in consumer culture. As Americans, the concept of “freedom” can be seen most clearly in what we can purchase and consume. The right to bear arms is not a right to be exercised against tyranny, but rather a marketing tool to sell personal defense handguns. The right to free speech is the right for conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones to sell you snake oil. It is also the right for corporations to buy influence. Through Citizens United, money is equivocated by law to freedom. Even as other countries across the world entered mandatory lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19 there was intense backlash in America. This is partly because such a lockdown would deprive us of the one freedom that we exercise most often and care the most about: our freedom to make consumer choices. Due to this, we did not have a lockdown like many other countries did. Nowhere in America were things fully closed to the degree that you saw in nations like Vietnam, China, or Australia. We do not see the health and wealth of us all in common as an expression of freedom, rather we view ourselves in our personal kingdoms. We lack the culture and social structures that would allow us to define freedom or express it in any other way.
So, what happens when this rabid consumer culture is married with imperialism? What is unleashed when a society built on infinite economic growth and consumption must grow more and consume more? A Lovecraftian horror is thrust upon the world, its maw wide open and ready to engulf the planet. While conquest defined empires of the past, consumption is what defines the American empire.
President Joe Biden has already authorized bombings in Syria, citing Iranian backed militia groups, that have left 22 people dead (De Luce, Gains, Gubash 2021). This news comes the same day that Democrats capitulate to the Senate parliamentarian on a minimum wage increase (Linton, Segers 2021). Biden and the rest of the Democratic party have thrown their hands in the air in mock shock and disappointment over an issue for which they cared very little. However, the bipartisan support for war can be seen in the 93-2 confirmation for Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a man who was previously on the board of Raytheon and will receive close to $1.7 million in payments from Raytheon (Shabad 2021; Capaccio, Allison 2021). Beyond Secretary Austin we can see the White House’s appetite for war only grows with other nominations such as Neera Tanden to head the OMB. Tanden has previously stated that Libya should repay the United States in the form of oil after the removal of Gaddafi (Greenwald 2015). This is the model of empire as consumption. We liberated you, now give us your resources. This harrowing model of global politics is repeated endlessly by administration after administration.
This immediate move into warfare is not novel in any way. Trump’s first military order came in early February of 2017, and Obama’s first military order was a mere three days into his presidency (Merica, Brown, Zeleny 2017; Zenko 2017). Now as we move into the Biden presidency, we see the persistence of American imperialism taking precedence above all other policy matters. While elected officials and talking heads berate the left for wanting minimum wage increases, green energy, an end to foreign wars, or any other policy goal and speak about the difficulties involved they have no issue ordering and defending the death of people across the world.
We have seen once again the broken promises and empty words of the Democratic party. In our discussions with our fellow workers, we must draw attention to this betrayal. We must continue to further class consciousness with those around us. We must continue to develop our own infrastructure and organizations to more effectively combat these warmongers and imperialists. Ultimately it is capitalism that is the driving force for these horrendous acts of war. Through its overthrow we will see the day where all peoples of the world are liberated. Until that day comes, we must continue our work in solidarity and in strength. Day by day, more and more of the working class of this country sees how little the imperialist machine cares for them and how much they might gain from its overthrow.
Axe, D. (2021, February 25). The U.S. Air Force Just Admitted The F-35 Stealth Fighter Has Failed. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidaxe/2021/02/23/the-us-air-force-just-admitted-the-f-35-stealth-fighter-has-failed/?sh=13cb405d1b16
Capaccio, A., & Allison, B. (2021, January 10). Biden Defense Pick to Get Up to $1.7 Million From Raytheon role. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-10/biden-defense-pick-to-get-up-to-1-7-million-from-raytheon-role
Golshan, T. (2019, June 24). Bernie Sanders's free college proposal just got a whole lot bigger. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/6/23/18714615/bernie-sanders-free-college-for-all-2020-student-loan-debt
Grazier, D. (2020, October 21). Selective Arithmetic to Hide F-35's True Costs. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/10/selective-arithmetic-to-hide-the-f-35s-true-costs/#:~:text=The Navy spent a total, or $7.5 billion per ship.
Greenwald, G. (2015, November 05). Leaked Emails from Pro-Clinton Think Tank Reveal Censorship and Pandering to Israel. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://theintercept.com/2015/11/05/leaked-emails-from-pro-clinton-group-reveal-censorship-of-staff-on-israel-aipac-pandering-warped-militarism/
Linton, C., & Segers, G. (2021, February 26). Senate parliamentarian rules Democrats cannot include minimum wage hike in COVID-19 economic relief bill. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/minimum-wage-covid-relief-bill-senate-parliamentarian/
Luce, D. D., Gains, M., & Gubash, C. (2021, February 26). Biden orders airstrikes in Syria, retaliating against Iran-backed militias. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/biden-airstrikes-syria-retaliating-against-iran-backed-militias-n1258912
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David Flora is a bartender living in the South with a bachelors in political science and is currently seeking a masters in public policy. Much of his organizational work and praxis involves fellow restaurant industry workers. He believes the restaurant industry in particular is an important part of a revolutionary workers movement.