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McCarthyism and Political Repression in the United States

        For as long as there have been organized leftist groups in the United States, these movements have been subjected to constant state suppression. Throughout the late nineteenth century, those who fought for social justice and demonstrated and struck for workers’ rights were in a constant state of war with industrial capitalists, their state, and their private mercenaries. Those who questioned inequality and the system that created and perpetuated it, mostly referred to by the mass media as anarchists, were constantly demonized as insane bomb-throwing foreigners who were attempting to destroy civilization.
       However, those repressive measures were tame compared to the onslaught that was to follow the October Revolution and the ensuing establishment of a proletarian state in the former Russian Empire. In 1918, the US Congress passed the Sedition Act, which criminalized criticizing the constitution, the United States, or its entry into World War I. Ostensibly enacted to protect the war effort from German saboteurs, the Sedition Act was used to imprison many anticapitalist activists, including many members of the Industrial Workers of the World, and the leader of the Socialist Party of America, Eugene V. Debs. In the following years, Attorney General Mitchell Palmer had thousands of radicals and immigrants arrested for their beliefs, hundreds of which were deported back to their home countries or to the Soviet Union. In the same year, thousands of police officers and soldiers were required to put down a general strike of over 60,000 workers in Seattle. And in 1921, the so-called Battle of Blair Mountain saw 10,000 coal miners face the US army in an armed confrontation, which the government and management won in part by using the US Air Force and private planes to drop bombs on their own citizens. All of these actions have by and large remained beyond the scope of US history books, which routinely omit and distort labour’s role in shaping the country.
       The main example of state repression of leftist movements that most Americans are familiar with is probably the Second Red Scare of the late 1940s and 50s led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. The USSR’s successful testing of a nuclear weapon and the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War, both in 1949, and set against the backdrop of the beginning of the cold war, sparked a renewed wave of fear and hatred directed at leftists. The US House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities Committee attempted to root out alleged communist subversives inside not only the US government, but also in private and cultural areas such as the movie industry. The FBI, led by Palmer’s protégé J. Edgar Hoover, spied on individuals and infiltrated various organizations that were thought to pose a threat to the government of the United States.These activities were eventually formalized as the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which utilized even more aggressive tactics, including assassinating radical leaders, in particular members of the Black Panther Party. Hundreds of members of the Communist Party of the United States were arrested and tried under a new anti-free speech law, the Smith Act of 1940, which made it a crime to advocate the overthrow of the US government.


       Although McCarthy’s power eventually waned, his namesake ideology remains strong even today, as anticommunist sentiment is still inculcated in Americans by our government, school textbooks, and mass media. Most Americans today see “Communism” as an inherently evil thing, even though they often cannot articulate what it is and can even be found to agree with its principles (for example, a 2010 poll found that 42% of Americans believe that the passage, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” comes from the US Constitution rather than the Communist Manifesto). Today as the capitalist system teeters daily on the edge of collapse, we need radical alternatives more than ever. In this context the leftist movement must work to break through this legacy of repression and distortion to pose real alternatives.

Jack Hagan

Filed under Jack Hagen United States Political Repression McCarthyism COINTELPRO politics

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Egyptian Labor United with People

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.”

By: Jack Hagen

Filed under Jack Hagen Arab Spring Unions Revolution News politics

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COINTELPRO and the US Government’s War on Dissent

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.

1. Index of COINTELPRO Documents: http://www.icdc.com/~paulwolf/cointelpro/cointelindex.htm
2. Churchill, Ward. The COINTELPRO Papers: p. 143
3. Abu Jamal, Mumia. We want freedom: a life in the Black Panther Party, p. 212
4. Churchill, xvi
5. Index of COINTELPRO Documents
6. Church Committee Report: http://www.icdc.com/~paulwolf/cointelpro/churchfinalreportIIa.htm
7. Committee to Stop FBI Repression: http://www.stopfbi.net/about
8. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/jan2011/fbir-j26.shtml


By Jack Hagen

Filed under Jack Hagen United States Political Repression McCarthyism COINTELPRO politics

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The Cuban Revolution

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.


By: Jack Hagen

Filed under Jack Hagen Radical History Revolutionaries Socialism Latin America Cuba Communism Revolution politics

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Anarchists Against the Wall

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.

By Jack Hagen

Filed under Jack Hagen Palestine SAFE Anarchy Apartheid Protest politics