I never studied the Civil War, except briefly in an eighth grade US History class. Thus my knowledge was confined to the myths in American textbooks and what I imbibed from the culture in general, such as movies and other media. My conception was that southerners before and during the Civil War were solidly united in favor or slavery and the war to preserve it, and were solidly racist. Williams’ book shows that the latter notion was true–even those opposed to slavery were for the most part racist. But there were a few cases of whites opposed to both slavery and the war uniting with slaves to fight the confederacy, examples of the multiracial unity that remains so critical for the success of workers’ struggles today.
What happened during 2020-21 in the USA? Lots of cataclysmic stuff:
Over 750,000 people died from Covid, blacks at twice the rate as whites
Schools were shut for a year
Unemployment, poverty, evictions increased
Access to social services, mental health care decreased
Community programs for recreation, tutoring, and social support closed
At the same time,
A police officer was finally convicted of murder in the death of a black man
Protests against racist policing and calls for defunding or abolishing the police grew nationally
Detainees in immigration and criminal jails protested dangerous conditions
Calls for bail reform and decarceration grew
There is no question that gun violence also increased during this period. Shooting deaths in 2020 were up from previous years, and in the first five months of 2021 alone 8100 people were killed in the US, an average of 54 deaths a day. There was also a big increase in gun sales, 23 million in 2020, which is a 64% increase from 2019.1 Many articles and newscasts attribute the increase in shootings to this increase in gun sales, which is an easy explanation, but research shows this is not actually the case.
Democracy is a word loved by almost everyone. Democracy has come to be equated with capitalism in a marvelous distortion of reality. Most US workers think it means that they live in a system where they have real choices over how their lives are run and who holds power. To capitalists democracy is a word to hide their monopoly on power while workers are led to believe that choosing which capitalist will hold elective office is all the democracy they need.
There is no end to the catastrophes that capitalism inflicts on workers. Covid, climate change, Haiti, and devastating wars to control resources: Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Vietnam, to name a few. After 20 years of US occupation in Afghanistan, the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban has taken power – again. Like the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the US is leaving Afghnistan without maintaining political or economic control. Altogether about 241,000 people, including 71,000 civilians and over 2400 American soldiers were killed from 2001-2021 and $2 trillion was spent by the US, to no avail.
Now the Taliban are back and, based on prior behavior, will install a sharia state of orthodox Islamic practices, from the relatively benign mandate of beards for men to the horrendous rules forbidding education and employment for women and girls. They punished enemies with beheadings, stonings, rapes, and imprisonment. However, to many Afghans they represent relief from the rampant corruption of the American supported government and military and from US drone attacks that killed and injured thousands indiscriminately. Primarily urban women and girls, who benefited from years of education, employment, and health care, will again be subject to the sharia practices of seclusion, burqas, and constant supervision by male relatives. Many Afghanis anticipate arrest, torture, and death because they have opposed the Taliban ideologically or cooperated with the US or the deposed government.
In The Sum of Us (2021), Heather McGhee refutes the pervasive idea that racism, specifically white supremacy, benefits white workers. She contradicts the paradigm of a “zero-sum game” in which gains for black workers diminish the economic and social status of white workers. Instead, she advocates for “social solidarity” that would create a “solidarity dividend” that enriches the lives of all workers.
McGhee is another liberal capitalist author who has stong antiracist arguments but a weak analysis of the role of capitalism that requires racism to create profit and enforce divisions among workers. Liberal reformers, such as Sanders, the Ford Foundation, and unions, try to preserve capitalism by making it more equitable. McGhee was president of Demos, a liberal think tank for economic reforms. Her book reflects the insights she gained there.
We can be sure that Biden will better attack Covid-19 than has Trump, for there must be a functioning economy and working class to maintain profits and power. But we quake in the surety that more lives will now be lost to imperialism and expansionism, not only from bullets on the battlefield but from poverty, exploitation, displacement and environmental devastation. We know from his own history that Biden is a capitalist and an aggressive imperialist, a loyal servant of US finance capital (see https://multiracialunity.org/2020/06/16/biden-lesser-evil-or-just-evil/). At the same time, it is important to remember that all the recent Democratic presidential candidates, from the democratic socialists to the moderates, are pro-capitalism and only proposed moderation of the system, at best. No matter who is in office, there is an existential battle between the largest world capitalists for control, primarily China and the US today. Thus it is clear that if we truly want to alter the manner in which capitalist ruling classes attack the workers of the world or their own working class, then it is the system, not the capitalist party or individual in power, that needs to be changed.
We should celebrate a victory in New York City (NYC), even though it is a temporary and limited one in a war that we should never need to fight.
Until Covid -19, single homeless adults in NYC were housed in up to 100 bed dormitories where crime and drug use were rampant. Many homeless people preferred to sleep on the street or the subways rather than in these facilities. However, the Covid-19 epidemic forced the City to use vacant hotels –even upscale ones – for shelter in the face of the highly contagious virus. One such move of over 700 single adults to four hotels in the prosperous and “liberal” Upper West Side of Manhattan resulted in a battle between wealthy racist property owners, who used racist slurs to castigate their new neighbors and demand their removal, and local anti-racists who fought back. The anti-racists not only organized petitions and demonstrations to pressure the feckless Mayor de Blasio into reversing his removal order, but they are providing aid and services to the homeless. The once-empty hotels are still home to the needy – for now.
The background for the Chinese exclusion cases starts with the immigration of tens of thousands of Chinese to the U.S during the late 1840s “Gold Rush.” These immigrants later made up the majority of the workforce that constructed the U.S. transcontinental railroad. When insufficient numbers of white workers applied to perform the arduous, dirty and dangerous labor that this project required, railroad bosses from the Central Pacific Railroad (including Leland Stanford, the founder of the University) began hiring immigrants from China. They were paid $26 per month, working 6 days per week, 30-50% less than white workers. “Hundreds [of these workers] died from explosions, landslides, accidents and disease.” (https://www.history.com/news/transcontinental-railroad-chinese-immigrants) After the completion of the railroad in 1869, these workers continued to toil for the big railroad bosses, who pocketed enormous amounts of money from their sweat and blood.
In A Life of Labor and Love, Wally Linder reminds us of the power of a united working class to fight the capitalist bosses and of the special people that make up our class. He interweaves the political and the personal as he chronicles his 89 years of life. He shares the joys and the tragedies, and we get a glimpse of the heart and soul of this ordinary but extraordinary man.
With the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the nomination by President Donald Trump of Amy Coney Barrett to immediately fill Ginsburg’s position on the Court, competing factions of the U.S. ruling class have geared up for a furious battle over Trump’s third appointment to that Court. The Democrats threaten to retaliate against Trump’s plan (if they win the 2020 presidential election and retake the U.S. Senate) by expanding the number of justices on the Court and then packing it with liberal justices. Liberal and conservative media pundits, law professors and political analysts have all staked out their positions.