Armed with a Pen

Views from a worker and student

Author: Ned Isakoff

A Word on Cultural Revolution

J. Moufawad-Paul describes cultural revolution thusly: “Whereas Leninism was that stage that established the necessity of revolution up to the dictatorship of the proletariat, Maoism is that stage which claims that revolution must continue within the dictatorship of the proletariat … in order to struggle against the counter-revolutionary ideology that is often preserved in the [ideological] superstructure.” It is precisely here where Leninism ends and revisionism begins.

In Theory

The problem with cultural revolution is that it seeks to destroy the last remnants of the bourgeoisie through force even though all experience has shown that the small bourgeois producers and bourgeois ideology can only be gradually eliminated with time and development. They can’t be destroyed in the physical sense. As Lenin says in State and Revolution, “The proletariat needs state power … for the purpose of guiding [Lenin’s italics] the great mass of the population-the peasantry, the petty-bourgeoisie, the semi-proletarians-in the work of organizing a socialist economy.” Like the state, the last remnants of the bourgeoisie will wither away as the proletarian socialist enterprises and collectives become stronger.

Moufawad-Paul would be wise to remember Stalin’s words in Dialectical and Historical Materialism:

Productive forces are … the most mobile and revolutionary element of production. First the productive forces change and develop, and then, … men’s relations of production, their economic relations, change.

Changes in the mode of production inevitably call forth changes in the whole social system, social ideas, political views [what Moufawad-Paul refers to as the ideological superstructure].

This means the history of the development of society is above all the history of the development of production.

Rather than focus on socialist development, Maoists would prefer to plunge themselves into an orgy of fantastical revolutionary excitement where all reactionary thinking can be clubbed to death like a seal. If violent revolution abolished all class distinction and reactionary ideology, then we wouldn’t need the dictatorship of the proletariat in the first place. When we deny this we cease to be materialists and become instead idealists and anarchists.

In Practice

Cultural revolution has been a demonstrated failure. While a Marxist-Leninist like myself would say the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was ultra-leftist chaos which weakened the Chinese Communist Party and nation before Deng Xiaoping set things back on track, even a Maoist would have to admit it failed because Deng, a supposed capitalist roader, ascended afterwards. So no matter which way you look at it, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution didn’t do what it was supposed to.

Meanwhile, the anti-corruption campaigns undertaken by Xi Jinping have revitalized and removed opportunists from the Party exactly as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution intended to but without the extrajudicial killings. Rather than having gangs of students defenestrate revolutionary heroes, reemphasizing party discipline and mass line leadership while carrying out civilized, lawful action against perpetrators and opportunists can achieve the exact same goals in a more orderly fashion.

I’m Callin’ It Now — Trump Will Win in 2020

The 2016 presidential election was one of the biggest political upsets in American history. Everyone, even Trump supporters, were shocked when Hillary Clinton was defeated by Donald Trump. At the time, I was floored. I still remember sitting in front of my computer watching Google’s real-time election map, my jaw dropping with every new state turning red. Looking back, I’m surprised Clinton did as well as she did. So I’m calling it right now, Trump will be reelected in 2020. Here’s why:

1. Trump’s surprisingly popular

Go on to Twitter, go on to Facebook, go on to Instagram, go anywhere, and search “Trump.” A flood of (well deserved) vitriol and criticism will pour out. People hate Trump. That’s why he has such low approval ratings right? Let’s check.

According to Gallup polls, 40%. Hmm, that’s actually not bad. But okay, maybe they’re wrong. What’s CNN saying? 44%. Oh jeez. Uh… Reuters? 47%. Shit.

Real Clear Politics, taking every poll into consideration, puts Trump’s approval rating at about 44%. That’s astounding. To put that into perspective, by the Summer of 1994, Bill Clinton had a mere 38% approval rating; and that’s a whole point higher than Barack Obama had in the summer of 2010.

Moreover, Trump is untouchable at this point. He said it himself. Remember when he said he could shoot someone and not lose support? Remember thinking that was the end of him? The fact is, his supporters drank the Kool-Aid a long time ago and everyone in the middle has only had time to get used to him.

2. That Blue Wave may not be as big as Democrats think

The moment Trump was elected, it was immediately assumed that, come November, Democrats were going to crush the midterm election. This “Blue Wave” was predicted like the weather. No one doubted it. But Democrats, instead of striking while the iron was hot and showing that they could oppose Trump and stand on their principles, have appeased the man at every turn and done literally nothing to actually appeal to voters. Sure, they’ve gone on and on about the Mueller probe and some Russia nonsense but what has it actually uncovered? Trump’s not a nice man and is mean to women.

Wow. What a bombshell. Who would’ve thought the pussy grabber might mistreat women? Throw that on the pile of things to hate about Trump.

Now I am in no way trying to downplay what Miss Daniels went through. Trump threatened both her and her baby’s life. That is unacceptable and Trump’s dangerous misogyny is symptomatic of a much greater problem which affects every woman in America and which has literally killed women, as well as men.

But what has actually been done here to oppose Trump? His supporters stuck by him through all the “locker room talk“, through all the sexual assault allegations, through Ivana Trump’s claim that Trump raped her. This is all just an attempt to stoke some sense of liberal outrage.

And nothing will ever match conservative outrage.

There’s still no reason to vote Democrat. For all their talk, Democrats have let Trump do whatever he wants. For example, appointing war criminal Gina Haspel as CIA Director. Maybe they’re trying to enrage liberals even more, maybe they’re just spineless, maybe they’re looking forward to the day there’s a Democrat in the White House and they can torture people in peace. Either way, they’re so arrogantly certain they’ll sweep in November that they haven’t done anything to actually earn a Blue Wave.

When Republicans took the House in 2010, they earned it. They had a plan and they obstructed Obama at every turn. They didn’t just talk, they acted. They got voters riled up and then they showed they could take on Obama. As of now, Democrats have only sort of gotten around to that first part.

3. Republicans can’t get rid of Trump and Democrats don’t know how to win

In 2016, Donald Trump should’ve been the easiest man in the country to soundly thrash out of politics. A little organization would’ve easily secured the pretty darn popular Ted Cruz the Republican nomination. Even taking into consideration his unpopularity on Capital Hill, Marco Rubio too could have won. And John Kasich even had some crossover appeal, being pretty moderate by GOP standards. Instead of uniting behind one candidate and saving themselves the embarrassment (and the loss of funds caused by Trump disturbing major Republican donors), the party fractured and had Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, and Bush competing against each other and, oh yeah, Donald Trump. They had a brief window to shut him out but, as Lindsey Graham would later bemoan, they screwed it up. Now, Trump is terminal. There’s no pushing Trump Republicans to the back the way the Tea Partiers were anymore.

The Democrats, on the other hand, have the opposite problem. The Democratic nomination quickly came down to only two serious candidates: Bernie Sanders, the one who legitimately inspired working class, minority, and younger voters, and Hillary Clinton, the one with the lifeless eyes, the bad record, and who every non-Democrat abhorred.

As we now know, the Democratic Party “rigged” the election in favor of Clinton, to use Elizabeth Warren’s words. Many have speculated that Sanders would have won if he was nominated. Maybe he would have, maybe he wouldn’t’ve. That much is unimportant. In fact, focusing on it kind of misses the point. He probably would’ve won and the Democrats lost a lot of needed votes with how they handled things, but they should have swept no matter what.

In 2016, Trump did not win. Clinton lost. She spent most of her time campaigning in states that were pretty much guaranteed to go blue. Her campaign simply ignored key battleground states.

Worse yet, there was no reason to vote for Clinton. Much of her campaign was anti-Trump and that was about it. Her most inspiring points were lifted from Sanders. That’s why, even among white women, she failed to get the kind of support Obama had in 2008 or even in 2012.

The Clinton campaign (and, of course, the Democratic Party) was fighting for the status quo. This was a disaster, a completely avoidable, utterly idiotic disaster. The “let’s keep doing what we’re doing” thing barely even worked for Obama who saw a greatly diminished turnout in 2012.

And, as if to alienate and bore voters even more, Clinton chose Tim Kaine, some unknown pro-lifer, to be her running mate. If she had any sense, if she stood for anything besides outward respectability, she would’ve chosen a woman, a feminist, to be her running mate and it would’ve been a huge deal. Her opinion about Clinton aside, it’s not like Elizabeth Warren would’ve turned down a shot at the vice presidency. If she had a woman running mate, maybe did some photo ops with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, it would have actually been pretty cool (ya know, by liberal standards) and very well could’ve galvanized women voters. Instead, we got some moderate man.

Which, speaking of…

4. Joe Kennedy III

Let’s talk about the Massachusetts Representative who’s shaping up to be a major contender for the Democratic nomination in 2020, Joe Kennedy.

This asshole

Joe Kennedy is the human embodiment of why Democrats are going to lose and why they deserve it. Yeah, yeah, he’s a fresh-faced young Kennedy just like John and Bobby who the only kind of looks like Conan O’Brien. But guess what? He’s boring!

Joseph Kennedy III is the blandest human being to ever be considered for the presidency. This saltine cracker is the kind of kid who’d run for student council president every year and lose to the same quarterback who shoves him in his locker. He had one or two decent speeches before absolutely botching his response to Trumps State of the Union address. Yet many liberals still continue to dream about this nerd ending up the president.

Worse than that, ginger boy over here is vehemently against legalizing marijuana, including for medical purposes. And why is that? Because, “If you smelled [marijuana] in a car, you could search a car. When it became decriminalized, you couldn’t do that.” You hear that? White kid thinks it’d be a shame if police were given less of a chance to randomly search your property. In one swift motion, Kennedy has completely alienated young people and minorities.

Joseph Patrick Kennedy III, you will never be president. You don’t deserve it. You’re boring, you’re behind the times, you’re racist, and you’re part of a political dynasty, something which really turned people off to Clinton. Go home.

5. Liberals have abandoned the people

Ultimately these are all parts of one main problem. The Democratic Party has defected from blue-collar America. And this is not just a problem for Democrats, liberalism as an ideology has left workers, students, and especially marginalized peoples without anything to hold onto and nothing to rally around.

What have Democrats done for working people, for minorities? They’ve never opposed tax cuts for the rich. The Clintons were instrumental in beginning the War on Drugs and the mass incarceration policies which have and continue to devastate black and Latinx communities. Hillary Clinton herself is a vocal warmonger. Obama never supported Black Lives Matter until it was politically impossible not to, and even then he still supported Blue Lives Matter legislature. He never fulfilled his promise to close Guantanamo Bay, hugely inflated military spending, escalated military presence overseas, especially in Africa, and ICE under Trump is little different than it was under Obama.

And when Democrats finally faced some consequences for their actions in 2016, did they ever once turn inward and look at themselves and their platform? No. What did they do instead? They placed all the blame on workers. They claimed Trump won by appealing to the “white working class” and was helped by people “wasting their vote” on third-party candidates. Objectively, this wasn’t true. It was wealthy landed whites who voted Trump into office. Workers were more likely to vote for Clinton than rich voters. But this didn’t matter. It was all too easy for liberals to retreat into classism.

As for the handful of liberals attempting to actually do anything, the #Resistance has been laughable. The Women’s Marches, perhaps the largest and most well-organized protests against the Trump administration were extremely problematic. The pink pussy hats alienated trans people and, when this was brought up, white TERFs came out of the woodwork to promptly shout out trans people and allies, using transphobic and racist slurs with shocking regularity both in person and online. Moreover, it cannot be overlooked that the majority of attendees were, in fact, white, well-off, and took it upon themselves to speak over people of color.

Hey look, liberals and Trump agreeing on something!

Indeed, liberalism’s most repugnant offspring was the first on the scene, opposing Trumps hate with its own. This bastard child is, of course, white feminism or what I would prefer to call bourgeois feminism. In addition to being trans-exclusionary, transphobic, and more often than not racist, the goal of white/bourgeois feminism is not to liberate women from sexist oppression and inequality but simply to replace the boot on our necks with a high heel. Case in point, the dogmatic support for the historically anti-feminist Hillary Clinton and even the fascist Marine Le Pen.

More recently there’s been the March for Our Lives protests which, as a movement, has remained wholly unaware of its privilege. It’s only as well known and respected as it is because it has white faces up front and it’s completely left black kids behind. Cops and military personnel were an active part of March for Our Lives for god’s sake! Liberals were fine with Obama’s Shadow War and a militarized police force. Why is it that arming the citizenry, the people of color, the women, the LGBTQIA communities, and the workers, the line not to be crossed? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, any movement to disarm citizens but not the police and the military is white supremacist. Liberals might know this if they didn’t abandon Black Lives Matter the minute it actually challenged their privilege.

Liberals have outright refused to do anything for workers and marginalized peoples. This isn’t anything new. It’s certainly not Clinton or Obama’s fault. Martin Luther King Jr. himself said just that in Letter from a Birmingham Jail back in 1963.

The Democrats are done. They have no appeal. They have nothing to offer workers or minorities but more sensitive oppression and exploitation. All they do and have ever done is appeal those privileged few who worry about looking respectable. And, as we’ve seen with Trump, most of the privileged don’t care that much about respectability.

At the end of the day, there’s no one working for the workers, there’s no one representing the unrepresented. Until liberals stoop down to the level of us plebeians, they can expect nothing more than defeat and irrelevancy. That is why Trump will win in 2020.

Most of What We Hear About China Is Red Scare, Yellow Peril Propaganda

With an ongoing trade war, tensions rising in the South China Sea, and the growing esteem of President Xi Jinping, China has been the subject of a significant amount of our twenty four hour news cycle. If, like me, you’ve subjected yourself to any of it then let me be the first to say: I’m sorry. Also, you’ve been lied to.

Propaganda Roundup

The outpour of completely baseless, biased, and unresearched horror stories is astonishing. Tales of aggressive military expansion, neocolonialism, torture, human rights violations, and massive unrestrained surveillance systems have made headlines again and again. Besides the obvious hypocrisy of decrying the very same things these companies praise Western countries for doing, what’s most concerning about these stories is their glaring inaccuracies. To help unmask Sinophobia and propaganda in the media, let’s take a closer look at some stories which have made headlines recently.

“Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens”

China’s social credit system, unveiled June 14, 2014, has made a lot of headlines recently as the government moves to implement it in its entirety across the whole country. Thousands of articles have been written comparing the system to Black Mirror and 1984, crying over Chinese citizens with bad social credit having been denied access to schools and transit. And, indeed, these half-truths sound horrifying and tyrannical. What is left out, however, is that social credit is determined exclusively by a citizen’s business practices.

Unlike in the US where unethical companies like Bain Capital are allowed to buy, gut, and ruin companies before declaring bankruptcy for profit, in China, bad business is punished. Hou Yunchun, former deputy director of the development research center of the State Council, writes: “If we don’t increase the cost of being discredited, we are encouraging discredited people to keep at it.”

Further, discredited people have full and equal access to all public services, including public schools and public transit. They can only be barred from using luxury travel options such as first-class flight and access to private schooling. Moreover, Zhi Zhenfeng, a legal expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, assures us that: “How the person is restricted in terms of public services or business opportunities should be in accordance with how and to what extent he or she lost his credibility.” Minor offenses only yield minor punishments, major offenses, major punishments. “Discredited people deserve legal consequences,” Zhi continued. “This is definitely a step in the right direction to building a society with credibility.”

Companies known to be in violation of the law and ethical business practices have also been publically exposed by the government. This is all part of China’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign.

“Muslims forced to drink alcohol and eat pork in China’s ‘re-education’ camps, former inmate claims”

Omir Bekali, an Uighur, a minority from the autonomous region Xinjiang, made headlines across the world after he came out with a shocking and bizarre story of hellish re-education camps where Muslims were allegedly forced to drink alcohol and eat pork. He claims also to have been shackled and beaten. His account is brutal and depicts a world of harassment, religious and ethnic discrimination, and slightly milder torture than the methods used on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. His vivid and emotional account would likely inspire real international outrage if even a single person reported anything remotely similar.

The story is nonsense. He claims that many been kidnapped, tortured, and forced to violate Islamic code of conduct and yet not one person besides Mr. Bekali has reported so much as Islamophobic harassment by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang, or anywhere else for that matter.

Xinjiang is home to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a violent separatist group of religious extremists who have killed over 100 in multiple terror attacks across the region. Uighur Islamic extremists have been found among the ranks of ISIS and have vowed to “make [Chinese] blood flow in rivers, by the will of God.” These extremists claim to be oppressed by the Chinese government despite enjoying regional autonomy, receiving significant developmental aid from Beijing, and China’s ongoing policy to promote religious freedom and harmony. In China, freedom of religion is protected in the constitution, anti-Islamic content was recently banned in social media, and Islam is experiencing a revival.

Bekali’s account is completely without foundation in reality. He directly contradicts himself in other interviews, like this one from the Daily Mail. The account here is even more outlandish and tells of farcical chanting and hourly oaths of loyalty to the Communist Party. He puts ol’ Joe McCarthy himself to shame with his overuse of tired, Cold War era anti-communist cliches. The entire story, which was largely reported on, seems to be wholly false.

What is true is that Xinjiang’s GDP has grown steadily at a rate far exceeding the national average and Uighur members of the Communist Party have expressed the growing desire for unity between Xinjiang and China, as well as among the regions many ethnicities and religions.

“Emperor Xi Jinping: China enters a new era under just one leader”

This racist, rambling tirade by News.com Australia’s Jamie Seidel is perhaps the most egregiously Orientalist thing I’ve ever read. When talking about the amendment to the Chinese constitution which abolished term limits, he sarcastically writes: “The glory of [the] Middle Kingdom will be restored again.” He also describes Xi Jinping as an emperor and makes countless references to imperial China (or, rather, his image of imperial China which is basically just an amalgam of various Asian stereotypes). This is Orientalism. Rather than writing about this modern nation as a modern nation, Seidel prefers to crack jokes and reduce China to an inaccurate and racist caricature.

This same Orientalism is mirrored in articles like those by the BBC and CNN, among others, which talk of “heirs” and “emperors”; and is especially evident in the constant reference to the DPR of Korea as “the hermit kingdom.”

The reality is that China has democratized. Term limits were added to the constitution after the chairmanship of Deng Xiaoping to ensure that efforts would not stagnate or stall during the period of economic reform. It ensured that China’s leadership would be focused on the present conditions, rather than future elections. With the reforms having proven an objective success, and China’s efforts now focusing on the move towards socialism, there is no longer a need for such an undemocratic and arbitrary amendment. There will still be elections and Xi Jinping still is not guaranteed a third term. Plenty of Western leaders have been serving for a lot longer with a lot less support, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is currently in her fourth consecutive term.

“Eight countries in danger of falling into China’s debt trap”

Chinese influence overseas has been questioned again and again, often by the same people who consistently support Western military adventures overseas. The above article by Quartz laments the plights of Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. What a tragedy it is that they must be subjected to infrastructure and factories.

It is a testament to Quartz reporter Tim Fernholz’s shamelessness and hypocrisy that he readily admits that the US’ largest military base in Africa is in Djibouti, one of the countries supposedly at risk of falling into Chinese “imperialism.” He literally says this in the same sentence which attacks Chinese involvement in the nation. Only an aggressively ignorant Western chauvinist could write that Chinese airports are a threat but US soldiers aren’t.

One can only imagine the indignation Fernholz would feel if China began “waging a massive shadow war” in Africa like the US has been doing. One has to ask, is Fernholz aware of this? Is the great reporter aware of the colonial taxes France continues to impose on the African nations they once directly colonized? Why, Mr. Fernholz, are roads, schools, power plants, aid programs, and debt forgiveness the big danger?

The list goes on…

These are just a handful of the mass of vitriolic propaganda aimed at China. And that’s just from private companies. The US Embassy in China claimed to have been the target of “sonic attacks.” These unexplained science fiction weapons China’s supposedly using against Americans sound eerily similar to those the US Embassy claimed to have been attacked within Cuba which were determined to be completely made up.

So why the lies and the slander? Why all the hate? Perhaps they’re overcompensating. China’s president, Xi Jinping, is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant statesmen of the 21st century. And over 80% of Chinese polled said they supported him, had faith in their government, and were optimistic about their country’s future.

By contrast, optimism has been severely lacking across Europe, Canada, Australia, and the United States. The crisis of confidence in the United Kingdom resulted in one of the longest hung parliaments in British history, with the hugely unpopular Theresa May just barely clinging onto her majority. Even the monarchy is becoming increasingly unpopular. Two-thirds of the population said they didn’t care about the Royal Wedding, a huge decline since the last one. “Fuck the Royals” parties were held in pubs across the country. In Spain, when large portions of the population aren’t trying to secede, the government is struggling to deal with a growing labor movement which held mass protests this May Day. In France, the May Day protesters were decidedly more hardcore, clashing with riot police. And when protesters aren’t setting cops on fire, they’re burning effigies of President Emmanuel Macron in protest against his hugely unpopular economic reforms which resulted in the loss of over 120,000 jobs. Justin Trudeau can’t stop embarrassing himself every time he steps outside of Canada. Malcolm Turnbull is struggling to justify his ministership. And I don’t think I even have to mention how much people hate Donald Trump both inside and out of the US.

I mean just look at these idiots…

The truth is, they’re afraid.

China has beaten the West at its own game. The emerging superpower has outpaced and outdone them. They have a larger, more educated workforce, a more robust economy built on actually producing things, and a plan for the future. The West doesn’t seem to have a plan for the present. As China marches toward the horizon, united and prosperous, Western leadership seems entirely unable to get things together as their people find themselves unable to afford basic necessities like food and rent.

Memorial Day and the Myth of US Unity

Memorial Day is something we Americans are supposed to take very seriously. Every year, countless civilians enjoying their three-day weekend are inevitably shamed by pundits, especially conservative ones, for forgetting what it’s “really about.” What it’s “really about”, of course, is mourning our brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom or whatever. We’re supposed to believe that it’s not a time for beer and barbecue and it certainly isn’t a time for petty political differences. But what is Memorial Day really about?

The Bloody Road to Unity

Historically, Memorial Day had been a point of contention in the United States for almost half a century. The holiday began in Waterloo, New York when, on May 5th, 1866, the town’s citizens closed their businesses to allow everyone to decorate the graves of their loved ones who died during the Civil War. In 1868, a Union veterans association designated May 30th as National Decoration Day. Over 5,000 war widows came to Arlington National Cemetery on the first Decoration Day to place flowers and flags on the more than 20,000 graves and future presidents Ulysses S. Grant and James Garfield both attended the first ceremony. From the 1870s on, Decoration Day ceremonies grew larger and more extravagant, with memorials being held on major Civil War battlegrounds like Gettysburg and Antietam. By 1900, the day had become known simply as: Memorial Day.

In the South, however, this was seen as a Northern holiday for Union soldiers and an insult to the Southern dead. Most Southern states refused to adopt the holiday and, to this day, Confederate soldiers are still honored on specific decoration days in many southern states.

It was not until World War I that the whole of the US recognized Memorial Day. The holiday grew to encompass not only those who died in the Civil War and World War I but all US war dead, going as far back as the Revolutionary War. Thus, Memorial Day became yet another attempt to erase the irreconcilable contradictions between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and further venerate the military. What is it but a day to conflate US imperial interests with our own? The children of the working class have never died for anyone’s freedom; they’ve only ever been hired (or conscripted) guns for imperial adventures. We, the working class, would rightfully oppose the US military if we didn’t constantly have militarist propaganda shoved down our throats.

Scapegoats, Erasure, and Celebration

Memorial Day is not alone in this. Holidays have always been a great tool for bourgeois propagandists. Loyalty Day, a day to remember how uncritically we must support the United States and its government at all times, was celebrated on May 1st, 1921 to direct attention from International Workers Day (aka May Day) which has been held on the same day since 1886. It is no coincidence that Loyalty Day was first celebrated by staunch anti-Bolsheviks and that every president since Eisenhower has recognized and made an address on Loyalty Day. Law Day, a day to celebrate the role of law in US society, is also held on May 1st.

These were hardly the first attempts to erase the US working class and our interests. Historian Howard Zinn recalls in A People’s History of the United States that, even before the United States existed, when the city of Boston conscripted eligible men to fight the British, those who couldn’t afford to pay their way out of the draft rioted, shouting “Tyranny is tyranny let it come from whom it may.” And we must not forget that, by all accounts, American revolutionary leaders were rich, landed white men who hugely distrusted the masses of the poor whites, many of whom demanded land redistribution and wrote passionately against the powerful and wealthy landowners as well as the British, and only appealed to white workers because they so obviously had nothing to offer the black slaves or indigenous peoples.

Attempts to erase the differences between the rich revolutionary leaders and the poor and landless rank and file can be seen in the Declaration of Independence when Thomas Jefferson, himself an extremely wealthy slave owner, writes: “He [King George] has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us.” Here, Jefferson completely glosses over the issues raised by the working class, blaming them on the British. Samuel Adams would do the same later, blaming the mutiny of unpaid and debt ridden soldiers who were all but abandoned after the revolution on “British emissaries.”

Perhaps following in this tradition, capitalist ideologues have gone on to accuse working class movements of being orchestrated by Soviet or Chinese agents all throughout the Cold War. And Democrats are still blaming Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral victory on Russian meddling.

Memorial Day is merely the specifically military oriented holiday that goes along with the rest of this propaganda. Don’t focus on our differences, we’re told, unite against the rest of the world! The military is here to keep us safe from the scary foreigners. Working people need to recognize that the US military has never been aligned with proletarian interests. Those who have died in the service of the US and it military did not die for their freedom but for others oppression. All talk of “fighting for our freedom” is merely an attempt to erase the fact that working people have died overseas for the same people who exploit and oppress them at home. It’s a hard truth, but true nonetheless.

Supreme Court Strips Worker Protections

Should employers be allowed to force employees into behind doors, one-on-one arbitration, or should workers be able to bring their claims into court in class or collective actions? This was the question being asked in one of the most important workers rights cases of the term.

The Death of Collective Action

There were three cases brought before the Supreme Court by employees of the corporations Ernst & Young LLP, Epic Systems Corporation, and Murphy Oil USA, Inc. Workers claim that they were being illegally forced to challenge violations of federal labor law behind closed doors, in private one-on-one meetings, due to the mandatory individual arbitration procedures under the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act. They contend that a later bill, the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, makes these clauses and provisions illegal, as this bill was passed to protect the right of workers to join together in a class or collective action suit.

On May 21, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of employers. In a decision that will affect more than 25 million private-sector workers, the 1925 bill will trump the protections gained by the 1935 bill. Justice Neil Gorsuch, speaking for the majority, said: “The policy may be debatable but the law is clear: Congress has instructed that arbitration agreements like those before us must be enforced as written.” Now, workers will have to do everything individually and claims of hour and wage violations will have to be done personally and without the intervention of the court.

This ruling is a slap in the face of the working class and will come down especially hard on the already lower paid workers. A study by the Economic Policy Institute shows that 56% of private-sector workers are forced to handle disputes by themselves, alone, and often without the aid of a lawyer. With almost half of Americans in or near poverty, the majority of workers simply do not have the time, money, or know-how to effectively defend themselves alone. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the four dissenters, called the ruling “egregiously wrong.” She points out that the 1925 arbitration law came well before federal labor laws and, therefore, does not cover, as she put it, these “arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave it contracts” which employers can now insist on.

This is the first ruling of its kind. Never before have workers been denied the right to unite and defend themselves in court. However, this should not come as much of a surprise. The Trump administration itself submitted a brief in 2017 to the Supreme Court on the behalf of Murphy Oil, advocating an anti-worker legal theory in favor of so-called “job creators.” The Trump administration has been particularly shameless and open with their anti-worker agenda. The appointment of Friedmanites Betsy DeVos as head of the Department of Education and Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency can aptly be described as Benito Mussolini described fascism: “the merger of state and corporate power.” The working class can only expect further degradation and declawing in the coming years as more and more fundamental neoliberals are appoint to the highest levels of government under the administration of an actual billionaire.

Remembering John Brown

There are many great figures in the American anti-slavery movement. Most notable abolitionists, people like Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner, were once themselves slaves. Few white men ever shed blood for the freedom of black people. John Brown was one of those few.

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Radicalization

Born on May 9, 1800, John Brown became of a part of the abolitionist movement at age 46 after moving to the progressive city of Springfield, Massachusetts. He became a parishioner of the Sanford Street Free Church, an important stop on the Underground Railroad and a major platform for abolitionist voices. Here he heard the stirring words of abolitionists like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass.

Daguerreotypes of Brown, one with the flag of the Underground Railroad, taken by black photographer Augustus Washington, 1847.

After an 1847 lecture, Douglass and Brown spent an evening together which Douglass claimed changed his entire outlook on the abolitionist movement. He remarked that, “From this night spent with John Brown … while I continued to write and speak against slavery, I became all the same less hopeful for its peaceful abolition. My utterances became more and more tinged by the color of this man’s strong impressions.”

Praxis and Death

John Brown was a militant. Having been schooled in Christian Perfectionism, he had zero tolerance for the evils of slavery. And unlike most white abolitionists, he had no hope for a peaceful end to slavery and he welcomed no compromise.

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.

His heart ached not only for the plight of black slaves but also for women and Native Americans. He was a protofeminist who made sure his sons did housework alongside his daughters (housework was something which men were exempt from at the time, as it was considered “women’s work”). And even before dedicating himself to abolitionism, as a farmer, he was known for being on great terms with his indigenous neighbors, having a great deal of reverence and respect for them, their land, and their way of life.

In 1849, he and his family moved to North Alba, New York to live in the local black community. He still believed in a violent end to slavery but became more and more optimistic as he saw the growth and development of communities like his where black people could live their lives in peace, far from the indignity and inhumanity of slavery. This optimism was forever buried when, in 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. While white abolitionists were talking of the gradual abolition of slavery, here was proof that their moderation was leading to nothing. Rather than be diminished, slavery as an institution was only strengthened. It was the imminent and very real threat of slave catchers invading these safe havens and dragging free men back into bondage that forced him to act.

I have only a short time to live, only one death to die, and I will die fighting for this cause. There will be no peace in this land until slavery is done for.

Brown returned to his old comrades at the Free Church in Springfield to organize the defense of escaped slaves. Together, they founded the League of Gileadites, an anti-slavery militia which was dedicated to defending freed and escaped slaves through force. They were an armed, illegal resistance group which did not go unnoticed by the federal government. This was simply the price of freedom. They did not expect peace and had every intention of fighting, even to the death. Another founding member, Reverend John Mars, told his congregation that “the time has come to beat plowshares into swords” for the defense of the rights and dignity of man.

Brown addressing the League of Gileadites.

The League was extraordinarily successful. Even after Brown left, not a single person in Springfield was ever captured again. William Wells Brown, an escaped slave turned novelist, would write of the city’s unique defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act and of meeting armed guards, black and white, patrolling the city’s train stations, ready to fight any slave catcher who attempted to do business in the city.

Brown’s revolutionary praxis would only get bolder and more violent from there. In 1854, amidst the chaos of Bleeding Kansas, he and his sons attacked and killed several slavers attempting to illegally vote to allow slavery in Kansas and who had murdered abolitionists months prior. There was also the famed 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, a failed attempt to secure weapons from a federal armory to arm freed slaves with.

The fateful attack would cost him his life. Most of his band of twenty two were slaughtered as they surrendered. Among them were Brown’s sons and numerous freed slaves. He and the survivors were arrested by none other than Robert E. Lee, then a colonel who led the retaking of Harpers Ferry.

Legacy

Brown was executed by hanging on December 2, 1859. Though he had died, his revolutionary legacy would live on. He was immortalized in literature and art, having captured the imagination of militant abolitionists across the country. Henry David Thoreau would sign his praise in ‘Plea for Captain John Brown.’

More importantly, his grime prophecy came true. Before the attack on Harpers Ferry, Brown had almost a thousand steel pikes forged to equip an army of freed slaves. These were confiscated by the federal government but ended up in the hands of a few wealthy and influential southern aristocrats who had these delivered to politicians and military leaders throughout the south. This was a warning. These steel pikes were what awaited them and their families if the southern states stayed a part of the increasingly anti-slavery Union. The message was clear. And at the Battle of Fort Sumter, the first battle of the Civil War, Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard held one of these pikes in his hand as he ordered the assault on the fortress.

“John Brown” pikes on display.

Some have called Brown a terrorist and a madman. He is slandered just as mercilessly and as baselessly as all revolutionary heroes are. Reality paints a very different picture of the man.

Brown was a skilled writer and orator. He spoke passionately about abolition and egalitarianism and rewrote the Constitution to show how the United States should defend the oppressed and eradicate slavery and exploitation.

Now the real question is, what the hell is so crazy about fighting for your fellow man’s freedom? What’s crazy is a society which puts black bodies in chains. What’s crazy are whites looking to compromise when black people are being killed and enslaved with impunity. Crazy is claiming to be anti-racist while systematically benefitting from racism and never once acknowledging it. Being outraged at oppression and taking a stand at the cost of your privilege is the most sane thing you can do. And it was as sane then as it is now, when black people are still being killed or dragged away, put in chains, and enslaved.

So as we remember John Brown and all who died in the ongoing struggle against racism and oppression, remember that while sane, rational moderates discussed the end of slavery, “madmen” were freeing slaves.

Or, as Malcolm X once put it: “If a white man wants to be your ally, [ask him] what does he think of John Brown? You know what John Brown did? He went to war. He was a white man who went to war against white people to help free slaves. He wasn’t nonviolent. White people call John Brown a nut. Go read the history, go read what all of them say about John Brown.

“But they depict him in this image because he was willing to shed blood to free the slaves. And any white man who is ready and willing to shed blood for your freedom—in the sight of other whites, he’s nuts.”

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Cuba After Castro: Cuba’s New President and Parliament

The resignation of Raul Castro is, of course, bittersweet for the people of Cuba. Elected president in 2008, Castro has stepped down at age 86 to make way for a new generation of leaders. Cuba has been led by its revolutionary heroes since 1959. The new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, has big shoes to fill but seems more than able to lead Cuba into modernity.

The President

At age 57, Díaz-Canel never lived under the rule of pre-revolutionary dictator Fulgencio Batista. He has only ever known socialism. During his inaugural addresson April 19, Díaz-Canel vowed to maintain the legacy of the revolution and late Cuban President Fidel Castro. He is also hugely distrustful of imperialist powers like the United States, citing the Trump Administrations opposition to diplomatic normalization. He promises to work toward economic reform and modernization. However, he has been critical of the recent economic reforms. He is an ardent communist and promises to combat corruption and revitalize the Party, reinforces its ties to the Cuban people on the ground level. He made things very clear in a speech before the National Assembly, saying: “there is no room in Cuba for those who strive for the restoration of capitalism.”

This hard-line stance is not the only thing dividing him from the Party old guard. Díaz-Canel is also something of a loose cannon, known for his swagger and willingness to defy convention. He is decidedly less conservative than most of the old timers and promises sweeping social reforms, especially in regards to LGBTQIA rights. He also advocates for more critical coverage by the state-run media and wider internet access throughout the nation.

The National Assembly

The parliamentary election has been equally as historic. More Afro-Cubans and young people were elected than ever before and Cuba now has the second highest female majority in parliament in the world.

The youngest and oldest members of Cuba’s National Assembly: 19 year old Leydimara de la Caridad Cárdenas Isasi alongside 94 year old José Ramón Fernández.

53% of all members of the National Assembly are now women. People aged 18 to 35 grew to over 13%. The average age of members decreased from 57 to 49. Over 35% are of African descendant.

It seems the tenets of democracy, equal, and modernization are alive and well in Cuba. The increased representation of women, minorities, and progressives at even the highest levels of government can only help usher the island nation into a bright future. I anticipate great things from the new National Assembly and President Díaz-Canel and wish Raul Castro a good retirement.

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Korean Peace Summit: a Meeting 65 Years in the Making

On April 27, Kim Jong-un became the first North Korean leader to cross the border into South Korea since 1953 in a historic peace summit with President Moon Jae-in. The summit was the result of months of talks between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea. It was highly organized and choreographed, filled with rich symbolism and history.

A Beautiful, Candid Moment

Having crossed the border into the South, Kim briefly broke scrip to invite Moon to cross into the North, saying: “As I walked over here, I thought ‘why was it so difficult to get here?’ The separating line wasn’t even that high to cross. It was too easy to walk over that line and it took us 11 years to get here. … Maybe this is the right time for you to enter North Korean territory.” Moon took him up on the offer, leaving Koreans on both sides stunned and elated.

After the fanfare died down, Kim, Moon, and their delegations sat down to discuss military diminution, denuclearization, and the possibility of a permanent peace agreement. After two hours of discussions, the two planted a tree using water and soil from the North and South before enjoying dinner together with their wives.

First Ladies Ri Sol-ju of the DPRK (left) and Kim Jung-sook of the RoK (right) arriving at the summit.

The summit has already bore fruit. Tensions have been significantly diminished. A Korea Research Center poll shows nearly 80% of South Koreans now trust Kim Jong-un and reunification is once again an important issue in the South. The DPRK has agreed to cease all nuclear tests and the RoK has agreed to cease their propaganda operations on the border. The agreement itself, The Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity, and Unification of the Korean Peninsula, is a remarkable document. Named for the ‘Peace House’ at the border village of Panmunjom in which it was signed, it describes the division of Korea as a “Cold War relic” and lays out the plans for, among other things, permanently stationing two liaisons on the border from both sides to improve future communication and allowing the families torn apart by the division to reunite on August 15th of this year, the anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan.

Director Kim Yo-jong, the only woman at the summit table, taking notes next to Chairman Kim Jong-un.

Enter the Chauvinists

Many in the international community have already congratulated Korea on their success. In China, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she “applauds” the two leaders’ courage. She also quoted a particularly poignant poem – “Disasters are never powerful enough to separate real brothers, and a smile is all they need to eliminate the hard feelings.” President Vladimir Putin told Moon Russia was ready to promote inter-Korean cooperation. The White House also praised the meeting.

Since the country no longer publishes their economic statistics, the most reliable source on their economy is generally considered to be the RoK’s central bank, the Bank of Korea. They estimate that the DPRK economy has grown at a rate of about 2% every year since 1998 with no visible effect from sanctions. In fact, their economy had a massive leap in 2006 and 2007 immediately after another round of international sanctions were imposed on them. And though China has publically stated they are abiding by the UN sanctions, many Chinese ships have been caught illegally trading with Korea. Though the scale of this illegal trade is unknown, what is known is that DPRK’s planned economy is infinitely more stable than previously assumed. Sanctions or no sanctions, they’re doing just fine.

And now, a history lesson

The DPRK has been open to discussing peace for years. Its the US, Japan, and the RoK’s corrupt and anti-democratic leaders who have been turning down peace talks and even taunting the DPRK. Korea wouldn’t even have remained divided this long if US-installed dictator Syngman Rhee didn’t massacre more than 100,000 communist and democratic activists, all of whom supported unification under the democratically elected Kim Il-sung all the way back in 1950. And the RoK’s last president, Park Geun-hye, was too busy siphoning money to her bizarre religious cult to give much thought to reunification.

Though Moon has been more willing to talk than his predecessors, he had already green lit the joint US-South Korean war games, a months long simulated invasion of the DPRK which ends with the decapitation of an effigy of Kim Jong-un, in March, barely a month before the peace summit.

If anyone deserves a Nobel Peace Prize it’s the late Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un, or Kim Yo-jong. (Though its not like the Nobel Peace Prize means anything anymore.) The recent peace summit was the culmination of a 65 year long plan that began when the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953.

It’s important to first note that the Korean War was not an attempt at conquering territory. It began in response to US-installed dictator Syngman Rhee’s massacre of communists, democratic activists, and pro-reunification forces in the South. The Korean People’s Army pushed into South Korea and were assisted by local anti-fascist and anti-imperialist guerrillas, as well as mutineers in the South Korean army. It was not until US troops invaded that the South was put back under Rhee’s control (though he and his fascist clique would later be overthrown). After the failure of the Korean War, President Kim Il-sung set his sights on peaceful reunification (and, of course, rebuilding the country, which had been leveled by American bombing campaigns and lost 20% of its population, as did the RoK). He outlined out three conditions for peaceful unification:

  1. National reunification must be achieved independently, without foreign interference.
  2. Differences in systems should be overlooked. Rather than the RoK accepting socialism or the DPRK accepting capitalism, the two should form a democratic confederacy. This way, Korea would be one nation and people would be free to trade and travel across it but the two halves would be able to run things as they saw fit.
  3. Unification should be peaceful. To ensure this, each sides military should be drastically reduced.

Kim Jong-il unfortunately was forced to focus on self-defense and military build up due to pressure from the US, Japan, and their lackeys in the RoK. He began pursuing Songun politics (English: military first) as the rest of the region militarized.

However, the peace process was restarted by Kim Jong-un who took up the banner of Songun politics but shifted the focus towards peace and negotiation. By completing the nuclear program, he ensured that the DPRK would not become the next Iraq or Libya and gave the nation some leverage. He put pressure on the RoK to pursue peace regardless of what the US or Japan wanted and made Korean reunification and US military presence a major issue again in the South.

Moreover, the summit would not have been possible without the work of Kim Yo-jong. She’s something of a rising star in North Korean politics and became hugely popular in South Korea after her appearance at the 2018 Winter Olympics. She was instrumental in getting Kim and Moon together, having personally delivered letters back and forth between the two and meeting diplomats in South Korea many times in the months leading up to the summit.

Indeed, the summit was the first step in realizing Kim Il-sung’s vision of peaceful independent reunification.

No matter who takes credit for it, history will prove that Korean reunification is a Korean matter to be settled by the Korean people. The “new history” of peace the two leaders have ushered in at this summit should be welcomed by all peace loving peoples of the world; and we have only Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un, Kim Yo-jong, and Moon Jae-in to thank for it.

Liberals Need to Get Real on Russiagate

With the utterly unsurprising reelection of Vladimir Putin and the ever plummeting approval rating of alleged Kremlin puppet Donald Trump, Russia has been put in the cross hairs of western politicians and media outlets yet again. Not since the McCarthy era have Americans been so worried about Russians meddling in American affairs. Let’s not mince words, Russiagate is birtherism for liberals. It was ridiculous to suggest that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. It’s ridiculous to suggest that, as Huffington Post columnist Robert Kuttner put it, “Trump literally became president in a Russia-sponsored coup d’etat.”

Of Memes and Money

According to Advertising Age, political campaign ads in the 2016 presidential election cost a whopping $9.8 billion. Meanwhile, the Russian propaganda that’s apparently destroying US democracy cost about $100,000 in a span of years to put up on Facebook.

These ads were little more than memes, grainy stock photos with misspelled captions. “Hillary is Satan!” “Sharia in America!” “Democrats for open borders!” “They’ll kill patriots and Christians!” It was nothing different than what right wingers have whispered for years and been made fun of for. Not exactly Russia’s best work

But what of their tactics? Former Hillary Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon told the Washington Post, “It seems like the creative instincts and the sophistication exceeds a lot of the US political operatives who do this for a living.” So what did they do exactly?

Well, they tried to target disillusioned Bernie Sanders supporters, workers in Middle America, and anyone in battleground states. Ignoring the fact that Trump himself said that was his strategy, all they managed to figure out was that some voters were more persuadable than others.

I honestly don’t understand how people aren’t embarrassed to suggest that thirteen dudes with an okay grasp of the English language ran a better campaign than a former secretary of state and her team of moneyed professionals.

Going Low

By far the most disturbing aspect of the Russiagate scandal is that liberals have proven themselves to be exactly as bad as conservatives.

Every liberal in America felt disgust and amusement as conservative zealots blamed climate change and gun violence on Black Lives Matter and George Soros, alluding to some vast communist conspiracy. Now they’re doing the same thing. Where conservatives saw Muslims controlling Obama, liberals see Russians controlling Trump.

Guess which sign was made by a liberal and which was made by a conservative.

This kind of thing is all too familiar and shows us the hard truth about the Cold War – it never ended and it was never about ideology.

The Cold War was only ever about controlling the eastern European and Eurasian markets. Hell, Putin likely would not be president today if the International Monetary Fund didn’t facilitate the pillaging of the former Soviet Union, creating the perfect conditions for a strong man to take power and challenge US and NATO imperialism.

Though the Russian Federation is unabashedly capitalist, their foreign policy motivations have remained nearly unchanged since 1949. When we see the conflict in Ukraine and Syria, when we see spy dramas play out in real life, when we see Americans (and Brits) across the political spectrum being called Russian or communist agents, this is simply a continuation of the Cold War. Russiagate and all related controversies are just more battles in our war of words.

And the blatant Russophobia goes back even further.

Left: cartoon by Steve Bell, 2018. Right: Nazi anti-Bolshevik propaganda, 1935.

Liberals have once again shown their true colors. Actual injustice, the exact things so-called “progressives” should be outraged over, are being dismissed as hoaxes, fabricated stories made by Russian operatives.

Take the continued controversy surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline. Violating a treaty with Native Americans, having had five spills after only six months of operation, and having Trump’s express approval, this should be a huge rallying point for environmentalists, civil rights activists, and Democrats across the country. The violence against protesters by the police alone should inspire the same kind of outrage Black Lives Matters was able to harness.

And for a brief moment it did, Obama actually blocked the pipeline before leaving office. But this was only to protect his image. He knew Trump would unblock it as soon as he took office. Of course, this was extremely unpopular but, fortunately for them and the oil companies, the entire thing was chalked up to a conspiracy spread by Russian trolls.

But that’s nothing compared to the shameless hypocrisy of crying at the possibility of a foreign power interfering with US politics while supporting violent regime change in Syria, Venezuela, and the DRP of Korea. Just during the Cold War the US attempted to change at least 72 governments, most of which were democratically elected reformist governments.

Democrats have stood right beside Republicans during all of it. Whether it’s Vietnam or Iraq, going to war has been almost exclusively a bipartisan effort. Hillary Clinton herself was an outspoken war hawk, supporting military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, the overthrow the government of Libya, and military intervention in Syria and Yemen. Though less outspoken about it, President Obama only increased US military presence in Pakistan, Syria, and especially Africa.

Liberals, I’m speaking directly to you now

If you actually want change and progress then you have to stop it with the conspiracy theory nonsense which has so isolated the Republican Party and embrace principled resistance to the right wing. Return to the anti-war platform. Return to social justice. Embrace actual leftist ideology.

Stay away from baseless accusations and xenophobia. You’re only hurting yourself as well as every marginalized people, the working class, and the world.

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