Pete Seeger Inspired by Workers’ Struggles
In early January 2014, Pete Seeger, an icon of American folk music, passed away. He was known worldwide for his progressive music accessible to everyone from coal miners and factory workers to college students and professors. His years as a musician and political activist spanned need nearly seven decades reaching all generations.
In 1936 at age 17, Seeger joined the Young Communist League (YCL), then at the height of its popularity and influence. He attended Harvard College with the dream of being a journalist but lost his partial scholarship because he did so much political work in the YCL that his grades suffered. He left Harvard in 1938. In 1942 he became a member of the Communist Party (CPUSA) itself, but left in 1949.
In the 1950’s, he was a member of The Weavers. Many of their songs were controversial and they were banned and/or censored by most mainstream radio and television stations for years. Even today, You Tube clips with Pete trying to play controversial songs such as “The Big Muddy” on the TV show “The Smother Brothers” are cut out.
When not performing publically on networks he went to summer camps and performed for children. This may have planted the seeds in the minds of these very young children that contributed to the social rebellions of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Despite the setbacks and obstacles with television networks due to his socially radical ideas, Pete Seeger continued on and had a show called “Rainbow Quest” on CBS network out of New York in the 1960’s.
A number of progressive artists performed on the show. Tom Paxton sang “Buy a Gun for Your Son,” a subtle and sarcastic song criticizing the patriotic war-supporting agenda of the far-right political agenda. Seeger also was closely associated with the 1960s Civil Rights movement and in 1963 helped organize a landmark Carnegie Hall concert, featuring the youthful Freedom Singers, as a benefit for the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. This event and Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in August of that year brought the Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” to wide audiences. A version of this song, submitted by Zilphia Horton of Highlander, had been published in Seeger’s People’s Songs Bulletin as early as in 1947.
On July 26, 1956, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) voted 373 to 9 to cite Pete Seeger and seven others (including playwright Arthur Miller) for contempt, as they refused to cooperate with HUAC in its attempts to investigate alleged subversives and communists (later PLP members would also refuse to cooperate with HUAC). Seeger testified before the HUAC in 1955. This was one of his darkest moments, when his personal freedom, his career, and his safety were in jeopardy. Seeger had an international following of millions of workers and progressive-minded intellectuals who were anti-war and pro-union and supported workers’ rights.
Even though Seeger was the product of the revisionism/reformism of the “old” communist movement, much of his music and lyrics about workers’ struggles are inspirational. By playing and sharing his music today, we may have a way to reach and politicize both young and old people alike. His music is a valuable tool to use with friends on our jobs and in other organizations if they are progressive enough to begin the conversation about fighting back and the problems of capitalism.
All that hear Seeger’s message can gain a historical context for the workers’ struggles against racism, too. By listening to his music, people learn the history of the struggles and tribulations of the working class as they started to organize collectively in the mid-to-late 20th century. In his “Songs of Struggle” album his music encourages workers to think for themselves with songs like “Which Side are You On?” and “Talking Union” written with Lee Hays and Millard Lampell. The last verse of “Talking Union,” written by Seeger, illustrates the potential to use his works in PL our own attempts to win workers struggling for their rights and to help students understand these struggles:
But out in Detroit here’s what they found,
And out in Frisco here’s what they found,
And out in Pittsburgh here’s what they found,
And down in Bethlehem here’s what they found,
That if you don’t let Red-baiting break you up,
If you don’t let stool pigeons break you up,
If you don’t let vigilantes break you up,
And if you don’t let race hatred break you up —
You’ll win. What I mean,
Take it easy — but take it!”
Pete Seeger is gone but his message lives on to empower the working class.
A comrade fan of Pete Seeger
Community Fighter Won to Communism
I am a person who since I became involved have learned what communism signifies. It gives me joy and confidence that a struggle exists that understands the necessities of all of us who are part of the working class and that we are not alone.
I would very much like to pass on the word to more people that because of fear they remain quiet and that like me, I have learned what the word communism means. Now it is our job to inform and transform everyone, that because of capitalism, we are all suffering the consequences of bad administraters of the country and as always, these politicians pass the guilt around, blaming each other, pretending to fill a well-intentioned agenda with a president on his way out and being replaced by another and finally never doing anything. That is why I think that the Progressive Labor Party should never disappear. With organization, intelligence and anger, we shall keep communism alive and not lose the hope that in the not-so-distant future, we can say we’ve gained more ground against capitalism.
First and foremost, I very much congratulate your Party for letting me get involved in your fight against the corruption of the world’s monster named capitalism.
Pro-communist fighter CIA-Owned U.S. Media
Comrades, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the media’s role in reproducing the superstructure continually oppressing us. Last August, we saw how privatized the news is when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post for $250 million. Some may think these purchases are relatively recent in history. However, subversion of the press leaves a trail extending back to the 1940s, draped in secrecy.
In 1948, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) created the Office of Police Coordination (OPC), a psychological and paramilitary action organization. OPC was specifically designed as the CIA’s covert action branch. Per its own secret charter, the department’s goal was spreading “propaganda, economic warfare, preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation procedures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance groups, and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world.”
To lead this department, the CIA enlisted Wall Street lawyer Frank Wisner, who had strong hatred for the U.S.S.R. Later that year, Wisner created Operation Mockingbird, a program where the CIA bribed journalists from multiple media outlets to spread their propaganda.
Per Katherine The Great by Deborah Davis (which first exposed Mockingbird): “By the early 1950s, Wisner ‘owned’ respected members of the New York Times, Newsweek, CBS and other communications vehicles, plus stringers, four to six hundred in all, according to a former CIA analyst.”
Mockingbird managed to influence at least 25 newspapers and wire services throughout the United States. The CIA even used it to influence 1949 elections in Italy, after Italian communists joined the race. Their efforts helped lead to the communists’ defeat.
It should come as no coincidence that this happened alongside the dawn of McCarthyism, where anyone who even looked different was suspected of being a communist.
The ‘50s saw Mockingbird take up one-third of the CIA’s covert operations budget; three-thousand salaried and contracted Agency workers eventually became involved in the propaganda efforts. Fast-forwarding to the present day, we see Mockingbird’s continuing effects. Mass media still presents stories from a racist and sexist perspective, routinely attacks students protesting fascist militarization on campuses and gives virtually no attention to government programs such as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) This act, signed by Obama, authorizes $662 billion in funding, among other things, “for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad.”
This only further proves that what we see, read and hear daily will never serve our class interests. The government has literally owned hundreds of journalists for decades now. It is important we learn this because many still believe in the lie of “unbiased” reporting the bosses’ love pushing on us. And when you believe their dangerous lies, you’ll be less likely to take up workers’ struggle.
This is also why it is so important that we all read and distribute CHALLENGE newspaper. Our revolutionary communist paper is the only paper that truly reports on, and represents the interests of, the international working class. We should all make or renew our commitment to distribute many more as this is our strongest weapon against our enemy, capitalism.
‘Top Secret America’: NSA Exposed Before Snowden
In July of 2010, more than two years before Edward Snowden published his revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) and two years in the making, the Washington Post newspaper published three articles describing what it called “… an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight.” To be sure, the motives behind the Post stories were far from those of Mr. Snowden. On the contrary, The Post was alarmed that the entire national security apparatus had become too large, too in-grown, and quite incapable of even performing a protective role.
The idea was not to expose any of the by-their-own-laws-illegal activities of the U.S. government. Rather, the Post saw itself as a totally patriotic organization alerting the country to severe problems that needed to be fixed so that the U.S. could continue as the world’s leading capitalist economy.
The Post saw nothing inherently wrong with what was going on; it only wanted to get rid of the vast waste and inefficiency that it believed was crippling “our” ability to defend “ourselves.” Moreover, the Post claimed that its “…online database of government organizations and private companies was built entirely on public records. The investigation focused on top-secret work because the amount classified at the secret level is too large to accurately track.”
It is noteworthy that the Post knew that the NSA (only a part of the national security apparatus) was collecting daily 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications. In other words, the overall activities of the NSA that Snowden exposed were quite well-known. The Post mentioned this data collection to show how ludicrously immense it had become because even with their super-fast computers, the NSA couldn’t analyze the majority of the information it was gathering. Clearly, the facts that Snowden exposed were well-known to Washington insiders; the only ones who didn’t know were the so-called “American people.”
The articles make it clear that only very high-ranking individuals could afford to identify themselves when substantiating the articles’ claims. This thoroughly demolishes the idea that “Snowden should have and could have gone through the proper channels rather than publishing the information the way he did.”
The Post said that its online database is at www.washingtonpost.com/topsecretamerica but I couldn’t find it. Perhaps they took it down after Snowden’s exposures to perpetuate the fiction that “no one knew what was going on.”
Pete Seeger Inspired by Workers’ Struggles
PL School: Microcosm of a Communist World
Communism — well, of course I agree with many of the ideas, but the main question is: will it work? Will communism really fix capitalism? I feel like it will replace capitalism with another “ism,” but I’m not sure if it will fix all the problems. What I am willing to do is fight the problems that I see, for example racism and sexism. So if I’m fighting with communists, that’s fine.
★ ★ ★ ★
Overall, I think the retreat was good, and I liked the topics we talked about during the workshops because I learned about things I never knew before. I also liked how we related the topics to what’s happening in
everyone’s lives and how we saw that the things that are happening in our schools and community are the same. One question I have is: what will happen to the bosses after you guys plan on making everyone equal and the working class is in charge? What will you do if the bosses do not agree with your ideas?
★ ★ ★ ★
These communist schools are always a great time. As I’ve spent more and more time in the Party, this group of people has become my family, a community I can rely on. Every time I go to a communist school, I am reminded of the potential we all have and the greatness of the communist future we are all fighting for. This school helped me become more of a leader, and I am dedicated to carrying on this fight to the younger generation. We will continue the fight for change, justice, equality and a communist future.
★ ★ ★ ★
A little taste of real communism is what I experienced this weekend. Spending a weekend living together with others from different backgrounds and walks of life is not a usual part of everyday life. In the world we live in today, getting people who are different from each other to form a community is a hard thing to do. However, this weekend proved this notion to be untrue.
This weekend was about building community and building unity. This weekend was about learning and growing, not as one, but as all. The idea of communism has been tarnished for most of our lives, but this communist school is the rag that will be used to wipe down the dirt that has accumulated on the idea of communism for so many years.
I truly enjoyed my time this weekend, and it is an experience that will stay with me, but will not end with me. What I experienced this weekend will be what others will experience, if I can help it!
Student of Communism
★ ★ ★ ★
Another year, another great communist school! This year marks my first communist school since I officially joined PLP. Though I still have doubts about certain things, this weekend gave me more confidence that I made the right choice. Leading the workshops about dialectical materialism furthered my understanding of PL. Talking with senior comrades helped fill in the blanks about the lines on nationalism and privilege. And each group taking turns with various tasks (i.e. cooking, cleaning) was again a nice look into a communist future. It also made me think about how such tasks are unevenly directed towards women, with little to no male participation — the division of labor. This whole weekend CHALLENGED me and was a perfect departure from all the reformist crap I see in the outside world usually. Can’t wait for next year! Long live PL!
★ ★ ★ ★
Appearance and essence, actual vs. potential. Our perception about what we see, your thoughts and ideas can be different from the reality. What you are now and what you become, all these things have a huge impact on your own impressions about anything you encounter. My experience, throughout this retreat was very informative and further explained how racism exists in our daily lives and movements we can enforce in abolishing racism. Changing people’s misconceptions and illusions about our system is a step PLP is taking in working to demolish the capitalist ideas and support the struggle of uniting workers worldwide.
Each and every communist school is a joy to come to. At the beginning, they feel like a burden, a duty, a time to think about other things one can do on a three-day weekend. Instead, dialectically, through the unity of our opposites, working together and talking together, the negation of negation, they turn into the positive renewal of our lives and commitment to communism.
It happened again: more renewal, more joy, more people joining and becoming nails in the bosses’ coffins that we gravediggers will dig. Onward to the armed struggle- Onward!
★ ★ ★ ★
I always thought racism started with the family, but a light shined into my dark world and showed me that racism started within our society. The ruling class created all these laws so they can gain control and earn more profit. By creating all these laws they caused so much division in our society, which is still happening today. Being here taught me the importance of ending capitalism and fighting for change in today’s society.
★ ★ ★ ★
I enjoyed this trip. I found out a lot about the working class. I know the history of slavery and racism. This will not end in a capitalist society. Nothing lasts forever, and capitalism will not. Slavery was deliberate, not an accident. It feels good to be around people, young and old, who want change. Coming out to the weeds wasn’t my idea of how I wanted to spend my weekend but I truly enjoyed it. I met new people, saw old faces. I know we are going in the right direction.
★ ★ ★ ★
The past weekend I’ve learned to be more out-
spoken. I’ll use this technique to share more about PLP and communism with at least one friend. Using
CHALLENGE will be helpful. One topic that was helpful to me was appearance and essence. You have to investigate, because the first impression doesn’t always count. I also notice a pattern in slavery now and from hundreds of years ago. Communist is the way to equality and capitalism is trash. I also learned that you must always have a plan C,
because your actual isn’t easy to achieve. You have to keep pushing yourself, and surround yourself with people that will encourage you.
★ ★ ★ ★
The PLP camping trip this year was just as great as the previous one, but somewhat better. Everyone was mingling with each other, and new folks were enjoying 2.5 days of communist life. Appearance and essence, I believe, was the key topic we as communists elaborated on. It was very essential to explore this topic because we as communists have to pinpoint and study the appearance of capitalism and then apply dialectical materialism to figure the essence of it. But it’s no surprise what we tend to retrieve is that capitalists are full of crap.
Soy commnista toda la vida, y comunista he de morir. [I am a communist for all my life, and a
communist till death.]
★ ★ ★ ★
This school gave me more confidence in my ability to build the Party. I’ve been involved in the reform movement for some time, and I haven’t been putting communist politics out front. Hanging out with comrades and spending our time collectively discussing politics and everyone making meals together has furthered my understanding of communist ideas, in addition to being a small example of the world we want to live in after capitalism is permanently overthrown.
I was also impressed with the political sophistication of many young people and that there were workers from all racial backgrounds. Communism doesn’t belong to any one group, it belongs to the working class. That’s why I’m glad PLP prioritizes anti-racism in our practice, and we have shown that workers can and will discard the bosses’ lies and work together with other workers of different backgrounds to fight back against the exploitation of the entire working class.
Proud to be Red
★ ★ ★ ★
I went to this retreat with some of my schoolmates and teachers. We learned about how racism started and why it started. We talked about ways we can fight racism in our school. We also talked about leadership and how we can be leaders. As the weekend progressed, we cleaned and cooked together. Also, we made s’mores and cookies. We played games. I met new people, and there were some old faces too. I really like communist schools, so I can’t wait till next year. When May Day comes, we are going to sing Bella Ciao and we are going to have our painted banner.
High school Student
★ ★ ★ ★
The communist school has become our winter tradition. It serves as an energy booster and see our PLP club grow in strength and number every year. We discussed the dialectical categories — contingency-necessity, appearance-essence, potential-actual, and used them to investigate the history and function of racism. More importantly, we built unity and new relationships. Two people joined the Party!
One strength included bringing back the high school students from last year. The teachers did a good job building and challenging our future communist leaders. We also made a lot of fight-back plans for our high schools. I look forward to putting them into action. In hindsight, one weakness was that we neglected to talk about sexism in our whole-group discussions. The school as mostly all young black women and we need to talk about how sexism is a sharp tool of capitalism and that we are fighting sexism by building female communist leaders. PLP does a good job in fighting sexism. Let’s acknowledge it and fight harder!
★ ★ ★ ★
This is a good experience to participate in my second communist school. It was cool to meet and work with a group of people that had different races and backgrounds from me because it made me realize that there’s people from outside my community that are suffering the same issues.
I enjoyed the workshops that my group and I focused on, such as the category of potential and actual, on ending racism and fixing the working class. Before I got to the communist school, I always thought that there’s nothing to worry about. But then I started to understand the plan on how the capitalist system is being racist and having many workers work long hours with little pay. I
figured out it was all wrong and see how PLP is focused on problems that go on today such as stop-and-frisk.
I appreciate that I took in a lot of information on the system today, so when I get back home I can tell a lot of young kids like me how the system is functioning. It’s all wrong, but it can be changed by starting a revolution. The system focuses on having winners and losers but if everybody becomes equal then it will have everybody satisfied with less problems.
★ ★ ★ ★
My weekend in the communist school was one amazing experience. As soon as I walked in the doors, the warmth was so welcoming; everyone came to me and introduced themselves. Everyone had their sense of humor, which made it really enjoyable. Attending the first workshop, the core of our group was unbelievably united. Getting to know other people’s beliefs on their political views is interesting. I was enlightened by the way we explained communism. Before I came I thought communism was the bad guy, but now I’ve realized I had been learning a lie and it’s time to revolt and revolutionize our nation. Viewing the world as a communist, I could see people treated equally. That is our goal in this activist group. I loved my weekend here, learning about the flaws.
Everyone was amazing and inspirational. Thank you.
Batman Fighting for Justice
★ ★ ★ ★
To be honest I don’t even know where to start. We’ve gone from fun times to serious times. My brain feels so rejuvenated from all of our intense discussions regarding racism. We also discussed politics that changed my views. All of the gruesome details were exposed about racism and who’s really who they say they are. Before I came to the school, I was absolutely clueless about politics, dialectical materialism, etc.
Finally, I can see the light. The light is still dim for now, but I can still see it. I’m so thankful for everyone that helped me open my eyes and see what side the government is actually on. I definitely want to join PLP. Thank you, communist school!
★ ★ ★ ★
Another successful communist school completed! My absolute favorite part of the trip is that we were able to bring six students from our school. Hearing them thinking about, disagreeing and questioning the Party’s politics gives me great confidence in a
Red, Gorgeous Teacher
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Opposition to Racist Israeli Rulers Is Not Anti-Semitic
The following is a relatively complete excerpt from a contribution to a listserve of academic Marxists. One contributor claims that to criticize Israel is anti-Semitic. This is one of a number of contributed answers to that person, and is also addressed to all other subscribers to the listserve. We think readers of CHALLENGE will be interested in this particular response as an example of Marxist reasoning. — Ed.
These are just some thoughts on this discussion that should ring true to Marxists, though I propose it to further the discussion and invite still more commentary.
In order for us to evaluate the questions of anti-Semitism, Israel, and Zionism it seems to me that we have to be sure to maintain a class point of view. Israel, like all nation states (i.e., the entire world today), is a class-divided society. It is not a homogenized classless entity, about which one can make valid, or even meaningful, statements. As such, Zionism can and should be separated from Jewishness, both conceptually and in fact.
Thus one can be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic. Zionism is the ideology and practice, and indeed essence, of the Israeli ruling class. That a significant portion of the Israeli working class accepts a Zionist point of view is an example of the fact that the dominant ideology, dominant but not universal, in any society is that of the ruling class — except in those rare times of revolutionary ferment. The ruling classes, after all, control all the institutions that develop and purvey that ideology, from the media to the schools and universities to the state.
I believe it is not enough to oppose the concept of the state in general [as the contributor in question has done — Ed.] but implicitly support it in particular in the case of Israel. The state is the primary expression of class rule, particularly under capitalism. To attribute Zionism to the entire Israeli population, including both the capitalist and working classes, is to blame the victim (the Israeli working class), who are among the most exploited in the world — by their own Jewish rulers — as are the Palestinians.
The Israeli working class, in the current absence of a major communist party there [though PLP is planting roots among Jewish and Palestinian workers there and is growing – Ed.], buys into the ideology of the ruling class to a certain extent, but it is against their interests to do so. [The interests of the Jewish and Palestinian working classes] provide the basis for a growing communist party there to win workers away from Zionism and toward a communist outlook and motivation to overthrow Israeli capitalism. This can only happen with unity between Jewish and Palestinian workers, as has [been brought about] in the past under communist leadership.
To label all Israelis as Zionist and label all anti-Zionism as anti-Semitic is a form of blaming the victim, similar to the blaming of all Americans [i.e., the working class — Ed.] for U.S. imperialism and its many racist and genocidal wars — regardless of the temporary and misled support of such wars on the part of a significant portion of the U.S. working class.
In short, I do not believe that opposing oppression by the Israeli ruling class is anti-Semitic. Rather to support Zionism is anti-Semitic.
Solidarity Boosts Locked-Out Altoona Workers
CHALLENGE (1/29) contained an article on some 150 locked-out electrical workers in Altoona, Pa. These workers had voted down the latest contract and the bosses responded by locking them out in mid-November. To this very day the workers continue to walk the picket line and their fighting spirit remains.
Then on February 1, over 400 workers from various unions throughout this small city gathered for a solidarity rally with the locked-out workers. The mood was militant. One of the electrical workers said he would remember that day for the rest of his life.
This solidarity is exactly what’s needed, and hopefully it will grow into something much bigger in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, unionized nurses at the Altoona Hospital are preparing to strike this month. It seems that the class struggle is alive and well in this Republican Party-dominated town. In the past, Altoona has also been a hotspot for Nazi skinheads and the Klan.
With the right kind of leadership all of these workers can be won to communist politics. Winning them to read CHALLENGE would be a good start.
To Be A Communist, Advocate It!
On January 20, I attended a local NAACP meeting honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It proved to be an enlightening and uplifting experience. I described the rise of racism and the racist prison-industrial complex.
Initially I hesitated to raise the question of communist revolution as the way to end racist oppression. Then I thought, “What’s the point of being a communist if you’re not going to advocate communism?”
I then explained that the only real way to eradicate racism was through a genuine communist revolution that would place the workers in power and attempt to create an egalitarian society. I made the case that it was the capitalist system which breeds racism to enrich the ruling elite and divide the workers.
I also pointed out that groups like the Klan and the Nazis would not be holding rallies in a communist society and that racism would be outlawed. Those who advocate it would be severely punished. Most seemed to agree with these sentiments.
None of those present, a good number being black workers, were shocked or turned off by my comments. I told them I would get them an issue of CHALLENGE, which I said did an excellent job making the case for a communist revolution and always took a strong stand against racism.
I realized that it’s necessary to have confidence in the workers — though they’re inundated with bourgeois ideology and anti-communism — to understand our communist views.
Of course, they wanted to know how this revolution would come about. I replied that there had been successful revolutions of this sort in the past, and that there could be in the future when millions were won to this perspective.
Some seemed skeptical but were open to hearing my viewpoint.
I realized that I would need to be more open about my communist politics. For me, this was a major step forward.
Internationalism Ignites Commitment
I have been involved in international work since I joined PLP. To be honest, it was the international work that brought me into the Party. I was at a May Day dinner and was listening to someone give an amazing speech over the work that was developing abroad. I was captivated and motivated by what I was hearing. Within the next couple of months I found myself participating in an international Summer Project. I found myself more invested in the work but also it was a bit nerve-racking. There is so much potential for growth but also the constant threat of fascism that could cause everything to crumble, with many lives at stake.
Throughout my trips abroad, I developed strong relationships with the individuals who were just as invested as I was. They became my second family in my new home away from home. Our trust was built on the foundation of our decision to fight back against the bosses, in favor of the international working class.
My commitment was not tested until the end of the last Summer Project. The day before we were to fly back home, we were assisting some comrades with a project at one of their universities. It started off as a normal day with nothing major planned. Around noon, we heard that there were some demonstrators in front of the university posing as students to agitate some soldiers.
The students on the campus we were visiting closed the gates and told everyone to remain inside to avoid being associated with what was happening. We heard shouting, drums, and the sound of tanks rolling down the street. An older comrade and I were in the courtyard chatting. Then we saw a student look over the tall fence and start running toward the building. There was much confusion. Then we heard from one of the students that we should get inside as soon as possible because the soldiers were heading to the university.
But before we had a chance to ask why, we heard rubber bullets hitting the fence. Students began running into the building at full speed. I made sure that the older comrade was in front of me so that she wouldn’t be left behind because she could not run as fast as the rest of us. I was also preparing myself in case I got hit. Luckily, we made it into the building without being hurt.
This was a defining moment in the growth of my commitment. I thought to myself, “What if this happens again?” The older comrades — and even the younger ones — aren’t always going to be able to get away from danger so easily. This was when I knew I was in it for the long run. I have shared my commitment with my comrades here and abroad. It isn’t going to be easy, but is bringing us one step closer to getting the type of world that all workers deserve.
Imperialist Rivalry Behind Ukraine Fight
The U.S. actions in the Ukraine are a continuation of a decades-long imperial dogfight over the strategically important states of Eastern Europe. Current efforts to topple the Ukrainian government, which U.S. imperialists deem to be too friendly to Russia, has resurrected some familiar themes in this struggle. In the U.S. press, Russia is depicted as an evil imperial force “bullying” the Ukraine into submission (NYT, 11/19/13). This is juxtaposed with the well-intentioned Americans and Western Europeans who only want to bring “democracy and prosperity” to the former Soviet bloc.
The fact that U.S. diplomats are in the Ukraine publicly calling for the overthrow of a democratically elected government in order to replace it with one more servile to Western interests does not seem to faze leading papers like the New York Times. The history of U.S. intervention in Eastern Europe toppling popularly elected regimes in Bulgaria and Albania is completely forgotten (The Communist, 2012).
Newspapers carefully avoid mentioning fascists such as the virulent Ukrainian anti-Semite Oleh Tyahnybok who paraded around with Sen. John McCain on his recent visit to the country (Counterspin, 12/20). Just as they forgot to mention former Nazi Laszlo Pasztor who became U.S. imperialists’ man in Bulgaria or Albanian fascist Sali Barisha, and so forth.
The current fiasco in the Ukraine is the latest effort by the U.S. imperialists’ to place “the vipers, the bloodsuckers, the middlemen” the people that “make our kind of country click” in charge of the country. These words were spoken by Bruce Gelb, a U.S. capitalist and diplomat, while plotting to undermine the collapsing Soviet republics as head of the U.S. Information Agency in 1990 — and they are as true today as they were then. Whatever happens in the Ukraine, one thing is clear: workers in Ukraine will lose.
The Kennedy Assassination: Conspiracy?
This is a response to the December 11 CHALLENGE editorial “Rulers Use JFK Assassination Anniversary to Fuel War Drive” which argues that the Kennedy assassination was the work of a conspiratorial group of domestic oil interests angry over Kennedy’s threat to end their oil depletion allowance (tax break).
This argument advocates a mechanical view of history that reduces the dynamics of class conflict and inter-imperialist rivalries to the choices of a small group of individuals.
CIA coups and secret meetings of think tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations show that the bosses “conspire” on a regular basis. However, as Marx said, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please.”
The conspiratorial thinking pushed by the media teaches the working class that the bosses are all-powerful and that we are helpless to stop them. Marx’s dialectical approach teaches us to look at both the necessity of economic laws and the contingent role played by other forces. This helps us see the cracks in the capitalist system and gives the working class the tools to destroy it.
The oil depletion allowance was first introduced in 1926 to stimulate oil production in the U.S. Under this allowance, 27.5% of annual oil revenue was tax exempt. For almost 50 years, the oil industry — from oil industrialists like Rockefeller to newer oil bosses like H.L. Hunt — all profited from this tax break. The Kennedy family was also invested in “domestic” oil and in 1950 purchased Arctic Oil and later Kenoil and Mokeen, all of which drilled primarily in Texas and Louisiana.
Following World War II, there were multiple attempts, both by presidents and Congress, to reduce this oil allowance. In 1950, President Truman proposed to cut the allowance almost in half. None of these individuals were assassinated.
As President, Kennedy faced a balance of payments crisis — more dollars were leaving the U.S than coming in. This crisis was the product of economic attacks by U.S. imperialist rivals. So Kennedy pushed to expand U.S. exports with a more open “free-trade” policy.
Kennedy understood that in the context of the Cold War, “free-trade” was necessary to prevent developing nations from siding with U.S. rivals like Russia. Many in the oil industry favored trade restrictions, specifically on foreign oil imports. However, too many limits on imports might drive large oil-producing nations like Venezuela into the arms of U.S. rivals.
Following the Suez oil crisis, serious debate ensued within the ruling class over the national security implications of oil policy: whether to protect the domestic oil market by taxing imported oil or to encourage imports to preserve domestic reserves. The debate in this period was not split neatly between “domestic” oilmen and “international” finance, as the next example will show.
In 1962, Kennedy began pushing for new trade legislation and brokered a deal with Oklahoma oil magnate Senator Robert Kerr. Kerr is a prominent figure in much JFK conspiracy literature and rubbed shoulders with oil moguls who conspiracy theorists claim helped murder Kennedy. Unlike President Truman who ignored the demands of Texas oil bosses a decade earlier, Kennedy agreed to meet their demands and to increase restrictions on foreign oil imports.
In exchange, Senator Kerr agreed to drum up support for Kennedy’s Trade Expansion Act of 1962. It was this act that led to U.S. participation in the GATT international trade negotiations, allowing the U.S. to knock down global barriers to trade in the name of U.S. imperialist expansion. This Kennedy-Kerr deal demonstrates just how interconnected the interests of “domestic” oil were with broader international goals of U.S. imperialism.
In early 1963, Kennedy proposed a comprehensive tax plan to improve the unemployment rate and to help fix the U.S. balance of payments. His proposals promised to drastically lower corporate tax rates and to cut overall taxes by $13.6 billion. His plan also proposed complex changes that would effectively reduce the oil allowance by 5%. This was the first time as President that Kennedy had attempted to make any changes to the oil allowance.
There was some backlash among the oil lobbies and in the press. Much of the fighting was inside the Kennedy Administration itself, as Kennedy-appointed bureaucrats fought over changes in oil policy (“Note Reveals Split Over Oil Policy,” The Spokesman-Review, 3/14/1963). But his proposal did not “threaten to eliminate” the allowances and the issue died a few months later after Kennedy abandoned the tax proposal.
Facing economic recession, the oil allowance was cut for the first time in 1969 from 27.5% to 22%. And in 1974, the oil allowance was finally eliminated. No one involved in eliminating the oil depletion allowance was assassinated.
The idea that U.S. domestic oil interests assassinated Kennedy because he was going to eliminate their tax break both inaccurately describes the actual Kennedy administration’s policies and distorts the interpenetration of ruling-class interests within the U.S. around questions of inter-imperialist rivalries.
The Progressive Labor Party’s theory that inter-imperialist rivalries drive world events is a critical tool in understanding the development of the world situation. Conspiratorial thinking does not add to this understanding, but limits it in severe ways. We must always struggle to provide the best dialectical and historical understanding of the world to the working class.
A Challenge Reader
CHALLENGE Comment: In response to the criticism, the essence of the editorial was not “who killed Kennedy” but how the finance capital wing of the ruling class is using the anniversary of his assassination to promote the drive towards war. The first five paragraphs deal with this and revive JFK’s militaristic appeals for “sacrifice” and “service.” It details what “sacrifice” means for the working class but also says this “won’t solve all their [the ruling class’s] problems. For U.S. capitalism to survive, they know they must discipline their own ranks.”
The editorial notes this discipline relative to JPMorgan Chase, as it does later on in citing Kennedy’s disciplining U.S. Steel in the Sixties. Both these outfits are part of that main wing. While the ruling class holds state power, it is not monolithic. Overall the editorial pointed out that there is a split among sections of the capitalist class depending on where they make their main profits and who represents the longer-range interests of the survival of their system.
Then, in the sixth paragraph, it cites a similar split in the 1960s related to “JFK’s reported plans to revoke the oil depletion allowance.” Then it says, “According to one theory, Kennedy was killed by domestic oil interests who were unwilling to cut their profits for the imperialist cause.” We don’t say who killed JFK, just that he had many enemies who could have done it. There is plenty of evidence of how — in the weeks before the assassination — Texas oil interests led by H. L. Hunt engaged in a widespread campaign to attack Kennedy. An ad appeared in Dallas newspapers with Kennedy’s picture, saying “Wanted for Treason.” Maybe no one got killed over the oil depletion issue directly, but the Hunts were nearly bankrupted after their failed move to corner the silver market.
Let’s assume these forces were not behind the assassination. But the fact is, some forces were looking to kill him, unless one believes that Oswald — a patsy if there ever was one — did the deed by his lonesome. Later the editorial says, “The dominant wing of U.S. bosses wants to portray JFK’s murder as something other than a fight within the ruling class. Leading Wall Street banker and Warren Commission member John J. McCloy argued that it was ‘beneficial for domestic tranquility to conclude that Oswald acted alone’” (New York Times, 8/20/97). McCloy was a top member of the ruling class. He was picked to oversee U.S. actions in post-World War II Germany and was CEO of Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan Bank. So his views certainly represented the rulers’ main wing.
Obviously McCloy (and at least some of his cohorts on the Commission) seemingly had concluded (or knew?) that some people other than Oswald had conspired to kill Kennedy. However, they didn’t want the general populace to understand that there were ruling forces who had cause to eliminate him, even if conflict over the oil depletion allowance was not a factor.
The editorial, in detailing all the divisions within the ruling class, then and now, and even divisions within the main wing itself, follows the letter-writer’s quote of Marx’s approach that, “Men make their own history but they do not make it just as they please.” It is difficult to get away from the fact that somebody or “bodies” did “conspire” to kill Kennedy. Various representatives of the ruling class conspire all the time, as the letter-writer points out.
The letter says that, “Conspiratorial thinking does not add to….understanding the development of the world situation” and conflicts with PLP’s “theory that inter-imperialist rivalries drive world events.” But the fact remains that various capitalist forces DO have cause to fight each other, and conspire to do so. If the ruling class wants to hide its own behind-the-scene machinations, it will use the notion of “conspiracy” in a way that stigmatizes that idea.
“Conspiracy” is not limited to “thinking” but represents actions by various forces. From a communist point of view, it is important that the working class understands that and uses it to both expose and oppose all capitalists who engage in our oppression. This counters the outlook that “the bosses are all-powerful and that we are helpless to stop them.” To the contrary, understanding that there are divisions among the rulers, and what’s behind those divisions, does “help us to see the cracks in the capitalist system and gives the working class the tools to destroy it.”
Class Analysis Needed on Zionist Kibbutzim
The article in the January 15th CHALLENGE issue on protests against expropriation of Bedouins and ethnic cleansing in Israel was on the mark. However, when calling attention to the Zionist government’s favoring collective farms, or kibbutzim, a more precise class analysis is called for. The article refers to “....dozens of well-off Kibbutzim, Moshavim and individual farms, all exclusive to upper-class Jews.” True, the majority of these Israeli farms have by now succumbed, or soon will, to privatization and other capitalist influences. Like the commune movement in the U.S., establishing islands of egalitarianism in a sea of profits and private property is an impossibility. However, be it in centers like Tel Aviv or the countryside, Israeli workers struggle constantly. Rural workers have much more in common with the urban proletariat than is generally believed.
Workers in Israel/Palestine, nomadic or landed, like those worldwide, share equally in the class struggle.
Court Hits Women’s Birth Control Needs
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a temporary injunction barring the administration from enforcing the Obamacare birth control requirement against an order of Colorado nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor and related groups. An anti-woman ruling coming from a woman in support of a religious group made up of women!
Capitalism will never negate sexism. Women’s bodies are the source of the next generation of workers. Less birth now means less cheap labor later. Some feminists may be surprised that the first Latina female judge would rule this way, but it stands to reason that the bosses’ courts would use religion as the ideological justification to deny birth control for women.
Religion tells the working class that to use birth control is a sin, but in a time of economic instability adding a new member into a working-class family is a decision that is harrowing and personal. The ruling class wants to make that decision of child birth beneficial to them even as they scapegoat black and Latino workers, using the stereotype that they are leeching the system by having children, particularly out of wedlock.
Religious organizations are in existence to mislead the working class ideologically and this latest ruling is an attack on women disguised as religious freedom.
Strike Against Racist Police Terror
This is an excerpt from a speech read at the latest demonstration for Kyam Livingston. She was a black woman who was left to die in prison by the New York Police Department and the city’s prison guards.
We come from St. Mary’s Church in Harlem. We are in support. Support of the Family of Kyam Livingston. Support for the friends of Kyam Livingston. And support for EVERY family that could be victimized by Racist Police Terror!
Our own daughter could wind up dumped in a jail cell. Our own son could be dragged behind bars there. For hours and hours in sickening filth. Waiting, stuffed in with other prisoners. While “the papers get lost.” Hoping not to get sick! Not to DIE. While the racist guards ignore, threaten and disrespect them. All while you are dying! DYING!
Who could this Not happen to. You!? You! You!
It could happen to any of us. It’s so True!! At St. Mary’s we know about dying.
We counted and we discovered the average age when brothers and sisters die is forty-eight years old. This is from a system of racist health care and from the fascist denial of healthcare, that murdered our sister Kyam.
Who is going to fight this? New Mayors? New police chiefs? We will hear promises; we have heard thousand of promises.
Promises from mayor-elect Bill DeBlasio who just promised “I can’t be at war with Wall street. Wall street is our Hometown industry.” Promises from Bill Bratton who arrests workers who have to beg for a sandwich and coffee. Who fires rubber bullets at demonstrators? Bill and Bill. We’re going to make you Pay UP Your Bill!
Because we know who we can trust!
Our sister Kyam could only trust her fellow workers. Sisters who cleared a bench for her, sisters who smoother back her hair, fellow workers who tenderly tended her. Sisters who saw her seizures begin. Working-class sisters who confronted the fascist guards and demanded HELP! Kyam Livingston could rely only on her fellow workers standing up to fascist terror. And so can we.
The barons of Wall Street are paying for fascist terror to protect their staggering system of exploitation and death. Here and worldwide.
They are losing in the profit squeeze struggle with their rival thugs around the world. They must make the U.S. workers ready for their new plans for oppression. And for their new plans for war.
That is why they pay these killer kkkops. They are paid to intimidate us. They are paid to murder us. They are paid to control us! But sisters and brothers we can pay too. We must pay too. We must pay them back. We must push them back!
Since November two years ago police have murdered at least eleven of our sisters and brothers throughout our region. We must act, and act together.
We must continue the struggle for justice for each of our fallen workmates, and for their families. But we must sharpen our message.
We must take our message into every school, into every congregation, into every workplace, into every community and into the hearts and minds of everyone we know.
And we must stir our anger into action. More and more into action.
Protest. Yes. Picket Lines Yes. Marches. Yes
But we must urge and plan walk outs. We must organize strikes. With every racist murder we must hit them harder and harder the only place Wall street cares about: their money. What they steal from us we will deny to them.
Only by going on the labor and student strikes offensive can we push back racist police terror. Many lives depend on this. Our lives in fact!
So as we say at St. Mary’s, Let us join together and fight the good fight.
Capitalist Devastation in the Philippines
Recently one of the biggest typhoons in history devastated the residents of Tacloban and surrounding areas in the Philippines. Thousands have been killed and injured. Hundreds of thousands are homeless. Capitalism created the poverty that condemned thousands to be the victims of Typhoon Yolanda. Most Filipino workers barely survive on two dollars a day!
In a communist society, the working class would mobilize to build safe buildings and have a concrete plan to evacuate workers. We have hints of what can be done now. Cuba has a plan to evacuate workers in the event of hurricanes. The China of 40 years ago had far more concern for workers’ lives. When an upcoming earthquake was detected, thousands were evacuated.
In 1989, the city of Baguio in the Northern Philippines suffered a 7.8 earthquake. Like the recent typhoon, capitalism was responsible for many deaths and injuries.
Six months before the earthquake my wife and friends had vacationed in Baguio’s Hyatt Hotel. Speaking of capitalism, when the earthquake hit, the hotel went to the ground and 400 people were killed. What happened to the steel for a stronger structure, which would have saved many lies?
The money “rested” in capitalist pockets! In comparison, my wife’s parents’ house, nearby, had steel supports anchored in cement. The house shook and shook, but didn’t go down.
The lessons of capitalism, especially in places like the Philippines, prone to natural disasters, will continue to be deadly. The only answer to this is a communist revolution and a workers’ society which values equality and our well-being.
Stockton California Comrade