Saturday, January 21, 2017

Susan Sontag's conversion to anticommunism: 1982

My own thoughts on Sontag can be found here and here.

But I bow of course to Harry Ring:

Eyewitness report: Women's March on Cleveland

My photos from the Women's March on Cleveland can be found here.

Thousands attended. My Facebook live feed videos can be found here and here.
Sadly for view the viewer, I held my phone on the verticle.

Attendees were predominantly Caucasian and middle class. All were united by contempt for the fact that Trump is now president.

Several signs said "Trump Nyet," playing to a Democratic Party conpiracy theory that Putin helped get Trump elected.

There were many Pro-Choice signs. But I counted only two Black Lives Matter signs. No signs in solidarity with other struggles. No labor contingents.

Many women carried "I'm with her" banners or wore Clinton stickers and t-shirts.

There was not a hint of independent working class political action

And nothing to contradict this pertinent article:

‘Women’s March’ aims to promote Democratic Party


Every advance the working class makes is in the streets. Every blow to racism, every gain toward women’s emancipation, every strengthening of the unions has been won through the independent mobilization of working people and our allies in their millions.

The national rally scheduled for Jan. 21 under the name Women’s March on Washington points in the opposite direction. Its aim is to begin now to campaign to reinstall the Democratic Party in Congress and the White House.

That course — looking to the Democrats and electing “pro-choice” capitalist politicians — is what’s paved the road for more than four decades of erosion of the right to choose abortion, which is today at the cutting edge of attacks on the social and economic gains of women.

The Women’s March on Washington was called immediately after Republican Donald Trump won the presidential election and was set for the day after he takes office. The initial call for the rally said it would “demonstrate our disapproval of the new president and his values.”

Election day “was a lot of hope, then an incredible amount of sadness,” Mrinalini Chakraborty, a graduate student in Chicago and the Illinois state coordinator for the march, told the Chicago Tribune. The action was called amid hysteria about Trump in liberal and left circles, and widespread debate about how to “fix” the broken Democratic Party. Defending women’s right to choose abortion is not even mentioned, although a major annual anti-abortion rally will take place in Washington just six days later.

These misleaders who claim to speak for women’s rights have a long record of retreat and refusal to mobilize to defend women’s right to choose abortion in the streets. “Don’t rock the boat,” is their line. Work to “elect friends of women,” and they’ll protect us.

How Roe v. Wade put cap on gains

Ever since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision to decriminalize abortion, the pro-Democratic Party leadership of the National Organization for Women and other feminist groups have sought to channel the fight out of the streets and into the ballot box. They were aided by the character and content of Roe v. Wade, which was based not on a woman’s right to “equal protection of the laws” guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, but on medical criteria and decisions made by pregnant women’s doctors, not by women themselves.

“Opponents of women’s rights have taken advantage of the Supreme Court’s ‘medical’ criteria from the outset,” Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Jack Barnes writes in The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record: Why Washington Fears Working People. “And they’ve made the most of the fact that the 1973 court decision was handed down while a raging debate had not yet been fought out and won by those who insisted that a woman’s decision on this medical procedure falls under the protection of our hard-won constitutional rights.”

This was acknowledged by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a longtime proponent of abortion rights and a member of the Supreme Court. She wrote in 1985 that Roe v. Wade “ventured too far in the change it ordered,” at a time when “abortion law was in a state of change across the nation.”

That trend was not the result of an epiphany by capitalist legislatures and courts. It was the result of a growing movement for women’s equality that was given impetus by the victories won in the streets in the 1950s and ’60s by millions in the working-class-led fight for Black rights. The demand for repeal of anti-abortion laws came to the fore because the ability to control when and if to have children is fundamental to every aspect of a woman’s life.

By cutting short the state-by-state mobilization in the streets needed to conquer abortion as a woman’s right, Roe v. Wade in fact put a ceiling on these gains. Almost from day one access to the procedure came under attack, subject to growing restrictions that especially come down on working-class women and those living outside major cities.

The Jan. 21 march is even more an action to boost the Democratic Party and point to the ballot box as the road forward than the occasional one-off large rallies for women’s rights called by NOW and other groups.

Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton underscored this message when she spoke at a 2004 March for Women’s Lives, called to oppose the re-election of George W. Bush. “We didn’t have to march for 12 long years because we had a government that respected the rights of women,” she said, referring to the 1993-2001 presidency of Bill Clinton.

She didn’t mention, of course, that abortion rights had suffered ongoing restrictions while women “didn’t have to march” during the Clinton years. And she said nothing about the signature accomplishment of her husband’s administration — eliminating Aid to Families with Dependent Children, with devastating effects for millions of working-class women. Like Roe v. Wade, it put a ceiling on key gains won by the working class in struggle, which have been further whittled away by the capitalist rulers over the last two decades.

Attacks on women can be countered

There’s an important example of a different course that workers and young people looking to defend women’s rights today can learn from.

Emboldened by the bipartisan attacks on the right to choose abortion, Operation Rescue launched a national campaign in the early 1990s to physically shut down abortion clinics. They mobilized thousands of rightist cadres to lay siege to the three clinics in Wichita, Kansas, in the summer of 1991. Leaders of the main women’s rights organization argued against a countermobilization, saying the cops and courts should be allowed to “do their job.” The result was that the rightists succeeded in shutting the clinics for weeks.

Many defenders of women’s rights drew the lessons from this defeat. In April 1992, when Operation Rescue tried to pull off a siege of clinics in Buffalo, New York, they were met by some 1,500 defenders who turned out daily at 5 a.m. to keep the clinics open. By the end of the second week, most of Operation Rescue’s troops had left town, demoralized. Defenders of abortion rights went on to confront Operation Rescue in Houston and other cities and successfully beat them back.

This is the direction we need to look today — not the same dead-end of relying on the same capitalist parties who’ve overseen the assault on workers’ rights and living standards for decades.

Supporters of the SWP will attend the Jan. 21 action, not to build it, but to meet and debate with those there an alternative, independent working-class road forward. 


Black Bloc

The "Black Bloc" so-called anarchists broke windows in Wasington yesterday to express outrage at the Republican presidential inauguration.

There is no better way to keep workers away from marches than by creating this kind of intimidation. None of my coworkers would join me in 2010 at our local Occupy Wall Street for fear of being put in the line of fire by these infantile petty bourgeois liberals.

What a boon for cop budgets to not have to pay for provocateurs!

From 2010:


When the march was well underway, a small group of anarchists, calling themselves the “Black Bloc,” started smashing windows of stores and police vehicles. This gave the authorities the pretext for carrying out widespread physical attacks and arrests.

The Militant - July 12, 2010 -- Ottawa launches assaults on rights as G-20 event begins

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A working-class approach to crime

‘Solidarity is strengthened by social struggle’

The Militant received the following letter from reader August Nimtz in Twin Cities, Minnesota, commenting on the article “Does ‘Broken Windows’ Policy Cause Police Brutality?” in the Feb. 23 issue.

The Militant is right on in its article on police brutality and what it will take to eliminate it as well as the daily “crime and gang violence” working people have to live with. “Ties of solidarity among working people are strengthened in times of growing social struggles” — the beginning of a real answer to the latter. At the height of the Black rights movement 50 years ago, the Feb. 1, 1965, Militant reported on a study on how crime in the Black neighborhood dropped during the most intense moments of the mass mobilizations in one of the movement’s sites. Militant readers, anti-police brutality fighters in particular, would also benefit in knowing more about how the Cuban Revolution was able to dismantle the police force and replace it with one that serves the interests of working people.

Below we reprint the article Nimtz refers to, with the original headline.

How to Cut the Crime Rate: Mobilize People for Rights

A Johns Hopkins and Howard University study of crime patterns in Cambridge, Md., showed a clear link between “direct action” civil rights activity and a reduction in crimes among Negroes. The study showed that in the months of May through September in 1962 and 1963, during which there was considerable civil-rights activity in Cambridge, the Negro crime rated dropped to 25 per cent of the 1961 rate.
There was no corresponding difference in the crime rate of Cambridge whites.

According to the Jan. 15 Baltimore Sun, the university researchers drew the following conclusions:

“1. Aggressions built up by the system of segregation, instead of being dammed up or unleashed against other Negroes, were channeled into the nonviolent protest movement …”

“2. All levels of the Negro community were affected by the movement. Even Negroes who took no active part in the protests were deterred from crime by a spirit of unity and common concern for the movement.”

The civil-rights movement in Cambridge, led by the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee under the direction of Gloria Richardson, was one of the most militant in the country. For several months in the summer of 1963 the National Guard was called into Cambridge to maintain martial law.

Despite this the CNAC won a number of demands in Cambridge, embodied in a July 23, 1963 five point program. These included integration of the Dorchester County schools, appointment of a bi-racial city committee, integration of all public places of accommodation, and the proposal for the building of low-rent public housing.

The university investigation of the effects of the Cambridge movement put its finger on a key point when it concluded: “The most important single fact is that [the Cambridge movement] was conducted almost entirely by lower class Negroes.”

A working-class approach to crime, cops, and capitalist ‘anticrime’ campaigns
(As I See It column)


WASHINGTON—One issue Democratic and Republican candidates use to try to drum up votes is “the fight against crime.” Whether crime rates are up or down, capitalist politicians try to convince us that they are the best ones to address the problem, and that the solution is more cops and more jailings. That these appeals get a hearing from working people shouldn’t be underestimated by those who want to end the economic and social system that breeds the conditions for crime.

Here in Washington, D.C., homicides declined steadily from a high of 262 in 2002 to 169 in 2006. Last year they spiked upward to 181. The increase led politicians on the city council to upstage each other in grilling police chief Cathy Lanier as to what the department was doing wrong.

“The Police’s Excellent Year” trumpeted a New York Times editorial at the end of 2007. “The nation’s largest city is among the safest,” it stated, noting that homicides in New York in 2007 dropped below 500, the lowest number ever recorded. By contrast, more than 4,000 murders occurred in the city in 1990-1991.

Nationwide, both violent crimes and property theft and damages fell substantially from 1993 to 2005, according to the federal National Crime Victimization Survey. They are at the lowest level since the data began to be recorded in 1973.

Workers obviously support the decline in murder rates. They hate the petty muggers and gangs who prey on them.

The Socialist Workers Party candidates explain that the role of the police is to protect the wealthy ruling class and its property. This rings true to many workers who have been on strike and had their picket lines attacked by the cops. Or to those who have been stopped, harassed, abused, or jailed while going to work, shopping, or out for an evening of entertainment.

The capitalist rulers’ “anticrime” campaign means workers, especially those who are Black and Latino, getting shot by killer cops. It means more working people thrown in jail and given longer sentences —today more than 2 million are locked up nationwide. It means the chipping away of constitutional rights such as the presumption of innocence and due process. 

Police can’t be reformed

Class-conscious workers don’t advocate “improving” the police through “sensitivity training” or by hiring more Black cops or “community” cops. The police are a repressive institution of the capitalist state and can’t be reformed into something different. Cops are not workers—they voluntarily accept their role as enforcers of capitalist rule, and in doing so become declassed and stripped of human solidarity.

But what do socialists say about crime?

In 1844-45 a young Frederick Engels, cofounder with Karl Marx of the modern communist movement, wrote down his observations about the impact of the manufacturing system on workers in England, the leading capitalist country at the time. In The Condition of the Working Class in England he cited examples of the violence of everyday life in capitalist society, where “every one stands for himself, and fights for himself against all comers.”

“This war of each against all,” he wrote, “need cause us no surprise, for it is only the logical sequel of the principle involved in free competition.”

Engels explained that the dog-eat-dog values and alienation bred by capitalism are the source of crime. To finally rid the world of crime, working people must organize to rid the world of the criminal system that produces it, capitalism.

The biggest thieves and murderers, of course, are the super-rich propertied classes who expropriate the wealth created by the labor of workers and farmers around the world. Their system also breeds small-time criminals, those who have lost any sense of solidarity and prey on people on a smaller scale.

In countries where capitalism has been overturned, revolutionary leaderships have had to confront the problem of crime. In Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War, 1956-58, Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto Che Guevara described how the leadership of Cuba’s Rebel Army, led by Fidel Castro, brought criminal elements to justice, executing those who tortured, raped, and murdered peasants.

They took harsh measures to prevent petty thieves and cattle-rustlers from becoming mixed up with the Rebel Army. No abuse of the peasants or theft of their animals or crops was tolerated. These measures had deep popular support.

After the 1959 victory of the revolution, workers and farmers mobilized in their millions to transform society, carrying out a literacy campaign, land reform, and the nationalization of capitalist industry, banking, and agriculture. The capitalists’ army, police, and extralegal thugs were dismantled and replaced by a new state based on workers power.

Cuba marked by solidarity

Cuban working people organized themselves into trade unions, neighborhood committees, and popular militias. They defended themselves against counterrevolutionary attacks, stopped petty criminals, and combated corruption. Cuba’s revolutionary police have been part of these struggles, such as the heroic role they played in the defeat of the 1961 U.S.-backed mercenary invasion at the Bay of Pigs. The Cuban Revolution has been marked by the prevalence of solidarity and combating the predatory, antisocial values of capitalism.

That’s what a workers and farmers government will begin to do and what a socialist revolution can accomplish. To end crime, working people need to put an end to the criminal system of exploitation.

That means building a revolutionary movement of working people that can take on the ruling rich, their cops, and courts, and win. That’s what the Socialist Workers campaign is about.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Iraq

….years of Stalinist betrayals in Iraq helped pave the way for the Baathist regime to come to power, destroying the 1958 democratic revolution and dealing crushing blows to the working class. That was the counter-revolution. That’s one of the main obstacles working people in Iraq have faced….

And that’s why Washington has found a host of groups openly backing or going along with the imperialist assault and occupation—from most of the Kurdish parties, to Shiite organizations that are part of the U.S.-run Iraqi Governing Council, to the Iraqi Communist Party.


Imperialist plunder of Iraq has long history


Since the demise of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, control over Iraq has been at the center of the rivalry of imperialist powers to dominate the vast oil reserves of the Middle East. The rulers in London, in particular, looked with greedy eyes on both the oil wealth and the maritime role of the entire Arab-Persian Gulf region, strategically located between the British "jewels in the crown" of India and its north African possessions.

In the years leading up to World War I, German companies constructed rail lines from southwest Turkey to Basra in southern Mesopotamia, as Iraq was then known. The British government, then the dominant imperialist power, feared such a presence by its rival threatened its trade routes to India and the broader region and its growing oil interests. London sought control of the newly discovered oil fields under Ottoman rule, and concluded exclusive oil pacts with local governments. In 1913, for example, the British government secured an agreement with Kuwait, receiving the promise that Kuwait would only sign oil contracts with those appointed by London.

With the opening of the war British forces landed at the Shatt-al-Arab waterway and advanced against Turkish troops at Basra. By the spring of 1918 Britain had extended its rule over all but a narrow strip of Mesopotamia. London gained leverage over its imperialist rivals in the war by promising Arab nationalist movements post-war independence in return for siding with Britain against Germany, which was allied with the Ottoman empire. Three major anticolonial societies had been formed in Iraq--the League of Islamic Awakening, the Muslim National League and the Guardians of Independence.

At the 1919 Versailles "peace" conference, however, where Washington, London, Paris, and Rome imposed settlements on their defeated rival in Berlin, and established the League of Nations to legitimize their domination, Mesopotamia was declared a protectorate of the United Kingdom.

In spite of promises of granting independence, London had, in fact, with the agreement of czarist Russia, signed a secret agreement with Paris on dividing up the Ottoman empire. The Sykes-Picot agreement between the imperialist powers allotted southern Mesopotamia to Britain, and awarded Syria to France. This pact was brought to light after workers and peasants came to power in the Russian revolution and the Bolshevik government published its terms along with other secret treaties.

By July 1920 a popular rebellion in Iraq threatened continued foreign occupation. The British Royal Air Force suppressed the revolt with a massive aerial bombardment of Arab villages, including the use of poison gas. Responding to a proposal to use chemical weapons as an experiment on "recalcitrant" Arabs, Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war, said, "I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes."

In the wake of the 1920 rebellion and hoping to disguise its colonial rule over Iraq, the British replaced its military regime in Baghdad with a provisional Arab government subordinate to a British high commissioner. At the 1921 Cairo Conference, London installed Faisal ibn Husayn as Iraq’s first king. 

A protectorate of London

In 1922, London imposed the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty, to last for 20 years, instructing the king to "heed British advice" on all matters affecting British interests and on all fiscal policy as long as Iraq remained in debt to London. British officials would be appointed to posts in 18 departments to act as advisors and inspectors. To insure Iraq’s continued debtor status, the treaty required the protectorate to pay half the bill for British resident officials, among other expenses. London agreed to provide various kinds of "assistance" and to propose Iraq for membership in the League of Nations "at the earliest moment."

British interests in the new Arab protectorate mainly centered on the oil-rich former Ottoman province of Mosul. Prior to the fall of the Ottoman empire the British-controlled Turkish Petroleum Company (TPC) held concessionary rights in Mosul. London rebuffed the Iraqi government’s insistence on a 20 percent equity in the company as had been the agreement with Ottoman-ruled Turkey. Fearing that without British backing the League of Nations might return Mosul to Ankara, the monarchy submitted to the terms of the British colonial masters. The final agreement contained none of the Iraqi demands and granted the TPC, now renamed the Iraq Petroleum Company, a concession for 75 years.

Mosul is located in the predominantly Kurdish region in northern Iraq. At the end of World War I, the Kurds were also promised by London and Paris that in exchange for their support against Germany, the Ottoman Sultan would be required to grant autonomy to Kurdistan. But the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty was scrapped after the young Turkish nationalist Mustafa Kamal, known as Atatürk, reestablished control over the Kurdish areas in eastern Turkey. In addition to northern Iraq, Kurdistan includes parts of Turkey, northern Iran, north eastern Syria and a small section of Armenia. The Kurdish fight for independence in Iraq and the broader region remains a pivotal issue today.

A new Anglo-Iraqi Treaty was signed June 30, 1930. It granted London the use of air bases near Basra and at Al Habbaniyah, including the right to move troops across the country. The 25-year treaty became effective with Iraq’s admission to the League of Nations in 1932.

As World War II approached, German imperialists attempted to exploit anti-British sentiment in Iraq. In 1941 the Arab nationalist prime minister of Iraq, Rashid Ali, placed conditions on British troop movements in the country and ousted members of the monarchy, who then escaped to Jordan. London retaliated by landing forces at Basra, and justifying its second occupation of Iraq on the grounds that Baghdad had violated the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty. The monarchy was once again installed on the force of British arms.

London’s colonial empire, like that of Paris, was shattered by anticolonial movements throughout Asia and Africa during and after World War II. In Iraq this was spurred by the British suppression of the 1936 Palestinian revolt and subsequent partitioning of Palestine in 1947. The "Free Officers’ Movement" in Iraq aimed at ousting the king and ending foreign domination. In 1952 when depressed economic conditions led to widespread protests against the monarchy, the government responded by declaring martial law, banning all political parties, suspending a number of newspapers, and imposing a curfew. 

British colonial rule shattered

On July 14, 1958, army officers led by Brigadier Abd al Karim Qasim and Colonel Abd as Salaam Arif overthrew the monarchy. They met virtually no opposition, as Iraqis poured into the streets in support of the revolt. King Faisal II was executed along with many others in the royal family.

The July 14 Revolution, as it is known, permitted the formation of trade unions and implemented a land reform aimed at dismantling the feudal structure in the countryside. It also challenged the profit-sharing arrangement of the oil companies. Public Law 80 dispossessed the British-controlled Iraqi Petroleum Company of 99.5 percent of its concessions and restricted it to areas currently under production. The Qasim government announced the formation of the Iraqi National Oil Company to exploit any new production sites.

The new government was supported by Arab nationalists and members of the officer corps--many of whom were adherents of Baathist movements. The government was also backed by the Stalinist Iraqi Communist Party. Baath was an Arab political party, first formed in Syria and Iraq in 1941, that espoused pan-Arab unity. 

Rise of Baathism

The Baathist Party came to power in a short-lived counterrevolutionary coup in 1963 that beheaded the vanguard of the 1958 revolution. A young officer named Saddam Hussein, who had participated in an earlier attempt to overthrow the Qasim government, rose in the Baath party through a bloody factional struggle. The Iraqi Baathist Party, which returned to power in 1968, is a bourgeois party that, as expediency dictates, has resorted to nationalist and anti-imperialist demagogy to rationalize its repressive and expansionist course. In 1979 Hussein became president of Iraq.

The Baathist regime halted revolutionary mobilizations of workers and peasants, while setting on a path of industrialization. In 1972 Iraq nationalized the oil industry. In response, Richard Nixon, the president of the United States, which had emerged as the main imperialist power after World War II, replacing London, placed Iraq on a list of nations supporting "terrorism."

Baghdad, however, was not on a course to challenge imperialism and the rights and prerogatives of capital. With the overthrow of the shah of Iran in 1979 by Iranian workers and peasants, one of the main pillars of imperialist domination in the region had fallen. Washington publicly encouraged Saddam Hussein to attack Iran to take back the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, which the U.S. government had forced Iraq to cede to the shah’s regime four years earlier. The Iraqi government complied, sending its army to invade Iran in 1980 for what became an eight-year war.

Prior to Hussein’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Washington, Paris, and other imperialist regimes had been cultivating their ties with Baghdad for more than a decade. Trade with Iraq continued and the U.S. government regularly sent top-level delegations there up through the first half of 1990.

Baath party beheaded 1958 revolution


Among the institutions of the Iraqi state targeted by U.S. and British forces is the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein. Air attacks have leveled party offices in several cities, and the party’s apparatus has crumbled before the rapid imperialist advance. Meanwhile, seeking justification for their assault, the imperialist propagandists have trumpeted the Baathists’ repressive record.

This is a shift from the backing that Washington and London gave to Saddam Hussein’s regime throughout the 1980s, up until Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

For working people in Iraq, the Baath Party has consistently governed on behalf of the country’s capitalist rulers. In fact, the first Baath Party government, brought to power by a military coup on Feb. 8, 1963, dealt Iraqi workers and farmers the single biggest defeat in the country’s modern history.

In those events Baathist leaders joined a number of military officers in overthrowing the government of Gen. Abdel Karim Kassem. The new regime executed Kassem and other prominent figures, and imprisoned thousands of members of the Iraqi Communist Party and other opponents in makeshift camps. Three days after the coup, the new government was recognized by Washington, London, and other imperialist powers, as well as by Moscow.

In carrying out these ferocious purges, the Baathist government decapitated the vanguard of the revolution of 1958. The July 14 Revolution, as it is known, had begun with the overthrow of the British-backed monarchy. Iraqi working people poured into the streets in celebration of that victory.

Kassem’s government, supported by nationalist-minded forces that included a wing of the Baath Party, had legalized trade unions and implemented a land reform aimed at dismantling feudal domination of the countryside. It placed heavy curbs on the operations of the British-controlled Iraqi Petroleum Company and established the Iraqi National Oil Company.

Kassem’s procapitalist regime also took a number of reactionary steps. He banned political parties, including the Stalinist Iraqi Communist Party, whose leaders had supported his government and had campaigned for inclusion in his cabinet. He also launched a military assault in the north against the Kurdish struggle for national self-determination. 

Formation of Baath Party

In addition to its bloody purges, the regime installed by the 1963 coup continued the anti-Kurd offensive. Later that year the Baath Party leaders were themselves purged from the government.

The Iraqi party had been formed in 1954 with the name Baath Socialist Party. The Baathist movement--meaning "rebirth" in Arabic--had originated in Syria, where the party was founded in 1947. The party also exists in Jordan.

The formation of the Baathist parties was part of the rise of Arab nationalism and resistance to the colonial oppression of the major European capitalist powers. The most prominent spokesperson for Arab unity of the period was Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president from 1956 to 1970. Nasser’s government nationalized important sectors of the Egyptian economy and in 1956 seized the Suez Canal in the face of British and French government opposition.

The Iraqi party retook power in 1968 in a coup headed by Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr. The new government embarked on a course of industrialization, benefiting from the vast revenues provided by oil exports. In 1972 the oil industry was nationalized.

Saddam Hussein rose to become prime minister of the new government in 1970. Within a decade he had emerged victorious from the party’s inner power struggles, assuming the presidency and the leading role in the country’s armed forces.

The president and his supporters have molded the party as a secretive and repressive instrument of their rule. Party cadres function as part of the police and military apparatus, while constructing their own parallel structures of surveillance and repression.

At the same time, Saddam Hussein has built loyalty to his capitalist government on clan and regional lines. His support is based on his home province of Tikrit in the north. Dispensing privileges from its oil revenues, the regime fosters support among a layer of those Iraqis who identify with the Sunni branch of Islam. The Sunni population is more urban than the Shiites in the south, who face even harsher living conditions.

The soldiers in Saddam Hussein’s Special Republican Guard, a 15,000-strong elite force entrusted with the defense of central Baghdad, are recruited primarily from Tikrit and other areas considered loyal to the regime. Several of the guard’s top officers are drawn from Saddam Hussein’s own family.

The armed forces have targeted the Shiites, most of whom eke out a living in the desert or marshes, for ongoing repression. The present regime has also maintained Baghdad’s campaigns against the Kurds. In 1991, following Iraq’s defeat in the Gulf War, both the Kurdish people and Shiites in the south rebelled. The imperialist forces stood aside as Saddam Hussein sent his army to crush the uprisings.

With this police-party dictatorship functioning to stifle opposition by workers and farmers, Saddam Hussein pursued a course of industrialization, militarization, and territorial expansion through the 1980s. Much of the industrial and military equipment was supplied by the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union.

Saddam Hussein also built ties with the imperialist powers--particularly Paris. 

Regime found favor with imperialism

Baghdad’s expansionist and anti-working-class policies also found favor with U.S. imperialism--most dramatically in the Iran-Iraq war.

The overthrow of the shah by the Iranian workers and peasants in 1979 tore down one of the principal props of imperialist domination in the region. Washington publicly encouraged Baghdad to launch a military offensive to regain the Shatt-al-Arab waterway--relinquished to Iran under U.S. instructions four years earlier.

In September 1980 Baghdad launched its invasion of Iran, touching off a war that lasted eight years and cost hundreds of thousands of lives on each side. While Tehran ceded the Shatt-al-Arab waterway in the 1988 ceasefire, Baghdad returned it in August 1990 to relieve military pressure on its eastern flank as Washington mobilized hundreds of thousands of troops in preparation for the Gulf War.

True to the Baathist tradition, Saddam Hussein used anti-imperialist demagogy to justify its 1990 grab for Kuwaiti land and oil. He cynically attempted to "link" the Palestinian struggle with the invasion, promising to withdraw from Kuwait if Palestinian demands for national self-determination were granted.

It is "the unfortunate fate of the Palestinian issue to be manipulated and used by the Arab leaderships historically for their own ends...whether economic, political, regional, or international," commented Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi in a May 1991 interview with the Militant.

Baghdad’s invasion of Kuwait registered a deadly miscalculation. Saddam Hussein had gambled that Washington would take no action. In fact, the imperialists imposed brutal sanctions, staged a massive buildup, and unleashed a bombing campaign and invasion in which 150,000 Iraqis were slaughtered. Over the next 12 years Washington, London, and Paris imposed no-fly zones in the north and south of the country. Along with UN sanctions and "weapons inspections," these "patrols" helped to set the stage for the current assault.

In the face of the rapid U.S. and British military drive, the Baath Party leaders have been unable to mobilize resistance, in spite of widespread opposition to the imperialist violations of national sovereignty. They have tried to coerce working people and youth into taking up arms--resorting to the methods of terror that have marked their rule since they dealt workers and farmers an historic defeat nearly 40 years ago.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Bolshevism and Black liberation in the U.S.

From 2010:

Bolshevik Revolution and U.S. Black struggle 

The following is the ninth in a series of excerpts the Militant is running from Pathfinder Press’s latest book, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. We encourage our readers to study and discuss the book. This excerpt is the last part of a chapter titled, “Everything New and Progressive Came from the Revolution of 1917,” a piece by James P. Cannon, a founding leader of the communist movement in the United States.” Subheadings are by the Militant.


Everything new and progressive on the Negro question came from Moscow, after the revolution of 1917, and as a result of the revolution—not only for the American communists who responded directly, but for all others concerned with the question.

By themselves, the American communists never thought of anything new or different from the traditional position of American radicalism on the Negro question… . The simplistic formula that the Negro problem was merely economic, a part of the capital-labor problem, never struck fire among the Negroes—who knew better even if they didn’t say so; they had to live with brutal discrimination every day and every hour.

There was nothing subtle or concealed about this discrimination. Everybody knew that the Negro was getting the worst of it at every turn, but hardly anybody cared about it or wanted to do anything to try to moderate or change it. The 90 percent white majority of American society, including its working-class sector, North as well as South, was saturated with prejudice against the Negro; and the socialist movement reflected this prejudice to a considerable extent—even though, in deference to the ideal of human brotherhood, the socialist attitude was muted and took the form of evasion. The old theory of American radicalism turned out in practice to be a formula for inaction on the Negro front, and—incidentally—a convenient shield for the dormant racial prejudices of the white radicals themselves.

The Russian intervention changed all that, and changed it drastically, and for the better. Even before the First World War and the Russian Revolution, Lenin and the Bolsheviks were distinguished from all other tendencies in the international socialist and labor movement by their concern with the problems of oppressed nations and national minorities, and affirmative support of their struggles for freedom, independence, and the right of self-determination. The Bolsheviks gave this support to all “people without equal rights” sincerely and earnestly, but there was nothing “philanthropic” about it. They also recognized the great revolutionary potential in the situation of oppressed peoples and nations, and saw them as important allies of the international working class in the revolutionary struggle against capitalism.

After November 1917 this new doctrine—with special emphasis on the Negroes—began to be transmitted to the American communist movement with the authority of the Russian Revolution behind it. The Russians in the Comintern started on the American communists with the harsh, insistent demand that they shake off their own unspoken prejudices, pay attention to the special problems and grievances of the American Negroes, go to work among them, and champion their cause, including among whites.

It took time for the Americans, raised in a different tradition, to assimilate the new Leninist doctrine. But the Russians followed up year after year, piling up the arguments and increasing the pressure on the American communists until they finally learned and changed, and went to work in earnest. And the change in the attitude of the American communists, gradually effected in the twenties, was to exert a profound influence in far wider circles in the later years. 


The Communist Party’s break with the traditional position of American radicalism on the Negro question coincided with profound changes which had been taking place among the Negroes themselves. The large-scale migration from the agricultural regions of the South to the industrial centers of the North was greatly accelerated during the First World War, and continued in the succeeding years.1 This brought some improvement in their conditions of life over what they had known in the Deep South, but not enough to compensate for the disappointment of being herded into ghettos and still subjected to discrimination on every side.

The Negro movement, such as it was at the time, patriotically supported the First World War “to make the world safe for democracy”; and 400,000 Negroes served in the armed forces. They came home looking for a little democratic payoff for themselves, but couldn’t find much anywhere. Their new spirit of self-assertion was answered by a mounting score of lynchings and a string of “race riots” across the country, North as well as South.2

All this taken together—the hopes and the disappointments, the new spirit of self-assertion and the savage reprisals—contributed to the emergence of a new Negro movement in the making. Breaking sharply with the Booker T. Washington tradition of accommodation3 to a position of inferiority in a white man’s world, a new generation of Negroes began to press their demand for equality… .


1. Ninety percent of U.S. Blacks lived in the South in 1910. By 1930, 79 percent of Blacks lived in the South, the big majority of them still in rural areas and small towns. As of 2002, some 55 percent of Blacks lived in the South, with less than 13 percent of them located in rural areas.

2. In 1919, with millions of demobilized soldiers vying for hard-to-come-by jobs, there were racist riots against African Americans in Chicago and some twenty-four other U.S. cities, from Omaha, Nebraska, to Knoxville, Tennessee, from Washington, D.C., to Bogalusa, Louisiana. There was a sharp rise in lynchings throughout the South. Two years later, from May 31 to June 1, 1921, racist mobs in Tulsa, Oklahoma, rioted against African Americans, demolishing the thirty-five-square block Black community, destroying more than 1,200 houses, and killing an estimated one hundred to three hundred people. Heavily outnumbered, Blacks—many of them World War I veterans—organized to defend themselves as best they could.

3. Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) opposed any mass struggle for Black rights, counterposing to it the perspective of accommodation with Jim Crow while working for vocational training and self-improvement.


Does The Militant still oppose Israeli settlements?

My late, unlamented blog troll John B. launched one of his parting darts at me last week by declaring that The Militant and the US Socialist Workers Party no longer call for an end of Israeli settlement construction. 
Let's go to the archives, shall we?


December 7, 2015


....The Socialist Workers Party presents a strategy that can put an end to the cycle of violence between the Israeli state and reactionary forces like Hamas. A revolutionary Palestinian leadership would denounce Jew-hatred, recognize the existence of Israel and support the right of Jews anywhere in the world to live there, while fighting for a contiguous Palestinian state, for dismantling Israeli settlements in the West Bank and for combating discrimination and the second-class status of Arab citizens of Israel. Doing so it would win allies inside Israel.

This can open the road to building a mass movement of Jewish, Palestinian, Druze, Christian, Muslim and immigrant workers capable of taking power out of the hands of their common enemy, the Israeli capitalist ruling class, and the ruling rich in the West Bank and Gaza....



November 10, 2014:

Israel expands settlements  in Palestinian West Bank 


Since the end of Tel Aviv’s latest war on Gaza in August, the Israeli government has accelerated the expansion of settlements in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, undermining the Palestinians’ struggle for a sovereign and contiguous state of their own.

Tel Aviv seized the West Bank in 1967 from Jordan and since 1977 has increasingly encouraged the construction of Jewish settlements there.

As part of the 1995 Oslo II Israeli-Palestinian “peace” agreement, the West Bank was gerrymandered into three areas of control: Area “A” under control of the Palestinian Authority, roughly 18 percent of the West Bank, comprising most of the Palestinian population; Area “B,” including mostly rural areas under Palestinian civil control and Israeli police authority encompassing about 22 percent of the land; and Area “C,” the remaining 60 percent the territory, under Israeli control.

In 2003 Tel Aviv began building what it calls a “security fence” — opponents call it the “separation wall” — running roughly parallel to the West Bank’s 1967 border with Israel. The wall snakes around Palestinian villages, cutting them off from the rest of the region.

Today there are some 350,000 Israeli settlers scattered throughout the West Bank up to the border with Jordan.

“The building of settlements like Ariel east of Jerusalem make it very difficult to have unity of Palestinian land,” Roy Yellin, a spokesperson for B’tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, said in a phone interview Oct. 20. “It makes it difficult to travel from the northern part of the West Bank to the south.”

There are nearly 100 permanent or semipermanent Israeli checkpoints throughout the West Bank and hundreds of surprise ones set up during the course of a month. Palestinians are prohibited from using some roads that are reserved for the use of Jewish settlers. Thousands of farmers are only able to plant or harvest their fields when Israeli authorities open gates in the wall, sometimes for just a few hours a day.

The Jerusalem city government gave final approval Oct. 1 for the construction of 2,500 homes in Givat Hamatos, a Jewish enclave in majority-Palestinian East Jerusalem. Over the past decade Jewish developments have been built in a ring around the city’s Arab neighborhoods.

In September, the Israeli government announced it was nationalizing 1,000 acres of Palestinian land near Bethlehem to allow for the expansion of a bloc of nine nearby settlements. The plan is seen by many as collective punishment for the June kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers in the area by Hamas operatives. The killings preceded Tel Aviv’s most recent assault on Gaza.

Israel’s Civil Administration has also been stepping up demolition of Bedouin homes in Area C. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, in the first eight months of 2014, 346 buildings were razed, leaving 668 Palestinians homeless, more than in any other period in the last five years.

In mid-September Tel Aviv said it was getting ready to evict 12,500 Bedouin who live near East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Jericho and relocate them to Ramata Nu-eimeh, a town near Jericho built by Israeli authorities.

“We’re mainly shepherds,” Jamil Hamadin, the spokesperson for one of the Bedouin families facing eviction, told the Militant Oct. 7. “We came to live here after we were expelled from the Negev Desert by Israel during the 1948 war.”

“Each family has its own sheep, some have 70 or 80, some have 200,” Hamadin said. “We live in an area of 500 square kilometers [124,000 acres], where we have land for pasture. But all our houses are under orders to be demolished and the courts upheld it. They want to squeeze us all into a little area where we will have just half a dunam of land [one tenth of an acre] per family. This is unacceptable.”

“If you take a look at the maps you can see how the settlements have expanded over the last five to 10 years,” Suhad Bishara, a staff member of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said during a recent visit to New York. “The Palestinians in the West Bank have been put in cantons, divided geographically by the Israeli settlements. Palestinians have been cut off from each other and from their farms and workplaces.

“It’s 100 percent legitimate to demand that they take apart all of these settlements and withdraw to the 1967 borders,” she said. “I don’t see any other way. Otherwise a Palestinian state cannot be established.”