Religion: Better Life After Death? Communism: Better Life Now!
After May Day, a few comrades and I went to dinner with some of our friends and family. An interesting discussion was sparked by a comrade’s brother. He asked if I saw any connection between religion and communism, after I shared the story of my conversion from Christianity to communism and the Party. Here was an opportunity to put dialectical materialism into practice: No two things are totally alike or totally different.
One thing that distinguishes communism from religion is that religion is a tool used by the bosses to keep individuals subordinate to the ideology, interests and values of exploiters and to the dictates of the exploiter-ruled state. While some religions preach a “liberation theology,” often the liberation sought is encased within the confines of capitalism, urging only for reform and not necessarily to overthrow the system. Marxist philosophy (dialectical materialism) promotes critical, scientific thinking, and encouraging workers to not only analyze our oppression, but to break the chains that bind us.
As for similarities, the comrade’s brother proposed that both religion and communism unite people for a common cause and creates community. We all want to belong; to be accepted; to feel we are a part of something greater than ourselves. I agreed and added that the true sense of community is lost under the culture of individualism (a culture nurtured by capitalism) and it is only offered, superficially through things such as organized religion.
As we marched down the streets of Flatbush, Brooklyn, one of the chanters from the sound truck paused to point out the fact that there were several churches on each block. This, he said, was the hope that capitalism had to offer: a hope that life would be better after you die. The capitalists want us to believe that prayer changes things, but we know that while prayer and meditation may bring mental comfort to suffering, struggling people, it will not change the inhumane conditions that millions of workers suffer under capitalism every day.
There are many things that people find attractive about religion. I remember the days of being in church and feeling a sense of awe and enlightenment. I felt like I had a purpose and that nothing happened by chance; it had been predestinated. I believed that God would hear my cries and answer my prayers whenever I called for help.
Now I am an atheist, a communist, and a member of the Progressive Labor Party. I still feel a sense of awe and wonder when I consider the beauty of nature and my connection to all living things. I may not have a divine purpose, but I have set a purpose for my own life, choosing to be a part of something greater than myself by joining with others in a fight for a better world, a world with no rich and no poor; a world with no masters and no slaves; a world where the workers share what we produce and we all have a chance to develop ourselves to our full potential; a communist world! Now that’s what I call, heaven.
A Dialectical Materialist
Not Just Anderson, It’s the Whole System
Historically, Newark has had a lot of conflict. Whether it is political, racial, or religious, the city has gone through its rough times. Newark Public Schools, the largest school system in New Jersey, has had Cami Anderson as superintendent since 2011. Anderson had launched the One Newark reform initiative, which includes shutting down and consolidating schools. Though masses of parents, teachers, students, and even ministers have been protesting One Newark, little has changed. The One Newark Plan closes some traditional schools, lays off over 1,000 teachers while hiring Teach for America recruits, and creates a single enrollment system for Newark’s 21 charters and 71 traditional public schools.
The effects of Anderson’s plan have already been felt in Newark’s predominantly black and Latino schools. She has effectively put 22 schools on the chopping block since 2013. Each of my classes are filled with 25 or more students (my AP World History class has 30 students). Class sizes are too big and we protested in outrage. Yet, Anderson fails to attend community meetings, budget meetings, and meet any of our demands. Her plan ultimately hurts every facet of the working class of Newark, but it hurts students the most. Her decision to suspend four principals who spoke out against One Newark at a community meeting wasn’t a great move either. Her One Newark Plan simply privatizes Newark Public Schools in order to suck the life out of the working class before they even begin to work. The community will not go down without a fight.
Our teachers participate in Fight Back Fridays. The Newark Student Union organized protests where hundreds of students walked out of school to protest in front of the superintendent’s office. Parents asked her, “Wouldn’t you want the same opportunity for my black baby as yours?” Just last week, 77 local ministers from all over Newark highlighted the needless chaos that the One Newark Plan has left the community in. Everyone but a select few are in outrage and are openly informing Anderson so, but she still fails to tell the community the benefits of privatizing schools, other than making her friends a lot of money.
High School Student
Schools Under Capitalism Serve Only the Bosses
This is excerpted from a speech intended for May Day by a comrade in Newark fighting the bosses’ education reform.
It’s a pleasure to speak with all of you — men and women, workers and children, all passionate for the same shared cause of justice and equality, which is why we meet here today. While we celebrate the message of May Day and the long road to progress set forth by those who came before us, we mustn’t forget the current struggle faced by workers and the other social ills that face the U.S. in politics, the economy, and general society. In the spirit of this and the Progressive Labor Party, I would like to take a moment to talk about a very pressing matter that I believe hasn’t been discussed enough and that has personally affected me, my friends, and millions of others, both in my city and the rest of urban America.
As a Brazilian immigrant, my mother came to this country in search of a better life — not only for her, but for her future children as well. Even in the present day, public education in Brazil is ineffective and lackluster, to say the least. Schools are often overcrowded, stocked with underpaid teachers and lacking the much-needed resources needed to teach students in the 21st century. This and many other problems that face Brazil are often sourced to governmental corruption, an insatiable thirst for greed that has halted the advancement of Brazilian society and only now is being seen with indignation. Although my mother was lucky enough to go to one of the best public schools in Rio de Janeiro, she knew that it was going to be nearly impossible for her to afford a college education while working for a measly wage. This is why she moved to start her life here in New York.
And yet the situation in the United States hasn’t been much better. From inner-city schools in Queens to the suburbs of Long Island and even the West Coast, I have seen how the quality of U.S. education has gone down because of the stifled school funding, both for the curriculum and after-school activities. It has unfairly fired hundreds upon thousands of teachers due to budget constraints. It has completely ignored the voices of an outraged student body, one already crippled by a weak economy and soon to be burdened by massive debts incurred simply from trying to get an education.
The actions of Superintendent Cami Anderson in Newark are only a microcosm of a trend sweeping the country in recent years. As U.S imperialism begins to show its decline against rivals like China and Russia, U.S. lawmakers and politicians have started to resort to any means necessary to stay competitive. For years, the elite U.S. educational mentality has sought to keep the middle- and lower-income classes in subservience, and this is only going to get worse through an oppressive institution that forces you to conform to its discipline, no questions asked. There are extreme examples in my own city, with some charter schools putting impressionable young children in submission through draconian policies, making the school less a place for academia and more like a behavioral facility.
Now it’s the time to fight. Not only do we need unity and will power for social change, but a unity in our message. Everybody affected by the education system must be in the know, for the sake of knowledge and strength in resistance; only through communication can there be power. We don’t want indoctrination of the common people by the whims of an elitist, privileged class that has no care for the likes of me and you. Join me in the fight against intellectual degradation and don’t give in to apathy. Be reactive and proactive to the threats of the capitalists. Seize the hammer and sickle in your work, but bring a pen to the fight; without the brain, the brawn becomes meaningless. Lead the battle with your mind!
Friend of PL
Contract Work in Israel: Legalized Human Trafficking
For the last 14 years, I have been a contract workerclearing office buildings in Israel. The work is both physically hard — I am on my legs all day long, and can sit down only during the 30-minute break — and underpaid. Contractors are paid only the minimum hourly wage (about $7 U.S.), and the benefits are the legal minimum. Many contractors try to give their workers even less, withholding pension contributions and payments for annual leave. Often I have had to fight to get what was due me.
I work with a woman from Eritrea. Although she has a work visa and her employment is legal, she gets paid on the 15th day of each month instead of the 10th. Contract workers who do not know their rights well or do not speak Hebrew can find themselves openly exploited.
Even when employment conditions and benefits are technically legal, contractors try to increase their profits at our expense. In many workplaces in Israel, for example, coffee is provided at the employer’s expense and is readily available at all times. Some worksites even provide subsidized lunches. But at the place I work, neither I nor the security guards (who are also contract workers) get any coffee — we need to beg for it from offices in the building. We must bring lunch from home.
To take our legally required paid leave of one day per month, we have to ask multiple times. Sometimes the contractor “forgets” to pay for it and has to be chased to get what we are owed. This happened to me during the week between the two Passover holidays.
On my current job, my pension payments were supposed to begin three months after I started work. But I received them only after six months, and then only when I went on my own initiative to remind the contractor what he owed me.
I do not get paid for breaks. I work nine hours a day, but get paid for only eight and a half hours. This means that I lose 275 Israeli New Shekels (ILS) a month, or $79 U.S., a considerable sum for someone making minimum wage.
When I started cleaning an office twice a week for an hour each time, the cleaning supplies were at the office’s expense. The contractor only had to pay my salary. My agreement with the contractor was to be paid at an overtime rate for these hours, or about $8.25 U.S. But the office owner paid the contractor $17 U.S. per hour. The contractor made more than I did for this work! After repeatedly having to chase the contractor for my pay for these hours, I made an agreement with the office manager to be paid directly for the work at an hourly rate of $11.50 U.S. And the money was paid on time.
★ ★ ★ ★
I am telling my personal story here, but I am one of hundreds of thousands of contract workers in Israel, in both the public and private sectors. In 1996, with the ratification of the Mandatory Tendering Law, contract employment for government jobs became the accepted norm. The idea was to pass the responsibility for the workers to a third party, namely the manpower contractor. In practice, the contractor gets paid a high sum for each worker, of which only part goes to the worker’s salary, while the contractor pockets the balance in return for trafficking in workers. Neoliberals claim this is “more efficient” than direct employment by allowing the government to deal with governing while the contractors specialize in cleaning the office and other jobs.
In reality, however, this is no more efficient than the old way. The main reason for the contract system is union-busting and circumventing collective bargaining agreements. Contract workers are excluded from any existing agreements, which makes the workers more vulnerable to exploitation and also weakens the union. Moreover, these workers have no job protection and can be fired without cause. The contract system enables the Israeli government to bust the unions and employ workers for starvation wages while enriching the contractors and ducking responsibility for illegal working conditions.
In one case, I was paid in cash, which enabled the employer to avoid making contributions to National Insurance, the Israeli equivalent of Social Security, as required by law.
I am a member of the Coalition for Direct Employment, which fights for the direct employment of all workers in the Israeli market, with the pay and benefits accorded to workers by law, and the freedom to unionize. Eventually we are aiming to create a strong union, a collective contract protecting the workers from harmful employment, and fighting for revolution.
This is what I experience as a worker on a daily basis. I am not a slave, I am a worker!
Two Fighting Workers
Sexist Honor Killings:How Religion Criminalizes Women
In Pakistan, a pregnant 25-year-old woman was recently stoned to death by her father and brothers for the “crime” of marrying a man her family disapproves of, and violating the tradition that marriages be arranged by her family rather than by herself and her spouse. This vicious murder was committed in broad daylight on a public street with many onlookers. It was justified by her father as an “honor killing,” in which the victim of the crime of murder was accused of being the perpetrator of a supposedly greater crime, adding insult to extreme injury.
Farzana is one more target in this outrageous practice of the oppression of women that in 2013 reportedly took the lives of 869 women in Pakistan. It also reveals a pathological lack of love within families, or at the very least a relative devaluing of love in the face of religious custom. Her father, the murderer-in-chief, stated baldly that he had no regret about killing his daughter.
Honor killings have been a part of many societies over the centuries, and in the modern world they still persist. How can communists change this horrendous practice that is generally accepted as justifiable among large segments of a society — no doubt including segments of the working class? It is the ultimate in divide-and-conquer when even families produce systematic and justified killings of one member by another.
The Bolsheviks in the early part of the 20th century sent many volunteer women to the Muslim sections of the Soviet Union in Central Asia to live among women there. They encouraged a change in their thinking about commonly accepted practices that put women into fourth-class citizenship. Many women accept this role in the form of head- and face-coverings, walking behind their husbands in public, and other displays, though that is beginning to change. Many women in the Muslim sections of the working class are standing up to these practices in public, but many are also paying with their lives for doing so.
It is vital that communists find ways of transforming entire social practices that are deeply rooted and deadly to the working class as a whole, not just to the women who are directly oppressed.
My First May Day: Awesome!
My first New York May Day was awesome in every possible way. I never knew so many people from so many different ethnic backgrounds could be so united. As we marched through the streets of Brooklyn, NY, we caught the attention of many people.
Many people began to engage in the march as well. It made me feel so good when people from Brooklyn’s streets began to march with us. PL’ers’ speeches were so heartfelt and touching. I believe they reached into most of the Brooklyn people’s hearts. It was as though the speeches were coming from their hearts.
Going to my second May Day ever and other meetings with my comrades, I now know a little bit more about the PLP. I am against this capitalist system, where these companies and bosses make profit off the working class which suffers while these bosses eat and live well.
I’m also against these imperialist wars for oil, especially against these racist police departments everywhere. Young people are dying all around this world due to racist KKKops while they get off scot free. I’ve learned the only solution is a communist revolution. Fight back! The revolution is on the way!
An inspired marcher
Tech Companies Behind Racist Murder
On July 16, 2011, Kenneth Harding, Jr. was riding on the T-train in San Francisco. Two cops boarded the train and immediately singled out Harding, a 19-year-old black youth, for the aggressive fee-checks that have become standard in the city. They pulled him off the train at which point Harding tried to flee. The cops gunned Harding down outside the station. While the youth lay dying on the ground the police stood over him, weapons drawn, refusing to allow paramedics or bystanders to render aid, letting Harding bleed out on the sidewalk. Harding had been murdered over a $2 train fare.
Harding’s racist murder has become a symbol of the class struggle in San Francisco. In order to make up for budget shortfalls over the last five years, the city has engaged in stricter fare enforcement on public transportation, complete with police stings which focus on poor black and Latino neighborhoods.
The budget shortfalls plaguing the city were not a natural result of the current depression, but of a conscious city policy to transfer wealth from the urban poor to tech companies as part of the city’s economic development strategy. Massive tax breaks have been given to companies like Spotify, Zynga, and One Kings Lane, with the shortfall then foisted on the working class.
In a particularly glaring example, Twitter was given a $56 million payroll tax break in exchange for a $388,000 donation to city charities and a $60,000 credit for “promoted tweets;” a net loss to the city of $9.259 million per year. (Salon, 2/19/14)
City transit has been under constant attack by the tech industry. “Google buses,” named after the largest supplier of the private bus service, have been operating in the city for the last decade. This private bus service uses non-union drivers (a not-so-subtle attack on the unionized city system) to ferry tech workers from San Francisco to the outlying Silicon Valley.
The Google buses have also helped themselves to the use of public transit bus stops, a crime that is consistently enforced against working people, but ignored in the case of the tech industry. The non-enforcement of the $271 fine has cost the city between $500-600 million over the last ten years while the private buses have blocked bus stops, delaying and congesting public transit.
After a year of growing protest, the city was finally forced last month to charge tech companies $-per-stop along their routes (a plan developed by the tech industry itself). The charge is half the fare that each individual rider is forced to pay on the public transit system and results in a net loss of $270 per stop to the city if they would just enforce currently existing laws.
But that’s the point: the law does not apply to the capitalist class, it only applies to workers. As journalist Julia Carrie Wong notes, “Google and its ilk have always known that they could break the law right up until the day they were invited to make new laws. That is the power of corporate wealth, and in San Francisco as in the rest of the country, it rules supreme.” (Salon, 1/23/14)
Kenneth Harding was murdered over a $2 bus fare. He had to pay so that Google wouldn’t have to. The working class deserves better. The working class needs communism. The ongoing protests against the tech parasites in San Francisco are great, but the working class is going to need revolutionary politics to escape the hell that is capitalism once and for all.