The wars at home

From the new issue of NEWS & LETTERS, May-June 2011

Part II of

Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2011-2012

Revolution and counter-revolution take world stage

Contents:

(Part I was posted yesterday.  Parts III through V to come in the next few days)

II. The wars at home

A. U.S. class war

The revolutionary struggle in Egypt became a part of the consciousness of the massive Wisconsin fightback against Tea Party Gov. Scott Walker’s assault on labor. Day after day, thousands and tens of thousands came out to demonstrate in Madison in opposition to Walker’s bill and, as signs put it, “Walk like an Egyptian.”

The viciousness of the Right’s assault on women, minorities and the working class cannot be overestimated. It includes denial of collective bargaining rights for state employees–the majority are women–the last sector of U.S. workers to be unionized in large numbers. It includes cuts in pay, longer hours and the loss of unemployment benefits and pensions. Draconian anti-labor laws have been passed or proposed in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana among other states.

Those who assault labor dream of erasing the very memory of past struggles. In Maine the governor dismantled a mural by Judy Taylor at the Department of Labor, which he deems “offensive to business” because it reflects actual labor history. The budget presented in the House of Representatives by Republican Paul Ryan (Wis.) represents the far Right’s vision of state power that won’t stop at undoing the New Deal and reforms won after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire 100 years ago.

It aims to erode labor relations to the time when strikes for the eight-hour day were punctuated by the Haymarket and Bay View massacres 125 years ago. The whole tenor of the discussion in Congress is not of holding the line, but of severe financial attacks including the dismantling of Social Security and Medicare.

This viciousness has roots in anti-working-class policies pursued by Republican and Democratic administrations since the 1970s. These policies, in turn, have been a response by the ruling class to capitalism’s endemic crisis.

The demonization of people on welfare led up to its destruction in the 1990s. That was exacerbated by today’s higher unemployment and new restrictions on food stamps. Food banks and soup kitchens can’t keep up with increasing demand and more and more Americans, especially children, go to bed hungry.

The current attacks might seem to come as a shock only if the deep racism of U.S. society is ignored. They bear the character of anti-humanism that has already been manifest in U.S. capitalism’s response to its decades-long crisis by the building of the prison-industrial complex.[12] This has borne a racist, neofascist enclave in the heart of U.S. civilization that is spreading further into the mainstream in the guise of anti-labor, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-Muslim and racist rhetoric and legislation.

The resulting contradictions were evident in one aspect of the Wisconsin demonstrations. The presence of the prison guards’ union raised the question of the role of the state, itself, beside the question of the rights of public workers. The current assault by the Right will not be turned back without coming to terms with the last 40 years of U.S. capitalism’s assault upon the Black and Latino working class. In this respect, the mass prisoner strike in a dozen Georgia prisons in December should be seen as the cutting edge of fightback against the Tea Party’s ascendancy.[13]It was not only the first mass response, but in many ways the most profound.

The prison strike was multiracial, and represented the voices of the most dispossessed workers. It was hugely significant that the Georgia prisoners used classic language of the labor movement, adopting the IWW slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Only when the fightback in the U.S. takes account of this country’s racist history, including the Abolitionist roots of Marxism, and makes a point of supporting current efforts like this one, could it open the door to revolutionary stirrings as in Tunisia and Egypt.

B. Women in the crosshairs

Egypt showed, once again, that a crucial way the face of counter-revolution makes its appearance is by attacking women. In Egypt, it was women in Tahrir Square on International Women’s Day who were told that the revolution was not for them. In the U.S. too, the attack on women by Tea Partyers and the Republican Party–often tolerated by the Democrats–reveals the retrogressionism taking deep root in the U.S. What was new about the attempt to destroy women’s right and access to abortion, was how completely ruthless it has become with no regard for a woman’s integrity, her health, her ability and right to decide whether to carry a fetus to term, or even for her very life!

Chicago Walk for Choice, 2011
Chicago Walk For Choice demonstration against anti-abortion fanatic Joseph Scheidler in April. Banner reads “Abortion providers save women’s lives,” signs read “Stop anti-choice terrorism.”

That the most extreme anti-abortion ideology is being imposed on women is most clearly seen now in Idaho. The Idaho House of Representatives passed legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormality, or the mental or emotional health of the woman. The thoughts, wishes and needs of raped women were completely disregarded as State Rep. Shannon McMillan decided that, since a fetus was blameless, the woman should be forced to be its vessel; and State Rep. Brent Crane pontificated that women are raped because of God’s will, preaching that “He has the ability to take difficult, tragic, horrific circumstances and then turn them into wonderful examples.” It seems Crane has the ability to take tragic events and make them even worse.

New legislation would force a sonogram on a woman and make her view it; report miscarriages to authorities and have them investigated as if they were crimes; and make doctors read women blatant lies as medical “fact.” The attempt to savage Planned Parenthood, which uses no federal money for abortions, reveals a purely ideological mindset as Planned Parenthood prevents more than 620,000 unintended pregnancies and 220,000 abortions a year.

While the attack on women’s right to control their own bodies is the most blatant, it is no exaggeration to call what is transpiring a “war on women”–especially poor and working-class. Many have noted the irony that at the same time women are enduring forced childbirth, the Republicans want to cut 10% from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, a program that serves 9.6 million each month. Their bill guts $50 million from the block grant for prenatal healthcare to 2.5 million poor women and healthcare to 31 million children each year. What’s more:

  • Their budget plan takes $1 billion from Head Start, throwing 157,000 children out of pre-school.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to destroy the collective bargaining rights of public employees disproportionately impacts women’s jobs, including nurses, teachers, healthcare workers, etc.
  • The attempt to destroy Medicare and Medicaid also hits women the hardest: two-thirds of the elderly poor are women. Another GOP bill would cut funding for employment services, meals, and housing for senior citizens.

It is not only that women’s human rights are under siege by the U.S. Congress and state legislators, it is that the barriers put up, the requirements women face, are themselves so grievous, that the entire Left should be up in arms. Given this level of attack, where is the solidarity with women’s struggles?

In all the demonstrations against Scott Walker’s attempt to destroy the bargaining rights of unionized state workers, there was hardly a peep from the unions or the Left about his horrendous stand on the right of women to control their own bodies. He voted to gut $4 million from the Wisconsin budget for family planning resources and end all funding for Planned Parenthood, among other fanatical proposals.

When abortion is illegal, women die. They die and are maimed from back-alley butcher abortions because, legal or not, women are desperate to control what happens in their own bodies.

The point is that women’s struggle for abortion rights is not a diversion from revolution, but a freedom demand without which real liberation is impossible.

That women are fighting back is clear in the tremendous outcry against the Republicans’ plan to crucify Planned Parenthood. “We stand with Planned Parenthood” signs became ubiquitous, and meant as well: We stand for women’s right to abortion.

In Indiana, hundreds of protesters rallied at the statehouse in March in opposition to a proposed law that would require doctors to lie to women about a non-existent relationship between abortion and breast cancer, and would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless there is a threat to the woman’s life or health.

Perhaps the most exciting development is the nationwide Walk For Choice (WFC) movement that has, like the revolts in the Middle East and North Africa, erupted off of social networking sites like Facebook and Tumblr. WFC demonstrations are taking place across the country. Organizers and participants are mostly women in their early 20s, who, if Chicago is any example, are fed up with established women’s rights groups that refuse to use the word “abortion” publicly and with pride. They forgo march permits, and “walk for choice” with signs, chants and banners, through downtowns, campuses and neighborhoods. That they are strident and unashamed is a shot in the arm to the movement. That they are young proves that the unintended result of the right wing’s assault on women’s right to abortion is a renewal of the Women’s Liberation Movement.

That movement will be needed more than ever as the fight over the U.S. budget is just warming up. Republicans and their fanatical Tea Party supporters held the nation hostage to get their way on budget cuts in April. Democratic leaders vowed that they would “not throw women under the bus,” yet women in D.C. got run over. To get the budget passed, Democrats agreed to forbid the District of Columbia, poorer and Blacker than almost any state in the nation, from using its own tax dollars to pay for poor women’s abortions.

That makes it clear that Obama and the Democrats are so steeped in pragmatism that all long-fought-for human rights in the U.S. are in jeopardy. Nothing is safe, even rights that Blacks won in the bloody struggle for civil rights, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides this year, along with the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War. Wisconsin proved that U.S. labor rights are fragile and the class war against workers is so retrograde that it aims at youth too, as several states contemplate overriding child labor laws.

C. The U.S. wars and nuclear peril

Unseparated from the drive to roll back all the gains made by freedom movements since the Civil War is the stench of war as a permanent element of rotting globalized capitalism.

Even in Iraq, 47,000 U.S. troops are still deployed, months after President Obama declared, “The American combat mission in Iraq has ended.” The Pentagon is angling to keep them there in spite of the Dec. 31 deadline for their removal. Even if they are withdrawn, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad–the largest embassy in the world–is projected to have over 16,000 people on its staff next year, including an unknown number of spies and military personnel and 5,500 private security contractors, that is, mercenaries a la Blackwater. And, while at a lower level than the height of sectarian violence in 2006-07, mass killings are still common.

What is all too hidden from the public eye is the ongoing resistance within the military. The state’s determination to crush it is just as much a point of continuity between the Obama administration and the Bush administration as is the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Bradley Manning, a 23-year-old intelligence analyst who was stationed in Iraq, languished for months in solitary confinement in the Marine prison at Quantico, Va. He is accused of leaking a classified video that showed American troops shooting Iraqi civilians from an Apache helicopter in 2007, as well as involvement in the WikiLeaks exposure of thousands of secret documents from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and of secret diplomatic cables.

Those who perpetrated the crimes, from Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the 2007 shootings in the video, are not likely to be punished, but for revealing the truth Manning is facing life imprisonment.[14] Without having been convicted, he has been held in conditions criticized by Amnesty International and denounced as “degrading and inhumane” in a letter signed by 295 U.S. legal scholars. A senior United Nations representative on torture, Juan Mendez, protested the military’s refusal to allow him access to Manning.

In Afghanistan the U.S.-led war rages on, now after nearly ten years the longest war in U.S. history. The July 2011 date for “beginning” to withdraw troops seems to have less and less meaning as the occupation drags on. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is pushing “reconciliation” with the Taliban, holding a meeting April 16 with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani together with many other military and civilian leaders from the two countries. At the same time, Karzai’s government is competing with the Taliban’s oppression of women, by, for example, undermining women’s shelters. About half the women in the country’s prisons are there for fleeing domestic violence. The Taliban are even worse, destroying girls’ schools, using stoning to punish “vice,” and attacking women in myriad ways. But no real participation by women is foreseen if negotiations with the Taliban come to pass.

In Pakistan, U.S. drones and special forces are aimed attack areas where the Taliban takes refuge. However, since a CIA agent was arrested after killing two Pakistanis–in self-defense, he says–there is a “fundamental rift” in relations, as Pakistan demands an end to drone attacks and a reduction in the presence of U.S. intelligence agents.[15] Pakistani fundamentalists are increasingly able to harass and even murder secularists with impunity. Looming over this tense situation is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, growing at a rate that may soon make it the fifth-largest in the world, exceeding Britain’s, while divided Kashmir remains a flashpoint with nuclear-armed India.

North Korea‘s recent shelling of a disputed island, killing South Koreans, reminded the world of the threat of war once again. North Korea’s gradually accumulating nuclear arsenal greatly compounds the ramifications. Kim Jong-il’s regime is often described as “socialist,” but in reality it is characterized by harsh exploitation of workers and militaristic nationalism. A well-fed army and an elite wallowing in luxury hold down masses living in deprivation, with perhaps millions facing the prospect of starvation.

As shown in our Jan.-Feb. 2011 editorial, “Back to the Nuclear Brink,” the nuclear buildup and aggressive moves from various sides not only raised the specter of World War III but underscored the urgency of the Marxist-Humanist perspective: the opposite of war is not peace, but revolution. The constant recurrence of wars and threats of wars demonstrates the insufficiency of opposing war without raising a banner of a society on new human foundations that would abolish the roots of war in social relations–a banner of revolution in permanence.

(to be continued…)

12. “We as a society are witnessing the debasement of humanist respect toward fellow human beings with ever-increasing intensity….The criminal has become the dart board at which we throw our frustrations….It has given the ruling class, under a burgeoning ‘law and order’ climate, full permission to hold jurisdiction over an increasingly revolutionary-minded proletariat.” –D.A. Sheldon, Voices from within the Prison Walls, p. 6 (News and Letters Committees, 1998).

13. See “Prisoners STRIKE!” Jan.-Feb. 2011 N&L.

14. See http://www.bradleymanning.org/.

15. Jane Perlez, “U.S. Rift With Pakistan Grows Over Drone Strikes,” New York Times, 4/17/11.

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