Monday, November 10, 2014

175 years of Chinese Revolution

Recently we have seen the massive demonstrations in Hong Kong, China demanding democratic reforms.  If we read the pro-capitalist newspapers we might conclude that these demonstrations are new and have no connection with the history of China.  When we look Chinese history we see that the people who live in this region have been struggling to free themselves for over 175 years.  This paper will attempt to give some of the outlines of that history.

Most of Chinese history has been a history of feudal dynasties.  Like any of the world’s feudal regimes these dynasties had their periods of relative prosperity as well as decline.  In those periods of decline the Han nationality­­­—which is over 90% of the Chinese population—didn’t have a good reason to support the ruling powers.  For this reason, feudal regimes that emerged from minority nationalities were able to rule China for hundreds of years.  These minority nationalities included the Mongols and then the Manchus.

Britain and the Opium Wars

After the revolution of the thirteen colonies that created the United States of America, Britain searched to new colonies it could dominate.  China had been trading with Spain for many years in order to attain the silver produced in the Americas.  Britain wanted this silver, but there was a problem.  China was a self-reliant nation and didn’t need anything Britain produced.  The British solved this problem by selling the Chinese opium.

The Manchu rulers of China saw how opium was destroying the lives of the people while draining the economy.  For seventy years the Manchu Dynasty had laws prohibiting the sale of opium.  The British responded to these laws by increasing opium sales from 15 tons in 1730 to 1,400 tons in 1838.  As one might conclude, this willful and consistent violation of Chinese law led to war.

The Manchu ruling powers confiscated a full year’s opium supply from the British.  This act prompted the British to engage in the first Opium War that lasted from 1839­–1842.  The Manchus rulers were more interested in maintaining their power than in fighting the British who had superior naval armaments.  For this reason, the Manchus agreed to pay Britain for the cost of the war.  This included the lost revenue from the destroyed opium.  Another concession from the Opium War was that Britain gained political control over Hong Kong.

The defeat of China in the Opium War resulted in a complete economic disaster.  The Manchus quickly ran out of money and several rebellions erupted throughout China.  The largest of these uprisings was the Taiping Rebellion of 1854–1864.  This rebellion was immensely popular with the Chinese peasants, and the Taipings were able to take control of vast areas of China.

In the midst of this rebellion, the British went to war again against the Manchu regime in the second Opium War or Arrow War.  After the their victory in this war, the British gave their full support to the Manchus in their war against the Taipings.  The British support to the Manchus was crucial in the defeat of the Taiping Rebellion.  In this defeat China may have lost sixty million inhabitants due to deaths or emigration.

We might consider that at the same time as the Taiping Rebellion, the Union forces of the United States were in the midst of their own Civil War.  While the Union forces fought against the pro–slavery forces of the Confederacy, the U.S. government also supported the Manchus in their defeat of the Taiping Rebellion.  While slavery was outlawed in the United States, slave–like conditions continued in China.

Famine and the Boxer Rebellion

These Chinese defeats led to more devastation for China.  Mike Davis wrote an outstanding book titled: Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World.  In his book Davis wrote about the fact that during the years 1876–1900 between 19.5 and 30 million people starved to death in China. 

Just as in the Irish potato famine, China had sufficient food supplies to feed all the people.  The problem was that the British used the economy for their own interests and had no desire to alleviate mass starvation in China.  The only way to transport food to those who were starving was to use pack mules.  We might also keep in mind that Britain was in a period of decline during those years. 

One of the main reasons why the British needed revenue from China was to pay off loans they had with banks in the United States.  While the transportation system deteriorated in China, thousands of Chinese workers toiled under horrendous conditions to build railroads in the United States.

This massive starvation led to the Boxer Rebellion.  The Chinese call this the I Ho Ch’ uan or Fists for the Protection of Public Peace.  As with the Opium War, the Manchu ruling power initially supported the rebellion.  Then, they joined with the imperialist powers to defeat the Boxer Rebellion.  After China lost millions to starvation, hundreds of thousands lost their lives in the Boxer Rebellion.  While the imperialist powers had no money to alleviate the conditions of starvation in China, they invested $333 million in their military to defeat the Boxer Rebellion.   

Nationalists take power

By 1911 another rebellion took power led by Dr. Sun Yat–sen.  This rebellion wasn’t able to maintain power.  After Sun’s death Chiang Kai–shek (Jiang Jieshi) became the new leader of the nationalist forces known as the Kuomintang (Guomindang).  Chiang allied himself with the ruling powers of China and attempted to reverse everything Sun Yat–sen dedicated his life to advance.

Then, in 1927 another broad revolution rocked China.  The emerging working class united with the peasantry to bring about a new nation.  The Chinese Communist Party had tremendous support at this time.  Unfortunately Joseph Stalin had betrayed the Russian Revolution and the Chinese Communists were loyal to his miss-leadership. 

This meant that the communists continued to support Chiang Kai–shek even after it became clear that he was prepared to drown this rebellion in blood.  Even after Chiang defeated the communists, he was determined to wipe them out.

I believe it is important to consider the idea that the defeat of the 1927 revolution had disastrous consequences that continue to today.  After this defeat, Chiang Kai-shek controlled the cities of China.  Chiang’s policies as well as the Japanese invasion effectively stifled working class decent. 

History has shown that the only way for society to be transformed into a place where human needs are more important than profits is when a workers government comes to power.  Because the working class had been stifled, the Chinese Communist Party turned to the peasantry for support.  Mao Zedong, who was raised in a peasant environment, became the leader of the communists.

China isn’t just the most populous nation in the world.  China is also the place where some of the most audacious projects have taken place.  China’s Great Wall has a length that would stretch across the United States.  While the Panama Canal is fifty miles long, China’s Grand Canal is about 1,500 miles long and stretches from northern to southern China.      

It was in this spirit that the Chinese Communists organized their Long March.  While Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces attempted to annihilate his opposition, the communists marched about 6,000 miles over 18 mountain ranges, and crossed 24 rivers.  In this march they carried heavy equipment.

The Japanese ruling powers saw this development and decided to take advantage by invading the country.  Chiang was so obsessed with fighting the communists that he refused to use his forces to engage the Japanese.  In fact, many leaders of his Kuomintang gave support to the Japanese invaders.  Finally, after his own officers placed him under house arrest, Chiang agreed to form an alliance with the communists in the fight against the Japanese invaders.

The Chinese Communist Party

After the war, China needed to pay an enormous debt for the armaments used against Japan.  This debt destroyed the Chinese capitalist economy by creating an astronomical inflation.  Under these conditions Chiang had very little support.  For this reason, the 1949 revolution that brought the Chinese Communist Party to power had very little opposition. 

Shortly after the 1949 revolution China had to face a new threat.  The United States invaded Korea to support the puppet government they installed in the south.  The U.S. armed forces marched to the Yalu River on the border of China. 

General Douglass MacArthur felt that he could just continue his campaign into China.  His arrogance exposed his near complete stupidity as a military commander.

As the U.S. forces marched north in Korea, millions of Chinese and Korean soldiers surrounded the invaders.  This force prevented the U.S. army from invading China.  However, millions of Chinese and Koreans lost their lives in an effort to prevent these nations from being controlled by foreigners once again.

Mao Zedong’s rule of China had mixed results.  Francis Moore Lappe wrote a book titled World Hunger—Twelve Myths.  While capitalist nations argued that they are combatting world hunger with their so-called Green Revolution, Lappe gives us the real facts.  She argued that it was the Chinese Revolution that has done more to combat world hunger than any other force. 

However, there have also been disasters brought about by the new rulers of China.  The Great Leap Forward meant that millions of Chinese perished.  Mao’s Cultural Revolution meant that some of the most talented people of China would face humiliation and isolation.

After Mao’s death a new regime took power and adapted to capitalist investment.  This meant that China has built more rail lines than any other nation in the world.  Today China has become one of the most important industrial centers in the world.

In order to support capitalist interests, about 5,000 coal miners die every year as a result of preventable mining accidents.  Hundreds of millions of peasants continue to live on about two dollars per day.

Political decent has been stifled.  In 1989 the Chinese military suppressed the demonstration in Tiananmen Square.  We might consider that in the middle of Tiananmen Square is the Monument to the People’s Heroes.  This monument gives a history of many of the Chinese wars that attempted to liberate the people, starting with the Opium War.

The current demonstrations in Hong Kong are a continuation of this very old struggle.  While the course of Chinese history has been uneven, there has been a stubborn persistence of the people to achieve liberation.

The media as well as most history texts tend to ignore the facts presented in this paper.  My attempt is to not only give a brief history of China, but to show how China has always influenced world events.  This will continue, and the recent demonstrations in Hong Kong allow us to be optimistic about the future. 



Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pro – Reclaiming Abortion Rights

By Kathe Pollitt

A review

At a time when abortion rights are under severe attack, Kathe Pollitt has written an important book that takes up many of the most relevant issues surrounding the Pro-Choice movement.  In her book, Pollitt exposes the myths used by the anti-abortionists.  She demonstrates how these forces are primarily aimed at taking away any rights women have gained over the years.

One of the themes of this book can be seen in following passage:

“To force girls and women to undergo all this (complications associated with pregnancy and giving birth to a child) against their will is to annihilate their humanity.”

Pollitt also argues that”

“Legalizing abortion didn’t just save women from death and injury and fear of arrest, it didn’t just make it possible for women to commit to education and work and free themselves from shotgun marriages and too many kids.  It changed how women saw themselves: as mothers by choice, not fate.”

While the anti-abortionists argue that they are “pro-life,” Pollitt gives us the facts of how abortion related deaths declined significantly after this procedure became legal.  “Deaths from legal abortion declined between 1973 and 1985 (from 3.3 deaths to 0.4 per 100,000 procedures.)”

The anti-abortionists argue that fetuses should have all the rights as human beings.  Pollitt answers this argument with the following statement:

“Even if we all decided to define personhood to include fertilized eggs and embryos and fetuses, they would not have the right to use a woman’s body against her will and at whatever cost to herself.”

If fetuses are viewed as people the 20% of all pregnancies that end in miscarriages might also be viewed as acts of murder.  Fertility clinics that routinely destroy embryos would also be viewed as murderers. 

If you feel that these views are farfetched, consider the 1991 Supreme Court decision of Automobile Workers v. Johnson Controls.  This decision ruled that Johnson Controls could not bar fertile women from jobs because these jobs might cause potential birth defects.  In other words, women are fertile for about 30 years.  Employers have argued that during these years they should be prevented from many occupations because they might become pregnant.  Even the Supreme Court ruled against Johnson Controls, but this is the kind of madness corporations are willing to inflict on the lives of women.

One would think that the anti-abortionists would favor sex education as well as full access to birth control.  Women who routinely use birth control only account for about five percent of all abortions.  However, this isn’t the case.  In several states government funds that were once used for family planning, now go to centers that counsel women against abortion.

In fact some of the same people who argue against abortion also argue against assistance to indigent mothers who have children.  This brings us to an issue anti-abortionists refuse to talk about.

Before abortion became legal women had abortions and affluent women had safe abortions.  Making abortion legal made it possible for working class women to have safe abortions.

Pollitt supports this argument:

“The ability to determine the timing and number of children undergirds the modern ideal of egalitarian, intimate marriages based on love, companionship, and mutual sexual delight.”

Abortions in China

In her book Pollitt neglects to mention abortions in China.  Clearly this is not a focus of her book, but it is an issue people who favor choice might want to be aware of.  In China families are forced to have only one child.  If a family is unwilling to be limited to one child, abortions are forced on women.  Affluent women can avoid this law by paying a fine of thousands of dollars.  According to my calculations, this state of affairs means that there are twice the number of abortions per capita in China as the United States.

Clearly those who favor choice are opposed to forced abortions.  Kathe Pollitt does give the facts showing that the number of children women have goes down when they have opportunities in education and employment.

Abortion and The New Jim Crow

Michelle Alexander wrote a book titled: The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.  This book argues that the old system of Jim Crow legalized discrimination has been replaced with a system where Black people are grossly over-represented in the prison system of this country.  How is the theme of this book relevant to the issue of abortion?

The point is that after Jim Crow became illegal, the forces that have power in this country worked to reverse this important gain.  A similar course of events occurred when abortion became legal.  Powerful forces began to reverse this gain.  What does this say about the government in this country?

Clearly a representative government would work to make life easier for those who have few resources.  However, the government in this country has consistently worked to reverse gains made by women and Blacks.

Kathe Pollitt gives the facts showing how the democrats have worked to reverse the gains made because of the legalization of abortion.  However, she also implies that the democrats might be a bit better than the republicans on this issue.

Pollitt is correct in arguing that the anti-abortionists are primarily opposed to the rights of women.  The question is why? 

We live in a capitalist system where the number one priority is profits.  When capitalists can pay women and Black people less, this means they can have more in profits.  As their system goes into decline, as it is today, they are even more driven to roll back on everyone’s wages and benefits.

This all means that we need a workers government where the central priority is that human needs are more important than profits.  This government would also make it a central priority to reverse the discrimination against women and Blacks.  There is no more important issue than giving women the right to decide if and when they are to become mothers. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

A brilliant young man who left Newark for the Ivy League

By Jeff Hobbs

A review

In his biography of Robert Peace, Jeff Hobbs’ goal was to give a comprehensive view of this young man’s life.  He has done much more than that.  Hobbs’ biography gives us a better view of the world we live in, than we see in the mainstream media today.

Robert Peace’s childhood

Robert grew up in Orange, New Jersey.  Orange is one of several towns in the Newark metropolitan area.

Robert’s mother Jackie, worked in hospitals and nursing homes serving food in area cafeterias.  She made a special effort to raise her child, reading to him at night and refusing go parties after his birth.  Jeff Hobbs’ had the following dedication to his book: “Dedicated to Robert DeShaun Peace and to his heart, Jacqueline Peace.”

Robert’s father, Skeet Douglas sold cocaine. 

Malcolm X, in his autobiography explained why some African Americans might be tempted to live a life outside the law.  When he was a student in school a teacher asked the young Malcolm what type of work he might want to do.  At the time Malcolm was thinking about being a lawyer.  His teacher responded, “. . . you’ve got to be realistic about being a n-(word).  A lawyer--that’s no realistic goal for a n-(word).  You need to think about something you can be.  You’re good with your hands--making things.  Everybody admires your carpentry shop work.  Why don’t you plan on carpentry?”

Malcolm X would become one of the most influential leaders of working people in the history of the United States.  However, before he made this transition he had an occupation similar to that of a corporate lawyer.  He was a thief.

Skeet Douglas appeared to know everyone in the neighborhood.  He introduced his son to his friends, and cultivated young Robert’s curiosity about their lives.  Douglass also was an educated man and gave his son the fundamentals of how to develop the discipline to study.  For these and other reasons, Robert had a deep bond with his father.

When Robert was seven years old, Skeet Douglas was accused of murder.  The police argued that they found a murder weapon on Douglas when they arrested him shortly after a murder.  Clearly, had Douglas been guilty of murder, the first thing he would have done would be to loose this weapon.  Jeff Hobbs showed how there was a witness willing to testify that Douglas had no weapon when the police arrested him.  This witness died before Douglas’ trial.

In this country, judges do not allow defense attorneys to present evidence showing that police departments have a history of abusing the rights of citizens who are accused of crimes.  In fact, during the summer of 1967 Newark exploded in a rebellion that was sparked by police abuse. 

One of the goals of Robert Peace’s life was to spend time with his father in prison, and to find a legalistic way to reverse his father’s conviction.  These efforts were met with almost total indifference from the state authorities of New Jersey.

St. Benedict’s

Robert’s mother Jackie felt that the best way to raise her son was to provide a private school education.  This required a great sacrifice, especially since his father had no income as a prison inmate.

Robert went to high school at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School.  St. Benedict’s happens to be located across the street from Arts High.  This is the art and music high school that I attended.  While Robert graduated from St. Benedict’s in the early 1990’s, I graduated from Arts High in 1971.

Robert became the outstanding student in his class.  His grade point average was near perfect.  He excelled in water polo even though he didn’t know how to swim when he started school.  He was also seen as a leader who assisted his classmates in their studies.  These efforts earned him the most prestigious award at St. Benedict’s. 

Charles Cawley was a graduate of St Benedict’s.  He was also the CEO of MBNA bank and had a salary of tens of millions of dollars per year.  Cawley looked at Robert’s record and decided that he would pay for most of Robert’s college education.  This was the only time Cawley made this kind of contribution that would about $140,000.

Yale University

Robert was accepted at Yale University.  Here Robert majored in one of the most challenging fields of study, molecular biochemistry.  While many students in this field struggled to absorb their lessons, Robert routinely aced his examinations.

Jeff Hobbs, the author of this book was Robert’s roommate at Yale.  There were two experiences Robert had at Yale that caught my attention.

Robert worked in Yale’s cafeteria in order to pay some of his bills.  One day he asked three students “politely” to bus their trays.  They refused and left their mess for Robert to clean up.  Robert was enraged at the attitude of these students.  Part of this rage might have been because he knew that his mother might have experienced this same kind of humiliation working in the Newark area.

Robert had a habit of smoking marijuana.  Given the stress he experienced in his life, he felt that smoking marijuana helped him relax.  He also learned that it was easy to sell this product on the Yale University campus.

Here we might think about the fact that a few states have legalized marijuana and others have made this product available for medicinal use.  However, the authorities at Yale called Robert into their office informing him that selling drugs was against school policy. 

These administrators understood that they had absolutely no intention of denying Yale students from getting high.  These administrators probably had used marijuana themselves.  Everyone in this room understood clearly that the reprimand Robert received was merely a show.  Robert learned from this meeting that he needed to be more careful.  In his years of selling this product, he was never apprehended by the police.         

We might also think about the fact that Yale University is a place where graduates work in top positions of the government.  Presidents George Bush Senior and Junior graduated from Yale as well as the Secretary of State John Kerry.  Many officers of the Central Intelligence Agency graduated from Yale.  The CIA has a long record of working to overthrow democratically elected governments all over the world.  Millions lost their lives because of the wars against the people of Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Clearly, these administrators at Yale would never dare reprimand those graduates about the horrendous crimes they have committed.  No, they only had the courage to bring a young Black man into their office to chastise him about selling a product that they all probably used.  

After graduation Robert had a dream of travelling to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.  After studying for eight years in school he felt he needed a break.  Robert felt that the time he spent in Rio was the best time of his life.  Before travelling to Rio, Robert worked at a lab at Yale doing cutting edge research in an attempt to find a cure for cancer.

Back in Orange N.J.

Upon returning to Orange, New Jersey, Robert discovered that his immediate plans had fallen through and he needed to get a job.  He worked for a few years as a biology teacher at St. Benedicts. 

Then, he decided to work in real estate.  He quit St Benedicts and got a job at Continental Airlines as a baggage handler.  This job enabled Robert to travel the country, where he might find properties that he could purchase at a low price, and sell, making a bit of money.

Robert attained a license to do these transactions and had an understanding of the market.  The problem was that Yale University, one of the most prestigious in the nation, had political reasons for not teaching students the reality of the capitalist system.  Because people were ignorant of this reality, almost all economists were completely surprised when the housing market went bust.  This event ended Robert’s career in real estate.

Eventually Robert planed to attend graduate school, but he needed some money before making this transition.  He made a diligent search for a job, but found none.  Around this time, I was also looking for work.  It took me about eight months to find a job.

We might consider that President Obama argues that one of his major accomplishments was to reduce the unemployment rate.  Obama says this because he doesn’t count the number of people who have given up looking for work.  When we take these people into consideration, the unemployment rate has not changed since Obama has been president.  This is the largest percentage of people unemployed since the depression of the 1930’s. 

Robert felt that the only way for him to make this money would be to have one big score of marijuana.  Assassins murdered Robert Peace while he attempted to make this one last score.

What were Robert Peace’s options?

Reading this book, we can speculate that Robert Peace might have made different choices.  This could have allowed him to live a relatively prosperous life.  We can look to a few of Robert’s fellow graduates at Yale to get a better picture of what his alternatives were.

One graduate worked about 120 hours per week attempting to build a career at the Lehman Brothers investment firm.  This was before Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and their assets, in effect, vaporized.

Jeff Hobbs, the author of this book, had a problem finding work with his degree in English.  For a while he relied on his wife’s income and stayed at home caring for their children.

Ty Chantey graduated at the top of Robert’s class at Yale.  Initially he wanted to be a research scientist.  Then, he discovered that he would need to pay back $350,000 in student loans.  Because of this debt, he decided to become a dermatologist.  He and his wife were resident doctors and they never saw each other.  They worked on opposite shifts because of the need to care for their children.

A few months before Robert Peace’s murder, Ty Chantey called his friend.  He told Robert that, “I’ve always looked up to you.”  With all the stress Chantey was experiencing, he remembered the good times he had with a friend who made him feel at ease.  400 people came to Robert Peace’s funeral because Robert had this same kind of effect on their lives.

We might also think about Robert’s friend Ina who joined the military and spent time in Afghanistan.  After returning from her combat mission she called Robert and said she worried about him.  This statement surprised Robert thinking that she faced a dangerous time when in Afghanistan. 

Ina responded, “I was there for a year.  And no one I knew was killed or even hurt.  Back home, though, a lot of people were killed.”

Thinking about these words we might also think about the former Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Corey Booker.  Booker was also a Yale graduate and argued that his main accomplishment was reducing the crime rate in the city.        

This is not the story of someone who made bad choices in their life.  This is the story of an extremely talented individual with leadership abilities who did his best.  This is the story of the political economic system of capitalism that was completely indifferent to these efforts.  This is a story of how the people who support capitalism are only interested in outstanding efforts when it is about generating super-profits for the wealthy.