All posts by Farooque Chowdhury

Forging Unity within the Working Class

In its desperate race to survive its series of crises, capitalism keeps clinging onto its old tool of dividing the working class. But, since commencing its political fight, the working class has uplifted a different call: Workers of the world unite! More than one hundred years ago, the proletariat in Russia trampled over all the divisions among the working class created by capital and achieved a historic victory — the Great October Revolution. But, today, more than a century after the October Revolution, the working class remains divided. In this context, Michael D. Yates, author of Can the Working Class Change the World? (Monthly Review Press, 2018) among other works, longtime union activist, labor educator, and editorial director of Monthly Review Press and former associate editor of Monthly Review magazine, focuses on the question of working-class unity in the following August 2020 interview.

Farooque Chowdhury: Nowadays, far-reaching rage and protests are unfolding in many countries. Hundreds of thousands of people are marching, demanding justice, dignity, equity, safety, and security. These protests are questioning and challenging state machines, ultimately turning into political struggle with political slogans. However, in certain contexts, these struggles occur along color or caste lines instead of class lines despite the ruling class and its state machine being united as a single force to control every sphere of working-class life. From jobs, infrastructure, and incarceration to recreation, land, and home life, the ordinary people are unceasingly under attack. In this context, how do you understand today’s struggles in a number of countries operating along color or caste lines instead of class lines?

Michael Yates: This is a complicated question. Historically the capitalists have used all manner of differences within the working class — differences of skill, gender, religion, ethnicity, skin color, for example — to divide the working class, to make one group hostile to another so that workers will not see themselves as a class and act in unity against the capitalists. There are many examples of this. Today, in India, most Hindus and Muslims belong to the working class. Yet, the government, in league with capital, has fomented religious hatred against Muslims, resulting in mass violent repression, supported in part by many ordinary citizens who in terms of creed belong to the Hindu community. In the United States, Donald Trump has overtly encouraged violence against immigrants, Chinese Americans, and Black people. All three groups are made up overwhelmingly of workers. Yet, more than a few White workers support this and some have followed through with acts of racist violence. What is more, after months of Trump’s murderous handling of the pandemic, 50 percent of the White persons surveyed support him. Many of these have to be workers.

In the United States, employers have always tried to divide workers. International Harvester had a policy of allocating jobs according to ethnicity, putting working groups together who spoke different languages and often had historic animosities. The idea was that this would make solidarity of all the workers very difficult to achieve.

Black workers were typically consigned to the worst, most dangerous jobs and were always paid much less than White workers. Given the history of slavery in the United States and the endless propaganda proclaiming the innate inferiority of Black people, this workplace discrimination fed right into White racial prejudices. If Black workers performed work no one else wanted to do, and for lower wages, then this was surely a sign that this is all they deserved to have.

It is a fact that capitalism tends to bring forth the workers it needs, both in terms of the labor itself but also in terms of the personalities of the workers. What is more, it brings forth the organizations it needs. Hence, historically, many unions prohibited Black workers from becoming members. Or, if they could become members, it was only in special all-Black local unions. There were even national unions that were organized specifically by and for Black workers, such as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (Black people who labored in the sleeping cars on trains).

Ironically, even in those unions that readily admitted Black members in multiracial locals, Black workers were often subject to discrimination. In the United Steel Workers Union, for example, seniority (length of service) was not based on how long a worker had been working in a particular plant or been a union member, but rather on the specific department they were in. Black workers had historically been confined to the dirtiest, most dangerous, and lowest-paid jobs in foundries and coke plants. The contracts the union agreed to with the steel companies kept this arrangement intact. So, suppose a coke plant Black employee had worked in that department for twenty-five years. He then manages to fill an opening in another department, say, the machine shop. Further, suppose that no one in the new department has twenty-five years seniority in the plant; in fact, assume that no one has more than ten years of plant seniority. Next, imagine that there is a layoff in the machine shop. Who will lose the job? It will be the Black worker, the man who has worked at least fifteen more years in the plant than any of his machine shop coworkers. It took the threat of a civil rights lawsuit against both the companies and the union to force a change in this discriminatory system. Most White workers loved the old system because it benefited them, and they often resented the change that made Black workers their equals. Similar lawsuits were common in all-White construction unions. In the United Auto Workers Union, one that had a very liberal reputation and supported the civil rights laws enacted by the federal government in the 1960s, Black workers became so angry that in the 1970s they formed all-Black labor organizations, in what they termed the Revolutionary Union Movement. They picketed union headquarters demanding an end to racial discrimination, which they said was sanctioned by the union. They chanted in reference to the union’s acronym (UAW) that it meant U Ain’t White! I might add that, overwhelmingly, union officers in the United States are still, in 2020, White, even as the percentage of Black union members continues to rise.

Similar conditions have applied to women. Coal miners actually believed that it was bad luck for a woman to work in a mine. And in many workplaces, women have faced resentment, harassment, and violence, including rape, from White male workers. If we look today, few women are top union officials, and if they are, it is very likely that most members of that union are women, as is the case, for example, in the teachers’ unions. Most elementary and secondary teachers (pre-college) in the United States are women. The same is true for nurses and childcare workers. When women demand employment in what have been traditionally male occupations, they have been met by considerable resistance from men, irrespective of whether or not any particular workplace is unionized.

We can extend our examples by returning again to the world outside of the United States. During the early days of modern industries in India under British colonial rule, the mill owners played with religious sentiment among the workers belonging to the Hindu and the Muslim communities. In post-1947 India, working people have been victimized, driven out in different regions at different times in the name of regional chauvinism. They have experienced threats, arson, destruction of their homes, and other types of assaults.

In Africa, the exploiting classes had the same tactics. The Nazis pursued similar policies, championing the “Aryan Race” and persecuting those considered racially inferior, such as Jews and Roma people. In pre-October Revolution Russia, the czarist rulers did the same. In Bolivia today, the present ruling clique is now arousing sentiment along religious and ethnic lines, demonizing Indigenous people and using the Bible to justify what they are doing.

At different times and places, those who rule use skin color, creed, caste, gender, or nationality. But the goal is always the same: divide the working class.

Before responding to the next questions, let me make two points. I am only concerned with racial, gender, religious, and any other differences within the working class and how these can be overcome so that the working class becomes unified. I am not concerned with arguments and movements aimed, for example, at ensuring that there are more women and people of color in top executive or political positions. A boss is a boss whether that boss is a woman, a gay person, a Hindu or Muslim, a Black person, a Latinx person, etc. The same is true of senior political operatives. Indira Gandhi was no more a champion of the working class than was Winston Churchill. There are also unions and other kinds of working-class organizations that have made serious efforts to overcome the differences within the working class, those that have surely impeded the class struggle.

FC: In the United States, there is a history of Black unions and unions of other people of color. It is in fact a quite recent history. Do you see that as a tactic of capital in order to further segregate working people? Has that phase — of separate unions along color lines — passed?

MY: The formation of unions by Black workers followed two patterns, as I mentioned. In most cases, they were forced to be in all-Black locals of national labor unions. This was because of the racist practices of the White-led unions themselves. Such separate unions are no longer legal, and to my knowledge, none now exists. Of course, employers were happy that unions were split. Yet, White workers seldom agitated for an end to this practice. And they gained some from it, in the form of higher wages, better jobs, and feelings of superiority that should not be ignored in terms of their importance.

Where specifically Black unions or Black worker organizations were formed, they were established because existing unions either had no interest in organizing majority-Black workforces or because the unions had failed to address specifically Black grievances. This is why A. Philip Randolph helped form the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in the 1920s. It did receive a charter from the American Federation of Labor, but it was a Black union with Black leaders. These leaders were important members of Black communities, which were rigidly segregated throughout the country. And these men helped spearhead the U.S. civil rights movement. Another union that was comprised overwhelmingly of a particular group of non-White workers was the United Farm Workers. In the U.S. West, where it began, nearly all farm workers were either Chicano (of Mexican descent but born in the United States) or Mexican immigrants. However, even in this union, there were some sharp differences. The unionization of farm workers in California, the leading agricultural state, had been spearheaded by immigrants from the Philippines. Considerable animosity took place between the Chicano-led union of César Chávez and Filipino leaders. There were even differences between Chicanos and Mexicans. The latter were typically more radical and militant, and Chávez tried to make sure that they did not obtain leadership positions in the union that could challenge his power. At one point, the union engaged in violent struggle against workers from Mexico who entered the country without documents, behaving on some occasions in ways every bit as ruthless as Trump.

Much the same can be said of Black (as well as Latinx and women’s) organizations that tried to pressure unions to adhere to their principles of equality.

Today, there are caucus groups (subgroups within a union) that represent specifically the interests of oppressed groups, such as women, Black workers, people of color, and gay workers. These have been made necessary by the failure of many unions to make sure members are treated fairly and equally, and that their special concerns are met. For example, women want good maternity leave contract provisions, and they also want union meetings to provide childcare. So, these caucuses are not divisive but necessary to forge true unity in the working class.

FC: The capitalist system, in its entirety, is the obstacle to emancipation from all inhumanity, indignity, wretchedness, barbarity, and exploitation. The Nazis tactfully appealed to a majority of people while spewing hatred against the rest of Germany. Sometimes, especially in the electoral arena, one section of the exploiting class lends support to protesters demanding justice and dignity in order to settle a factional fight, while another section of the capitalist class pulls in another part of the population into its fold, cementing divisive politics from the top. In the face of this, does organizing along color or caste lines lead down an emancipatory path or does it, rather, ultimately play into the hands of the exploiting class? Do struggles along oppression-specific lines help build up struggle against the entire capitalist system that continues to pit people against each other?

MY: As I said in response to the first question, the ruling class always tries to divide the working class. What we must do is make certain that the working class (and peasant class where this is important in terms of numbers and struggles) is not divided internally. We know that there have been working-class organizations (labor unions, political organizations, and direct action groups) that have actively worked to generate a cohesive and class-conscious membership. Let me provide some examples. When the Chinese Communist Party, under the leadership of Mao Zedong and others, was waging war against both the Japanese invaders (during the Second World War) and the reactionary forces of Chiang Kai-shek, it paid special attention to differences among the peasants and workers that formed its base. First, it recognized that there were differences among the peasants themselves in terms of land tenure. While the landlords and rich peasants were dealt with harshly, the middle and poorer peasants were not. The main concern of the Communists was for the poorest peasants, who were given land to till and made an integral part of both the radical restructuring of their lives and the Red Army. However, the middle peasants were treated fairly as well, because they could then be educated to ally with the poorest peasants. Both groups could also be made to see the need to defeat the Japanese and the Kuomintang. Similarly, women in China had faced especially oppressive treatment, more so than men. Therefore, the Communists singled women out for special changes, such as changes in marriage and divorce, an end to the binding of feet, and the integration of women into the Red Army and every political organization formed by the Communists in rural areas. Finally, there were areas of China where Islam was the dominant religion, and there were also areas dominated by Indigenous peoples. The Communists dealt with these groups in a sympathetic way, taking into consideration their differences with the Han Chinese. Overall, the idea was to build unity and break down pre-existing prejudices within the peasant and working classes.

In the United States, the Communist Party before the 1950s (when it suffered persecution and eventually became a shell of its former self and no longer much of a radical force in the country) paid special attention to Black workers. It tried its best, sometimes successfully, even in the deep South where White racism was especially virulent, to forge Black-White worker unity. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, labor unions led by the Party or greatly influenced by it made considerable strides in organizing Black workers and making them integral parts of racially integrated unions. A good example is the United Packinghouse Workers Union, the union of those who worked in the meatpacking industry. Black workers had the worst jobs, but their jobs were critical work in terms of the disassembly lines on which animals were killed and then cut up into component parts for packing and sale. If these workers were not unionized, the union effort would fail. However, the union was not just doing what it had to do to get the workers organized, it was also building Black-White unity to confront the bosses. Black workers had to be considered equal to White workers, with the same wages and chances to bid on any particular jobs that opened. What is more, Black and White union leaders then went into the neighborhoods where workers lived, and forced — through demonstrations and boycotts — businesses such as restaurants, bars, hotels, and retail shops to integrate and cease discriminating against Black people. By the mid–1950s, the union had compelled companies to pay workers among the highest industrial wages in the country, even more than steel workers. Black and White workers alike received these high wages. Union leadership was not all-White, as in many unions — there were Black officers too.

A more contemporary example comes from Australia in the 1970s, the Building Laborers Federation. Led by Jack Mundey and a group of radicals, a union of poor largely immigrant workers, dominated by gangsters and corrupt officials, was transformed from the bottom up into a militant, class-conscious union concerned with more than workplace issues. During the 1970s, the union employed mass flying pickets to shut down building sites, crippling the boom in urban high-rise construction. These strikes allowed the workers to make enormous gains in pay, benefits, training, and dignity. At the same time, the Building Laborers Federation “experimented with the ideas of workers’ control, occupying construction sites, electing their own foremen, staging sit-ins and ‘working in’ in response to lockouts, poor safety conditions and sackings.” These tactics were used to bring women and Aboriginal people into the union and onto the jobs. The union used bilingual organizers and had its literature and meeting proceedings translated into the languages of its European immigrant members. It brought to the membership the idea of “green bans” on ugly and environmentally destructive building projects, winning approval for refusal to work on such sites. Mass meetings and democratic assent were required for all union actions.

We see from all of these examples that, first, splits inside the working class are real and, second, they must be dealt with internally if worker unity is to be the outcome.

FC: After any theoretical formulation comes the question of strategy — how do we bring about working-class unity? We know that capitalism divides people through oppression, exploitation, and politics of hatred. In other words, capital sabotages the struggle of the entire exploited class against the entire exploiting class. While organizing the struggle for emancipation, how do we fight against the divisive politics that the ruling class foments in society?

MY: Some of the answer to this question is in what I said in the response to the previous question. Concrete examples from the past help show the way for the future. However, a few points are worth making here. First, to win the masses to a radical program of social transformation, every working-class organization must have a set of radical principles, principles that will never be compromised. It might have shifting tactics and sometimes overall strategy, but these must not run afoul of the basic principles. The Chinese Communists said, as a rallying cry, Land to the Tillers — that is, those who worked the land should possess it. When it made a tactical alliance with the Kuomintang in the war to defeat the Japanese, it limited land distributions to peasants. But it did not abandon the principle, and soon enough resumed the distributions. Labor unions and radical political parties must have as a principle the abolition of the wage system and in its place the establishment of worker control of workplaces, production for use (for the people), and substantive equality in all aspects of social life. Such organizations must be steadfastly anti-imperialist. And these days, they must definitely and vigorously champion the eco-socialist use of the earth, so that humans can begin once again to live in harmony with nature. And as we have discussed, key principles will have to be those that demand equality between genders, between Black and White and all people of color, between queer and straight people, etc.

Second, working-class organizations must engage in and support direct actions. A good example is the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil. Its motto is “Occupy, Resist, Produce.” As I put it in a forthcoming article: “Occupy un-utilized land, typically stolen from peasants and the poor in the first place. Then resist with force, if necessary, attempts by the powerful to take the land back. Then, begin to produce on the land, distributing the product among the direct laborers and the community in an egalitarian manner.” The radical Black Panther Party, active in the United States in the 1960s and ’70s, initiated a great many programs to benefit poor Black people: daycare, free breakfast programs, health clinics, and numerous others. Urban farming, cooperatives, and the like can give workers experience in managing their own lives and at the same time provide goods and services for the community. As people of diverse identities work together, they inevitably come to see each other as workers and full human beings deserving to take control of their lives and society at large.

Third, education is of great importance. How else will workers learn to overcome the differences that capitalists and their supporters in government use to split the working class? All working-class organizations must have ongoing educational programs. If workers join the organization, education must be mandatory. Political economy, history, the history of the organization, working-class struggles of all kinds, culture, food production, ecology, all must be taught. And the teaching has to be done by example, in a democratic setting, in which teachers and students are equals learning from one another.

Finally, workers are not just workers but full human beings, with communities, interests of all kinds, and concerns that go beyond work. All parts of life must be part of working-class organizational struggles. Housing, the environment, health care, family life, schooling, leisure, transportation, you name it. Workers will be much more attracted to such organizations than just to those that focus entirely on work.

Let me sum up this way. There are those on the left, certainly in the United States, who believe that the best way to unify the working class is to push hard for programs that they claim will benefit all workers, irrespective of their identity. Some of these programs, as articulated by the Democratic Socialists of America, would be guaranteed employment at a decent wage (with the state providing a large number of jobs so that full employment can become a reality), Medicare for All (health care paid for by the state), and a Green New Deal (to alleviate global warming and provide millions of well-paid jobs). Since women, Black people, and all other persons of color are over-represented among the poorly paid, are least likely to have good health care, and are most likely to live in environmentally compromised places, such programs would benefit them relatively more than White men or rich people in general. Hence, such reforms would automatically generate greater equality among all groups of people.

What this political strategy misses is that racism, patriarchy, and homophobia are more than matters of economics. They are deeply embedded in the psyches of almost all White straight men. And they are embedded in nearly every aspect of life, not just employment and earnings. A simple but rather stunning example will make this clear. The medical instrument known as a pulse oximeter is a relatively simple and inexpensive device to measure how oxygenated a person’s blood is. This measurement has been critical in determining treatment for persons with COVID-19. Well, lo and behold, there is a racial bias built into these instruments, and even though this has been known for some time and even though it can be remedied, nothing has been done about it. The oximeter was only ever tested originally on White persons, and because their skin color allows light to pass through their skin more easily, readings for Whites are more accurate than they are for Black people. A doctor who took a reading for Whites that would dictate a radical treatment would get a different reading (a higher and what would appear to the doctor a better one) for a similarly situated Black person. Hence, the latter would be denied a treatment they should have had, all because their skin was darker and light could not as easily penetrate it. What good would universal social democratic measures do to correct this racial bias?

Examples like this could be multiplied a thousand fold. In the United States, it would be great if everyone received publicly financed medical care. However, as many studies show, Black persons right now receive inferior medical care, no matter the financing. So, unless special efforts are made to rectify this, including the education of health care providers, who are often enough themselves, even if unintentionally, perpetrators of racial prejudice, then how will health care equality be achieved in a universal health care program?

Racism and patriarchy, to take the two most common examples, are embedded in the institutions of capitalist society, and the result of this is that they are also embedded in people’s brains. It would seem essential that in every working-class organization, they must be rooted out, confronted directly and ended, so that a unified working class can face capital, prepared for the divisive tactics that will be thrown at the working class by its enemies. Once in a class I was teaching to unionized automobile workers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a White man made a disparaging comment about people who received public assistance from the government. A Black woman took issue with this and challenged her union brother. A heated discussion took place, and in the end, the White man saw that what he had said was wrong. Why not have these discussions as often as needed, wherever needed, so that we can see one another as real, suffering human beings, each with pretty much the same desire for happiness as the other?

Working-class organizations, unions, peasant organizations, and organizations focused on the exploited people in India and other countries can also carry on analyses along the lines discussed above, with the goal of uniting all the exploited, not only the super-exploited Dalits but other oppressed groups as well, and this will widen the working-class camp by winning over the rest of the exploited people who are also exploited by the same capital. It should be noted with great concern that the exploiting classes in many countries are organizing right-wing unions, using ultra-nationalist, chauvinist, anti-immigrant slogans and archaic ideas opposed to the interest of the working class. These are unions without a class point of view, unions supportive of color or caste discrimination, unions without any program against exploitation, and presenting no analysis of the way the working class is exploited. These ruling-class deceptions aim to win the support of the exploited classes by confusing the workers in them.

FC: Thank you for discussing some of today’s burning issues.

  • The interview was first posted on MR Online on August 25, 2020.
  • The post Forging Unity within the Working Class first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    COVID-19 Pandemic: Time for Bold programs from the Left to Help the People

    Fred Magdoff, Professor Emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont and author of many articles and books on ecology, agriculture and economy, frequent Monthly Review contributor and closely associated with struggles of the working people, discusses the coronavirus pandemic in light of capitalism and agriculture in the following interview conducted on April 2, 2020.

    *****

    Farooque Chowdhury: Since long, you are telling about and analyzing environment and ecology, and the devastation the capitalist system is doing to these. Today, in view of this coronavirus pandemic, how do you find the situation in view of your analysis?

    Fred Magdoff: As capitalist relations permeate the world and as forests are cut down and farming expanding, there is more disturbance of ecosystems that previously had little disturbance and were relatively stable. The lessening of the zones available for wildlife to live apart from humans means that there will be more possibility for diseases to move from wildlife to humans. The new corona virus causing Covid-19 is believed to have moved from bats, possibly through another animal, to humans. In this situation, the market for wildlife for human consumption is apparently part of the story. This is one aspect of capitalism turning everything possible into commodities, including nature. But there is also the possibility of future diseases, especially bacterial ones, originating in factory farms where animals live in crowded and inhumane conditions and routinely fed antibiotics. This has contributed to the widespread development of strains of bacteria that are resistant to commonly used antibiotics. Drug companies try to sell as much of their antibiotics as possible (just like other drugs) — for use in humans or farm animals (or pets). Thus, the profit motive directly leads to the overuse of antibiotics and the growing problem of new antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.

    FC: In What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism, you and John Bellamy Foster, editor, Monthly Review, singled out the capitalist system as the demonic hand destroying our planet’s environment and ecology, and threatening all life on this planet. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic shows the system’s devastating role in all areas related to life including healthcare, economy, science, nature that encompasses the wild and wild life. The system denies basic primary requirements for life. Now, the people are paying the price with lives. How do you find today’s reality – loss of so many lives, a mass murder scene spanning   continents, due to this pandemic?

    FM: This is an example of capitalism’s failings in many ways. One of course, especially in the United States, is the failure of the health care system itself. As the late biologist Richard Levins put it, “Health Service is a commodity, health a by-product.” Hospitals in the U.S. have relatively few beds for patients, at less than 3 per 1000 people they are able to just handle the flow in normal times. There were inadequate stockpiles of supplies and although the national government years ago began a system to purchase thousands of low cost ventilators — now needed in large quantities to deal with this disease that attacks the respiratory system — the program was a failure. As companies involved in the early contracts were bought out by large companies in the continuing process of monopolization, larger firms lost interest in what they viewed as a low profit product. And even to this day, the government has been incapable of developing the needed production capacity not only for ventilators but also for masks and gowns [Personal Protective Equipment] to protect healthcare workers. Literally hundreds of health care workers have gotten sick for no other reason than inadequate protective equipment. And there is no system to date for rational distribution of needed materials to the places of highest need. The situation that we now face in the United States is caused by capitalism, mistakes made in various government agencies, and extreme incompetence at the highest levels of government, including the president. Literally months were lost in beginning to respond to the crisis, especially because of the delay in testing people to see where it was spreading and providing the ability to trace people who had come into contact with those testing positive for Covid-19. To this day, the extent of testing for the virus is inadequate, making it harder to fight the disease. This delay in testing by itself will cause thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of deaths. More people have become ill in the United States than any other country. Deaths due to Covid-19 in the United States have surpassed deaths that have occurred in China. And if trends don’t change very soon the United States will have more deaths than any other country. It is estimated that from 100,000 to 200,000 people may die in the United States under best case scenarios, and this reality is in the richest and most powerful country in the world. This can only happen in a country in which profit comes before health and the government is unwilling to do what was widely known to be necessary to protect the population during a pandemic.

    FC: The pandemic-situation the world humanity is facing now is without any precedent. Its full implication is yet to be comprehended. Where is to start to come out of this plethora of death and disease, this system’s indifference to life?

    FM: It is not at all clear what society will look like after widespread deployment of an effective vaccine and medicines to treat those with disease. The pandemic will certainly have long-term effects on people, especially those that have lost family and friends to the disease. There will undoubtedly be economic changes, with the larger and stronger companies becoming even larger and more powerful while others go bankrupt. It may take a long time for people to get back to a “normal life” — keeping in mind that “normal life” was not a good life for many people. What will happen to the debts they were not able to pay? What will happen to the people forced out of homes because they couldn’t pay the rent of mortgage? This is certainly a time for bold programs from the left to help the mass of the people survive and recover. The left should push programs that enhance food security for those in need and for universal health care coverage and other social programs like routine paid sick leave from work. Once the economy begins to recover, let’s put people back to work building homes for the homeless and renovating dilapidated schools as well as for other social needs such as fixing other parts of a dilapidated infrastructure.

    FC: Thank you for shedding light on today’s burning issues.

     

    Covid-19 is a Sign of our Fate if We Do Not Take Radical Action

    In the backdrop of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, Michael D. Yates, decades-long union activist, director of Monthly Review Press and former Associate Editor of Monthly Review magazine, discusses condition of the working people and steps required. The interview of Professor Michael Yates, whose academic fields include labor economics and the relationship between capital and labor, was taken on March 28, 2020.

    Farooque Chowdhury: For a long time, you have been working with unions, as an organizer, educator, and negotiator. Your works on class and labor are significant. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the working people in countries, from Thailand, the Philippines, India, Bangladesh to Italy, Spain, United States, in countries in Africa, have been paying the price most. Already unemployment and uncertainties are staring in the faces of millions of the working people. We’ve seen the unprecedented exodus of hundreds of thousands of the working people running away in hoards, jumbling like animals, from Mumbai and New Delhi, from Dhaka. They stuffed trains in Mumbai, as if the people were goods being transported. They embarked on a hundreds of kilometers journey by walking starting from New Delhi. Among them were children, thirsty, tired. Later, authorities provided buses to carry them to their rural homes in the eastern parts of the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. They were fleeing from hunger, not from the pandemic. You are well aware of the condition the U.S. working classes are going through. In late-March, a teenage boy who tested positive for COVID-19 died in Lancaster, California, after being denied service at an urgent care center because he did not have health insurance. The system appears like a disjointed machine coming to a sudden, crushing halt. How do you find the condition of the working classes in this pandemic situation, when capital’s first job is to slaughter the working people?

    Michael D. Yates: The United States is being led by monsters who care not at all for the working people. Their deaths won’t matter a bit to criminals like Donald Trump and his government of boot-lickers and money-grubbers. Trump says that the U.S. was made for people to get back to work. In other words, to be exploited and now subject to disease and death. Some of his supporters have even said that older people like myself should be willing to die so that the economy can get moving again. We know that rich people, the capitalists who run the country, won’t be sacrificing their lives. They will be in isolated luxury and will get the very best medical care. While workers will get a measly $1,200 and some extra unemployment compensation, if they are lucky, the big corporations will have access to over 4 trillion dollars in bailout monies. We see that healthcare workers, grocery store employees (of whom my son is one, risking his health every day), construction workers, and many others do not have adequate or any safety clothing and equipment. And the millions now unemployed will soon enough run out of what little money they have. We can be assured that draconian laws and other measures will be and are being put in place now in case workers begin to rebel. And I am not even mentioning the homeless and the imprisoned, including all the detained immigrants. They are at greatest risk and will die in large numbers from the virus. These insane things are happening in the world’s richest countries. I can only imagine the horror stories in poor countries, where a few billion people live desperate lives in the best of times.

    The really sad thing here in the U.S. is that there are working people who support Trump, who think the Covid-19 threat is a hoax or not that serious, who are all too ready to blame foreigners and other countries.

    There are unions and working-class organizations doing what they can to combat the crisis. Just not enough. There are poor homeless mothers who are occupying abandoned houses so that they have shelter. Food banks and the like are being organized. All to the good. But too many years of stagnation of the labor movement and right-wing propaganda have taken a toll.

    FC: The capitalist system’s deity – profit – always takes toll from the working classes. The forms vary – appropriate, unlivable environment in the working people’s habitats, slash public healthcare system and fatten private healthcare industrial complex, increase funds for scientific research for military purpose while neglect medical research for public health. It has enslaved science, medical science, natural science with the task of super-accumulation of capital. Habitats of the working people are inhuman pits of sufferings. This has not basically changed since Engels penned the scene in his famous work on the condition of the working class in England. How do you find today’s reality the working people are facing in countries due to this pandemic?

    MY: The reality today in the U.S. is as you describe it. So many things are striking. Capital has since the 1970s more and more infiltrated all aspects of our lives and all parts of the world. There has been little effective movement to stop this, as even the social democratic governments of Europe have succumbed to the neoliberal program of continuous austerity and become ever more craven to the needs of capital. In the UK, for example, there was once a very fine national healthcare system. But decades of government cutbacks have eroded its effectiveness and scope. Today, the National Health Service has about 100,000 unfilled vacancies. In the US, the system is much worse. Working people typically have no or completely inadequate health insurance, and therefore millions suffer health problems that could and should have been corrected. Not many workers belong to unions anymore, so union-negotiated healthcare is not available to them. The very poor are in dire health. Hospitals are run as businesses with a focus on cost-cutting. This includes university-run hospitals. Public hospitals are mostly reserved for the poor, so, while healthcare workers in them are caring and competent, these hospitals are sadly lacking in needed supplies. Private hospitals are run on a just-in-time basis, so that there is no inventory of extra beds, and other critical supplies. Hence, the lack of ventilators, beds, masks, etc. As for science, pharmaceutical companies don’t find it profitable to do research on drugs that would combat the new viruses. So they don’t do such research. There is little public alternative as the government has been pretty much captured by capital, which wants no competition from the government. Scientists are often, though not always, just corporate workers willing to do capital’s bidding. We know of a Nobel Prize winner in medicine, who did excellent research on the heart, who has spent his years after winning the prize accumulating enormous wealth and engaging in the promotion of dubious products. Now, we see businesses and their scientists fighting to make money from the virus. Remember that the two scientists who developed the polio vaccine, Salk and Sabin refused to seek patents for the vaccine, believing that it belonged to the people. Sounds almost unbelievable today.

    FC: Factories in countries are shuttering down in the face of the pandemic ravaging countries. This is one sort of demobilization of the working people. Unions are facing unexampled situation. How to face this unprecedented situation arising out of the pandemic while capital is putting the burden on labor – deaths silencing societies, squeezed down bargaining space, indefinite choice between disease, death and hunger?

    MY: This is indeed a daunting task. One thing people like myself can do is disseminate as much information as possible, in an accessible way understandable by working people. Point out the lies of the ruling class. Importantly, show people counter examples to what is going on here. Make people aware, for example, of the remarkable biomedical advances made in Cuba. Ask why the drugs developed there are not available here. Point out the valiant acts of solidarity shown by Cuban doctors and medical workers around the globe. Encourage collective measure by workers aimed at caring for their own communities. Encourage mass strikes to improve matters, especially basic needs like health.

    I hope that the experience of working-class people during this pandemic will serve as a giant wake-up call, shining a light on the irrational, body and soul-destroying elements of life as we have known it. For example, if governments say there can be no home evictions, that workers have a right to some money to stave off starvation, if people cannot be charged for virus tests and treatment, and this sort of thing, then maybe they will begin to think that rents, slaving away at meaningless jobs, that lack of healthcare, are really stupid. And that why should these things ever be tolerated? Believe me, the ruling class will be a harsh master when this is over. It will be up to us to fight against and overcome whatever they do.

    FC: World humanity has never faced such a situation. What’s the way-out by the working people, through their unions and political organizations?

    MY: The answer to the previous question addresses this in part. I will add here that in the end, capitalism is at the root of this pandemic. The spread of global agribusiness, the tremendous destruction of forests for such agriculture (and mining plus other capitalist ventures), the development of complex global supply chains that link the nations of the Global South and Global North have set the stage for this pandemic and others, perhaps worse, to come. Nature with its complexity and breadth once stopped these pandemics or limited them to small areas. What this means is that what has been done by capital must come to an end, sooner rather than later. Nothing less will bring us health and better lives overall. Only democratic socialism has any chance at all to stop the multiple plagues now assaulting us. If we don’t embark upon a radically new path, we are doomed. Covid-19 is but a sign of our fate if we do not take radical action.

    FC: Thank you for discussing the devastating situation working people are encountering today, and the steps that are now required.

  • MR Online posted the interview on April 12, 2020.
  • Coronademic: Venezuela’s drives obstructed

    The entire human world is fighting to defeat a demon today. It’s coronademic – coronavirus pandemic. The fight demands a globally concerted, unified effort. Venezuela should not be left lurching in the pandemic-wilderness even if one of its original sins is resisting imperialism. But, the Bolivarian Republic is being obstructed in its fight against the pandemic. Imperialism is carrying on the “noble” job.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed its fear: the United States is going to be one of the epicenters of the pandemic.

    The rich country is in a mess with fear of running out of medical equipment required to fight the virus within days.

    The world health officials had warned the world was entering a critical period that would determine just how deeply the pandemic slices through countries. The WHO said infections and deaths globally from coronavirus are apprehended to increase “considerably”.

    Venezuela has planned to bring back home its citizens, around 800, from the US. With that purpose, Conviasa, the Venezuelan national airline, arranged a special flight.

    But, no way. There’s the US sanction on the airline, part of the basket of smashing sanctions imposed on Venezuela. Conviasa’s entire fleet is barred from the US. The evacuation plan had to be abandoned.

    Jorge Arreaza, the foreign minister of Venezuela, censured the US move. Arreaza tweeted Tuesday:

    We denounce that the US insists on its air blockade of Venezuela and still refuses to authorize direct humanitarian flights [through] LAConviasa or other lines, to bring back more than 800 compatriots stranded in the US and registered in the system of our Chancellery.

    The Venezuelan foreign minister announced Monday that hundreds of Venezuelans were scheduled to return home on a flight; and the evacuation operation was waiting for response from the US. Until Tuesday, there was no US response.

    Nicolas Maduro, the President of Venezuela, has urged the US to make an exception in the humanitarian initiative. Maduro said in a statement:

    The US government cannot prevent us from going for humanitarian reasons. It must lift the sanctions. Conviasa’s planes are ready to travel to any place in the world where Venezuelans want to return home.

    The Empire’s intransigence against the Bolivarian republic is widely known. Other than sabotaging the republic in the areas of economy, energy and diplomacy for years and imposing sanctions on the country’s political leadership and vital institutions and economic organizations including the hydrocarbon organization, the Empire organized armed gangs, and political mobilizations with thin presence of persons. It tried to enthrone a proxy-king – Guaido – in Venezuela with heavy money and diplomatic support only to be met with a crashing nosedive.

    To fight the coronavirus pandemic, Venezuela asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $5 billion loan. The IMF bosses rejected the emergency request of Venezuela.

    Requesting the fund from the Rapid Financing Instrument, Maduro sent an emergency letter to Kristalina Georgieva, the IMF president. The fund was requested to strengthen Venezuela’s coronavirus detection and response systems.

    An AP report said: The IMF was not “in a position to consider” Venezuela’s request. The IMF doesn’t have “clarity on recognition” of the Maduro government.

    The background story of the IMF argument is Guaido. The US and a number of its camp followers recognize the proxy as president of Venezuela although Guaido has no legal standing.

    However, the IMF has not formally taken a position on the issue. That means, the IMF has to go by existing arrangement: the Maduro Government is still the legitimate government of the country. But the international lender has not stood by that fact. Moreover, at this time of crisis, denying funds to Venezuela is standing for death of people, which the IMF has confirmed by its action. The Fund has also shown its stand: Don’t go by fact. The fact is: Guaido doesn’t command any arrangement for taking necessary steps to fight the coronavirus pandemic. That proxy does not have the political will nor capacity to reach the people of Venezuela. His thin gatherings, the way he fled away from airport, his dependence on conspiracies hatched by imperialism are the evidence of his lack of contact with the people. At this time of crisis, contact with people and mobilizing people is the urgent need. The IMF denies looking at ground-level facts. It’s not that the Fund doesn’t understand ground-level facts and the facts’ utility. It’s that the Fund likes to makes the Bolivarian Republic suffer, push it gradually to death.

    The imperialist world order knows its enemy very well. The order uses every opportunity to make Venezuela’s days difficult. Twitter blocked the accounts of Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez, who heads Venezuela’s presidential commission on the fight against the spread of COVID-19. The dirty step by Twitter led Venezuela’s foreign minister to write on Twitter:

    Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez leads the presidential commission against COVID-19.

    The inhuman and reckless gesture is that Twitter restricts @DrodriguezVen and @ViceVenezuela accounts, which are the sources of information necessary for the people of Venezuela in these unforeseen circumstances.

    During writing the related report, while trying to switch to the above-mentioned Twitter accounts, a notification is given that these accounts are temporarily restricted. However, Rodriguez’s English language account was available for users.

    Several multilateral bodies have called for easing US economic sanctions on Venezuela and other global South nations fighting the pandemic.

    In a letter addressed to the G-20, the world’s twenty largest economies, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres advocated relief from international sanctions targeting Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and Zimbabwe. “I am encouraging the waiving of sanctions imposed on countries to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support. This is the time for solidarity not exclusion,” he wrote.

    The UN Secretary General, as part of a global UN response plan, has launched an appeal Wednesday for about $2 billion in aid to 20 Southern countries including Venezuela fighting the virus.

    Speaking from Geneva on Tuesday, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged that broad sectoral sanctions targeting Venezuela, Cuba, and other nations be “eased or suspended” on the grounds that “impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us.”

    The way imperialism is reacting to Venezuela in the face of the pandemic is nothing but a show of its demonic character, inhuman character.

    US’ Afghan War: Imperialism’s Limit exposed

    US Afghanistan War reveals imperialism’s limit. It’s, as Mao said decades ago, a paper tiger. The war is the evidence.

    The just published The Washington Post report – “The Afghanistan Papers: A secret history of the war, At war with the truth”, (by Craig Whitlock, December 9, 2019) – carries the story of this limit. It’s, to some, a story of corruption. To another section, the war is mismanaged, which is inefficiency, wrong planning, etc. But, the root of the failure is in the deep: Imperialism’s characteristic.

    The 18 years long war with nearly $1 trillion taxpayers’ money is costlier as the US people lost 2,300 of their citizens – US troops. More than 20,000 US troops were injured in the war. And, since 2001, more than 775,000 US troops have deployed to Afghanistan. Three US presidents — George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump — and their military commanders tried/are trying to win the Afghan war.

    Citing the WaPo report, Slate in its report “The War in Afghanistan was Doomed from the start, The main culprit? Corruption” (by Fred Kaplan on December 9, 2019) said:

    The war in Afghanistan has been a muddle from the beginning, steered by vague and wavering strategies, fueled by falsely rosy reports of progress from the battlefield, and almost certainly doomed to failure all along.

    This is the inescapable conclusion of a secret U.S. government history of the war — consisting of 2,000 pages, based on interviews with more than 400 participants — obtained and published by The Washington Post on December 9, 2019 after years of legal battles to declassify the documents.

    Written by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, an agency created by Congress in 2008 to investigate waste and fraud, the report, titled Lessons Learned, is the most thorough official critique of an ongoing American war since the Vietnam War review commissioned in 1967 by then – Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

    The Afghan War Doc, if it may be dubbed in this way, is a significant document for studying imperialism that exposes its inner working system, its character and a number of its weaknesses. It’s not only an exposure of the national security bureaucracy of the state waging the war; it’s also a revelation of the state – the way the state perceives, thinks, analyzes, calculates, plans, acts. It points its fingers to the politics and political process of the state involved before pointing fingers to the national security bureaucracy; because this bureaucracy can’t move a millimeter in any direction without directives from any faction of the political leadership of the state, and all the factions of the political leadership move along the routes the political process permits.

    Citing the WaPo report, the Slate report said: The war has been “built on ignorance, lies, and counterproductive policies.”

    No state intentionally or deliberately wages war on ignorance, lies and counterproductive policies. The state machine’s inherent process produces ignorance, lies, etc. It means somewhere in the machine lies are produced, ignorance is manufactured, and the machine perceives lies, etc. are beneficial to it. Where’s this “somewhere”? How it survives and operates with lies, corruption, etc.? The bourgeois politicians, academia, its theoreticians don’t look into this “somewhere”, into this process of manufacturing ignorance, lies, corruption.

    Slate said in its report:

    Central to the current war effort — and to its failure — was corruption. [….] The United States failed because the billions of dollars we poured into the country only made Afghanistan’s corruption worse.

    A state machine, most powerful in today’s world as is widely perceived, fails to check corruption in the machine it has constructed in the land – Afghanistan – it’s waging its longest war! It’s a “riddle” – money poured to win a war, and the money is eating out the war-effort. The state fails to manage either money or war. In spite of this fact of failure, the state dreams to dictate the world!

    The WaPo report said:

    [S]enior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth […] making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

    It was lying to the taxpayers, the citizens employing the officials to carry on duties the citizens entrusted to the officials. And, the state can’t control the lying business. It’s the state’s failure – a few persons employed by the state were misleading the state and the entire body of the taxpayers, and the state is not a lifeless identity as there are hundreds of intelligent persons including veteran politicians. And, the state machine is not separate from these persons – officials and political leaders in charge of the affairs. Alternatively, there’s something else behind this deliberate job of “deviating” from truth, if it’s deviation, if not usual practice, which is not. Any of the two is serious failure, fatal ultimately, if this – deviation from truth – is the case.

    The documents, according to the WaPo, were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in US history. The US government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. The WaPo won release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle. It took three years and two federal lawsuits for the WaPo to pry loose 2,000 pages of interview records. US officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it. It shows bourgeois state is not inherently and always transparent. State machine serving a class can never be always transparent. Moreover, who decides what to release publicly or not? Isn’t it a group of officials? Marxist political scientists already discussed this issue – role of executive – many times. Thus, they – the officials – stand above taxpayers, citizens.

    The documents show:

    1. Bush and Obama had polar-opposite plans to win the war. Both were destined to fail.
    2. Despite vows the US wouldn’t get mired in “nation-building” in Afghanistan, it has wasted billions doing just that. The US has allocated more than $133 billion to build up Afghanistan — more than it spent, adjusted for inflation, to revive the whole of Western Europe with the Marshall Plan after World War II. An unidentified former State Department official told government interviewers in 2015: “The timeframe for creating a strong central government is 100 years, which we didn’t have.”
    3. The US flooded the country with money — then ignored the graft it fueled.
    4. Afghan security forces, despite years of training, were dogged by incompetence and corruption.
    5. The US war on drugs in Afghanistan has imploded at nearly every turn.
    6. The US government has not carried out a comprehensive accounting of how much it has spent on the war, but the costs are staggering.
    7. US officials acknowledged that their war strategies were fatally flawed.

    “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

    “If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction . . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of US military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department.

    So, it’s found:

    1. Lack of knowledge! [Unbelievable in the case of the state widely perceived as the most powerful in the world.]
    2. No comprehensive war plan! [Also unbelievable.]
    3. No accounting! [How much money the taxpayers spent behind inspectors to check with spending? A lot.]
    4. The US people were not aware of the real picture. What’s the level of transparency, accountability, and the media claiming to be free? [The WaPo’s legal struggle to get the documents is evidence of “free” flow of info, and the decisive role of the executive branch.]
    5. A breakdown within the system of Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department – a system with elected politicians and employed persons.

    Then, what does this signify? Is it a powerful, vibrant, working system? Only fools keep trust on this machine, which appears, with a shortsighted view, very powerful, but very weak to its core in the long-term.

    Since 2001, the US Defense Department, State Department and US Agency for International Development (USAID) have spent or appropriated between $934 billion and $978 billion, according to an inflation-adjusted estimate calculated by Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University. These figures do not include money spent by other agencies including the CIA and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    “What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?” Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. He added, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”

    The documents, the WaPo report said, also contradict a long chorus of public statements from US presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured the US taxpayers year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting.

    The report said:

    Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the US government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case. [Emphasis added.]

    ‘Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,’ Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to US military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. ‘Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.’ [Emphasis added.]

    John Sopko, the head of the federal agency that conducted the interviews, acknowledged to The Post that the documents show ‘the American people have constantly been lied to. [Emphasis added.]

    Diplomats and envoys from this state constantly advise Third and Fourth World countries to be factual regarding all aspects of life in these countries. Do they have any moral ground for delivering this sort of sermon? Neither the mainstream politics nor the MSM in these countries raise this question when these diplomats shower sermons; even a group of the organizations and persons claiming to be anti-imperialist feel shy to raise the question.

    The interviews are the byproduct of a project led by Sopko’s agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the agency the US Congress created in 2008 to investigate waste and fraud in the war zone. Reports SIGAR produced, said WaPo, were “written in dense bureaucratic prose and focused on an alphabet soup of government initiatives, left out the harshest and most frank criticisms from the interviews.”

    The reports omitted the names of more than 90 percent of the people interviewed. While a few officials agreed to speak on the record to SIGAR, the agency said it promised anonymity to everyone else it interviewed to avoid controversy over politically sensitive matters.

    James Dobbins, a former senior US diplomat who served as a special envoy to Afghanistan under Bush and Obama, told government interviewers: “[W]e clearly failed in Afghanistan.”

    The WaPo obtained hundreds of pages of previously classified memos about the Afghan war that were dictated by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld between 2001 and 2006. Dubbed “snowflakes” by Rumsfeld and his staff, according to the WaPo, “the memos are brief instructions or comments that the Pentagon boss dictated to his underlings, often several times a day. Most of his snowflake collection — an estimated 59,000 pages — remained secret.”

    Bourgeois state business is mostly secretive until it gets pressure to act in another way although its propaganda machine relentlessly sings the opposite song.

    The report said:

    Fundamental disagreements went unresolved. Some U.S. officials wanted to [….] to reshape the regional balance of power among Pakistan, India, Iran and Russia.

    No confusion in finding a great game – an imperialist strategy.

    The interviews reveal US military commanders’ struggle to identify their enemy and the logic behind their war:

    Was al-Qaeda the enemy, or the Taliban? Was Pakistan a friend or an adversary? What about the Islamic State and the bewildering array of foreign jihadists, let alone the warlords on the CIA’s payroll?

    According to the documents, the US government never settled on an answer.

    As a result, in the field, U.S. troops often couldn’t tell friend from foe.

    They thought I was going to come to them with a map to show them where the good guys and bad guys live,” an unnamed former adviser to an Army Special Forces team told government interviewers in 2017. “It took several conversations for them to understand that I did not have that information in my hands. At first, they just kept asking: ‘But who are the bad guys, where are they?’

    The view wasn’t any clearer from the Pentagon.

    “I have no visibility into who the bad guys are,” Rumsfeld complained in a September 8, 2003, snowflake. “We are woefully deficient in human intelligence.”

    It seems the machine is blind. And, it’s not the war machine that appears blind, but the state running the war machine. And, in ultimate analysis, the state machine and the war machine are not separate identities. In actual sense, the machine isn’t blind; it has no alternative other than acting blindly. And, humans direct the machine. So, the flaw is not of the machine. It’s the human identities that have to act in that way.

    During the peak of the fighting from 2009 to 2012, the report said, “US lawmakers and military commanders believed the more they spent on schools, bridges, canals and other civil-works projects, the faster security would improve. Aid workers told government interviewers it was a colossal misjudgment, akin to pumping kerosene on a dying campfire just to keep the flame alive.”

    One unnamed executive with the USAID guessed that 90 percent of the money they spent was overkill: “We lost objectivity. We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason.”

    Many aid workers blamed the US Congress for what they saw as a mindless rush to spend.

    One unidentified contractor told government interviewers he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a US county. He once asked a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home: “He said hell no. ‘Well, sir, that’s what you just obligated us to spend and I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.’”

    The huge aid that Washington spent on Afghanistan also gave rise to historic levels of corruption.

    In public, US officials insisted they had no tolerance for graft. But they admitted the US government looked the other way while Afghan power brokers – allies of Washington – plundered with impunity.

    Christopher Kolenda, an Army colonel who deployed to Afghanistan several times and advised three US generals in charge of the war, said that the Afghan government led by President Karzai had “self-organized into a kleptocracy” by 2006 – and that US officials failed to recognize the lethal threat it posed to their strategy.

    Kolenda added, “Foreign aid is part of how” the Afghan kleptocrats “get rents to pay for the positions they purchased.”

    Kolenda told government interviewers: “Kleptocracy, however, is like brain cancer; it’s fatal.”

    By allowing corruption to fester, US officials told interviewers, they helped destroy the popular legitimacy of the Afghan government they were fighting to prop up. With judges and police chiefs and bureaucrats extorting bribes, many Afghans soured on democracy and turned to the Taliban to enforce order.

    “Our biggest single project, sadly and inadvertently, of course, may have been the development of mass corruption,” Crocker, who served as the top US diplomat in Kabul in 2002 and again from 2011 to 2012, told government interviewers.

    In China, the US had almost the same experience with Chiang while they – Chiang and the US – were fighting the Chinese people under the leadership of Mao.

    Year after year, US generals have said in public they are making steady progress on the central plank of their strategy: to train an Afghan army and police force capable of defending the country without foreign help.

    In the interviews, however, US military trainers described the Afghan security forces as incompetent, unmotivated and rife with deserters. They also accused Afghan commanders of pocketing salaries — paid by US taxpayers — for tens of thousands of “ghost soldiers.”

    More than 60,000 members of Afghan security forces have been killed, a casualty rate that US commanders have called unsustainable, said the report.

    A US military officer estimated that one-third of police recruits were “drug addicts or Taliban.” Yet another called them “stealing fools” who looted so much fuel from US bases that they perpetually smelled of gasoline.

    With this force, imperialism can’t win its war.

    The report said:

    Afghanistan became the world’s leading source of opium. The US has spent about $9 billion to fight the problem over the past 18 years, but Afghan farmers are cultivating more opium poppies than ever. Last year, Afghanistan was responsible for 82 percent of global opium production, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Former officials said almost everything they did to constrain opium farming backfired. Douglas Lute, the White House’s Afghan war czar from 2007 to 2013, said: “I thought we should have specified a flourishing drug trade – this is the only part of the market that’s working.”

    Bravo, enterprise with drug trade! And, they instruct and accuse many countries about drug dealings.

    The report finds:

    US never figured out ways to incorporate a war on drugs into its war against al-Qaeda. By 2006, US officials feared that narco-traffickers had become stronger than the Afghan government and that money from the drug trade was powering the insurgency.

    Their drug-war is an amazing story: At first, Afghan poppy farmers were paid by the British state to destroy their crops, which only encouraged them to grow more the next season. Later, the US government eradicated poppy fields without compensation, which only infuriated farmers and encouraged them to side with the Taliban.

    An intelligent brain they have!

    US military officials, according to the report, have resorted to an old tactic from Vietnam – manipulating public opinion. In news conferences and other public appearances, those in charge of the war have followed the same talking points for 18 years. No matter how the war is going, they emphasized that they were making progress.

    Rumsfeld had received a string of unusually dire warnings from the war zone in 2006. After returning from a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan, Barry McCaffrey, a retired Army general, reported the Taliban had made an impressive comeback: “[W]e will encounter some very unpleasant surprises in the coming 24 months.” “The Afghan national leadership are collectively terrified that we will tip-toe out of Afghanistan […] and the whole thing will collapse again into mayhem,” McCaffrey wrote in June 2006. Two months later, Marin Strmecki, a civilian adviser to Rumsfeld, gave the Pentagon chief a classified, 40-page report stuffed with worse news. It said “enormous popular discontent is building” against the Afghan government because of its corruption and incompetence. It also said that the Taliban was growing stronger, thanks to support from Pakistan, a US ally.

    Yet with Rumsfeld’s personal blessing, the Pentagon buried the bleak warnings and told the public a very different story.

    In October 2006, Rumsfeld’s speechwriters delivered a paper – “Afghanistan: Five Years Later.” Overflowing with optimism, it highlighted more than 50 promising facts and figures, from the number of Afghan women trained in “improved poultry management” (more than 19,000) to the “average speed on most roads” (up 300 percent).

    “Five years on, there is a multitude of good news,” it read. “While it has become fashionable in some circles to call Afghanistan a forgotten war, or to say the United States has lost its focus, the facts belie the myths.”

    Rumsfeld thought it was brilliant.

    “This paper,” he wrote in a memo, “is an excellent piece. How do we use it? Should it be an article? An Op-ed piece? A handout? A press briefing? All of the above? I think it ought to get it to a lot of people.”

    His staffers made sure it did. They circulated a version to reporters and posted it on Pentagon websites. Generals followed their boss: Present picture of “progress” in the war front.

    Thus, they market “facts”, and groups of politicians in countries rely on them.

    During US’ Vietnam War, it was the same story. The report recollected:

    US military commanders relied on dubious measurements to persuade Americans that they were winning.

    Most notoriously, the Pentagon highlighted ‘body counts,’ or the number of enemy fighters killed, and inflated the figures as a measurement of success.

    In Afghanistan, with occasional exceptions, the U.S. military has generally avoided publicizing body counts. […] [T]he government routinely touted statistics that officials knew were distorted, spurious or downright false.

    Since 2001, an estimated 157,000 people have been killed in the war in Afghanistan. This includes Afghan civilians and security forces, humanitarian aid workers, Taliban fighters and other insurgents, US military contractors, journalists and media workers, US military personnel, NATO and coalition troops.

    A person identified only as a senior National Security Council official said there was constant pressure from the Obama White House and Pentagon to produce figures to show the troop surge of 2009 to 2011 was working, despite hard evidence to the contrary, said the report.

    “It was impossible to create good metrics. We tried using troop numbers trained, violence levels, control of territory and none of it painted an accurate picture,” the senior NSC official told government interviewers in 2016. “The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”

    Even when casualty counts and other figures looked bad, the senior NSC official said, the White House and Pentagon would spin them to the point of absurdity. Suicide bombings in Kabul were portrayed as a sign of the Taliban’s desperation, that the insurgents were too weak to engage in direct combat. Meanwhile, a rise in US troop deaths was cited as proof that American forces were taking the fight to the enemy.

    In other field reports sent up the chain of command, military officers and diplomats took the same line. Regardless of conditions on the ground, they claimed they were making progress.

    “From the ambassadors down to the low level, [they all say] we are doing a great job,” Michael Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, told government interviewers in 2015. “Really? So if we are doing such a great job, why does it feel like we are losing?”

    Bob Crowley, the retired Army colonel who served as a counterinsurgency adviser in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers “truth was rarely welcome” at military headquarters in Kabul.

    “Bad news was often stifled,” he said. “There was more freedom to share bad news if it was small – we’re running over kids with our MRAPs [armored vehicles] – because those things could be changed with policy directives. But when we tried to air larger strategic concerns about the willingness, capacity or corruption of the Afghan government, it was clear it wasn’t welcome.”

    John Garofano, a Naval War College strategist who advised Marines in Helmand province in 2011, said military officials in the field devoted an inordinate amount of resources to churning out color-coded charts that heralded positive results.

    But, Garofano said, nobody dared to question whether the charts and numbers were credible or meaningful.

    “There was not a willingness to answer questions such as, what is the meaning of this number of schools that you have built? How has that progressed you towards your goal?” he said. “How do you show this as evidence of success and not just evidence of effort or evidence of just doing a good thing?”

    Other senior officials said they placed great importance on one statistic in particular, albeit one the US government rarely likes to discuss in public.

    “I do think the key benchmark is the one I’ve suggested, which is how many Afghans are getting killed,” James Dobbins, the former US diplomat, told a Senate panel in 2009. “If the number’s going up, you’re losing. If the number’s going down, you’re winning. It’s as simple as that.”

    What are these: War-facts? Is this the way public is informed? Is this the way public are informed in a “free” society that claims fostering of free flow of information? Why facts are manipulated? It’s the fear of public, and public opinion. Imperialism fears public and public opinion, at home and abroad.

    Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, told the investigators in a 2016 interview, “You just cannot put those amounts of money into a very fragile state and society, and not have it fuel corruption.” He added that the same thing happened in Iraq, where corruption is “pandemic and deeply rooted” and where “it’s hard to see how a better political order can ever be established.”

    A big problem, Crocker said, was a perennial “American urge,” when intervening in a foreign conflict, to “start fixing everything as fast as we can.” Pouring in billions of dollars, and that flows in the pockets of the powerful. The report estimates that 40 percent of US aid to Afghanistan was pocketed by officials, gangsters, or the insurgents.

    Sarah Chayes, who served as an adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and who lived in Afghanistan for several years, told the investigators in 2015 that the problem was rooted in Washington. A major obstacle here, she said, was the “culture” in the State Department and the Pentagon, which focused on building relationships with their counterparts abroad. Since Afghan officials at all levels were corrupt, officials feared that going after corruption would endanger those relationships.

    Chayes also said it was a big mistake to be “obsessed with chasing” the Taliban, to the point of neglecting the country’s political dynamics. We didn’t realize that many Afghans were “thrilled with the Taliban” for kicking corrupt warlords out of power. Instead, we aligned ourselves with the warlords, on the adage that “the enemy of our enemy is our friend”—and, as a result, further alienated the Afghan people and further enriched the corrupt powers, which in turn further inflamed the anti-government terrorists.

    It’s a question that why a political leadership was moving in the way while a number of officials were identifying the problem realistically: Neglecting the political dynamics?

    In September 2009, as the Obama administration was debating a new policy toward the Afghanistan war, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified at a Senate hearing that the main problem “is clearly the lack of legitimacy of the government” in Kabul.

    Senator Lindsey Graham pushed the issue. “We could send a million troops, and that wouldn’t restore legitimacy in the government?” he asked.

    “That is correct,” Mullen replied. The threat of corruption, he added, “is every bit as significant as the Taliban.”

    Around this same time, during the closed-door National Security Council sessions, Mullen was urging then-president Obama to create a counterinsurgency strategy based on helping the Afghan government win the hearts and minds of its people – not addressing how to do this, if the government lacked legitimacy.

    Almost all of Obama’s advisers sided with Mullen, a notable exception being then-vice president Joe Biden, who thought counterinsurgency wouldn’t work.

    It’s impossible for imperialism to win hearts and minds of a people against whom it wages war while it depends on corrupt allies.

    When General David Petraeus became commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2010, he appointed an anti-corruption task force. Sarah Chayes was one of its members. The task force concluded that corruption, from Kabul on down, was impeding the war effort and that the U.S. should cut off aid to the entire network of corruption. Petraeus sympathized with the findings, but he needed then-Afghan president Karzai’s cooperation to fight the war at all, and so he rejected the recommendation.

    Top of Form

    Bottom of Form

    However, the Pentagon released a statement saying there has been “no intent” by the department to mislead Congress or the public.

    On October 11, 2001, a few days after the US started bombing the Taliban, a reporter asked Bush: “Can you avoid being drawn into a Vietnam-like quagmire in Afghanistan?”

    “We learned some very important lessons in Vietnam,” Bush replied confidently. “People often ask me, ‘How long will this last?’ This particular battlefront will last as long as it takes to bring al-Qaeda to justice. It may happen tomorrow, it may happen a month from now, it may take a year or two. But we will prevail.”

    “All together now – quagmire!” Rumsfeld joked at a news conference on November 27, 2001.

    “The days of providing a blank check are over. . . . It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan,” said then-president Barack Obama, in a speech at the US Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

    “Are we losing this war? Absolutely no way. Can the enemy win it? Absolutely no way,” said Army Major General Jeffrey Schloesser, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, in a news briefing from Afghanistan.

    But, what does the reality say today?

    1. Afghanistan is a quagmire for the US.
    2. Lessons from Vietnam have not been learned by the US.
    3. US hirelings in Afghanistan are failing to take responsibility of their security.
    4. US is not winning its Afghan War.

    The questions are

    1. Why imperialism is failing to learn the Vietnam-lesson?
    2. Why imperialism is bogged down in its Afghan-quagmire?
    3. Why imperialism’s hirelings are failing to take charge of its security?
    4. Why imperialism is embedded with its Afghan-corruption?
    5. Why such manipulation of facts while presenting Afghan-picture to its public?

    The brief answer to the questions is: These are part of imperialism’s working mechanism, which its economic interests define.

    It can’t move away despite rationality tells differently. Imperialism has its own rationality, which is fundamentally different from rationality of other economic interests. It has to depend on its hirelings. It can’t depend on others. That’s because of economic interests. Moreover, the way taxpayers see reality is completely different from the way imperialism sees. Imperialism’s way of looking at incidents and processes are determined by its interests; and it’s impossible for imperialism to ignore its interests, which makes it impossible to act differently. And, this doesn’t depend on personal choice/preference or characteristics of this or that political leader.

    Imperialism’s Afghan War is not a war conducted by the US only. There’s involvement of other NATO powers. Keeping this – the NATO’s Afghan War – in mind helps perceive the imperialist system’s involvement and failure in the country. It’s not the US’ war only. It’s imperialism’s war against a people; and a war, which is part of imperialism’s world strategy.

    The failures, the lies, the manipulation with facts, the “non”-understanding with political dynamics are not of a few persons/generals/bureaucrats/politicians, or of a single imperialist country. It’s part of a political process that connects a particular type of economic interest ingrained among armaments industry, military contractors, suppliers of military hardware, lobbying firms, political interests bent on dominating others for self-interests, and thus making a system with complex connections, a system based on particular characteristics of an economy.

    Only a people politically organized and mobilized can change this course of imperialism if imperialism is correctly identified with all its characteristics. And, in today’s world, it’s difficult to perceive any people’s struggle without taking into consideration imperialism’s anti-people role.

    We Will Come Back, Says Bolivia’s Evo Morales after Rightist Coup Forces Him to Resign

    Amidst a right-wing coup, Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced to resign Sunday. Evo’s forced exit from the Bolivian presidency was a right wing coup by army and police chieftains with imperialist backing.

    Prior to the putsch, imperialism-backed rightists organized unrest, violence and arson including setting fire to residences of two governors’ and of Evo’s sister.

    The rightists organized the widespread violence after Evo’s October 20 electoral victory.

    Two officials next in line to take over the helm of the government also resigned as Bolivia is in turmoil.

    “I resign from my position as president so that Mesa and Camacho do not continue to persecute socialist leaders,” Evo said during a televised address naming the rightist ringleaders.

    The struggle continues, we’ll come back

    Evo Morales stressed that his resignation does not mean that the socialist case is defeated.

    “It is no betrayal. The struggle continues. We are a people,” said Evo.

    “We will come back and we will be millions as Tupac Amaru II said,” Evo declared.

    The Bolivian leader said that he decided to leave the post in hopes that his departure would stop the spate of violent attacks against officials and indigenous people, “so that they [the rightists] do not continue burning the houses [of public officials]” and “kidnapping and mistreating” families of indigenous leaders.

    “It is my obligation, as the first indigenous president and president of all Bolivians, to seek this pacification,” he said.

    Evo said that he hopes opposition would “understand the message.”

    Evo urged protesters to “stop attacking the brothers and sisters, stop burning and attacking.”

    Shortly after the announcement, his Vice-President Alvaro Marcelo Garcia Linera also submitted his resignation.

    The two leaders said that they would be handing their resignation letters to the country’s National Assembly.

    The next person in line to take over the government, the president of the Senate Adriana Salvatierra, resigned soon after. But she also later issued her resignation as well as the president of the Chamber of Deputies.

    Jeanine, a lawmaker, assumes presidency

    Jeanine Anez, a rightist opposition lawmaker from the Democratic Union party, has stated she will assume Interim Presidency.

    Anez assured she will call for new elections.

    As the second deputy senate majority leader, the Senator is the first official in line for succession after Vice President, Senate Majority Leader and First Deputy Majority Leader resigned following Evo Morales’ decision.

    Earlier on Sunday Evo announced snap elections, giving in to the mounting rightist pressure over the disputed results of the October 20 polls.

    The decision followed the release of a preliminary report from the Washington-backed Organization of American States (OAS) mission on the elections, that was unable to validate them, saying it is “statistically unlikely” that Morales secured a 10-percent lead, the constitutional requirement to avoid a runoff vote.

    Bolivian rightist opposition urged Morales to resign altogether despite his promise of the new elections. Evo he briefly resisted such calls, branding them “unconstitutional” and an “attempted coup,” the President eventually gave in after the military joined that reactionary choir.

    Shortly before Evo announced his resignation, Bolivian TV channels aired footage of what they say was a presidential plane departing from El Alto International airport.

    It was reported that the plane took Evo to his political stronghold of Chimore in the Department of Cochabamba, 300 kilometers east of La Paz, a city where he launched his reelection bid back in May.

    Evo and Garcia Linera will stay in Chimore in the central Department of Cochabamba to work with the people.

    However, citing opposition source, a report said:

    Police and military have been on the lookout for Evo.

    Morales dubbed the arrest warrant “illegal” while police chief denied its existence altogether.

    Earlier, Bolivian rightist protest leader Luis Fernando Camacho has said that an outstanding warrant exists for the socialist leader’s arrest.

    Supreme Electoral Tribunal President Maria Eugenia Choque Quispe was arrested on November 10 after the resignation of President Evo Morales.

    The Attorney General’s office has issued arrest warrants for all leaders of the electoral tribunal and members of the body.

    Assault on Evo’s home

    “I denounce in front of the world and the Bolivian people that a police official publicly announced that he has instructed to execute an illegal arrest warrant against me; in addition, violent groups assaulted my home. The coup destroys the rule of law,” Evo stated on Twitter.

    Global solidarity against coup

    Solidarity across the globe continues for Evo and his government.

    World leaders and organizations expressed Sunday their solidarity with former Bolivian President Evo Morales under the hashtag #ElMundoconEvo (the World with Evo) and strongly condemned the right-wing coup, which forced Evo to resign.

    The Cuban and Venezuelan leaders have voiced their support for Evo. They condemned the incident as a “coup”.

    Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel described it as a “violent and cowardly” attempt against democracy.

    Miguel Diaz-Canel urged for “the world to mobilize for the life and freedom of Evo.”

    “A coup d’état is underway against the legitimate President of Bolivia, @evoespueblo,” Diaz-Canel said in a tweet. “The right-wing opposition refuses to recognize their defeat at the polls and resorts to violence against the constitutional order. We strongly denounce this coup attempt!”

    The messages of solidarity came just hours before Bolivian President Evo Morales said Sunday that he was calling new presidential election.

    Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro tweeted: “We categorically condemn the coup realized against our brother president.”

    Maduro added “the social and political movements of the world declare mobilization to demand the preservation of the life of the Bolivian Indigenous people victims of racism.”

    Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador praised Evo Morales’ decision to put the people first over his mandate.

    Argentinean President-elect Alberto Fernandez says “institutional breakdown in Bolivia is unacceptable.” “My full support to the president @evoespueblo in the face of this attempt to interrupt the constitutional order,” Alberto Fernandez said in a tweet Saturday night. “The region together with the international community, we must follow this situation closely and act in case of any event that implies an institutional breakdown.”

    The ALBA-TCP countries also issued a statement expressing support for the Bolivian government and institutions and denouncing the coup d’état in progress, while called for the return to peace.

    Former President of the National Assembly and current Minister of Health Gabriela Montaño denounces that police are “illegally intending to arrest Evo Morales. We denounce this madness to the world.”

    “I just heard that there was a coup d’état in Bolivia and that comrade Evo was forced to resign. It is unfortunate that Latin America has an economic elite that does not know how to live with democracy and the social inclusion of the poorest,” former Brazilian President and Leader of the Workers’ Party (PT) Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said.

    “To see Evo who, along with a powerful movement, has brought so much social progress forced from office by the military is appalling. I condemn this coup against the Bolivian people and stand with them for democracy, social justice, and independence,” tweeted British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn Sunday.

    Dictatorship, never again

    Social movements and organizations also shared their messages of support and condemnation to the internationally repudiated coup in Bolivia.

    Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, the world’s biggest landless peasants’ organization, strongly demanded “dictatorship, never again”, as the organization called for the people to decide Bolivia’s future.

    The Argentinean human rights movement Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo sided with Evo and his former vice president.

    “We stand in solidarity with the people of Bolivia in these hours of suffering and demand the continuity of the transparent and unrestricted electoral process,” the progressive Group of Puebla issued a statement adding that they “demand that the International Human Rights Bodies guarantee the clarification of the acts of violence committed, the trial and punishment of those responsible, and the restoration of order, peace, social life, and democracy in Bolivia.”

    Mexico receives 20 Bolivian officials

    Mexico’s Minister of Foreign Affairs @m_ebrard confirms that they have received 20 officials from the Bolivian executive and legislature in the Mexican diplomatic residence in La Paz, while also offering asylum to Evo Morales if needed.

    Rightists cheer

    Videos from La Paz, the site of many recent anti-Evo Morales protests, showed rightist violent mob was cheering after the resignation announcement.

    The lumpen and rich appearing rightist mob took to the streets to celebrate, chanting, “Yes we could”. They set off firecrackers in jubilation.

    Ruling Bolivia since 2006, Morales has gained a reputation as a staunch defender of socialism, rights of the exploited. He is an ardent critic of U.S. imperialist foreign policy. Evo was one of the closest allies of Cuba and Venezuela.

    The country’s highest court ruled in 2018 that he could run for the fourth time. With Evo at the helm, the country, one of the poorest in the region but rich with resources, made exemplary progress in the areas of health, education and health. Bolivia under Evo’s leadership was making headway in many significant and big development projects, which would have improved life of the poor.

    After the contested October elections, there were rival rallies of Morales’ opponents and supporters throughout the country.

    While some anti-government protests have remained peaceful, others have led to rioting in major cities, clashes with police, and attacks on pro-government politicians.

    Saturday saw some of the most violent nights in the country as opposition protesters burned down the houses of two governors as well as the house of Evo’s sister.

    Violent protesters also took over two state media outlets and threatening their staff. The signal of Bolivia TV was cut down off air for more than eight hours.

    Protesters burned the house of Oruro city governor Victor Hugo Vasquez, who stood by the president as tensions flared up.

    Violent mobs harassed authorities in several cities. Police joined the demonstrators in some cities, marching in their uniforms.

    Along with strong violent onslaughts against activists and leaders of the Movement to Socialism (MAS), the rightists intimidated journalists.

    There was betrayal of political allies also. Several political allies of Evo resigned, some citing fears for the safety of their families.

    Military chief’s call

    An earlier report said:

    Bolivia’s military urged President Evo Morales to resign stating that it would help to preserve “peace” in the country.

    The military’s call came after Morales agreed to hold new elections.

    “After analyzing the internal conflict situation, we ask the President of the State to renounce his presidential mandate, allowing for peace to be restored and the maintenance of stability for the good of Bolivia,” said the commander of Bolivia’s armed forces Williams Kaliman.

    Shortly before Kaliman’s statement, Bolivia’s military said it had ordered air and land operations to “neutralize” unspecified armed groups that act outside the laws of the country.

    It remains unclear what groups exactly the military plans to target.

    The head of Bolivia’s Air Force has also suggested that President Evo Morales resign.

    The Bolivian Police also demanded resignation of Evo Morales.

    OAS 

    On Sunday, the OAS mission, probing the election said it was unable to validate its results and urged Bolivia to hold new ones.

    The opposition was insisting that the president should resign before his mandate runs out in January, which he called a “coup attempt.”

    Preserve peace

    Earlier, in an interview with teleSUR’s correspondent in Bolivia Freddy Morales, the former president said the decision to call new elections was to preserve the peace in Bolivia “so that we do not confront the Bolivian family,” while calling on the opposition protesters to end the strikes and remove roadblocks in order to not harm the economy of the country.

    Opposition reaction

    The rightist opposition leader Carlos Mesa, who came second in last month’s poll, thanked the violent mob for “the heroism of peaceful resistance.”

    In a tweet, he described the development as “the end of tyranny” and a “historical lesson”.

    An NED operation

    Citing a release of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the U.S arm for imposing its brand of political system, a teleSUR analysis said on April 4, 2019: The CIA’s influence in Latin America is not a “leftist rant”, it is ever-present and ignoring it represents a real menace for national sovereignty and the continuity of progressive governments in the region. In 2018, one of its offshoots, the NED channeled over US$23 million to meddle in the internal affairs of key Latin American countries, under the flagship of “human rights”, “democracy” and “entrepreneurship.”

    Fascist action against a socialist mayor

    A fascist mob led by the right-wing opposition Wednesday set fire to the Vinto Town Hall and dragged socialist mayor Patricia Arce down the street, where they humiliated her physically and verbally.

    The MAS politician was still inside the town hall when the mob set it on fire.

    Once she was taken to the street, the right-wing activists forced her to walk barefoot as they kept shouting slogans alluding to her status as a woman and member of the party of President Evo.

    During some stretches of an improvised political “parade”, she was beaten and pushed to the ground. The mob also threw dirt on her.

    “If you want to kill me, kill me,” Mayor Arce said before the cameras and added, “I am not afraid, I am in a free country.”

    After walking several kilometers surrounded by the blood-smelling fascist who did not stop humiliating her, the socialist mayor was rescued by police officers.

    *****

    Note: This report above is based on reports from media including the MSM up to around GMT 0200, October 11, 2019.

    Venezuelans Prepared to Defend their Bolivarian Revolution

    People in Venezuela shall defend the Bolivarian Revolution. To defend the land, the people are prepared for battle. This is the promise by the people in the land the revolution is moving forward with its transforming process.

    Nicolas Maduro, the president of Venezuela, said: Venezuela is “prepared for battle” if the US imposes quarantine. “We are all prepared for battle if anyone tries to impose a quarantine or blockade on Venezuela.”

    “Not Venezuela! is my message to criminal imperialism,” said Maduro.

    “Donald Trump says that he is considering imposing a quarantine against Venezuela meaning that no vessel enters or exits. It is a blockade.”

    Maduro has instructed Samuel Moncada, Venezuela’s permanent representative to the UN, to tell the UN Security Council about, as Maduro said, “the illegal and criminal threat by Donald Trump to introduce a sea blockade and a quarantine against Venezuela.”

    Maduro said Trump voiced his threats because of Washington’s despair in the face of Venezuela’s dignity.

    Maduro was speaking at an event in the state of La Guaira on August 2. He was responding to a remark made on August 1 that Trump was considering a blockade of Venezuela due to “foreign involvement”.

    “I am telling Donald Trump that criminal imperialism will not cope with Venezuela. The waters of Venezuela will be free, sovereign and independent. We will sail there the way we chose to. Get ready for a fight if you want to introduce a quarantine against Venezuela,” said the Venezuelan president.

    After imposing grinding sanctions on Venezuela, Trump has said that the next step for the US could be increasing pressure on Venezuela by imposing a blockade or quarantine. It was the first time Trump expressed the idea of imposing blockade of Venezuela.

    Trump made the off-hand remark after a reporter asked him at the White House lawn if the US president has been considering a blockade or a quarantine of Venezuela “given the amount of foreign involvement from Russia, China and Iran.”

    “Yes, I am,” the US president responded, without elaborating. The response prompted the journalist to ask again, only for Trump to triple down: “Yes, I am. Yes. Yes, I am.”

    The issue of “foreign power” in Venezuela is not new to the US, which itself is a foreign power in Latin America.

    Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, in late-July called on “every foreign power” to leave Venezuela.

    With the words “foreign power,” he meant Russia, China, Iran, and Cuba. But he denied seeing meddling of the US in the internal affairs of Venezuela, and in other countries.

    In an interview to Argentina’s Infobae website on July 19, 2019, Pompeo said the countries that continue to stand by Maduro should “leave”. At that time, Pompeo was on a four-day tour of Latin America.

    “We hope every foreign power will leave. We want the Venezuelan people to control their own destiny”, said Pompeo when asked about the role that Russia, China, and Iran play in the region.

    A strange logic formed! The US openly interferes in the affairs of Venezuela. The most powerful country in the world openly and repeatedly demands political and constitutional measures to be taken in Venezuela, selects political leaders to represent Venezuela; and through these stances, it stands above the people of Venezuela, and the constitution the people there have formulated. Now, it demands “foreign powers” – the countries extending assistance including medical equipment and medicines – to leave Venezuela. Wolves weave this logic. This pattern of logic is found in cases of other countries also. But, with a sense of dignity, it’s impossible to accept this logic.

    Pompeo said: “They need to leave Venezuela, and then we can begin to do the work to rebuild that country democratically, with free and fair elections, in a way that will truly restore the greatness that Venezuela once had.”

    History of imposing imperial democracy and rebuilding countries is full with sad and sadistic stories, now known not only to audience of alternative media, but also to broader audience of mainstream media.

    And, with the word “we”, he meant the US, the only country in the world with “all legitimate authorities” to dictate all in the world, to define democracy in all countries.

    “In the end, I think the Cubans are going to have a very difficult decision to make,” Pompeo said in the interview. “They have propped up this regime for an awfully long time. They need to leave. They need to go back.”

    Cuba is always a “troubling” factor to imperialism. Because, the island-country has never surrendered its dignity and honor. Many states owned by resource-rich ruling elites have done the job – surrender everything called dignity.

    Speaking on the ongoing talks between the Maduro government and the Venezuelan opposition in Barbados, Pompeo said that any conversation “can only be about one thing, that Maduro must leave.”

    Juan Guaido, the puppet of imperialism and self-proclaimed “interim president” having no constitutional legitimacy, after agreeing to the talks, said the same – Guaido only wanted to “negotiate the departure of the dictatorship.”

    These are the positions imperialism and its puppets have taken. These stand as illogical, inflexible, and contrary to logic of negotiation. How can one decide an outcome of negotiation before the negotiation ensues? Isn’t it imposing a pre-condition? And, the pre-condition is designed in such a pattern that the negotiation doesn’t move even to table. The pre-condition provokes one to reject the negotiation step. That was the original design.

    Maduro rejected US attempts to interfere in Venezuela’s political dialogue. He said agreements that might be signed in Barbados, the place negotiations between the government and opposition is going on, could only be “absolutely sovereign.” Maduro said, “Venezuela will not give in to blackmail from the side of the US and EU.”

    The US imperialism’s intolerance with and intransigence to Venezuela is now a well-known fact.

    Imperialism is openly calling and taking steps for regime change in Venezuela, which regularly takes toll with lives from the Venezuelan people. Its imposition of scores of sanctions is crippling the Latin American country’s economy, and the people’s suffering there in the country is increasing while imperialism is openly backing its puppet.

    The puppet tried to implement imperialism-planned conspiracy after conspiracy, all of which turned out as caricature. The output of those conspiracies made the master – imperialism – and its puppet laughingstocks. Despite the failures, imperialism is feeding its puppet.

    Citing officials and an internal memo circulated by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Los Angeles Times reported, the US is increasing its funds to boost up Guaido with $41.9 million diverted from humanitarian aid to Central America.1

    “The memo, dated July 11 and obtained by The Times, is a notification to Congress from the US Agency for International Development that the money is going to Venezuela in response to an ‘exigent’ crisis involving U.S. ‘national interest.’”1

    USAID says the money is “necessary due to unforeseen events and exceptional circumstances.”

    The memo, as cited by the LA Times, says part of the sum would be used to pay Guaido and his entourage’s salaries, airfare, and to provide the opposition with “good governance” training, propaganda and technical support for “democracy building” projects.

    “Some of the organizations that will be used to oversee the spending are the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, the memo said.” The organizations mentioned are known as long hands of imperialism. Interests these organizations market have been documented scores of times by serious studies. The interests are only imperialistic.

    The memo that notifies the House of Representatives of the plans to repurpose some $41 million of about $370 million in aid it permanently diverted from the Northern Triangle countries – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – is the first step in the process of getting it to Guaido and his band.

    However, the Guaido gang’s corruption with money has already been exposed.

    And, the LA Times report cited Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program at the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington: “The danger is that the Venezuelan opposition becomes perceived as Made in the USA.”

    Made in the USA – the fact is also known to all. Yet, neither the puppets nor their masters feel shy! Puppets are shameless and shapeless, and puppet-masters don’t care shame and dishonor.

    The “aid” diversion was confirmed by Trump. In March, Trump himself told journalists that he “ended payments to Guatemala, to Honduras, and to El Salvador. No money goes there anymore.”

    “Things” don’t cease here. There’s Cuba, Venezuela’s closest ally, and the country imperialism can’t tolerate at all. Imperialism is continuously pressuring Cuba to break ties with Maduro-led Venezuela.

    Imperialism has blamed Cuba for failure of imperialist puppet’s political gambles; and has imposed a number of new sanctions on Cuba. Imperialism denies seeing inefficiency of its puppets and the objectives condition within which its puppets operate with mirage like hope.

    Cuba is undaunted.

    Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, the Cuban president, has said: “Imperialism proposes that we betray Venezuela, showing shameless cynicism they resort to blackmail.

    “Ignorant of history and the Cuban Revolution’s foreign policy principles, they propose to negotiate a possible reconciliation with us, in exchange for abandoning the course chosen and defended by our people. They suggest betraying friends, throwing 60 years of dignity into the trash bin.

    “No, imperialist gentlemen, we do not understand each other.”2

    By blaming all, but self and allies, and by punishing peoples in lands with sanctions imperialism claims its “authentic” right to restore “democracy” in countries including Venezuela – an imperial dream, no doubt.

    But, imperialism’s “initiatives” with “democracy” is over-exposed with inner-stories of those “projects” – plunder of those lands, blood soaking those lands, and failure in governance. Character of the “democracy” it imposes is also over-exposed. All are for, of and by imperialism – securing imperialist interest, exploiting all resources of victimized countries, pauperizing the intervened societies. History bears evidence after evidence.

    The present day world is witnessing a lot of imperialist “dramas” in a number of theaters. Not just a single factor is pushing these “dramas”. A number of factors are propelling these “dramas”.

    One of the factors is the imperialism’s domestic politics – election, factional fight of the ruling elites, troubling serious social problems, etc. Another factor is its economy – the war economy. Tension and war feed the war economy producing “logic” to pump money into the machines producing guns. War economy always gulps money to create war or war-like environment. That’s profitable for owners of the war machine. The factors of hegemony to loot, exploit resources, control strategic locations, competition, etc. are there as usual.

    Venezuela is one of many victims of that system bent on robbing all gains the people there have so far made. Because of Venezuela’s march with the Bolivarian Revolution, it has become one of the first targets of imperialism. Because, imperialism doesn’t like examples favorable to people.

    Cuba already has experienced a blockade. That was decades ago. Other measures against Cuba are continuing, which in essence, is an economic blockade. But Cuba is thwarting those, and upholding the flag the country unfurled decades ago. Venezuela shall march through the same path, and foil all those measures as long as the flag of the Bolivarian Revolution keeps people politically mobilized there.

    1. Trump administration diverts Central America aid to U.S.-backed opposition in Venezuela,” LA Times, July 16, 2019.
    2. Cuba does not betray its friends or its principles,” Granma, July 30, 2019.

    Marta Harnecker, the Fighter

    Marta Harnecker

    Comrade Marta Harnecker passed away of cancer on June 15, 2019, in Canada.

    A relentless fighter, comrade Marta Harnecker (1937 – 2019) made valuable contributions in the areas of theory related to revolution for socialism in the broader Latin American perspective.

    Her struggle was for a humane world.

    Marta Hernecker was not an adventurist-head and not an adventurist-voice, which made her a leading theoretician for people of her time. Rather, years of learning from struggles helped her take an approach linking to reality and perspective, alignment of classes and balance of power of hostile classes. This led her to say:

    We need a left that realizes that being radical does not consist of raising the most militant slogan or carrying out the most extreme actions — with which only a few agree, and which scare off the majority — but rather in being capable of creating spaces for the broadest possible sectors to meet and join forces in struggle. The realization that there are many of us in the same struggle is what makes us strong; it is what radicalizes us. We need a left that understands that we must obtain hegemony, that is to say, that we have to convince instead of imposing. We need a left that understands that, more important than what we have done in the past, is what we will do together in the future to win our sovereignty — to build a society that makes possible the full development of all human beings: the socialist society of the twenty-first century.1

    It’s a lesson to be taken into consideration.

    “Radical […] raising the most militant slogan or carrying out the most extreme actions” mean nothing, but simply a juvenile effort to establish self as the “hero”, in real sense a zero, the character class enemies of the exploited prefer most.

    The sociologist, political scientist, and activist from Chile was a close comrade of Hugo Chavez, the Bolivarian revolutionary leader of Venezuela and one of the most hated figures to the imperialists.

    To Marta, today’s Venezuela is a laboratory of the Bolivarian revolution. By type of a number of works, she was also a journalist. But, her work took her away from the political fight of people for a humane world. She was not without any idea which is devoid of political action.

    Marta writes:

    In order for political action to be effective, so that protests, resistance and struggles are genuinely able to change things, to convert mass uprisings into revolutions, a political instrument capable of overcoming the dispersion and fragmentation of the exploited and the oppressed is required: one that can create spaces to bring together those who, in spite of their differences, have a common enemy; that is able to strengthen existing struggles and promote others by orientating their actions according to a thorough analysis of the political situation; that can act as an instrument for cohering the many expressions of resistance and struggle.2

    It’s an essential line of approach today; because the bourgeoisie are fragmenting the exploited with different colors – the tact that weakens the exploited and strengthens the exploiters.

    The theoretician was always at the front-line, from country to country.

    She summarized lessons from successful revolutions:

    The history of triumphant revolutions clearly demonstrates what can be achieved when a political instrument exists that is capable of raising an alternative national program to unify the struggles of diverse social actors behind a common goal […]3

    And, she emphasized:

    […] actions be carried out at the right place and the right time, always seeking out the weakest link in the enemy’s chain.3

    It’s the same lesson Lenin taught through the Great October Revolution: right place, right time, enemy’s weakest link.

    Marta talks about political instrument:

    The political instrument is like a piston in a locomotive which transforms steam power into the motion that is transmitted to the wheels, driving the locomotive forward, and with it, the whole train. Strong organizational cohesion does not alone provide the major objective capacity for acting, but at the same time, it creates an internal climate that makes possible energetic interventions into events, profiting from the opportunities these offer. It must be remembered that in politics, one does not only have to be right but one must also be timely and rely on strength to achieve success.

    Her idea of political instrument of today is in the context of existing reality.

    She admits:

    This task needs time, research and knowledge of the national and international situation. It is not something that can be improvised overnight, much less so in the complex world in which we live. There are “heroes” who don’t have time to learn and research but have more than enough time for slogan-mongering, and have enough time to indulge in ignorance. But, Marx, emphatically said: Ignorance brings no good. Rather, ignorance compresses one into anarchism, and encourages to declining looking at social process. The bourgeoisie want super-production of ignorant “heroes” spewing only slogans, and no effort for spadework, and no humbleness to learn. For these “heroes”, the point Marta raises is a lesson, if they like.

    Marta doesn’t ignore the question of political organization:

    The initial preparation will always have to be done by the political organization […].

    Political organization should take the lead. For spearheading people’s political struggle, whoever dreams of relying on NGOs, rights organizations and organizations submerged into marginal forces missing the class question should take into consideration Marta’s point – political organization.

    There are questions of strategy and tactics. So, Marta writes:

    The political instrument is necessary, not only to coordinate the popular movement and promote theoretical thinking, but also for defining strategy.

    All successful revolutions correctly defined the question of strategy and tactics.

    However, Marta doesn’t forget the aspect related to broader spectrum. She writes:

    […] I believe we must be very mindful that, as it progresses, this project should be enriched and modified by social practice, with opinions and suggestions from the social actors because, as previously stated, socialism cannot be decreed from on high, it has to be built with the people.

    Therefore, there’s no scope for sectarianism.

    Marta discusses the question of popular struggle with specific characteristics and specific context:

    […] at this time in our countries, the popular struggle is developing in very different circumstances from those of czarist Russia. But it is also obvious that Venezuela is not Cuba nor Nicaragua, nor is Bolivia the same as Ecuador. In each country, there are different circumstances that mediate the strategy and modify the forms of popular struggle. Consequently, I do not believe it is useful to propose a template with a formal structure that the revolutionary instrument would have to be.

    Thus, it appears, she was free from dogma, free from the machine-made-theory approach for all countries.

    Marta Harnecker participated in the revolutionary process of 1970-1973 in Chile. After studying with Louis Althusser in Paris, she returned to Chile in 1968, and joined the Socialist Party of Chile.

    In 1973, after the overthrow of the government of president Salvador Allende by the US-backed coup d’état led by General Pinochet Marta was forced into exile in Cuba.

    She has written extensively on the Cuban Revolution. She also lived in Caracas and was a participant in the Venezuelan revolution.

    Marta Harnecker was the director of research institute Memoria Popular Latinoamericana (MEPLA).

    In 2002, Marta interviewed Chavez for fifteen hours, the longest interview Chavez has given since 1997, before he was elected president.

    One of her famous books is A World to Build: New Paths toward Twenty-First Century Socialism.

    Marta’s Fidel: la estrategia política de la victoria (Fidel: The Political Strategy of Victory) discusses the revolutionary process in Cuba.

    Marta was entrusted the editing and indexation of the booklet El nuevo mapa estratégico (The New Strategic Map), a collection of speeches by Chavez in November 2004. This booklet contains the condensed doctrine of the Bolivarian Revolution.

    In Haciendo posible lo imposible: la izquierda en el umbral del siglo XXI (Making Possible the Impossible: the left on the threshold of the 21st century), initially published in Cuba and later in Chile, Colombia, México, Portugal and Spain, Marta presents a wide view of popular movements Latin America.

    Marta discusses the question of hegemony of different types:

    Popular movements and, more generally, the different social protagonists who to-day are engaged in the struggle against neoliberal globalization both at the international and national levels reject, with good reason, attitudes that aim to impose hegemony or control over movements. They don’t accept the steamroller policy that some political and social organizations tended to use that, taking advantage of their position of strength and monopolizing political positions, attempt to manipulate the movement. They don’t accept the authoritarian imposition of a leadership from above; they don’t accept attempts made to lead movements by simply giving orders, no matter how correct they are. Such attitudes, instead of bringing forces together, have the opposite effect. On the one hand, it creates discontent in the other organizations; they feel manipulated and obligated to accept decisions in which they’ve had no participation; and on the other hand, it reduces the number of potential allies, given that an organization that assumes such positions is incapable of representing the real interests of all sectors of the population and often provokes mistrust and skepticism among them. But to fight against positions that seek to impose hegemony does not mean renouncing the fight to win hegemony, which is nothing else but attempting to win over, to persuade others of the correctness of our criteria and the validity of our proposals.4

    Her practical proposal was:

    If we want to truly be radicals and not just radicals in name, we must immerse ourselves in the daily work of constructing a social and political force that permits us to bring forth the changes that we want. How much more fruitful would it be if those who spoke out were those who were committed to this daily militancy instead of those who practice their militancy from a desk. (“Interview with Marta Harnecker: In the laboratory of a revolution.5

    Facebook “revolutionaries” – persons deluging Facebook with revolutionary slogans and undisciplined statements and arguments, and doing no elementary work essential for building up people’s organization and struggle – may learn from this statement: “immerse ourselves in the daily work of constructing a social and political force.”

    On building up a counter-position to capitalism in Latin America, Marta said:

    We are beginning a new cycle of revolutionary advancement and we must accelerate the construction of the subjective factors that circumvent new historical frustrations. Unfortunately, there are few countries where the social and political forces of the left work harmoniously reinforcing each other. Egoism and political ambition usually prevails among their leaders. They have not sufficiently understood that power is in unity and that unity is constructed by respecting each other’s differences. They have not sufficiently understood that the art of politics is to construct a political and social force capable of making that which appears impossible today, possible in the near future; that in order to construct political strength you must construct social strength.

    Here is a statement that should be taken seriously:

    We are beginning a new cycle of revolutionary advancement. However, there are a few theoreticians in the camp of the people, who only see rise of the right, only see a rightward tilt of the time – “victory” of neoliberalism. They miss the dialectics – people’s struggles are building up in countries, imperialism is finding its tactics are failing in countries at times, imperialism’s assessments are turning wrong at times, a few theories imperialism asserted with are turning outdated in regions.

    So, with revolutionary spirit, Marta lives, lives in places far away from those timid scholars.

    Marta Harnecker is author of more than 60 books that include:

    – The Basic Concepts of Historical Materialism
    – The Left after Seattle
    – Hugo Chávez Frias: un hombre, un pueblo, Venezuela: Militares junto al pueblo and Venezuela: una revolución sui generis A World to Build (Monthly Review Press, 2015)
    – Ideas for the Struggle, (Socialist Interventions Pamphlet Series, 2010)
    – Haciendo posible lo imposible: La izquierda en el umbral del siglo XXI, (Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 429 Seiten, 1999)
    – América Latina, izquerda y crisis actual: Izquierda y crisis actual, (Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 305 Seiten, 1990)
    – La Revolución Social: Lenin y América Latina, (Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 307 Seiten, 1986)

    Comrade Marta Harnecker’s march along people will not cease as the people are building up and intensifying their struggles in countries in Latin America, as political activists in countries go through her works to chart a respective path of revolution – the path to emancipation and freedom.

    1. “Latin America and Twenty-First Century Socialism: Inventing to Avoid Mistakes,” Monthly Review, July-August, 2010.
    2. “A Political Instrument Appropriate for Each Reality”, The Bullet, January 25, 2019, The Socialist Project, Toronto, Ontario.
    3. Ibid.
    4. “Ideas for the Struggle, pamphlet, Socialist Project, Toronto, Ontario, August 2010, notes omitted.
    5. Cuba Diglo XXI.

    Timir Basu focuses on Labor in India

    Labor around the world is facing a hostile situation to the extent and intensity unprecedented in labor’s history. At the same time, labor in the Global South and Global North is theoretically, organizationally and politically unarmed. In this perspective, Timir Basu, a revolutionary once organizing the poor peasantry, and after passing hard time behind bars, organizing the labor, and delivering his tasks as editor of Frontier, the radical weekly from Kolkata, for decades, focuses on labor in India, a large economy in the Global South, in the following interview. The interview was taken in April 2019 by Farooque Chowdhury.

    *****

    Farooque Chowdhury: You were actively involved with organizing the poor peasantry along revolutionary lines. That was days of organizing armed struggle, years ago. Then, after getting out of prison, you actively got involved with organizing unions. You were simultaneously writing on labor and unions/labor movement in two famous weeklies – Economic and Political Weekly and Frontier. Later, over the years, as editor of Frontier, you keenly observe the labor and labor movement in India. What’s the present condition of (a) the labor, and (b) the labor movement in this south Asian country?

    Timir Basu: Labor has been on the defensive everywhere since the 1990s, more precisely since the beginning of ruthless aggression of neo-liberalism. And, the South Asian region is no exception.

    As for India, labor here is doubly disadvantaged because of a backward manufacturing process inherited from the British colonial rulers. Indian big business houses never tried to modernize their industry despite tremendous advance in technological up-gradation in manufacturing in Europe and America. Indian business tycoons are industrialists with feudal mindset. Also, they never tried to explore and expand market beyond a certain point. Unlike the Chinese capitalists who are latecomer in the race, they remained satisfied with captive market. They were always apprehensive of losing control over their family business empires in case of expansion. But with rapid march of globalization, technological up-gradation became the buzzword in new corporate culture dominated by Ambanis and Adanis, in place of old Tatas and Birlas. They began to automate their production lines with the sole purpose of cutting labor cost, not the improvement in quality of products. This is the main reason why Indian goods are not competitive in international market despite the advantage of cheap labor. Indian economy is not immune to global recession. Despite pompous claim of high growth rate and fairy tale of GDP, joblessness remains the perennial headache of all governments irrespective of color. Barring services sector the much-touted organized sector has been witnessing systematic killing of jobs.

    Trade Union movement in general even in the organized sector finds it increasingly difficult to arrest the falling membership and boost the sagging morale of workers who are in constant threat of losing job. They work under the state of fear-psychosis, always encountering uncertainty and insecurity. The old way of placing charter of demands with major thrust on wage revision and compensatory allowance in proportion to rise or fall in consumer price index no longer works. Labor offensive in the form of strike in isolation here and there, quite often fails due to lack of solidarity support.

    The phenomenal growth of services sector has created a new generation of employees who are essentially footloose, and May Day has very little meaning to them unless they are politically motivated. They are not interested in the past but what they fail to grasp is they protect their future without knowing the past. Labor movement in the era of digital economy looks more fragmented and the “cybertariat” is yet to stand on its own feet.

    FC: What’s the major hindrance – theoretically or politically or organizationally or assault by capital/opponent classes – the labor movement in India is facing now?

    TB: For the decline of labor movement what is theoretically valid for workers in the West is equally valid for workers in India. The collapse of Soviet Russia gave employers, more precisely corporate employers, extra leverage to curb their bargaining power. The model of’ socialist societies’ where workers used to enjoy better living standards and social security was no longer there. Socialism itself became a dirty word. The post-Soviet situation also helped right-wing forces organize trade unions under their banner of reactionary and backward ideology. Reversal in China gave them extra teeth to coerce labor and brakes on trade union rights.

    Tragically, most workers in the organized sector came under the sway of political right while the left continued to wander in ideological wilderness. In truth, they are still in search of an appropriate strategy in the changed context. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) controlled Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and [Indian National] Congress controlled INTUC together control most organized membership of unions and don’t allow workers to go on strike even in case of gross violation of workers’ rights.

    FC: Which class dominates the labor movement in India?

    TB: The middle class as a whole dominates Indian labor movement. It doesn’t matter whether unions are left-controlled or rightist led, leadership always comes with middle class background. Communist and socialist outfits deploy whole-timers to organize trade unions. Right-wing forces too do the same. This tradition has been continuing since beginning of trade union movement in the 1920s. For economically sound big unions, trade union bureaucracy is a nightmare to ordinary workers. The trade union bureaucracy is part of the management now. In the name of maintaining industrial peace, this leadership sometimes openly works against the interests of workers. It’s not that leaders from the working community are rare. But in course of time, they too acquire the status of middle class. Once P C Joshi, the secretary of undivided Communist Party of India, made a unique observation – “workers being promoted to leadership become babus”, the well-off Indian middle class. Declassed in reverse order!

    The system of “recognized unions” is a nice device to corrupt TU leaders who do nothing in workplace, but provide consultancy to management. Their sole job is to keep vigil on aggrieved workers on behalf of management and pacify workers at the time of unrest.

    FC: Divisive/sectarian politics by factions of the dominating capital is a crucial issue in this big economy. This divisive/sectarian politics of the dominating capital produces an equal and opposite reaction – concentrating on issues in the way, which is also essentially divisive/sectarian, and increasingly confining into another form of divisive/sectarian slogans. Both of these are acting as a tool in the hands of the dominating capital, and harming unity of the working classes, the wage-slaves, the exploited. Do you find slogans – program/demand/movement – from the labor that stand against all forms and colors of divisive/sectarian politics irrespective of appearance and sound, and stand on class line?

    TB: It is the basic weakness of labor movement in India that even the far-left, not to speak of official left, does raise the question of class. Nor do they educate wage laborers on class line. Frankly speaking, they consciously keep trade unions free from politics. As a result, it is no problem for capital to divide workers by manipulating divisive and sectarian issues through their paid agents when it is necessary. When the ruling parties spread war hysteria, no protest emerges from workers’ platform as if workers are not affected by such propaganda.

    In India one major problem affecting workers and workplaces is caste. Despite toiling for decades side by side in an establishment, workers remain vulnerable to caste and religious prejudices. They remain immune to progressive ideas – no change in their outlook. They come with prejudice and they go back with prejudice. Management encourages prejudice and obnoxious religious practice as Marwari businessmen would patronize in building up Hanumana, the monkey-chief who was an ally of Ramchandra during Rama’s Lanka expedition, temple inside factory premises so that their workers could worship there.

    Despite encounter with modern urban life, workers assiduously nurse feudal values. Once a permanent worker in Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation’s mains department summed up the situation nicely: “the parcel that came from Bihar went back to Bihar after retirement without being opened”.

    FC: Should the labor with a heroic history of trampling divisive/sectarian politics tolerate and give space to a seemingly pro-people, but fundamentally divisive/sectarian politics as an answer to the divisive/sectarian politics of the dominating capital/factions of the ruling classes in this economy with many competing components/regions/sections?

    TB: As workers are not politically trained, they sometimes get swayed by divisive maneuvering of capital. Workers talk politics not at factory gate. No doubt, they discuss elections but they do it as common people, not as workers. So the working class perspective is totally missing in their discourse in roadside teashops or shanties where they live.

    FC: The country with its geo-strategically important position and vying for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council is a hot bed for meddling/cajoling/pressure by imperialism. What impact is this making on the labor?

    TB: Labor being apolitical they do hardly bother about India’s quest to get a permanent seat in UN Security Council. For one thing, they definitely take interest in Pakistan-bashing. Jingoism is a time-tested tactic to divert public attention. Again, leftists don’t counter it from their workers’ platform.

    FC: Do you find the so-called NGOs, which are, in essence, longer and informal arms for implementing parts of foreign policy of a number of powerful states, influencing/intervening/organizing unions?

    TB: Yes, NGOs are operating throughout the country. Most people, not to speak of workers separately, do hardly question NGO’s source of funds and NGOs’ action program. But their influence among workers, particularly in TU movement is negligible. It’s basically a middle class enterprise trying to have their presence felt among rural people and marginalized communities.

    FC: How are the radical unions reacting to the imperialists’ moves at different levels of life in India including the areas of manufacturing and trade?

    TB: Radical Unions’ response to global capital’s anti-national activities and naked interference in some cases is too inadequate to be taken seriously. One area that is totally neglected by radical unions and their rightist counterparts as well is ecology and climate. Imperial capital means unlimited plunder of natural and human resources, and in the process, they destroy ecological balance, inviting climatic catastrophe and engendering future generations. Tragically enough, radical unions don’t consider destruction of ecology as a serious threat to humanity. They talk about it very casually. It’s not on the agenda of their party. Nor is it on their TU agenda. In this area, some NGOs work in their own way and highlight climate change and its adverse impact on society and economy. But their target audience is educated middle class. So workers in Vedanta’s aluminum smelting plant are least bothered about the disaster brought about by their company in indiscriminate mining of alumina bearing hills. However, these mining activities are displacing thousands of tribal inhabitants and killing small rivulets and streams, which sustain life in the hilly region.

    FC: Suffering of the farmers chained to credit capital, and their protests in India are now widely known. Bollywood, it should be Mullywood, has produced at least one feature film on this suffering. How is the labor in the industrial part of the economy reacting to these suffering and protests; i.e., expressing solidarity, joining the marches, etc. or having a position of onlooker, indifferent, no move to build up an alliance, etc.?

    TB: Communist parties have been propagating the concept of worker-peasant alliance since their inception. But in practice they do precious little. It’s just a theoretical proposition to be discussed in party congresses and conferences. Jute workers struggle against retrenchment and arbitrary shutdown, but plight of jute growers is not their headache.

    The idea of worker-peasant alliance cannot grow in isolation. Political parties and unions they control never try to chalk out any common program, which can be practiced jointly. Workers at best are onlookers, rather passive onlookers even when farmers march in thousands in scorching sun. Communists formulate this worker-peasant alliance strategy by borrowing from classical Marxist literature, but what they practice in the field will never succeed in building worker-peasant alliance. In the recent farmers’ long march to Mumbai, many middle class people showed sympathy to marchers – but no central TU came forward with a clear-cut strategy to support their cause. That TUs are asking workers to withdraw labor even for a day to protest farm suicides is unthinkable.

    FC: What are the major (a) successes, and (b) failures of the main part and radical part, if identified in this way, of the labor movement in this country?

    TB: Some labor welfare schemes have been incorporated in some labor acts. These are successes. But the present dispensation is trying to take away these hard-earned rights under the garb of “labor reforms”. And here unions of all shades, including unions owning allegiance to the ruling parties, are protesting rather half-heartedly. Here they fail miserably to put up a united fight without which workers are going to face medieval tyranny.

    The development of an ever more technological complex manufacturing process is root cause of re-skilling of labor force. What they call fourth industrial revolution is all about maximization of automation. Maybe, automation has reached its limits after massive introduction of robots, negating physical presence of labor that was unthinkable at the beginning of the 20th century. Trade unions yet have no answer to automation beyond a certain point. They cannot oppose technological up-gradation. Nor can they resist the advent of labor-eating process even in areas where labor-organizing could have made decisive impact on the broader aspect of bargaining.

    FC: Do you like to suggest/propose any step – ideological question, political struggle, relation between unions and radical political party of labor, leadership, inner-union democracy, political education of union members, literature – to the radical part of the labor movement in India?

    TB: Well, in the organized sector, TU bureaucracy must be fought out. Even radical unions are not free from this virus. It acts as a brake on labor movement. TUs must raise political issues frequently at workers’ meet, even at plant level, instead of agitating to achieve sectarian goals. Unless TUs educate workers on political lines, this apolitical approach will lead to a more complex situation in which labor will find itself more powerless than ever before.

    Capital is global. But now, labor’s resistance is strictly localized, failing to cross the national boundary and make solidarity movement a reality even at regional level. Thus, unions become powerless despite prolonged strike in some work facilities. Gone are the days of international federations and regional or industry-wise groupings. So May 1 is one more ritual, having no lasting impact on the wretched of the earth. Internationally, both left-wing and right-wing labor consolidations hardly make any news these days; they are in limbo. Only revival of socialist outlook internationally can give boost to rebuilding international labor federations without which corporations cannot be confronted effectively.

    FC: Thank you for the interview discussing issues related to the labor in India.

    TB: Thanks. I like to express my hope that the spirit of May 1 will mend many loose ends that stand in the way of building up powerful labor solidarity across the world.

    A Fully Automated Society is Science Fiction

    May Day is one of the most important days to the exploited people. Michael D. Yates, director of Monthly Review Press and former Associate Editor of Monthly Review magazine, focuses on US labor and its movement in the following interview from April 2019 by Farooque Chowdhury. Professor Michael Yates, whose academic fields are labor economics and the relationship between capital and labor, also discusses labor’s new initiatives at grass roots level, defying and contesting “official” labor leadership.

     *****

    Farooque Chowdhury: You have been closely associated with labor in the United States for more than 30 years. You have worked as a labor educator, as negotiator representing unions, as union organizer, and as labor activist. Moreover, you have covered labor widely in your articles and books. Based on these interactions and experiences, please tell us about the present state of labor in the US.

    Michael Yates: If we look at some data, we see that, from a numerical standpoint, the U.S. labor movement is weak. Union density (the fraction of wage and salary workers who are in unions) is low. In January 2019, it was 10.5 percent. In 1983, the rate was 20.1 percent. And although the rates are not perfectly comparable for earlier years, when the data collection was not the same, at the time of the merger of the country’s two largest labor federations, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO), in 1955, the fraction of workers in unions was much higher, probably in the neighborhood of 33 percent.

    Thus, we see that there has been a long-term decline in union density, and this in a country that has historically had much lower percentages of union membership than almost every other rich capitalist country (by comparison, Scandinavian nations have rates in excess of 60 percent, with Iceland over 90 percent.) Even the absolute number of union members has been in decline over the past few years. What is more, the current union density hides the division between private-sector and public-sector workers. In private employment, a mere 6.4 percent of employees are unionized (lower than it was more than 100 years ago), while in the public sector the fraction is 33.9 percent.

    However, even in public employment, rates have been falling, and there is a widespread effort, led by capital, to make it difficult for public employees to unionize or maintain membership in existing unions. Public-sector unions typically had contract clauses that compelled those who refused to join the union to still pay a “dues equivalent” to the union, since they too would benefit from whatever the union won in the collective bargaining. Capital waged a long campaign through the courts to nullify such contract clauses. Employers achieved success when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that compelling non-members to pay dues was unconstitutional.

    One last point with respect to public-sector workers is that among the highest union densities is that for “protective service” employees. These are police, prison guards, and the like, persons who only by a stretch of the imagination should even be included in the working class, given that their social role is to suppress workers. These employees overwhelmingly serve capital, unlike, for example, public school teachers, transit workers, and so forth.

    Another measure of the strength of the working class is the incidence of strikes. There has been a marked decline in the number of strikes involving 1,000 workers or more (these are called “major work stoppages” by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is the source of the data I have been citing). In 2017, there were 7 of these, involving 25,000 workers, slightly higher than the all-time low set in 2009, when there were a mere 5 such strikes, with but 13,000 people out on strike. The trend in major strikes has been markedly downward. The last time there were more than 100 major strikes was in 1981. And the last year in which more than one million workers participated in major strikes was 1979. Compare these numbers to earlier years. Between 1947 and 1979, there was only one year with fewer than 200 major strikes, and years with at least 300 of these strikes were not that uncommon. Also, between 1947 and 1979 (32 years), fewer than a million workers walked off the job in only 7 years.

    The year 2018 did see a bit of an upsurge in major strikes, due mainly to the aggressive actions of public-school teachers in the states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, and California. These strikes and a few others (mainly by healthcare workers) have shown that the strike tactic can still yield positive results, as the strikers won significant wage and other increases. The victories by teachers were the result of efforts by the rank-and-file to involve their communities and win their support for demanding better schools and education for the children of people in the communities. What these actions give us is a bit more hope for the revival of a labor movement in the United States.

    Yet, overall, we are a long way from any sort of revival. At the top of the internal hierarchies of most unions, we have career bureaucrats interested mainly in their own advancement and security. High salaries abound, democracy is a rare commodity, and statements of principles (much less action on any set of principles) rarer still. Unions are wedded to the Democratic Party, which is at heart as much a party of capital as the utterly reactionary and proto-fascist Republican Party. Unions cannot even come to strongly support the Green New Deal that the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party supports as part of an effort to come to grips with the destruction of Mother Nature now so well underway. What is more, the union chiefs are still supportive of U.S. imperialism. I am afraid it will take more than rank-and-file protests to change things dramatically and in the direction of radical change.

    FC: What’s the present condition of the U.S. labor movement?

    MY: My answer to Question 1 provides my overall view. I will add here that the U.S. working class, like those everywhere in the world, is suffering from rising insecurity in employment (fueled by many things, including outsourcing of work, laws and court rulings, and sophisticated mechanization), stagnant wages, diminishing benefits such as health care, pensions, and paid leaves, seemingly endless speed-up at work, invasive monitoring/surveillance and drug-testing, unhealthful and unsafe working conditions, and rising temperatures that make working outside increasingly dangerous. Workers feel politically impotent, and all too often, the unions they do have ignored them or, worse, collaborated with employers and engaged in corrupt practices.

    We see the unhappiness of workers reflected in several trends. Remarkably high percentages of young persons (ages 22-37) tell pollsters they are more favorable toward socialism than capitalism, and many even identify themselves as democratic socialists. Much of this is due to the success that Senator Bernie Sanders, who identifies himself as a democratic socialist, had his run for the Democratic Party’s nominee for president of the United States in 2016. This was followed by the election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 of several persons, mainly women and ethnic minorities, who also declared themselves democratic socialists. In addition, a political organization, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has grown very rapidly over the past two year and now has in excess of 50,000 members, impressive in a country such as the United States. DSA members have supported many working-class efforts, including strikes, housing struggles, and environmental efforts that would greatly benefit workers, such as the Green New Deal.

    It must be noted that what most mean by socialism is not what was envisioned by Marx and Engels and millions of radicals throughout the world ever since the two great communists wrote and worked. Rather, it is the social democracy that has marked mainly the Scandinavian countries, that is, a well-developed state-financed social welfare system buttressed by strong labor unions. Hopefully, as social democracy is found to be no longer possible, as it is faltering even in those nations where it has been strongest, working people will come to see that more radical struggle is needed. There are some groups in the U.S. that do have a radical perspective, such as Philly Socialists (“Philly” is slang for the city of Philadelphia), and they are deeply embedded in working class communities. Hopefully, these organizations will grow and flourish.

    Unfortunately, there are workers who are too demoralized to do anything political or even to form labor unions. Depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide are growing more common, and among working-class white workers, life expectancies are falling. Anger and resentment also find an outlet in neo-fascist politics, as evident from the fact that some workers avidly support the criminal and thoroughly anti-working-class administration of President Trump. Trump has used his racism, sexism, and xenophobia to fuel widespread hatred for the “other,” whether the “other” be Black Americans, women, or immigrants. This rightward trend is troubling, and the labor movement, such as it is, must address this forcefully. Unfortunately, top labor union leaders met with Trump soon after he took office, and by no means all labor officials are as hostile to Trump as they should be.

    FC: Which parts of the working class dominate the labor movement in the US, and what’s the reason?

    MY: In terms of power within the national labor federation (the AFL-CIO), the most conservative unions, mainly in the construction trades, have power that belies their relatively small numbers. These unions typically oppose anything that might threaten the jobs and high pay of their (mainly white and male) members, such as the various oil pipeline schemes so detrimental to the environment. They oppose any sort of Green New Deal as well. Several large industrial, service, and catchall (many kinds of members, from various sectors of the economy) unions have influence based on their relatively large memberships. These would include the Teamsters union, the Service Employees Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and United Autoworkers. They might support more liberal policies and politicians, but they are mired in bureaucracy, hostile to the members’ interest, full of careerists, and often enough corrupt.

    The real issue here is that there is no real labor movement to speak of. Plus, overall membership is so low relative to the number of workers in the country, that most laborers have no representation at all. And even where there are specific working-class movements, such as the effort to win at least $15 per hour for fast-food workers, the leaders of such movements are all too often tied to the same bureaucratic and corrupt unions. The only real hope, it seems to me, is for the mass of workers to forge new kinds of organizations. See the question below on what unions should do for more details.

    FC: There are initiatives at the grassroots level in the US to go beyond or rise above the “official”/“establishment” labor movement or labor leadership. These seem to be sporadic and isolated. Most of these can’t go that far, but another part thrives. What are the reasons behind all of this – rise of new movement at grassroots level, failures of a part of these, and moving forward by the rest?

    MY: The rise of new organizations and movements is due to the overall suffering of the mass of workers and the inadequacy of the current labor movement. These are, indeed, often isolated, but some like workers’ centers, operating inside communities and usually built by immigrant workers, have succeeded. Examples are the Chinese Staff and Workers Association in New York City, the New York Taxi Drivers Alliance, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida. The last is an organization of farm workers, mainly immigrants. In these examples, we find dedicated leadership, a model based upon active members and real democracy, careful planning of strategy and tactics, and strong community support, built up over longer periods of time. The same rules for success apply as well to worker-managed cooperatives and urban farming ventures. An example worth studying is the Cooperation Jackson movement in the city of Jackson, Mississippi. Here is what I wrote about this organization in my book, Can the Working Class Change the World?:

    “The movement in Jackson is called Cooperation Jackson (CJ), and it grew out of various efforts by blacks to build a socialist community in the heart of U.S. capitalism. The rallying cry of the people who began Cooperation Jackson — one of the most notable of these was black radical Chokwe Lumumba, who eventually became Jackson’s mayor, something remarkable in its own right — was ‘Free the Land.’ After doing some preliminary organizing in the area, they acquired land and began to develop an ambitious plan of eco-socialist production, distribution, and education. In the South, global warming is going to inundate low-lying areas with water. This fact and the disaster in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina made these leaders grasp that any scheme that doesn’t take ecology seriously cannot hope to change the world. Therefore, CJ maintained from the beginning that whatever they did had to be based upon the principle of sustaining the environment.”

    “The CJ project has four goals: gaining black working-class control of the means of production in Jackson and the area close to it; building and advancing the development of the ecologically regenerative forces of production; making the working class the agent of combining the means of production into socially useful outputs; and democratically transforming Jackson, and then the state of Mississippi, and outward to the entire South. CJ has started cooperatives, a cooperative school, training center, union, and bank. Farms and grocery stores are an integral part of cooperative production. There is much more to CJ, including the use of technologies like 3D printers to make useful goods, the development of substantive political democracy, and eco-friendly public infrastructure. The industrialization plan is particularly ambitious. It can be criticized as not feasible, but in any conceivable future, goods will have to be made using one technology or another. CJ, by beginning to conceptualize this and then implementing it, will help show the way forward.”

    Movements such as Cooperation Jackson may hold the key to the building of a radical labor movement in the United States, one concerned with all aspects of working class life and willing to engage in militant collective self-help activities.

    FC: What obstacles do these grassroots movements of labor in the US face?

    MY: There is the problem of funding. It is best to have members fund activities whenever possible, with solicitations from ordinary people supplementing the group’s treasury. Reliance on existing labor unions or NGOs is usually a mistake because such monies never come without strings attached. There is also the problem of antagonism from capital and the state, which will become worse the more successful the grassroots movement is. There is the problem of developing grassroots experts for all the technical work and organizing that has to be done. There is the problem of burnout from long hours and poor living conditions. There is the problem of turnover in the membership as people move away out of economic necessity, deportations (in the case of undocumented workers), and the like. There is the problem of internal ideological differences, which can split a group apart. Finally, any grassroots efforts must show some results quickly, so that workers benefit. And they must find ways to protect members from capital’s efforts to destroy what they are doing.

    FC: What should be done now, in this perspective, by labor at grassroots level, and by writers of labor literature?

    MY: I have addressed this above when I wrote about what needs to be done to have a chance at success. What writers can do is publicize all such efforts, writing for those involved and not just about them. Also, coalitions with other similar organizations are necessary, and certainly, education must be a primary component of any grassroots effort. A membership that has learned its history, the nature of the political economy, the struggles needed and the obstacles that will be faced, is more likely to succeed and more likely to have a radical perspective.

    FC: What impact has monopoly finance capital, which has been identified and analyzed by John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, made on labor in the US?

    MY: Well, monopoly finance capital has certainly increased the overall power of capital, and this, by definition, will inevitably harm the working class. Specifically, two things come to mind. First, as businesses are taken over by finance capital, they are seen merely as collections of assets, to be squeezed for maximum immediate return. Debt will be piled up and assets stripped for money. When as much money has been extracted as possible, the corpse left will be left to rot. All of this will result in shrinking employment, lower wages, reduced or eliminated benefits, and more unsafe working conditions. Finance capital works much like gangsters, who do the same things when they use direct violence to take over a business. Second, monopoly finance capital has meant the elimination of whatever autonomy the states of capitalist countries once had. States are now adjuncts of finance capital, and states are now run according to strict market principles. The state’s assets are stripped too, the result being a diminution of both public employment and public services. Everyone is presumed to be on his or her own, and no one will offer help. The rich will continually get richer and workers will suffer more and more. Good reasons for the working class to finally develop a radical consciousness and get rid of this insidious system once and for all.

    One more point bears consideration. Monopoly finance capital, with its relentlessly short-term horizon, acts in such a way that financial bubbles become inevitable, as witnessed by the housing bubble and crisis that struck the United States and then much of the world, in 2007. These bubbles, when they burst, generate economic slowdowns, which now have become deep recessions, that wreak havoc on working-class life.

    FC: Has capital’s capacity in the US to bribe workers eroded? If it has eroded, has monopoly finance capital played a role in the erosion? If not, then, is the bribing going on as usual?

    MY: It is not so much that this capacity has eroded. What has happened (and see the previous question) is that capital no longer has to bribe labor, which in the past it did from the super profits extracted from workers in the Global South. Profits abound for capital in the Global North. However, labor is now so weak and disorganized, and capital so strong that workers do not have to be bribed to support Northern capital, as they, in effect, were in the past. Some workers support capital without any monetary advantage, and the rest are so habituated to the system that they do not know how to mount an attack on capital. Super profits have always helped to finance the states in the Global North (through taxation), but now even the state offers labor no protection. Tax revenues can be and are used to buttress capital’s profits and power. This situation will continue to prevail until such time as there is a united, global, and radical labor movement to challenge it.

    FC: Automation is creeping in. Unionization rates are falling. What’s the impact of automation on labor in the US?

    MY: Automation (robotization and other types of mechanization) always lowers employment, at least in the sectors most immediately affected, and thus increases the reserve army of labor. This reserve is now global in scope and mechanization occurs everywhere in the world. This reserve puts downward pressure on wages and every other condition of employment, and it generates some new (and old) types of employment that rely heavily on labor (as in service employment and work done from home). Automation also divides the working class into a tiny elite of scientific workers and everyone else, causing growing wage inequality, which itself impedes labor solidarity. Often enough, just the threat of automation (like the threat of moving operations to other countries) is enough to pressure workers into submission. Automation, by allowing for greater surveillance of workers and building what was once employee knowledge into the machines themselves, greatly enhances managerial control in the workplace.

    At the same time, however, automation may make production more sensitive to disruption, just as complex supply chains and logistics do, but this requires that workers understand this, are organized, and willing to disrupt production. The irony is that, under a different, socialist system, more sophisticated technology, developed for the people rather than against them, could greatly ease the burden of many kinds of onerous employment and give rise to much shorter working hours. And freedom for each of us to fully develop our capacities.

    I might add that profits derive from the exploitation of living labor and not from machines themselves. Given this, the idea of a fully automated society is science fiction. Machines would have to build and program machines! And there would be, in the end, no living labor to exploit. Automation would automatically end capitalism! This is an unlikely scenario.

    FC: Are trade war(s) making any impact on labor?

    MY: Trade is always a matter of politics and never just a matter of obvious and shared economic advantage. Thus, given that almost all governments, and certainly that of the United States, are now servants of capital, trade agreements will always benefit corporations and hurt workers. Such was the case with the North American Free Trade Agreement, which harmed workers in all three signatory nations: The United States, Canada, and Mexico, although, no doubt, Mexican workers (and peasants) suffered most. President Trump has begun trade wars with many countries, in part to satisfy his anti-immigrant and xenophobic base. These may upset markets and in that way damage workers in affected industries. Ironically, they also might hurt the bottom line of those economic sectors impacted most by tariffs and quotas. For example, trade wars with China mean that soybean farmers in the central United States will lose lucrative export markets. So far, Trump has always backed away from doing the damage he could do, no doubt because of protests from powerful capitalists. His base is largely ignorant of the nuts and bolts of this, so he can always claim he acted tough with the foreign countries he claims are out to get the United States. Full-scale trade wars can lead to real wars, so there is always a danger of that. And it is still true that corporations are headquartered and protected in the United States, so there is competition among national capitals, despite the fact that production is now so global. So, states will always be keen to protect their national capitals. From a working-class perspective, the struggle should be for as much worker-controlled and localized production as possible, if for no other reason than that trade is very damaging to the environment and wreaks havoc on the poorest workers and peasants worldwide.

    FC: Factional fights within the US ruling class are surfacing, sometimes in ugly, crude, and dangerous form. The fight, at times, is questioning the credibility of a number of very essential institutions of class rule. The factions engaged in intra-class conflict are questioning its news-information-views media – the mainstream media or the imperialist media, in whatever way these are identified. Its external adventures, interventions, and aggressions in other lands are facing debacles. Its credibility and that of its media are declining. Today, its audience accepts little of whatever the MSM report. Is there any impact of these on the labor in the US?

    MY: I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on ruling class splits. Of course, there are capitalists opposed to Trump. However, in the end, they will accept him because he has been good for their profits (tax cuts, for example, which overwhelmingly benefit capital the most). The situation may be different in other countries, but here I don’t see any segments of capital ready to revolt. In addition, as the Democratic Party has shifted significantly to the right, the center of political gravity overall in the United States has also shifted dramatically to the right, given that the Republican Party is to the extreme right. Trump is an evil maniac, without a shred of morality or compassion, and he is doing things most of us, naively I think, couldn’t imagine happening. And yet, the mainstream media have profited mightily from Trump’s insanity, with ratings going up every time they report on a new Trump scandal. The real danger is the rise of neo-fascism, with its inherent drive to annihilate the “other.” It is possible to imagine that this will continue with or without Trump. The capitalist class is facing unprecedented crises, foremost among them, ecological catastrophe. It faces constant wars too, although capital has never vehemently opposed wars, including the War on Terror. There will soon enough be hundreds of millions of climate (and war) refugees seeking shelter. Beset by unprecedented inequality (which they don’t mind for now, given that they have gotten so much money as wealth and income move from the bottom to the top), the rich will find it hard to hide. What will they do? Demand more democracy and better media? A more educated population? I don’t see this. They will want the state to crack the whip, and they will (and are now) build private, fortified and heavily policed enclaves for themselves. A society run on market principles must have violence at its beck and call. This is really what fascism is all about. Only an aroused working class, allied with peasants, has any chance of stopping this.

    FC: The US ruling class is vigorously marketing divisive/sectarian/medieval politics. What’s the impact of this on labor in the US, and what’s to be done by the labor movement?

    MY: The working class in the United States is divided along many dimensions: skill, location, education, wage rates, religion, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, and race, among others. Among these, gender, ethnicity, and race are most important. The capitalist political economy here has been patriarchal and racist from its beginning. The latter is the result of a vicious slavery that built the economy, not just through the production of cotton but from the slave-generated money that helped to fuel, and, in fact, led, the country’s industrial revolution. The unpaid labor of women in the home has been a gift to capital. And women could be drawn into market-based production when needed and discarded when not. Employers soon discovered that race and gender could be used to split workers, fomenting competition rather than solidarity among them. This has been done by the allocation of job, with racial and ethnic minorities and women given the worst jobs and white men the best. This along with constant racist and sexist propaganda soon gave rise to the notion that these groups deserved their fate. I have written much about this and refer readers to Can the Working Class Change the World? Here, however, consider some of the results of racism: “A brief look at some data from the United States shows the remarkable disparities between black and white members of the working class. Median black family income is barely 60 percent that of whites, a little more than ten percentage points higher than it was in 1949. Black median household net worth is just 5 percent that of whites. Blacks earn less than whites at all levels of education. Astonishingly, ‘a $10,000 increase in the average annual wage of an occupation is associated with a seven-percentage-point decrease in the proportion of black men in that occupation.’ Besides earnings, when we consider poverty, unemployment, health, education, housing, life expectancy, infant mortality, or the criminal justice system, we must conclude that ‘having a black skin, in and of itself, is a grave economic and social disadvantage, while having a white skin confers considerable advantage.’”

    There have been forces within the U.S. labor movement that have actively combated the divisions in the working class, sometimes with success. Usually, these forces have been radical; the Communist Party in the 1930s is a good example. The left-led labor unions, purged from the CIO during the anti-communist hysteria of the late 1940s, often did the same. However, much more needs to be done. Statements of principles of no toleration for racism and sexism by the AFL-CIO and all individual unions are essential, as is action to back these up. Collective bargaining agreements with strong “no discrimination” clauses and a willingness to strike, picket, and boycott over employer violations are necessary. Support for feminist and anti-racist groups in the larger society is a must, as is active participation in the protests and actions of Black Lives Matter and similar groups. Promotion of caucuses of women, Black workers, and ethnic groups, as well as LGBTQ workers, could give these groups of oppressed workers a strong voice in every labor organization. Militant actions on the political front, are badly needed. General strikes to support immigrants, oppose the rise of fascist groups, and the like would show a real commitment to equality.

    FC: Is there any impact of the present condition of and trends within the labor movement in the US on the labor movements in other countries?

    MY: Historically, U.S. organized labor has been, all too often, an adjunct of U.S. foreign policy, opposing left-wing unions and movements around the world. Therefore, it has been rare for the U.S. labor movement to have a positive, much less a radical, impact on workers’ movements in other countries. Anti-imperialism and opposition to U.S.-led wars on poor countries has never been very strong in the U.S. labor movement. This is still the case. Things may change as workers, especially younger ones, are drawn to social democracy. However, even in social democratic organizations, a U.S.-first view is common and a neglect of what is going on in the rest of the world is as well. Another positive development is the greater radicalism and willingness to organize and join unions of newly-arrived immigrants into the United States. Hopefully, these immigrants will, along with Black and other oppressed workers, succeed in building a labor movement with an international working-class perspective.

    FC: What are your suggestions/proposals to labor as a whole and to the labor defying “official” leadership, to deal with the reality that you have pictured in the answers above?

    MY: Here is a long quote from my book, Can the Working Class Change the World?, that I think answers this question:

    “Labor unions have been a principal response by workers to capital’s exploitation. They are necessary defense agents, and as long as capitalism exists, they will form.

    If unions mirror corporations in their structures, which all too many do, there isn’t much hope that they will confront capital. And this is all the more the case if they have entered into a compact with employers that views the two sides as cooperators interested primarily in the profitability of the owners’ businesses. This strategy has failed, the proof being in the deteriorating working conditions and life circumstances of union members and the sharp drop in union densities during the period in which partnership has marked much of the labor movement worldwide. To begin to reverse course, then, labor unions must become democratic, run by the membership, and they must abandon labor-management cooperation schemes. Since it is unlikely that current leaders will seek to do either of these things, the only way forward is to get rid of the leadership. In the United States, a perusal of the magazine Labor Notes shows that there have been frequent attempts by rank-and-file activists to take control of their unions and put them on a democratic and militant path. A few have been successful, most have not. No doubt, the fear of such insurgencies has made some unions willing to mobilize members and take on the companies with strikes, picketing, and boycotts. But reform has proved a daunting task, similar to efforts by political advocates to move the Democratic Party to the left. Those in power seldom want to relinquish control, and they will be as ruthless as necessary to beat back rivals. Still, labor rebellions have been successful, at all levels of unions. Corrupt criminal leadership was defeated in both the Teamsters and the United Mine Workers, for example, and though the rank-and-file victors were subsequently defeated or weakened, neither union is as awful as it once was. In addition, sometimes revolt has taken the form of a new union, one that breaks away from the parent organization. Or, if a group of workers have no representation and no existing union is willing to help them organize, they might establish an independent union. Again, in the United States, an example of the former is the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). Tired of the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) top-down management, its embrace of labor-management cooperation and sweetheart deals with employers, its frequent impositions of trusteeships (the national union takes over the running of a local union) on recalcitrant locals with rebellious and independent leaders, and outright corruption, the NUHW broke away from SEIU in 2009.

    Before asking what a democratic union looks like and what it should do, it is proper to say that there are now unions that work in a democratic manner. In the United States, the best example is the United Electrical Workers, an independent labor union that has the distinction of being kicked out of both the AFL and the CIO. Its national office and locals rest on the will of the members. It does not make deals with employers, and it has never been tainted with corruption. Officer salaries and expenses are strictly controlled, and its constitution is a model of democratic principles that the union has adhered to through good times and bad. Other U.S. unions have served their members well, too. The overall trajectory, however, has been toward bureaucratic, undemocratic structures and an increasingly unwarranted faith in labor-capital compromise.

    Democracy means more than voting. The structure of the union must be democratic. There should be direct ballot casting by all the members for any office, as opposed to convention delegates, usually chosen by the leadership, voting for those same leaders, as is common in many U.S. unions. Term limits for officers are essential. No advantage of any kind should be proffered to incumbents seeking reelection. Strict limits should be placed on the salaries of union officers, and a careful open audit of expenses should be routine. The rank and file should participate in all union activities, from planning for negotiations, setting demands, strike preparation, and the striking and picketing. Union meetings should be open to all members, especially those with home responsibilities (almost always women), and also held at convenient times. Meeting discussions should be open, and criticisms should be welcomed and debated. Special attention should be paid, in all aspects of the union, to the concerns and needs of racial and ethnic minorities, as well as LGBT members. Retirees should be encouraged to take part in all union actions.

    If a rank-and-file uprising is successful, a breakaway union is founded, or an independent union is created, and even if these result in more democracy, it is still necessary to ask: Democracy for what? What are the principles and goals of the organization? The NUHW lists these as its core beliefs:

    1. A strong union is led by its members.
    1. Worker power is the foundation of a just society.
    1. Quality patient care requires that caregivers have a voice in their workplaces and are protected from retaliation.
    1. Healthcare is a human right.

    This is a good preliminary set of principles. But more needs to be said and done. First, education must be a priority. Compulsory classes should greet new members, teaching them about the union’s history and that of the labor movement as a whole. And regular short courses, summer schools, and longer learning experiences should be made available, with at least some courses required to maintain membership. In these classes, the construction of a broader array of principles and aspirations can be developed. Several come to mind:

    1. An examination of racism and patriarchy. The objectives here are ending discrimination in the union, building greater solidarity, compelling the employer to behave in a nondiscriminatory manner, and leading the union to play a positive role in combating these divisions in the community and society.
    1. A study of imperialism and militarism. For unions in the Global North, the purpose of this would be to build an understanding of the role of their governments and employers in subjugating the peoples of the Global South, and of the past complicity of unions in this. A radical labor movement cannot become a reality unless it is adamantly opposed to imperial wars, arms production and sales, the infiltration of the military into local economies and daily life, the patriotism of flags and national anthems, the mantra that we must all support the troops. In the Global North, nationalism is a disease that impedes the global working-class solidarity essential for human liberation. Unfortunately, it is so deeply embedded in the institutional structure of capitalist society that the task of eliminating it is formidable. Yet, if the effort isn’t made, there is no hope of the working class changing the world.
    1. A serious discussion of the multiple environmental crises we face. If these aren’t working-class issues, what are? Global warming is a workplace issue. Ecology professor and writer Andreas Malm writes:

      Physical labour makes the body warm. If it takes place under the sun or inside facilities without advanced air-conditioning systems, excessively high temperatures will make the sweat flow more profusely and the bodily powers sag, until the worker suffers heat exhaustion or worse. This will not be an ordeal for the average software developer or financial adviser. But for people who pick vegetables, build skyscrapers, pave roads, drive buses, sew clothes in poorly ventilated factories or mend cars in slum workshops, it already is; and the bulk of exceptionally hot working days are now anthropogenic in nature. With every little rise in average temperatures on Earth, thermal conditions in millions of workplaces around the world shift further, primarily in the tropical and subtropical regions where the majority of the working population — some four billion people — live their days. For every degree, a greater chunk of output will be lost, estimated to reach more than a third of total production after four degrees: in this heat, workers simply cannot keep up the same pace.’

      Given the magnitude of impending disasters, labor must make the environment a major concern. This means opposing all corporate and public actions that exacerbate global warming, the poisoning of air, soil, and water, and the extinction of species, among others. When construction unions lobby for ruinous shale oil pipelines, as happened in the United States, other unions must speak out and condemn such self-serving deeds.

      As democratic unions strengthen and their principles and goals become more class-conscious, they will naturally ally themselves with like-minded unions and community groups. In this way, a labor movement worthy of the name can begin and grow, one concerned with the entirety of the working class, including those in the reserve army of labor and the informal sector.

      A union’s most important immediate concern is with its members’ welfare. Here the question of “democracy for what?” can take concrete form. Labor-management cooperation should be immediately and permanently rejected, replaced by an adversarial relationship that makes no concessions to management. Instead, the union makes demands that challenge capital’s control of the workplace. Higher wages are always on the table, but so must be shorter hours, more paid time off, full parental leave for both parents (for at least a few months), a safe and nontoxic work environment, active union participation in decisions related to both technology and work intensity, an unrestricted right to strike over any issue, a shortened grievance resolution procedure (with rank-and-file participation at all levels), the right not to cross picket lines while on employer-related business, and high monetary penalties for plant closures and relocations. Whatever makes laboring less alienated and weakens capital’s control should be vigorously and relentlessly pursued. Unions should never allow the employer to play one plant off against another, much less cooperate in this, as the United Auto Workers has done. Strong protections for women and racial and ethnic minorities should be part of every contract. When a union faces a multi-plant employer, or more than one employer, it should organize coordinated communications and tactics among the officers on the shop floor, office, or store. Solidarity must be more than a word, and an injury to any worker should anger every sister and brother.

    FC: What do you suggest to read/study to learners like me interested to know about labor?

    MY: Two of my books might be useful: Can the Working Class Change the World? and Why Unions Matter. Others that are good are: any book by Kim Moody. His last is titled On New Terrain. Steve Early is an excellent analyst of U.S. labor. A google search should give many results. Save Our Unions is good. Paul LeBlanc’s A Short History of the US Working Class is a very good introduction. Joe Burns Reviving the Strike and Strike Back! Show the necessity and usefulness of strikes. Jane Slaughter’s A Troublemaker’s Handbook has great advice for making trouble for the bosses. Labor Notes, the magazine Jane helped to found, is devoted to reporting on strikes and rank-and-file efforts to democratize their unions, as well as the overall state of the U.S. labor movement. Priscilla Murolo’s From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend is good, with much material on women’s labor. Robin Kelley has written excellent books on Black workers, including Hammer and Hoe and Race Rebels. On immigrant farm laborers and their union efforts, read the exceptional Trampling Out the Vintage by Frank Bardacke.

    FC: Thank you for the interview with contemporary issues concerning the labor in the US.

    MY: You are very welcome. And let me offer solidarity to the workers of the world on this May Day!