Friday, November 11, 2016

What can we expect from President Donald Trump?

There are a few aspects of the election campaigns that I always find particularly disturbing.  We are barraged with information about the democrats and republicans who are running for office, yet the most important issues are never mentioned.

I believe in the union phrase that says: “An injury to one is an injury to all.”  We will notice that this sentence is not, an injury to one American.  No, the original concept of the labor movement was that this is an international struggle.  Keeping this in mind, let’s look at some of the most important issues facing workers and farmers in the world.

·      About half of the people on this planet live on two dollars per day or less.

·      Every day about 30,000 children die of preventable diseases.  One of the primary causes of these deaths is that these children did not have access to shoes.  Parasites enter the feet of a child.  This causes diarrhea that can lead to death from dehydration.

·      There are hundreds of millions of people in the world who do not have adequate access to water, electricity, or food.

·      Yet the United States government has spent hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars on war.  These wars cost the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers and millions of people throughout the world.

·      Despite what the media has been arguing, the standard of living in this country has been declining over the past forty years.  When we count those who have exhausted unemployment benefits, the unemployment rate is the highest it has been since the depression of the 1930s. 

Since those candidates who received publicity in the media were totally indifferent to these issues, there was never even a remote possibility that the new president would even attempt to deal with the world’s most pressing problems.

On the night of the elections I went to bed before the news media announced the outcome.  I went to bed knowing that it made no significant difference who was elected.

The next morning I was surprised to learn that Donald Trump would be the next President.  My immediate reaction was that he will just be another President who favors corporate interests above the interests of workers.

On that same day, our dog Rosie had a surgery for a tooth extraction.  Aside from the astronomical cost of the surgery, everything went well and Rosie is back to her old self.

Why do I mention Rosie’s surgery in this column?  Well, Rosie brings a sense of joy to people.  According to the newspapers and my personal discussions, most people felt that the election was about deciding on a lesser evil.  When you vote for a lesser evil, there is a guarantee that you will get evil.  So, this is why I felt Rosie’s surgery was more significant than whether a democrat or republican will be living in the White House.

Clearly, there are many people who are correct when they argue that Donald Trump is openly racist.  Black people in this country have had decades of experience with openly racist politicians, and they justifiably resent having to deal with this again.

Malcolm X spoke to this point and I will paraphrase his remarks.  Malcolm argued that Senator Barry Goldwater made no pretense that he supported the interests of Black people.  Goldwater was opposed to the Civil Rights Act and would have preferred that the Jim Crow laws remain in place. 

When Goldwater ran for President, Malcolm argued that if he were elected, this might be, in a way better for Black people.  His argument was that the only way for Black people to win meaningful concessions from a President Goldwater would be to organize.  Organizing people in mass movements has had meaningful results.  Relying on liberal democrats to make meaningful change is almost like waiting for a goose to lay a golden egg.
Clearly there are many who disagree with this perspective.  They might argue that Hillary Clinton would not be as horrendous a President as Donald Trump.  Allow me to give just one example to explain why I feel that Clinton would not be significantly different from Trump.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Clinton was the closest adviser to her husband President William Clinton.  She supported him when he enforced an economic boycott of Iraq.  That boycott cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.

While Hillary Clinton supported this boycott, she wrote a book titled: It Takes A Village.  This is a how-to book about raising children and argues that it takes a village to raise a child.

How could Clinton support a policy that, in effect, murdered hundreds of thousands of children, and at the same time write a how-to book on how to raise children?  The answer is that Hillary Clinton, like all capitalist politicians, lives in complete denial that they are responsible for their actions.

President Donald Trump

Donald Trump was raised in a wealthy family.  These families typically give their children what they want, when they want it.  It is difficult for a working person to even imagine what it would be like to be raised in this kind of environment.  Imagine never having to do anything that a boss tells you to do.  In other words, Donald Trump was raised in a world totally divorced from the lives of working people.

I would imagine that children who are raised with obscene amounts of wealth, at one time or another ask a basic question.  Why isn’t everyone wealthy?  The answer given to these children is that their parents worked hard for the wealth they have.  They are told that they are deserving and entitled to the wealth they have.  Any other answer to this question would not appear to be acceptable in the environment of the super-rich.

The facts are that working people are the ones who produce all the goods and services we need and want.  Capitalists like Donald Trump never actually work to produce these goods and services.  Capitalists take the wealth produced by working people and use it for their own benefit.  This is how the system of capitalism works.

The news media attacked Donald Trump because he didn’t pay taxes for many years.  The facts are that the number one priority of any capitalist government is to promote an environment that is suitable for corporate investment.  In Philadelphia corporations enjoy hundreds of millions of dollars in tax abatements.  Any corporation that builds in the city doesn’t need to pay taxes for ten years.

What I find more interesting is a question the news media never raised.  Trump didn’t need to pay taxes for years because his company lost hundreds of millions of dollars.  So, why would anyone invest with someone who lost so much money?

Communists argue that the system of capitalism is a roadblock for the advancement of humanity.  One reason for this is that capitalism will inevitably move towards total economic crisis.  The depression of the 1930s didn’t happen because capitalists failed in what they were doing.  No, that depression erupted because it was the inevitable consequence of successful corporate business practices.  Capitalists invested with Trump, no doubt, because all investments today are inherently risky.

During Trump’s campaign for President he argued that when he was elected he would place a steep tariff on imports from other countries.  He thinks that this will spark corporate investment in this country.

Well, the facts are that capitalists made massive investments in other countries because if they didn’t, they would have gone bankrupt.  In capitalism the percentage of profit on investment continually declines.  So, when the labor movement forced employers to raise wages, employers invested in building factories where workers receive about $2 per day in wages.  Forcing corporations to give up foreign investments ignores the reason why they made those investments in the first place.

Donald Trump also argued that he will deport the twelve million immigrants who live in this country.  We might consider that President Obama deported more immigrants than any other President. 

Thousands of the immigrants Obama deported have children who were born in this country.  When this happens, the children are sent to foster care, while the parents might never see their children again.  This is just one of the horror stories authored by President Barack Obama’s Administration.  Apparently Donald Trump is not satisfied with this horror story.  He wants to multiply this story many times over.

The twelve million immigrants living in this country have many friends.  These immigrants and their friends will create a powerful movement to prevent these deportations. 

There is another problem with Trump’s promise to deport all immigrants.  Immigrant workers are central to many corporations in this country.  I’m talking about agriculture, construction, meatpacking, restaurants, garment, and housekeeping.  Immigrant workers are also central to highly skilled work in research and development projects.  In other words, deporting twelve million immigrants would not just be a horror story, these deportations would destroy the economy.

Moments of truth

When Barack Obama ran against John McCain for President in 2008 the financial markets of the world began to fall apart.  Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson drafted a bill that would give about $700 billion to the banks that had lost immense amounts of money.  Since about half of the financial assets in this country are controlled by one-percent of the population, the lions share of this money would go to the super-rich.  Congress initially refused to hand over the money.

John McCain and Barack Obama both understood that their job is to promote an environment suitable for capitalist investment.  So, they both interrupted their Presidential campaigns to shake down Congress for $700 million.  The alternative would have been that more large banks would have gone bankrupt.

As I’ve attempted to show in this column, capitalists are not interested in the welfare of human life.  They are only interested in the maximization of their profits.

I’ve also attempted to show that if President Trump follows through with his plans, this would have a disastrous effect, not only on humanity, but also on the economy.  Sooner or later, I believe someone will sit down with President Trump and inform him that he needs to abandon his crackpot ideas or there will be dire consequences.  When capitalists do not see a way of turning a profit, they simply will not invest and would prefer to shut down the economy.

How will President Trump respond to this point of view?  We don’t know the answer to this question.  What we do know is that he might be more unpredictable than any other president in recent history.

What we do know is that the capitalist system has its laws.  In their Communist Manifesto Karl Marx and Frederick Engels argued that capitalism has a disease that has never appeared before in human history.  This is the disease of overproduction.  When there are more commodities on the market than people will buy those commodities, capitalists will refuse to invest.  Banks can close down and the economy, sooner or later, will collapse.  This is inevitable. 

Even though there is only a very small percentage of the population that supports the idea of a workers government, this perspective will win millions of adherents when workers begin to understand that we have no future in the capitalist system.

Understanding the fact that the capitalist system is in crisis explains why most capitalists supported Hillary Clinton for President.  At this point in time, they want someone who they who has proven themselves to support their interests.  Donald Trump, while he has dedicated his life to supporting capitalism, is unpredictable and could clearly spark an economic collapse.        

What does it mean to be a communist?

In my opinion the only answer to this enormous problem is to place a workers government in power.  There are those who will argue that many workers voted for Donald Trump, so why would I think that a workers government will be any better than what we have today?

We might think of our history for a moment in order to answer this question.  There were long periods of time when people adapted to the horrendous regimes of feudalism and slavery.  However, the time came when masses of people organized to overthrow these regimes.

The labor movement suffered through fifty-seven years of defeats before millions of workers joined unions and forced employers to make real concessions.  Black people experienced decades of Jim Crow segregation before the civil rights movement erupted.  This is how history has unfolded.

Working people voted for Donald Trump because they mistakenly believed that he will bring about meaningful change.  Workers who voted for Hillary Clinton were under similar illusions.  I don’t believe it will take much time for workers to become disenchanted with President Trump.

Communists believe that working people have the capacity to transform the world.  There will be real battles in our future.  The capitalist system offers absolutely no solutions. 

I wrote in the names of Alyson Kennedy for President and Osborne Hart for President and Vise-President.  They were the candidates of the Socialist Workers Party.  While I didn’t think they will be elected to the White House, I do believe that they were the best possible choice for that office.  They have confidence that workers have the potential to change the world and that the only way to make meaningful change is through mass movements and not elections. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016


A 2016 documentary directed by Ava DuVernay

Distributed by Netflix

A review

Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th uncovers an important side of the history of this country that is usually ignored by both the media and the academic community.  Most people who are familiar with the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution think of it as the law that abolished slavery in this country. 

However, there is an exception to this amendment that states: “except as a punishment for crime; whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”  So, from a technical point of view, slavery in this country was never fully abolished.  While prisoners are supposed to have certain rights, the Thirteenth Amendment clearly argues for a system of slavery in the prisons.  The film 13th documents how government officials, including virtually all the recent Presidents, have targeted Black people in the skyrocketing growth of the prison population.

My opinion is that while we need to fully understand the facts presented in the film 13th, this film gives an incomplete examination of the core reasons for this problem.  My opinion is that the root cause of discrimination comes from the routine functioning of the capitalist system. 

Without understanding the cause of why discrimination continues to exist in this country, it is difficult to think about solutions.  Another weakness of the film is that it offers no clear solutions for the horrendous problem of discrimination.

In order to place this film in perspective, I believe we need to look at a bit of history.

The Thirteenth Amendment

In 2012 Steven Spielberg directed his film Lincoln.  This film is a portrayal of how President Abraham Lincoln worked to make the abolition of slavery an Amendment to the Constitution.  We should keep in mind that this amendment was the culmination of hundreds of years of struggle by abolitionists.  We should also keep in mind that the primary issue of the Civil War was the issue of slavery.

Before the Civil War, slave owners wanted the United States to have an agrarian based economy centered on chattel slavery.  In fact, before the Civil War about 75 percent of the income of this country came from slave labor camps.  Supporters of slavery dominated virtually all branches of the federal government. 

Northern capitalists had a completely different idea of how this country should develop.  They were developing an industrial based economy that was in sharp conflict with slavery.  While many banks gained substantial profits from slavery, northern capitalists became open to the idea of pushing the slave owners out of their positions of power.

Nate Parker’s new film The Birth of a Nation documents one of the most famous slave rebellions in this history of this country.  We might consider that this rebellion was one of numerous slave rebellions in North America, South America, and the Caribbean.  We might also consider that about 350,000 union soldiers lost their lives in the war to remove slave owners from their positions of power.

President Abraham Lincoln stated openly that the primary reason for his Emancipation Proclamation was to win the Civil War.  The union army had lost vast numbers of soldiers because of death, injury, or desertion.  There were 179,000 Black soldiers who fought and were eager to fight for the union army.  This was about ten percent of the total number of union soldiers.  The participation of these soldiers was crucial to the union victory.

After the Civil War reconstruction governments emerged in the former slave states.  Because Black people had the right to vote and soldiers from the confederate army lost their right to vote, many former slaves became government leaders. These governments worked aggressively to educate the entire population (both Black and caucasian) that was largely illiterate.  The reconstruction governments also instituted many other reforms that were profound changes from the past.

Then, by 1877 the same Republican Party that organized the union army to defeat the slave owners, made a deal that allowed union troops to leave the former confederate states.  This deal changed the balance of power in the South.  Racist and terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan used their military advantage to take power by force. 

The new power structure of the South was based around the Democratic Party that made Jim Crow segregation the law.  Black people effectively lost citizenship rights in this country.  Thousands were lynched and the federal government did nothing to prosecute the murderers.

The civil rights movement and the rebellions of the 1960’s

In August of 1955 white men brutalized and then lynched Emmitt Till.  When people throughout the country saw the disfigured corpse of 14 year-old Emmitt Till, many understood that the time had come to organize to make a change.  By December of that year, Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of a bus and the Montgomery Bus Boycott erupted.

The Ku Klux Klan along with the Democratic Party were determined to continue to deny Black people citizenship rights in this country.  Civil rights volunteers were arrested, brutalized, and murdered.  However, the movement refused to back down and the federal government was terrified of the idea of a new Civil War.

For these reasons President Lyndon Johnson, who had a segregationist background from Texas, signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  These laws effectively did away with any legal pretext for Jim Crow segregation.  In fact, these laws merely repeated what had been established in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution.  These amendments had been adopted after the Civil War, but with the defeat of radical reconstruction the federal government had no intention of enforcing them.

However, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts did nothing to eliminate the institutionalized discrimination in the northern cities.  In fact, Emmitt Till attended a segregated school in Chicago.

Shortly after the signing of the Voting Rights Act rebellions erupted in cities throughout the country.  While Jim Crow segregation had been outlawed, institutionalized racial discrimination continued with respect to housing, employment, education, as well as the due process of the law.  The primary issue that sparked these rebellions was police brutality. 

When I was fourteen years old in 1967, a rebellion erupted in my hometown of Newark, New Jersey.  At a time when the United States government was at war against the people of Vietnam, the Governor ordered the National Guard to go to war against the citizens of Newark.  Recently I’ve seen photos of tanks that were used in Newark against the people of the city in 1967.

Malcolm X had been assassinated shortly before the eruption of these rebellions.  At the time of his assassination, Malcolm was in the process of organizing the Organization of Afro-American Unity.  This organization was independent of the Democratic and Republican parties and was focused on the liberation of Black people.  Malcolm was also in solidarity with the anti-imperialist struggles that were erupting around the world.

Had Malcolm X lived we can speculate that the rage expressed in the rebellions of the 1960s could have been organized into a movement that demanded real change.  As it was, the ruling powers of this country had their own way of dealing with the uprisings in this country.

New strategies of the ruling class to drive down the standard of living

We might think about the fact that there was a time in the history of this country when working people needed to toil twelve to sixteen hours per day for a wage that wasn’t enough to feed a family.  These were the conditions that caused the labor movement to launch a strike wave that won significant concessions from employers.

The civil rights movement as well as the rebellions of the 1960s convinced the ruling powers that they needed to change their methods of discrimination.  On the one hand, they agreed to support affirmative action programs.  These programs allowed many Black people to get jobs as well as university educations they had been excluded from in the past. 

On the other hand, the government adopted laws that caused prison population to skyrocket.  The film 13th documents how the government instituted this policy, that made Black men a target of the so-called criminal justice system.
Corporations are continually driven to cut their operating costs.  This was the reason why corporations viewed the improved standard of living of Black and Caucasian workers to be intolerable.  Therefore corporations made massive investments to build factories where workers are paid two dollars or less per day.  As these companies invested their money overseas, they closed down many of their manufacturing facilities in this country.

Today, the Taiwan based company Foxconn or Hon Hai produces cell phones and computers for Apple, Samsung, and Dell.  The Apple Corporation is one of the most profitable in the world.  Yet Apple doesn’t employ workers to manufacture their products.  Corporations like Foxconn produce all Apple devices.

The other strategy used by corporations to counter the improved standard of living in this country was to increase the number of immigrants who work here.  The labor movement was slow to respond to this change and didn’t make much of an attempt to organize workers who were born in other countries.

Today immigrant workers do some of the most difficult jobs in agriculture, meatpacking, construction, and in the kitchens of restaurants.  Immigrants also work at highly technical jobs.  Because college education in this country is so expensive, graduates seek out the higher paying jobs.

We also know that the United States government has gone to war against several nations all over the world.  Thousands of soldiers lost their lives and hundreds of billions of dollars were allocated because of these wars.  As a result, millions of people lost their lives.  The idea that these resources could have been used to improve the standard of living in the world is inconceivable to those who support the capitalist system.  

So, when we look at the overall response of corporations and the government to the labor, civil rights, and woman’s movements, we see a clear trend.  While working people made gains because of decades of struggle, corporations did everything in their power to reverse these gains.             

What is the road to liberation?

Anyone who reads the newspapers in this country, or has received a so-called education is familiar with the following argument.  They say that all you need to do is to take responsibility for your life and everything will be all right.  You need to work hard in school and on the job.  Do what you are told and stay out of trouble.  Follow these rules and the “American Dream” of prosperity is waiting for you.

The film 13th effectively destroys that myth.  It gives the facts showing how Democratic and Republican administrations worked to vastly increase the prison population and target Black people.  This was not because of an increase in crime.  This was one way the ruling powers have used to drive down the standard of living. 

Black people have been some of the most militant defenders of human rights in this country.  This is another reason why they have been targeted by the government and sent to prison in disproportionate numbers.  In fact, Malcolm X served about ten years in prison.  His uncompromising tenacity enabled Malcolm to transform himself to become an international leader.

One of the commentators in the film 13th talked about how the Black Lives Matter movement has no organizational address.  The commentator argued that he felt that this is a good thing because of the fact that many Black leaders of the past have been targeted by the government and or assassinated. 

Clearly it is true that anyone who challenges the ruling powers in this country becomes a target.  Clearly it is true that Black people have historically born the brunt of the repressive powers of this country.  However, there is political space to advance a movement to liberate humanity.

The Militant newspaper has been in print for decades and supports the politics of the Socialist Workers Party.  Eighteen members of this party served time in prison because of their opposition to U.S. participation in the Second World War.  Today certain prison authorities are preventing prison inmates from reading The Militant.  Supporters of the paper have engaged in a campaign to force the government to allow inmates to read the paper.  This is a clear example of how activists can advance the struggle and be open about their politics.

Their politics and ours

The standard of living has been continuously deteriorating for the past forty years.  In 1971 tuition at Rutgers University was $200 for a New Jersey resident.  Now that same tuition is about $10,000.  So, if a worker had a salary of $10,000 per year in 1971, that worker would need a salary of $500,000 to have the same increase as the tuition increase at Rutgers University.

Understanding this, we can anticipate that the standard of living will continue to deteriorate.  As worker’s standard of living deteriorates, prices continue to increase.  Eventually there are more commodities on the market than there are people to purchase these commodities.

This is why corporations invest hundreds of billions of dollars in advertising.  They are continuously driven to sell every commodity they can.  However, these efforts can only lead to an eventual collapse of the economy.  When this happens the ruling powers can only demand more ruthless cuts in our living standard.  This is their only way of creating an environment they feel will be suitable for investment.

There is another way.  There have been many struggles throughout history demanding that working people be treated with the dignity we deserve.  There was the slave rebellion of Spartacus against the Roman Empire.  There was the revolution in the thirteen colonies that created this country.  There was the Civil War that took power away from slave owners.  There were also the labor, civil rights, Native American, and woman’s movements.  There have been other movements demanding human dignity throughout the world.

When we begin to understand this history, we can see that there is a clear road to the future.  Working people clearly have the capacity to end the system of capitalism in the world.  The government that promotes corporate profits can be replaced with a workers government that makes human needs it’s only goal.

This kind of government can use technological advancements to make work easier and more rewarding.  This kind of government has the potential to eliminate poverty.  This kind of government can do away with the source of discrimination against Blacks, women, immigrants, and Native Americans.  This kind of government can also work to begin to eliminate poverty throughout the world.  This kind of government can work to ensure that the environment will not be destroyed, and continues to serve as a home to all the organisms that live on this planet.

This choice will become clearer as time passes.  The ruling powers are in a crisis they are simple unable to resolve.  Only working people can organize to place a new kind of political economic system in place that can liberate the human race.               


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Queen of Katwe

Directed by Mira Nair, 2016

Starring: David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, and Madina Nalwanga

Production companies:  Walt Disney Pictures, ESPN Films, and Mirabai Films

A review of the film

There are few films at local theaters that I would actually recommend.  The Queen of Katwe is an exception and I highly recommend seeing it.

I’ve always been attracted to stories of athletes who overcome disadvantages to achieve distinction in their sport.  Most of those stories take place in this country.  Clearly one out of every six people in this country do not have enough food to eat, and there are tremendous obstacles to overcome here in order to become an athletic star.  However, looking at the reality portrayed in the Queen of Katwe, we can see a whole new level of seemingly impossible obstacles that need to be overcome every day.

Before we look at the reality faced by ten-year old Phiona Mutesi portrayed by Madina Nalwanga, I believe it is useful to look at a bit of the history of Uganda.


Uganda, even in the ancient past, has been a center for food production.  One article I read argued that Uganda alone has the potential to feed the entire African continent. 

The capital Kampala is close to Lake Victoria.  The Banganda people who live in this area call this lake Nnalumbale and it is the second largest fresh water lake in the world.  The neighborhood of Katwe is one of the least affluent in Kampala.

Initially Ivory was the primary product European traders took from this region.  Then cotton production became highly lucrative.  Today coffee is the most valued export. 

Although the land of Uganda is very fertile, it is a landlocked country.  There is a rail line connecting Uganda with the port of Mombasa in Kenya.  This rail line facilitates the exports that have only benefitted a minority of the population.

Those who are at all familiar with Uganda think of the military dictator Idi Amin Dada.  Idi Amin was only one of the many military dictatorships the United States government has supported.  In order to sustain the poverty experienced by the masses of people all over the world, military dictatorships have been necessary.

Phiona Mutesi

The film Queen of Katwe begins when we see ten-year old Phiona selling corn in a highly congested area of Kampala.  We see that her brothers and sisters also need to sell corn for her family to survive.  Phiona’s mother who is portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o raises the family.  Her father passed away before the beginning of the timeline of the film.

Robert Katende, portrayed by David Oyelowo, had just graduated at the top of his class with an engineering degree.  In a rational world, engineers would be needed to modernize Uganda.  However, Katende is unable to find work as an engineer and takes a low paying job working with young people teaching them soccer and chess.

Phiona becomes interested in chess and Katende accepts her into his class.  During her first day to learn the game, no one wanted to play with her because she had an odor.  On her second day, she cleaned herself and began to learn the game.

The students at the chess class received a lunch that appeared to consist of corn meal.  Because Phiona and her brother had this lunch, they volunteered to give their dinner to their mother so she could have a larger portion.

When her mother learned that Phiona was spending time learning chess, she was initially outraged.  Her mother felt that this time would be better spent selling corn to get the money her family needed to live.  Gradually Phiona’s mother began to realize that playing chess could be a bridge to a better life for her daughter.

In another scene, Phiona’s brother was severely injured when he was hit by a motorcycle.  Phiona paid for someone to take her brother to the hospital.  After the surgery, Phiona’s mother learned that she could not afford the hospital costs and took her son home before he recuperated.  Because Phiona used money to take her brother to the hospital, her mother didn’t have rent money and the family was evicted from their home.

In the United States when there are heavy rains some people loose their homes due to flooding.  In Kampala this is a routine occurrence.  When the heavy rains came to Kampala, Phiona’s family lost their possessions and her nephew nearly lost his life.

The chess team from Katwe travelled to a more affluent area of Uganda where they would compete in a tournament.  The team was offered beds that they could use for the night.  Apparently no one from the team had ever slept in a bed and the entire team slept on the floor.

Because Phiona’s family didn’t have access to running water, she needed to carry water to her home.  In order to cook food, the family needed to gain access to wood.  Apparently the wood used for cooking is taken from the forests of Uganda.  This threatens the entire ecosystem of the country.

Learning to read had never been an option for Phiona.  Robert Katende’s wife taught Phiona to read and this would begin to transform her life.

In spite of all these obstacles, Phiona demonstrated that she had the ability to outsmart some of the best chess players in the world.  While she eventually manages to improve her life, the conditions in Uganda for most of the population clearly remain unchanged.


Seeing this story we can gain a deeper appreciation of the Cuban reality.  Shortly after the revolution of 1959, the government worked diligently to make sure everyone on the island knew how to read.  The government also worked to make sure everyone had access to running water as well as electrical power.

Today Cuba has more doctors and teachers per capita than any other nation in the world.  No Cuban needs to pay for health care.

In the recent hurricane that devastated Haiti and parts of the United States, the Cuban government organized an evacuation.  While the hurricane caused the loss of lives in Haiti and the United States, no one lost their life in Cuba.

Clearly these are not the conclusions that the producers of the film Queen of Katwe would like viewers to think about.  Those producers include: Walt Disney Productions, and ESPN Films.   

The conditions that Phiona experienced in Uganda are experienced by billions of people all over the world.  About half of the world’s population lives on two dollars per day or less.  The film Queen of Katwe as well as the Cuban example demonstrate that working people clearly have the potential to transform the world.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Brazil’s Dance with the Devil – The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy

By Dave Zirin

A review

A while ago I asked several of my co-workers a basic question: What language do most Black people speak in the Western Hemisphere?  Only one person knew that the correct answer is Portuguese, the national language of Brazil.

The answer to this question raises many other questions about the reality of Brazil.  Brazil is both the fifth most populous nation in the world as well as the fifth largest nation in the world.  More Black people live in Brazil than in any other nation except Nigeria.  Brazil has it’s own martial arts style, Capoeira, it’s own dance and music styles, Samba, as well as it’s own way of playing the game of soccer known to the world as football.         

Dave Zirin’s recent book Brazil’s Dance with the Devil gives us a unique view of the nation much of the world learned about through the World Cup, and the Olympics.  This book gives us a view of Brazil that was completely ignored by the mainstream press during the recent Olympic games.

Brazilian History

One of the reasons why Brazil has such a large Black population stems from the fact that Brazil and the Caribbean were the two places that received the most kidnapped slaves from Africa.  Slavery in Brazil was especially horrendous.  Life expectancy for a Brazilian slave was eighteen years.

Before the Civil War in the United States, slave owners were the dominant power in this country.  The Civil War was, in effect, the second revolution in the United States.  The defeat of the confederacy removed slave owners from their position of power.  When the U.S. government abolished slavery, the slave owners lost their most valuable so-called possession.  Slaves valued at literally billions of dollars became workers who received a salary for their labor.

Brazil has a different history with respect to the abolition of slavery.  For a time, the Portuguese King needed to escape the French conquest, and he sailed to Brazil.  While living in Brazil, the King opposed slavery. 

Brazil has a vast interior that was not developed during the time of slavery.  Brazilian slaves routinely escaped to the interior, and it became increasingly difficult to apprehend them.

Nearly 200 years before the slave revolution on the island of Haiti, a settlement of escaped slaves was established in Brazil.  This settlement, known as Palmares, was home to more than 10,000 escaped slaves from the years 1605-1694.  While the settlement of Palmares was overturned by the Portuguese military, slaves continued to escape into Brazil’s interior.  As in all nations where slavery existed, slave insurrections were a routine fact of life.

An article written in the Brazilian periodical O Rebate in 1889 gave the following reason for the abolition of slavery:

“Had slaves not fled in masse from the plantations, they would today still be slaves.  Slavery ended because slaves rebelled against it and against the law that enslaved them.”  The abolition “was nothing more than the legal recognition–so that public authority wasn’t discredited–of an act that had already been accomplished by mass revolt.”  

The other reason for the abolition of slavery had to do with the poor health of the slaves.  Because slave owners were indifferent to the health care of slaves, they suffered from diseases that spread to the rest of the population.  For all these reasons, Brazil became the last nation in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery in 1888.

São Paulo became the most important commercial city in Brazil, and today it is the most populous city in South America.  Historically São Paulo has been the center of coffee production in Brazil, and Brazil is the world’s leading coffee producer.  Next to oil, coffee produces more revenue than any other natural resource.

Like in many nations of Latin America, working people and small farmers had few resources to support themselves.  In Brazil, working people used available materials to build their homes.  In the areas surrounding the cities, these working class areas became known as the favelas.               

Brazil had a history of repressive governments that organized some development of the nation.  Then, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was elected to be President of Brazil.  He is known around the world as Lula.

Lula and the Workers Party

Reading the life story of Lula, I thought of Bernie Sanders, who ran for President in this country.  Sanders promised all kinds of reforms if he were elected.  Then, after his defeat, he endorsed Hillary Clinton who clearly isn’t interested in making any basic changes.

Lula was born into a working class family and became a factory worker.  Because of the dangerous conditions workers are exposed to, Lula lost one of his fingers.  He attempted to get treatment for the injury in one of the hospitals in that area.  None of those hospitals would treat him because he didn’t have sufficient financial resources.

Lula then became president of the steelworkers union.  The government arrested him for his union activities.  He was tortured while in police custody. 

Then, Lula helped organize the Workers Party and ran for president six times.  He finally won the election.

During Lula’s presidency, Brazil had a significant increase in revenue.  This was primarily due to the discovery of oil and the increase of exports to China.  Because of this new revenue, Brazil was able to pay off it’s exorbitant debt to the International Monetary Fund.  We should keep in mind that paying off this debt meant that Brazilian working people helped to enrich some of the most affluent people in the world. 

Lula did make some initiatives to improve the standard of living for the poorest Brazilians.  However, the lion’s share of this new revenue went to the Brazilian billionaires.  Some of the money collected by these billionaires went to purchasing the U.S. corporation of Anheuser Busch the makers of Budweiser Beer.  They also purchased the Kraft corporation Heinz that produces the ketchup many of us use.

Lula also had a different foreign policy from his predecessors.  He was critical of U.S. foreign policy and had friendly relations with the Cuban government.  The governments of Bolivia and Venezuela have similar foreign policies.  Throughout Latin America there was a resentment of the fact that the U.S. government had supported many of the repressive military dictatorships that ruled the continent. 

Then, Lula resigned from office and supported his Workers Party successor Dilma Rousseff. The former military regime held Dilma in prison for two years and tortured her during that time.   At the time of his resignation Lula was one of the most popular Presidents in the world with an eighty percent approval rating.

However, in the capitalist system financial upturns eventually develop into downturns.  This is what happened in Dilma Rousseff’s presidency.  By the year 2013 demonstrations rocked Brazil because of an economic downturn.  Apparently the demonstrators would have preferred that the wealth of Brazil be used for education and health care, rather than for beer and ketchup.  At the time of her impeachment Dilma had an approval rating of about ten percent.

Lula and Dilma both worked against the Landless Workers’ Movement, MST who have about 1.5 million members.  Trade union membership has declined under while the Workers Party ran the government from 30% to 17%. 

David Zirin had this to say about the Workers Party initiatives that caused increasing inequality:

“The oligarchs’ land ownership has not only increased but has become more concentrated than it was fifty years ago, a result of Brazil’s transforming into one of the leading agribusiness and beef-producing countries on earth.  As a part of this land grab, Lula and his successor Dilma have been far tougher on the landless peasant movement than his right-wing predecessors.”  

A direct consequence of the Olympics has been an increase in police murders of civilians.  Another consequence has been a drive to force residents of the favelas out of their homes to make room for the construction of new and more expensive housing.

Zirin quoted a teacher from Rio de Janeiro who said:

“I used to be a fan of Dilma, but I lost respect for her when she sided with the mayor’s plan for Olympic development.  There are some huge contradictions between her federal policy and the local impact of the Olympic development, which she supports.  .  .  Dilma is just a capitalist.  And this is just capitalism, its all about making money.  The poor are the ones who built this city.  You couldn’t be here without the poor of Rio.  But now, the people who built the city are being pushed out.  You can’t have a positive legacy of the Games when the poor who created this city aren’t part of that legacy.”

So the struggle to liberate Brazil continues.  A crucial lesson we can learn from all this is that the capitalist system needs to be abolished.  Union officials are incapable of making the capitalist system favorable to workers.  Only when workers take power and make human needs more important than profits will working people be treated with the dignity we all deserve.

The Cuban Revolution

When we look at the recent history of Brazil, we can also take a look at how the Cuban Revolution transformed the reality of that nation.  Shortly after the revolution, the Cuban government organized a literacy drive to make sure everyone on the island knew how to read.  Within a year this drive was an overwhelming success. 

We might consider that literacy drives in other parts of the world have failed to reduce the percentages of people who are illiterate.  The difference is that in Cuba the government has created an atmosphere where people want to continue their education.  Today all Cubans have a lifetime right to pursue their education.

One result of these policies is that today Cuba has more doctors per capita than any other nation in the world.  The infant mortality rate in any part of Cuba is significantly lower than that rate in the urban centers of the United States.

While Cuba continues to have many significant problems, those problems are clearly not the same as the problems of Brazil.  We can also imagine what would happen if a government that had the same priorities as the Cuban government, and also had the resources of the developed world.  A nation that had that combination would clearly have the potential to have the highest standard of living in the world.