March 8, 2011 marked the centennial celebration of International Women’s Day. Now observed as a public holiday in dozens of countries throughout the world, International Women’s Day was inspired by the struggles of women workers in New York City in the early 20th century. It is a sad irony that International Women’s Day, much like May 1, observed throughout most of the world as International Workers’ Day, was inspired by the struggles of US workers, but is all but ignored today in the American press. On February 28, 1908, 15,000 women workers marched on the streets of New York to demand shorter working hours, better pay and working conditions, and the right to vote. The women clashed with the police who attempted to suppress the demonstration, leading to numerous arrests and injuries. The following year, the Socialist Party of America called for a National Women’s Day to be held on the last Sunday in February. Demonstrations were planned across the country demanding justice for working class women. The following year, the Second International, at the time still a credible authority among revolutionary socialists, organized an international women’s conference in Copenhagen. Here, German socialist Clara Zetkin (later a cofounder, along with Rosa Luxemburg, of Spartakusbund after the German Social-Democratic Party’s shameful capitulation to imperialism – see Harbinger # 2) moved a motion to establish an International Women’s Day, on which women the world over would build demonstrations to demand their rights. The conference resolved that women in all countries would celebrate a “Women’s Day” on the same day each year, under the slogan, “The vote for women will unite our strength in the struggle for socialism.” The first International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 18, 1911; hundreds of demonstrations occurred across Europe on this day. In the next few years, March 8 was set as the official date for International Women’s Day. From its first celebration in 1911, International Women’s Day has reverberated throughout the world as a day of both celebration and militant struggle. On March 8, 1917, women workers of St. Petersburg, Russia took to the streets demanding bread and an end to war – this International Women’s Day celebration marked the beginning of the February Revolution which overthrew the Tsar. Writing in 1920, Russian Marxist, Alexandra Kollontai, declared that “on this day the Russian women raised the torch of proletarian revolution and set the world on fire.”
Nestor Makhno and the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine
The official records of governments and nations often forget and distort history, abandoning heros and their struggles to obscurity. One such individual is Nestor Makhno, leader of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine during the Russian Revolution. Like millions of others in Czarist Russia, Nestor Makhno grew up the son of a poor peasant family. Disgusted by the conditions of life he found himself surrounded by, he became increasingly radical. As with so many of his generation, he began agitating among his fellow peasants, and forming secret societies to combat the absolutist policies of the state. In a wave of repression following the 1905 revolution, he was sentenced to death, then commuted to a life sentence. The next 9 years were spent in a state prison full of political prisoners. Here Makhno met, and learned from, several prominent Anarchist revolutionaries who helped him develop his political beliefs and ideas. In 1917, Russia erupted. After centuries of Czarist and landlord oppression, and three years of the mindless slaughter in World War One, the people of Russia stood up. What started as a series of bread riots in February, culminated in the seizure of power by the Bolshevik (communist) party in October. Makhno, freed by political amnesty declared following the initial February revolt, left prison to return to his home town and organize the people along anarchist lines. Makhno was an Anarcho-Communist. That is to say that he believed in an anarchist political society, devoid of coercive state forces such as police or army, and a communist economic structure of communal ownership of property. Makhno sought to liberate his fellow peasants and working class Ukrainians from the yoke of all oppression, be it that of the Landlord, the factory owner or the Politician. He boiled his message down into two principle slogans that would later be written on the jet black flag of the Anarchist forces: “The land to the peasants, the factories to the workers.” Upon his return, Makhno helped establish a locally-controlled, democratic peasant union. Through this group, Makhno helped to systematically expropriate and redistribute the property of the wealthy landlords to their poor tenants. Following the Bolshevik seizure of power, most of the Ukraine was ceded to the central powers of Germany and Austria in an effort by the Bolsheviks to put an end to the war and fulfill one of their promises to the people. Thus, Ukraine fell once more under the domination of an imperial authority. But the people mobilized and, awakened by the revolution, did not take this new tyranny lightly. A massive insurgency arose, with guerilla armies striking at the foreign-backed puppet regime from all sides. Makhno came to lead one of the largest of these. His volunteer force of calvary and light infantry terrorized the occupying troops, striking without warning and disappearing into the sea of peasants that supported them. Their force used their knowledge of the countryside to always strike where the enemy was weakest, executing leaders of the reaction and proclaiming freedom of speech assembly and association in the villages that they entered. With the conclusion of World War One in 1918, the foreign troops withdrew and their puppet government collapsed almost immediately. Makhno’s freedom fighters found themselves in control of a large area of the southern Ukraine centered around Makhno’s home town of Gulai-Poyle. Their position was tenuous, however, threatened by the Bolshevik (Red) armies from the north, intent upon installing a party structure loyal to Moscow, and Czarist (White) armies from the south, intent upon the return of the monarchy and feudal privilege. In the face of attack from both sides, Makhno and the anarchists chose to defend the revolution against the monarchist forces, hoping that their differences with the Bolsheviks would remain purely doctrinal. And so Red and Black armies combined to force the Czarist forces out of southern Ukraine. While allied with the Bolsheviks against the White army, a period of peace settled over much of the territory defended by Makhno and his comrades. During this time, rather than seeking to centralize and dominate the area they led, Makhno’s forces proclaimed freedom of speech, press, association and assembly, outlawing only political parties for “having nothing in common with the free dissemination of ideas.” They encouraged the people to form local democratic committees and communes, and to begin to administer their own affairs. When they could have seized power, Makhno’s forces chose instead to give power to the people. Makhno’s force stood out in several respects from the more traditional armies of the day. First of all, the Anarchist army operated as a democracy, with officers being elected by their soldiers. Service was also voluntary, and self discipline was emphasized over hierarchal control and coercion. In addition to this egalitarian policy for administration, the way captured enemy soldiers were treated was particularly striking. Whenever the Anarchists captured an enemy unit, they would execute the officers and set the soldiers free, suggesting that they return to their homes and carry on the revolution there. This practice was founded upon the idea that the soldiers of the opposing force were not the enemy, but fellow workers and peasants. Their brief respite ended with the expulsion of the White armies to the south. The Bolsheviks, fearing the massive popularity of Makhno’s force, now turned on the anarchists. Makhno’s forces were declared outlaws and attacked without mercy. They, and those peasants allied with them, were slaughtered by the tens of thousands. Only in 1920 did the threat of another White army prompt the Bolsheviks to end their bloody suppression and once more seek an alliance with Makhno. Again, the anarchists joined the Bolsheviks to battle the reactionary White army, seeing in the latter a greater threat to the revolutionary masses, despite the persecution they personally had suffered. No sooner had the White force been once more driven back, then the Bolsheviks redoubled their assault on Makhno and the peasants who supported his forces. The Reds poured 150,000 soldiers into the Ukraine, crushing any resistance. Makhno and his force, harried by a much larger and better equipped army, were chipped away at, until finally, in 1921, Makhno and less than 10% of his peak force of 20,000 escaped across the border into Romania. Makhno eventually settled in Paris, where he lived as a poor industrial worker to support himself. Over the next few years, he and other veterans of the Russian revolution formulated a new “Platformist” theory of Anarchism, which outlined the necessity of increased organization and coordination in anarchist movements. He died virtually penniless in 1934, never able to return to his beloved Ukraine.
The year 2000 was a bad year for the US electoral system. Al Gore gained about 550,000 more votes than his main opponent, George W. Bush, but lost the election by 5 electoral votes. While I understand the resentment of Gore’s supporters toward Bush’s victory, I am more frustrated with the fact that our system selected a president that 52.1% of our voters didn’t want. This sad fact is not even related to the anomaly of the winning candidate losing the popular vote – many US elections yield a candidate that is not supported by the majority of the electorate. Most presidents are elected by less than 60%, which can hardly be called decisive. Within the past century, the most pronounced example of this phenomenon was the 1992 election of Bill Clinton, who was elected by popular and electoral vote while a full 57% of voters did not want him as president. We have become complacent about our system, and are used to settling for a candidate that the majority of voters do not approve of, and this is a problem. The fact that a full 18.9% of voters were willing to vote for Ross Perot in 1992, despite it being very unlikely for an independent to win in our system, shows that there were many voters (about 19.7 million of them) who disapproved of both mainstream candidates. I know that it is impossible to please everyone and elect a candidate that everyone likes, but it has to be possible for us to do better than this. The root cause of these unsatisfactory results is the fundamental way we think about voting. Our system oversimplifies voter opinions by assuming that they approve of one candidate strongly and do not approve of any other candidate whatsoever. Anyone who truly does his/her research about political candidates is likely to agree with some of their views and disagree with others. I have left-wing leanings and thus supported Obama over McCain the past election and, had I been of age, I would have voted for him. Having researched the Green Party, I also agree strongly with many of their views, yet there is no doubt in my mind that I would not vote for a Green Party candidate because doing so would mean taking a vote away from the Democratic Party. It should strike you as strange that I would be compelled to vote for a candidate who might not be my first choice. I would rather have voted for both Democratic and Green Party, but, as many would tell me, that’s ridiculous. But why? If I support two candidates equally, why am I forced into showing my support for one of them and feigning disapproval of the other? After having thought much about these questions, I have yet to find a good answer. This is why I am proposing a multiple voting system that would allow each voter to vote for as many candidates as they wanted. Naturally they would not vote for all because that would defeat the purpose, but if the only strong feeling they had was against one candidate, they would be allowed to vote for all but him/her. The simplest way to accomplish this would be allowing voters to vote for as many or as few candidates as they want, each vote counting as one vote, but other ideas such as a ranking system would be an improvement as well. The concept of multiple-voting is about showing more general approval or disapproval of candidates than the current system, and intends to elect the politicians who are the least hated by the American people. This is not a useless double negative; our system now elects candidates that upwards of 50% of the population do not support. A multiple-voting system would hopefully elect a candidate of whom a comfortable majority approves and a smaller minority disapproves. A simple example of this would be candidate of a centrist third-party who could win through receiving votes from both Republicans and Democrats. Allowing a third-party victory can make it mainstream to not identify with either mainstream party. There are more than two kinds of politician and more than two kinds of voter, and if you are tired of being forced into this false dichotomy, then I hope you will advocate multiple-voting to improve our country’s political system.
There might be a tendency in some to look at the recent attacks on organized labor in Wisconsin, Michigan, and elsewhere as products of a couple of right-wing crackpots who managed to get themselves elected, but a close look at recent history demonstrates that the environment for organized labor has been hostile for quite some time. Unions are, of course, one of the very few remaining counter-balances to corporate power, which makes them a near constant target of both legislation and propaganda. The Michigan Daily’s coverage of the current organization drive of graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) should come as no surprise then, as it is characterized by either lazy reporting, outright deception, or both. What is most disheartening about this coverage is that the facts are all available, yet The Daily still decided to publish an editorial against the drive with scant attention to the reality of the situation. The editorial, published on February 21st, 2011 states that, “the Graduate Employees’ Organization is lobbying to bring graduate student research assistants under the umbrella of its union, and the University is declining to negotiate this issue with GEO.” This opening is false, and sets the tone for the entire piece. It is true that the University has decided not to discuss GSRAs at the bargaining table, but GEO is not seeking to include GSRAs into their contract. Rather, they are asking the University to recognize the democratic rights of GSRAs to organize as employees of the University of Michigan, and the University has paid this request no mind. Just as the events of Wisconsin aren’t the isolated actions of a fringe element in American politics, but of a coordinated and deliberate attempt to destroy unions, neither is the GSRA campaign to organize the result of a whim of the GEO leadership. It is the result of workers attempting to take some control over the conditions of their employment. In the 1970s, when GEO first came into existence as one of the first graduate employee unions in the country, the drive was to organize all graduate students that were also employees of the university. That included the 300 or so graduate students who were research assistants at the time. The University’s stance, which was subsequently supported by a court ruling, was that research assistants were not in fact employees of the University, and therefore could not join an employee collective bargaining unit. Today, there are upwards of 2000 research assistants at the University of Michigan, and many have problems that sound remarkably similar to the problems of employees: compensation and workload, vacation, and the conflation of academic and paid research work, not to mention the fact that budget cuts are likely, and the easiest targets of such cuts are workers outside of a bargaining unit. The Daily might avail themselves of this brief history, and to take the current nationwide assault on the labor movement into account. Their recent editorial is only the latest articulation of what seems to be a very limited grasp of all the factors at play. They also make it difficult to chalk this up to mere journalistic laziness. Indeed, readers of the most recent editorial might come away with the idea that there is only one authority on this matter: the University. The editorial quotes the associate vice provost Jeff Frumkin twice, but includes no voice from GSRAs or GEO. In so doing they assure that the half-truths that rest as this editorial’s premise remain uncorrected and the voices of all the parties involved are left to be interpreted through the slipshod assertion of the editorial board that states: “In an interview with the Daily, Frumkin said the University doesn’t think it’s in GSRAs’ best interest to join GEO because a collective bargaining agreement wouldn’t properly address the specific issues related to each GSRA research project. Many GSRAs agree with this sentiment and have indicated that they don’t want to join GEO.” Many GSRAs probably do agree with this sentiment. In most unionization campaigns there are people who side with management, typically those who have little to complain about, and perhaps an unwillingness to empathize with their fellow workers. What is also true is that many GSRAs disagree with this sentiment and have decided to voice their support for unionization, but this latter fact does not make it into the editorial. Ultimately the Daily calls for the very same position GEO has sought to put forth at the bargaining table, admitting that “If GSRAs want to campaign for unionization that is their right.” But if this is actually The Daily’s position why not ask the University to agree to a democratic process? And why follow this claim of respect for the right to organize with a decidedly biased opinion on whether they should organize or not? The editors write: “There are undoubtedly situations in which a GSRA may require assistance in dealing with a faculty member or the conditions of his or her work at the University, but unionizing may not be the most effective solution. Instead, the University must be willing to help GSRAs by expanding or implementing necessary resources.” This passage becomes even more troubling when considering the title of the piece “One union doesn’t fit all” Of course, those involved in labor struggle know that a collective voice is by far the most effective way of leveraging the power of management, who, despite The Daily’s distorted view of the world, will never extend themselves for their employees unless put under pressure to do so. A collective voice provides that pressure. Many GSRAs do require assistance, and that is why they have decided to organize. The Michigan Daily would do well to pay more than lip service to the notion that GSRAs have the right to organize and let their democratic voice be heard, both in the pages of their publication, and by the University.
On January 25, 2011, a series of protests, strikes, and riots began that eventually resulted in the resignation of long-reigning Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. As these events unfolded, the Western news media struggled to explain the cause of this phenomenon. While journalists credited things such as twitter and speeches by Barack Obama for the sudden manifestation of pro-democracy sentiment among the Egyptian people, virtually all of these narratives ignored the important role played by Egyptian activists and organizers, especially in the labor movement. Egypt has a long history of labor militancy that begins around the turn of the twentieth century, during which trade unions helped organize actions against British colonial control over Egypt. Under the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954-1970), the role of unions in Egypt changed drastically. Previously centers of opposition and radicalism, the trade unions came under the control of the state, which created the Egyptian Trade Union Federation in 1957. This Federation, which was, until the 2011 Revolution, the only such organization in Egypt, was controlled by the ruling National Democratic Party and has opposed workers’ agitation against government policies. Labor activists did, however, manage to play a role in politics independent of the state-controlled Federation. In 1977, the government of Anwar Sadat announced a plan to end subsidies of basic commodities such as flour and rice. This move was part of a years-long process of liberalizing the Egyptian economy and dismantling the elements of a welfare state created under Nasser. The reaction of the Egyptian people to the news of the impending cancellation of food subsidies was immediate and outraged. Led in part by labor militants, people across Egypt marched and rioted for two days against Sadat’s decision, eventually resulting in the policy being retracted. More recently, the last ten years has seen a rising tide of labor activity in Egypt. On April 6, 2008, Egyptian textile workers called for a general strike in support of their demand for a raise in the minimum wage. When police prevented the strike from taking place, a demonstration took place in the textile-producing city of El-Mahalla El-Kubra, also attacked by security forces. The April 6th Youth Movement, the group which initiated many of the January 25 protests, took its name from the date of this attempted strike and protest. When the pro-democracy movement in Tunisia succeeded in ousting president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, it was a great inspiration to others with similar goals. Egypt, with its growing labor movement and well-organized opposition, was a logical place for the next revolution to take place. On January 30, the sixth day of protests, the Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, an independent organization, was created in opposition to the government-run federation. This new federation called for a general strike in support of the movement against Mubarak’s government. Demonstrations took place for several weeks, and more and more workers joined the strike, eventually leading to Mubarak stepping down on February 11. Although Mubarak is gone, the struggle must continue if it is to achieve justice for the workers of Egypt. Even though it remains to be seen what the outcome of the revolution will be, it certainly demonstrates the power of labor, and popular movements in general, to bringing about dramatic change. And it continues to serve as an inspiration to activists and revolutionaries around the world, including those who are participating in the struggles currently taking place in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. On February 20, Egyptian labor leader Kemal Abbas issued a statement of solidarity with workers’ struggles around the world, in particular, addressing those in Wisconsin who are resisting the governor’s attack on the pay and collective bargaining rights of state employees. Speaking for the workers of Egypt, Abbas declared, “We want you to know that we stand on your side. Stand firm and don’t waiver. Don’t give up on your rights. Victory always belongs to the people who stand firm and demand their just rights.”
On March 10, 2011, Wisconsin lawmakers headed by Republican Governor, Scott Walker, and, by association, the Republican Party, made a direct assault upon the working class by voting to pass a union busting bill that strips workers of their collective bargaining rights. While they attempt to justify their actions with the balancing the state budget, the passing of this bill strikes a blow against the working class of Wisconsin, preventing them from effectively fighting for their rights. The passing of the bill also sets a dangerous precedent that lawmakers in other states are using to forward a platform of union busting legislation. An article on the bill’s passing in the Huffington Post describes the potential spread of this disturbing oppressive trend. “Walker’s plan has touched off a national debate over labor rights for public employees and its implementation would be a key victory for Republicans, many of whom have targeted unions amid efforts to slash government spending. Similar bargaining restrictions are making their way through Ohio’s Legislature and several other states are debating measures to curb union rights in smaller doses.” It seems as though this may be the first of many clashes between the working class and the pro-corporate, if not outrightly corporate-controlled, US government. This must be stopped NOW. The battle is not lost until the people give up fighting. Workers must unite, regardless of what lies lawmakers sign off on. Collective bargaining rights are one of the few things standing between the working class and complete oppressive rule by corporate or government entities. While our political system aspires to a democracy, our economic structure operates as a dictatorship. The average individual worker has no say about the condition in which they work and the compensation they receive. At best, their grievances and requests are tossed in a box and ignored with numerous others. At worst, workers can be punished for voicing their opinions. Only together can workers pose a significant threat to the profits so incessantly sought by the rich elite and demand humane working conditions and compensation equitable to their labor. Individuals can be fired and replaced, it is much more difficult, however, to replace the entirety of a workforce. Not only are there more people to replace, but a significant ideological message would be sent by a corporation or government entity tossing all of its employees aside in the name of profit. Even more threatening than the specific things, like pension, lost in the passing of the Wisconsin bill, is the foundational platform created, from which future anti-union and anti-working class campaigns can be waged. The key to preventing this oppression from spreading from Wisconsin is in the name itself, unity. Workers, all workers, regardless of industry or other forms of social division, i.e. race, gender, etc., must band together to protect themselves against oppression from the rich few. One of the most effective tactics used to bust unions is the dissemination of anti-union propaganda, creating a false sense of hostility and conflict between union and non-union workers and the unemployed. Unions gain no benefit from any member of the working class being oppressed, whether they are employed at the time or not. Similarly no individual member of the working class can ultimately benefit from being anti-union, as they are attacking one the few entities in this society that seeks to allow them to be heard. The key to this issue is for all working class people to realize their mutual stake in the battle for collective bargaining rights. While there is no denying that significant conflicts arise between union workers and the rest of the working class, this conflict is a false product of the oppressive capitalist system’s misinformation and distortion of fact. The true enemy is not our brothers and sisters in the picket lines fighting for a better life, but the bosses who would deny those same rights to us.
The warning signs have been in the news for years, for those who have been paying attention. We are passing, or have passed, peak fossil fuel production. We are at or near the tipping point after which global warming cannot be stopped. Combined with erosion, deforestation, soil contamination and other environmental damage, this will cause the earth to lose much of its viable cropland over the next century. The decreased availability of fossil fuels will make modern intensive, mechanized agriculture unviable, further decreasing food production. The population of the planet is projected to double by 2050, but even the current human population is as much as two-thirds greater than the earth’s sustainable carrying capacity. If the environmental situation were better, it would be possible to avert a full-scale malthusian catastrophe by people simply having fewer children, but thanks to the capitalist system, we must face a massive contraction of our food supply at the same time. This is a recipe for famine and conflict. We have entered the endgame of capitalism, and perhaps the end of human civilization as we know it. The approaching crisis will dwarf all others in recorded history, both natural and man-made. This may sound alarmist, like the preaching of some millennialist cult, but it is simply the logical conclusion of the best predictions science can give us. If globalized, deregulated capitalism persists, the future of mankind will disappear into the insatiable maw of the unstoppable economic furnace. The basic contradiction is self-evident: capitalism can only function under the assumption of continuous, unending economic growth. Real economic growth—actual increases in the amount of material wealth, not speculators’ financial voodoo—is always the result of natural resources being exploited. Our natural resources are clearly not unlimited. Therefore, unlimited economic growth is impossible. A society that insists on growing its economy despite all environmental costs sows its own demise by undermining the planet’s ability to support life. This is what the past 200-odd years of industrial and post-industrial capitalism have done, and will continue to do. The oil spills, the epidemics of birth defects and cancer in certain factory and mine towns, the destruction of U.S. bee colonies (caused by a prematurely approved, poorly tested pesticide), and the impending collapse of world fish stocks—these are just the tip of the iceberg. Though it is tempting to blame the over-consuming West, we must realize that our excess consumption is a product of our advertising-saturated society. The impending disaster is the fault of the robber baron capitalist class, whose multinational corporations have committed countless crimes against humanity and the planet. These corporations are able to do this because of deregulation and “free trade” agreements forced on less powerful nations by the United States and other Western nations. With their vast financial resources, they use money to influence governments or control them outright. This control has solidified since the Citizens United decision allowed unlimited, anonymous donations to political campaigns to be made legally. But it is only the latest in a string of controversial cases dating back to Dartmouth v. Woodward in 1819 which have thoroughly entrenched the status of the corporation as equal to the individual. It is a vicious cycle of ever-expanding wealth being used to buy governments that deregulate, allowing further exploitation and expansion of wealth. Examples abound of corporate misanthropy in the name of profit. The “Fiji Water” brand of bottled water is an enormous moneymaker for its billionaire owners, the Resnicks. Meanwhile, Fijians often drink contaminated water, and live in poverty under a military junta with a record of human rights abuses. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused damage that cannot realistically be measured in dollars, and British Petroleum is still doing business. In a society where corporations are people and all citizens are equal, BP’s assets would have been liquidated to pay for the disaster—the corporate equivalent of the death penalty. Energy giant, Halliburton, in addition to being involved in the gulf spill, has gotten away with numerous environmental crimes, from Texas to Nigeria, where a there is an ongoing bribery case against Halliburton leaders including former CEO (and Vice President), Dick Cheney. The very nature of market capitalism is such that quarterly earnings matter above all else; the most powerful people in the world have no incentive to consider the effects of their decisions on anyone but their shareholders, and in fact are legally obligated to disregard any such “externalities.” As a capitalist society, we will persist on this highway to hell, either until the system is changed, or until the only survivors are a few thousand ludicrously wealthy elites and a few million impoverished serfs. The increasingly unrestrained system of global capitalism, which has become especially dominant over the last few decades, is essentially a rush to extract and exploit anything and everything from which a profit can be made. The great contradiction has never been more clear: capitalism is based on the principle of unlimited economic growth, while our planet’s resources are very clearly limited. This inconsistency makes the current situation inherently untenable. If we allow the continued exploitation of the earth, we will face an environmental catastrophe that threatens our species and all others. The continued survival of human civilization is incompatible with the persistence of unrestrained capitalism. It is no longer an option for individuals to be be apathetic or uninterested in changing the system; to do nothing is to choose the status quo, and staying the course will take us to the brink of extinction.
Every January, the streets of Berlin are flooded with thousands of revolutionaries, marching to commemorate the life of a great martyr for international socialism, Rosa Luxemburg. 82 years after her assassination by the Freikorps, a proto-fascist paramilitary organization sponsored by the leadership of the newly formed Weimar Republic to eliminate threats to “democratic” order, Luxemburg’s name remains synonymous with revolution.
Born on March 5, 1871 in Southwestern Poland, Rosa Luxemburg spent most of her early years in Warsaw (then a part of the Russian empire), where she joined the underground revolutionary movement at the age of 16. After attracting the attention of the authorities by her political activity, Luxemburg emigrated to Zurich, Switzerland in 1889, where she became acquainted with Marxist theory and made the acquaintance of a number of luminaries of the international socialist movement, many of whom made Zurich their home in exile.
In 1892, Luxemburg participated in the foundation of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), but soon left to form the Social-Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL) after the former was taken over by Polish nationalists. In their pursuit of Polish nationhood, the PPS went on to repeatedly betray the cause of socialism and become a true force of reaction — after the First World War, they ended up supporting the reactionary dictatorship of Jozef Pilsudski. Meanwhile, Luxemburg’s SDKPiL remained fiercely committed to revolutionary internationalism. As a Polish Jew, Luxemburg was acutely aware of the poisonous chauvinism present in even the nationalism of an oppressed nation. Luxemburg and the SDKPiL maintained that the workers of Poland had more in common with their working class brothers and sisters in Germany, Russia and all other nations than with the Polish bourgeoisie.
In 1898, Luxemburg left Zurich for Berlin, where she joined the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD), at that time still revered as the biggest, strongest and most authoritative voice in the international socialist movement. Luxemburg quickly made a name for herself in the German movement – months after her arrival in Germany, she published a pamphlet, Reform or Revolution? This pamphlet was a public challenge to Eduard Bernstein, a leading figure within the SPD who asserted that socialism could be brought to Germany without revolution, and that the party should drop all calls for revolution in favor of a gradualist strategy to win social reforms within the framework of capitalism. While agreeing that socialists must be steadfast fighters for any and all reforms that would improve the lives of workers and oppressed peoples, she rejected the notion that socialism could come about relying on reformism alone and insisted that the SPD uphold socialist revolution as its ultimate aim.
Luxemburg’s pamphlet quickly catapulted her into leadership circles within the SPD. Meanwhile, she continued to play a leading role in the illegal SDKPiL. During the Russian Revolution of 1905, Luxemburg moved to back Warsaw to take part in the upheaval. Impressed by the revolutionary tactics of the workers of Warsaw, Luxemburg sought to apply the lessons of the Russian revolution to Germany upon her return to Berlin. Promoting the general strike as a revolutionary tactic, Luxemburg faced resistance from an increasingly conservative layer of bureaucrats within the SPD.
Upon the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the slow rot of conservatism and reformism within the SPD reached a breaking point, as party leaders and parliamentarians came out in support of the German war effort. Socialist leaders of other nations followed suit, supporting their own nation’s imperialist bourgeoisie against the workers of the enemy nation. Rosa Luxemburg recognized this as a fundamental betrayal of socialist principles and the death knell for the Second, or Socialist International. Together with Karl Liebknecht, the only SPD parliamentarian to vote against Germany’s war budget, Luxemburg founded Spartakusbund, an underground revolutionary organization that called on workers to recognize their own imperialism as the main enemy. Advocating fraternization among soldiers of warring nations, Luxemburg and Liebknecht joined a small minority of socialist internationally, including Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin and American socialist agitator Eugene V. Debs, in calling for the transformation of the imperialist war into an international civil war of the working class against the bourgeoisie.
In 1918, revolution swept Germany. Mirroring the soviets, or workers’ councils, popularized by the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, workers’ councils were formed in Berlin and many other metropolises of Germany. To maintain order, Germany’s ruling class was forced to turn to the putrid SPD – now socialist in name only — as the only force capable of saving German capitalism. Supporters of Luxemburg’s Spartakusbund, which had joined with the Russian Bolsheviks in founding the Third (Communist) International, found themselves in a minority in calling for socialist revolution, but could not contain their revolutionary enthusiasm and sense of urgency as the bulwarks of capitalism appeared to crumble before their eyes. In the early days of 1919, Luxemburg found herself a reluctant leader of a mass workers’ insurrection which was quickly defeated. On January 15, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were arrested at the orders of SPD leaders. Liebknecht was shot, allegedly while trying to escape. Luxemburg was shot in the head, and her body dumped in a river.
In the last days of her life, Rosa Luxemburg wrote the following words in the wake of the defeat of the January uprising: “’Order prevails in Berlin!’ You foolish lackeys! Your ‘order’ is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will ‘rise up again, clashing its weapons,’ and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing: ‘I was, I am, I shall be!’”
On March 8, 1971, activists known as the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania and stole thousands of secret files. Among these files were documents that proved the existence of the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), an FBI initiative dedicated to suppressing dissent and preventing revolution in the United States.
One of the main targets of the program was the Black Panther Party (BPP). J. Edgar Hoover himself referred to the Panthers as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” and this belief was demonstrated by his vicious campaign to destroy them. Perhaps the most famous FBI document of this era discusses the threat of the BPP and other black nationalist organizations. One of the FBI’s goals, the document stated, was to “prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement.” Therefore, it continued, a function of COINTELPRO should be to “pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them.”1 This campaign of neutralization included the murders, in cooperation with police departments across the country, of over twenty Black Panther Party members.2
The operation took other forms as well, such as sending Party officials fake letters from supposed comrades and supporters with the intent of sowing dissension and distrust among the Party leadership. These were often successful. A series of letters written by the FBI contributed to the increasing hostility between Eldridge Cleaver and Huey P. Newton, probably the two most powerful figures in the Party.3 The FBI also frequently raided Party offices, arrested huge numbers of Panthers, and infiltrated the organization with FBI operatives and snitches. Among the most creative FBI actions taken against the Black Panther Party was creating a fake children’s coloring book, supposedly authored by the Panthers, which among other things depicted black children shooting police officers.4 All of these tactics helped bring about the decline of the Black Panthers. The Party, which only a few years earlier had seemed to be the vanguard of the growing revolutionary socialist movement in the United States, ceased to exist in 1976. Although the Black Panthers were considered to be the greatest threat to the ruling classes during this time, they were far from the only one. Others included political parties such as the Communist Party USA and the Socialist Workers Party, civil rights organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Council, Black Panther-inspired radical ethnic nationalists like the American Indian Movement and the Puerto Rican nationalist Young Lords, and the student New Left led by Students for a Democratic Society. All of these groups, along with many other organizations and individuals, were spied on, infiltrated, harassed, and otherwise targeted for “neutralization” by the FBI as part of COINTELPRO.5
In 1975, the U.S. Senate, pressured by the Citizens’ Commission break-in and the exposure of other secret intelligence operations by investigative journalists, created a committee to study the legality of FBI and CIA activity in the 60s and 70s. In its final report this committee concluded, “Unsavory and vicious tactics have been employed — including anonymous attempts to break up marriages, disrupt meetings, ostracize persons from their professions, and provoke target groups into rivalries that might result in deaths.” 6 Even the U.S. government was moved to, at least in public, denounce unscrupulous COINTELPRO activities, and the program was officially shut down around the same time.
On September 24, 2010, the FBI conducted raids on the homes and offices of anti-war, Palestinian solidarity, and socialist activists in Minneapolis and Chicago. They also issued grand jury subpoenas to fourteen members of these groups. This operation, which has involved infilitrating the groups with FBI agents and attempting to charge their members with providing “material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations,”7 is part of the never-ending campaign by the FBI to discredit and intimidate activists. These activities prove that although COINTELPRO no longer officially exists, its spirit and tactics live on. Rather than an unpleasant aberration, the program was simply part of a long history of state repression in the United States, from the 1919 suppression of the Socialist Party and Industrial Workers of the World to the present day.
The past few months have seen the political world rocked by the most unlikely of individuals. The greatest threat to Amerika and “democracy” is no longer Iran, Korea, Somalia, or China, though each of these receive their prescribed amount of coverage. No, the critical threat to “open government” and “freedom” has suddenly become a small team of hackers led by a middle aged Australian.
Wikileaks, a name by now synonymous with massive government information releases, is the newest boogeyman of the United States and its imperialist allies. The Wikileaks “cables” have contained thousands of Top Secret documents detailing everything from reports of torture and 15,000 unreported civilian deaths in Iraq, to candid and often scathing assessments of foreign governments by US diplomats the world over. One of the more chilling pieces has been a video dubbed Collateral Murder. The film, taken from a military aircraft, shows an unprovoked attack on a group of several people including two journalists, and a second attack on a van carrying two children that came to pick up the wounded. The cables have also shown instances of US forces using illegal cluster bombs in Yemen.
The Amerikan government’s response has been predictable, with officials attempting to frame Wikileaks and its actions as a nefarious secret organization bent on evil ends. Hillary Clinton, responding in the wake of one of the releases called the cables “an attack on the international community.” A stance echoed by Joe Lieberman who called on the Administration to “shut down Wikileaks” because its, “activities represent a shared threat to collective international security.” Rep. Peter King demanded that the US “Declare Wikileaks a foreign terrorist organization” as a “clear and present enemy of the United States of America.” This would enable Wikileaks and anyone aiding them to be tried under the Patriot act and other Anti Terror Legislation, This would cause US citizens found to be aiding Wikileaks would face huge mandatory minimum sentences and denial of civil liberties on par with those found to be assisting Al Qaeda. As usual the US government tries to equate an attack on itself with an assault on the ideals of freedom and democracy; a threat to international security and world peace. Interesting claims from a government engaged in two unjustified wars, and which has been caught turning a blind eye to torture and civilian casualties.
But what is the real impact of Wikileaks? What do its members hope to achieve through the release of secret US documents?
Many in the corporate media have expressed skepticism as to the real impact of the cables. As startling as some of these releases have been, the vast majority of them have done little but confirm a cynical view of Amerika’s interactions with the world: many read like a stuck up bully assessing the merits of its victims: condescending, egotistical, and selfish. However, such information does not carry the revelatory power of Watergate or the Pentagon Papers.
So if the information itself is not revolutionary, then what purpose is there in releasing it? An insight can be gained from a document published by Wikileaks leader Julian Assange entitled Conspiracy as Governance. In this piece Assange outlines his understanding of conspiracy as the origin of bad governance. A conspiratorial government is one where the true power of a system is exercised by a small minority concealed behind false institutions. The conspiracy relies upon a web of connections between its individual members to function. Along these connections flows the information and power necessary for the conspiracy to perceive, evaluate, and deal with threats to its existence.
The way to defeat a conspiracy, says Assange, is to sever these connections and thereby make the conspiracy incapable of operating. This can be done in several ways. Since ancient times assassination has been used to destroy key links in conspiracies, and breaking them into fragments. However, Assange postulates a new way of overturning the conspiracy utilizing 21st century technology. Rather than breaking individual links he advocates “throttling the conspiracy” by making the conspiracy mistrust itself, thereby restricting the flow of information between all individuals. In weakening the links we weaken the ability of the conspiracy to operate until it becomes ineffective and falls to outside pressure.
When viewed through this lens Wikileaks’ actions take on a whole new dimension. It no longer matters so much what is contained within the documents as that the documents are released. With each new wave of cables Wikileaks proves to Amerika’s ruling class that their lines of communication are not secure, causing them to tighten their information sharing, and weakening their ability to function as an effective empire.
On September 29th, 2010 a Dublin cement truck driver drove his truck to the gates of the Irish government. He had repainted the truck to read “Anglo Toxic Bank,” a clear reference to the bailout of the Irish banking sector, and the selling out of the Irish people. Without aggression or violence, the driver simply left the truck running, doors locked, and symbolically laid the toxic assets of the bank at the foot of the Irish government. There were a series of impassioned protests in Dublin following the bailout of Ireland’s banking sector, prompted mostly by the subsequent massive cuts to social welfare, health, and education. Public employees facing repeated cuts in salary and threats to their pensions organized a one day general strike. Students also went on strike in response to the institution of university fees, with a contingent occupying Anglo Irish Bank’s Dublin headquarters. A series of marches closed down the capital, with one group of protesters threatening the gates of the very seat of government, Leinster House. The gardai (police) response was brutal, although not surprising. At least one protester was left with serious head injuries. Despite all of this direct action, the government continued down its path of rewarding the illegal and deceitful practices of the banking sector at the expense of the general population. At the time, it might have been hard to imagine that it could get worse. On November 16th, 2010 the International Monetary Fund made an official statement that “Irish authorities” had requested a fiscal plan designed to “bolster and strengthen its financial sector.” With this announcement a bleak present showed the way to an even bleaker future, with attacks on social welfare, and the institutions of highly regressive taxes a near certainty. The Irish people are no strangers to oppression at the hands of the free market. The so called famine of the 1840s – which resulted in widespread death, emigration, and largely precipitated the near extermination of the Irish language – was less a shortage of food than a shortage of capital. An Anglo-Irish Ascendancy class controlled much of the land and food production. As Irish scholar Declan Kiberd writes: “Through the earlier years of hunger, the British held to their laisseiz-faire economic theories and ships carried large quantities of grain from the starving island” (Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 21). The reality for most Irish families became emigration to England or America, both English speaking countries, greatly enhancing the effect of British laws making the Irish language illegal. The causes behind this moment of cultural and literal death is familiar: exploitation shrouded in faith in the invisible hand of the free market. This exploitation continued long after the famine, and even continued after the formal break with Great Britain. It was the Easter Rising of 1916, and the subsequent war of independence which resulted in an eventual severing of England’s dominion over Ireland, but the economic shadow of England loomed large and the revolution in Ireland failed to emancipate most of the Irish people from economic oppression. Many of the Rising’s participants had enough foresight to see this. James Connolly, leader of The Irish Citizen Army and trade union activist wrote in 1897 that: “If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.” Now, a century later, Ireland seems to have again given over its sovereignty to landlords and financiers, but the revolutionary democratic spirit demonstrated by Connolly is not altogether gone. Indeed, even throughout the boom times of the 1990’s there were major battles fought and won by grass roots activism. Most notably, anarchist, socialist, and other activist groups successfully mobilized around resistance to the institution of water charges, a decidedly regressive tax. Through street protests and refusals to pay, Irish citizens forced the government to actually listen to the will of its people, a radical notion in the neo-liberal age. Now with the IMF’s takeover, water charges are again in the plans for the future, and this time around it has the weight of the entire European community behind it, with its acceptance of the IMF deal. The future does indeed look grim, unless the Irish people call on the strength they’ve demonstrated in the past. The Workers Solidarity Movement, a nationwide anarchist activist roup notes that the “Standard IMF methods include the closing down of hospitals, schools and public services on the one hand and the charging of large fees for whatever education and healthcare can still be afford by some of the population on the other.” Although these can (and should) all be seen as assaults on working people, they may also represent moments of opportunity for mass mobilization against the growing inequality of the country and lead to real change. The response is largely up to the Irish people, and whether or not they can nurture that culture of resistance, activism, and democracy that is so clearly a part of their history.
In the wake of the election scandals of 2000 and 2004, the state of Ohio was faced with a series of lawsuits leading to the scrapping of current ballot access provisions. Subsequently, new regulations were passed allowing any party to get on the ballot with as few as 500 petition signatures. Seeing an opportunity to advance the struggle for socialism through the electoral arena, Dan La Botz, a long-time socialist activist and writer, launched a campaign last year for the U.S. Senate on the Socialist Party USA ticket. La Botz’s campaign did more than get the Socialist Party USA back on Ohio’s ballot for the first time in decades – it also served as a powerful impetus for socialist unity, bringing together several socialist organizations and independent socialists to build a visible, pluralistic and militant movement for socialism in Ohio. La Botz cut his political teeth as a college student in California in the 1960s. During this time he was active in the anti-war, civil rights and labor movements: “While in college I volunteered with the United Farm Workers union (UFW) and helped support farm worker strikes for higher wages and better conditions on the tomato ranches in southern San Diego County. The UFW was really part of an enormous Latino movement for civil rights and I learned a lot from it. Growing up on the border, studying and working with Latinos gave me a lifelong love of the Spanish language and Latin American culture.”1 After graduating from college, La Botz, by that time a committed socialist, joined a number of other young revolutionaries in taking rank-and-file jobs in industries key to the U.S. economy’s functioning, such as auto and transport. “I spent most of the 1970s as a truck driver in Chicago where I became involved in organizing a reform movement in the Teamsters union, then dominated by corrupt union officials… I was a founding member of Teamsters for a Democratic Union and later wrote a book about the movement Rank and File Rebellion: Teamsters for a Democratic Union.”2 After injury forced him to quit his job as a truck driver, La Botz continued to work as an organizer and journalist, and eventually earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of Cincinnati. “Throughout this period, spanning the late 1990’s until the present I have participated in many struggles for civil rights and worker rights: working with African Americans to stop police abuse in Cincinnati, working with Latino immigrants in fighting for their rights, and supporting workers in organizing drives and strikes.”3 La Botz has also written several books (including the indispensable Troublemaker’s Handbook: How to Fight Back Where You Work and Win!, published by Labor Notes) and worked with the Mexican union the Authentic Labor Front (FAT) to publish a monthly English-language newsletter on Mexican labor issues. As the economic crisis drove many workers to desperation, and in many cases into the arms of reactionaries such as Glenn Beck and the Tea Party movement, La Botz became acutely aware of the need to raise high the flag of socialism. “The root of the problem is the capitalist economic system where small numbers of people control enormous wealth, where a group of a dozen men sitting in a board room can close a factory and destroy a town, or jeopardize the economic wellbeing of an entire state. The corporations do not hesitate to drive us into debt, to poison our atmosphere and water, to lay us off for months or years or to close our plants. We need to change our economic system.”4 Through his campaign, Dan La Botz was able to reestablish the Socialist Party (SPUSA) presence in Ohio and, winning 25,000+ votes, ensured future ballot access for the Socialist Party in Ohio. But his campaign did more than build the SPUSA and popularize socialist ideas. A number of other socialist organizations, including the International Socialist Organization and Solidarity, actively worked to build the Dan La Botz, Socialist for U.S. Senate campaign. On October 2, supporters of La Botz’s campaign organized a large socialist contingent at the national One Nation March for Jobs, Peace and Justice in Washington, DC. The socialist contingent’s call declared: “We are proud to join this march to demand jobs, to demand an end to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan now, and to demand a society that is fairer, more equal and more just… We do not, however, share the strategy of the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, and other organizations which hope to achieve jobs and justice by supporting Barack Obama and the Democratic Party… We believe that it has become quite clear now that neither Democrats nor the Republicans are capable of solving the country’s three great crises – the economy, the environment, and the wars – in a way that will be good for the American people.”5 Since November, the forces involved in Dan La Botz’s campaign have continued the struggle for socialism, forming the “Buckeye Socialist Network,” a state-wide network of socialist activists, ncluding members of several socialist organizations as well as independent socialists. The Buckeye Socialist Network recently joined with other progressive and social movement organizations across the state to initiate a broad campaign, “Defend Ohio,” to defend public services, jobs, and education against attacks by governor-elect John Kasich. The example of socialist unity offered by the Buckeye Socialist Network is modest, but is nevertheless an inspiring example of the potential for building a powerful national revolutionary movement when socialists break down organizational divides and start working together. 1 Quote taken from Dan La Botz’s campaign website, danlabotz.com 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. 4 Ibid. 5 Solidarity Webzine September 25, 2010: http://www.solidarity-us.org/current/october2socialists
ugust 25th, Detroit – “Is it illegal to love your kids?” the sign reads. I wrote it in the 20 rushed minutes we had before the press conference. We arrived at 11 AM on the dot, in what seemed to me a desperate, scrambled attempt to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from breaking apart another family. After having interned with the Alliance for Immigrant Rights (AIR) for almost two months, the Avila family’s story wasn’t particularly shocking. The husband, Florencio, immigrated over 10 years ago; after working hard to make ends meet, ICE suddenly decides to deport him. If his family stays, they can’t pay the medical bills for his daughter’s diabetes or his son’s heart condition. If they go with him, they won’t even get the medical care. Either choice is a death sentence for his children. I hold my sign with twenty other volunteers as Florencio speaks to a reporter in broken English, reading from a crumpled piece of paper where he had jotted some key phrases. It hits me that if this doesn’t work, he will be gone – tomorrow. At no point did the now-familiar slogan ring truer to me: immigrant rights are human rights. Like 6.6 million other families in the United States, the Avila family has “mixed status.” He is undocumented, but his children are U.S. citizens. The current insistence on enforcement only tears apart the 14.6 million people in these mixed status families1. And for what? Anyone who looks at the numbers knows it doesn’t solve anything. In fact, our immigration system punishes immigrant families regardless of their legal status. Take Suleijman Sefa, a Michigander who came from Albania. During his twenty years in the United States, he earned his citizenship, paid his taxes, and started a family. He recently developed terminal brain cancer, giving him only a few months to live. He can barely sit up. Sulejman’s wife Aferdita has been fighting with immigration for two months to grant his last request: a visit from his mother and two of his brothers now in Albania. They’ve been given excuse after excuse while fighting insulting bureaucrats and senseless regulations. The family even had to endure officials at the embassy telling them that Sulejman “isn’t really that sick.” As students, what can we do after we hear these stories? It’s painfully easy to do nothing – painful, because something tells us we can help. This nagging sensation is right: Florencio Avila is now with his family because students and community members organized rallies to show their support for him: ten minutes after the press conference, ICE told his lawyer he could stay another year. The Sefa family is on their way to being reunited because we sent enough faxes on their behalf to shut down Immigration’s offices for a day. Immigrant Rights On Campus (IROC) is a gathering of students that work with organizations like AIR to change these families’ stories. We push the government to do what it should already be doing: fixing our immigration system, instead of mindlessly cycling through illogical and ineffective immigration policies. Besides helping individual cases, IROC partners with non-profits to address the immigration issue holistically. We educate students about immigration issues, organize them to take meaningful action with concrete results, and serve immigrant communities. This semester, we will create an immigration enforcement accountability system, teach students what’s really going on with immigration, and work on individual cases like that of the Sefa family. And we don’t expect to be the only ones doing the work. Immigration affects everyone in this country – and I’m not just talking about national identity and the “American Dream.” Immigration carries concrete economic, social, and political impacts – and the current system produces terrible realities on all three fronts. It’s time to take action. Start by getting involved with the Immigration Enforcement Accountability Project: www.michiganimmigrationreform.org.
Local Struggles: School Bus Drivers Fight Union Busting
In April, Ann Arbor School District bus drivers voted overwhelmingly to reject a plan by the district to privatize school bus services. After the news broke that district administrators were looking at outsourcing of transportation and custodial services to private corporations, a handful of bus driver activists began asking questions. The school district made spurious claims that privatization could save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars. Bus drivers debunked these claims, showing that similar privatization efforts elsewhere had resulted in minimal long-term savings, coupled with a major decline in customer service and satisfaction. Privatization would strip workers of their union representation, force them to take a pay cut and undermine the bus drivers’ relationships with the community they serve. Bus drivers and comm nity supporters let the school board know they did not support privatization. The bus drivers’ victory in April was quietly undermined over the summer, however. Although they will no longer seek privatization, the school board had decided to consolidate bus sevices with other districts in Washtenaw County. All Ann Arbor school bus drivers were sent pink slips and encouraged to re-apply through the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. They would no longer have a union, and would have to accept a pay cut of approximately 13%. The vast majority of laid off bus drivers were rehired into the new non-union positions. However, as Washtenaw Avenue was lined with yard signs advertising open bus driver positions, the four core leaders of the struggle against bus service privatization received rejection letters. And as children returned to school in September, the harsh realities of the administration’s quick fix cost cutting measure became apparent to all. School buses failed to pick children up from designated bus stops, many children arrived late to school, and pa ents panicked as children were as much as 90 minutes late arriving home in the afternoon – and no authorities could be reached to help parents determine the whereabouts of their kids. Savings also proved elusive. According to Chai Montgomery, who spearheaded efforts to fight privatization and now finds himself unemployed, “while drivers are limited to (an average) 13% less pay than now, supervisors will earn more at the WISD than they were able to in their districts…let’s not forget that.” Another anonymous WISD employee wrote on the annarbor.com message board: “I work for WISD now, and i feel used by this company. They are paying retired drivers 22.00 a hour … and im getting 13.00 to do something ive been doing for the past 6 years. I know my kids, i know my route, and i have a excellent driving record. Why am i getting such low pay to do the same job they are doing?” Writes Montgomery, “Union-busting (and pie-in-the-sky savings delusions) that is why Ann Arbor went to WISD for transportation.” School bus drivers in the Washtenaw Intermediate School District are now fighting to regain union representation. Chai Montgomery and other activists who were not rehired are playing an active role in these efforts, while continuing the fight to win their jobs back.
On December 2, 1956 a boat carrying 82 men landed on the coast of eastern Cuba. By the time they made their way to safety in the Sierra Maestra mountains their number had been reduced to 20. They called themselves the 26th of July Movement and they declared their goal to be the overthrow of the Cuban government. Two years later this had been achieved, as the U.S. backed dictator Fulgencio Batista fled and the rebels took Havana. Although this represented the victory of the Cuban people over the economic interests of American companies that had dominated the island, the character of the revolution was still uncertain. In the following years the revolutionary government came to embraced Marxism and came into greater conflict with the United States, which was determined to crush the revolution through economic methods like the trade embargo and military means such as the Bay of Pigs invasion. The Cuban people made education and healthcare the cornerstones of their revolution, with a great deal of success. In 1961, 1,000,000 Cubans were mobilized in the literacy campaign known as the “year of education.” In this single year Cuba’s literacy rate was improved from 76% to 96% and has continued to increase. The proportion of children in Cuba attending school has been raised from 55% in 1959 to virtually 100% today. Education is free for all Cubans, as is a healthcare service that is widely acknowledged as being amongst the most advanced in the world and has achieved better average lifespans and infant mortality rates than the United States. Free access to this healthcare system is guaranteed in Cuba’s constitution. Another right guaranteed by the Cuban government is the right to work, a fact which is demonstrated by Cuba’s unemployment rate of 1.6% - significantly below the world average of 8.7% and 9.3% in the U.S. The achievements of the Cuban Revolution aren’t limited to the island itself, as Cuba has supported revolutionary movements across the globe. This support has at times involved sending weapons and volunteers to places as far away as Angola and Guinea-Bissau to aid revolutionaries fighting against European colonial powers but has had other manifestation as well. When the Sandinista government took power in Nicaragua, Cuba trained Nicaraguan teachers to participate in their own literacy campaign and even sent teachers of its own. While these were important contributions to revolutionary efforts, the most successful aspect of Cuba’s foreign policy has been its “medical internationalism” which brings medical care to places in need at no charge to the patients or host countries. Since 1963, an estimated 130,000 Cuban physicians have volunteered in Cuban medical missions in foreign countries, and in 2008 almost 25% of Cuba’s doctors were working abroad. A large proportion of these doctors are currently working in Venezuela, where they have established 6,000 clinics to serve the poorest areas of the country. Cuba also has a large medical presence in Haiti, where its doctors provide medical care for 80% of the population. One of the most successful Cuban programs is Operation Miracle, which has provided free eye surgery to over 1.3 million people from throughout Latin America. In addition to treating local populations, Cuban doctors have set up medical schools in many of the countries in which they have volunteered. Cuba also operates the Latin American School of Medicine, one of the largest such institutions in the world, which trains international students to become doctors. In 2008 there were over 8,000 students from 28 countries enrolled. The Cuban Revolution has over the past 50 years been able to achieve all of this and more in the face of constant aggression from the world’s most powerful nation. Although errors have been made, the leadership has shown a willingness to admit when its policies have been incorrect. Two of the most well publicized cases have been the government’s previously harsh stances towards organized religion and homosexuality, both of which have been overturned and apologized for by the parties responsible. This shows that the revolutionary government has the willingness to continue to deepen the revolution and continue to build a better society. As a whole, the Cuban Revolution has been a remarkable triumph and should be an inspiration to all those who work for a better way of life.
On November 3rd Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) brought Gal Lugasi, a member of the Israeli organization Anarchists Against the Wall, to campus. Gal spoke about her organization and its activities, which consist mainly of participating in protests and direct action against the separation wall being constructed by Israel in the West Bank. Anarchists Against the Wall does not organize any of these demonstrations, nor does it set the agenda for them. As Gal emphasized repeatedly, they only participate in actions that are organized and led by Palestinians, and then only when they have been invited by the Palestinian organizers. AATW supports Palestinian resistance against the construction of the wall and the military occupation of the West Bank by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). This resistance can take many forms, such as protest marches in towns where the wall is being built, blocking the path of armored bulldozers attempting to demolish Palestinian homes, and cutting the fence which makes up the majority of the separation barrier. The presence of Israelis at these events can be beneficial for the Palestinian demonstrators as the IDF is less likely to use lethal force against a crowd that contains Israeli citizens, although deaths and serious injuries at demonstrations where Israelis and other internationals are present are not infrequent. Anarchists Against the Wall began its activities in 2003, soon after construction began on the wall’s first segments. Israel claims that the purpose of the wall is to protect its citizens from violent action taken by some Palestinians to resist the occupation of the West Bank. As Gal pointed out, this justification is absurd as the easiest and most effective way to eliminate attacks on Israelis would be to end the occupation and the brutal violence used by Israel in the repression of Palestinians. And this is not the only function the wall performs. As it deviates significantly from the 1949 Armistice border (“Green Line”), the wall takes a large portion of the West Bank and effectively annexes it to Israel. About 12% of the area of the West Bank is surrounded by the wall in this way, cut off from other Palestinian territory. In addition to further complicating the already difficult task of moving around the West Bank as a Palestinian, the wall in several cases stands between towns and fields, making farming impossible. Farming is an important part of the Palestinian economy and in this respect the wall contributes to the further impoverishment of the Palestinian people. As soon as the Israel began to build the wall, Palestinians and their allies started fighting back against it in the form of direct actions and protests. Many towns along the wall’s route hold weekly demonstrations to attempt to stop its construction and bring its unjust character to the world’s attention. Although Anarchists Against the Wall is one of the better-known organizations working against the wall, it is only one of many groups participating in the Palestinian movement against the wall, against the occupation, and against the Israeli apartheid system.
Overextended Credit, Collapsing banks, Massive unemployment: the world of finance struggling to explain why an economy suddenly collapses. Are we talking about the 2008 financial crisis, or 1988? 1929? 1907? 1893? 1873? The financial meltdown of today is not the isolated failure of a few greedy men and a lack of proper regulation, or rather it is not only this. As we look at the history of our country and of capitalism in general we find the same cycle of crises repeated over and over again. Through each of these “crises” it is the middle and lower classes seem hardest hit. While the government leaps to save those corporations, common people lose their jobs, their homes and their futures. The poorer 95% of our country are left holding the bag as the government displays its true role as guardians and defenders of the rich. Our society does a spectacular job of pretending that these regular events are isolated incidents, approaching each depression as though it were a never before seen phenomena. In reality these periods of crisis are built into the system: capitalism is crisis. When we step back and survey our planet today we find ourselves faced with a vast array of problems. Billions go hungry and thirsty; their lives devoted to wage slavery. The Planet itself approaches an ecological tipping point; its oceans emptied, forests mercilessly cleared, skies filled with carbon. Yet capitalism’s answer is only another product and another ad campaign. We are told to place our trust in the same institutions that brought us to this point: all we need to do is reform the existing structure and everything will be fine in no time! but is this true? Is our salvation just an organic McDonald’s Meal away? The answer is a resounding no. The high god of capitalism is profits. Profits come before people, the planet, and even survival; for the right people the end of the world could be very profitable indeed. Capitalism needs losers to support its winners. No amount of reform can change the fundamentals of a system designed to place the lives of the many in the hands of the few. So then the question arises, “What are our alternatives, what choice do we have besides capitalism?” Contrary to what one may call, common perception, there are a whole variety of options, all related to the basic ideas of Socialism. This is not the supposed socialism of Obama, but the array of revolutionary alternatives that have opposed capitalism for over 200 years. Socialism, Communism, Anarchy, the basic features of all these systems is their belief in the common ownership of property and the equality of all people. This Publication is meant to give voice to these and other anti-capitalist views of students on campus.
At 4:45 am on December 4th 1969, Chicago Police stormed into a Black Panther Party (BBP) apartment at 2337 Monroe St. They came in guns drawn and, killing the single man on guard duty, charged into the bedroom where Fred Hampton and his pregnant girlfriend were sleeping. He was found asleep, unable to wake due to a dose of secobarbitol administered by an FBI infiltrator earlier in the evening, and wounded from barrage of agents fire as they entered the house. After being Identified as Fred Hampton He was shot twice in the head at point blank range and dragged to the doorway of the bedroom. The agent then cornered the remaining panthers in one of the other bedrooms, wounded them, beat them, dragged them into the street, and arrested them on charges of aggravated assault and attempted murder of a police officer. Not a single offensive shot was fired by the Panthers throughout the encounter. What prompted such a violent assault and execution by the supposed representatives of law and order? This attack came at the peak of a wave of violent action by the US government against radical political groups and the Black Panthers in Particular. The Panthers had been operating in african communities since 1966 providing protection from police brutality, free medical care, soup kitchens, and political education to minority neighborhoods ignored by white society. The Panthers espoused a communist doctrine based upon their 10 point program calling for: Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice and Peace in African American communities. Militant and confrontational the Panthers defended their neighborhoods using force if necessary, armed with rifles and shot guns they “patrolled” the police whenever they entered black neighborhoods to ensure that their rights were protected. The US government fearing a unification of the African American communities authorized a huge campaign to break up and destroy the Panthers. From 1967 onward the US Government sought to destroy the Panthers by any means necessary: double agents, unprovoked raids, and murder were all utilized to try to bring the BPP to it’s knees. At this time Fred Hampton was an up and coming member of the party. He was a pre law student, and became involved first in the NAACP before joining the Panthers in 1968 as they rose to the national stage. A charismatic organizer, Hampton organized a non aggression pact between many of the street gangs in Chicago in 1968. His goal was to form a class conscious union between the various organizations of the ghettos and the left in order to break the system of poverty and violence that gripped so many communities. As the Government began repressing the Panthers, Hampton rose quickly through the ranks until he was poised to take over as Chief of staff of the Central Committee. It was on the eve of his ascension that the FBI determined him too dangerous to live and engineered his execution. The murder of Fred Hampton, one of the Panther’s up and coming leaders was a major blow to the organization. With his death the organization slipped into a decline that resulted ultimately in its dissolution in 1976. His murder is one of the most overt instances of oppression in living memory- a testament to the violence of the state.
For 30 days in June and July the world was thrilled by the greatest collective spectacle on earth held in a part of the world that the global media generally prefers to ignore. The 2010 Soccer World Cup was widely acclaimed as an unprecedented success and a sign of hope for Africa’s future. The perennial afro-pessimism that usually attends all reporting of the continent was for 1 month suspended as fears of crime and administrative disaster failed to materialize. Conspicuous in its absence from the frenetic reporting of the tournament was any serious account of the costs involved. Since receiving the honor to host in 2006, elites had been trumpeting the World Cup as a panacea to the country’s numerous social problems. The economy was set to benefit from huge injections of tourist cash and investment spending and South Africa was to glean a shiny new image for the international scene. The poorest were assured their piece of the pie through major job creation and the frenzied economic activity. An honest balance sheet of the event makes it quite clear who won and who lost in South Africa. Direct government spending on the tournament is hard to calculate since much of it was billed as infrastructural development even when there were few clear economic advantages – such as the enormous cost of building and revamping airports. In particular, around 2 billion dollars was spent on grotesque, white elephant stadiums that are comically oversized for the local teams that will be their only regular users – an amount roughly equal to the housing budget over the last 10 years (in a country with 12 million people in need of adequate shelter). In one case, to meet FIFA’s imperious standards, a stadium was built directly across the road from an existing one, despite infrastructural limitations that prevent them being used at the same time. FIFA of course retained the rights to all media revenues and left ultimately with the highest profits in their checkered history - $3 billion exempt from taxes or exchange controls. Immediately it became clear that the poor were not to be included in the party, with strict controls preventing informal traders from selling official merchandise or setting up at stadiums or the much vaunted ‘fan-parks’. The latter were subject to the full extent of FIFA’s draconian control – effectively overruling the constitution by detaining and harassing activists for distributing anti-WC material. To deal with South Africa’s notorious crime pandemic kangaroo courts and militarized police forces were deployed at a cost of $30 000 per arrest, sometimes meting out multiple year sentences for the heinous offense of hawking game tickets. Though one can hardly blame the desperate for still trying with ticket prices often reaching around $3000 – an amount which didn’t deter the managers of state owned electricity company Eskom, who spent $2 million on tickets whilst in the midst of bitter wage negotiations with their workforce (a combined $18 million was spent by state owned companies). Prohibitive prices were not enough to keep the poor out of sight — notorious concentration camps were set up to hold street dwellers and those displaced from their homes for the vaunted ends of the World Cup. Many of these under-reported stories emanating from the country brought to mind the darker histories of such international spectacles such as the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and more recent Beijing games. In the end few of the wishful promises materialized and the World Cup wonder-drug failed to animate an economy tortured by the Great Recession - the benefits largely accruing to the nexus of multinationals surrounding FIFA and a few large South African firms that had won out in the cesspit of corruption involving tenders and contracts. As the tourists left and thousands of construction jobs dried up, the collective hangover was quick to follow - perhaps most tragically exemplified in renewed incidents of xenophobic violence abetted no doubt by months of hysterical nationalistic flag-waving. A lot has been written on the left about soccer as the magic wand of false consciousness – the new opium of the masses. Terry Eagleton in a piece for The Guardian went as far as to admonish that ‘nobody serious about social change can shirk the fact that the game has to be abolished’. Anyone who has been to a sporting event and experienced that genuine human connection, so antithetical to our customary alienation and division, will easily understand why they obtain the impact that they do. But Eagleton’s conclusion is obviously farfetched as subsequent developments in the country showed. After seeing the extent to which FIFA and its aligned interests were able to push their agenda, many on the left quickly realized that the only victories to be gained from the tournament lay in its dramatically exposing the contradictions of the prevailing order to the working classes. These predictions were conclusively borne out in the massive public sector strike that gripped the country in August. Although not a categorical victory, around 1 million workers were able to hold out in the face of relentless attacks from the mainstream media and state forces to gain a wage increase of 3% above inflation – thwarted in their ultimate demands mainly by the efforts of a compromised trade union leadership. The ruling African National Congress has managed to see through sixteen years of ‘talk left, walk right’ neoliberalization using the allied trade unions and Communist Party to diffuse a mass based left alternative, but unrest is widespread and changes are imminent. Whether the progressive forces will be able to counter the hegemonic power of the ANC and the rising tide of far right nationalism remains to be seen.