Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Leonard Peltier and the primal needs of Capital* (2004)

From Issue 19 of the World Socialist Review

In a remote section of South Dakota just north of Nebraska lies an Indian reservation known as Pine Ridge. At one time largely agricultural, it became hugely attractive to the U.S. government when it was discovered that beneath the Indian lands lay one of the largest uranium reserves in the United States. All through the years, treaties with the Indians had been consistently violated because of the major mineral reserves beneath the Indian territories.

When Pine Ridge became the focus of the United States government, the Indian residents were strongly opposed to uranium development on their turf. Bitterness grew as problems were exacerbated with the increasing threat of U.S. intervention. Turning to the American Indian Movement (AIM) for assistance led to military conflict with the FBI, which refused to listen to the complaints of the Indians. The struggle lasted 71 days, resulting in the deaths of two Pine Ridge natives and the outlawing of all activities at Pine Ridge.

During the following three years, now referred to as the “Reign of Terror,” violent assaults continued to take place in which vast numbers of Indians were murdered or maimed. With the government intent on destroying the AIM and thereby removing a major obstacle in their plans to exploit the uranium booty, homes were burned, shootings and beatings became rampant. So many native Americans were killed that Pine Ridge had the highest annual murder rate in the U.S. Again the AIM came to their assistance, and among those who responded was Leonard Peltier. The conflict led to three murder indictments including that of Leonard Peltier, accused of shooting two FBI agents. No evidence was ever introduced to support the accusation. Subsequently, Peltier escaped to Canada, convinced that he would never receive a fair trial in the U.S. Less than a year later, he was apprehended.

Myrtle Poor Bear was an Indian woman who had never met Leonard Peltier. Terrified under interrogation by the FBI, she testified against him. This terror-induced accusation led to the extradition of Peltier to the U.S. All of her incriminating statements were later withdrawn, and Myrtle Poor Bear confessed that her fear of the FBI had led her to make false statements. With the government determined to pin the guilt on Peltier and thus remove the bête noire from their uranium quest, her confessions were thrown aside and ignored.

Despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence, the trial was rigged against him with perjury and manufactured evidence. No witness was ever found who could identify Leonard as the man who shot and killed two FBI agents. Hundreds of thousands of pages of critical evidence pinpointing the unprovoked attack on Pine Ridge were withheld from the trial.

The events here described and the part played by Peltier were detailed in a book by Peter Matthieson, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. This revealing report was kept out of print for eight years, while the FBI sued the author and publisher for libel. Although the Supreme Court eventually denied the suit, the stunning evidence produced by the book was unavailable at the time of Leonard Peltier’s trial.

Today Pine Ridge has an 86 percent unemployment rate, the lowest life expectancy and the highest infant mortality rate in the nation. The government’s vindictiveness toward the Lakota people led to the ruin of innumerable lives. The ongoing penal servitude of Leonard Peltier at Leavenworth Prison is the direct consequence of the FBI’s unabated pressure to keep him confined.

Despite worldwide appeals from human-rights organizations, and the publicity given to the merits of his case, 500 FBI agents marched in Washington to oppose clemency for him. They continue to use their authority to thwart all efforts to obtain his freedom, now denied him for 28 years.

Leonard Peltier is not in prison for the murder of two FBI agents. Of that he is demonstrably not guilty. Leonard Peltier is in prison because he is a potential threat to governmental forces intent on exploiting the mineral resources that lie buried beneath In- dian territory. The facts of Leonard’s conviction are well known. Well known also is the bitter massacre of the Indians at Wounded Knee, which left an entire community devastated.** Terror-stricken families and ruined lives draw little compassion from those whose motives are purely profit-driven. They are “collateral damage.” The drive for profit under capitalism overrides all human considerations. Like the conflict in Iraq, the huge loss of lives and the obliteration of the infrastructures are a price worth paying for the control of huge oil reserves needed for the operation of the capitalist machine.

Such reports are not unique to America. All over the world human values are subordinated to the primal needs of capital.

Indeed, they scream out for a change from this power-driven, cash-oriented social system to one that emphasizes cooperation, and in which human values are the measure of all human action. They send a message to all who will listen that the world hungers for a society that will eliminate needless suffering and re- place it with opportunities for all human beings to lead fulfilling lives.
Mardon Cooper

* Sources: Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, Anthony Rayson (Prison Abolition), Matt Sherman (AIM) and Leonard Peltier (“Prison Writings”).

** The massacre at Wounded Knee took place on December 29, 1890. See, for example, http:// The siege at Wounded Knee, referred to above, began on February 27, 1973 and lasted 71 days.

Leonard Peltier has provided us with words that should resonate with those who share this vision:
The Message 
Silence, they say, is the voice of complicity.
But silence is impossible.
Silence screams.
Silence is a message,
Just as doing nothing is an act. 
Let who you are ring out and resonate
in every word and every deed.
Yes, become who you are.
There’s no sidestepping your own being
or your own responsibility. 
What you do is who you are.
You are your own comeuppance.
You become your own message. 
You are the message.

The Life and Letters of Isaac Rab (2011)

Book Review from issue 22 of the World Socialist Review

Role Modeling Socialist Behavior: The Life and Letters of Isaac Rab by Karla Doris Rab,  504 pages. Lulu Press. $23.16.

For most of the twentieth century, Isaac Rab (1893 – 1986) was well known in the Boston area as a socialist soap-box orator, lecturer, and teacher. He was a founding member of the World Socialist Party of the United States and a central figure in the Boston Local for many years.

In this book, our comrade Karla Rab, who is the granddaughter of Isaac Rab, tells the story of his life and presents a large selection of his surviving correspondence as well as many photographs. She draws on her own reminiscences and on those of many others who knew her grandfather.

Isaac Rab was born into an immigrant socialist family on December 22, 1893. He devoted his whole life to the cause until his death on New Year’s Eve 1986. In 1916 he helped form the WSP from the left wing of the Michigan Socialist Party in Detroit. Later he settled in Boston, where he organized the Boston Local of the WSPUS in 1932. He also taught classes on Marxian economics for other organizations, including the Communist Party, the Proletarian Party, and various Trotskyist groupings.

Karla Rab’s book is, of course, about much more than her grandfather as an individual. It is the first history of the World Socialist Movement in the United States. Its importance is great but subtle. It is often said that history is written by the winners. Even the obscure history of North American left politics has its hierarchy. Credibility is given only to “winners” such as the Industrial Workers of the World, the Communist Party, and the Congress of Industrial Organizations – even though many of the problems that plague the workers' movement are the logical outcomes of their policies.

Social democrats and Leninists like to portray smaller groups like the WSPUS as “isolated sects.” And as the history of the working class movement has been written mainly by them, who is to challenge what they say? However, with the collapse of the left in the United States there has been a reassessment of what various political organizations actually accomplished. For example, in their study of the Auto Workers Union [1] the 1930s era Trotskyists Genora and Sol Dollinger conclude that the Communist “leaders” of the Flint sit-down strikes only succeeded thanks to assistance from the Proletarian Party, which has usually been derided as an isolated sect.

The book under review proves that the WSPUS, while small, was hardly isolated. Rab’s letters demonstrate involvement in the United Auto Workers and the Typographers' Union (a model of democratic unionism) as well as discussions and debates among a wide range of left groups. Among the members of the WSPUS there were highly experienced class warriors. William Pritchard and Jack McDonald had helped lead the Western Labour Rebellion in Canada. Sam Orner had been an IWW organizer in the hard metal mines of the American Rockies as well as the leader of a famous strike of New York City taxi cab drivers in 1934. (He was the model for the character Lefty in Clifford Odet’s famous play, Waiting for Lefty.) The Detroit Local of the WSPUS had members who had helped form the United Auto Workers and played roles in the educational services of the most militant UAW locals (Irving Canter, Joe Brown, David Davenport, Frank Marquart). [2]

Another important thing about Karla Rab’s book is that it shows how Rab organized his political activity. His letters are a lesson of lasting value in how to approach the personal as well as the intellectual and educational aspects of building a movement for socialism. I have forty years of experience in organizing community groups and labor unions as well as political groups. I have found this book a first-class resource and have dipped into it repeatedly since first reading it in draft form.
FN Brill 

[1] Soll Dollinger and Genora Johnson Dollinger, Not Automatic: Women and the Left in the Forging of the Auto Workers Union (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000).
[2] See: Frank Marquart, An Auto Worker’s Journal: The UAW from Crusade to One-Party Union (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976).

Material World: Collateral damage in Flint (2019)

The Material World Column from the May 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

The wheels of justice turn slowly, and the effects of lead poisoning are also slow and pernicious.

The city of Flint’s water crisis began in April 2014. In a cost-saving measure to save around $5m the state-appointed city manager changed the city’s water source from treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water, sourced from Lake Huron and the Detroit River, to water from the Flint River. General Motors used the river as its private dumping ground for decades; it is highly polluted and highly acidic.

Typically, water in mass systems at the city and wider level is treated with corrosion inhibiters, chemical compounds which reduce the likelihood of pipes corroding. Officials failed to apply corrosion inhibitors to the Flint River water, in defiance of federal law, causing lead from aging pipes to leach into the water supply. Michigan state officials insisted that the water was safe, ignoring calls for the water supply to be switched back to the Detroit system on the grounds that switching back would be too expensive. It wasn’t until September 2015 that a report revealed that 40 percent of Flint homes had dangerously elevated lead levels, and declared Flint water unfit to drink. Eventually in October 2015 the state finally agreed to switch Flint back to the Lake Huron supply, but the damage had already been done. Many people had got sick. Potentially thousands of children were exposed to hazardous levels of lead. The full extent of the damage is still unclear and isn’t likely to be known for some time.

What does lead do to the human body? Infants and small children can suffer brain and nervous system damage, weakened immune systems and general physical collapse that can lead to death. Pregnant women have a higher risk of stillbirth or miscarriage. A raft of studies has pretty much concluded that lead can cause cancer. It causes cardiovascular diseases and kidney damage which, like cancer, can also kill. Five parts of lead per billion are a concern. 5,000 parts per billion is considered toxic waste. From April 2014 until October 2015 the people of Flint were drinking water with up to 13,000 parts per billion of lead in it.

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality officials urged people worried about lead in Flint’s drinking water to ‘relax,’ saying that there was no ‘broad problem’ with contamination. They described the whistleblower EPA official, Miguel Del Toral, whose draft report initially alerted lead-poisoned Flint residents to their great danger, as a ‘rogue employee.’ They also attacked the work of Virginia Tech expert Marc Edwards and his team of graduate students, which revealed that some Flint tap water measured nearly 2.5 times more lead contamination than the EPA’s hazardous waste designation level. They cast doubts upon Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the pediatric residency program at Flint’s Hurley Hospital whose research showed that after the switch to untreated Flint River drinking water, blood lead levels in children doubled, or even tripled. Residents were left to drink poisoned water for months despite warnings from experts.

Edwards explained, ‘In Flint the agencies paid to protect these people weren’t solving the problem. They were the problem’.

There are presently court cases against former and current state government officials. On April the 1st, US District Court Judge Judith Levy declared that former Governor Rick Snyder can be sued by residents in Flint. Levy wrote in her ruling:
 Plaintiffs plausibly state that the Governor acted indifferently to the risk of harm they faced, demonstrating a callous disregard for their right to bodily integrity. This indifference manifested itself in two ways. Initially, the Governor was indifferent because instead of mitigating the risk of harm caused by the contaminated water, he covered it up. In private, he worried about the need to return Flint to DWSD water and the political implications of the crisis. But in public, he denied all knowledge, despite being aware of the developing crisis… As a result, plaintiffs were lured into a false sense of security. They could have taken protective measures, if only they had known what the Governor knew. Instead, the Governor misled them into assuming that nothing was wrong. Governor Snyder’s administration even encouraged them to continue to drink and bathe in the water.
People in Flint and their children were merely collateral damage in a larger war. Which war? The class war of the capitalists against everybody else.

Editorial: There is only one world (2019)

Editorial from the May 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

We live on a planet that is capable of providing all its inhabitants with the food, housing, health care, education and the other amenities of life that they need. But this does not happen. Instead, there are no end of problems.

No end of problems
One problem, that affects everyone, is the threat of global warming caused by the reckless burning of fossil fuels. It’s not the only environmental one. There’s also the pollution of the seas by plastic waste. Then there’s world poverty and malnutrition while the super-rich get even richer to the extent that Oxfam has estimated that just eight men own as much as half the world.

And wars.  The world’s most powerful states compete to control access to raw materials and routes to get them out, in which might is right. As yet there have only been proxy wars fought by local puppets, as in the Yemen, in which the local population suffers terribly. The powerful states waste the world’s resources to equip themselves with the most deadly weapons of mass destruction they can afford.

Capitalism has failed
The economic system that exists all over the world today is capitalism where productive resources are owned and control by a few rich individuals, corporations states and whose rules of operation are ‘no profit, no production’ and ‘can’t pay, can’t have’. It is this system of production for profits that is the root cause of the world’s problems as it imposes that making profits has to take priority over meeting people’s needs and protecting the planet.

It is clear that there can be no national solutions to these problems. Those who are saying that things will get better if Britain leaves the EU and tries to go it alone are deluding themselves and have deceived their followers. Those who want to stay in the EU don’t make this mistake but the EU is one of the big blocs competing for markets and raw materials. It is part of the problem not the solution.

The way out
The only way-out is global. It’s the world’s natural and industrial resources becoming the common heritage of all humanity so that they can be used to directly meet the needs of the world’s population on the basis of ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need’. Free of ownership by the few and the rule of ‘no profit, no production’, this is the only framework within which problems such as global warning, growing inequality and wars can be tackled for good.

This is what we are standing for in these elections. If you agree you can show this by voting for our list. If you want to know more about our aims just fill in and send us the reply coupon below.

May Day: the endless fight for the eight-hour day (2019)

From the World Socialist Party of the United States website

Dancing round the Maypole on the First of May is an ancient custom. Only in 1891, however, did May Day become an occasion for workers’ demonstrations. The date was chosen to commemorate a police massacre during a rally at Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 4, 1886. The rally was in support of a strike for an eight-hour working day, and the eight-hour day became one of the two main demands raised in May Day demonstrations, the other being world peace.

The struggle for world peace got off to a promising start when in August 1904, in the middle of war between Japan and Russia, leading Japanese and Russian socialists Sen Katayama and Georgi Plekhanov shook hands on the platform of the Sixth Congress of the Second International in Amsterdam. But a mere ten years later, in 1914, the main European socialist parties collaborated with ‘their’ governments in unleashing the dogs of war. The fratricidal slaughter that came to be known as the Great War and then as World War One.

The struggle for world peace is altogether too depressing a subject. An article in celebration of May Day should have an upbeat tone. Let’s concentrate on the demand for the eight-hour day.

Dark Satanic Mills
It appears that the demand for an eight-hour day was first raised in 1817 by pioneer socialist Robert Owen. This was at a time when 14 or even 16-hour days were imposed on adults and young children alike in the factories of Britain’s industrial revolution – ‘these dark Satanic Mills’ as William Blake called them in his poem Jerusalem. 

Over 200 years have passed since then – surely time enough for us to push working time down to eight hours a day. Or down even further. So you might have thought.

And workers have achieved that goal. In Europe. Especially in Germany, where in 1978 workers staged a six-week national strike for a 35-hour week. The strike failed, but a 37.5-hour week, i.e., a seven-and-a-half-hour day, did become standard. Last year Germany’s largest trade union, IG Metall, won a 28-hourworking week for 900,000 workers in the metals and electrical industries. How about that?

Not in the United States
But not in the United States, even though American labor movement publications called for an eight-hour day as early as 1836. 

True, some groups of American workers did achieve an eight-hour day quite early on. In 1868 Congress passed a law establishing an eight-hour day for laborers and mechanics employed by the federal government (at the same time their wages were cut by 20%). The 1870s saw the rise of Eight-Hour Leagues. A big strike in New York City won the eight-hour day in 1872, mostly for building workers. By 1905 the eight-hour day was also common among printers. 

But most American workers were still working at least twelve hours a day.

The eight-hour day spread more widely during World War One, when labor was in short supply. In 1914 the Ford Motor Company shortened shifts from nine hours to eight, and after some time other companies in the automobile industry followed suit. The Adamson Act of 1916 established an eight-hour day for railway workers.  

The Fair Labor Standards Act, enacted under the New Deal of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1938, did not establish a maximum working day or week, but it did create an incentive for employers to limit working time. It did this by means of the rule that employees working over forty hours a week must be paid at an overtime rate 50% higher than the standard rate.

Gradual improvement continued in the 1940s. Working time stabilized in the 1950s and 1960s at an average level of about 42 hours a week. American workers were fairly close to the eight-hour day at that time, but most never quite reached it.

And since the 1970s average working time has increased again.

At present 86% of male workers and 67% of female workers have a working day longer than eight hours. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 8.8 hours a day. A 2014 national Gallup poll found that respondents worked on average 47 hours a week, i.e., 9.4 hours a day. Many reported working at least 50-hour weeks, i.e., 10-hour days.  

Two full-time jobs
Moreover, overtime is not the only factor that needs to be taken into account. Over a third of American workers (37%) have second jobs. Many are working two full-time jobs, that is, 16 hours a day – just as workers did in Britain in the early 19th century. There’s progress for you! 

The picture looks even worse when we shift our attention from the individual worker to the family or household. In 1960, only 20% of mothers worked. Today 70% of American children are ‘latchkey kids’ who live in households where all the adults are employed. 

Over 200 years since Robert Owen first set the goal of an eight-hour day and it’s still out of reach! And this despite the huge rise that has taken place in the productivity of labor! 

As I said, an article in celebration of May Day should have an upbeat tone. That is why I decided not to discuss the prospects for world peace. But I fear that I have still not achieved the optimistic note that I was aiming at. If so, I sincerely apologize. 

It is customary to end an article by explaining the conclusions to be drawn. Instead I invite you to choose among the following:
- Emigrate to Germany
- Do not read any more articles by this author
- Work for socialism
- Organize more, bigger, and better May Day demonstrations
- Study the experience of European trade unions