The Tax Cut Bill – A Windfall for the Wealthy Foretelling More Misery for the Working Class

by Al Simpson

December 24, 2017

The Tax Cuts – What’s Going to happen to ordinary people.

Congress recently passed a tax bill that showers billions of dollars on the wealthy.  Most, but not all, working class households will have lower taxes for a while, but tax benefits expire in 2025. After 2027, taxes for working class households will likely go up.  There were no public hearings on the bill, and no open discussion was permitted at all.  The tax cut bill was brought forward in a completely undemocratic fashion.  Details of the final bill are in appendix A, near the end of this article.  Let’s discuss some of the falsehoods that are being used to popularize the bill.

The “it will stimulate the economy” lie.

One of the favorite pet sayings of conservatives is that the tax cuts will lead to more prosperity for everyone.  Let’s see if this is true.  The Bush tax cuts occurred in 2001 and 2003.  The chart below (“Did the Bush Tax Cuts Raise Incomes”) covers the years 2004 through 2016, inclusive.  It provides a graph of median family incomes for all races in blue and for blacks in red.  For all races, the median income in 2004 was $56,332 and for 2016 it was $59,039 an increase of only 4.80 percent over 12 years.  For blacks, the median income in 2004 was $38,418 and for 2016 it was $40,065 an increase of only 4.28 percent over 12 years.  This amounts to a minuscule average increase of just 0.392 percent a year for all races and 0.350 percent a year for blacks.  Of course, the deep recession that started in 2007 held everyone back, but during the recovery, the Treasury stimulated the economy with trillions of dollars of low interest money.  Most of that money went to the top 1 percent of earners. So, we can say with confidence that the Bush tax cuts further fattened the rich and did very little, if anything, for anyone else.  A 65-year study found that tax cuts do not lead to economic growth.[i]  Observe, in the chart below, that the curve that represents incomes for blacks is always below that for all races; this is clear evidence of racism.

Tax DidTaxCutsImprove-page-001

Chart created by author using data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017

The Tax Cuts Will Not Increase the National Debt Because It Will Pay for Itself Lie

Congress tried twice to pass a health care cutback bill that would have increased the number of uninsured persons by 22 million and would have ended Medicaid.  It was openly discussed that this was needed to help pay for the tax cuts, so that the tax cuts would not further increase the National debt.  But the health care cutback bills were voted down.  And guess what?  They voted in a tax cut (for the wealthy) anyway.  The repeal of the individual mandate will make health insurance unaffordable to 13 million people over a 10-year period, so they got part of what they wanted, but it’s worse than that.

If this were a bill to improve health care, build or replace infrastructure, or create a better safety net for the working class, then there would be loud screams that this would increase the deficit and so there would be no money for it.  But the rich paymasters of Congress get whatever they want, regardless of the circumstances.  The tax cuts will increase the national debt by about $1 trillion and will further skew the income distribution towards the wealthy.  The national debt now stands at about $20 trillion; this will increase it to at least $21 trillion.  Who is going to pay?  Answer: The ones who always pay!  The working class will suffer cutbacks in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs.  The bosses’ politicians, Democrat and Republican, will use the enormous national debt as a bludgeon to reduce or eliminate programs that assist the working class.

Skewed Income Distributions Cause Social Distress

The United States is the most unequal of all advanced counties for income distribution.  Income inequality was greatly worsened by the recession that began in 2007.  See chart below.

 

On December 14, 2017, economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman, Facundo Alvaredo and Lucas Chancel published the inaugural World Inequality Report that documents the rise in global income and wealth inequality since 1980.  The report shows the enormous increase in wealth of the top 1% of earners at the expense of the bottom 50% of earners in the United States.  See chart below.

Tax Real Income

Top 1 percent vs. Bottom 50 percent national income shares in the US 1980–2016

Tax Top1VsBottom50-page-001

A skewed income distribution creates terrible, desperate situations for people.  In March 2017, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, both of Princeton University, wrote that deaths of despair (drug overdoses, alcohol related liver disease, and suicide) made mortality rates for people in midlife so great as to overcome mortality improvements for children and the elderly.   A study by epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett found a direct correlation between social inequality and a series of social ills, including homicides and violent crime, poor school achievement and high dropout rates, teenage births, lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality, obesity, mental illness, and more.  There is rampant abuse of opioids.  You don’t have to work hard to see the problem.  About a mile from where I live, a drugstore has a large sign in its window saying that it will not fill any prescriptions for Oxycodone.  The number of deaths from opioid overdoses is increasing all over the country.  Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics also found a significant rise in the number of deaths due to firearms, to more than 38,000. The mortality rate from gunshot wounds also increased sharply in 2015, after staying relatively constant in previous years. While, as in years past, the vast majority of these deaths were due to suicide, the increase in 2016, however, was mostly due to an increase in homicides.

Interestingly, suicide rates among blacks are half of those of whites.  The reason given is: “African Americans score higher on measures of both individualism and collectivism than do whites. Individualism may give them more self-esteem, and collectivistic values offer more community support in times of distress … both of which may play into the lower suicide rates.”[ii]

Compared to other developed countries, the United States is way in front on all measures of social distress. It is simultaneously the most unequal and the most socially distressed.  The proposed tax cuts are designed to make the rich even richer, at the expense of the working class, and will cause even more misery.

During the early 20th century, the American ruling class responded to the eruption of class conflict and the threat of socialist revolution, represented, above all, by the Russian Revolution, with social reforms—Roosevelt’s New Deal (including Social Security), increases in taxes on the wealthy, and the Great Society programs of the 1960s (including Medicare and Medicaid).

These measures, however, were implemented within the framework of preserving a social and economic system based on private ownership of the banks and corporations. Furthermore, they were premised on the strength of American capitalism and its dominant position in the world economy, especially in the post-World War II period when the U.S. had little or no competition.

The shift in ruling-class strategy corresponded to a shift in the position of American capitalism. Over the past half-century, the ruling class has sought to offset the decline in its economic position externally through military aggression and internally through the upward redistribution of social resources from the great mass of the population to the financial oligarchy. The results can be seen in the chart above, which shows the top one percent steadily amassing a greater share of wealth and income.

Fighting Back

How is the working class going to fight back against cutbacks in living standards and who can it depend upon for help?  Can it depend upon the Democratic Party for help?  The Democratic Party is generally a party of the liberal bosses.  Even this is not historically consistent.  Until the 1980s the Southern Democrats were quite racist and conservative.  Then, around the mid-1980s many of them joined the Republican Party.  Even now, there are some very conservative Democrats.  The important thing to observe is that the Democratic Party is one of the two twin parties of the bosses.  The two parties have very similar policies and they are NOT for working people.  Some examples will make this clearer.

Anti-labor attacks in Wisconsin

In 2011, the State of Wisconsin passed some vicious anti-union laws that curtailed the collective bargaining power of unions, banned teacher strikes, and barred the collection of union dues through workers’ paycheck deductions.  Predictably, public-sector union misleaders rushed to sign contracts with most of the economic concessions sought by Wisconsin Governor Walker in order to delay the impact of his anti-union law.  But amongst rank and file workers there was talk about a general strike.  However, after 3 weeks of protests the momentum for a general strike was dissipated as union misleaders and Democratic Party hacks pressured and cajoled union members to approve contracts that contained at least a 7 percent pay cut in order to keep the dues money coming.  A general strike at that time would have been an enormous blow against the bosses and their plans to control and impoverish us.  Also, they would not have had to accept a pay cut.

Let’s get some more insight into this from the writings of William Z. Foster, an outstanding 20th century labor leader.  Here are some of his views regarding the struggle against the steel trust in 1937.

… a further elementary question of good strike strategy is to proceed upon the general principle of the offensive. Workers like soldiers fight best on the attack. A defensive strike is a losing strike. The steel workers should never allow themselves to be put on the defensive. Every halt must be utilized to organize a new attack and every attack by the employers or the government must be offset by some form of renewed counter offensive.[iii]

He also says:

The steel workers should not trust their cause into the hands of the Roosevelt government [the Democrats].  The government is allied with many great capitalist interests, and it cannot be depended upon to force the steel trust to make a settlement favorable to the workers.[iv]

What happened?  The workers put their faith in the Democratic party – a party of the bosses – and halted their movement towards a general strike – on the false promise that they would somehow save the day for the workers.  This is precisely what they should never do.  The workers can only depend upon themselves and their own struggles to fight the bosses.  Also, the last thing you would want in this situation is to kill the momentum towards a general strike.  The workers were then on the defensive and squandered an opportunity for an even greater offensive.  The governor, Scott Walker, a vile reactionary, was subjected to a recall election in 2012, but the election was bought and paid for (Walker outspent the Democratic candidate, Barrett, $36.1 million to just $6.6 million) and he had no trouble winning the recall election.  Even if the Democrat would have won, it is doubtful that he would have done much for the workers because Democrats represent the bosses as well.

Net Neutrality Abolished

Let’s discuss something that happened recently.  Net Neutrality was abolished by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on December 14, 2017.  Millions of people were opposed to this, as it would give Internet Service providers the ability to censor or otherwise slow down internet traffic to some sites while speeding up others – for a price.  This makes democracy on the internet a thing of the past.  What have the Democrats done?  There is no legislation in the U.S. Senate at all.  Here is what they did in the U.S. House of Representatives (notice the dates):

H.R.4585 – Save Net Neutrality Act of 2017

12/07/2017 Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Action By: House of Representatives
12/07/2017 Introduced in House
Action By: House of Representatives

Source House of Representatives website.

There’s an old saying: “Never listen to what they say, but watch what they do.”  The Democrats knew about the FCC vote coming on December 14th for at least 7 months!  But they never lifted a finger until December 7th.  Just as in the case of the tax bill, there was almost complete silence about any opposition they supposedly had regarding the vote in the FCC to destroy net neutrality.  In short, they have done nothing.  In general, they cannot be counted on to work on behalf of working people because of their close association with capitalists in many different industries.

Summary:

Earlier, we posed the question: who can the workers depend upon to help?  The answer is non-other than you and your fellow workers!  The bosses will do whatever they can to divide you; they will use racism, sexism, and any other form of discrimination to divide the workers.  Unity amongst the workers can defeat that.  Some of the things that you can do at work include discussing with other workers and trying to organize – this is with or without a formal union; because you and your fellow workers are the union.  You can call it a shop committee or some other name. Another thing you can do is to struggle against racism.  Don’t tolerate racist put-downs and other such filth.  Little struggles can grow much bigger under the right circumstances.  Russian typesetters in 1905 were won to revolution when an employer would not pay for punctuation marks!

Appendix A – Some Details of the Tax Bill

A tax cut for the rich: The final plan lowers the top tax rate for high-end earners. Under current law, the highest rate is 39.6 percent for married couples earning over $470,700. The bill would drop that to 37 percent and raise the threshold at which that top rate kicks in, to $500,000 for individuals and $600,000 for married couples. This is a significant tax break for the very wealthy,

A massive tax cut for corporations: Starting on Jan. 1, 2018, big businesses’ tax rate would fall from 35 percent to just 21 percent, the largest one-time rate cut in U.S. history for the nation’s largest companies.  It amounts to roughly a $1 trillion tax cut for businesses over the next decade. Conservatives argue this will make the economy surge in the coming years, but most independent economists predict only a modest and short-lived boost to growth.

Working class families get a bigger child tax credit: The child tax credit would be more generous for the working class. The current child tax credit is $1,000 per child. The House and Senate bills expanded the child tax credit, with the Senate going up to a maximum of $2,000 per child. The final bill keeps the $2,000-per-child credit (families making up to about $400,000 get to take the credit), but it also makes more of the tax credit refundable, meaning families that work but don’t earn enough to owe any federal income taxes will get a large check back from the government. Benefits for those families were initially limited to about $1,100, but it’s now up to $1,400.

You can deduct just $10,000 in any combination of state, local and property taxes:  Under current law, the state and local deduction (SALT) is unlimited. In the final GOP plan, people can deduct up to $10,000. The House initially restricted the $10,000 deduction to just property taxes, but the final bill allows any combination of state and local taxes to be deducted, whether for property, income or sales taxes. The move is widely viewed as a hit to high tax states such as New York, Connecticut and California, and there are concerns it could cause property values to fall in high-tax cities and leave less money for public schools and road repairs.

The individual health insurance mandate expires in 2019: Beginning in 2019, Americans would no longer be required by law to buy health insurance (or pay a penalty if they refuse to do so). The individual mandate is part of the Affordable Care Act. This part of the law is unpopular, but it helps keep the insurance markets stable while making other, more popular parts of the law work, such as the requirement that insurance companies cover people with preexisting conditions. Removing it was a top priority for Trump and congressional Republicans in their effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act. The final bill does not start the repeal until 2019, though. The Congressional Budget Office projects the change will increase insurance premiums and lead to 13 million fewer Americans with insurance in a decade, while also cutting government spending by more than $300 billion over that period.  This might destroy or severely cripple insurance markets in some states, which is also one of the goals of this legislation.

The wealthy can inherit up to $22 million tax-free:  The estate tax (often called the “death tax” by conservatives) would remain part of the U.S. tax code, but far fewer families will pay it. Under current law, Americans can inherit up to $5.5 million tax-free ($11 million for married couples). Now the first $11 million that people inherit in property, stocks and other assets will not be taxed ($22 million for married couples).  This is a step towards the dynasties of the 19th and early 20th centuries where huge estates passed to heirs without being taxed, as if they were royalty.

“Pass through” companies get a 20 percent reduction: Most American businesses are organized as “pass through” companies in which the income from the business is “passed through” to the business owner’s individual tax return. S corporations, LLCs, partnerships and sole proprietorships are all examples of pass-through businesses. In tax bill, the majority of these companies get to deduct 20 percent of their income tax-free, a large reduction.   Service businesses such as law firms, doctor’s offices and investment offices can take only the 20 percent deduction if they make up to $315,000 (for married couples.

Corporate [Alternative Minimum Tax] “AMT” tax abolished: The final bill gets rid of the corporate alternative minimum tax, a big relief to the business community. The corporate AMT makes it difficult for businesses to reduce their tax bill much lower than 21 percent. CEOs complained that this was a backdoor tax that would make them less likely to build new plants, buy more equipment and invest in more research, since the corporate AMT made the tax credits for those investments essentially null and void.  However, excess profits are currently being used for dividends and stock buybacks, not for new plants or equipment.

Territorial System: Exempts U.S. corporations from U.S. taxes on most of their future foreign profits, ending the present worldwide system of taxing profits of all U.S.-based businesses, no matter where the profits are earned.

Repatriation of profits made abroad:  Sets a one-time mandatory tax of 8 percent for illiquid assets and 15.5 percent for cash and cash equivalents on $2.6 trillion in U.S. business profits currently held overseas. That foreign cash hoard was created by a rule that allowed foreign profits to be tax-deferred if they were not brought into the United States, or repatriated, a tax rule that would be rendered obsolete by the territorial system.

Changes in the home mortgage interest deduction. Residences purchased from Jan. 1, 2018, through Dec. 25, 2025, it caps the deduction for mortgage interest at $750,000 in home loan value. After Dec. 31, 2025, the cap will revert to $1 million in loan value. It also suspends the deduction for interest on home equity loans.

Fewer families will have to pay the individual [Alternative Minimum Tax]  AMT: The AMT for individuals started in 1969 as a way to prevent rich families from using so many credits and loopholes to lower their tax bill to almost nothing. But what started out as a way to prevent the wealthiest Americans from tax dodging started to hit more and more families over time. The AMT begins to apply to singles earning over $54,300 and couples earning over $84,500, although nearly everyone who ends up paying the AMT earns six figuresThe new tax bill lifts the threshold so very few will have to pay.

The $4,050 individual personal exemption is abolished.

What is NOT changing:

The bill keeps in place the student loan deduction, the medical expense deduction and the graduate student tuition waivers.

Retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans stay the same. No changes to the tax-free amounts people are allowed to put into 401(k)s, IRAs and Roth IRAs.

Religious nonprofits cannot express political views.  Churches, synagogues, mosques and other nonprofits (the Johnson Amendment stays in place) can’t get political and endorse candidates in elections. Trump and conservative Republicans wanted to “totally destroy” (Trump’s words) the Johnson Amendment, which has been in place since 1954 and prevents religious institutions and nonprofits from getting involved in elections via fundraising or endorsements. The Senate parliamentarian to determine that including the repeal in the bill didn’t comply with the rules of the Senate.

About the author.

Al Simpson is a mathematician who lives in the United States.

[i] The Atlantic magazine, September 16, 2012, Tax Cuts Don’t Lead to Economic Growth, a New 65-Year Study Finds.

[ii] Suicide rate for minorities much lower, Census data indicate By KELLY BURNS School of Communication University of Miami.

[iii] American Trade Unionism.  Principles, Organization , Strategy, Tactics by William Z. Foster.  Page 220.

[iv] Ibid.  Page 221.

Fight the Oppression of Women: From Sexual Assaults to Capitalist Exploitation

Karyn Pomerantz, edited by Ellen Isaacs

 

The rash of sexual harassment charges has generated much attention and rage at women’s treatment in the workplace. Many of these charges have political consequences as they target many Hollywood Democratic Party donors and Republican and Democratic politicians.  While mostly upper class women have come forward to accuse celebrities and politicians, sexual violence and abuse are common among all women.

 

Violence Against Women

 

Violence against women permeates society; 1 in 20 have reported rape and 1 in 5 reported other forms of sexual violence with Native American women experiencing the highest rates (Sexual Violence: Fact Sheet.  CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/SV-DataSheet-a.pdf. 2012. Viewed December 2017). It ranges from intimate partner abuse among same sex and heterosexual partners, sexual harassment of women soldiers to gang rape as a weapon of social control and warfare as in Somalia, Sudan, Myanmar, Nigeria, and many other countries.  A US study estimated that 2,000,000 women have been raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Peterman A, Palermo A, Bredenkamp C.  Estimates and Determinants of Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  AJPH June 2011).  Much of this violence has a long historical precedent.  Enslaved women were routinely raped by their owners to produce children (additional slaves) and assert domination.  Whites often accused black men and boys, such as Emmitt Till, of raping white women to terrorize and lynch them.

 

Economic and Social Violence

 

Violence against women takes many other forms. Women around the world suffer severe economic conditions, magnified in the US for black, Latin, Native and Asian women by racism.  Approximately 10% of white women (2015), and over 20% of black and Latin women in the US lived below the poverty line (2016). (National Women’s Law Center. Poverty Among Women and Families, 2015. https://nwlc.org/resources/national-snapshot-poverty-among-women-families-2015/, viewed December 2017). While the pay gap between women and white men is narrowing, it is still substantial:  women’s average median income is 80% of white men’s but vary by racial and ethnic classifications: 54% for Latin, 63% for black, 79% for white, 87% for Asian, and 57% for Native women (AAUW, https://www.aauw.org/files/2017/09/TheSimpleTruthFall2017OnePager-nsa.pdf, viewed December 2017).

 

women wage gap

 

Other social and economic conditions also destroy women’s stability.  Homelessness and unemployment endanger women’s security.  Women have an official unemployment rate of 4.8% that ranged from 3.9% for Asian women to 7.8% for black women with white (4.2%) and Latin women (6.3%) falling in between.

 

Childcare

 

The US has privatized childcare by making it the responsibility of families, primarily women.  Women bear most of the responsibility for child and elder care with few if any affordable services available. There are few publicly mandated paid parental leave policies, forcing families to forego income after having children.  Childcare can consume 10-50% of a woman’s earnings.  In addition to lost income, women lose retirement savings, and society loses over $80 billion in lost wages when women opt out of the workforce to care for children.  In 1935 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted Social Security but denied it to domestic workers who were predominantly black.  This provision wasn’t repealed until the 1970s.  Overall, women provide free domestic labor, managing households and multi-generational families, basically raising the next generations of the working class with no compensation and little respect.

 

Black women have always worked outside the family.  While enslaved, they raised the children of their white owners.  After slavery, they continued caring for other people’s families at extremely low wages.  Black and Latin full-time child care workers now earn a median income of $20,000 per year, barely over the poverty line (National Women’s Law Center.  Undervalued. https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/final_nwlc_Undervalued2017.pdf, viewed December 2017).

 

Health Services

 

Women’s health services are under attack in ways we never imagined would occur in the 21st Century.  Federal and state laws allow pharmacists to deny birth control to women based on their personal beliefs. Catholic hospitals and health care providers can refuse to perform abortions and provide condoms.  New regulations require clinics to follow hospital standards to offer abortions, causing many to close.  Some states have instituted waiting periods before women can have an abortion, increasing the expense when women need to travel and stay overnight in motels. These policies especially hurt rural women’s access to reproductive health care where there are fewer hospitals, clinics, and physicians.

 

Since the Supreme Court protected abortion in 1973, Congress has denied Medicaid coverage for poor women, and many state jurisdictions have passed restrictions on access to abortions.  With the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, families will have poorer health and higher mortality rates.

 

US health policies also affect women in other countries.  Globally, the US enforces the Hyde and Helms amendments that prohibit US funded organizations, such as USAID, from promoting and implementing birth control and abortion.  Any attempts to do so result in defunding all of the programs paid by the contract.

 

While denying care, state governments funded approximately 60,000 forced sterilizations from 1905 to the 1970s, targeting women, men and girls deemed poor or mentally deficient. They primarily coerced working class immigrant, black, Latin, Native American, and imprisoned people living in southern states, Puerto Rico (33% of child bearing aged women), and California (20,000 operations) (Stern A. Sterilized in the Name of Public Health.  AJPH.  2005 July; 95(7): 1128-1138, viewed December 2017).  This practice continues today. The Center for Investigative Reporting documented involuntary sterilizations of 148 imprisoned women in California from 2006 to 2010.  Detained immigrant women have also been sterilized.

 

Community Effects

 

Education is underfunded in poor neighborhoods. Gentrification is increasingly displacing poor families, causing disruption of community institutions and forcing long commutes to work and health care. Developers contribute to displacement as they build luxury homes and sports arenas often funded with public money that push families out of established neighborhoods.

 

Incarceration, disproportionately of black and Latin men, robs communities of bread winners and social support.  Rates of anxiety and depression rise with higher incarceration rates among people not imprisoned.  The pool of single men decreases making marriage less likely.  Women often seek partners who can provide housing and support for their children, often leading to transactional relationships that involve risky sexual practices.  In order to pay school fees and family expenses, South African children often seek “sugar daddies” who believe sex with virgins prevents HIV.

 

Sexist Ideology: Justifying Sexism

 

In order to justify these conditions, the elites create gender roles through education, the media, and religion that establish “appropriate” behaviors and attitudes for men and women, including people who are gay, lesbian and transgender.  Female characteristics include passivity, weakness, and less control over emotions.  Black women stereotypes include the highly sexed Jezebel and the caretaking Mammy.  Advertisers use women’s sexuality to sell products, and women become commodified along with the goods they represent.

 

As admissions of sexual assault continue to mount, many friends are asking why men hate women so much.  Politically, many argue that white men are the main oppressors in women’s lives.  And it is true that white men hold the majority of all ruling class positions in the government and military.  White men hold political positions, have higher rates of wealth and income, and work as CEOs of corporations.  They run Wall Street and educational institutions, dominating higher paying occupations as well.  It looks like men, white men that is, have huge economic and political advantages over women.

 

Capitalism Needs Sexism to Survive

 

Does this mean men benefit from women’s oppression?  Do men cause sexism?  Or does capitalism use sexism to generate profit through income disparities, free domestic labor, and violence to control women?

 

Oppression of women has existed for centuries.  Under feudalism, women worked in the home producing goods for the family.  When early capitalism developed, the factory owners forced the peasants off the land into squalid neighborhoods and dangerous work places.  The rulers smeared women who rebelled under feudalism and industrialization as witches and killed 10s of thousands.

 

Capitalism could not afford to dispense with sexism. The money saved on unequal pay for equal work, keeping women in jobs with lower pay scales, and not paying for universal child care and maternity and elder care leave produces profit that enriches the ruling class of corporate owners and financiers.  Women are expected to be “feminine,” agreeable, represent rigid standards of beauty, repress anger (especially black women), and shop.   Men are allowed to fight back, “take charge,” and harass women.  “Boys will be boys” often justifies and excuses sexual violence.  These sex roles limit the ability of men and women to contribute to society and perpetuate harmful relationships and expectations.

 

These conditions serve the capitalists.  While men and women live together, sexist stereotypes and practices drive a wedge between them creating mistrust and disrespect. This limits the potential for people to fight the system effectively.  Black women workers experience the most oppression since they are attacked by racist and sexist practices.  In addition, black men have been portrayed as rapists of white women, creating even more fear of black men.

 

Fighting Back

 

In response, men and women have created organizations, such as Men Against Rape, to train men and boys to reject “masculine” traits of aggression and misogyny.  Men and women workers need to unite against capitalism and the conditions it creates.  While men make higher wages than women, they still suffer high rates of poverty, homelessness, and unemployment, and low rates of higher education while also dying in wars.  Movements for gender equality and transgender rights are loosening strict gender rules that may help liberate people from restrictive behaviors based on gender.  However, to abolish sexism, we must remove its economic and political causes.  That requires fighting for fairer wages, jobs, quality education, and unity among men and women workers in the home, workplace, and community.

 

Women have always fought back against this subjugation with black women leading the fight.  Harriet Tubman rescued enslaved people, Lucy Parsons and Claudia Jones organized workers for socialism, Ida B. Wells attacked lynching, Diane Nash organized volunteers for Freedom Summer in Mississippi In 1964, and Angela Davis advocates for solidarity with Palestinians and prisoners.  The list goes on including white, indigenous, Latin, and Asian anti-capitalist women who collectivized childcare in the Soviet Union, won the right to vote, and established the first working class government with the short lived Paris Commune.

 

In the 1960s, the “women’s liberation movement” developed on college campuses and among middle class, primarily white women, who wanted to end discrimination. They fought for abortion, contraception, self-help, women’s health, an end to stereotypes, and fuller participation in the workforce. Some advocated separation of men and women. Many of these demands served middle class white women.  They did not include anti-racist demands, such as the abolition of forced sterilization, or recognize the more intense discrimination and state violence against black Latin, Asian, and Native women. They did not address the severe oppression of women in other countries.

 

In response, some black women developed a black feminist perspective.  One important group was the Combahee River Collective (CRC) that published a Statement in 1977.  (The Combahee River in South Carolina was the site of a raid led by Harriet Tubman that freed 750 people).  CRC members distinguished themselves from the mainstream feminist movements in several ways: they had a socialist, class perspective on sexism, stressed the connections between gender, “race,” and class, and included antiracist campaigns as critical to their programs.  They did not support separatism or women becoming bosses and politicians.

 

They embraced inclusion within the working class:

 

“…the CRC Statement was clear in its calls for solidarity as the only way for Black women to win their struggles.  Solidarity did not mean subsuming your struggles to help someone else; it was intended to strengthen the political commitments from other groups by getting them to recognize how the different struggles were related and connected under capitalism.” (Taylor Keeanga-Yamahtta, ed. How We Get Free: Black Feminism and The Combahee River Collective.  Chicago: Haymarket Press, 2017).

 

Their work along with other anti-sexist organizers addressed individual aspects of sexism, such as intimate partner violence, while also elevating the struggle by identifying the end of capitalism and racism as critical to the liberation of the working class.

 

We need to build a stronger movement of working class people to challenge capitalism and create a society based on equality and contributive justice where all share their skills and ideas.

 

Women resist demo

From the 2017 American Public Health Association (APHA) Meeting: Antiracist Members Fight to Make Police Violence a Public Health Issue

apha 2017 rally pix

 

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see … that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963.

These words written by MLK, Jr. in 1963 hold true today as the American Public Health Association (APHA) and other institutions of public health refuse to publicly oppose police violence.  At this year’s annual meeting, APHA leaders used many of these same liberal excuses to defeat a resolution to make police violence a public health issue and another resolution to call for UN accountability for the cholera epidemic.

Over 12,000 people attended the 2017 APHA meeting in Atlanta, where anti-racist students and practitioners organized to support these policies.  They prepared people to speak out at hearings, picket the convention center, meet to plan strategy, and vote for the resolutions at the Governing Council meeting.  They also presented talks and spoke up at sessions to generate support.  Hundreds of attendees participated.

The resolutions had passed for a one year provisional status in 2016.  The Haiti resolution had been put forward since 2012 and passed in 2016 with a 94% approval vote, but Governing Council members rejected it in 2017.  Every year these policy arbiters made new and often contradictory demands for changes that could never be satisfied because their disagreements are really political. It is obvious that Haitian people don’t really matter to them; it’s more important not to criticize the UN.

Voting on the police violence resolution required pressure on the Governing Council (GC).  IN 2016, supporters marched into their meeting space and demanded a vote for provisional status.  The APHA leaders suspended their own rules to avoid a floor fight over the vote. Over the next year they made suggestions for changes, all of which were answered by the ten young authors, but still rejected the end product. At a well-attended hearing this year, open to all, 95% of the speakers were strongly in favor. Before the final GC vote about 75 members demonstrated noisily in front of the convention center with chants such as “No APHA silence in the face of police violence.”

Now the goal was to establish the resolution as permanent policy. The APHA leaders cut off debate and engineered a defeat by conservative delegates and many liberals who were afraid to take a stand questioning the police. It was very clear that the liberals within the APHA carried most of the responsibility for voting it down. The authors identified strongly with the quote about the “white moderate” who says “later” or “not in this way” or “it takes time.” Although the reactionary who mentioned “black on black crime” from the GC floor was rightly vilified, the multiple democrats who stated “This is a very important issue, but this statement doesn’t get it quite right” were more to blame. Members of the Medical Care section who had endorsed both resolutions still raised objections to the resolution. One member agreed with the statement that “police are agents of social control” but said “you can’t say that.” Another said it was the truth and we should say what is true.  Also, the young authors realized that it wasn’t just white moderates, it was ALL of the liberals, given that the anti-police violence charge was led by a Black woman from Atlanta wearing a “threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” T-shirt.  It was clear that black lives do not matter to the APHA as much as good relations with law enforcement and the Democratic Party.

The APHA is a typical liberal organization that claims to represent the interests of its members and be genuinely concerned about the public good. However, the leadership is really most concerned about maintaining its status and funding within the capitalist structure of America.  Thus they do not speak up in public for even such reformist measures as single payer health care, which is their official policy, and refuse to deal with racism when it threatens their credibility.

As MLK, Jr. writes:

I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

According to a George Washington University public health student:

The policy focused on the need to collect data, study accountability and establish a commitment from public health to protect communities over policed,” Kelsey Donnellan said. “It passed at the 2016 APHA Annual Conference as a late-breaker and has been cited 18 times in professional articles. Unfortunately, the resolution failed by a vote 64 percent to 36 percent. Despite the lack of support from the APHA Governing Council, attendees packed the hearing and over 60 rallied in support. We have power at GW to study and advocate against law enforcement violence. Our work can strengthen the case for reforms that reduce violence in the communities we serve.”

 George Washington University also refused to issue a statement condemning the murders of black men and women as it did for the massacres in Orlando and Las Vegas.

rally 1

Lessons Learned: Liberals Block the Way to Fight Racism

The defeat did not discourage the young activists because they realized that they had raised the issue of racism with thousands and exposed the cowardice and hypocrisy of the APHA.

While APHA leadership plays it safe, rank and file members have the chance to raise antiracist policies with the 30,000 members.  Over the last 2 years, a multiracial group including the authors, the Black Caucus of Healthcare Workers, and Radical Public Health engaged 100s of people to consider state sponsored violence as a significant public health issue. They and the rest of us need to stay active to prevent fascist movements from winning over public health and medical practitioners as they did in Germany during the 1930s.

 We must also understand that capitalism does not care about working people, be they professionals or laborers, except as a means to make profits. Thus maximizing the health and health care of workers cannot be a reality under capitalism, because that cost comes out of profits. Instead, capitalism builds racism in order to super-exploit black, Latin and immigrant workers and keep us divided against one another. Multiracial organizing is the key.

These young leaders are calling for continued organizing:

“As we pause and regroup, we would love to hear from you, as allies and those working with communities most impacted by institutional racism and marginalization.  How do you imagine this movement growing? What kinds of collaboration between community organizations and programs, public health and medical care fields, researchers, writers, and policy makers do we need going forward? How can this statement be more helpful to your work? How would you like to be involved over the next year? Contact us at: endingpoliceviolence@gmail.com.”

AMERICAN RED CROSS—GREAT AT RAISING AND WASTING MONEY

By Al Harkins, October 19, 2017

Image: A woman receives warm meals from a Disaster Relief truck run by the American Red Cross in the Midland Beach neighborhood in Staten Island

As many writers have observed, the American Red Cross (ARC) is very good at one thing: raising money, with annual revenues of over $2.6 billion.  But they aren’t very good at delivering help to those who need it.  In 2010 when the earthquake struck Haiti, killing an estimated 100,000 to 316,000 people, ARC staff swung into action doing what it does best: raising money. Their appeal to “save lives,” aided by endorsements from President Obama and celebrities and fueled by a pioneering text message campaign, raised an incredible $488 million.

However, soon it became clear that the organization’s biggest problem would be figuring out what to do with all that cash. The U.S. chapter had just three full-time staff in Haiti at the time of the disaster. They soon transferred more staff to Haiti and subcontracted staff from the local Haitian Red Cross.  But there wasn’t much they could do.  The American Red Cross isn’t a medical aid group à la Doctors Without Borders. It doesn’t specialize in rebuilding destroyed neighborhoods. What it does best is provide immediate assistance—often in the form of blankets, hygiene kits or temporary shelter.  As destructive as the earthquake was, there wasn’t half a billion dollars of tarps and hygiene kits to hand out.

ARC staffers came up with all kinds of clever ways to unload the money, including handing it off to other aid groups that could make better use of it – after ARC had taken its customary nine percent administrative squeeze.  They say they provided homes to more than 130,000 people, but the actual number of permanent homes the group built in all of Haiti was just six.  ARC says that building the homes was delayed by Haiti’s awful land title system, but other charities had to deal with the same land title system and built 9,000 homes compared to the Red Cross’ six[i].  Where did all that money go? Two years later, the American Red Cross is still scrambling to explain why the half a billion dollars it took in made almost no difference in the survivors’ lives. A meaningful breakdown of its spending after the Haiti earthquake has never been produced.

The American Red Cross Loves Publicity

The American Red Cross is very fond of publicity – at the expense of everything else!  In the aftermath of Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy in 2012, the ARC had an internal review that concluded that the distribution of relief supplies was “politically driven.”  During the Hurricane Isaac operation, ARC supervisors ordered dozens of trucks, usually deployed to deliver aid, to be driven around nearly empty as an advertising ploy.  During Sandy, emergency vehicles were taken away from relief work and assigned to serve as backdrops for press conferences, angering disaster responders on the ground because they ran out of trucks to do disaster relief.   But it doesn’t stop there!  Also during Sandy about 1000 victims (mostly poor and black) were placed in Manhattan hotels soon after the storm with no way to get food or clothing, not having been given any money or food stamps.  But the Red Cross refused to help them when begged to do so!  The victims had to organize three demonstrations at their offices.  Aid was provided only after there was television coverage of their demonstrations.  Once again, publicity, this time negative, was the deciding factor, not helping people.

Red Cross blog NGOs trickle down Oct 2017Concept of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Charities are a subset of organizations known as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).  As the term implies, they are organizations that are independent of the government of the countries in which they operate, and they may or may not also have branches in other countries.  For example, Doctors Without Borders was started in France and now has offices in most developed countries and operations all over the world, typically in places that are in deep stress from famine, flood, war, disease epidemics, etc.

Unfortunately, a large fraction of NGOs only collect money and do absolutely nothing. And those that do something can have sticky fingers for cash.  In a University of Warwick survey of 600 NGO directors, most respondents gave no thought to their own accountability.  In a study of 300 Uganda NGOs, Burger and Owens (2008) found that despite claims to the contrary, 69% of the NGOs did not consult the community before or after they initiated an activity and 25% of those who claimed to provide financial information on request did not do so or lied about it. The basic idea of accountability is simple.  How much money did the NGO raise?  The NGO should provide a breakdown of the cost of operations and expenses.  A double check should be made that the work of the NGO corresponds with its claims.

“Relief” in Haiti

Red Cross in Haiti Oct 2017

Let’s use the example of Haiti. In the 21st Century, Haiti had to endure all of the following disasters:

  • September 2002 Hurricane Lil
  • November 2007 Hurricane Noel
  • August 2008 Hurricane Gustav
  • September 2008 Hurricane Hanna and Hurricane Ike.
  • On Tuesday, 12 January 2010, there was a magnitude 7.0 Earthquake that was followed by a Cholera epidemic when the disease was brought in by UN troops.
  • October 2016 Hurricane Matthew
  • September 2017 Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma.

Haiti is everyone’s favorite basket case. Relief funds could not be given to the extremely corrupt Haitian government so it was bypassed in favor of NGOs.  Nobody really knows how many NGOs there are in Haiti let alone what they supposedly do or how their funds are spent. There are somewhere between 3,000 and 20,000 NGOs in Haiti depending on whom you ask.  What do they do?  Most are completely opaque, not providing any information about their finances or operations.  Did the NGOs work bear any fruit?  Timothy Schwartz, a critic of NGOs and former consultant in Haiti, writes[ii]:

But while individual NGOs have educated children, drilled wells, planted trees, and saved tens of thousands of lives through vaccination and clinic programs, they have accomplished little detectable change in the country as a whole. Haiti remains the most underdeveloped nation in the Western hemisphere and over the past three decades, precisely when NGO activity flourished, it has sunk further into abysmal poverty

Conclusion

Capitalists are aware of how corrupt charities are, but they are quick to suggest to their employees that they should contribute to the United Way or some other charity as a payroll deduction.  This is done so that they can appear to be concerned about the poor of the world when in reality it is their policies that cause much of this suffering.  Observe that the charitable donations come at your expense, not theirs. Some supervisors who want to make themselves look good to upper management push employees to give to the United Way or other charities. Sometimes employees are threatened with having their requests for absences “carefully reviewed” or with other possible sanctions. This is in the face of your right to spend your money as you please.  This could also be viewed as extortion since your employer is claiming to be part of your paycheck and threatens to punish you if you fail to contribute.  Most people I know give some money so as not to draw attention to themselves.

So charitable giving isn’t as easy as it looks, and you can be well assured that there are plenty of fakes out there.  The list of organizations that rate charities, listed below, might be helpful.

If you are in doubt, try and give to small local organizations or individuals that you know will use your donations as intended.

Most importantly, we should keep in mind that the aftermath of natural disasters are almost always exacerbated by pre-existing underlying conditions, such as a lack of warning systems, shoddy housing, or destruction of natural protections like flood plains; all of which would cost money to correct. Those that suffer the most when disasters occur are almost always the poor, whose welfare is of no more importance to wealthy capitalists after a disaster than it was before. They just have to seem to care when the whole world is watching – and why not make a few bucks with some fake charities while the giving is good?

[i] https://www.propublica.org/article/how-the-red-cross-raised-half-a-billion-dollars-for-haiti-and-built-6-homes

[ii] http://timotuck.com/wp/index.php/category/ngos-part-ii-save-ngo-sector-from-itself-and-haiti-from-the-ngos/

 

Black Communists Fight Racism with Multiracial Solidarity Part 2, Paul Robeson

by Karyn Pomerantz, October 19, 2017

Introduction

This series of blog posts reviews the immense contributions of black revolutionaries fighting racism and capitalism, primarily in the United States during the early to the mid-20th Century.

This is not close to a comprehensive review; see a brief bibliography below for further reading.  These inspiring stories can help advance our own antiracist movement.

Many people view Marxism and communism as a white thing, and the most famous revolutionaries, such as Marx, Lenin, and Mao, were white or Asian.  The history books largely ignore the revolutionary contributions of American black communists, such as William Patterson, Paul Robeson and Lucy Parsons. They and many of their comrades advocated for working class unity to topple capitalism around the world in spite of Jim Crow atrocities, the patriotism pushed during World War II, and McCarthy era imprisonments and black lists.

Many white communists and socialists believed that eliminating capitalism would automatically abolish racism.  They minimized the destructive nature of racism and did not strongly engage in anti-racist struggles.  While eliminating capitalism removes the reasons for racism (creating more profit and dividing workers), black Marxists like Paul Robeson, William E.B. DuBois and William Patterson recognized the need to prioritize the fight against racist ideas and practices. Many all black revolutionary groups, such as the Marcus Garvey (Return to Africa) Movement and the Black Panther Party, promoted a nationalist perspective instead of building united working class organizations and movements.

Paul Robeson, Antiracist Communist Organizer

Paul Rbeson with WorkersPeople remember Paul Robeson as a distinguished athlete, singer, orator, actor and lawyer. Plays and biographies about him often minimize his immense contributions as a communist and antiracist fighter in the 20th Century.

He made extraordinary and diverse contributions to sports and the arts.  He was an All American football player at Rutgers in spite of his fellow racist team members and opponents assaulting him and breaking his nose, crushing his fingers and taunting him with racist names during games. Because he was black, Rutgers never listed him as All-American and refused to enter him into the Hall of Fame. Robeson also excelled in basketball, baseball, and track and field.

https://youtu.be/eh9WayN7R-s Robeson singing Old Man River

Paul Robeson OthelloHis work in the theater and film included Show Boat where he brought down the house singing Old Man River, and the leads in Othello and Emperor Jones.  He refused to play roles that demeaned African Americans and longed to play race neutral roles.

He performed throughout Europe and the US, enabling him to reach 1000s of people.  During his stay in London, Robeson met members of the socialist party, including George Bernard Shaw.  He adopted communist principles and returned to the US as an organizer with the Communist Party USA working with William Patterson (see our September 2017 blog piece below) and William E. B. DuBois.

Robeson advocated for the destruction of capitalism and racism, support for anticolonial struggles around the world, and unity between workers of all racial categories and nationalities.  He recognized the potential of the labor movement to fight racist discrimination practices on the job although many unions excluded black workers.  Some unions like the meatpackers countered racism in neighborhoods where black workers lived.  Robeson denounced these segregated conditions in housing, schools, and sports, campaigning successfully to end segregation in baseball.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 overthrew the czars and established soviets where workers controlled manufacturing, health care, and farming under the state.  The Soviet government nationalized industries, collectivized agriculture and household work, outlawed racism, and provided free education.  Their victory inspired workers throughout the world and threatened the US corporate class.  The Soviet Union declared its support of liberation struggles in the US and anticolonial uprisings in Asian and African countries.

Paul Robeson in USSRMany black revolutionaries, including Patterson, DuBois, Richard Wright and Langston Hughes visited or moved to the Soviet Union.  Robeson’s family lived there for 5 years during the 1930s, enrolling his son in Soviet schools.  “Here I am not a Negro but a human being.  Here for the first time in my life, I walk in full human dignity (Freedomways, p 76).”

The US experienced economic depression during the 1930s.  During this time, 50 percent of the population suffered unemployment.  Workers lost their homes and jobs.  Thousands of WWI vets descended on Washington demanding the bonus pay promised to them.  They set up camp on the Anacostia River and marched through DC streets.  Communist membership soared as the wealth of the corporate class rose.

The CPUSA dominated labor and the arts.  Its members led unemployment councils, moved evicted workers back into their homes, and built the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the CIO, the leftist association of unions that admitted black and immigrant workers.  The Harlem Renaissance thrived as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansberry and Paul Robeson contributed to the arts as writers, actors, and novelists.

Terrified that a revolution loomed, Roosevelt established his New Deal programs to preserve capitalism in the face of these rebellions.   Yet even these programs reinforced racism.  They paid black workers less and excluded black farmers, domestic workers and Mexican farmworkers from Social Security.  African American civil rights organizations fought these discriminatory practices, triggered by Roosevelt’s compromises with Southern democrats.

Upon his return to the US in 1939, Robeson boldly defended the Soviet Union as a model of racial equality to end white supremacy.  “For they (Soviet people) have no minorities in our sense of the word.  There of all people of whatever color or culture enjoy complete equality. (Baljai, p. 203).”  He traveled to Spain during the Spanish Civil War to sing for the American volunteers in the Lincoln Brigade who fought against the fascist Franco supported by Nazi bombing raids and munitions.

The development of fascism in Germany and Italy raised strategic decisions for the left.  The US government called on the unions, civil rights groups like the NAACP, and the various political parties to create a Popular Front to oppose Nazism and support the war effort.  It softened its racist rhetoric in order to win the backing of black citizens.  The Army required unity among its soldiers in order to win the war.  In response, many communists denounced the Popular Front and the government.  They asked why African Americans and antiracists should support the war when the US ruling class oppressed black workers for centuries.  Yet the leadership of the CP joined the Popular Front and softened its attacks on US capitalism.

DuBois and the Marcus Garvey party, a large black nationalist movement, sided with the Japanese fascists because they were not white.  DuBois defended this line: “I believe in Asia for the Asiatics.”  Robeson countered with a class analysis: “As a persecuted minority, we are on the side of the persecuted and colonial peoples. … As far as any sympathy for the Japanese because they make some dent in white civilization, this is fantastic (Baljai, p. 92)”.  DuBois and Garvey’s analysis demonstrates nationalism’s worse feature where allegiance to people based on skin color and nationality outweighs allegiance to class.  (DuBois later changed his support for the Japanese).

The level of anticommunism dropped during WWII as the US and Soviet Union became allies.  However, the US only entered the war when the Soviet army repulsed the Germans and advanced on Berlin.  Once the war ended, anticommunist rhetoric and attacks increased dramatically.  Right wing politicians like Richard Nixon and Sen. McCarthy dragged leftists before congressional hearings to demand that they admit they belonged to the CPUSA and to name those who did.  They destroyed the careers of film makers like Dalton Trumbo, expelled the leadership of the CIO, jailed communists and sympathizers, and implemented policies that increased segregation.

Attacks on the antiracist movement increased and generated different responses.  The NAACP softened its demands preferring to maintain its mainstream status.  Robeson and Patterson among others refused to squelch their communist principles and organizing in spite of vicious assaults and imprisonment.  In 1949, organized fascists beat thousands of people attending a Robeson concert in Peekskill, New York.

Paul Robeson Here I Stand Oct 2017

The government deprived Robeson of his passport, making it impossible for him to travel, and blacklisted him from performing in the US, ruining his career and ability to earn a living.  This led to a decline in his health but not in his political activity.  He and Patterson published We Charge Genocide that denounced the US ruling class for racism throughout the world, eventually submitting it to the United Nations.  In 1958, Robeson wrote Here I Stand that illuminated his political positions.

PRINCIPLES

Robeson and his comrades stood for:

  • Multiracial organizing and solidarity of the working class while prioritizing the liberation of black workers. They believed in multiracial unions and supported the CIO.
  • International solidarity against racism and imperialism condemning the ruling classes of the imperial powers. However, he also supported new anti-colonialist leaders, such as Nkrumah in Ghana, Kenyatta in Kenya, and Nehru in India, without calling for an end to capitalism in their countries. In later years, Nehru lost Robeson’s support when he arrested Indian communists.

    Robeson strongly condemned allying with the British and French during World War II because they colonized people in Asian and African countries. Robeson and DuBois strongly supported the liberation struggle in South Africa while the US backed South African fascism, continuing to send aid to South Africa from the 1940s to the 1980s. This internationalism influenced the left to support liberation struggles in Latin American, African and Asian countries.

  • Support of the Soviet Union’s practices of criminalizing racism compared to the US’ oppression of black workers. They and their comrades witnessed many occasions when people were punished and ostracized for racist bullying. Soviet people welcomed Robeson and others with love and solidarity.
  • Reliance on the grass roots to fight discrimination, using the electoral and legal systems as tactical interventions. He rejected the Popular Front that suppressed the antiracist struggles while the NAACP and the Communist Party joined the Front to oppose Nazi Germany.  The decision to join or oppose US imperialism proved extremely difficult for the left, but Robeson consistently condemned support for colonial powers that exploited the working class, especially African, Asian and African American workers.
  • Building a mass movement among black and white workers to oppose racism. The NAACP primarily relied on the judicial system to abolish racist practices. While trained as a lawyer, Robeson only practiced for a short time.

Making the antiracist and communist movements invisible was the worst attack on Robeson and his thousands of comrades.  Their histories have been denied to later generations grappling to vision a non-capitalist future and to create multiracial movements.  We can benefit from studying and implementing many of their antiracist principles and actions.

Read On

Robeson, Paul.  Here I Stand.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1958, 1988.

Balaji, Murali.  Professor and the Pupil: the Politics and Friendship of W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson. NY: Nation Press, 2007.

Freedomways.  Paul Robeson: the Great Forerunner. NY: Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1978.

Duberman, Martin Bauml.  Paul Robeson. NY: Knopf, 1988.

THE SECOND AMENDMENT WAS DESIGNED TO PRESERVE SLAVERY

by Ellen Isaacs

From the earliest days of this nation, built on racism, the carrying of arms has meant the suppression of people of color. It was that way in the 1700s, and it is that way today. Like much of the policy laid out by the founders of the U.S., the real point of the second amendment was to protect profits, which at that time meant insuring the survival of slavery. To quote an article in the Guardian on 10/17 by Alan Yuhas, what the second amendment says is:

 

  “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed….

Carl Bogus, a law professor at Roger Williams University, has argued that James Madison wrote the second amendment in part to reassure his home state of Virginia, where slave owners were terrified of revolts and wary of northerners who would undermine the system. ‘The militia were at that stage almost exclusively a slave-control tool in the south,’ he said’ You gave Congress the power to arm the militia – if Congress chooses not to arm our militia, well, we all know what happens.’

  The federalist Madison’s compromise, according to Bogus, was to promise a bill of rights. After weeks of tense debate, his federalists narrowly won the vote to ratify the constitution. He writes an amendment that gives the states the right to have an armed militia, by the people arming themselves.

  A year later, the federal government passed a law requiring every man eligible for his local militia to acquire a gun and register with authorities. (The law was only changed in 1903.)”

 

In fact, Georgia had passed laws in the 1750s requiring all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in order to watch for any sign of an uprising. This was necessary because, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South.

 

During the Revolutionary war, British generals offered freedom to escaped slaves who joined their forces, and other freed slaves served under George Washington. Slave owners and supporters such as James Madison, George Mason and Patrick Henry worried that the new Constitution, which gave the federal government the power to raise an army, could be used as a tool to free slaves. Thus they also saw the states’ rights clause of the amendment as a protection against any federal government attempt to end slavery. (http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/13890-the-second-amendment-was-ratified-to-preserve-slavery)

 

INDIVIDUAL GUN RIGHTS IS A NEW CONCEPT

 

In the 1970s, the National Rifle Association was taken over by a group who touted gun ownership as a sacred individual freedom, something not intended by the writers of the Constitution. Only in 2008, for the first time in the country’s history, did the Supreme Court explicitly affirm an individual’s right to keep a weapon at home for self-defense. In fact, there was a British tradition going back to the 14th century that prohibited civilians from going about with arms, which was incorporated into colonial law as early as 1682. (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/the-origins-of-public-carry-jurisprudence-in-the-slave-south/407809/)

 

Although many gun owners use their weapons for purely recreational purposes, such as hunting or target shooting, many also see their weapons as necessary for self-defense. However, studies have shown that neither crime in general or crimes against individuals who own guns are mitigated by gun ownership. (http://fair.org/extra/the-self-defense-self-delusion/). In addition, individual gun ownership remains, two centuries later, correlated with racism. Most gun owners, who are disproportionately white, and who picture themselves as potential victims of individual crime, imagine the criminals to be men of color. Not surprising in our very racist and segregated society (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/05/gun-ownership-racism_n_4220727.html). When Philando Castile, a law abiding black man, told a cop he had a gun in his car during a traffic stop, he was seen as a threat and murdered.

 

At times, guns have been used by the oppressed to protect themselves, such as during the civil rights movement. The Deacons for Defense used weapons to keep safe anti-racist marchers, even Martin Luther King, and to fend off murderous bands of the KKK. The response of the FBI was to intimidate and infiltrate the Deacons, not the racist groups they were defending against.

 

Of course the most heavily armed persons in our society today are the police and the military, who kill thousands of civilians every year at home and abroad, most of whom are non-white. Racism remains the rationalization for these killings, from the cop who shoots an unarmed black man and has little fear of retribution – not one has been convicted of murder- to the soldier who is won to slaughter “gooks” or “ragheads”. However, there are times when the ordinary workers inducted into the armed forces have recognized that they are being asked to fight against other workers and die for a cause against their own interests. One such time was during the Russian revolution when the soldiers turned on the czar instead of the armies of other imperialist nations. In the US, blacks and whites, fought to end slavery in the Civil War, and in Vietnam about 25% of enlisted men refused to fight by the end of the war and even “fragged” their officers.

 

And so we must think about the question of guns in this society, as about all other questions, by asking who is making laws or using weapons – be it guns or the media or the education system or the police – for what ends? As in all other areas, we see that gun laws are made and enforced so as to protect the wealthy and those who have been won to accept their racist policies. If we choose to learn to use or own a gun, it should be for the day when we will, in concert with others, be called upon to defend against racism and oppression.

HURRICANE RESPONSE IN PUERTO RICO -Supposedly, A Great Job

PR hurricaneby Al Simpson

 

 

 

On September 28th, Donald Trump said: “The governor of Puerto Rico is so thankful for the great job that we’re doing. . . . The governor said we are doing a great job. . . . We have had tremendous reviews from government officials . . . and this morning, the governor made incredible statements about how well we’re doing. . . . So everybody has said it’s amazing the job that we’ve done in Puerto Rico, we’re very proud of it. . . . I think we’ve done a really good job . . . and we are going to do far more than anybody else would ever be able to do and it’s being recognized as such.”

Just maybe this is a bit of exaggeration, or maybe there really was an intent to do something other than a great job. The President did not fail to remind Puerto Ricans of their $74 billion debt to the US.

Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria on September 20 and 21, and on Friday, September 29, the U.S. finally started to coordinate aid to the Island after it suspended the Jones Act the day before.  The Jones Act, which made it much harder to transfer emergency goods to the Island, states that any goods ferried port-to-port in the U.S. must be carried by American vessels and crew or the recipients must pay extra taxes, tariffs and fees. Jones is only one factor that combined to make the cost of living 13% higher than on the mainland. Everything got worse since 2006, when the US Congress let tax breaks for businesses in PR expire, and they left.  The only break Puerto Ricans got since was to make borrowing easier, and since then PR has had to institute tax increases to pay off the debt to US banks, and cut back on public services and infrastructure.  The fragile electric and communication and health care systems, among others, have made the devastation so much worse.

PR demo against military in ViequesWHAT WILL THE ROLE OF THE MILITARY BE?

On Thursday, September 28, the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship, was dispatched toward Puerto Rico as part of the large military intervention on the Island. Other amphibious assault vessels, such the USS Wasp, will also be sent. Although the move has been presented as a necessary response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, it is also aimed at containing possible civil unrest. In addition to the 1,500 troops of the Puerto Rican National Guard currently involved in rescue efforts, thousands more US Army and National Guard soldiers will be sent. This will be one of the largest US military interventions in Puerto Rican history. The ostensible purpose of the military operation is to make up for the collapse of physical infrastructure that has left vital supplies sitting in Puerto Rican ports with no means of getting them to the people in the Island’s interior.

The military effort is under the command of Brigadier General Richard Kim, whose previous tenure includes combat tours in Iraq and most recently in Afghanistan. He is currently Deputy Commanding General of the United States Army North Division. He will be in charge of the entire US “recovery” operation in Puerto Rico with responsibility over the military, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), other government agencies, and the private sector, thus effectively superseding the local government.

History of the US and PR

Puerto Rico has long been of use to the US military; the US annexed it in the Spanish American War of 1898. In 1917 citizenship was granted to the islanders, which allowed 18,000 to be drafted into WW1. In 1941, the U.S. established military bases in the islands of Vieques and Culebra. For over 60 years, the U.S. Navy used Vieques for target practice in Navy bombing exercises, dropping napalm, Agent Orange, and between 300 and 800 tons of depleted uranium-tipped ammunition. In total, the Navy dropped nearly 3 million pounds of bombs on Vieques, until stopped by mass protest in 2003.  One must wonder if a plan for military bases in a less populated Puerto Rico might be part of the thinking of Washington now.

LONG TERM EFFECTS, EXACERBATED BY RACISM

Just consider the conditions on October 1 according to the New York Times:

“Life remains far from normal on the island, 11 days after the storm made landfall. The electricity system was devastated, and it could be months before residents get back regular electric service. The governor said that more than 720 of the island’s 1,100 gas stations had reopened, but there are still shortages and distribution problems. Some stations in San Juan had short lines of customers on Sunday, but others in outlying areas were still choked with lines that stretch hundreds of cars long.  According to a Puerto Rican government website tracking the recovery, 11 percent of cellphone towers are working, and 5 percent of the electric grid. Authorities said that 46 of the island’s 48 dialysis centers were operating, using diesel-fueled generators. Nine hospitals now have regular electricity service restored, and dozens more are running on generator power.”

There is concern about epidemics in coming weeks caused by toxic sewage, and other pollutants.

trump in PRAccording to the Associated Press, President Trump said of Puerto Ricans: “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”  But this a racist lie!  In effect calling Puerto Ricans lazy.  Puerto Ricans are trying the best they can under difficult conditions.  Only recently, after almost 10 days, were supplies finally delivered. The Puerto Rican People are getting things done!

Comedores Sociales in Caguas provides food for 500 people each day, and Calle Salud Salud in Loíza, prepare 300 lunches.  Doctors and nurses are visiting every home to assess and treat residents’ medical conditions.  In Utuado, people cleaned up a street and rebuilt it to span a river.

“We need, one, relief that does not come with strings attached. We don’t need any more loans with high interest. We need repair and investment for 119 years of exploitation and then the amount of money that has been made off Puerto Rico. We need the repeal of the Jones Act and all other laws that limit the capacity of Puerto Rico to be a sustainable place to live. We need demilitarization of humanitarian help, and allow the people of Puerto Rico, not just here, but in the United States, to be able to share their solidarity and their help in a horizontal, direct way, without trying to control at a moment where lives are at stake. We need a commitment to just rebuilding, no displacement, no evictions. We’re already hearing from communities where FEMA is telling them that they cannot rebuild their home where it currently is. And that is starting to lift up grave, grave questions about what is the agenda behind telling people who have lived in a place for a very long time, in a moment like this, that they cannot rebuild their home there. We need debt relief. And we need to end colonialism, which is at the heart, it is at the core, of this issue. (Interview with Xiomara Caro Diaz, director of New Organizing Projects at the Center for Popular Democracy, https://www.democracynow.org/2017/10/2/san_juan_activist_after_hurricane_maria)

jose_andres_paella PR

Feeding 1000s of people by residents and World Central Kitchen

This is in sharp contrast with Trump’s racist remark.  Unfortunately, I have heard this ignorant trash repeated.

One woman I know told me that Puerto Ricans are lazy.  I said right away: “You think so, then prove it to me.”  Racism should be challenged right away.  Racism smooths the way for workers to be exploited.  Whether it’s steering minority workers into low paying and dangerous jobs in factories, racial and ethnic discrimination in housing and other types of exploitation, racism is a main tool of the capitalists to divide and exploit the working class.  It must be fought.

Puerto Rico was a poor Island, even before the hurricane.  Now with a destroyed infrastructure, the Island has no way to pay its debts and will be under the control of Wall Street for some time to come. Already one hears talk of privatizing sectors like electricity. Unlike Ukraine, where for strategic reasons the U.S. assists with its debts, there will be no such help for Puerto Rico.  Even natural disasters are not handled in an efficient fashion, despite the fact that Puerto Ricans are United States citizens.

Conclusion:  Puerto Rico’s residents are aware of the neglect and studied incompetence they are receiving from Washington, and there may be protests struggles against the “great job” that is being perpetrated on them. So, it not surprising that a military response was made. It’s important to understand that the problem is NOT Donald Trump – look at the horrors that transpired in Haiti during the time Obama was President. This included a Cholera epidemic that was brought in by UN troops!  Under capitalism, third world countries and similar areas are neglected and viciously exploited.  Only the strength and unity of workers around the world can put an end to capitalist racism and exploitation.

Al Simpson is a mathematician who lives in the United States.