A Hundred Anti-Racist
I am a member of the Kyam Livingston Justice Committee and have been active in meetings and demonstrations for 23 months. I’ve been constantly bringing the news back to the church I attend.
At a recent church convention, I discussed this struggle with more than 100 people in individual conversations. I was wearing a “Justice for Kyam Livingston” t-shirt with dozens of anti-racism buttons attached around her picture.
I did not need to approach other people; they came over to me. I told them the story of how she had died in police custody due to medical neglect and most people gave me a donation towards the struggle, for which I gave them an anti-racism button. They told me stories about the heinous crimes of this system against all workers — whether it was the mentally ill, the poor, women, gays, underpaid workers, undocumented immigrants.
I am more impressed than ever that the road to developing a movement is always through the working class. We should always be talking to people, no matter if we meet with them for two minutes or an hour. No matter if we see them regularly or only once in a while. We have a world to gain and only our fears and chains to lose.
★ ★ ★ ★
FDR Needed Lynchers
One could add to the excellent article exposing the massive lynchings of Black people in the U.S. (CHALLENGE, 7/1) to reveal how President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) refused to support the anti-lynching campaign mounted during his four-team presidency. During the 1930s and ’40s, communists led a movement to pass an anti-lynching law but Roosevelt refused to back it. With the Great Depression sparking ideas of revolution against capitalism, he collaborated with the racist Southern Senators “to save the system”:
“Several thousand blacks were killed by lynching in the United States.…Southern Senators angrily filibustered [the legislation] and FDR…refus[ed] to throw his support behind the measure….Roosevelt said, ‘I’ve got to get legislation passed…to save America. The Southerners…occupy strategic places on most of the Senate and House committees. If I come out for the anti-lynching bill…they will block every bill…to keep America from collapsing’ (David Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, 1929-1945; p. 210).
Roosevelt has been hailed by liberal historians as a “friend of the working people,” but his “New Deal did little to advance the cause of racial equality in America” (“Race in FDR’s New Deal,” Shmoop.com). His alliance with Southern racists ensured the super-exploitation of Black people. “Domestic workers and agricultural laborers — the leading employment sectors for black women and men respectively — were excluded from many of the benefits of labor legislation and social security” (Lorena Hickok, et. al., One-Third of A Nation: Reports on the Great Depression; U. of Illinois, 1981, p. 154).
No matter what reforms were instituted to save capitalism — most of which were the product of militant, communist-led mass movements — Roosevelt followed the path of maintaining the profit system to continue the exploitation of the working class, and especially of Black workers.
★ ★ ★ ★
Vanguard of the
Both the film, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, and the related letter in CHALLENGE (July 15) mostly overlook the main weakness of the Black Panther Party: an ideology of Black nationalism and guerrilla adventurism. By contrast, Progressive Labor Party stands for multiracial, internationalist, working-class unity and mass revolutionary violence.
PLP understands that all forms of nationalism spring directly from capitalism. Nationalism—along with racism and sexism, its partners in crime—is the bosses’ main tool to divide, deceive, and exploit the working class. It misleads workers into the fatal trap of false unity and identity with a group of bosses, whether defined by nationality or the anti-scientific concept of race.
The Panthers’ corrupt ideology led inevitably to corruption in practice, from its top leaders’ drug addictions and gutter sexism to Bobby Seale’s mayoral candidacy in Oakland. It’s no surprise that Seale has spent the last quarter-century as a barbecue entrepreneur—he was always a capitalist at heart. And it’s no surprise that the New Black Panther Party endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008. That’s the end game for all nationalists: cutting opportunistic deals with mass-murdering enemies of the working class.
It should be noted that right-wing forces in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), who would soon devolve into the Weathermen, used Black Panther Party forces to attack PLP. At the final SDS convention in 1969 in Chicago, when our Party won a majority of the organization to support the Worker Student Alliance and multi-racial unity in the fight against racism, the right-wingers had a BPP spokesman deliver a vicious, sexist speech attacking PLP.
Although the BPP paid lip service to the need for armed revolution and socialism, the organization’s practice was essentially counter-revolutionary.
★ ★ ★ ★
PL Exposes Phony Anti-Racists
I attended the annual Unitarian General Assembly hosted this year in Portland, Oregon, along with other PLP comrades. It was quite the event and I got to learn a lot about the politics of the Unitarian Church. Sadly, its politics, as with everything else in a capitalist society, are controlled by right-wing, ruling-class agents.
There were workshops that delegates and non-delegates could attend. The most reactionary and racist one was sponsored by the Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries, or DRUUMM, and the Young Adult Office, called “You are home : Supporting Youths/Young Adults of Color.” This was a clever con game trying to come off as progressive, but it was anything but that.
The two moderators started by having a multiracial group of attendees identify themselves by the question: ‘’What race do you consider yourself? Black, white, Asian, or other?”
People started going along with this nonsense. I raised my hand, and said, “Why is it so important to identify ourselves by designations created 300 years ago to justify slavery and oppression? Its outrageous for you to ask such a thing to divide us up! The only race is the human race!”
PLP lost out on getting a left-wing communist platform adopted, but we got out 100 CHALLENGEs, plus leaflets. Also, we made contacts, and got out communist ideas about the need for revolution globally! We will do better next time!
★ ★ ★ ★
What I Learned at a
You wouldn’t know it was a communist wedding just by looking at it. But then came the clues. First, the officiant welcomed friends, family and comrades.
Then, he moved swiftly into a spiel on the sexist history of marriage, before promising the couple that, nevertheless, they could create a unique, equal union.
Weddings are built of stories. How a couple met, fell in love, what each of them is like. What their future holds, what their love means to each other and to the group.
And in a communist wedding, what their loves means to the revolutionary struggle.
“The ruling class of Los Angeles should be shaking in their boots,” the officiant quipped. The crowd laughed. He was a very funny communist.
He quoted Karl Marx, Che Guevara, and even Jesus (the revolutionary).
The way some priests talk of God, this orator expounded on the dream of a communist future.
During her vows, the bride talked of how love blossomed when the couple went to Ferguson to protest after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson for Michael Brown’s death and were arrested. The groom had himself locked up so he could be with her; he found a way to hold her hand in jail.
At a communist wedding, there are frequent references to protests, arrests and the police. Also: frequent praise for elders, now in their 60s.
I had believed communism was mostly ideological history, laid to rest after the Cold War. What could anyone find in it in now? I wondered.
The wedding had the answer. The guests behaved like a village, bound so tightly that it was hard to tell who was related by blood. They shared a bond of more than love. It’s a common path.
For a Catholic at an atheist communist wedding, it felt oddly familiar to see love bound up in a belief about a life worth living.
I had to hand it to the happy couple. Who gets married these days not just to change their own lives, but the world?
★ ★ ★ ★
A Hundred Anti-Racist
A Mass Party Will Come from the Mass Movement
We participate in the mass organizations in order to fight for the political leadership of the working class and build a mass PLP. Reading and distributing CHALLENGE is central to our work. As we participate in fightbacks and reform campaigns in mass organizations, CHALLENGE gives us the opportunity to introduce communist politics and analysis to friends in our base at work, in schools, communities, and churches.
Our club is active in an immigrant rights group that is funded by the “liberal” ruling class and involved in various struggles, like a $15-an-hour minimum wage, housing issues and budget cuts. Within this, our club fights racism and for multiracial international unity of the working class. Over the past 10 years, we have grown to a club of 12 recruiting our five newest members after the rebellion in Ferguson against racist police terror.
We read CHALLENGE articles in our club meetings and study groups. We struggle with veteran and new members to distribute CHALLENGE hand to hand and through networks of readers and distributors as the main way to take advantage of the political opportunities to build the Party.
Each member takes between four and up to 50 papers each issue, allowing the club to distribute 150 CHALLENGEs hand to hand and through networks of non-Party workers, who also distribute some papers. We also sell or distribute papers at mass protests. In all, we usually distribute 200 to 250 copies. There is still a lot of room for improvement.
This process often leads to profound political discussion and uncovers many questions or disagreements. We talk about the contradiction between being in reform struggles while exposing capitalism and fighting for communist revolution. Many times workers ask why communism has failed. One new member recently explained how he confronts his friends’ anti-communist ideas. We also expose the dead end of nationalist politics. As we build stronger ties with our friends, our members and our Party become stronger.
Two new friends came to our last study group. We identify new friends in the mass organization by how workers respond to CHALLENGE and to what our comrades say in meetings and at protests. We continue to struggle with our comrades to take advantage of the opportunities that always arise as the work in the mass organization continues.
★ ★ ★ ★
The Black Panthers
I went to see the new documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution by veteran Black documentary film maker Stanley Nelson, who also made the film Freedom Summer about the 1964 summer civil rights struggle in Mississippi. His new film is a fascinating look at the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party, celebrating the organization’s accomplishments while discussing some of the flaws that contributed to its demise.
The film will have a commercial release in numerous cities beginning in September, and then will be shown on PBS in February. It’s definitely worth watching.
It contains footage of BPP rallies and interviews with leaders and members, including Fred Hampton, the leader of the Illinois chapter who declared, “We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.”
The film shows that while the top leaders of the BPP were men (including Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and Bobby Seale), the majority of members were women. The public face of the BPP was mostly men, often in militant face-offs with the police, while it was women who quietly staffed the offices and ran the community breakfast and health clinic programs. Despite the importance of women, and despite capable women leaders like Elaine Brown, Ericka Huggins and Kathleen Cleaver, sexism was widespread in the BPP.
Nelson also reveals that a majority of the BPP members were teenagers, radicalized by the violent repression suffered by Black people. The BPP rejected non-violence and advocated armed self-defense of Black communities from racist police brutality. This was welcomed by millions at a time when people were fighting back all over the world, from Vietnam to Latin America.
The BPP advocated revolution — destroying capitalism — while at the same time demanding improvements in the lives of Black workers, including jobs, better housing, schools and health care, exemption from the imperialist military draft, and the end to police harassment and brutality. This was encapsulated in the BPP’s 1966 Ten Point Program. Many thought the BPP had a bright future.
Yet it was not to be. Formed in 1966, the Panthers were essentially defunct by 1971, when they suffered a major split between factions based around Cleaver in Algeria (who advocated adventurist attacks on police that ended up getting members killed) and around Newton and David Hilliard (who favored focusing on the breakfast program and health clinics). There was also a move toward reformist electoral politics, with Bobby Seale running unsuccessfully for Mayor of Oakland in 1972. BPP chapters all around the country were closed down so that people could come to Oakland to help with the campaign.
One of the weaknesses of the BPP was that it seriously underestimated the power of the repressive state apparatus to attack and tear apart the organization. Under J. Edgar Hoover and Cointelpro, the FBI coordinated with local police forces to infiltrate the BPP with dozens of informants, to disrupt the BPP (by encouraging splits and personal attacks) and to murder members with armed attacks on its offices. One such brutal police assault killed Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago.
Another flaw was the cult worship of leaders like Huey Newton, who was addicted to cocaine, living in a penthouse apartment and often abusive to members. Eldridge Cleaver was a blatant sexist, who advocated risky small-group violence while living safely abroad. He would go on to become a “born-again” Christian and support Ronald Reagan, while being financially supported by right-wing groups.
A major weakness of the BPP was its unwillingness to focus on the Black working class and organize in factories, where a tremendous amount of anti-racist struggle was going on at the time, especially in the auto plants. Huey Newton and other leaders argued that the truly revolutionary class was not workers but rather the “lumpenproletariat,” largely composed of people who made their living from criminal activity, including drugs and prostitution. If the BPP had focused its energies on building a base in the working class, as well as joining mass organizations like unions and churches, it might have endured state repression and not fallen apart.
The Black Panthers is an important film to watch and discuss with our friends, to learn the lessons — both positive and negative — of an organization that attracted thousands of young men and women who dedicated years of their lives to fighting against a destructive racist system and for a better society.
★ ★ ★ ★
What You Do Counts
In letter “Struggle and Learn” in CHALLENGE (6/17), I liked the lines, “We should constantly raise the line and struggle with people. It may seem like we’re not getting anywhere, but we can never tell.” It reminded me of a passage in a book I’m reading, which I would like to share.
The book is Heinz Rein’s 1948 novel Finale Berlin which tells the story of an underground, communist-led German Resistance group during the last two weeks of World War II. After 12 years of clandestine struggle, the group succeeds in liberating a Berlin neighborhood as the Red Army approaches. One character says:
Up to now, we’ve performed our illegal work without any visible success, we’ve always only been able slightly to touch the people to whom we turned with our secret radio transmitter, our words have always dribbled into the darkness, have been vaporized into a great desert, our leaflets have continually fluttered into nothingness, we’ve never been able to observe their effect because we had to get away from the people who received them before they had unfolded them, our acts of sabotage often seemed ridiculously small to us, as if a mosquito was attacking an elephant, we’ve always remained without an echo, and in the final analysis it was only thanks to a belief in ourselves that we didn’t despair at the wall of silence which all of us ran up against. But finally, yesterday evening, something really happened, there was a visible success, a many-voiced echo boomed back to us, there our activity, with which perhaps we only vindicated ourselves to ourselves, was transformed into a real deed for the first time.
This dramatic example of events 70 years ago can inspire us never to despair. Finale Berlin was republished in Germany this year. As far as I know, it’s never been translated into English or Spanish, but I recommend it to everyone who can read German. (Be forewarned that, as the excerpt shows, they liked to write very long sentences in the 1940s.)
★ ★ ★ ★
30 Years of Fighting for Students and Communism
I have just finished a long run as a delegate to the delegate assembly of the NYC teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers. I am retiring, and the way the union works, only the leadership’s friends will be retiree delegates. As a PL member in that assembly, I have never been a friend of the leadership.
Over the years as a delegate, I’ve helped put forward resolutions against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve called for support for striking workers; raised resolutions against the killing of Trayvon Martin, (the misleaders considered okay to oppose) and the NYPD’s killing of Ramarley Graham (not okay to attack their our “brothers” in the NYPD at that point) and endorsed PLP May Day marches.
The goals have always been, at the very least, to put class and racism up front, to broaden our “so-called union issues” into broader anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist issues, and win the mass of delegates to see their class interests. The work has often been difficult — the union is controlled by the leadership’s caucus ironically called “Unity” and most members of the assembly are in that caucus and are sworn to vote with the leadership. But we’ve always believed that in the long run, class interest will win workers to see that communist revolution is the answer, not reliance on union misleaders and their politician buddies.
Like many, I’ve often struggled with my own internal anti-communism. Most times, I didn’t openly call for revolution within my speeches. In the last few years, that changed. I began to work with younger comrades, and felt I had to step up my game. And, frankly, my anger at this system began to increase. When we had a resolution last year calling for support for Social Security, I rose to attack the system that keeps us all in poverty, especially as we age, and explained that my anger at that was why I am a communist.
Tonight was my last night. I spent the first half of the meeting wondering why I was there. I texted my husband, “not sure why I’m here, boring, and nothing is happening.” By the time he responded, I had to admit that things were hopping, and I’d been wrong.
A teacher raised a resolution describing the racist conditions that deny team sports for many students, mostly Black and Latin in small schools. He called on the union to make it a mass campaign. The leadership substituted its own resolution — weak and dishonest, implying that if we support the struggle to get sports to Black and Latin students, the city and state would take money from other schools.
The last resolution called for the State Legislature to support rent stabilization, which keeps rents more manageable for working people. I rose to amend the resolution, changing “middle-class working families” to “working-class families.” I then explained that I supported the resolution, but that I hated a system which required that we pay for our basic needs of food, housing and clothing. A system that makes us worry that we can’t fight racism and segregation without losing funding in some schools isn’t one I could support. I explained that I hated this system, and that in my final speech to the assembly, I wanted to make clear that we need a communist revolution.
The amendment passed along with the amended resolution. After the meeting, a delegate told me, “I agree with a lot of what you said and I don’t like capitalism—do you have meetings?” I replied we do, and we exchanged contacts.
Other delegates also thanked me, saying that while they didn’t always agree with a lot that I said but that I always contributed to the assembly. A delegate in the opposition caucus we work in congratulated me, another high-fived me. And, a delegate I’ve known for years, and who doesn’t agree with our politics, told me he voted for the amendment because, if this was my last assembly, that was his gift to me.
I have a feeling that’s why the amendment passed. It was a gift from hundreds of people to a communist they don’t always agree with, but who they respected.
★ ★ ★ ★
Bosses to Movie-Goers:Don’t Be Dinosaur Food
I went to see Jurassic World with my family, and one scene stood out in my mind because it illustrated one of the contradictions of capitalism. It’s when they discover that the genetically manipulated dinosaur, Indominus Rex, escaped. The viewer sees the contrast between the hero, Owen Grady, and a member of the security staff. Grady is lean, muscular and alert. The staff member is overweight and slouches as he stuffs himself with junk food. When they leave the control room to inspect the enclosure, the dinosaur attacks. Grady dives under a car while the staff member ineffectually cowers next to a second car, unable to fit under it. Of course, the dinosaur eats him.
This is a classic example of Social Darwinism — the survival of the fittest, with the bosses supposedly being the fittest people in society. But beyond that, it’s an example of blaming the victim; the viewer is led to believe that it’s the staff member’s fault for being overweight.
But obesity is a social disease. In the U.S. for example, the proportion of obese people increased from 13 percent of the population in 1963 to 27.6 percent in 2013. The problem isn’t that the proportion of gluttonous people in society has increased — it’s that capitalists make super-profits by selling junk food.
And here’s the contradiction: to fight the wars that are looming, the capitalists need soldiers who are lean, muscular and alert. Jurassic World does its part in a fitness drive by getting young people to want to be like Owen Grady and like the film’s heroine, Claire Dearing. Whether this will be enough to solve the capitalists’ contradiction is another matter. What’s important for our class is for us to be aware of the many subtle ways that the bosses’ media try to manipulate us into adopting the bosses’ world view.
★ ★ ★ ★
Black Nationalism Rises Amid Anti-Racist Rebellions
In response to non-indictments of police in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner murders — not to mention ever-increasing fascism against Black youth in the U.S. —some have reissued the idea of black capitalism, or “buying black,” to fight back.
This was the idea behind the last Fall’s #BlackoutBlackFriday campaign that sprung up after Brown’s murder, imploring participants to spend their dollars in black-owned businesses, as opposed to giant corporate retailers, on Black Friday. Proponents argue that because Black people’s spending power is $1.1 trillion dollars, buying in “our communities” is the best way to improve black socioeconomic conditions in the U.S.
The suggestion is nothing new. The Black ruling class such as Booker T. Washington and Robert Reed Church (the latter of founded the U.S.’s first Black-owned bank) touted it during the 20th century. But make no mistake, comrades. Black capitalism will do absolutely nothing to stop racist oppression of Black youth and workers. The idea itself is an offshoot of the Talented Tenth theory, the elitist, sexist idea that only male, ruling-class Black intellectuals could repair material conditions for Black workers.
No surprise the term originated among Northern white liberals, many of whom were financially backed by arch-imperialist John D. Rockefeller.
“Buying black” says that Black people in the U.S. can rebuke racist capitalist practices such as redlining and housing covenants by...wait for it...starting their own capitalism. Rather than fighting to destroy this system, black capitalism co-opts it in an attempt to assimilate Black workers into something never meant to include them.
Such practices as “keeping it in the community” will retain a super-exploited underclass working to produce profits for business owners. The only difference here is that all the bosses will share the same skin color as their workers.
We cannot defeat capitalism by creating a more race-based, isolated form of it. Only a communist revolution can and will do that.
★ ★ ★ ★
The following two letters are written by high school students in Baltimore who led walkouts following the
racist police murder of Freddie Gray.
The First Walkout
The first high school walkout was on Friday, April 24. It was liberating to take a stand with many other like-minded students, leaving school to protest and march for all the lives unjustly and brutally snuffed out by the racist cops. Some students and I met in the basement of the school to discuss what we would do and how we would do it. I told them that we had to be quiet and disciplined when exiting the building. We discussed the importance of walking out against racism. Anyone who just wanted to avoid going to class was dismissed.
We all walked out of the front entrance of the building. Many began chanting and marching around our school’s campus and holding up CHALLENGE newspaper.
Along with other students, I helped lead the chants. We made two stops so that everyone could talk and say how they felt. At each stop, I gave a speech about racism, sexism, corruption and hate crimes that are bred by the capitalist system. At the last stop, a student led everyone in a prayer to finish off the protest. Before they went back in the building, I told everyone what PLP was about and invited them to May Day!
The expansion of the Progressive Labor Party will continue, and this unjust system will crack!
The Second Walkout
The following week, I heard students were planning to protest the PAARC exam, which is part of national Common Core standards.
I felt it was my responsibility as an elected student leader at our school to support my fellow classmates in a fight against an unfair school system. The test was postponed after a number of students refused to take it. An administrator lied, claiming the test was being postponed for “technical reasons.” It was the bold refusals that were the real spark.
The next day, Friday May 1, students walked out again for Freddie Gray, and also against injustices in Baltimore City Public Schools. Before walking out, we chanted boldly while marching through all four floors of our school’s main building.
On our minds was the thought of “productive protesting.” Once outside, after we stopped the first time, we told the students that we needed to take our protests to the next level. I reminded students that the administration knows we can take the power out of their hands and into ours! But they don’t stop us because they think we don’t have the ability to articulate our demands.
I reminded us that even if the school system refuses to teach us those skills, there are other places and organizations where we could go to learn how to fight! At the end of the protest, the group of about 40 decided to make demands — in addition to our solidarity struggle for justice for Freddie Gray — that related to educational, emotional, and productive issues. Now, we move forward to write-ups, petitions, conferences, and much more. On the initiative of two young Black male students, a club named Students Taking Action was born out of the march.
The events in Baltimore during the earlier citywide uprising have sparked the beginnings of an unstoppable long-term rebellion. It was not a “riot,” as the capitalist media, politicians, and some clergy have falsely characterized it. We will continue to fight back!
★ ★ ★ ★
Struggle and Learn
At the meeting of my retirees union chapter this month, a labor leader from the AFL-CIO came in to give us the general picture of labor and politics. His position was that politically the labor movement was in terrible trouble and that we have to ensure that the next time that democrats were voted completely in — but Democrats who completely support the positions of labor. In other words, same old, same old. But in laying out his position and talking about all the problems in the country for working people, it became a dirge that upset many of the members. During the question time for him, the questions clearly illustrated their concerns and what could be done. In each case it came down to getting out the vote.
In the “Good and Welfare” part of the meeting, I put together a picket line chant to start a song I wanted to sing. I chanted the chant “The bosses can’t profit when the workers unite. Shut it down. Shut it tight,” and then sang “The men and women on the line”. I normally get a good response from the 200 or so members who attend these meetings. But this time the applause was thunderous, and I was surrounded by people who wanted to talk to me. There was a line of them. I was given some telephone numbers and I gave the song sheet to someone and was asked to send a song sheet to someone else. I was a little overwhelmed. People sitting in the seats around me pointed to their CHALLENGE and told me they had it.
After the event, when I was walking with one of my retiree friends, I tried to think through, and talk through, what had happened. I have been an activist in the union for 29 years and have been involved with struggles on the union floor during meetings and in my workplaces. I often brought members from my workplaces to the meetings and I usually get out 100 or so CHALLENGEs at all of the meetings. I have had limited success at winning people into the PLP from amongst the workers. I have often had raw anticommunist comments thrown at me and I have been threatened on numerous occasions, but I have always carried on. Especially at May Day or at the month of May, I would make a special project of insuring that May Day (the workers’ holiday) was well understood.
Between the discussion and thinking over what had happened, it became clear to me that this was a perfect storm. I had done consistent work for 29 years. I have been singing at the retirees’ meetings for almost 3 years now, while raising issues of the working class – among them racism and sexism. The world in the last 29 years has been changing dramatically for the working class. Things are getting a lot worse, and workers have become somewhat confused. But over the last two or three years, the different struggles against racism and inequality have been growing in people’s minds. Then a well-known labor leader made a speech telling people that all we can do is vote and organize other people to vote while the politicians fritter away the lives of the working class, things begin to happen.
In our pamphlet, “Build a Base in the Working Class” there is a point in the early pages where we are told that we should constantly raise the line and struggle with people. It may seem like we’re not getting anywhere, but we can never tell. In fact, we are getting somewhere. The consistency of raising the ideas and getting to know people and the changing world situation (Ferguson, Baltimore, unemployment, wage disparities, the fight to raise the minimum wage) will make people more ready to listen. The lines to the song I sang at the end say, “This song is for the workers of the world. Their banners come unfurled. Sisters, brothers break your chains — let the fight begin. We have the whole wide world to win”. Some of the working class are beginning to see light in the dark night. The battle is long, but the end is clear. We have a communist world to win!
★ ★ ★ ★
There’s an error in the picture caption “May Day in France” (CHALLENGE, page 6, 5/20). According to the caption, “‘The Time of the Cherries” refers to a revolutionary song about the Paris Commune of 1871. The “Time of Cherries” was referred to as a metaphor for what life will be like under a communist society, but the story is more complex.
“The Time of the Cherries” was originally a popular love song written in 1866. In the original lyrics, a broken-hearted man warns young men to avoid beautiful women, if they fear the cruel pain of breaking up. He adds that he will always cherish cherry-picking time because it reminds him of the memory he stores in his heart, which is like an unhealed wound. Several years later, after the author participated in armed revolution, new verses were added.
In 1871, workers in Paris staged the first working-class revolution and established the first dictatorship of the proletariat: the Paris Commune. The song’s author, Jean-Baptiste Clément, fought for the Commune against the combined armies of the French and German bosses.
During the final stage of the bosses’ victory over the world’s first proletarian government, during the “bloody week” of May 21-28, 1871, the bosses murdered 20,000 to 30,000 members of the Commune after they had surrendered. In particular, they slaughtered the nurses, who were supposedly recognized under capitalist law as “noncombatants” by the bosses. Then as now, when threatened with revolution, the bosses broke their own law. Killing noncombatants was explicitly forbidden by the bosses’ first Geneva Convention of 1864, which the French bosses had signed, and established the Red Cross. On May 28, the very last day of the Commune, a young woman and ambulance nurse serving with Clément’s group somehow became separated from them, never to be seen again.
In 1882, Clément published a book of his songs and dedicated “The time of the cherries” to this young ambulance nurse. He wrote: “All we knew was that she was named Louise and that she was a working class woman. … What became of her? Was she shot down, with so many others, by [the bosses]? Wasn’t it to this obscure heroine that I had to dedicate the most popular of all the songs that are in this book?”
Ever since then, the working class in France has associated “The Time of the Cherries” with the Paris Commune. It is less about “what life will be like under a communist society” than it is about unforgettable sorrow and anger at the bosses’ crimes against the working class. Crimes that the international working class will one day avenge.
★ ★ ★ ★
May Day Reflections
The following letters are reflections of students and workers from a community college in the Bronx, NY who attended May Day on May 2.
“Same struggle, same fight. Workers of the world unite!” was one of the many slogans chanted throughout Flatbush, Brooklyn at the May Day march. This was the first time I have ever been a part of something like this. It was the first time I had ever been in a march at all. As we made our way through the streets, making our presence known and our voices heard, the way the community reacted to us was a very moving experience. People came out from the shops to see what was happening. Those already outside stopped what they were doing. Those inside their apartments sat at their windows looking at us.
It was a beautiful thing to see. While they might have not been marching with us physically, for that moment that we passed by them, there was no denying they were in solidarity with us. People started chanting. There were also people who joined us along the way. The community’s reaction made me realize that this was one of the reasons why people marched. It was a way of letting people know that they are not alone in their struggle; we are all part of the same working class. And if we come together, our voices grow louder.
★ ★ ★ ★
I was very impressed that the organizers of the march appeared to be almost all young people. In our society, we are taught that youth cannot be relied on, that they’re selfish and egotistical. It was refreshing to see a very good example of how this capitalist idea is wrong. I have confidence not only that young people can organize and lead a march, but also they can organize and lead the entire working class in the fight against capitalism.
★ ★ ★ ★
As a college student, I admired the fact that the march was so organized. The previous marches that I have been to were part of a spur-of-the-moment type of action. This march had a chance to gather more of a crowd. The march was official and it stood for everything I believe in. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I plan on going to more functions.
★ ★ ★ ★
I am a college student from the Bronx and I felt that this march was very inspirational. Also, this was my first march so things were rather new to me. I liked that people who were not in the march took the time to listen to us. Some chanted along with us and some even joined. That just shows that we are inspiring and can move people. If I weren’t a part of the march, I would have wanted to join and would have asked many questions. This was a fun and educational experience and it would be nice to be a part of more to come.
★ ★ ★ ★
I am not a communist but I still attended a march organized by the Progressive Labor Party. While I did keep my mouth shut for chants praising communism, there were plenty of chants that I raised my voice for. I screamed for calls against the police, war, and the politicians. Even though I want a different form of government, I respect the values of the PLP. This Party fights for the working class, racial and gender equality, and many more liberal causes. I definitely have no problem turning up with the PLP.
★ ★ ★ ★
I was on the march on Saturday and I was surprised to see how organized it was. It was my first march so I didn’t know what to expect. It was good to see how there were people of different ethnicities, genders, and ages. Everybody united for the purpose of ending racism, police brutality, sexism, and other things. Even though the issues were serious, the atmosphere was welcoming. I really enjoyed it and would definitely do it again.
★ ★ ★ ★
I especially enjoyed May Day this year because of the historical continuity of the march. Going to different parts of Brooklyn and hearing about different cases of police brutality was a great move and should be done more often.