Actions (and Buttons!) Louder than Words
Wearing an anti-racist button helps make anti-racism a mass issue and can lead to some great revealing conversations.
I liked a recent letter in Challenge about someone who wore a shirt covered in “No to Racism” buttons at the Unitarian Church convention.
I recently bought three “Oscar Grant” buttons while visiting Los Angeles. Many said they liked the button. I gave away the three I had. I had to twist arms to buy 34 more anti-racist buttons. I am now down to 1! People usually give me a dollar as a donation to the PLP.
I was disappointed that the buttons were not being sold at the Party’s 50th Anniversary dinner. All members and friends should be struggled with to distribute or sell the buttons for $1 to their friends, co-workers and neighbors. Some people do not like to wear buttons, but can put them on backpacks, purses or tote bags. It is a very bold symbol that puts us in the very heart of the struggle against police brutality to say, “I am Michael Brown, Kyam Livingston,” etc.
I wanted to share a good conversation I had with a college student who is Brazilian and has many Black friends. I told him that everywhere I go, people of all races and ages tell me they like the button, sometimes in passing on the street or on a crowded elevator. Sometimes they stop and talk and even buy a button. My husband and I notice that the button can be a great icebreaker. The college student asked me, a white woman in her sixties, whether “white people need a badge in order to let Black people know they are not racist.”
I said because of the racist cop killings of young Black and Latin men, and a long history of racism, some Black workers are wary of white workers in some settings. This is more so since the murders of the Charleston Nine by the racist Dylann Roof. A friend who was Black said, in her opinion, Black people are often suspicious of white people because of their personal experiences with racism and their knowledge of historical racist experiences — like the lynching of Emmett Till, Jim Crow in the South and racist experiences now.
Capitalists use lots to keep us divided and oppressed, Black, white, Latin, Asian, immigrant, indigenous. We must bridge the divide by our actions, not just words. The Progressive Labor Party sees racism as one of the most powerful tools the bosses use to keep us apart. Our principled fight against racism included our role in Harlem Rebellion in 1964. A white cop had killed an unarmed Black man. Harlem erupted. PL printed up flyers “Wanted Dead or Alive, Gilligan the Cop.” We defied the injunction not to have demonstrations in Harlem, and some party members were jailed.
If you are fighting for revolution, you do not hesitate to break the bosses’ laws. The history of PL in the last 50 years has shown us to be leaders in the fight against racist police brutality. In so doing, we have demonstrated how essential multiracial unity is to win our struggle against capitalism.
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Injury to One = Injury to All
Comrades, workers and youth, Donald Trump and the Republicans’ openly racist attack and scapegoating of immigrants in the U.S., along with the Democrats’ hypocrisy are clear indicators of intensifying fascism in the U.S. The fight against racism is our Party’s top priority. It is absolutely crucial that we organize pro-immigrant, anti-racist fightback within the schools, churches and organizations we’re in. An attack on immigrant workers is an attack on the international working class. We cannot underestimate the importance of this anti-fascist struggle. Opportunities to raise political consciousness and build the Party will abound.
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Long Live Pittsburgh Commune
In the fine article on the Katrina Genocide (9/16 issue), the statement that the 1892 New Orleans general strike was the first such “strike in a major U.S. city.” was not accurate. The first U.S. general strike occurred in Pittsburgh in 1877 as part of a national railroad strike that spread across the country in reaction to the rail bosses’ 10 percent wage-cut.
When rail workers in Pittsburgh refused orders to take out their trains, the mayor and ten cops attempted to run one through. Brakeman Andrew Hice stepped in front of them and cried, “Boys, we might as well die right here.” The train didn’t move. Soon all trains were run up on sidings and all freight traffic, East and West, was halted. A New York Times headline proclaimed, “A Blockade Established — A Thousand Loaded Cars Detained.”
Then the Pennsylvania RR bosses called out the Pittsburgh militia. When the militia commander saw that these troops were “showing their sympathies with the strikers,” with whom the workers fraternized, he wired the Governor for 2,000 Philadelphia troops. That troop train were stoned all the way to Pittsburgh. At Altoona troops were stopped and forced to return, some of them giving the workers their guns. An additional Philadelphia detachment was captured and guarded by a group of Black workers. Only 1,000 Philadelphia troops ever reached Pittsburgh.
When they arrived they were met by several thousand strikers. Word had spread and soon 30,000 men, women and children — one-sixth of the city’s population — stood on the hillside behind them. Two companies of troops were ordered to fix bayonets and move forward into the very bodies of the rebelling workers.
But instead of fleeing, the strikers grasped the bayonets with their bare hands and twisted them around into the onrushing soldiers. The latter then opened fire into the strikers and the Pittsburgh militia and the crowd on the hill, killing 20. The Pittsburgh regiments started back to their barracks, “vowing…not to be parties to the shooting down of their comrades-in-arms,” and handed their guns over to the strikers.
Soon word of the unprovoked massacre spread and thousands of miners and workers from steel mills and factories along with stevedores from the canals gathered in the city’s main squares. Short meetings were held and workers proceeded to the gun shops where they were given arms and ammunition by the owners. (Many had been bled dry by domination of the Pennsylvania RR.)
Four thousand workers with flags flying and drums beating marched in semi-military order towards the remaining Philadelphia troops. Then twenty thousand workers sent a burning engine into the roundhouse, smoking out the Philadelphia troops and driving them from the city. At 2:35 A.M. on July 22 the Times’ reporter filed a dispatch saying that the workers of Pittsburgh had “taken possession of the city.”
For the next four days the workers ran the city in what later became known as the Pittsburgh Commune. Black and white workers, women and men, united to patrol the streets and provide needed services. The bosses, fearful of a repeat of the Paris Commune six years earlier, began setting up army camps near big cities and organized what was to become the National Guard. They had their newspapers spread anti-communism, referring to the “Communistic element from Europe,” saying Pittsburgh’s workers were “animated by the devilish spirit of communism.”
The workers’ answer came from a Pittsburgh Critic reporter: “You systematically oppress a people and revolution is not only a right, it is a duty….”
[The complete story is available in a PL pamphlet.]
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Syria: Imperialists On All Sides
In the editorial about migrants in the current issue there is a paragraph that is both factually wrong and politically incoherent. It’s on the second page, right after the subtitle “Imperialism Attacks Refugees Twice.”
The paragraph states:
“In an effort to tilt the balance of regional power and counter the influence of Iran, a Russian proxy, U.S. bosses have financed a brutal rebellion against the state-terrorist, pro-Russian Assad regime. This four-year-old conflict has besieged workers with chemical weapons, routine bombings of civilians, torture and mass imprisonment.”
What’s wrong with this?
1. In the second sentence it’s unclear who’s doing the terrible damage to the civilian population. Is it the “brutal rebellion” or the “state-terrorist, pro-Russian Assad regime”? It should have been crystal clear that it is the Assad regime that is doing virtually all of the bombings, using chemical weapons, and torturing and jailing opponents.
2. However, far worse is the first sentence, which implies that the rebellion against Assad was initiated — and financed — by U.S. imperialism. This is simply not true. CD often falls into a regrettable pattern of ascribing every social movement to one of the competing imperialists, ignoring the agency of ordinary people.
Assad’s regime caters to multi-millionaire cronies at the same time that millions are living in desperate conditions. A class analysis of Syria is important because it shows how the rebellion against Assad was a social explosion following decades of real grievances. It was not the creation of U.S. imperialism and was entirely justified. The recent uprising against Assad began in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring. There were mass demonstrations in the major cities, which were violently attacked by the Syrian military. As a result, peaceful protesters decided that only armed struggle would overthrow Assad. The U.S. — which had a good relationship with Assad — began to support the Free Syrian Army, but the FSA soon fell apart.
Today, the rebellion is led by fundamentalist Islamist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda franchise), Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS and others. They are the best organized, the best trained and best financed of the rebel groups, receiving money from the Gulf States but not the U.S., which is more afraid of these groups taking power than it is of Assad keeping control.
In effect, the U.S. — along with Iran and Russia — is supporting Assad. The CIA has trained fewer than a half dozen fighters! Its firepower is aimed at ISIS, not the Syrian military.
The fact that the major forces in Syria are politically awful should not obscure the class element of the struggle there, or imply that it’s mainly driven by foreign powers.
Editorial response: The writer is no doubt right that Syrian workers hate oppressor Assad and rose up in 2011. But the letter ignores the role played in Arab Spring by U.S. billionaire George Soros and his Open Society Foundations, which is active in 37 countries and backs organizations aligned with U.S. imperialism.
Further, the letter fails to mention efforts by both Russia and Iran to prop up Assad. The war in Syria may have started as a homegrown dispute. But the anti-ISIS, anti-Assad campaign, which now involves Britain and France as well as the U.S. (working through both the State Department and the CIA), has clearly become a flashpoint for inter-imperialist rivalry. Anti-U.S. and anti-Saudi ISIS and al Qaeda, both seeking an oil-rich caliphate, are minor but lethal would-be imperialists in their own right.
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Pro-Fascist Francis: Unforgivable
The press is hyping Pope Francis as a liberal leader for the poor but ignoring his complicity in the mass murders of students, trade unionists, and average citizens, in Argentina during the so-called “Dirty War” of the 1970s.
The Argentinian military unleashed a massive campaign of kidnapping, torture, and murder against anyone who protested government policies. This “dirty war” was approved by the United States. U.S. imperialist David Rockefeller travelled to Argentina specifically to tell the Generals that the U.S. would not interfere.
The main targets were communists, trade union leaders, and student and other political activists who opposed the Argentinian dictatorship. But no one was safe. Police and military kidnapped pregnant mothers and gave their babies to army officers and wealthy families to raise. They kidnapped, raped, tortured, and murdered whomever they wanted, and an estimated 30,000 were “disappeared.”
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, was the head of the Jesuit order in Argentina at that time. What did he do, in the midst of this fascist terror? Nothing. He did not even speak against it, much less do anything. Priests who supported impoverished workers were imprisoned and tortured but church superior Jorge Bergoglio refused to help them and years later hid priests in his home who were being investigated for supporting the military responsible for the “Dirty War.”
So why aren’t we hearing about this shameful past now? Because the Pope, regardless of who he is, supports the exploiters and they support him.
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No Five-Star Rating for Change
I noticed a change in the way letters to the paper are signed. They’re not! They’re all just signed with 4 stars. I think the reason for not having real names is that we want to focus on the ideas, not the person, and I agree with this. But, there’s nothing wrong with pseudonyms—after all it is a letter section encouraging individuals to communicate with the readership. The pseudonyms lend some personality to the letters. But four stars at the end of every letter? Well, I don’t like it and I wish you’d go back to the old way.
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Actions (and Buttons!) Louder than Words
Ferguson: Sick of Capitalism
“We are sick of living in fear!” said a resident in Mike Brown’s neighborhood in Ferguson, Missouri, to a PLP comrade distributing CHALLENGE during our recent summer project there. Recently my Texas comrades and I arrived in a Ferguson immersed in struggle. The first night we engaged in a rally set up by a local group of Black rebel youth, Lost Voices. We marched to the police station, gave speeches, and led a couple chants. The next day we sold CHALLENGE in the neighborhood and did some of the most inspiring things I’ve ever been a part of.
One morning we went to a church held workshop on civil disobedience. We not only learned new tactics to defend ourselves from the police, but ALSO learned just how fed up the working class is with racist police terror. The multiracial group of workers who came to the workshops were from the community. While there was disagreement about particular passive tactics used in civil disobedience, there was widespread agreement with the need to fight back with militancy. This shows just how far the fight against racism has come. Communities of workers are now turning towards violent action, instead of the passive silent marches. The workers understood that passivity will not change racism or capitalism. The church wanted to take the workshop group to the streets and demonstrate in front of the federal building in St. Louis, but my comrades and I thought the demonstration would be more effective if they had decided to march to the Ferguson police station. The church holds major influence over the community. This disagreement taught us a lot about our need to build political bases in community mass organizations, and build deep ties with workers in them. Over time, these ties expand the limits of what’s possible in certain situations.
Later on, we distributed CHALLENGE in Mike Brown’s neighborhood. Many residents came out to have conversations with comrades about racist police and violence. I walked in to a conversation a fellow comrade was having with two women who knew Mike Brown. One woman started to cry, saying, “We were afraid to leave our homes, my daughter wouldn’t even come out to talk with anyone. We are afraid of being shot for nothing.” Just like the communities in my hometown, or in Boston, Baltimore, and all over the U.S., workers are sick of being afraid, are tired of capitalist oppression, and fed up with racism. Ferguson has been an example and a learning experience for the Party and myself. Workers are poised for fightback not only in Ferguson, but all over the world. Multiracial unity is the cure to capitalism. We shouldn’t have to live in fear! We should engage in militant action among mass organizations to smash the system. United with a communist vision, we workers will eliminate the disease of the ruling class!
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Why I Quit the Israel CP
Why did I leave the Israeli “Communist” Party (Maki-Hadash) and join PLP?
The Israeli “Communist” Party, Maki-Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality), is a revisionist party with no ideological basis. It is a counter-revolutionary party and is old in multiple meanings of the word. It is no place for a 17-year-old revolutionary who is only at the very beginning of his revolutionary road.
Maki-Hadash itself is undergoing an internal ideological crisis- its members fighting each other and semming that it will fall apart at any moment. Sometimes it feels that without its branch in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) it would have ceased to exist a long time ago. It proposes unity with the other bourgeois Arab parties in order to get more votes and stay in the Knesset.
Two months ago, a fascist scumbag called Yoav “The Shadow” Eliasi (a racist and nationalist two-bit rapper who in the past organized thugs to beat up leftist demonstrators) decided to create a fascist militia to “patrol” southern Tel-Aviv, in order to attack the African refugees and Arabs who live there and publicly spread racist filth. So I organized a counter-group of youth to help protect the refugees, Arabs and other non-Jewish residents from racist attacks.
To this group I recruited several people from the Anarchist group “Unity,” several independent Anarchist and Communist comrades, one Libertarian and several Maki-Hadash comrades. This enraged many Maki members so much that it was raised to the Central Committee where the subject was discussed and it was decided that I will be removed from the party because I “solicited party members to illegal activity” and gave a bad name to the party and its members. From this response you can see that this so-called “Marxist-Leninist” party is actually a revisionist counter-revolutionary party which believes in rotten parliamentary politics, rather than revolution.
Afterwards, PLP invited me to its convention in NYC. I was really impressed with the comrades in New York and I liked the activity and the ways of action. The thing I was most impressed with was the number of international comrades. I enjoyed seeing so many people of all ethnicities and languages working together, unlike in Maki where almost everyone is Ashkenasi (European Jewish).
I hope that PLP will continue to grow internationally and continue its good work. Onwards!
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The September 16 issue of CHALLENGE attacked the EU Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism. It addressed how this event is designed to falsely equate communism with the horrors of fascism and also to cover up the hypocrisy of the Western capitalist rulers who appeased Hitler as long as they felt he would go east and attack the Soviet Union. Western capitalists, like Henry Ford, did deals with Hitler backers Krupp and Farben before and during World War II, including selling the Nazis the unmarked poison gas used in the Holocaust genocide.
The article then jumps to an uncritical defense of the 1939 Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union as a necessary step to buy time for the Soviet Union to prepare for the coming war with Hitlerism. Leaving aside the questionable argument that forcing the Nazis to go across the extra 300 miles of Polish territory to attack the Soviet Union played any significant role in the Nazis; defeat, this argument ignores the many devastating negative results of the Soviet policy (before and during WW II) of making deals with world capitalist rulers.
Starting in the middle 1930s, the Soviet communist leadership abandoned any reliance on the international working class to defend the Soviet Union and instead appealed to Western capitalists in an attempt to form a “united front” against the German fascists.
The Soviet-led Communist International (Comintern) advised Western communist parties to hold back from fighting for a workers’ revolution, and even discouraged any sharp criticism of “liberal” capitalists in the U.S. and France other than pushing for a capitalist-Soviet alliance. Later on, during WW II, the CPUSA carried these reformist politics to the extreme of opposing a Black workers’ strike against racism because it would “detract from the war effort”!
The 1939 non-aggression pact was a top-down Soviet zigzag maneuver between struggles for a united front with the Western capitalists. The article defended that pact without analyzing the devastating impact it had on the morale of the international working class.
In Brooklyn, New York at that time, the CPUSA had as many as 20,000 members, a high percentage of them impoverished Jewish workers. Several thousand resigned after the pact was signed to protest the new friendship of the Soviets with Nazi Germany. This loss of membership was never overcome in Brooklyn and other areas where there were a large concentration of Jewish members. During this period the Soviets were uncritical of Nazism in their press and instead attacked the Western imperialist nations of France, U.S., and Great Britain.
For many years, PLP has criticized the pact as an opportunist weakness that reflected Russian nationalism within the CPSU and a mistaken policy of uniting with one set of international bosses against another.
By arguing that the pact was crucial to defeating the Nazis, the article did a disservice to the millions of brave and resourceful communists who moved factories across the Urals and fought hand to hand at Stalingrad to defeat the fascist monsters. Millions of Soviet communists gave their lives in that struggle, along with millions of communist-led resistance fighters in countries all around the world.
The Soviet communist leadership was the symbol for that heroic, successful struggle, but their reformist politics led to the temporary defeat of communists and the working class all around the world. Within ten years, capitalist forces seized state power back from the Soviet working class and communist parties (except for China) completely abandoned revolutionary struggle.
Soviet leaders relied on “Mother Russia” non-class nationalism and the development of a commandist bureaucracy within the Central Committee and Politburo. They restored the gold braid and privilege to the officer corps of the Red Army and privileges and pay differentials that undermined the role of the army as a people’s militia per Paris Commune standards. Income inequality in the Soviet Union actually increased after World War II.
The Soviet’s leadership role during and after World War II was too often based on pragmatism and not on communist principles. The Yalta agreement with Roosevelt and Churchill denied the opportunity for revolution by the Italian communist party, which was armed and ready for insurrection. Deals with one imperialist to oppose another always lead to disaster for revolutionary communism.
PLP has always opposed any alliances with “lesser”-evil bosses. We owe the working class a clear and sharp analysis of the dangers of those compromises, which this article did not provide.
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Straight Outta Ferguson
This summer I traveled with friends to Ferguson, MO to stand united with the anti-racist fighters there on the one-year anniversary of Mike Brown’s murder. We spent time on Florissant Rd. where the center of fightback has occurred. On the streets of Ferguson there is a sentiment among masses of people that you can fight the racist terror of the police and you can win!
As we spent more time in the community, we visited the neighborhood and spot where Mike Brown was murdered. We spoke with residents about the killing and the year of fightback. We talked about Challenge and the need to build a party around multi-racial unity to end these racist attacks once and for all.
We met a woman who lives in an apartment overlooking the spot where Brown was murdered. Speaking with her highlighted the ways in which the bosses have attempted to erase the memory of Brown and the anti-racist struggle in Ferguson.
She first pointed out that almost no one is aware of a security camera located on the corner of her building. The camera was installed well before the incident occurred and overlooks the exact spot where Mike Brown’s body fell. The footage from the camera has never been seen despite requests from residents to view the tape. She also said that friends of hers who recorded the entire shooting had their cameras and phones confiscated by police and never returned.
As we talked, she pointed to a community memorial for Mike Brown that is located in the middle of the street where Brown died. The memorial is made up of stuffed animals, flowers, and balloons. She explained how the memorial has been destroyed several times by vandals under police protection. Despite these attempts to erase the memory of Brown, the community continues to rebuild the memorial. The family has attempted to make this “unofficial“ memorial permanent. However, the city would not approve a memorial in the street and in order to draw attention away from where the incident occurred, approved an “official” memorial located on a sidewalk hundreds of feet away.
As we ended our conversation, she pointed to the apartment buildings in the area. She explained that most of the units were empty because many of the residents have moved out. She told us how the apartment complex owners had illegally gone into resident’s apartments in order to find evidence of illegal activity that could be used to threaten them. Fearing attacks from the police, many residents have left. She explained that by forcing the residents who witnessed the incident out of the neighborhood, the slumlord apartment owners and local police force work together in an attempt to stifle the anti-racist fightback in Ferguson.
This experience taught me that the working class is open to our ideas of multi-racial unity. Many workers understand that the racist police murders are part of a larger system of oppression and exploitation of the working class. The more workers we know, the more we will know about what is happening to our class. The experience of Ferguson has taught and will continue to teach our party and our members invaluable lessons in how we can wage war against the bosses and their racist system.
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Israel,U.S — Same Struggle
I am a member of the party in Israel-Palestine since 2010. This year, for the first time, I attended the Summer Project in New York City. This taught me much about the local way of political work. I also had a chance to meet friends and comrades from all around the world. I saw that the struggles we have here in Israel-Palestine are the same kind of struggles others are fighting worldwide: sexism, racism, and the class struggle. Therefore all around the world, we are fighting the same war: to fight against capitalism. Racism and sexism will die with it. We also all fight against borders, which are barriers that divide and conquer workers.
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PLP, not Politicians!
This year marked the 3rd annual Hoops for Justice basketball tournament. This yearly event is hosted by the friends, family and community of Shantel Davis and Kyam Livingston, two Black women gunned down by the racist NYPD. Hoops for Justice is about commemorating their lives, bringing the community together, and demonstrating that we will keep fighting back! I was standing at PLP’s literature table, lined with our anti-racism buttons, pens, and CHALLENGEs. Among the goodies were t-shirts that said, “Don’t vote. Revolt!” A man came up to me and asked if the shirt meant that we should vote for communists, or if it meant that we shouldn’t vote at all. I replied that we need to get rid of the system because racism is the bedrock of capitalism, and a different politician won’t change that fact. He claimed to agree, but then said that it was the same thing as telling people not to work even though we need to eat. His argument was so absurd that I barely knew how to respond, but I told him that work is necessary in order to produce essential goods like food and shelter. The key difference between work under capitalism and communism, however, is that we control our own labor power under communism and that it is not exploitative. On top of that, the difference between work and voting is that one is essential for society to work while the other is not. He kept incessantly repeating his argument that we are telling people not to work before eventually realzing he had been beat, shrugging, and walking away.
Unbeknownst to me, this man was a local politician who is idolized in the community. Right after our conversation, he took photos with the Black youth participating in the tournament and left without socializing or getting involved in the activities. This conversation and his photo-op reinforced the fact that politicians have little substance. Their arguments are hollow and they do little for the working class unless it makes themselves look better. PLP, on the other hand, fights in the streets with the working class and makes clear-cut, common sense analyses of the system. Today strengthened my belief that the answer to this racist, oppressive system lies not with democratic politicians but with revolutionary communism and PLP.
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Washroom breeds Communists
The other day, I went into a public restroom where several women were waiting for an open stall. There were two stalls and the lock on the door of one of them was broken. The women were patiently waiting their turn for the other one. I mentioned that we could hold the door closed for each other so we could use the one with the broken lock. They all said they’d rather wait. Instead of waiting, I asked one of them if she’d hold the door for me. She agreed and then when I was done, she was happy to have me hold the door for her.
It occurred to me that this was a small example of how capitalism and communism train us to think. Unlike communism, capitalism trains us not to rely on others and not to think outside the box. Just imagine when our class has the power to put into practice the best solutions to all our problems big and small. What a wonderful world it will be!
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Class Struggles in the Confederacy
I often wondered what it would be like living in Nashville during the U.S. Civil war. After reading Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War by David Williams, I thought that I would have found many likeminded antiracists.
Mr. Williams makes the fine point that the first distinction of the civil war is one of class. The big difference is the division between the Slave owning class and the non-slave owning class. The slave owning elite owned all the fertile land and wanted to maximize their profits by growing the money crops of cotton and tobacco. They needed thousands of slaves to cultivate these crops. This elite class controlled the political structure that wanted to secede from the Union and form the Confederate States of America where slavery could flourish.
The non-slave owning class could see no purpose in fighting this war, but they were called upon to furnish the soldiers. They were promised by the elites that the soldiers and their families would be taken care of and fed by the Confederates. From the very beginning these promises turned into lies.
First, the cash crops of cotton and tobacco occupied all the fertile land and sufficient land to grow food was not available. The planter class also exempted themselves from serving in the military, which caused resentment and hatred among the fighting soldiers, who called it a rich man’s war and the poor man’s fight. Desertions from the Confederate Army started practically from the beginning of the war especially after they instituted conscription.
Southern women played a brave and important role in weakening the Army of the South. They hid and protected the deserters and draft-dodgers from the Confederacy. Since there were food shortages caused by the planter’s refusal to grow food, the southern women organized raids on the food warehouses and distributed it among the hungry.
In addition, the slaves and ex-slaves worked with Confederate deserters and union sympathizers. They also joined the union armies. Aside from these activities the slaves also sabotaged and spied on the confederate soldiers’ movements.
When supporters of the flag talk about the heritage of the confederate flag, they should remember that most non-slave owning workers were opposed to the war and that the Union Army was made up of 25% Southerners. The cover of the book, which displays a generic Civil War soldier holding a U.S. flag and a Confederate flag in Double Springs Alabama, depicts the irony of those who refer to Southern heritage when claiming the flag. The statue depicted represents the soldiers from the area who volunteered to fight in the war: 239 for the Union and 112 for the Confederacy.
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Multiracial Fightback is Healing
I remember leaving Ferguson feeling like a winner. I felt like we showed the bosses that they couldn’t fuck with us there. The people who mattered (working people from that community) felt like we had their back and everyone recognized that we were there to show unity with those oppressed there: multiracial unity. At the Movement for Black lives conference it felt different. Our multiracial groups were getting attacked during the workshops and rallies. The organizers of the conference choose healing over fighting racism as the focus of the discussion. There were some parts of the conference that were moving, such as the opening ceremony, where dozens of families whose family members were killed told the crowd about how their family member was before being murdered. To me, this was more of a reason to talk about fighting racism but the organizers still decided to focus on healing.
Although the conference was overall more superficial than substantive, the most encouraging part of it all was the anti-capitalist sentiment among the Black working-class people. For PLP the focus was discussing multiracial unity during the conference but in the long run, as we work to dismantle capitalism we hope the attendees choose smashing our whole system over Black capitalism or nationalism. I hope the next conference is more about fighting back than healing and if so, we will be in a great position to win over more of the Black working class.
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Exploitation: Basis for Workers’ Unity
The Progressive Labor Party always tries to clarify that the condition for most white workers and their families is one of oppression – less, in general, than the oppression experienced by Black workers, but oppression nonetheless. There is, therefore, an objective basis for unity of the oppressed.
All of this is true, and was well stated in the August 12 CHALLENGE in the article, “White Comrades, Not Allies.” But in this case, it might have been more precise to consider the concept of exploitation, rather than oppression.
In short, exploitation is what the capitalists absolutely require in order to make the very profit that keeps them alive as capitalists. Oppression, on the other hand, while including exploitation as one of its many forms, is a much broader concept that is related to exploitation mainly through its supporting role. The capitalists need to oppress the working class in order to make it possible for them to exploit the workers, without hindrance from workers’ resistance, and for no other reason. It’s not that they are sadists who have a psychological need to make people’s lives miserable. Rather they have a material need to exploit in order to make profit or die as capitalists. And for that they need oppression. The central point for the capitalists, however, is exploitation. They oppress in order to exploit, and not the other way around.
Oppression takes a tremendous number of forms, while exploitation takes only one form – paying only for labor power (what it takes to keep a worker and her/his family alive day to day) while reaping the benefit of labor time (embodied in what workers produce). Oppression occurs, for example, in segregation, high rents for poor housing, impoverished and mis-aimed education, racist discrimination, media lies, cop killings, drug infestation, gang encouragement, mass incarceration, unemployment, being used as cannon fodder, and sexist violence.
The fact is that the primary basis for unity between Black and white workers is precisely that both are exploited – that is, the bosses steal from both and from all. That fact Black and white workers share, while the many forms of oppression they often do not share, or at least the intensity of those various forms are not shared. Of course, the intensity of exploitation is often not shared either, but the Black/white income differential owes at least as much to different job and education opportunities as it does to unequal pay for equal work (a point, by the way that we have not made clear when we speak of the billions of dollars reaped from racism).
Once it is said about exploitation that all workers are its victims, the false concepts of white skin privilege and nationalism can more easily be tossed out the window, because no one who is robbed cares that someone else was robbed of more, or for that matter of less. To be robbed is to be robbed. As a basis of unity, the need to throw off exploitation is the heart of the need for unity among all workers.
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Young Fighters Toughen Up
The following three letters are from PL’ers and friends who participated in the Black Lives Matters Convention
The trip to the Black Lives Matter Convention opened my eyes to the realities of Black Nationalism. It was disturbingly clear throughout this event that ultimately Black-only spaces reinforce ideas of racism and dupe honest working-class people into the false promise of healing, and only served to open old wounds while igniting hostile nationalistic fervor. I’m now cognizant that the purpose of the Black Lives Matter organization is not the so-called liberation of Black workers, but their imprisonment under Black capitalists.
As a multiracial group, my comrades and I attended the Black Lives Matter (BLM) convention the weekend of July 24. Instantly, we were met with hostility by the organizers and were confronted for being a multiracial group by the founders and organizers of BLM.
The organizers wanted to know how we “identify” ourselves, stating this is a space for Black people to heal. They targeted our two white comrades. The coordinator asked if they could leave. We said, “Do you have a separate space for our white comrades to go to?”
“No, but we’re working on it,” they responded.
We said, “we’ve came together, we fight together, and we’re staying together.” We then headed to our first workshop.
The workshop we attended was titled “turn down on ourselves, turn up on the state.” It was going well until one of the “healers” of BLM led the attack against the white participants and then proceeded to attack our Black comrades who spoke up for multiracial unity. We held our ground, saying that if you are serious about fighting racism, you can’t operate under the laws of racism. We can never be a threat to the rulers if our class remains divided. The only way for workers to heal is by fighting back.
After feeling a bit dejected for getting kicked out, we still decided to have a rally the next day. We got into a scuffle with the BLM for having a rally against racism. We stood together and fought back when they tried to attack our female comrade and take the bullhorn. A few participants in the crowd assisted in physically defending us against the leadership’s attack. We left chanting, “Racism means, we got to fight back!”
We had a forum afterwards. Many of us were shaken up and wanted to cancel the forum, but the collective chose to stay. Out of frustration and fear, one comrade walked out before the forum began.
One hour later, we had five people join our forum. We openly discussed communism and the possibility of an armed revolution. We made great contacts. Some BLM participants said, “What happened to you was messed up.” Our new friends and then joined us at a town hall meeting of families who lost their kids to racist police terror.
This trip taught me that fighting back is healing. Also, we need to fight against individualism. We are stronger together than apart. This event only lit my fire for the fight for a communist future. If you’re not fighting racism, you are maintaining capitalism. Join the Fight!
I attended the Movement for Black Lives convention in Cleveland with Black Lives Matter (BLM) Gary. What I saw at this convention disgusted me. BLM Gary is a multiracial group that fights racism together. We were told via email that this was a “Black only convention,” that Black people needed “a place were they can feel safe,” and that white people need not come. “What kind of Jim Crow bulls--t is this?!” one member of our group said. We came to a collective decision not to honor the racist rule. Plain and simple, it is segregation and divides the working class.
Upon arriving, we attended the workshop “Whose World is This? The World is Ours.” At the start, there were six Black people and one Asian person in the room, plus our five multiracial members of BLM Gary. While we waited for the moderators, we all talked and had a lot of questions about fighting racism. When the moderators showed up, we started with an introduction before they asked if “everyone identifies as black.” One moderator asked the Asian worker and our white comrade to leave to create a “safe place for black people.” We stated that you can’t fight racism with more racism and that it is anti-working class to segregate people. BLM Gary stood our ground and fought for our comrade, so she stayed and we all tried to continue with the workshop.
However, instead of discussing the real issue, racism, the moderators continued to attack the idea of white workers in an “all Black space.” When the moderator stated that we needed a “cool down” session and asked all the “non-black people” to please leave, all BLM members just got up and walked out together.
In a nutshell, the so-called leaders of this movement are trying to take Black workers’ anger towards this system and pacify it with “safe spaces,” “speak-out sessions,” “healing,” and “attacking white people” instead of fighting racism and capitalism. The misleaders of the Movement for Black Lives will take good people, people who want to truly fight racism, and mislead them to the bosses’ politics and more of the same. We learned a lot at this conference: we MUST build a base in the working class, bring our ideas to more Black workers, and get them to join the Party.
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Bengali Shipbreakers Must Break Their Chains
This week a comrade and I went to a screening of a documentary about Bangladesh, called Iron Crows. The documentary is by a South Korean film director who follows workers known as “shipbreakers” in the Chittagong province of Bangladesh. One half of the world’s giant freighters and super-tankers come to Chittagong to be dismantled, and over 20,000 workers are employed doing this.
Most of the workers are barefoot and few have any equipment. When a new ship comes in to the bay, workers walk through knee-deep mud at low tide and attach metal cables to winch the ship closer to shore.
Then the workers climb over 20,000- or 30,000-ton steel ships with blow torches, severing the tankers into giant pieces while children as younger than twelve run about doing tasks. The workers compete to work here because poverty is so extreme in Bangladesh, they will die if they don’t.
One worker the film followed, Belal, is nearly killed on camera when he was trapped under a massive piece of the ship being broken down. Later that night, after the workers praise Allah [god] for sparing his life, Belal laments his situation, longs for his family, and dreams of a different future. Another worker suggests that Allah chose them for this work, and this was their destiny. Later we find out Belal’s wife just gave birth to a baby girl who was blind, because Belal didn’t make enough money shipbreaking and his wife was malnourished throughout the pregnancy. He makes the three-day journey to his home village, and breaks down crying when he finally holds his beautiful, blind daughter.
This is a perfect film to teach about capitalism. We see how the racist bosses of the shipbreaking company, who provide Bangladesh with 84 percent of all the country’s domestic steel, also make huge profits auctioning off the toilets, wiring, and any consumer goods salvageable from the ships. We see pay day, when workers who are owed money are told simply the company can’t afford to pay them. When one worker complains, everyone is kicked out.
I was born and raised in Sénégal, West Africa, and even though the poverty there isn’t always as extreme, I felt what these workers were going through. When I was growing up, eleven or more of us would eat from the same plate of rice. My mother would shove food to the side for me because I wasn’t fast enough and tell me to hurry, so many other kids had to eat. Kids have to fight with the cats who are hungry, too. As a teenager I immigrated to the U.S. for a better life and being an immigrant here has not been easy. In Bangladesh, many children simply do not eat. Immigrating is a distant dream.
As shocking as it was, the documentary also shows how invincible the spirit of these workers is. Through the worst conditions, we see workers joking and laughing, tenderly lying with their wives and husbands, sharing joy and despair, kissing away each other’s tears. Not one person in the audience had dry eyes by the end. And so it is also a perfect film to teach about the working class. Iron Crows is also about our strength. When we organize that, we will win.
★ ★ ★ ★