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Posts tagged Ted McTaggart

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Popular Resistance to State and Corporate Repression in Benton Harbor

In March of this year, Governor Rick Snyder signed a law granting expanded powers to emergency managers to take control of city governments and school districts in financial distress.Weeks later, Benton Harbor, a small, predominantly African-American city in Southwest Michigan, was the first city to be taken over under the new law. In April, at the Benton Harbor City Commission’s first meeting after appointment of Emergency Financial Manager Joe Harris, the terms were laid out starkly: Elected city officials are powerless except to call meetings to order, adjourn them, and approve meeting minutes. The Emergency Financial Manager, meanwhile, is empowered to remove elected officials from office at will, disburse all government funding without oversight, sell off government property, and modify or terminate any contract. With this pronouncement, the much-vaunted American ideal of representative democracy was declared null and void in Benton Harbor.
    The story attracted national attention, including coverage on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show. The following week, on April 27, 200 people marched through the streets of Benton Harbor demanding repeal of the Emergency Financial Manager law and a restoration of demcratic rights to Benton Harbor’s citizens.
    2 months later, on June 18, the people of Benton Harbor came out in the streets again to commemorate 8 years of government repression and popular resistance. June 16 marked the 8 year anniversary of the Benton Harbor uprising of 2003, in which the US Army was brought in to repress a community outraged by the killing of a youngBlack man, Terrance Shurn, in a police chase. The Terrance “T-Shirt” Shurn Memorial Rally featured live music by several local musicians and speeches by activists including Fred Hampton, Jr., son of the slain Black Panther leader and chairman of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee.
    The rally was emceed by Rev. Edward Pinkney, who also shared a poem he wrote in honor of Shurn and the people of Benton Harbor. For over a decade, Rev. Pinkney has been a tireless fighter for social and economic justice in Benton Harbor. In 1999, he founded the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO), a grassroots community organization that monitored the corrupt political and judicial system in Berrien County and advocated for the oppressed.
    A month after the uprising of 2003, Rev. Pinkney and BANCO led a nonviolent march of over 200 citizens demanding justice and an end to police brutality in Benton Harbor. In 2005, BANCO organized a recall election against City Commissioner Glenn Yarbrough, who had acted as a mouthpiece for the interests of the Whirlpool Corporation headquartered in the affluent neighboring town of St. Joseph. After the recall election succeeded by a vote of 297 to 246, the local powers that be promptly overturned the people’s will claiming electoral fraud. Rev. Pinkney was arrested and promptly charged with four felony counts and one misdemeanor; after the first trial resulted in a hung jury, Rev. Pinkney was retried in 2007 and convicted by an   all white jury (Benton Harbor’s population is 94% Black).
    The corporate assault on the people of Benton Harbor continued while Rev. Pinkney was shuffled from one prison to another throughout Michigan. Real estate company Cornerstone Alliance, a subsidiary of Whirlpool, used its influence to annex Benton Harbor land to turn into a playground for the wealthy. Meanwhile, fear of reprisal kept most citizens of Benton Harbor silent. Cornerstone and Whirlpool stirred Benton Harbor’s citizens to action again when a plan was announced to steal Jean Klock Park and use the land to build a private golf course and country club. Jean Klock Park had special significance for the people of Benton Harbor; in 1917 John and Carrie Klock willed the lakeside park to the people of Benton Harbor, writing ““It is our wish that the lakefront always be preserved in its natural state and be a playground for the children and a bathing beach for all the people.”[1] In 2010, the opening of the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Club was met with a vocal protest by over 100 chanting “Jack Nicklaus go home!” and “Jean Klock Park was deeded to the people!”[2]
    The passage of the Emergency Financial Manager law dealt one more harsh blow to the people of Benton Harbor. But with this defeat are planted the seeds of a new revolt – Benton Harbor’s citizens are no longer afraid, because they now have nothing left to lose. After years of being ruled by repressive tactics, the uprising of 2003 remains a powerful memory in the people’s consciousness.
[1] http://www.savejeanklockpark.org/
[2] “August 10 Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course demonstration”  http://bhbanco.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_arc hive.html

Tedd McTaggart

Filed under Ted McTaggart Michigan Labor Unions Protest News politics

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International Women’s Day

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.”

By: Ted McTaggart

Filed under Ted McTaggart politics feminism women International Women's Day

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Rosa Luxemburg

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!’”

By Ted McTaggart

Filed under Ted McTaggart Radical History Revolutionaries German Revolution Rosa Luxemburg politics

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Dan Labotz: A Socialist’s Campaign

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

By Ted McTaggart

Filed under Ted McTaggart News politics