Sunday, May 30, 2010

Black Liberation and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat


The fight for a modern
‘land and labor league’

The following is the 20th in a series of excerpts the Militant is running from Pathfinder Press’s latest book, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. We encourage our readers to study, discuss, and help sell the book. This selection comes from the chapter “Black Liberation and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” Copyright © 2009 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission. Subhead is by the Militant.


BY JACK BARNES

At the big public meeting here in New York two days ago, we encouraged participants to visit the exhibition on “Slavery in New York” at the New York Historical Society. Among many other things, the exhibit describes the New York Manumission Society founded in 1785. I noted that John Jay—president of the Continental Congress for several years during the American Revolution, and later governor of New York and Chief Justice of the United States—was a founder of the society and had included in its constitution the following words: “The benevolent Creator and Father of men [has] given to them all an equal right to Life, Liberty and Property.”

I contrasted this favorably to Thomas Jefferson’s decision, in drafting the Declaration of Independence a decade earlier, to alter those words—much used by bourgeois opponents of monarchical tyranny and feudal reaction at the time—and replace them with the more intangible phrase: “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” With the exception of the four children of Sally Hemings, none of the other slaves owned by Thomas Jefferson were freed by him, even in his will; 130 were sold at auction when he died. Possibly that puts into some perspective Jefferson’s practical understanding of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The banner “Life, Liberty and Property” was much more in the interests of all working people. It was the dispossession of independent toiling producers by capital that left us with no other choice but to sell our labor power to an employer in order to survive and thus gave rise to our class, the hereditary proletariat. They took away our free use of tools. They drove us off the land, and out of independent crafts and trades. They deprived us of our own means of production. They took over the commons. And it was the brutal denial of both liberty and property—even the right to hold property, much less the opportunity to do so—that marked chattel slavery and many other forms of bonded labor. In the chapters of Capital on “So-Called Primitive Accumulation,” Marx describes in some detail how, as a result of these combined processes, the capitalist mode of production came into the world “dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and filth.”

‘Pursuit of happiness’
Once we’ve established a workers and farmers government and expropriated the capitalist class, working people will be plenty competent to take care of our own “pursuit of happiness”—and we’ll pursue a lot of it on the way. Contrary to the bourgeois misrepresentation of communists as utopian social engineers, proletarian revolutionists—like most other workers—firmly believe that many things in life are best left to the individual. The right to privacy is real. We think the state, including a workers state, should keep its nose out of our “pursuit of happiness.”

Neither the proletarian dictatorship, nor the communist society it is a bridge toward, has anything to do with some great collective barracks of humanity. That’s not what communism is about. To the contrary, as the Communist Manifesto explains, “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” We have little idea what it will be like, but it will be a lot better for working people.

Today, more than 130 years after Marx identified the class forces capable of making the third American revolution—a socialist revolution—that same alliance remains central to the task: free labor, free farmers exploited by capital, and the men and women who freed themselves from the defeated slavocracy. Those forces remain at the heart of building a modern land and labor league,* the revolutionary proletarian party that can do the job.

Amid the powerful nationwide strikes sparked by rail workers in 1877, Marx wrote to Engels:

This first eruption against the oligarchy of associated capital which has arisen since the Civil War will of course be put down, but it could quite well form the starting point for the establishment of a serious labour party in the United States… .

The policy of the new President [of withdrawing Union troops backing Radical Reconstruction governments across the South] will turn the Negroes into allies of the workers, and the large expropriations of land (especially fertile land) in favour of railway, mining, etc., companies will convert the peasants of the West, who are already very disenchanted, into allies of the workers.

As I explained in the 1984 SWP convention report, “The Fight for a Workers and Farmers Government in the United States”:

But this was not to be. The economic and political reserves of the rising U.S. industrial bourgeoisie were far from exhausted, and thus the class-collaborationist illusions among working people still had deep taproots. The class-struggle leadership of the working class and its revolutionary core were still too small in numbers and inexperienced in class combat. Over the next half century the United States would become the world’s mightiest imperialist power, and the U.S. labor officialdom would become Uncle Sam’s handmaiden.

Moreover, the defeat of Radical Reconstruction dealt a devastating blow to Blacks and other U.S. working people. The U.S. working class became more deeply divided by the national oppression of Blacks that was institutionalized in the South on new foundations in the bloody aftermath of 1877. U.S. labor’s first giant step toward the formation of major industrial unions did not come for another six decades, and the formation of a labor party, anticipated by Marx 108 years ago, remains an unfulfilled task of our class to this day.

Nonetheless, Marx could not have been more correct about the alliance of social forces that would have to be at the center of a successful revolution in the United States—the working class, toilers who are Black, and exploited farmers.

That remains the prognosis for the American revolution, for the conquest of power and establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the United States, to this day.


* The Land and Labour League was launched by a conference of workers in London, England, in October 1869. It was organized at the initiative of the leadership of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA, the “First International”), of which Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were central leaders. Writing to Engels about the founding of the new organization—which aimed to unite industrial workers in the cities with farm laborers and other rural working people in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales—Marx said that “here, the workers’ party makes a clean break with the bourgeoisie” politically. Marx joined the Land and Labour League, and a number of its leaders were members of the IWMA General Council. By late 1870, however, bourgeois forces gained dominance in the league’s leadership, putting the organization on a course away from the IWMA and from its own founding declaration “that nothing short of a transformation of the existing social and political arrangements [can] avail, and that such a transformation [can] only be effected by the toiling millions themselves.”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

New AZ License Plate


BREAKING NEWS


This just in--  we have received a proof copy of the latest Arizona license plate design sporting their new state motto:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Emergency Demonstration to Protest Brutal Attack on Students

Emergency Demonstration to Protest Attack on Students
14 May 2010 2:30 pm 881 E, 152nd Street, Cleveland, OH

On Friday, May 14, at 2:30 PM, outside the Fifth District police station at 881 E. 152nd, the Cleveland chapter of Bail Out the People Movement will join Collinwood High School students in protesting the attack on them by Cleveland police on May 13. Twelve students were attacked after they walked out of school to protest plans by the Cleveland Board of Education to lay off 546 teachers.
 
“This was a vicious attack on students who were peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights,” said BOPM spokesperson Caleb Maupin, who witnessed and videotaped the incident. “They were only defending their right to a decent education and their teachers’ right to a job.

“The walkout began at 10:30 AM, but by 10:45 the police were arresting all twelve students after being called by the principal. I saw one African-American male thrown against the squad car, but the worst brutality was directed against a 19-year old African-American female and her 16-year old sister. As they embraced one another the police forcibly separated the two, threw them to the ground, handcuffed them, put their knees to the students’ heads, and took them downtown. They have been wrongly charged with resisting arrest and face other charges as well. The other ten students were given citations and ordered back to school.
“I later learned that walkout organizer Seth Barlekamp and another student were detained and brutally interrogated by police inside the school, and that Seth was threatened with expulsion.

“Bail Out the People Movement condemns the racist, sexist and anti-youth conduct of the police and the school. This was an attempt to intimidate students and break up their solidarity with the 800 members of the Cleveland Teachers Union and other school unions who stand to lose their jobs, and to force students to accept over a dozen school closings and classes of up to 45 students in an overcrowded room. "It's time to bail out public education, not the banks!

Bail Out the People Movement urges anyone concerned about this incident to call the police station immediately, 216-623-5618 & 216-623-6500 and demand all charges against the students be dropped! Call the Cleveland Board of Education, 216-574-8000, and Collinwood High School, 216-451-8782, and demand the suspensions of the students be rescinded and that the threats to expel and otherwise punish Seth Barlekamp cease.”

To watch Maupin’s video of the police attack go to:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpmjnDW-Ys8

Cleveland: High School Student Protesters Brutalized by Cops

BREAKING NEWS
11:55 am 13 May 2010
from a Cleveland FIST member at the scene

Cleveland FIST went to the support of a student walk-out at Collinwood High School, called by the students to protest the massive school closings. The police swarmed onto the students and visciously attacked them. Two young Black women were thrown to the ground, and had their head stomped on. Another black youth was slammed against the car. The two Cleveland FIST members were told to leave the premises under threat of arrest. As we left, we were grabbed by one of the officers who began swearing at us and telling us to "keep this shit downtown."

Call the police station immediately! Demand they release the students: 216-623-5618 & 216-623-6500

Video of the brutality: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpmjnDW-Ys8

Monday, May 10, 2010

Whither the UK? II

Why do some workers vote for the Tories?

Millions of people will vote Conservative in this week’s general election.

Some will be the filthy rich, supporting the party that best represents their interests. Many more will be from the middle classes.

But ever since working class people won the vote, something like 20 percent of workers have voted for the Tories. Why do they vote for a party that so clearly and consistently attacks their interests?

The revolutionary Karl Marx said, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas... the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”

On one level this is simply because they have more money to spread their ideas.

This translates into more glossy leaflets, more campaign staff, more phone calls – and the thousands of Tory billboards that blight our streets.

There is the daily propaganda for the Conservatives by the Tory press barons.

But the ideas of people who control a society also become that society’s “common sense”. Most people accept ideas that are used to prop up capitalism – such as that competition is part of human nature.

In the early 20th century Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist, expanded this into his theory of “hegemony”.

He said that institutions like schools, churches and the family act as a “transmission belt” for ruling class ideas.

So, for example, the idea that our rulers are “our betters” is drilled into us at school.

Trained

We are trained to believe “experts” like Bank of England banker Mervyn King, who is calling for tough “austerity” cuts to public spending.

The obvious answer to the crisis – tax the rich – is almost invisible in mainstream debate, because such people would never suggest it.

Even most people who accept some socialist ideas, also accept that changes have to be made within the framework of the current system.

The Labour Party tradition argues that the system could be run more in the interests of ordinary people, but still accepts many of the common sense arguments that the rich put forward. They say we are all in it together and there is a national interest shared by rich and poor alike.

When ordinary people do get a look in, it is because it suits the agenda of the powerful.

For example, look at the way the press leapt on remarks by Rochdale voter Gillian Duffy to Gordon Brown.

More generally, the right wing media cuts with the grain of capitalist society by picking on the poor and vulnerable instead of the rich and powerful.

It perpetuates the worst prejudices in society every day – trying to stir up racism and divide us from our own neighbours.

It then “reports” on “public opinion” it has helped to feed, creating a right wing echo chamber that dominates political discussion and helps the Tories.

If that was the whole story, though, then surely all workers would vote for right wing parties?

How can there be space for any criticism to exist, whether from a newspaper like Socialist Worker or even the Mirror? Why did the Sun stop supporting the Tories and back Tony Blair?

In fact more workers support Labour than the Tories.

And luckily, workers’ ideas do not simply reflect what the ruling class wants us to think.

People’s opinions are shaped by their experience. For much of the time, the world of competition that the rich and the capitalist media promote does seem common sense to most people.

But their experience also shows another side to life. Workers realise that they are only listened to if they organise collectively.

We all hold many ideas at once – and those ideas will often contradict one another.

There is a constant battle of ideas not just in society, but inside every person’s head.

That’s why it is possible for someone to accept the idea that immigrants cause society’s problems because they’ve read that in the press, but exclude all those they actually know, because their individual experience shows that the stereotype doesn’t fit them.

Workers who vote Tory will still be faced with the choice of whether to fight cuts or not.

The divisions forced on us mean there are usually a minority of scabs and a minority of revolutionaries in the working class.

But every strike, protest and act of resistance can start to shift people’s ideas.

Also in the What Socialists Say series:
» What is the role of the police in capitalist society?
» Why is the media on the bosses’ side?
» From people’s power to workers’ power
» Just who are the Liberal Democrats?



© Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original.

Whither the UK?

Alex Callinicos

Noxious election campaign stirs up racist divisions

by Alex Callinicos

This general election has been the one most dominated by immigration since 1979. Consider the two most important incidents of the past week.

The first was hapless Gordon Brown’s encounter with Gillian Duffy in Rochdale. Brown’s behaviour—polite and patient to her face, calling her “a bigoted woman” behind her back—played into a favourite myth peddled by the tabloids and the British National Party (BNP).

This is that “liberal elites” are happy to see Britain flooded by migrants and refuse to acknowledge the legitimate concerns of “ordinary people” about immigration.

Brown himself clearly subscribes to a version of this myth. Having been caught out, he rushed to apologise to Mrs Duffy. This no doubt reflected a conviction that “ordinary people” are generally “bigoted” and that all Labour leaders can do is pander to anti-immigrant prejudice, however much they may privately dislike it.

This is a longstanding attitude. The diaries of Richard Crossman, Labour cabinet minister in the 1960s, repeatedly express the belief that his working class voters in Coventry were racists who wanted tighter immigration controls.

The second key event for Brown was, of course, the final television debate between the leaders of the three main parties. This was descending into tedium until immigration came up.

We were treated to the spectacle of Brown and David Cameron rounding on Nick Clegg to denounce the Liberal Democrats’ proposal to offer an amnesty to some illegal immigrants. This was partly about the representatives of the old two-party system whacking the new kid on the block.

But Cameron and Brown were also trying to signal that they were hard on immigration. The anger that Clegg displayed in his clashes with Cameron on this issue no doubt reflected anxiety that he was being portrayed as “soft” on migrants.

The irruption of immigration in the final stages of the election has almost certainly worked to the Tories’ advantage.

Detoxify

The Financial Times newspaper carried a piece on the subject last Saturday. Apparently Cameron initially resisted considerable pressure to make immigration central to the Tory election campaign, “fearful that the anti-immigration message peddled by his predecessor Michael Howard would spoil his attempts to detoxify the Tory brand.

“Mr Brown’s travails and the debate questions have done Mr Cameron’s job for him, pushing immigration to the centre of the campaign without forcing him to look like the ‘nasty party’ of old. The subject was one of the hottest topics on Twitter on Friday.

“Tim Montgomerie, editor of the ConservativeHome website and voice of the party’s grassroots, was among those pushing for more aggression at the start of the campaign. But on Friday he told the Financial Times he was now ‘much happier’ with Mr Cameron’s strategy.

“‘It’s very interesting that the issue came up in all three debates and Cameron hit the issue very hard in the last one.’”

Cameron’s strategy bears some resemblance to Margaret Thatcher’s in 1979. Immigration wasn’t formally central to the Tory campaign then either.

But Thatcher had already, in her notorious World in Action interview of January 1978, made it clear where she stood: “People are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.”

This phrase—and particularly the use of the word “swamped”—was enough to signal to anyone hostile to migrants that Thatcher was one of them.

It remains to be seen whether the way the election has tilted towards immigration will help to scrape Cameron together a parliamentary majority. Almost certainly it will benefit the hard anti-migrant parties—the BNP, but also UKIP.

At 1979 general election, the Anti Nazi League had reversed the advance of the National Front. Alas, the BNP and the EDL are still on the offensive. Whoever forms the next government, anti-fascists will have plenty to do to undo the damage caused by this noxious election campaign.



© Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original.

It's right to hate Robert E. Lee: shovel the dirt right into his face!

‘Confederate heritage’ and distortions of history

Published May 7, 2010 7:49 PM

Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell recently issued a proclamation designating April as “Confederate Heritage Month.” This was done initially without even mentioning the Atlantic slave trade or the economic system that was built from the labor of African people brought to North America between the 17th and 19th centuries.

Virginia was the first British colony where Africans were enslaved in the region that later became known as the United States. Beginning in August 1619, when 20 Africans arrived on a slave ship at Jamestown, the process of exploitation and oppression involving millions of people would define the character of North America for another four centuries.

These Africans brought to Virginia initially were designated as indentured servants, as were many Europeans who came during the 17th century to the British colonies in North America. But by 1670 approximately 2,000 Africans had fallen victim to the system of chattel slavery in this region of the continent.

This historical episode in Virginia was not the beginning of slavery or the Atlantic slave trade. Slavery as a world economic system took firm root in the Western Hemisphere beginning in the early 16th century. In 1503 the Spanish directed their attention toward the African continent, seeking a vast reservoir of free untapped labor power.

Initially the Indigenous peoples of North America were transported to the Caribbean islands of Santo Domingo (later Haiti) and Cuba in astronomical numbers for the purpose of chattel slavery. Indigenous peoples suffered and died in great numbers as a result of the barbaric treatment meted out by the European slave traders and owners, often carried out under the rationale of spreading Christianity.

With the conquest of Peru by Francisco Pizarro and Brazil by Pedro Álvares Cabral in the early 16th century, the stage was set for the mass capture and importation of African slaves into South America, the Caribbean and later North America. As early as the mid-1500s, the Native peoples of the Caribbean had virtually become extinct as a result of the genocidal social and economic policies of the European colonialists.

The African population became the numerically dominant group in the so-called West Indies by the middle of the 16th century, serving as the principal engine of economic growth for the Spanish colonialists. Soon afterwards the British adventurers embarked upon the trade in African labor as well, which they proceeded to carry out under charters issued by Elizabeth I and James I.

Today’s ‘debate’ over slavery

After the action taken by Gov. McDonnell, a debate has ensued around the historical significance of slavery in the U.S. Some conservatives and neoconfederates claim that the upholding of the confederate heritage of the South was not intended to be an act of racist denial of the suffering of African people.

These same apologists for the secession of 11 states from the Union government in Washington would go as far as saying that the splitting of the country in 1860-61 had nothing to do with slavery as an economic system but was based on the notion of “states’ rights.” They say that Virginia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and the others withdrew and provoked a civil war because they believed states should be allowed to decide what economic and political system would prevail.

Then there are the false ideas surrounding the character of slavery and its economic impact on U.S. development and on other Western countries as a whole. Southern historians and their supporters advanced notions that the system of exploitation was relatively benign and that Africans were content to work for white plantation owners and other ruling-class interests that were dominant in the Southern U.S.

However, starting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a new current of historians arose who looked at the material benefits that the ruling classes in the United States and Western Europe gained as a result of slavery. Rather than viewing the system of slavery as benign, African-American and other progressive historians argued that the bondage Africans were subjected to created a labor system that not only led to the accumulation of tremendous wealth but also created the conditions for the rise of industrial capitalism.

W.E.B. DuBois wrote in his book “Black Reconstruction” that the system of slavery stripped all rights away from Africans and subjected them to the worst forms of exploitation and degradation. This system not only made enormous profits for the slave owners but destroyed any semblance of family life for the African people.

DuBois notes, “[Black people] could be sold — actually sold as we sell cattle with no reference to calves or bulls, or recognition of family. It was a nasty business. The white South was properly ashamed of it and continually belittled and almost denied it.”

The African-American historian continues, “But it was a stark and bitter fact. Southern papers of the Border States were filled with advertisements: ‘I wish to purchase fifty Negroes of both sexes from 6 to 30 years of age for which I will give the highest cash prices.’” (“Black Reconstruction,” p. 11)

Defenders of the confederacy nevertheless continue to make false claims that Africans were treated reasonably well under the slave system. They have also said that the neoconfederate movement is a mechanism for the descendants of slave owners and those who fought to preserve slavery to honor their heritage. According to many of the neoconfederates, they are not racist in their recognition and championing of this legacy.

A New York Times column by Newsweek editor Jon Meacham regarding the declaration of “Confederate Heritage Month” in Virginia challenges the notion of a nonracist recognition of confederate symbolism and heritage in the South.

“If neo-Confederates are interested in history, let’s talk history,” wrote Meacham. “Since Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Confederate symbols have tended to be more about white resistance to black advances than about commemoration. In the 1880s and 1890s, after fighting Reconstruction with terrorism and after the Supreme Court struck down the 1875 Civil Rights Act, states began to legalize segregation.” (April 11)

Meacham continues: “For white supremacists, iconography of the ‘Lost Cause’ was central to their fight; Mississippi even grafted the Confederate battle emblem onto its state flag. But after the Supreme Court allowed segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, Jim Crow was basically secure. There was less need to rally the troops, and Confederate imagery became associated with the most extreme of the extreme: the Ku Klux Klan.”

Legacy of Virginia slave rebellions

Despite claims to the contrary, Africans revolted against slavery and sought to build an independent existence outside the plantation system. Perhaps the most glaring conflict over the significance of slavery among some whites and African Americans is the effort underway in Richmond, Va., to gain proper recognition of a burial ground for enslaved Africans. The site, which is currently covered up by a parking lot owned by Virginia Commonwealth University, is reported to have contained a detention facility for rebellious Africans and a location for carrying out executions.

A brochure issued by the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project states that “undoubtedly the area’s greatest significance is the fact that, for the three decades preceding the Civil War, it was, after New Orleans, the largest market for enslaved Africans in this country.” (“An Appeal to All People of Good Will: The Case of Reclaiming Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom”)

“This was where many of the 300,000 to 350,000 men, women and children of African descent who were sold from Virginia to plantations in the Deep South were auctioned off. At the same time, it is also a story of incredible courage. From Gabriel’s Rebellion to the mass escape on the hijacked slave ship Creole to thousands of individual acts of rebellion, this continuous resistance to injustice is a tribute to the deep resilience of the human spirit.”

Gabriel was captured and later executed at the site which is today a parking lot owned by VCU. The Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project and other organizations are demanding that this area be not only recognized with a historical marker as it is today, but also that a more extensive memorial be constructed that accounts for the significant legacy of slavery within the economic and political development of Virginia.

Solidarity and the National Question

There can be no real improvement in race relations or the resolution of the national question in the U.S. without the recognition of the horrors of slavery by the ruling class and the payment of reparations for the centuries of stolen, free labor.

In the 21st century, with the election of the first African-American president, the U.S. has witnessed the rise of a new crop of racist and neofascist organizations. This resurgence of racism comes at a time when the U.S. is facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The purpose of this rightward shift, which is supported and encouraged by the corporate media, is to further divide the working class along racial lines and to deflect attention away from the bank bailouts and other direct handouts to the capitalists. Corporate support for the so-called “Tea Party” is designed for the same purpose: to split off white workers from the struggles of the working class and to promote racism against African Americans, Latinos/as, Asians, Indigenous and other oppressed peoples.

Fighting this racism and other forms of bigotry can only be effectively carried out through international solidarity. White workers and the working class as a whole must unite to fight racism and anti-immigrant sentiment.

It is through such forms of solidarity that the working class and nationally oppressed movements can overcome these continuing attempts to divide the people. Such solidarity will strengthen the struggle against racism and national oppression and weaken the hegemony of international finance capital.


Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Pack your bags and make your reservations:

Slavoj Žižek and Tariq Ali at the Subversive Film Festival in Zagreb

Slavoj Žižek & Tariq Ali will both be speaking at the Subversive Film Festival this week. The theme is socialism, and the festival continues until 25th May. Participants by video link include Noam Chomsky and Michael Hardt

The 3rd Subversive Film Festival whose theme this year explores “Socialism”, will be held from 1 to 25 May in the following locations: in the Europa, Tuškanac, Grič and SC cinemas and in the building of the former Museum of Contemporary Art. As previous festivals, this year’s festival will also include a rich film, theoretical and artistic programme as well as a range of other events.

www.subversivefilmfestival.com

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Zimbabwe: A Marxist view

Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe 30 years after independence - a class analysis
Written by David Van Wyk in South Africa
Monday, 03 May 2010 17:30

David van Wyk in South Africa comments on how Mugabe, from a leader of the war of liberation, became a pliant tool in the hands of imperialism, impoverishing the Zimbabwean masses in the process, and only later turning to “land reform” and so-called “economic indigenisation” as a means of diverting attention away from the very problems his policies had provoked in the first place. Mugabe at the African Union in 2008. Photo by TSGT Jeremy Lock



The Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) is a petit bourgeois nationalist organisation that came to power in Zimbabwe in 1980, after elections following the Lancaster House Agreement that was signed with Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party government in Britain. This agreement was signed at the height of Ronald Reagan’s mission to roll back history


The petit bourgeois leaders of ZANU mobilised the peasantry in remote rural areas during the second Chimurenga (liberation war). The working class was effectively ignored during the struggle. After 1980, the nationalist petite bourgeoisie easily dismissed the peasantry, and avoided dealing with the land question for the first fifteen years. The petite bourgeoisie was satisfied with replacing the white settlers, stepping into their shoes and continuing to exploit and oppress both the Zimbabwean working class and the peasantry on behalf of international capital. The nationalist petite bourgeoisie, in the prophetic words of Franz Fanon, “discovered its historic mission: that of intermediary” for international capitalism.

Whereas Hitler was the hammer with which international capitalism crushed the working class in Europe, Ronald Reagan was the steamroller that global capitalism employed to destroy working class organisations globally. Robert Mugabe was a key figure in Reagan’s mission in the Southern African context. In the first instance Mugabe ruthlessly destroyed his Soviet Union supported opposition in Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), by unleashing the notorious Fifth Brigade on Matabeleland in 1984 during operation Gukurahundi. Once he destroyed any potential nationalist threat to his dominance he proceeded to destroy the left – including attacking the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

At the height of these repressive actions, Mugabe was the darling of the Commonwealth, the United Nations and the World Bank and the IMF. So much so that Mugabe’s Finance Minister Bernard Chidzero chaired the IMF/World Bank Development Committee. Naturally the West and global institutions and organisations kept silent about Mugabe’s brutality then. Interestingly he favoured the Pan Africanist Congress over the African National Congress at the time, because of the latter’s historic ties with ZAPU. After all, Chris Hani was involved in the famous Wankie/Whange battle between ZAPU’s armed wing ZIPRA and the Rhodesian army in the 1960s.

In the 1980s several MK cadres found themselves at the wrong end of Mugabe’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). Their historical association with Zipra, ZAPU’s liberation army, earned them spells in detention and torture, particularly in Bulawayo during 1984. Although the ANC had a branch and offices in Avondale in Harare, MK had to operate from clandestine safe houses.

Mugabe introduced one of the most stringent economic structural adjustment programmes (ESAP) under the direction of the IMF and the World Bank. This “Economic Suffering for African People” as locals jokingly called ESAP destroyed the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), most other parastatals and Zimbabwe’s food security. Zimbabwe borrowed massively at the outset, figuring that repayments -- which required 16% of export earnings in 1983 -- would “decline sharply until we estimate it will be about 4% within the next few years”.

The first loan ironically was to completely reconstruct Zimbabwe’s power facility at Whange, the Power I loan was the first Bank energy loan to Zimbabwe after Independence in 1980. The loan was to the Electricity Supply Commission (ESC), which was later incorporated into a national power utility, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA).

The main lender, the World Bank, concurred: “The debt service ratios should begin to decline after 1984 even with large amounts of additional external borrowing”. This was the economic equivalent of a sucker-punch, for in reality, Zimbabwe's debt servicing spiralled up to an untenable 37% of export earnings by 1987.

Loan conditions quickly emerged. By 1985, the IMF was pressuring Mugabe to cut education spending and, in 1986, food subsidies fell to two-thirds of 1981 levels.

The two global agencies advised Zimbabwe to switch from food crops to cash crops in order to pay off astronomical IMF and World Bank loans. Suddenly Zimbabwe experienced food shortages for the first time, and electricity power cuts became a daily occurrence. This happened soon after the World Bank and IMF became responsible for the micro-management of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority. One wonders if the ANC leadership in South Africa knew of this historical fiasco north of Limpopo before they entered into the recent loan with the World Bank to construct the Medupi Power Plant in Limpopo. Interestingly, then in Zimbabwe, as now in South Africa, the World Bank advised that electricity to ZESAs consumers was “far too cheap.”

The IMF and the World Bank effectively led Zimbabwe into bankruptcy and economic self destruction through the agency of the ZANU-PF petite bourgeoisie.

Ever since Mugabe’s unholy alliance with global capital the people of Zimbabwe have had to suffer the impositions of the IMF and the World Bank, including the dismantling of Zimbabwe’s nascent manufacturing sector – the collapse of David Whitehead textiles, the destruction of Supersonic, the end of Bata shoes, reversing gains in local content of Land Rover which had 75% local content in 1980 and the general collapse of the motor vehicle industry, particularly Peugot, Citroen and Ford, with tens of thousands of workers becoming unemployed in working class areas such as Willowvale and Chitungwiza. The World Bank and IMF advised that Zimbabwe should concentrate on its competitive advantage – cash crop production.

The peasantry was ‘advised’ to switch from food crop production to cash crop production – droughts in the late 1980s left even the usually resilient Zimbabwean peasantry starving. Land reform in the form of land invasions was but a system of reward for military generals, so as to minimize the risk of military coups, and ZANU-PF cronies. Most recently Mugabe punished the working class in Harare for daring to vote against him by launching Operation Murambatsvina, “driving out the trash”, by demolishing tens of thousands of houses in Harare’s working class townships.

It is against this background that workers and peasants should read Mugabe’s ‘land reform’ and his calls for economic indigenisation. Fanon noted that the nationalist petite bourgeoisie ‘constantly demands the nationalisation of the economy and of the trading sectors. This is because, from their point of view, nationalisation does not mean placing the whole economy at the service of the nation and deciding to satisfy the needs of the nation. For them nationalisation does not mean governing the state with regard to the few social relations whose growth it has been decided to encourage. To them, nationalisation quite simply means the transfer into native (petit bourgeois) hands those unfair advantages which are the legacy of the colonial period.” In other words the nationalist petite bourgeoisie models itself on colonial settlers and when in power behaves as colonial settlers would towards the working class and the peasantry.

The nationalist middle class is too weak to address the questions of the national revolution and fears that the working class will drive the revolution in an uninterrupted way (Lenin) towards a permanent revolution (Trotsky) that will take matters to the logical conclusion of socialism. The national petite bourgeoisie and the weak national bourgeoisie therefore sell their souls to global capitalism, while mouthing the most radical slogans – they don red T-Shirts in township rallies on weekends and three piece suits during office hours, during global conferences and at evening functions reassuring global capital of their loyalty while negotiating a piece of the cake for themselves.

[Quoted reference: Fanon, F. 2001, The Wretched of the Earth, London, Penguin]

It is possible for the exploited to rid themselves of tyranny

Social revolution in the neolithic world?
Sandra Bloodworth
27 April 2010
Excavations at  Çatalhöyük in 1999

Excavations at Çatalhöyük in 1999

Neolithic Anatolia is of particular interest to Marxists because there is evidence of a social revolution about 7,200BC which overthrew a brutal ruling elite in Çayönü. And the latest thinking is that there could well have been similar revolutions around the surrounding region. The outcome of these rebellions was the classless society known to have existed at Çatalhöyük for at least the next 1,000 years.

Discoveries since 1961 in Neolithic Anatolia challenge old assumptions that gatherer-hunter societies were by necessity nomadic, and that settled communities lived from domesticated animals and plants. Hallan Cemi was settled as early as 10,000 BC, Göbekli Tepe from 9,600 to 8,000 BC, Çayönü from 9,400 to 7,000 BC and Nevalı Çori from 8,600 to 7,900BC. These are all clear examples of sedentary gathering and hunting societies.

One study of the diet of Çayönü showed that it was mainly wild game, lentils and vetch, with no evidence of domesticated plants until nearly 7,000 BC. Domestication only developed gradually, often over very long periods of time stretching out to perhaps a thousand or more years, with settlements depending on gathering and hunting to varying degrees.

These neolithic societies show the developing divisions of labour and the trend towards hierarchical societies much earlier than was previously known. Göbekli Tepe (9,600-8,000 BC) is thought to have been a ceremonial centre, with no houses for living. This suggests a high level of culture and interaction between communities over some distance. It indicates the existence of a religious elite, i.e. the beginning of hierarchical divisions.

Antonio Sagona and Paul Zimansky published a summary of the latest knowledge about Neolithic Anatolia in 2009. They describe the houses at the lower layers of the excavation at Çayönü, i.e. the earliest:

They “display uniformity of size and plan” arranged around a central, communal area “used for feasting and related activities that bonded the community.”

However later there’s evidence of the beginning of social differentiation. By 8,000 BC or so there were clear signs of a society dividing between those who worked to provide the needs of the community and those who surrounded themselves with trinkets denoting privilege and luxury, but who did not work to acquire them.

In the west of the settlement there developed what might be called an industrial area where the houses are all virtually the same, with little public space, but in which food is produced and stone tools are manufactured. In the East, there are stores of obsidian, a prized hard volcanic rock, which was probably traded. But there are no signs of it being worked into the mirrors and tools that it was used for. In the west, there are no stores of obsidian, but there is evidence of it being worked up.

To emphasise this division, there are special buildings which appear to have been used for some kind of rituals. They are described by archaeologists as monumental temples, sometimes “shrines” (which were found around this whole area)

“reflecting an elaborate cult, which was sustained by an organised economy, requiring a significant investment of energy by a hierarchically structured society.”

In an earlier summary of findings Mehmet Ozdogan, an archaeologist at the site, concluded:

“There is growing evidence that a social group related to the cults and temples also controlled the economy.”

The art in these buildings has held archaeologists in awe ever since its first excavation. One writer explains its vibrant symbolism like this:

“an expression of the desire to control ritual behaviour and the supernatural world, in order to control the natural world.”

Others have written about the needs of such a community to explain and to come to terms with its new experience of sedentary life and the beginning of domestication of plants and animals. In the words of two archaeologists who described Çayönü:

“The practices and the architectural structures in which they were performed probably point to social discriminations, to a hierarchical society in which an emerging elite manipulated surplus wealth and controlled what could not be seen” [i.e. spiritual life].

Sagona and Zimansky describe a crisis followed by deterioration of cultural activities and the shrinking size of the settlement some time just before 7,000 BC. Bernard Brosius (in an article published first in 2005 and in English in 2009) argues there was a social revolution involving the deliberate destruction of the main cult building in 7,200 BC. It was burnt down, huge columns which dominated a large public courtyard were deliberately broken and the site turned into a garbage tip. And after that, the houses were larger, although of uniform size with no special buildings.

Now there are pros and cons to this argument. There is a seminal article by Mehmet Ozdogan, but I have not been able to get a copy. Brosius cites a later article by Ozdogan as “confirming” his earlier argument that there was no explanation other than that a revolution overturned the existing social arrangements. But if you read that article, Ozdogan says of the period when this destruction and change occurred:

“Possible reasons for this collapse in cultural development are too complex to deal with here. [He refers us to that article I haven’t been able to read]. Climate change and over-exploitation of the land are among the explanations proposed; we suggest that some form of social turbulence may have lain beneath this turmoil.”

Hardly an unambiguous confirmation. And in the frustratingly ambiguous phrases with which they typically sidle around the issue, Sagona and Zimansky discuss the exodus of the population from here and other places and the establishment of a network of smaller settlements. They put it down to the stress of living in larger communities, and a desire for the more flexible lifestyle possible in smaller settlements. But they do quote other writers who discuss the possibility of increasing “social conflict”.

Strengthening Brosius’s case, Mehmet Ozdogan discusses this crisis in a 2005 article. There he rejects arguments which put it down to environmental changes. Instead he says the movements away from these old centres is so far reaching that it

“implies that some sort of social turbulence must have been the main reason ... [for] the motivation to migrate.”

Then in a personal communication, when Ozdogan kindly replied to an email enquiry I made, he says:

“I am almost sure that there must have been some sort of social turbulence by the end of PPN, [pre-pottery neolithic, the time we’re discussing] not only at Cayönü but in most of the core area of Neolithic Anatolia.”

So there are always qualifications. But this is to be expected as the whole history of archaeology and in particular around the sites of Anatolia is affected by the new information and new ways of interpreting the information that are developing and coming to light all the time. Many of the conclusions drawn by the first archaeologist who excavated Çatalhöyük, James Mellaart, have been significantly revised.

It is clear from the evidence that very divided, sometimes quite brutal societies were established in Anatolia by the ninth millennium BC. But at around 7,200-7,000 BC revolts do appear to have taken place that at least contributed to a developing crisis.

I think on balance the evidence does most strongly indicate social rebellions which ended the emerging class societies.

If you read about neolithic societies, you find that burning down houses was a common practice, from East Anatolia through that region, into the Balkans. So we might conclude this was simply the usual burning and burying of a building which occurred every couple of generations.

But in Çayönü in 7,200 BC it is different. There had been a previous destruction of a special or cult building in Çayönü about 800 years earlier, when the old building was built over, as was the usual practice.

Then, it was covered with an elaborate foundation which in turn was covered with highly polished pink pebbles which had to be carried from nearby mountains. This formed the floor of a new, grand structure known as the Terrazzo Floor Building, built on the ruins of the old building. Its magnificence was emphasised by the pink floor which was highlighted by a row of white pebbles at each end.

Also, at around the same time as the destruction in Çayönü in 7,200 BC, there appears to have been intentional destruction and burial of similar “unique” buildings in Beidha and Nevalı Çori, in line with Mehmet Ozdogan’s claim that there appears to have been social turmoil in the whole region. And from then, the large centres regress and smaller settlements appear around Anatolia.

Sagona and Zimansky argue that some time between about 7,000 BC and 6,500 BC, at least some buildings were deliberately burnt down in Çatalhöyük. One which could be a “shrine” was filled with rubbish, reminiscent of the deliberate destruction and desecration in Çayönü and completely different from the usual practice of building over burnt structures.

All of which points to the validity of the basic proposition at the heart of Marxism: that it is possible for the exploited to rid themselves of tyranny. If the revolutionaries of 9,000 years ago could do it, then the modern working class, with its immense social power and ability to stop production, can certainly do it.

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The privilege of reading James’s masterful classic

CLR James and the Black Jacobins

Issue: 126 International Socialism
Posted: 23 April 10

Christian Høgsbjerg

excerpts

Aimé Césaire, the late, great Martinican poet and activist, once noted that it was in Haiti that the “colonial problem” was first posed in all its complexity.1 In 1492 the tropical Caribbean island was “discovered” for the Spanish Empire by Christopher Columbus, a discovery that resulted in the half a million strong existing indigenous Taino population being all but exterminated within a generation as a ruthless search for rivers of gold led only to rivers of blood. Columbus had described “Ayiti”, as the Taino had called it (“Land of mountains”), as a “paradise”, and promptly therefore renamed the island La Española—or Hispaniola—”coming from Spain”. But for the Taino, their hopes of finding paradise were irredeemably lost. In the words of the historian Laurent Dubois, Haiti was “the ground zero of European colonialism in the Americas”.2 In the light of this, the catastrophe that has befallen its people in the wake of the earthquake in January 2010 seems a particularly cruel echo of the devastation of over 500 years ago. Indeed one could not help but be reminded by the sight of US marines (once again demonstrating that “military occupation” is the only form of the “humanitarian intervention” understood by the rulers of the American Empire) that the “colonial problem” highlighted by Césaire continues to haunt Haiti and remains as far away as ever from a meaningful solution.3

Yet Césaire also noted that while the knot of colonialism may have been first tied in Haiti, the Haitian people were also one of the very first peoples to untie it. The Haitian Revolution, which began in 1791 and culminated in Haiti’s declaration of independence on New Year’s Day 1804, saw the birth of one of the world’s first post-colonial nations. It is only with some appreciation of the world-historical importance and inspiration of the Haitian Revolution that one can begin to understand why Western imperial powers have tied a tight neocolonial noose around Haiti ever since.4 I will aim to not only give a sense of something of the power and glory of the Haitian Revolution itself, but also pay tribute to the magisterial work that for the very first time elevated it to its rightful place in modern world history: The Black Jacobins by the Trinidadian Marxist historian Cyril Lionel Robert James, first published in 1938. CLR James (1901-1989) was, of course, more than just the author of The Black Jacobins. A towering Pan-Africanist intellectual and activist, he was also a pioneer of the modern West Indian novel, a literary critic, playwright, sports writer and, perhaps most critically, one of the 20th century’s outstanding representatives of the revolutionary democratic tradition of “socialism from below”.5

Nevertheless, The Black Jacobins, one of the grandest of “grand narratives” ever penned, stands as perhaps James’s magnum opus and has long won for itself the status of a classic, and not simply among Marxists. As the historian James Walvin notes, The Black Jacobins not only “remains the pre-eminent account” of the Haitian Revolution “despite the vast accumulation of detail and argument advanced by armies of scholars” since, but also stands as the ideal “starting point” for understanding the experience of slavery in general.6 It is impossible to do justice to The Black Jacobins or the Haitian Revolution itself, and the continuing profusion of scholarship about them, in a short article like this.7 Rather this article aims to encourage readers who have not yet already had the privilege of reading James’s masterful classic of historical literature to do so, for The Black Jacobins, as the best possible introduction to the Haitian Revolution itself, stands as a timeless and indispensable reminder of the inspiring revolutionary spirit and tradition of the Haitian people, a rich resource of hope they will need to draw strength from now as much as ever.

40 years after

Kent State: When US state shot down American students

Forty years ago the shootings at Kent State University brought the US war in Vietnam home, and marked a turning point for the anti-war movement, writes Viv Smith

On 4 May 1970, the United States National Guard shot dead four students at Kent State University in Ohio – triggering a wave of rage that spread across the US.

Around 1,000 students had gathered that day for protests against the US invasion of Cambodia, part of president Richard Nixon’s drive to smash the resistance in Vietnam.

In response, Kent mayor Leroy Satrom drafted in the National Guard, the state-controlled military reserve, onto the campus.

The 116 National Guard troops advanced on the gathered students, with bayonets fixed on their rifles.

Suddenly, the Guard opened fire without warning – killing four, paralysing one and injuring others.

President Nixon had been elected the year before on a promise that he would end the war in Vietnam and bring the troops home.

The war was turning into a disaster for the ruling class in the US.

The anti-war movement grew from modest beginnings to a crescendo in 1969 when a million marched against the war across the US.

US troops were refusing to fight and some in the ruling class were starting to grumble at the cost of the war.

Nixon called for “Vietnamisation” – the building up of the US-friendly South Vietnamese government apparatus – arguing this would allow US troop withdrawal.

Secret

But, in secret, Nixon escalated the conflict – launching massive carpet-bombing of neighbouring Cambodia and Laos in an attempt to destroy Vietnamese resistance bases.

The war in Vietnam was part of the US government’s Cold War strategy of installing US “friendly” regimes across the globe.

The US had begun its process of “regime change” in North Vietnam after Vietnamese forces defeated occupying French colonial troops in 1954.

Vietnam was divided between the independent North, under Ho Chi Minh, and the repressive pro-Western puppet regime in the South.

Under US president John F Kennedy, military forces were increased from 1,500 in 1960 to 15,000 by 1963.

The number of troops in Vietnam peaked at 580,000 by 1968, the year Nixon was elected.

But the January 1968 Tet Offensive by the Vietnamese resistance shook the US forces to their foundations.

US soldiers, increasingly unprepared to wage a losing battle, took to the practice of “fragging” – blowing up their commanding officers to avoid being sent out into battle.

The rate of desertions doubled. By 1971, over 10 percent of the US army in Vietnam was addicted to heroin.

Nixon, desperate to force the North Vietnamese to do a deal, launched his final offensive. But by April 1970 he could no longer keep the bombing quiet.

Nixon claimed the offensive was “not for the purpose of expanding the war into Cambodia, but for the purpose of ending the war in Vietnam, and winning the just peace we all desire”.

These were painfully familiar words to a war-weary public and, like tinder, reignited the anti-war movement.

Students at Kent State University were among hundreds of thousands who demonstrated.

Murdered

This time the murdered students at Kent State weren’t what top US General Westmoreland had described as “orientals”, who he thought don’t “value life in the same way”.

Now the US ruling class had brought the war home, by turning on white, largely middle class students.

The shootings sent a shockwave through the US.

Within days, 350 universities were out on strike, followed by high schools and junior schools. Thirty officer training buildings were set on fire at colleges.

The National Guard was called out in 16 states and two more black students were shot at Jackson State college in Mississippi, sparking further protests.

Hundreds of thousands marched the following weekend – against the war, and against the shootings and brutality at home and abroad.

Over four million students protested after the murders at Kent State.

Nixon eventually admitted that this had forced him to drop his plans for intensifying the war.

But the US military – the most powerful in the world – had been brought to its knees by the refusal of the Vietnamese people to be cowed, despite the great cost.

The student-dominated anti-war movement and resistance by US soldiers helped to finish it off.

The US dropped a greater tonnage of bombs on Vietnam than it used globally during the Second World War.

Eventually the US was to kill three million in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

The Ladies Home Journal sent a journalist to Vietnam to counter the anti-war movement’s claims of US military atrocities.

This is what she ended up writing, despite her prejudices:

“I had heard that napalm melts the flesh. I thought that was nonsense.

“Well, I went to Saigon and saw these children burned, and it’s absolutely true.

“The chemical reaction does melt the flesh.

“When gangrene sets in, they cut off their hands, fingers or feet. The only thing they can’t cut off is their head.”

Defeat

In the autumn of 1973 the US administration had to admit defeat and announce plans to withdraw all troops.

The South Vietnamese regime had no popular support and could not survive without massive US military backing.

Eighteen months later, Vietnamese liberation forces entered Saigon – the centre of US operations in Vietnam.

It is a defeat from which the US has yet to recover from.

The students killed at Kent and Jackson State were standing up for the freedom of people they had never met halfway across the world.

Their courage, and that of the Vietnamese people who refused to be bowed, is an inspiration to anti-war and anti-imperialist activists everywhere.

As Bruce Dzeda, a member of the class of 1970 at Kent State, recalled, “It was one of those searing experiences that changed me forever... I find myself still radicalised by it.”


Eyewitness to the slaughter

“I remember the jeep coming out,” says Rob Fox, a student who took part in the protest.

“They were saying, ‘Disperse immediately. This is an unlawful assembly.’

“I’ll never forget – somebody threw a croquet ball out and it bounced up against the jeep’s wheels. Everybody just laughed. We said, ‘How can this be an unlawful assembly?’

“And then the next thing I know they start shooting tear gas out at the crowd. Some kids got brave, ran and threw the tear gas back.

“Then the Guard started marching out in formation… They knelt down and aimed their weapons.

“People were saying even then, ‘they don’t have weapons – they don’t have live ammunition. It’s just to scare us.’

“Out of the corner of my eye I saw the Guard stop. And then I saw them turn.

“I heard this popping sound going off, and I saw Jeffrey Miller get hit.

“I said, ‘oh my God, this is real’. Then I dived between the cars.

“After that, there was just absolutely pandemonium… We had people screaming, people were cradling their classmates.

“I noticed this girl was bleeding profusely. I felt absolutely powerless to do anything, it seemed like eternity until an ambulance finally got there.

“And then the strangest thing – people got mad. They really got angry.”


Cambodia and Vietnam’s pain

  • US air force commander Curtis Le May described Nixon’s plan to invade Cambodia as action designed to “bomb them back to the stone age”.
  • Cambodia was bombed from March 1969 to August 1973. In the first 14 months the US ran more than 3,630 bombing raids in an operation codenamed “Menu”. Each day’s bombing was labelled “Breakfast”, “Lunch” and “Dinner”.
  • The US dropped over a million tons of bombs on North Vietnam and nearly four million tons on South Vietnam
  • The US killed 1.5 million Vietnamese people in the war and up to a million people in Cambodia.

Cuban justice and U.S. justice

Cuban Prisoners, Here and There
by Michael Parenti and Alicia Jrapko

For more than half a century Western political leaders and their corporate media have waged a disinformation war against socialist Cuba. Nor is there any sign that they are easing up. A recent example is the case of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an inmate who died in a Cuban prison in February 2010 after an 82-day hunger strike.

Zapata's death sparked an outcry from Western capitalist media and official sources, including of course the United States. Almost without exception, in literally thousands of reports, the corporate media portrayed him as a "political prisoner" and a "political dissident" -- without offering any supporting specifics. In March 2010 the European Union voted to condemn Cuba for his demise.

Since 2004, Amnesty International has treated Zapata Tamayo as one of Cuba 's 75 "prisoners of conscience," without offering evidence to buttress this assertion. Like the Western media, Amnesty failed to specify what were the political activities that had led to Zapata's imprisonment.

An Amnesty International article (24 February 2010) stated that in May 2004 Zapata Tamayo was sentenced to three years in prison for "public disorder" and "resistance." According to some reports he launched his hunger strike not only to protest his conditions of detention but to demand a personal kitchen in his cell, a television set, and a cell phone, amenities that were not likely to materialize.

Zapata was subsequently tried several times on charges of assaulting guards and "disorder in a penal establishment." The offenses began to add up. At the time of his fast he was facing a total sentence of 36 years. Again Amnesty made no mention of any political activities.

Cuban doctors attempted to keep Zapata alive with intravenous feedings and other stratagems. One psychologist testified that she tried to convince him to cease the hunger strike and try to register his grievances by other means. Zapata's mother remarked that her son had the best Cuban doctors at his bedside and she thanked them for their assistance. Later she would change her story and claim that he was a "dissident" who had been mistreated.

According to the Cuban writer Enrique Ubieta Gomez, Zapata was a common criminal who was convicted of "unlawful break-in" (1993), "assault" (2000), "fraud" (2000), and "public disorder" (2002). One of his serious transgressions occurred in 2000 when he attacked someone named Leonardo Simón with a machete, fracturing his skull and inflicting other injuries.

Ubieta Gomez concluded that Zapata had been involved in a wide range of criminal doings, none of which were remotely political. He was in jail for breaching the peace, "public damage," resistance to authority, two charges of fraud, "public exhibitionism," repeated charges of felonious assault, and being illegally armed.

Despite this extensive rap sheet Zapata was paroled in March 2003, eleven days before the arrests of the 75 so-called "prisoners of conscience." Later that same month he was charged with another crime and imprisoned for parole violation.

To repeat: while his 2003 arrest happened to come within days of the imprisonment of the 75, Zapata was never part of that group. The Cuban government never accused him of conspiring with -- or accepting funds and materials from -- a foreign power, charges that were leveled against the 75.

Contrary to what was claimed by the Spanish news agency EFE, Zapata's name does not appear on the list of the 75 Cuban prisoners drawn up by the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 2003.

Since 2003, at least 20 of the 75 have been released due to health problems, shrinking the number still incarcerated to 55 -- a level of humanitarian leniency not likely to be emulated in the US criminal justice system. Apparently this news has yet to reach the US media. As of 17 March 2010 the New York Times still referred to the "imprisonment of 75 dissidents." Even more recently (5 April 2010) an NPR commentator referred to the "75 dissidents being held in Cuba 's prisons."

The Cuban government argues that to describe the 75 (or 55) as being "prisoners of conscience" or "political dissidents" is to misrepresent the issue. They were never tried for holding dissenting views but for unlawfully collaborating with a hostile foreign power, receiving funds and materials from the US interest section, with the intent to subvert the existing political system in Cuba.

Many countries have such laws, including the USA. As Arnold August points out, the US Penal Code, under Chapter 115 entitled "Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Activities," Section 2381 stipulates that any US citizen who "adheres to" or gives "aid and comfort . . . within the United States or elsewhere" to a country that US authorities consider to be an enemy "is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000." So too, Cuba has legislation directed at those who are funded by hostile foreign powers.

In comparison to the media's tidal outcry on behalf of Cubans imprisoned in Cuba, consider the coverage accorded the five Cubans imprisoned in the United States. During almost 12 years of incarceration, the Cuban Five have been largely ignored by the corporate media and consequently remain mostly unknown to the US public.

The Five possessed no weapons and committed no act of terror, sabotage, or espionage. Gerardo Hernandez, Fernando Gonzalez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, and Rene Gonzalez came to the United States during the 1990s to infiltrate and monitor the terrorist activities of private right-wing groups of Cuban exiles. The information they gathered in their undercover work was forwarded to the Cuban government which in turn passed much of it on to the US government with the understanding that the two nations were now supposedly cooperating in a war against terrorism.

In 1998 after receiving evidence of impending terrorist activities planned against Cuba, the FBI went into action. But instead of arresting the right-wing Cubans who were planning the attacks from US soil, the feds apprehended the five Cubans who were working at uncovering such plots.

The five were tried in a federal court in Miami, home to over half a million Cuban exiles. Miami is a community with a long history of hostility toward the Cuban government -- a record that a federal appellate court in the United States later described as a "perfect storm" of prejudice, designed to make a fair trial impossible.

The Cuban Five were kept in solitary confinement for 17 months, denied their right to bail and the right to a change of venue. After the longest trial in the history of the United States, they were sentenced by a jury in Miami to four life sentences plus 77 years collectively. The US public outside Miami heard next to nothing about this case -- in striking contrast to the lavish treatment later accorded to Zapata Tamayo.

Of those who have managed to hear about the Cuban Five through alternative channels, many have denounced the unfair and unwarranted convictions. On March 6, 2009 in an unprecedented show of support, twelve amicus briefs called upon the US Supreme Court to review the case. Numbering among the Cuban Five's supporters were ten Nobel Prize winners, the entire Mexican Senate, the National Assembly of Panama, members from every political group within the European Parliament, including three current vice-presidents and two former Presidents, and hundreds of lawmakers from Brazil, Belgium, Chile, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Scotland, and the United Kingdom.

In 2009 the US Supreme Court, giving no reason, refused to review the case, and the US corporate media continued to ignore it. Meanwhile the Cuban Five, hailed in Cuba as heroes defending their homeland against US-sponsored terrorism, continue to serve inflated sentences in US prisons on trumped-up charges.

If US rulers really are interested in fighting oppression and injustice, they might start closer to home. Thus far President Barrack Obama has shown no interest in the case. (Why does this not surprise us?) But other more genuine souls at home and abroad continue to press for justice.


Michael Parenti's most recent books are God and His Demons (Prometheus, 2010) and Contrary Notions (City Lights, 2007). Alicia Jrapko is the coordinator in the US of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five.