Monday, November 29, 2010

Unmasking History - Introduction

Unmasking the History of the United States


We might ask a basic question: Why do we study history? Clearly, as much as we would like to, we are simply unable to change history. What happened in the past will never change.

The best history books give us an insight into various periods of the past. However, few of these books demonstrate how this history is relevant to understanding the problems we face today. We are living in the midst of an economic depression, war, and the growing destruction of the environment. Few historians have anything to say about what kind of political orientation is needed to resolve these monumental problems. So I repeat the question: Why do we study history?

I have studied and written about history because the facts of the past can give us insight into the problems we face in the world today. While the study of history will not enable anyone to predict the future, a rational study of the past can give us clues about the possible trends we will face in the coming years.

A common error most historians of the United States make is that they portray the government as having supreme power. While governments claim that they advance the interests of the majority of the population, this has not been the case in any nation that has capitalist economic relations. From the time of the Revolution to end British rule, the US government has done everything in its power to support capitalist interests. The results of these policies have been that today one percent of the population owns about 42 percent of the wealth and indirectly controls about 80 percent. We might reflect on the fact that while this one percent lives in opulence, about 40 million people do not have enough food to eat, and about 46 million have no health insurance.

Since governments are supposed to have supreme power, the US government can make a decision that tomorrow everyone will have enough food to eat and everyone will have all of their medical expenses paid for. This will not happen because the US government is, in effect, a support committee for the most affluent people in the world. When people experience layoffs, the government is in part responsible. When prices appear to be astronomically high, the government is in part responsible. When this country goes to war against some of the poorest people in the world, the government is clearly responsible.

These facts tend to contradict the words in the Pledge of Allegiance which state that the United States is a nation “with liberty and justice for all.” However, when we look at the 234 year history of this country we can make another more accurate statement. The people who have economic and political power in the United States have carried out policies that were, and continue to be, the most destructive in human history. This statement is fairly easy to substantiate.

Today the United States is the world’s super-power and about 40% of the world’s population lives on two dollars per day or less. About one billion people in the world do not have enough food to eat. Banks located in the United States, in effect, control the economies of the nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. While all of this is happening, the resources have been available to end poverty for over 100 years.

In 1958 Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, gave a speech where he agreed with this perspective. Mandela argued that, “It is American imperialism, which must be fought and decisively beaten down if the people of Asia and Africa are to preserve the vital gains they have won in their struggle against subjugation.”[1]

While other governments in the history of the world have been more repressive than the one in the United States, today a strong case can be made that this country is among the most repressive in the world. Anyone living in the United States has a better chance of going to prison than citizens in any other nation. Over eighty percent of those who serve time in prison are there because of “plea bargain” agreements where they were coerced to confess to a crime. Over half of those in prison are serving time for drug related offences that, in most cases, harm only the user of drugs. To the best of my knowledge, no other nation has prisons like the super-max prisons in the US where the entire prison population lives in solitary confinement. In all the major cities in the US hundreds of thousands of people are stopped and frisked every year.

We might also make the argument that the entire legal system of the United States is merely a bunch of rationalizations that support corporate interests. All the rights people have in this country were won through struggle. Laws change with the changing needs of capital. Here is a short list of some examples.

The US government acknowledged that it violated 371 treaties with Native Americans. A treaty is not a law and the violation of a treaty is not supposed to be adjudicated in a civil court. The violation of a treaty is an act of war. Leonard Peltier is a Native American who has been in prison for over two decades. He was convicted of murdering two FBI agents even though there is considerable evidence that he is innocent. However, these FBI agents were on the Pine Ridge reservation when they lost their lives. According to the treaty Native Americans are supposed to have jurisdiction over that land for as long as the grass grows.

After the Civil War the government ratified the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. These amendments were supposed to outlaw slavery, give every citizen Constitutional rights, as well as the right to vote for all men. The federal government sent federal troops to the former confederate states to enforce these new measures. By 1877 those troops were withdrawn and a system of Jim Crow, legalized discrimination became the law. The Supreme Court endorsed legalized discrimination in its decision Plessey vs. Fergusson. The Supreme Court isn’t supposed to have the power to reverse amendments to the Constitution, but they did it anyway and the rest of the government went along.

In the 1960’s the civil rights movement effectively forced the government to do away with the Jim Crow laws. However, these laws were always a violation of the Constitution. Today discrimination continues against African Americans with respect to wages, education, health care, housing, and the enforcement of the law.

The United States is a nation of immigrants and of Black people who’s ancestors were forced here to become slaves. Native Americans are the indigenous population and they are the least affluent nationality in the United States.

The Declaration of Independence states clearly that one of the reasons for the revolution was the fact that the King of England limited immigration. In the early years of the twentieth century immigration from Europe was relatively easy. During this same period immigration from China was much more difficult. Today the United States has built a wall to keep Mexican people from entering this country and over 400 people died in 2009 attempting to cross the border.

The repressive and destructive nature of the government of the United States is only one part of this history. The United States was born as a result of a revolution and another revolution erupted to end slavery. Native Americans engaged in armed warfare for over 100 years to defend their rights. Black people have been fighting for their frights throughout US history. The labor movement engaged in titanic battles so working people might be able to escape from abject poverty. Millions of people lost their lives battling against US aggression all over the world. Today immigrant workers are continuing this struggle for human dignity.

Malcolm X once said that, “The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action.”

“Wake them up to their exploitation?” an interviewer asked.

“No, to their humanity, to their own worth, and to their heritage,”[2] Malcolm responded.

The goal of this series of essays is to show how working people in this country have the potential to transform the world. While it is clearly possible for the future to be profoundly worse than the present, there is another possibility for the future. Working people have the potential to make this a world where poverty and discrimination are no longer a part of the human condition. If the resources of this planet were properly utilized, people could have a profoundly better standard of living while working fewer hours. If we study history in a rational way we can see how this kind of future world can become a reality.

[1] Mandela, Nelson, The Struggle is My Life. This passage is in the chapter New Menace in Africa. Published by Pathfinder Press 1990

[2] February 1965 - The Final Speeches, Malcolm X, Published by Pathfinder Press, P. 240

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

For a Democratic Secular Palestine

The other day I viewed a video of a demonstration of about ten to fifteen young people at a supermarket in Philadelphia. The demonstration supported a boycott of the Sabra and Tribe brands of hummus. Apparently, the owners of Sabra and Tribe are ardent supporters of the state of Israel and the demonstrators asked that shoppers refrain from contributing to “Israeli apartheid.” The demonstration was well organized with a choreographed dance routine, as well as a well-rehearsed chant supporting the boycott. The overall impression I had of the demonstration was that it was a cheerleading chorus promoting a boycott of Sabra and Tribe.

In order to look at this demonstration objectively, I believe we need to step back and look at several issues. Clearly, the government of Israel is guilty of horrendous genocidal crimes against Palestinians who have lived in the Middle East for thousands of years. However, Israel is a relatively small nation with a population of about 7.3 million. There is no way that Israel could maintain the massive armed forces it has without a tremendous amount of support. The lion’s share of that support does not come from Sabra and Tribe, but from the government of the United States which today is headed by President Barrack Obama. Billions of dollars flows to Israel every year from the US government, as well as enormous amounts of military hardware. Billions more dollars go to the government of Egypt which has joined Israel in maintaining the criminal embargo of the Gaza Strip.

The largest corporations in the United States are united in their support of the Israeli regime. Despite what some right-wing ideologues might argue, the overwhelming majority of the owners of US corporations are Christians and not Jews.

So, I have to ask the question. If the US government is giving vital aid to Israel, and that aid is being used to suppress the rights of Palestinians, then why are people demonstrating against the Sabra and Tribe brands of hummus? Another question I have has to do with the fact that this is an election year. Virtually all candidates in the Democratic and Republican Parties are supporters of the state of Israel, and are also asking for support in the elections. So, why are people demonstrating against Sabra and Tribe, and not holding all US government officials accountable for their criminal support for the state of Israel?


One of the reprehensible acts of the Israeli government is that it accuses its opponents of anti-Semitism. Anyone who has a dictionary can look up the word Semite. The dictionary makes it clear that this word doesn’t just refer to Jews, but also to Arabs. Palestinians are an Arabic people and no country in the world today discriminates against a Semitic people more harshly that the state of Israel.

However, anti-Semitism against Jewish people does have a long and horrendous history. I happen to be Jewish. My grandfather’s family left Czarist Russia because of the anti-Semitic atmosphere in that country. While my grandfather moved to the United States, his sister moved to Germany.

At that time, the Weimar Republic of Germany was one of the most liberal governments in the world and Jewish people appeared to be fully integrated into that country. When an economic crisis hit Germany, German capitalists gave tremendous amounts of money to fascists headed by Adolph Hitler. The fascists attacked demonstrations of workers who protested for better conditions. These Nazis admitted that they could have easily been crushed in their early years because they were a tiny minority.

The German Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party did not take the fascists seriously and refused to form a voting block which could have prevented a fascist takeover. As a result, the Nazis sent all dissidents to the concentration camps and had a policy of murdering all Jews, Gypsies, gays, and anyone else who didn’t measure up to their fascist standards. One of the people who might have been murdered was the sister of my grandfather.

David S. Wyman wrote a book about an aspect of this history titled The Abandonment of the Jews – America and the Holocaust. Wyman documented how the administration of Franklyn Roosevelt had a conscious policy of barring Jews from entering the United States who were attempting to escape the Nazi holocaust. Wyman estimates that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews could have been saved if Roosevelt gave them asylum in this country.

We can skip ahead to the year 2004. I was working at a factory in Philadelphia and attended a demonstration in Washington protesting the war against Iraq. I mentioned this to my co-workers and there was one co-worker who didn’t like my anti-war views. He also openly said that he didn’t like the fact that I am Jewish. This co-worker went on a campaign of harassment against me which culminated in the slashing of two of the tires on my car.

I had a meeting with the management of the factory and informed them of what was happening. I argued that I had a right to work at the plant free of the harassment I had been exposed to. Management had another meeting with me where they said they agreed that I had a right to work at the plant and also said they disciplined the co-worker who had been harassing me. After three months there was a round of layoffs in the plant. I was the first one to be laid off in spite of the fact that there were several co-workers who had less seniority. So, while the management said I had a right to work at the plant, they actively proceeded to make sure that I would no longer be employed by that company.

I mention these examples to show that anti-Semitism exists and bigoted attitudes against Jews continue to exist in this country. While most people will find these attitudes reprehensible, there is a tiny minority of people who continue to advance the politics of fascism. History has shown that corporations will support fascists in times of economic crisis, when they feel that their investments are threatened. In other words, today we need combat all forms of anti-Semitism because there is no question that the economic crisis will spur fascist organizations to become more aggressive, as they have in the past.

When people who claim to support the rights of Palestinians support a boycott of Jewish owned businesses without demanding that the US government end its ardent support of Israel, we need to ask, what are they doing? Fascists who promote hatred of Jews and Palestinians have no problem with a boycott of Jewish businesses. What these fascists have a problem with would be a genuine international movement in solidarity with the human rights of Palestinians and Jews.

Counterpoising roadmaps for peace in the Middle East

A lot has been said about “the roadmap for peace in the Middle East.” Clearly the US government does have a roadmap for peace in the Middle East and we can see that strategy as it unfolded in Iraq. First, we need to explain that the United States is a nation that has a political economic system based on capitalism. While the US government pretends to support freedom and democracy, in reality the system of capitalism requires that this same US government actively exploit workers and farmers throughout the world, so a tiny minority of the population can live in opulence.

Oil is a commodity that is the lifeblood of capitalism. The entire transportation system relies on vast quantities of oil in order to function. Without oil, transportation comes to a screeching halt and profits for corporations vanish. This is why the extraction of oil from the Middle East and all other locations in the world is a top priority for the owners of capital.

We might consider that the Arabic world accounts for hundreds of millions of people who live in an area from Morocco to Iraq. Seventy million more inhabitants live in Iran. I can recall an insightful statistic which argued that the industrial production in the entire Arabic world is less than the production in the tiny nation of Finland.

Clearly the oil in the Middle East could be used to build and power factories that could produce all the goods and services needed in that region. Instead, the oil is shipped to the United States and other developed countries. Commodities are then manufactured in the developed nations and sold back to the Arabic world at exorbitant prices. This state of affairs maintains a consistent flow of money to the most affluent people in the world, while millions of people in the Arabic countries live in abject poverty. Even in the oil rich nation of Saudi Arabia the infant mortality rate is 11.57 per 1,000 births, which is almost double this same rate in the United States. As late as 2003, infant mortality in Saudi Arabia was 47.94 per 1,000 births.

Clearly, the capitalists in the United States do not want the oil of the Middle East to go towards the development of that region. Pro-capitalist so-called economists talk about “developing nations.” In reality the history of the twentieth century is a history of the largest banks in the world consistently working to make sure that the majority of the world lives in nations that are becoming increasingly underdeveloped.

In order to accomplish their goals, the United States government has had a routine policy of supporting the most brutal dictatorships in the world. One of the many dictatorships the US government supported for thirty years was the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Only when Hussein made agreements with France and invaded Kuwait did Washington cut their ties with him. Clearly, Washington and Hussein were agreed that neither wanted a genuinely independent government in Kuwait. Washington initially went to war against Iraq because they wanted Wall Street to have unobstructed access to the oil in Kuwait.

When William Jefferson Clinton was President, he advanced the war against Iraq with the use of onerous sanctions. These sanctions caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. Then President Bush continued the war by taking military control of Bagdad and installing a puppet regime in that country. Reliable estimates have been made that over one million Iraqis have died unnecessarily since the US invasion of Iraq.

Several workers who I’ve talked to expressed the opinion that the second President Bush is, in a word, stupid. However, when we look at the facts, Bush achieved most of his objectives in Iraq. He unleashed massive destruction against Iraq to install a puppet regime in that country. He did this without encountering many anti-war demonstrations in the United States or around the world.

We can clearly say that this was not the case in the movement that protested the US war against Vietnam. In the anti-war movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s entire universities went on strike across the United States protesting the war against Vietnam. Massive anti-war demonstrations were held in Washington and around the world. This sustained anti-war movement effectively forced President Lyndon Johnson to decline a run for reelection. Ultimately this same anti-war movement created an atmosphere where President Richard Nixon was forced to resign from office. The resistance of the Vietnamese people as well as the international anti-war movement forced Washington to effectively admit defeat and withdraw all US armed forces from Vietnam.

Washington’s goals in Palestine are similar to its goals in Iraq. Washington wants a loyal ally in the Middle East and they have that with the government of Israel. The state of Israel was created in 1948, the same year as the creation of the apartheid state of South Africa. Both Israel and apartheid South Africa patterned themselves on the social relations of the United States, which became the world’s super-power after World War II.

The United States went to war for about 100 years to effectively steal the land from the native inhabitants of North America. The government then banished Native Americans to reservations. After the Civil War and the defeat of radical reconstruction, the federal government allowed Jim Crow to be the law in the former confederate states. These Jim Crow laws took away all the rights African Americans had gained with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. One of the results of this state of affairs was the lynchings of thousands of African Americans, while government officials did almost nothing to stop those who were responsible for mass murder.

Israel and South Africa patterned their legal systems on this historical example of the United States. In both nations the governments stole the land from the original inhabitants, and moved them to areas resembling the Native American reservations in the United States. In South Africa they called these areas “Bantustans.” The Israeli government created similar areas and called them the “West Bank” and “Gaza Strip.” Israel and South Africa both created colonial settler states where the legal system systematically discriminated against the indigenous population. In Israel they call this state of affairs a “democracy.”

Clearly the governments of the United States and Israel do want peace in the Middle East. They want the kind of peace where the indigenous people of that region will accept conditions of poverty and repression without complaint. The only reason why the US government ever says anything against Israel is to placate Arab governments and to diffuse the growing international sentiment against Israeli repression. In fact, the reason for the brutal repression of Palestinians is to defend US capitalist interests in the region. This brutal repression mirrors Washington’s brutally repressive policies against the people living in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Just as the US government enforced onerous sanctions against Iraq, today Israel is enforcing onerous sanctions against Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Just as in Iraq, the Israeli government is hoping that they can minimize international opposition.

There is a roadmap for a genuine peace in the Middle East. This roadmap follows the basic political history that caused the removal of the apartheid regime of South Africa. Under the leadership of the African National Congress, the Freedom Charter was adopted demanding full rights for everyone who lived in South Africa. South African organizations opposed to apartheid supported a complete economic boycott of that nation. Demonstrations were held throughout the world demanding an end to apartheid. Universities in the US divested from South Africa. This movement became so powerful that the elder President George Bush was forced to support the economic boycott of South Africa. Even the most right wing fascist groups in South Africa have bowed to the new government headed by the African National Congress.

This international movement succeeded in removing the apartheid government from power. This kind of movement has the potential of removing the Israeli government from power and establishing a democratic secular Palestine.

The Palestine Liberation Organization initially supported the demand for a democratic secular Palestine. However, this demand was given up for the idea of a two state solution. The two-state solution was never a realistic solution for Palestinians. Palestinians living in Israel continue to be treated as second-class citizens. The Israeli government has effectively shut the door on a two state solution and has done everything in their power to make sure that this strategy will not work.

Clearly advancing the strategy for a democratic secular Palestine will not be easy. However, this is a strategy that has proven in action to be successful. I believe that the primary focus for activists who live in the US, who are in solidarity with the Palestinian people, is to focus on ending US government support to Israel. Without the tremendous amount of aid Israel receives from the US, the Israeli government and all the repression that goes with it will not be able to continue.