Monday, March 21, 2016

“It’s the poor who face the savagery of the US ‘justice’ system”

The Cuban Five talk about their lives within the US working class

2016 by Pathfinder Press

A review of the book

The United States government has invested literally billions of dollars in their so-called, “War on Terror.”  While the government has been spending all this money, working people in this country have experienced a different kind of terrorism.  One out of about six people in this country doesn’t have enough food to eat and President Obama cut back on the food stamps program to the tune of $8.7 billion.

However, since the 1959 Cuban Revolution that nation has been a routine target of many different kinds of terrorist actions.  Cuba sent spies to this country to gain evidence as to who had been bombing Cuban hotels.  These defenders of Cuban sovereignty included: Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González.

Cuba gave this information to officials in this country notifying them as to the fact that terrorists were operating in the United States in full violation of the law.  These terrorists murdered people because they don’t like the Cuban government.

The government in this country responded by arresting the Cuban agents who uncovered the illegal activities.  The U.S. authorities then framed-up the five Cubans and placed them in prison for up to sixteen years.

Pathfinder Press as well as other publishing houses published several books about the Cuban Five, their story, and their artwork.  The latest installment in this series is an interview where the five talked about the time they spent in the prisons of this country.  One of the points of the book is how the millions of prisoners in this country are in fact a super-exploited section of the working class.

Before I write about this book, I’d like to review some of the people who spent time in prison in their attempt to liberate the Cuban people.

José Martí

We can begin with José Martí, who was the theoretical father of the Cuban nation.  At the age of seventeen Martí was arrested on charges of apostasy.  Martí wrote a letter critical of a friend who marched in a parade in support of the Spanish authorities.  At the time, during the 19th century, Spain was the colonial power that ruled Cuba 

For this so-called crime Martí was placed in leg irons and forced to cut lime-stones twelve hours per day under the hot Cuban sun.  Martí would loose the use of one of his eyes and develop a problem with a hernia that would pain him for the rest of his life.  All of this happened during his time as a prisoner of Spain.

Martí reported that he worked beside the very old and very young.  The prison guards routinely beat the prisoners bloody for not working fast enough.  Even when prisoners could barely stand, the prison doctor ordered prisoners back to work.  This was the case even when the prisoner might be eleven years old.

We might imagine that these conditions would break even the most courageous prisoner.  However, Martí only became stronger in his resolve to free Cuba from Spanish tyranny. 

When the Cuban independence forces were on the verge of ousting Spain, the United States entered the war and became the indirect ruler of the island.  Like Spain, the U.S. government was not concerned with the welfare of the Cuban people, but with the profits they could amass from sugar cane. 

Clearly the conditions reported by the Cuban Five are different in the United States today than they were in Spanish Cuba during the 19th century.  However, today we see the same indifference by the U.S. prison authorities to the prisoners as Martí experienced while he cut lime-stones under the hot Cuban sun.

Fidel Castro & the raid on the Moncada Barracks

On July 26, 1953 Fidel Castro led a raid on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago, Cuba.  These barracks contained an arms depot that the revolutionaries planned to use in a revolutionary war. 

The military forces defeated this raid.  Fidel Castro along with his compañeros went to prison.  Others were tortured and or murdered by the authorities.    

The July 26 raid on Moncada was an effort to continue the struggle for Cuban liberation.  I believe we need to look at this raid in the context of other revolutionary events that took place in the Western Hemisphere.

On April 19, 1775 the battle of Lexington and Concord took place.  The British attempted to secure an arms depot outside of Boston.  The revolutionaries hid the weapons and resisted the raid using the arms at their disposal.  While the revolutionaries suffered a defeat at Lexington and Concord, this battle marked the beginning of the first American Revolution that eventually won independence from Britain.

On October 18, 1859 John Brown led a raid on an arms depot at Harpers Ferry in what is now West Virginia.  Brown’s idea was to use the arms at Harpers Ferry to launch a war against the slave owners in the United States.

The United States armed forces defeated this raid under the command of General Robert E. Lee.  As a result, John Brown died because of his execution by hanging.

On April 9, 1865 General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia.  The United States government had already passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery.

The Thirteenth Amendment – Prisons in the United States & Cuba

However, there is an exception to the Thirteenth Amendment where slavery is abolished except when someone is convicted of a crime.  This exception to the 13th Amendment was a clear violation of the Eight Amendment to the Constitution that prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.”  The current book interviewing the Cuban Five makes the unmistakable case that the prison system in this country is in open violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

In their book, the Cuban Five also talked about the prison system in Cuba.  Sentences for crimes are usually of much shorter duration than those sentences in this country.  In one prison in this country where one of the five lived, the average sentence was 90 years.

A case was sighted of a young Cuban who had been the victim of bullying.  Unlike  in this country, bullying is rare in Cuba.  However, in this case a young person lost his life and the murderer received a prison sentence.

The person who went to prison had the right to an education and received a university degree in psychology.  Today, this person is a professional psychologist in Cuba and there is no stigma associated with the fact that he took someone’s life.

There were other contrasts the Cuban Five pointed to between Cuba and the United States.  One of the Cubans lived in a prison in California where gang members also served their sentences.  One of these gang members spoke about why young people join gangs.

In the elementary schools that working people attend in the Los Angeles area gang members routinely bully young people.  Someone can avoid this bullying by joining a gang.  When the gang asks a member to murder someone, the choice is clear.  Either the gang member carries out the murder, or that gang member will be murdered.

The Cuban Five acknowledged that they had more comfortable living conditions in the United States than in Cuba.  However, Cuban children can feel safe playing in the streets all night long.  This is one of the benefits the Cuban people won along with education and health care.  In this country, working people routinely go into severe debt in order to pay the costs of health care and education.

The battle to maintain dignity in U.S. prisons

In another theme of this book the Cuban Five explained how they were able to maintain their dignity while experiencing the horrors of the prison system.  They understood that when they volunteered for their assignment as spies there was the possibility of prison.  So, they were prepared to loose the comforts life has to offer in order to carry out their assignment.  This meant they were prepared to loose contact with their families as well as the right to come and go as they pleased.

Once they came to this realization that they might loose everything, they were able to adjust to the prison environment.  They respected all prisoners and they received respect. 

Several prisoners subscribed to The Militant newspaper because it supports prisoners rights as well as the rights of all workers.  When prisoners saw how the case of the Cuban Five was winning international support in articles in The Militant, this won them even more support. 

I believe that the example of the Cuban Five shows how human beings can develop the disciple needed to take on the immensely powerful world capitalist system.  As more people become aware of the fact that the only way for humanity to advance will be with a government that makes human needs its only priority.  The story of the Cuban Five is about individuals who gave everything they had to defend the Cuban government that makes people and not profits their priority.


Monday, March 7, 2016

The Working Class Has the Capacity to Transform the World

By Steve Halpern

After the so-called “Super Tuesday” primary results, the race for President of the United States will probably be between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Many so-called liberals who favor the Democratic Party have been incensed by the Trump campaign.

Clearly, Donald Trump has spewed vicious hatred against Mexicans, women, Moslems, and anyone else who might disagree with the Trump point of view.  For these reasons, liberals have labeled Trump supporters as “stupid.”  They make the argument: Why would anyone support the hateful Trump, when people can support Bernie Sanders who supports the idea of free education and a single payer health-care system?

Another question might be asked.  Why would anyone support Trump or Sanders if people are satisfied with the government as it is now?  While President Obama argues that unemployment has gone down during his presidency, the facts tell a different story. 

The politics of Trump vs. Obama

When we look at the percentage of the population that has jobs, this percentage has not changed since Obama has been President.  In fact, when we look at these numbers over the past twenty years, the percentage of people who have jobs has gone down.  This is the exact opposite of Obama’s argument.

We might look at a few other facts when we compare the politics of Obama to Trump.

·      Today one out of about every six people in this country doesn’t have enough food to eat.  Trump calls for lowering wages.  Obama cut the food stamps program by $8.7 billion.
·      Most immigrants in this country come from Mexico.  Trump calls for building a wall to keep Mexicans out.  Obama has already used this wall and has been deporting about 1,000 immigrants every day he has been in office.
·      Trump calls for torturing Moslems and preventing them from entering the country.  Obama has been at war against nations that have majority Moslem populations.
·      Clearly there has been a racist tinge to Trump’s message.  While he calls for keeping Mexicans out of this country, he refuses to denounce the Ku Klux Klan.  However, the number of Black people who are in prison, parole, or probation are way of proportion to their percentage of the population.  In fact, anyone who lives in this country has a better chance of going to prison than citizens of any other nation in the world.  President Obama has done nothing to reverse this trend.
·      In the year 2008 there was a near meltdown of the world capitalist system.  While there were sufficient materials as well as workers to dramatically improve the standard of living, banks nearly closed their doors as they did in 1929.  President Obama used literally trillions of dollars in a so-called plan called quantitative easing to avert a capitalist created catastrophe.  Literally every aspect of Donald Trump’s campaign has been about making the government give even more support to corporations.
So what is the basis for the argument that the politics of Donald Trump are significantly different from the politics of President Obama?  Bernie Sanders says that he will support Hillary Clinton for President if she wins the Democratic Party nomination.  This means that the Sanders’ campaign was never significantly different from mainstream Democratic Party politics.
Understanding these facts, we might ask another question.  Is there a way for working people to become involved in politics that can bring about a vastly improved standard of living?
The production costs of commodities
Before I look at this question, I will cite a column that appeared in the February 29, 2016 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.  The article is by Benjamin Powell, who is an economics professor at Texas Tech University.  The theme of Powell’s column is about how he opposes Donald Trump’s argument that, “We’re going to get Apple to build their damn computers in this country instead of other countries.”
In his column, Powell cited a 2005 video showing that half of the $300 price of an iPod goes to Apple and its distributors in this country.  The other half of that price goes to various other enterprises that also profit from the sale of the iPod.
In other words, the overwhelming majority of the money spent for iPods as nothing to do with the cost or distribution of this commodity.  This money is about profit as well as support of enterprises that have nothing to do with the manufacture and distribution of Apple products. 
This means that when we purchase any commodity, we need to pay for many so-called services that in no way contribute to the quality of the goods and services we purchase.  I’m talking about interest payments to banks, insurance policies, advertising, corporate law firms, as well as sophisticated submarines, aircraft carriers, and fighter jets.  So, while the cost of producing most commodities goes down because of advances in technology, prices continue to go up.
So, while there is a massive amount of surplus value created in the manufacture of commodities, the world capitalist system is in crisis.  Corporations are driven to increase sales, as well as to cut costs.  This state of affairs can only result in a complete collapse of the economy.  This at a time when humanity is better equipped to eliminate poverty than at any other time in our history.
What political strategy can advance the interests of all working people?
In any capitalist system profits come before human needs.  Every worker has experienced the frustration of having our work compromised because of the drive for profits.  Yet, as I’ve shown, our salaries only reflect a tiny percentage of what our labor is worth.
Imagine, for a moment, that working people had control over society.  Advances in technology would mean that we would be able to work fewer hours.  When emails eliminate the need for a mail service, postal workers wouldn’t become unemployed.  This could mean that we would all be able to work fewer hours.
Imagine that all the work we do would have one and only one goal.  That would be to make life better for everyone who lives in the world.  We have the potential to guarantee everyone the right to a home, food, clothing, transportation, communication, education, health care, as well as cultural activities like music, dance, the theater, and art.  The resources exist right now for this to happen.  The problem is that profits and not human needs are the priority.
Imagine that discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or national origin was a thing of the past.  Without the corporate demand for profits, humanity could begin to advance a better standard of living for literally everyone on the planet.
There are those who believe that these ideas reflect a clearly impossible dream.  They argue that human beings are naturally greedy and selfish.  Understanding the reality we face, the only way for humanity to advance is through a cooperative struggle against the corporate drive to drive down our standard of living.
We have a revolutionary heritage
The United States became a nation because of a political revolution against the British monarchy.  The government formed as a result of this revolution was made up of northern capitalists and slave owners.  The slave owners took control of the government and were thrown out of power by another revolution known as the Civil War.
For over 100 years the first nations of this country known as Indians waged an armed struggle to defend themselves from the theft of their land as well as their culture.
After the Civil War the labor movement went on a long and tenacious battle to improve the standard of living in this country.
Black people have been battling to gain equal rights since the formation of this country.  However, after the abolition of slavery, the formation of reconstruction governments, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the government has done everything in its power to reverse these gains.
We need to recall that there were women who went to prison because they demanded that they have right to vote in demonstrations in front of the White House.  Today, the government is working to bring back the days when women didn’t have the right to abortion and lacked the right to decide if and when to become a mother.
Prisoners in California went on a hunger strike in opposition to solitary confinement.
Immigrant workers have demonstrated all over this country demanding an end to the vicious government policy that has been deporting 1,000 people every day.
Understanding this history of struggle makes me conclude that working people have the capacity to transform the world.
For these reasons, I’m supporting the Socialist Workers Party candidates Alyson Kennedy for President and Osborne Hart for Vice-President.  Members of the SWP have been doing their best to advance the struggles of working people.  Unlike the pro-capitalist media, The Militant newspaper reports on struggles of workers from around the world.
Last year working people enjoyed a real victory when three of five Cubans received their freedom from the jails in this country.  SWP leaders have interviewed these five Cuban patriots extensively and published these interviews, as well as their artwork, in books distributed by Pathfinder Press.

While the Socialist Workers Party is relatively small, the international working class is very large.  Today working people produce all the goods and services we need and want.  Think of how much easier and rewarding this could be if working people had control over the government as well as the economy.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Black Folk and the Twilight Zone/ Holla If You Hear Me



Melinda Contreras-Byrd
February 2014

Born in the United States 60 years ago,
The essence of my black life has been captured in “Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man” and Samuel Greenlee’s “The Spook Who Sat By The Door”.
Invisible as one of only a few in college classes where my point of view
Was overlooked, misunderstood or repressed.
Brilliant and complicated nuances of my people missing from the academic curricula of music class, experiences and thinking of my people deemed unnecessary to a full and scholarly understanding of U.S. life and history.
I have been there In the back of the bus, there in great numbers behind the scenes, there behind the curtain, behind the machinery, there bent over in countless fields, there among a sea of black faces marching for the right to be seen, generations of Black men raising signs saying, “I am a man”  faceless and nameless black mothers wanting nothing for ourselves except that our children will one day be seen – so wave if you can see me!!!

Everyday the lives of Black people get harder and stranger and not appreciably closer to being other than the other!
President Barack Obama –can I get a witness!?

Every time that someone in the United States is born “Black”
There should be a solemn and discreet ceremony to mark the occasion.
Music from the twilight zone should begin to play and a voice from above should echo out…

"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area, which we call the Twilight Zone. "

"You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead - your next stop, the Twilight Zone!"

Every Black child should be set aside, warned and soundly and thoroughly educated concerning the critical otherness that her or his life will be

Every school district and university in every state and county of the United States should offer on going, I mean, never-ending courses in the application of a theory of “otherness”.

These courses should be required for every White person living in the U.S. to be able to be granted any employment or educational opportunity.  No White person unable to pass this course should be granted a mortgage, voting rights, or a driver’s license.
Anyone unable to pass should not be eligible to run for public office or be granted citizenship.
Because my life is that important,
Because even if the US still does not acknowledge the truth --there are real life consequences to not seeing or hearing or understanding the truth of my existence…it is critical, it is crucial, it is non-negotiable, so
Clap if you feel me!

I’m repeating what Nat Turner was trying to tell you,
I’m reinterpreting what Denmark Vesey was preaching.
I’m voicing the sentiments expressed by the Newark riots, the
Detroit riots, The Attica prison uprising
I’m speaking through the blood of Martin Luther King Jr.
I’m talking loudly about the fact that we watched Rodney King crawling on the ground surrounded by armed police officers who beat him mercilessly on national TV. and then told us not to believe what we saw
I am talking loudly about a gentle, friendly Ethiopian man who was gunned down with  bullets because a wallet is so menacing in a black hand,
I’m yelling about Trayvon Martin a child killed justifiably when his hoodie became a weapon.
I’m yelling about Jordan Davis – unarmed and murdered.   I’m yelling that a jury of his peers could not reach a verdict about yet another unarmed Black child whose music and black face constituted a lethal threat warranting 10 bullets and no second thoughts about ending his life.
You are expected to stay in your homes and remain calm.
You are expected to understand.
But I do not understand.  I do not want to stay in my home and I do not want to remain calm. 
I refuse to understand….like Rachel weeping and refusing to be comforted….   I join with the voices from the blood of the innocent shed in this country….
We can no longer be silent in the face of full fledged statements about the irrelevancy of Black life in the U.S….It is 2014 and the twilight Zone Music is still playing!   We continue to live lives of  invisibility, we continue to be stepped around, left out, not seen as essential. 
It is 2014 and the twilight zone music is till playing in our background trying to drown out what I am saying…
”You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind”
Can you hear it playing in the background ?….but I am playing in the foreground !!
I will not be silent I will  Holla Justice,
For Amadou Diallo, in New York City,  Holla if you hear me!!
Holla Justice……….for Oscar Grant at Fruitvale Station
Holla Justice …………for Trayvon Martin in Sanford Florida
Holla justice for……….Jordan Davis, in Jacksonville Florida
Hola justice for …….. Michael Brown in New York City
Holla justice for ……Eric Garner in Ferguson, Missouri
Holla Justice,  Holla justice!
Holla if you hear me!!

Melinda Contreras-Byrd
February 2014