Saturday, June 16, 2018

Haydée Santamaría - Cuban Revolutionary – She led by transgression


By Margaret Randall

A review

Recently I finished reading Margaret Randall’s biography of the Cuban revolutionary, Haydée Santamaría. For many reasons this is a profoundly inspiring book. This book made me think of Nancy Stout’s biography of another Cuban revolutionary Celia Sanchez. However, Randall’s book is a different kind of biography.

Margaret Randall

First, I think it is useful to look at the life of the author Margaret Randall in order to gain a background to the book. Randall was born in the United States but spent 23 years outside of the country. She married and had four children while living in Mexico. Then, there was the repression in Mexico in 1968 that coincided with the Olympics held in Mexico during that year.

The government murdered hundreds of Mexicans who protested the use of badly needed funds for the Olympics. Many people in this country recall that time when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised gloved fists during the playing of the National Anthem at their awards ceremony.

Cuba agreed to give Randall asylum, but she needed to go to Czechoslovakia first. At this time Randall didn’t have a U.S. passport. In order to go to her ultimate destination she needed to travel in the back of a meat truck through the United States to Canada, then to Czechoslovakia, then to Cuba. She was ill when she arrived in Cuba and needed to have one of her kidneys removed.

Randall would spend about eleven years living in Cuba and worked with Haydée Santamaría during those years at the Casa de Las Americas. After her time in Cuba she went to Nicaragua and studied the revolution in that country. She has authored many books aside from this biography that include: Cuban Women Now, Sandino’s Daughters, and Eight Decades of Cuban Poetry.

Randall returned to the United States in 1984. Upon her return, the government ordered her deported under the McCarran Walter Act of 1952. The charges against Randall that supported her deportation include the idea that her opinions are: “against the good order and happiness of the United States.” And that, “her writings go beyond mere decent.” However, in a court decision Randall won the right to live in this country.

Haydée Santamaría

Haydée Santamaría, or Yeyé to those who were close to her, was born in the provincial town of Encrucijada, Las Villas, Cuba in 1922. She was one of five siblings and her father was a carpenter and manager of the La Constancia sugar mill. Her family was middle class—not wealthy, but she did not endure the grinding poverty of most workers.

She had a basic education in a one-room schoolhouse and never attended a university. Haydée and her younger brother Abel resented the profound disparity between the affluent owners of the sugar mill and the workers who struggled merely to survive. Abel first moved to Havana and then sent for Haydée.

Their apartment became a center for organizing the resistance to the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Their leader was Fidel Castro and Abel was second in command. They planed a raid on the military garrison called Moncada in the city of Santiago.

That raid was defeated. Abel as well as Haydée’s fiancé were tortured to death. These deaths, as well as others, would affect her for the rest of her life.  Haydée, as well as Melba Hernández, served time in prison for their participation in the raid on Moncada. After their release they both worked to transcribe Fidel Castro’s speech at his trial that was titled, History Will Absolve Me. Haydée also worked to organize those who survived the raid on Moncada.

Haydée succeeded in avoiding capture in the city. She also travelled to the United States where she raised funds and negotiated for the purchase of arms from the Mafia. She said that she hated those negotiations and reported that most of the arms that had been purchased were never delivered. After the revolution, the new revolutionary government confiscated the lavish casinos that were owned by the Mafia. Much of the ammunition used in the revolution had been smuggled into Cuba and sewn into women’s dresses.

After the revolution Fidel Castro assigned Haydée Santamaría to head up the Casa de Las Americas. This was the cultural center where Cuba would attract artists from all over the world. Haydée had not attended a university and she had no formal training in the arts. Yet, for about 20 years she made Casa de Las Americas a center for some of the best artists in the world.

We might consider that before the Cuban Revolution there was the McCarthy era in the United States. Artists like Dalton Trumbo served time in prison for refusing to answer questions of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Then, Cuba had their revolution and suddenly there was a haven for artists who were critical of U.S. government policies in the world.

So, while the United States government was doing everything in it’s power to isolate and militarily defeat the Cuban revolution, Haydée Santamaría was attracting artists to Casa de Las Americas from all over the world. She took an interest in every artist and these artists testified to their appreciation of her efforts.

All of us have had experience with managers of capitalist corporations. Rarely do we see any concern for our interests. Their primary concern is the drive to maximize profits. Haydée Santamaría demonstrated how someone who had no formal college training can not only manage, but provide inspiring leadership to artists from around the world.

We might also think about the fact that in capitalist nations women have become government officials as well as corporate officers. However, these women need to be driven with the corporate drive to maximize profits. I believe that this is the root cause for why there is poverty in the world.

At the end of this book Margaret Randall included her wonderful biographical poem about Haydée’s life. In the following passage we see how Santamaría was completely different from women officials in the capitalist world. We also see what she viewed as important:

“You were a woman plain and simple,
who thought a bus ride should cost 5 cents,
public pay phones be free,
health, education, shelter, food,
culture and art:
all that we need free,
bountifully free!”

Santamaría’s internationalist thinking was in line with the thinking of Ernesto “Che” Guevara who left Cuba to join with revolutions erupting in the Congo and in Bolivia. Haydée worked at the Casa de Las Americas during the time of the war against Vietnam. Vietnamese women came to Cuba and refused to cut their hair until their country was liberated. There is a photograph in this book of Haydée Santamaría sitting with the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh.

Margaret Randall was surprised when Haydée Santamaría asked her to judge a Cuban beauty pageant. However, as Randall was a guest of the Cuban government, she fulfilled this request. After judging that contest, she wrote an article critical of the idea of beauty contests for women. Randall asked Santamaría why she asked her to be a judge in the pageant. Haydée answered: “Because I knew that you would put an end to those awful contests.” Today, there are no more beauty pageants in Cuba.     

Haydée Santamaría ended her life in a suicide. She had experienced continual depression partly due to the murder of her brother and fiancé in the raid at Moncada. Added to this she also felt a deep loss with the deaths of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Celia Sanchez who died of cancer shortly before Haydée’s suicide. Even some of the best psychologists have questions relating to the issue of suicide. All I will say is that Haydée Santamaría needs to be judged by how she lived her life and not by how she ended it.

I will conclude this review with two stanzas from the biographical poem Margaret Randall wrote about the life of Haydée Santamaría:

“You offered Cuba’s impossible possibility
to those whose children were disappeared,
minds drugged by torture,
hands severed by loneliness
of daring to dream beyond the ugliest schemes.

“At the precise moment
we were in danger
of losing sight and hearing
to smug opportunism or insidious drones,
when reduced to rote applause
for those who would rob us of our memory,
condemn us to repeat lives
with neither past nor future,
you came along
and made us whole.”

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Two Similar Films: The Verdict and Goliath


Amazon Video – 2016
Starring – Billy Bob Thornton as Billy McBride

The Verdict
Director – Sidney Lumet – 1982
Starring – Paul Newman as Frank Gavin

A review of two similar films

The other evening I concluded my viewing of the sixteen part film series Goliath, starring Billy Bob Thornton as Billy McBride. After seeing the end of this series, I realized that this film had almost exactly the same plot as the 1982 film The Verdict starring Paul Newman as Frank Gavin.

The film The Verdict is about a malpractice lawsuit against a doctor and a hospital. The film Goliath is about a lawsuit against a so-called “defense contractor.” Apart from this difference, the storyline of both films is in many ways similar. However, there is one significant difference that underscores how times have changed in the intervening years of these two films.

First, we need to look at the basic story and background of these two films. The book The Verdict, that the film is based on was written by Barry Reed. Read was a malpractice attorney who understood the seemingly insurmountable obstacles lawyers need to overcome in order for their clients to receive justifiable compensation.

We might think about the fact that today one of the leading causes of death in this country comes from medical malpractice. Most of these cases do not go to trial because lawyers know that the legal system, for the most part, favors doctors and their employers who are hospitals.

Understanding this reality Barry Reed wrote his novel about a lawyer, Frank Gavin, who once had a prominent practice, lost everything, became an alcoholic, and made a tenuous living as an ambulance chaser. 

Then, the grieving family of a victim of malpractice asks Gavin for his assistance. After reluctantly accepting the case, Gavin gradually sees that this is more than a case about money. This is a case about right and wrong, where there is an urgent need for a competent lawyer to fight for justice.

While advocating for this family, Gavin will confront a high priced law firm, as well as a judge who routinely rules in favor of corporations.

In the film series Goliath, we see Billy McBride, a lawyer who once had a prominent practice who lost everything and became an alcoholic. A twist to this plot is that McBride’s former wife and mother of his teenage daughter is a partner for the law firm he challenges in court.

In this film, McBride needs to convince the family of a deceased husband and father that they need to sue a defense contractor for his wrongful death. In this film, McBride also confronts a powerful law firm, as well as a judge who routinely makes rulings favoring the corporation.

The one big difference in these two films is in the composition of the cast. In the film The Verdict all the characters except one is a white man. In the film Goliath all of Billy McBride’s assistants are women. Three out of the four lawyers representing the defense contractor are women. The fourth lawyer is a Black man. The character who portrays the judge is a Black man.

So, we can see that in the intervening years between 1982 and 2016 Hollywood continues to see the story of lawyers challenging corporations as compelling. However, today the film industry feels the need to portray this kind of story using a cast that gives the story a different dynamic.

Erin Brockovich

In the year 2000 the film Erin Brockovich staring Julia Roberts was released. This was the true story of a mother who worked for a law firm and became obsessed with a class action lawsuit. In the course of this case, Brockovich proved that she was extremely competent in the work she did. Without her efforts, we might question if there ever would have been a positive outcome to this case.

Here we see a woman who was not a lawyer who proves herself to some of the most powerful lawyers associated with this case who are men. In the film Goliath women are prominent lawyers for a prestigious law firm.    

So, when we look at the timeline of these three films, we see how women as well as Black people are receiving more prominent roles in films. Some people might say that this comes from the fact that there was a Black President in the United States. There has also been an increase of women and Black people in prominent positions in the government as well as corporations.

While this may have been a factor, my opinion is that the changing roles of women and Black people come from the civil rights movement as well as the feminist movement. These movements challenged the stereotypes and discrimination that limited the opportunities of over half the population.

Clearly discrimination continues to be institutionalized in this country. Giving women and Black people more roles in films is only a tiny step is dealing with this problem.

However, while there are those who argue that the United States is becoming more racist, we might look at the two films The Verdict and Goliath and see how the moguls of the film industry need to have more diverse casts in order to sell compelling stories.

Individual versus collective action

Today, in the capitalist system in this country, working people are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Most of us work alienating jobs where we see seemingly endless challenges just so we might have the things we need, as well as some of the things we want.

Given that this is our environment, the film industry has profited handsomely by promoting films where heroic characters overcome seemingly impossible obstacles. We might think of the films The Verdict, and Goliath as two films that portray this idea.

However, the facts show that the law, for the most part, defends the drive for profits of corporations and rarely defends the rights of workers. Today the National Football League has clearly violated the players right to freedom of speech by making it a requirement to stand during the National Anthem. The President fully supports the NFL in this action.

The First Amendment to the Constitution defends the right of freedom of speech that would make the NFL’s action illegal. However, corporate lawyers work to interpret the law in a way that is the exact opposite of what the law states.

It has been the mass movements in the history of this country that have created real change. These movements would include: The American Revolution, the Civil War, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the movement supporting women’s rights, and the movement against the war in Vietnam.

In the commercial film industry we rarely see a film that portrays working people who engage in a collective action to advance our interests. One such film was Norma Rae released in 1979 starring Sally Field in the title role. This is the true story of a union organizing drive in the textile industry. Another film is the 1987 film Matewan that portrays the true story of a coal miners strike. 

We might also consider that some of the most important leaders in this history of the world happen to be women as well as Black people. That list would include: Mother Jones, Ida Wells, the Cuban revolutionaries Celia Sanchez, and Haydee Santamaria, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela.

When we look at the lives of these leaders, we see that their primary qualification was a willingness to dedicate themselves to advancing the cause of working people. This dedication overcame the racist and sexist prejudices they confronted. Their examples demonstrate that we will have more leaders who will have the tenacity to overcome the tremendous problems we face today.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Newark – A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America

By Kevin Mumford
2007 – New York University Press

A review

I was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey and consider myself a student of history. So, I was immediately interested in Kevin Mumford’s book on the history of race relations in that city.

Mumford is an Associate Professor of Afro-American history at Iowa University and lived in Newark in 1998. His book is mostly written from the point of view of an academic interested in Newark. He was not someone who participated in the movements he has reported on. While Mumford has uncovered many facts worth considering, my primary problem with his book is that it lacks a class analysis. This would make the history of Newark more understandable. I can begin by saying that in my opinion what Mumford calls the Newark riots of 1967 were rebellions against an oppressive political economic system.

Newark before the rebellions

Kevin Mumford gives a list in his book of those who were arrested during the 1967 Newark rebellions. He shows that most of those arrested were born in the Southern states where Jim Crow segregation was the law. I believe it is useful to look at the background as to why Jim Crow became the law in the states where chattel slavery, at one time, was a fact of life.

350,000 Union soldiers lost their lives in the Civil War. After the war, the federal government took measures to ensure that the power of the former slave owners was compromised. First, the government adopted the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. This Amendment abolished chattel slavery except in cases where someone is convicted of a crime.

Then, in the year 1868 the government passed the 14th Amendment that was supposed to guarantee equal protection under the law. If states did not provide for equal protection, it is the job of the federal government to intervene. Then, in 1875 the government passed the Civil Rights Act that expanded on the 14th Amendment.

By the year 1877 the Republican federal government of President Rutherford B. Hayes made an agreement with racist forces in the South to withdraw the federal troops that had defended the reconstruction governments. These reconstruction governments began to institute democratic reforms in the former slave states. By 1883 the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act was illegal. This decision, as well as the decision of Plessy v. Ferguson in effect, reversed the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court isn’t supposed to have the power to reverse the Constitution, but it did this anyway.

When President Hayes withdrew federal troops from the southern states, he left the progressive reconstruction governments largely defenseless. Racist forces of the Ku Klux Klan and others mobilized to take state power. The result was that Black people lost citizenship rights in this country.

Today in Montgomery, Alabama there is a new memorial to the 4,000 people who were lynched by racist forces in this country. As we have seen, the federal government had an obligation to prosecute those who murdered the victims of lynchings. When the government refused to prosecute these murderers, this same government shared responsibility for all those murders.

This was just one of the many reasons that explain what has been known as the Great Migration of Black people from the states where Jim Crow segregation was the law.

After the Second World War manufacturing in the United States expanded greatly. The United States became the world’s superpower and began to dominate the capitalist world economy.

Working people had been living in impoverished conditions and felt that their participation in the war earned them a better standard of living. So, when the United States government attempted to go to war against the revolutionary Chinese government, the U.S. soldiers refused and organized a “Bring the Troops Home” movement.

When the troops came home, hundreds of thousands began to understand that they needed to carry out another war. This war was a massive strike wave where hundreds of thousands of workers participated. In the course of this strike wave unions began to understand that they needed to support the demands of all workers, including Black workers who were systematically discriminated against.

Then, there was the racist lynching of 14 year-old Emmitt Till in Mississippi. A few months after Till’s murder, Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of a buss in Montgomery, Alabama. This sparked the 385 day Montgomery Bus Boycott.

One of the organizers of this boycott was E. D. Nixon who was a member of A. Phillip Randolph’s Sleeping Car Porters Union. These events demonstrated that a transition had taken place from the post WWII labor uprisings, to the Civil Rights movement. Both these movements benefitted all working people.

So, when Black workers left the states where Jim Crow was the law, there was a certain expectation that they would have a better life in the Northern or Western parts of the country. Clearly this migration didn’t happen until there was a need for workers in industry. In spite of the union victories, Black people found themselves with some of the worst jobs. However, some Black people were shocked when they looked at  Black people routinely sitting in the front of municipal busses.

The Newark Rebellions

Just as the government refused to prosecute the murderers who lynched Black people, this same government refused to enforce, the idea of equal protection under the law. As a result, Black people experienced systematic discrimination in education, housing, health care, and employment. The most offensive form of discrimination was from routine police brutality.

The rebellion in Newark wasn’t about protesting a single incident.  In January of 1967 business officials issued a report where they argued that Newark’s problems were, “more grave and pressing than those of perhaps any other American city.”  City officials applied for funds under the Model Cities Act using the following argument:

“Newark had the nation’s highest percentage of bad housing, the most crime per 100,000 people, the heaviest tax burden, the highest rates of venereal disease, maternal mortality, and new cases of tuberculosis.  The city was listed as second in infant mortality, second in birth rate, seventh in absolute number of drug addicts.  Its unemployment rate in the Black community was 15%.”

Before the Newark rebellion, there were efforts to confront the most vicious forms of racial discrimination. These protests were primarily organized by the group Congress of Racial Equality. Also Tom Hayden headed a predominantly caucasian group that came to Newark in an effort to assist in that struggle.

In the meantime, events took place that began to change the consciousness of this country. The Civil Rights movement effectively forced the government to adopt the Civil Rights Act as well as the Voting Rights Act. These laws effectively did away with Jim Crow segregation.

We should keep in mind that from a legal standpoint these laws were not necessary to do away with Jim Crow. All the government needed to do was to enforce the 14th Amendment, but that action would have shown federal collusion with Jim Crow for decades. 

However, while Jim Crow was no more, systematic discrimination continued. Malcolm X understood this and advocated for self-determination for Black people. Malcolm’s ideas began to transform the thinking of this country. He didn’t just think that Blacks were victims, but that they have the potential to engage in a movement that can win true liberation.

So, after the rebellion in the Black community of Los Angeles known as Watts, police officers arrested and brutalized John Smith who was a Newark taxi driver. The fourth district police station where Smith was taken was in the vicinity of the Hayes Homes, that was a housing project where thousands of Black people lived. Residents protested the arrest and beating of Smith and demanded that he be released. This was the beginning of the 1967 rebellion in Newark.

Mayor Hugh Adonizio asked New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes to send the National Guard to suppress the popular insurrection that was erupting in Newark. Governor Hughes toured Newark on Friday morning July 15 after these events.  He called the uprising, “An obvious open rebellion.”  This description by Hughes differed from descriptions by Kevin Mumford, the press, and the history books that have routinely called the Newark rebellions “riots.”  Hughes was open about his hatred for the tax-paying residents of Newark with his statement:

“The line between the jungle and the law might as well be drawn here as any place in America.”

A Committee of Concern that included the Episcopal Bishop, deans of Rutgers Newark campus as well as their law school, and the vice-presidents of Prudential Insurance Company disagreed with Governor Hughes statement.  They issued a statement arguing that a major cause of the rebellion was a belief held in the Black community that the police are, “the single continuously lawless element operating in the community.”

Tom Hayden underscored this sentiment in his statement showing how the rebellion had a unified support in the Black community.

“Fathers and mothers in the ghetto often complain that even they cannot understand the wildness of their kids.  Knowing that America denies opportunity to black young men, black parents still share with whites the sense that youth is heading in a radically new, incomprehensible, and frightening direction.  Refusal to obey authority—that of the parents, teachers and other adult ‘supervisors’—is a common charge against youngsters.  Yet when the riot broke out, the generations came together.  The parents understood and approved the defiance of their sons that night.”

In all, between July 12 and 17, twenty-four African Americans and two caucasians died in the rebellions. More than 1,100 sustained injuries; approximately 1,400 were arrested.

In the former tsarist Russia, Jewish people used the word pogrom to describe murderous raids by racist vigilantes into their communities. One of the definitions of the word pogrom is: A massacre or persecution instigated by the government or by the ruling class against a minority group, particularly Jews.     

Given the facts of what happened during the Newark rebellions, I believe that Governor Hughes order to send the National Guard into the city was an order to carry out a pogrom.

We might also consider that the United States became a nation as a result of a political revolution.  The Declaration of Independence states clearly that when the people are subjected to a “long train of abuses” it is not only, “their right, but their duty” to throw off their oppressors and establish new guards for their security.

At the Boston Tea Party of 1773, insurgents boarded three ships in Boston Harbor.  It took them three hours to throw 342 chests of tea overboard.

The so-called “looting” of white owned stores was partly about the routine cheating these storeowners practiced in the Black community.  Well-dressed working people participated in the rebellion and felt entitled to get even for all the money these stores effectively stole from the community.  The insurgents left the Black owned stores alone.

We might also keep in mind that at the same time the government sent the National Guard to Newark, this same government was sending millions of young people to go to war against the people of Vietnam. In all, millions of people died because of this U.S. government’s instigated war. The wars against the people of Vietnam and Newark both took place in order to defend capitalist interests of the most affluent people in the world. 

The political changes and polarization in Newark after the rebellion

Anthony Imperiale

Before the rebellions, protests against racist discrimination came from the organization CORE as well as individuals who put pressure on politicians for change. After the rebellion Kevin Mumford argued that the two main political orientations in the city were headed by Anthony Imperiale and Amiri Baraka. Imperiale organized a supposed self-defense of the Italian community during the rebellions. In reality, this so-called “self-defense” operation was about defending Newark’s North Ward against unarmed victims who had been murdered or injured by the National Guard.

We should keep in mind that there is always a backlash or counter-revolutionary movement after rebellions or revolutions. After the revolution that established the United States, a coalition supporting the interests of slave owners took control of the United States government. After the Civil War and reconstruction, forces loyal to the Ku Klux Klan took control of the state governments in the former slave states.

We might also consider that Imperiale’s actions were a betrayal of Italian working class traditions in this country. The following examples demonstrate that Italians in this country have more in common with the struggles of Black people than in allying with the repressive forces in this country.

In the year 1891, eleven workers of Italian descent were lynched in New Orleans, Louisiana. These Italians had been tried for murder, but the verdicts were either not guilty or inconclusive. After these verdicts, racist mobs lynched eleven Italians. Theodore Roosevelt, who became President of the United States was quoted in support of the lynching.

Italians had been recruited to work on sugar plantations doing work that had been done by African American slave labor. There was a 1999 movie of this lynching titled Vendetta produced by HBO.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were two Italian workers who were framed and convicted of murder. Their case won support from around the world. In 1927 they were both executed. In 1977 Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation about Sacco and Vanzetti that said: “any disgrace should forever be removed from their names.”

Rather than follow in this working class tradition of battling against repressive forces, Imperiale allied himself with these same repressive forces. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Imperiale waved a rifle in front of his headquarters and criticized Mayor Adonizio for sending a letter of condolences to King’s family.

The author James Baldwin made an insightful comment with respect to this issue. He argued that when immigrants from Europe came to this country, there was a “price of the ticket.” This price was about forgetting the working class traditions they experienced in Europe, and to become “white.” Baldwin argued that the concept of being “white” is nothing more than an expression of power. I don’t believe that all immigrants fit this description, but I do believe that this statement explains one of the reasons for racial discrimination in the United States.

Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka was one of the leaders of the Black community in Newark. His idea was to organize Black people to take control of the city in order to make the needed changes. He aided in electing Ken Gibson to Mayor of the city. Gibson was one of the first Black mayors in the history of the United States.

However, Gibson ran for office as a democrat and supported capitalist interests. He actively tried to enlist the support of Anthony Imperiale in his attempt to create unity in the city.

While Baraka clearly supported the interests of Blacks in the city, he didn’t see his organization as a part of the working class of the city. Clearly, in order for working people to advance we need to organize against all forms of discrimination.

Malcolm X, towards the end of his life, understood that there were caucasian people in the world who were genuine revolutionaries. In my opinion, from the evidence I’ve seen, Amiri Baraka was about advancing the interests of Black people against the interests of working class caucasians.

This is different from Ken Gibson’s appeal to Imperiale. Anthony Imperiale not only opposed the interests of Black people, he ultimately allied himself against the interests of working class Italians. A similar course led to the rise and fall of Benito Mussolini, who headed a fascist government in Italy.  A different political course might have had the potential to expose this clear contradiction.

The new segregation

Recently, I viewed a PBS documentary of the town of Montclair, New Jersey. The documentary showed how Montclair had a history of discrimination, but that today the city is largely integrated. However, one Black resident who has lived there for years could not continue to afford the high cost of living and moved out of town. The number of Black residents in the township is declining.

Montclair has every style of international restaurant, museums, and a playhouse. There is a train that connects Montclair to New York City. About 30% of the population of the city works in management, finances, or corporate law.

Montclair is one of several suburban towns that surround Newark where the standard of living is in stark contrast to the city. Looking at this contrast one would think that the suburbs and Newark were a part of a different world and not just a few miles apart.

Newark used to be a commercial center where people from around the area came to the city to do their shopping. Now there are shopping malls that surround the city. This is one reason why the city population has declined from about 450,000 to about 280,000. The first home where I lived in Newark was destroyed to make way for Route 78 that connects the suburban communities to New York City.

One measure city and state officials have used to further drive down the standard of living for working people is to make the property tax rate in New Jersey one of the highest in the nation. We might keep this in mind when we consider the fact that Newark and New Jersey are currently offering the Amazon Corporation about $7 billion in tax incentives. This is in the hope that Amazon will build one of their headquarters in Newark. 

The economy is based on profits, not human needs
When think about all the things that we all need and want, these would include: food, clothing, housing, transportation, communication, education, health care, and exposure to cultural activities such as music, art, dance, theater, the film, and literature. We might also think about the fact that most of the real estate in Manhattan, New York consists of office buildings.

In other words, these office buildings rarely if ever produce the things we all need and want. These buildings house enterprises such as banks, insurance companies, advertising agencies, stock brokerage houses, and corporate law firms. While we do not need the so-called services of these enterprises, we need to pay for all those services whenever we make a purchase. So, while production costs usually go down due to automation and lower labor costs, prices are always going up.

The crisis that led to the wars against the people of Newark as well as the people of Vietnam continue to be with us. Capitalists are routinely driven to cut costs as well as increase sales. This state of affairs has obvious consequences. Sooner or later there are more commodities on the market than there are consumers to purchase those commodities. Then, capitalists simply shut down production and throw people out of work.        

The Cuban Revolution has shown the world that there is another way. Almost immediately after the revolution the new Cuban government organized a literacy drive to ensure that everyone on the island knew how to read. This literacy drive was the foundation for making Cuba the nation in the world that has the highest number of doctors per capita.

In the United States we see advertisements to collect charity for people in the world who don’t have the basic necessities. Cuba, on the other hand, has sent volunteers to provide all kinds of assistance to some of the least affluent places in the world.

Most histories of the civil rights movement portray a non-violent protest against Jim Crow segregation. The facts are that after Jim Crow was outlawed, this did little to change the reality for Black people in the northern states.

However, after the rebellions, I believe that capitalists realized that things needed to change. They had no interest in allowing more rebellions in the cities that would cost them a lot of money. So, affirmative action programs took off and Black people suddenly had educational as well as employment opportunities they never had before. However, there was a catch.

While capitalists don’t like to see widespread rebellions, they also do not like to invest money to improve the conditions working people face every day. The labor movement, the civil rights movement, as well as the rebellions did have a clear effect in improving the standard of living in this country.

Capitalists responded to these improved conditions by making massive investments all over the world in factories where workers have salaries of between one and ten dollars per day. This massive shift in capital expenditures has caused an overall decline in the standard of living for working people in this country.

I viewed the effects of the capitalist response to the rebellions every day while I was attending high school. I took a bus that went down Bergen Street and Springfield Avenue where I routinely saw burned out buildings day after day, year after year.

As we have seen, the deterioration in the standard of living most ruthlessly effects the least affluent. While other cities rebuilt destroyed properties after the rebellions, people as well as corporations moved out of the Newark. The housing projects apparently became such an obvious disaster that most of them were destroyed.

However, history has shown us that the working class has a tremendous amount of endurance. We might consider that the past reality was even more horrendous than the conditions we face today. The Cuban people have shown us that working people have the potential to transform the world. My experience has shown that working people inside and outside of Newark also have the potential to make this change.

The capitalist system is driving us to a place where working people will need to respond in a meaningful way to our deteriorating standard of living. Rebellions are precursors of revolutions. Working people have the potential to learn from the rebellions of 1967, and put in place a government that makes it’s top priority to provide for the human needs of everyone.