Thursday, February 16, 2017

Two Conflicting Histories—The United States and Cuba



The other day, I viewed a film of a memorial meeting for Fidel Castro that was held at the Malcolm X Center in Harlem, New York.  The Malcolm X Center was formerly the Audubon Ballroom where Malcolm X was assassinated.

At this meeting there were many powerful speeches that gave the audience an appreciation of all the contributions Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution have made over the years.  While I appreciate the fact that this meeting took place, I also felt that there was something missing.

When we look at the history of the United States and Cuba, we see two seemingly contradictory stories.  In the meeting commemorating Fidel, people spoke of aspects of these two stories, but I believe there is a lot more that can be said.  This is the reason for this blog.

Two revolutions—the United States and Haiti

The people who lived in the thirteen colonies that became the United States had a problem that just wouldn’t go away.  Europeans came to these colonies as outcasts from Europe to make a new life.  Yet, they were ruled by a system where they would be considered second-class citizens, if they were not born into the so-called gentleman class. 

The King of England was primarily interested in supporting his empire.  Under this system the colonists routinely referred to the King as their father, and they considered themselves his children.

Thomas Paine wrote his widely read pamphlet titled Common Sense.  In this pamphlet Paine argued that this same king in reality was a “sceptered savage.”  Paine’s pamphlet argued many of the ideas that we would see in the founding document of this country—The Declaration of Independence written in 1776.

One of the big contradictions of history is that some of the revolutionaries of the thirteen colonies were prominent slave owners.  Their objective was to free themselves from the debts they owed to British bankers.  After the revolution the primary sources of wealth in the United States were agricultural products produced by slave labor.

We might consider that at the time of the revolution of the thirteen colonies, sugar production in the Caribbean islands was the most lucrative way of making money in the world.  Both Britain and France viewed the Caribbean as more important than the thirteen colonies. 

The wealthiest colony in the Caribbean was the French San Domingue that today is known as Haiti.  About eight years after the revolution in the thirteen colonies, revolution erupted in San Domingue.  A government of former slaves ruled the new nation.  The governments of Britain, Spain, France, and the United States did their best in attempting to overthrow or isolate Haiti.  All these nations continued to support slavery and Haiti was a clear example of how slavery needed to be abolished.

After the French were defeated in Haiti, the French government needed money and sold their colony of Louisiana to the United States.  This sale doubled the size of this country.   Most of that land was worked by slave labor.  Another irony of history is that the Haitian Revolution abolished slavery, but also created the conditions for slavery to grow in the United States.

However, this growth of slavery only lasted until the year 1861 when the Civil War erupted.  About 350,000 union soldiers died in the effort to abolish slavery in the United States.  While slavery was abolished, the defeat of radical reconstruction meant that Black people lost citizenship rights.  The Ku Klux Klan effectively ran the governments in the former slave states.

The first Cuban Revolution

Many of the slave owners from San Domingue left the island because of the revolution, and settled in the eastern section of Cuba known as Oriente.  This is the area of Cuba that is closest to Haiti.  These slave owners brought their slaves with them. 

Máximo Gómez was born in the Dominican Republic that neighbors Haiti on the eastern section of the island of Hispaniola.  Gómez was horrified by the living conditions he saw in Cuba and became the military commander of the Cuban revolutionary forces.

Gómez’ most important general was Antonio Maceo Grajales.  Maceo was Black, but he wasn’t a slave.  His entire family joined the revolution.  After ten years of war, Spain came to an agreement with most of the Cuban revolutionaries.  Maceo refused to surrender and he alone allowed the Cuban people to say that Cuba never surrendered to Spanish rule.

After several years the Cuban revolutionaries returned to the island.  Antonio Maceo and Máximo Gómez led a largely Black army 800 miles crossing the entire length of the Cuban island.  The Spanish had significantly more arms as well as more soldiers.  However, the revolutionary Cubans terrified the colonial army.

We might consider that just about 100 miles north of Cuba in the United States, a completely different story was unfolding.  As I’ve mentioned the Ku Klux Klan took power in the former slave states and Black people effectively lost their citizenship rights.  This meant that literally thousands of Black people were lynched by racist mobs. 

Clearly the politicians of the United States didn’t want another revolutionary government in the Caribbean.  So, the United States went to war against Spain and then dominated the governments of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.  About 250,000 Philippine revolutionaries died in their attempt to prevent a U.S. supported government from dominating their homeland.

The second Cuban Revolution

In the 1950s a new generation of Cuban revolutionaries organized to overthrow the corrupt and brutal dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.  The first action of these revolutionaries was to attack the military garrison known as Moncada.  This strategy of attacking a military garrison has a long history in this part of the world.

The battle of Lexington and Concord sparked the revolution of the thirteen colonies.  This battle, like the one at Moncada, was about who would control an arms depot.

John Brown organized a small force to take control of an arms depot at Harpers Ferry in what is now West Virginia.  Brown planed to take these arms to the Allegheny Mountains where his small force would launch a guerrilla war against the slave owners.  Fidel Castro had a similar plan to use the weapons captured at Moncada in the neighboring mountains to carry out a war against the regime of Batista.

The battles of Lexington and Concord, Harpers Ferry, and Moncada all ended in defeats for the revolutionaries.  However, after these three battles the revolutionaries eventually managed to declare independence from Britain, to end slavery in the United States, and to form a truly representative government in Cuba.

We might also think about the fact that, while the Cubans were organizing their revolution, the civil rights movement erupted in the United States.  The following timeline demonstrates how the struggles in the United States and Cuba erupted during the same years.

July 26, 1953—An armed force led by Fidel Castro attacked the Moncada Barracks In Santiago, Cuba.

August 28, 1955—Emmett Till was beaten and murdered by a racist mob in Mississippi.  His murderers were found not guilty in a so-called trial that made absolutely no attempt to bring Till’s murderers to justice.

December 1, 1955—Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of a segregated bus and was arrested.  The local chapter of the NAACP responded to this arrest by launching the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  This boycott lasted 381 days until Black people were allowed to sit anywhere on the busses of Montgomery, Alabama.

December 2, 1956—A small force of Cuban revolutionaries landed on the shores of the Oriente province of Cuba.  Most of those who landed were murdered by the forces of Fulgencio Batista.  Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and Ernesto Che Guevara were among the survivors and they retreated to the mountains of the Sierra Maestra. 

January 1, 1959—The victorious revolutionary army marched into Havana, Cuba.  The new revolutionary government outlawed racial discrimination and organized a literacy drive to teach everyone on the island how to read.  As a result, today Cuba has more teachers and doctors per capita than any other nation in the world.

April 17, 1960—An armed force created and financed by the United States government attacked Cuba at the Bay of Pigs or Playa Girón.  This force is quickly defeated by the Cubans.

October 16 – 28, 1962—The United States government, headed by John F. Kennedy, threatened to use atomic weapons against Cuba.  Cuba had accepted atomic bombs from the Soviet Union and the Kennedy Administration found this to be unacceptable.  The United States then and now has more nuclear weapons than any other nation in the world.  The U.S. is the only nation that has used atomic bombs in war and today is dropping more bombs than any other nation in the world.

March 7, 1965—Police attack a demonstration of peaceful protesters at the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Alabama.  The protesters were attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery to demand the right to vote for African Americans.

March 25, 1965—President Johnson bowed to international pressure and ordered 1,000 military police as well as 2,000 army troops to defend the voting rights demonstrators on their five-day march to Montgomery, Alabama.

August 8, 1965—President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act.  This law was merely a repetition of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed after the Civil War that also granted all men voting rights.  Many women won the right to vote in 1920 with the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Africa

Starting with the Cuban Revolution, the governments of the United States and Cuba have had opposing interests on the African continent.

Cuba supported the revolutionary government of Algeria, while the United States supported the French in their colonial war against the people of that region.  About one million people died in the Algerian revolutionary war that freed Algeria from French colonialism.

Ernesto Che Guevara led a Cuban volunteer force aimed at bringing about a democratic government in the nation known as the Congo.  The United States government admitted that it organized the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, who was the democratically elected leader of the Congo.  The U.S. government then installed the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko to rule the nation.

Today we can see the clear difference between the government of the Congo that had been installed by the United States and the Cuban reality.  The Congo is one of the most minerally rich nations in the world.  The Congo River has the potential to supply the entire nation with hydroelectric power.  Yet, today the Congo is one of the poorest nations in Africa.

Cuba has very few natural resources.  Yet today Cuba has more doctors and teachers per capita than any other nation in the world.  Cuba has been able to accomplish this while battling against a trade embargo from the United States.

Southern Africa

The apartheid laws of the former South African government closely resembled the Jim Crow laws of the United States.  Throughout the years of Jim Crow there had been efforts by the Black community to defend themselves from racist mobs using the force of arms. 

Robert F. Williams was one of those who organized the Black community to defend itself using armed force.  The U.S. government conspired to frame-up Williams, and he was able to win political asylum in Cuba.  In Cuba Williams transmitted a radio program to the United States called Radio Free Havana.

However, most histories of the civil rights movement portray that movement as non-violent.  This meant that those who opposed the Jim Crow laws refrained from violence, while those who supported that hateful system routinely engaged in horrendous acts of violence.

In South Africa the apartheid laws required every Black person to carry a passbook that needed to be updated every day.  Hundreds of thousands of Black people served time in South African jails because of violations of these passbook laws.

The African National had advocated for non-violent resistance for most of its history.  In fact, Mahatma Gandhi learned about non-violent resistance when he lived in South Africa.  Then, in 1960 the South African armed forces murdered 69 peaceful protesters in Sharpeville.  Faced with this reality, the African National Congress felt it had no alternative but to organize an armed resistance to the regime.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was one of the leaders of the ANC who the South African authorities arrested for carrying out an armed struggle against the regime.  The United States government assisted the South African authorities in Mandela’s arrest.  Mandela served 27 years in prison, but he had been sentenced to life.

Angola

On April 25, 1974, the Carnation Revolution erupted in Portugal.  Portugal had been ruled by the repressive regime of Marcello Caetano.  At that time many Portuguese served time in Portugal’s colonial wars in Africa.  Those wars took place in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau.  The United States government gave Portugal massive funding to carry out these colonial wars.  With the Carnation Revolution Portugal’s colonial domination of its African colonies was over.

The United States and South Africa moved quickly to make sure that this change in power would in no way make any fundamental changes.  Their model was to make these former colonies resemble the Mobutu regime in the Congo.

The most popular of the anti-colonial forces in Angola was the MPLA.  The South African army aided those forces opposed to the MPLA.  Because of South Africa’s massive military, the forces it supported took control of most of Angola except for the capital Luanda.

Then, in November of 1975, Cuba sent it’s armed forces to Luanda and within a month there were 25,000 Cuban soldiers giving assistance to their Angolan brothers and sisters.  This intervention pushed back the South African supported forces.

Cuban soldiers remained in Angola and in 1987 the battle of Cuito Cuanavale erupted.  The South African supported forces were eventually routed.  These events forced South Africa to end their war against Angola.  The nation between South Africa and Angola is Namibia.  Namibia won its independence largely because of the South African defeat in Angola.

These events, as well as an upsurge against the government in South Africa convinced the apartheid regime that it needed to make basic changes.  Under these conditions South African government officials began negotiations with Nelson Mandela who was in prison at that time.

The South African government released Nelson Mandela from prison on February 11, 1990.  Mandela won an election that made him President of South Africa on May 9, 1994.  One of Mandela’s first trips outside the country was to Cuba where he thanked Fidel Castro for the role that nation played in the history of Africa.

Conclusion

The armed support Cuba gave to Angola is just one aspect of its foreign policy.  Cuba has given medical assistance to some of the poorest nations in the world.  Thousands of doctors from around the world have been trained in Cuba at no charge.  This aid has been given regardless of whether Cuba has good or bad relations with a given country.

The foreign policy of the United States follows a completely different course.  Vladimir Illiych Lenin wrote about the foreign policy of capitalist nations in his pamphlet: Imperialism—The Highest Stage of Capitalism.  Lenin argued that imperialist relations are not mistakes of capitalist politicians, but the inevitable result of capitalism.

The labor, civil rights, and women’s movements all improved the standard of living for workers in this country.  Corporations responded to this by making huge investments in nations where wages are about two dollars per day. 

The civil rights movement forced the government to outlaw the Jim Crow laws that legalized discrimination.  Corporations responded by increasing the number of immigrants in this country.  Immigrant workers have no legal rights, and President Obama deported about 940 immigrants for every day he was in office.

While legalized discrimination was outlawed, today the United States has more prisoners per capita than any other nation in the world.  The percentage of Black people in prison is grossly disproportionate to their percentage in the general population.

So, when we look at the histories of the United States and Cuba, we see two clearly conflicting stories.  Cuba has been working to improve the lives of its people and give aid to people all over the world.  The United States government claims to support democratic ideas, but has been a repressive force almost entirely throughout its history.


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Understanding this history, we can see how the election of Donald Trump in no way made a basic change to the politics of this country.  Only when working people organize to support our needs, and put in place our own government, will there be a basic change in the world.  This is one of the lessons of history.

Friday, February 10, 2017

How can women achieve genuine liberation?



I attended the march supporting women’s rights on January 21.  Frankly I was one of many who were surprised by the size of the demonstration.  In fact, this demonstration, when we look at the international total number of people who participated, may have been the largest in the history of the world.

In Philadelphia, the central organizer of the demonstration was Emily Cooper Morse, who is a logistics coordinator for a chemical company and a mother of three children.  She gave the following reason for why she was motivated to organize the march.

“As a survivor of sexual assault,” she said, she found herself unable to dismiss his (President Trump’s) remarks about women as simply “locker-room talk.” 

When she learned that there would be a woman’s march in Washington she posted the idea of a Philadelphia march on Facebook.  The Philadelphia Inquirer estimated that about 50,000 people participated in the women’s march in Philadelphia.

Clearly many of the demonstrators had signs in opposition to President Trump.  However, when we think of the words of Emily Cooper Moss, the mass appeal of this demonstration went beyond opposition to the President.

Women, in this country and around the world face discrimination, violence, poverty, indifference, as well as outright hostility to their interests.  Women are also our mothers, and the workers who provide essential services. 

After work, women oftentimes need to do the household chores as well as raise their children.  Some women work two or three jobs, and then need to use public transportation to buy groceries.  My opinion is that the massive numbers of people at this demonstration reflected a sense that women and men are willing to struggle to prevent our standard of living from continuing to decline.

So, the question is: How do we fight to make this a world where women feel that they are truly liberated?  Is this indeed possible? 

In order to answer these questions, I believe we need to look at a bit of history that hasn’t been included in the educational system in this country.

200,000 years of human history

Most high school history courses begin with the revolution that created this country around the year 1776.  The facts are that the human race is about 200,000 years old.  The history of feudal societies where royal families ruled is about 6,000 years old.  The modern capitalist history that we are somewhat familiar with started in the 1800s.

So, for most of human history the people of the world lived in what we would call communal societies.  This was absolutely necessary because the contributions of every individual was required for humanity to survive. 

The book Woman’s Evolution: From Matriarchal Clan to Patriarchal Family by Evelyn Reed gives a comprehensive analysis of how and why the status of women changed in history.

For most human history our ancestors simply did not know that sexual relations led to the birth of a child.  Sex was seen as natural and the birth of children was seen as gifts from the Gods. 

Under these circumstances, the only relatives people had came from the mother.  People routinely lived with their matriarchal clan.  The mother’s brother was the man who raised her children.  Initially, biological fathers were not a part of the mother’s clan and were seen as unfit to raise their children.

Father’s eventually asked for permission from the mother-in-law to live in the home of her clan.  In order to do this, fathers needed to prove themselves to the mother-in-law.  Then, fathers needed to prove themselves in order to have permission to participate in the raising of their children.  In those days, raising children was the traditional job of the uncle, the mother, as well as the matriarchal clan.

During this long history, men usually were the hunters and women performed most of the other tasks.  This meant that women went into the forests and collected wood for fuel and construction.  They also collected plants used for food and medical care.  They carried water along with their children.  Women were also the ones who tilled the soil and became the first farmers.  In order to perform these tasks women needed to be physically strong.

When we understand this division of labor, we can see how women were the first construction workers, the first ship builders, the first doctors, the first scientists, and the first historians.  Because these societies were so dependent of the labor of women, their work was greatly appreciated.

We might contrast this environment to the world we live in today.  Most women are workers and receive paychecks for their labor.  Employers hire workers because they feel they can profit from human labor.  So, workers only receive a small part of the wealth we produce every day.  This environment is the source of the alienating atmosphere that we see in every capitalist society.

In the communal world of our past, the scientific advancements we see today did not exist.  However, at that time everyone knew that all the work done in that environment would benefit the entire community.  Clearly there were immense problems at that time, but alienation towards work was not one of those problems.

Women had real power in these so-called primitive societies.  Lewis Henry Morgan lived with the native people of what is now New York State.  He wrote his book League of the Ha-dé-no-sau-nee or Iroquois about his experiences during that time.

Morgan observed that the women were organized in groups of the clan mothers.  Leaders of the Iroquois could only get their position with the approval of these clan mothers.  If these women felt a leader was unfit for his position, they had the power to remove him from leadership.

Frederick Engels, who was an author of the Communist Manifesto, read Morgan’s books and wrote a pamphlet titled: The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State.  Engels argued that the family, as we know it, only came into existence with the beginnings of capitalism.  In fact the word family comes from the Latin language developed in the Roman Empire.  The Latin word for family literally meant family of slaves.  There was another Latin word associated with the families of people who were not slaves.

So, when we look at the many problems that face women today, we can say that the discrimination against women was a relatively recent phenomenon.  Initially the herding of cattle by men changed the relations of men and women.  However, Cleopatra was the ruler of ancient Egypt, and the Egyptian rulers traditionally ruled with their brothers or sisters while parenting children with others.  In the Greek and Roman Empires women never were the rulers.

Capitalism and the origin of the family

During the feudal epoch problems developed that could not be resolved within that system.  An emerging class emerged consisting of small business people, doctors, lawyers, money-lenders, and journalists.  This class began to understand that it’s interests were completely different from the interests of the royal families.

The Declaration of Independence is a list of grievances the settlers of the thirteen colonies had against the British royalty.  The revolution of the thirteen colonies signaled an advance from the past, but also a horror story for the future.

Because of the revolution, people for the first time felt that they had rights that needed to be respected by the government.  Before the revolution, the gentry class was the ruling power and that class received it’s power based on their birth.  Anyone not a part of the gentry class was a second-class citizen, even when these citizens had significant amounts of wealth.

The revolution had its benefits for women and several women, like Mercy Warren gravitated to it.  However, after the revolution women could not vote or even own property.  Education, for the most part, was restricted to men.

Several states abolished slavery after the revolution.  However, the crops tilled by slaves became the most lucrative source of wealth after the revolution.  The conditions experienced by slave women were unimaginably horrendous.

Initially women struggled to merely receive an education in this country.  Myrtilla Miner undertook the especially difficult task of attempting to educate Black children in Mississippi.  This was not possible before the Civil War because teaching slaves to read was against the law.

So, Miner went to Washington D.C. where she received significant funding to open a school for Black children.  We might consider that at this time freed Black people were being kidnapped in Washington to be sent to slave labor camps.  A common sight at that time in Washington was seeing slaves chained to each other in coffles.  The women and men chained to each other in these coffles were forced to march long distances to the slave labor camps.

Under these conditions, those who opposed education for Back people burned down Miner’s school in 1859.  A few years later millions of soldiers were mobilized in the union army.  That army burned down many of the buildings in the slave states, and might have burned down every building in South Carolina.  The reason for this enormous destruction was to teach the army that supported slavery that they had no chance of victory.  These were the events that caused the government to adopt the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery.

After the Civil War, the government passed the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.  This amendment allowed all males in this country, including freed slaves to vote.  After the defeat of radical reconstruction around the year 1877, the right to vote for Black people was compromised.

Then, a movement erupted demanding that women have the right to vote.  This movement was depicted in the film Iron Jawed Angels.  The film portrayed the life of Alice Paul, who was played by Hillary Swank.  Alice Paul led a march in front of the White House demanding the right to vote for women during the First World War.  The protesters held up signs ridiculing President Woodrow Wilson’s argument that this was a war for democracy.  How could Wilson fight a war for democracy when women didn’t have the right to vote?

The police arrested these demonstrators and they were held in prison.  These women protested their incarceration by going on a hunger strike.  The authorities responded by inserting a tube into the throat of Alice Paul in order to force-feed her three times per day.  Then, in 1920 the government passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that gave women the right to vote. 

Black and Native American women didn’t regain the right to vote until the government passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.  This law was a direct concession to the civil rights movement that made an uncompromising struggle to eliminate Jim Crow segregation from this country.

How can women achieve genuine liberation?

Understanding this history, I might repeat the question: How can women achieve genuine liberation?  I might also add another question:  What would a genuine liberation mean?

First, my opinion is that women will not achieve liberation within the capitalist system.  Since capitalism is about maximizing profits, the system works to consistently drive down the standard of living.  The movement against the right to abortion is also about denying women the right to decide if and when they are to become mothers.

Therefore, in my opinion, politicians, managers, professionals, as well as corporate officers who support the capitalist system are incapable of becoming genuine leaders.  Working people have an interest in seeing our living standard improve.  Capitalists are obsessed with maximizing profits.  People become leaders because their example inspires trust and confidence.  How can someone inspire trust when they are obsessed with driving down our standard of living?

I will cite four women who became genuine leaders of working people.  These women became leaders in spite of the sexist attitudes of men during the times when they lived.

Mother Jones was born in Cork, Ireland and became a leader of the Mine Workers Union.  She traveled across the country organizing miners in life or death struggles against the mine bosses.  In 1903 Mother Jones also organized a 125 mile march of child laborers from Philadelphia to President Theodore Roosevelt’s summer home in Long Island.  This march protested the routine child labor of those times.

Ida Wells dedicated her life to doing away with the horrendous acts of lynching in this country.  Her writings were clear and convincing arguments that lynchings were always acts of coldblooded murder and never had any justification.  She was also an activist who gave consistent support to both Black rights and women’s suffrage.

Rosa Luxemburg was born in Poland and became a leader of the German Spartacus League.  She was a Marxist and understood that the only way for workers to become liberated was to establish their own government.  Unlike others who claimed to be Marxists, Luxemburg opposed German participation in the First World War.  She was murdered after her arrest, while in German custody.  Had she survived, the history of Germany might have been completely different.

Celia Sanchez was a leader of the Cuban Revolution.  Initially she was a medical assistant to her father who cared for indigent families in Cuba’s eastern countryside.  She then gave her all in support of the Revolution.  After the victory of the revolution, Sanchez worked tirelessly to improve the living standards of the least affluent Cubans.  She also helped to organize Cuba’s defense during the United States invasion at what is known as the Bay of Pigs.

These women demonstrated how women can become genuine leaders.  But we can now come back to the question of: What would genuine liberation for women mean?

To answer this we can look at a few facts that are never mentioned in the press.  First, we can start with the goods and services we all need and want.  These include: food, clothing, housing, transportation, communication, health care, education, as well as exposure to culture (music, art, dancing, sports, recreation, literature, theater, as well as films).           

We can also state that the enterprises of banking, insurance, advertising, and the military never directly participate in providing the goods and services we need and want.  However, when we look at most cities around the world, we see skyscrapers that house these enterprises. 

When we fully understand this reality, we can also see how a workers government would be able to greatly reduce the hours people work, while vastly improving our standard of living.  In fact this government would be able to make all those goods and services we want and need to be lifetime rights for everyone.  A workers government would also aid nations throughout the world where workers routinely receive salaries of two dollars per day and rarely have access to education or health care.

Just imagine a world where women would have the right, not only to health care, but also child care.  Just imagine a world where women would have free time to pursue their interests, or to simply relax and chill.

In order to achieve this, my opinion is that we all need to see ourselves as workers of the world, where an injury to one is an injury to all.  Working women have more in common with immigrants or workers in other countries than they will ever have in common with the one percent who own large sections of the world.

Humanity doesn’t have a chance at real liberation without the participation and leadership of women.  Pursuing this course will not be easy, but we have literally everything to gain.  Looking at our history gives us a sense that a profoundly better world is indeed possible.        

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