I am writing for anyone who is concerned about the lack of a serious worldwide approach to climate chaos, anyone who is concerned about racism, poverty, patriarchy, violence, poor health of so many, anyone who is concerned about peace — anyone who wants to participate in and see political change on these issues.

The great German physician Rudolph Virkow, a pioneer in the field of public health, once remarked, “Politics should be practiced as if it was medicine on a grand scale.”  I am thinking about this as I ponder the weakness of the labor movement in the United States, the weakness of the peace movement, and the left in general.  What is the diagnosis?  And where does a cure lie?

If these questions concern you, I am writing to request that you gather a group of like-minded people in order to explore three  books and how the wisdom in them can be developed and applied.  These three books were written by the same author, Jane McAlevey.  Their subject is complex and of the utmost importance. — how the vast majority can be organized to take collective control of their lives.  The books are entitled in order of their appearance Raising Expectations and Raising Hell: My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement; No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age; and A Collective Bargain:  Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy.

Who is Jane McAlevey?  She has a long history as a leader and political organizer beginning in high school and college around issues of women’s equality, the dangers of nuclear power, and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.  After traveling and working in Central America she worked for the Earth Island Institute educating the environmental movement in the US about ecological consequences of US military and economic policies in Central America and then worked at the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee on environmental issues.  From there the New Voices leadership of the AFL-CIO recruited her for an experimental AFL-CIO organizing in Stamford Connecticut.   The Stamford Organizing Project was working on a model for rank and file worker-based social movement unionism.  In this project, in addition to focusing on workplace issues, unions connected workers to non-workplace issues that affected their communities.  Union members utilized their connections to churches and faith based institutions, sports clubs, and social groups of all kinds to build alliances between labor struggles and community struggles.  Following this work she joined the SEIU where she worked as Director of Strategic Campaigns and then as Executive Director and Chief Negotiator for SEIU Nevada in the process demonstrating the power of the Stamford approach.

The reason I recommend reading all three books is that taken together you get a rounded picture of McAlevey’s background, development, experience in and practice of an approach to union organizing and community organizing that is needed, if the vast majority are to be effectively engaged in tackling the pressing problems that confront us as capitalism collapses.  If three books seems like too much, start with one.   I want to emphasize that although union organizing and community organizing are not the same thing, what McAlevey discusses seems to me to be of great relevance to community organizing as well as union organizing.

The roots of McAlevey’s approach go back to the industry-wide organizing that was critical to the emergence of the CIO in the 1930’s.    The books focus on the most difficult kinds of labor struggles, in which it is necessary to organize 90% of the shop floor and 90% of the community in support of the union, if the union is to be able to win. As described above, in order to accomplish this, it is not enough to approach workers as just people on a job.  It is also necessary to see workers as whole people, as community members whose needs and interests extend beyond just wages and benefits.   For McAlevey the union is there to aid in the struggle for wages and benefits, but it is there primarily as a means by which workers can take collective control of their lives.  McAlevey’s approach is radically democratic with no such thing as a “labor aristocracy” or “labor bureaucracy”.  There are the workers and there are the employers.  The union belongs to the workers completely.

It is not by accident that this approach, which communists helped develop, was largely abandoned after World War II.    Coming out of World War II “the powers-that-be” in the United States wanted to quiet the unrest that had developed in the 1930’s and to be able to pursue US corporate imperial interests at home and throughout the world.  The population had to be propagandized to support the “Cold War” and to see the Soviet Union as their enemy.  And there was a determined effort during the McCarthy Period to demonize communists and exclude them not only from the labor movement but from the life of our society generally.  The “powers-that-be” needed to turn the US labor movement away from class struggle and toward what McAlevey calls “class snuggle”.   “Class snuggle” is a process in which employers and certain labor leaders collaborate to narrowly define workers’ interests and in the process help labor bureaucrats become powerful, wealthy and corrupt.

Fortunately the approach that McAlevey describes was not completely abandoned, and where it is still being practiced, it has yielded some big wins.  As examples amongst other campaigns McAlevey discusses the recent teachers’ union organizing and strikes in Chicago and Los Angeles.

As I read through McAlevey’s books I was stunned by the fact that what she was talking about was completely new to me despite years working within the left.  Of the many things that impressed me I will mention here only four.

First, McAlevey emphasizes the importance of setting concrete goals so that you can know if you are succeeding or not.  Contrary to this,  most of the organizations, with which I have been associated, have pursued a line of action that could never fail and consequently could never succeed, because the goals of the organization’s activity were always vaguely defined.

Second McAlevey discusses the importance of making a power analysis of the community or group you are hoping to organize.  Who knows whom?  Who influences whom?  Who are the community’s “organic leaders”, the people to whom others listen.  These “organic leaders” often don’t see themselves as activists or leaders, but their opinions carry great weight with many others.  If you are going to organize 90%,  reaching these “organic leaders” and winning their active involvement is critical.

Third, McAlevey describes in detail what she calls the “Structured Organizing Conversation”, a specific way an organizer can go about connecting with organic leaders and uniting with them in the organizing effort.

Fourth, McAlevey makes a clear distinction between what she calls “advocacy”, “mobilizing” , and “organizing.”  Advocacy involves advocating for something.  This essay is an example of advocacy.   Mobilizing involves calling out the people who are already on your side.  Organizing involves reaching and involving in the struggle the vast majority, those who don’t yet understand that they have a vital interest in being actively involved.  From this perspective, the organizations, with which I have worked, have been involved in education, advocacy, and mobilization, but not really organizing.  This is why what these books can teach us is so critical.

Becoming an accomplished organizer is no small achievement.  It is every bit as complex as becoming a true artist in any field.  So reading these books won’t turn anyone into an accomplished organizer.  But they can provide crucial insight into the science and art of organizing.  Reading them as a group may ignite a desire in some to begin experimenting with organizing in a different way.  Such an endeavor will need the support of a group.   At the very least these books will help partisans of a people’s movement to more concretely conceive of how radically democratic labor unions and communities can be organized for the political battle that is needed.

Dr. Schotz is a child psychiatrist who is active in the peace movement in Western Massachusetts

Where the Idea of “Race” Came From

By Adolph Reed Jr.

The following is an edited version of the author’s talk at a “Labor Solidarity Day” rally in South Paris, Maine, on September 11, 1999.

The question of how the fight for racial equality can be incorporated into labor’s struggle has long vexed our movement — the labor movement, the left, the social justice movement. There is a long history in the United States of the debate over the question of race versus class.

I think before trying to address it directly that it will be useful to frame the question by saying what race is and is not. First of all, race is a pretty new idea in the history of the world. It is a new invention, like the idea of Western civilization — which actually dates from the period of European expansion, mainly from the 17th century through the 19th century. In fact the idea of Western civilization is even younger than race; it was born in drawing rooms at Oxford and Cambridge some time between 1850 and 1875.

So then, race is a notion that acquired its current meaning roughly between the 17th and 19th centuries. Even in the early period of Western expansion and colonization of the “new world” and systematic interaction with people in other parts of the world, the crucial distinction that justified subordination or that shaped contacts or defined differences was a different set of dichotomies — either “Christian versus heathen,” or “civilized versus savage.”

Over time race in the way that we think of it came to displace this other kind of differentiation of people for reasons that will be clear when I make it a little more concrete.

What I am saying is that race is a fairly new notion in the history of the world. There is no biological or “natural,” as it were, foundation for the concept of race. What molecular biologists now tell us is that within any gross human population, the range of biological variation is greater than the range of variation between any two populations. There’s no place to draw the line.

One interesting aside about all this is that the people doing so-called scientific race research in the public arena now, like Charles Murray or Richard Herrnstein, who wrote the Bell Curve, and J. Phillippe Rushton at the University of Western Ontario (whose most recent work claims that there are almost species level walls between existing racial groups) are not biologists. Most of them are psychologists and IQ testers. (Rushton claims that there were several different migrations out of Africa with pre-Homo sapiens, hominid ancestors and that several different populations evolved into Homo sapiens along different tracks at different times.)

Why Are Some Features “Racialized” and Others Not?

But beyond the lack of DNA-level truthfulness or legitimacy to the idea of race, even the very superficial characteristics that we tend to think of as defining race — like skin color, facial features, hair texture — even those vary widely within any given racially defined population. And the range of variation within those populations, even on the basis of those superficially observable characteristics, is almost as great, if not greater, than the variation between populations. Those are only some of the obvious ways that human beings differ superficially from one another physically by appearance.

Yet there are other features that we don’t think of as being racialized, height, for instance, or body mass, or head shape, or left- or right-handedness. These differences haven’t become racialized in the way that others have been. What accounts for this disparity? A colleague, Barbara Fields, is a historian at Columbia University. She has an exercise that she does with her undergraduates. She asks them “How many of you are sitting next to a person of a different race?” And since it’s Columbia not too many hands go up. She then asks, “How many of you are sitting next to a person who looks just like you?” And of course no hands go up then either.

Adolph Reed, Jr.

There are many different ways that human beings as individuals vary within any given population. How do some of their features become racialized and others not? Why have characteristics like skin color and others come to be thought of as identifying racial populations? What has made those characteristics seem fundamental or “natural” is their familiarity as markers of groups in a system of social hierarchy, in a system of social power.

Early American History

To make that point a little more clearly, I will duck back into a couple of early moments in American history. In colonial Virginia, for instance, as the population of African slaves grew, there was really not much difference between them and white indentured servants. (This is less well known than the fact that the first African slaves in Virginia showed up in 1619, a year before the much-vaunted Pilgrims in their Mayflower.) The slaves tended to live in the same quarters as the indentured servants; they often hung out together and formed couples. The two groups were viewed as being only marginally different by the people who ran things, the planters.

The crucial difference between people who were serving out terms of indenture and those who were permanent bondsmen was that the latter were purchased as permanent bondsmen, and the people who were serving out indentures were basically purchased as indentured workers. It was not like there was even a notion of free labor in the Anglo-American world to compare either of these populations to. At that time there was no such thing as free labor!  The notion of free labor is a later invention, one that was won through the struggle of working people in the 18th and 19th centuries. [The struggle of the Levellers in England in the 1640s was a forerunner of the struggle for the rights of free labor, for the idea that those who were not big property owners also had rights; see Labor Standard No. 5, November-December 1999. — The Editors.]

At this point we are thinking back across a huge historical divide. A new political, economic, and social system was basically being formed out of the breakdown of feudal social relations. Under that older system, basically there were, on the one hand, property owners and, on the other, everybody else, who didn’t count for anything, practically the equivalent of serfs.

There is the question, then, of how to explain where this distinction between permanent bondsmen and indentured servants came from. Through the first half of the 17th century the principal division was between those who were Christian and those who were heathen. There was some variation depending on what county you were in and who the judge was. There were cases — not very many — of slaves who were able to sue successfully in court for their freedom by showing that they had been Christians – had been baptized prior to their being enslaved. You know how the law works; the boss always crafts the law to fit his own interests, so it was O.K. to buy or sell a slave who wasn’t a Christian, sell anybody who wasn’t a Christian — that part is easy. But what happens if the slave converts after being purchased? Well, that doesn’t count! But if he was a Christian prior to being enslaved, then maybe he could be let go.

The Virginia Planters and Bacon’s Rebellion

But what happened next was the arrival over the first half of the 17th century of the planters, people who had come over here to plant with their money. There may have been some talk about escape from religious persecution up at this end of the 13 colonies, but down at that end it was always a cash-and-carry proposition. The first couple of generations of planters had seen themselves as basically English gentlemen who came here to make a lot of money and then go back home. But instead they began to develop an American identity and to consolidate as an American upper class who ran the colony of Virginia according to their own prerogatives.

Among other things what that meant was that they were a nascent, a new upper class, and kind of like California, they had to wear their wealth as ostentatiously as possible. They had to use the force of the state to beat down any hint of disrespect for their social, political, and cultural superiority. So they turned out a bunch of laws that made life incredibly hard for indentured people and for those that owned no property. For example, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed laws that made crimes punishable by corporal penalties such as having the tongue pierced or being put in the rack for speaking disrespectfully to a burgess. (That doesn’t sound like much of a crime now, does it?)

So why do I go into this? What happened is that over time word got back to England that while the life of an indentured servant was never really a good time, it had gotten so very harsh that the supply of indentured servants began to dry up. This happened at the same moment historically when there was an expansion of the slave trade and dependence on slave labor was growing among the planter class. Then in the middle of all this there was a rebellion called Bacon’s rebellion in the 1670s led by a disgruntled member of the upper class. This insurgent movement drew popular support from runaway slaves, free Blacks, and indentured servants who also knew that they were getting the short end of the stick from the ruling class.

 (As is so often the case in real history, this rebellion was a complicated, not  entirely laudable affair. One of Bacon’s main complaints was that the British authorities and the local burgesses were not aggressive enough in exterminating the Native American populations in the colony to make more land available for settlers.)

This popular alliance drove the Virginia elite nuts, and it’s during this period that a couple of interesting things happened. One, in law and public ideology there was a firm, steady, and marked shift away from the Christian versus non-Christian, savage versus civilized way of explaining social difference – a shift to Black versus white. This took a couple of very concrete forms, increased penalties on the association of slaves and indentured servants, forcing sharp legal distinctions between them, and on the other side eliminating legal distinctions between free Blacks and slave Blacks. This is the context in which the Black-white distinction and the idea of race began to take shape.

Post–Civil War America

I want also to look at a second historical moment, one that walks the other side of the street, the thirty years after the Civil War. The old planter class was displaced by the victory of the Civil War, but it never lost economic power because of the incomplete character of that social revolution. This period was exciting, however, because of the opening up of access and opportunity for self-activity among the freed people in the South. At the same time it was a period during which planters in the old Confederacy were haunted, motivated, dogged, obsessed by the fear of the freed Blacks joining with displaced whites to create a political movement from below. This is an oft-told story certainly, but it is not commonly recognized that it took 30 years for the planter class to finally satisfy itself that it had broken the possibility of this alliance, 30 years even with the extended power of racist ideology in American life at that point, white supremacist ideology in the South, with a systematic terror campaign, and political and electoral perfidy at the state and local levels.

The beginnings of such an alliance (between freed Blacks and disadvantaged whites) were seen in the state of Virginia going back to the 1870s after the Hayes-Tilden compromise that ended Reconstruction officially. There was a semi-populist kind of movement called the Readjuster movement that was built on a Black-white workers’ coalition. It actually took state power under Governor Mahone. And there were similar alliances like it throughout the South through the period of the heyday of populist activism in the early 1890s.

It was only with the crushing of the populist movement that the planter class in the late 1890s was actually able to reassert its political power, to change the nature of the situation, and reshuffle the political deck in the South by excluding Blacks from citizenship and from voting. Once Blacks had been taken out of the political equation (and by the way, about one-third of the Southern white population was also disenfranchised) then the only game left in town was engaging in politics on white supremacist terms. In such a context people will naturally adapt to what the political opportunities are and to what the name of the political game is, so in that sense racial ideology became more deeply embedded as a political reflex in the South.

The Late 19th Century and “Scientific Racism”

The story, in general, is obviously very complicated, because at the same time that there were signs of this biracial political insurgency in the South, the final push of the periodic campaigns of genocide against indigenous people was being conducted by the same federal government in the West. This was also the period  — from the 1850s through the end of the century — of an explosion of immigration from Europe and from Asia. That occurred in a context of an upsurge of racialist social theorizing and ideology, what we think of as the school of “scientific racism.” (In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson actually made the first “scientific” racist argument to be cited in American political debate.) It was an invention of academics in the late 19th century that provided the rationale for most modern racist theories, at least according to the common understanding among leftists.

There was an explosion of racial categories in the late 19th century.  A racial adaptability chart that a Pittsburgh industrial relations firm did for a company there in the 1920s lists 36 different races, and this chart laid out which races were supposed to be good at what jobs. You know it’s like a big ethnic joke. In fact, this kind of race “science” was a big part of the rationale for the origin of “industrial relations” — the profession that has been doing that kind of stuff ever since.

One view says that this explosion of racial categories was a tool of the bosses to keep the workers divided. I don’t think that they were that smart really, and one of the tendencies that we need to be careful about is reading too much intelligence and coherence into the ruling class. They are as smart as the police forces that they buy and the propagandists that they hire.

What I think is probably a little closer to the mark is that the last 25 years of the 19th century was a period in which the pendulum was swinging to the right in a repressive direction in American politics in a number of different ways. After the big labor strikes of 1877 coming right on the heels of the Hayes-Tilden compromise, the opinion-making elites were especially open to notions of fundamental and natural human inequality and hierarchy, so they were open to ideas of “scientific racism” as an adaptation of Darwin, a kind of social Darwinism.

For the bosses these ideas provided a mechanism for sorting out labor to perform various tasks in the newly industrializing production system. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a logical system or be true; it just has to work. If the person doing the hiring thinks that an Italian is by definition a good stone mason, then it works, because you hired the Italian and he did his work as a stone mason. In this context maybe some of those who ran the factory figured out one day that this system was also useful for pitting one group of workers against another.

I think, therefore, that the idea of race hardened over this period, the last 30 years or so of the 19th century, as a metaphor or symbol of fundamental differences and hierarchy, in fact the way we understand race now. And it was rammed down workers’ throats in many instances, as it was with white workers in the South. This was also true in the case of organized workers’ reactions to Asian immigrants in the West, and that puts it mildly.

I should also say that in the late 19th century in addition to the invention of hard racial grouping concepts, there were teachings from American social science that reinforced these ideas. There was a tendency to talk about working class whites as being of a different race from the white upper classes, and women as being of a different race from men, and this kind of bizarre stuff. The long and short of it is that once race had hardened as a kind of socially consequential metaphor, as a category that at least partially helped define peoples’ lifelong chances, then people began to act accordingly. So in that sense the metaphor and symbol became real because people, and most especially the state, the governmental power, treated them as real.

Two Epitaphs

Thus we can end up with what I think are two really powerful epitaphs. W.E.B. DuBois, in an autobiographical work, Dusk of Dawn (1940) offered a fanciful dialogue with a foreigner who was trying to understand the American race issue. The foreigner keeps asking DuBois to explain what a Negro is. He was onto something because he realized that he was being offered something that did not work as a category. DuBois concluded by saying that a Black man is one who has to ride Jim Crow in Georgia.

The other is from Joseph Sandy Himes, who was a Black sociologist. He said that to be a Negro, one has to be available for treatment as a Negro.

The point of both apothegms is that race is a social category. But  to say that race is not real or is a social category is not to say that people do not experience themselves through these categories. It is not to say that they don’t have a sense of common identity based on that common experience or perception of common experience, including the notion of shared heritage as a collective understanding. Nor does it mean that racial categories do not shape people’s lives and opportunities; in this society they quite obviously do. What it means is that race, like gender or sexual orientation or anything else, does not exhaust an individual’s identity, nor does it mean that everyone who is assigned to a label will experience, or interpret, or operate in the common experience of being assigned to that label, or even the common set of social experiences that may be associated with that label in the same way, or work with that label.

One more example for the sake of clarity: Even in the Jim Crow era, under racial segregation, not all Black people were affected by racial segregation in exactly the same way. Some of the differences were purely random, some of them having to do with geography. There was a difference between plantation areas and the border states, between urban and rural segregation, between different counties and different cities. And there were also class differences.

Even though the social system was framed and shaped by an overarching white supremacy, people occupied a variety of positions in that social system that enabled some of them to insulate themselves from the potentially most degrading and dangerous aspects of the system more than others. Some people performed functions in the system that actively helped to manage conflict and to reproduce the system. Some people were linked to it in different ways. I think we can see that also somewhat more clearly in the period since segregation was defeated in the 1960s when the experience of racial identity as a fact in people’s lives has varied widely in its material meanings and consequences. That does not negate seeing race as a mechanism for assigning people to slots in a system of hierarchy.

And there is another way that I have been thinking about race; it is useful for suggesting a basis for the kind of broad solidarity that Maria Alves was describing in order to establish the kind of movement we need, to make this country what it ought to be, to make the world what it ought to be or could be. [For Maria Alves’s speech about the Workers Party of Brazil, given at the same “Labor Solidarity Day” rally in Maine where Adolph Reed spoke, see Labor Standard No. 5, November-December 1999.]

If you can allow what may come across as a shameless plug, that’s really what we’re trying to do in the Labor Party  — to take the simplest experience of that which is summarized by another category, the working class, which we understand as being the condition of having to work for a living or being expected to work for a living, whether or not you actually work, to take that category as a programmatic and rhetorical and ideological basis for establishing a broad solidarity of shared experience on which we can come together to fight for what we all want and need and to struggle through and to discuss all the ways that we differ, especially the workings of racial, gender, and other forms of oppression or other strains of hierarchy that all have emerged within the same political and economic system. What is involved is not just organizing workers or the working class. It means expanding the idea of who the working class is in a way that includes what people characterize otherwise as social movements.

I end with this example. One of the most visible and, in this regard, most significant affiliates of the Labor Party is the Kensington Welfare Rights Union in the Philadelphia area. We understand, as they do, that the working class is not what the National Labor Relations Board says is the working class. The working class is us, all of us, people who work for a living and/or who are expected to work for a living. It includes as well all those being driven to the edge of the labor market, the unemployed and the under-employed and those on welfare.

Adolph Reed Jr., a former professor of political science at the New School for Social Research and the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of many books.

Colombia/U.S. Axis: Hitting at Venezuela

By W. T. Whitney Jr.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Colombian President Ivan Duque, meeting in Bogota on September 20, talked about “managing the COVID-19 response … narcotraffickers … and [President] Maduro’s illegitimate regime,” according to the State Department.  A Cuban observer insists they explored “when to begin military actions and sabotage in Venezuela.” Elliott Abrams, the White House official responsible for Venezuelan affairs, dismissed the idea of U.S. military engagement as an “absurdity.”

As talks were taking place in Bogota, joint naval and air force exercises were underway along Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Supposedly they were preparing to fight an illicit drug trade attributed to Venezuela. That’s why the U.S. Navy has been monitoring Venezuela’s northern coast since April. Colombia itself, of course, supplies most of the illegal drugs entering the United States.

The specter looms of an “October Surprise”, that staple of U.S. presidential electioneering. It’s widely assumed that to win in Florida, candidates must show off their anti-revolutionary zeal to voters of Cuban or Venezuelan origin. Decisive action against Venezuela now might do the trick.

Colombia acts as the local U.S. enforcer as regards Venezuela. That role grew out of U.S. Plan Colombia which after 2000 had the United States building up Colombia’s military, harassing leftist insurgents, and establishing a base for regional military operations–all under the pretext of combating illegal drugs.

Before arriving in Bogota, Pompeo had visited Venezuela’s other neighbors–Surinam, Brazil and Guyana. In Boa Vista, located 141 miles from the Venezuelan border, he met with Brazil’s foreign minister and commiserated with Venezuelan refugees.

Pompeo backed Guyana’s resistance to a Venezuelan claim on the Essequibo region, where ExxonMobil is extracting oil. He authorized U.S. participation in military patrols along that disputed border. China, investing in Guyana and Surinam, has invited both to join its Belt and Road initiative.

On August 18 in Bogota, White House National Security advisor Robert O’Brien had already presented President Duque with a new version of U. S. Plan Colombia called “Colombia Grows.” By way of nurturing the alliance, it offers “rural development, infrastructure expansion, [and] new opportunities for investment.” The presence at the meeting of Admiral Craig Fuller, Chief of the U.S. Southern Command, and Mauricio Claver-Carone, head at the time of the National Security Council’s Western Hemisphere Division suggests Venezuela was on the agenda.

Venezuela is in the spotlight now for good reason. National Assembly elections take place there on December 6, and the right-wing opposition is fractured. Both the United States and Juan Guaidó, the former National Assembly president named as Venezuela’s president by the United States, want an election boycott. Other opposition groups and leaders, notably former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, will be participating.

Signs of unity are cropping up–not good news in Washington. Says a government supporter: “on December 6, many of us will vote for the government, others will vote for the opposition; but all of us … will be voting against the criminal blockade that has caused us so much damage.”

For the U.S. government, any hint of election normalcy would be a reverse. Sympathetic world leaders, counting on a new government in Venezuela but detecting signs of durability, might adjust their thinking. Maybe the present show of hostility–the meetings, naval maneuvers, and new sanctions on diesel fuel–would keep them in line.

U.S. strategists may be fretting also because regime change hasn’t happened, despite all the financial and logistical support that’s been delivered to Venezuelan dissidents and plotters during the presidencies of both Presidents Maduro and Chavez.

The list of recent attacks is impressive: street protests in 2014 and 2017, a drone attack against Venezuela’s top leaders in August 2018, humanitarian aid pushed across the Colombia-Venezuela border in January 2019 to incite a military uprising, a cyber-attack causing a nationwide electrical blackout in March 2019, a military officers’ coup attempt in April 2019 backed by Guaidó, and in May renegade Venezuelan troops led by former U.S. Green Berets invading from Colombia.

Plotters often plan and prepare in Colombia and find refuge there afterwards.

U.S. economic sanctions and U. S. plundering of Venezuela’s economic assets abroad have led to devastating shortages of credit, food, medicines, and supplies for oil production, which has collapsed. Oil exports have accounted for more than 95 percent of the country’s export income. There’s no other money available to pay for imported food and medicines or for social services. Even so, Venezuela’s government survives.

In Colombia presently, societal disruption and a newly energized protest movement may be deflecting the government’s attention from regime change in Venezuela.

Unemployment is 20.2 percent; 19 million Colombians live in poverty, eight million in extreme poverty; 6.5 percent of the people are food-deprived; 2 million Colombians are illiterate; the health care system is a disaster. According to one report, 992 social leaders and 229 former FARC insurgents have been killed since late 2016, when the government’s peace agreement with the FARC was signed.

A U.S. “Security Force Assistance Brigade” arrived in early June to prepare a “full spectrum offensive against Venezuela.” But Colombia’s Senate rejected its presence, a court decision validated the Senate’s action, and then Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo welcomed the U.S. troops. A U. S. military presence in Colombia is not new, but now popular opposition to more U. S. troops is growing.

Police in Bogota killed law student Javier Ordoñez on September 9. He had joined many thousands who were protesting the killings of social leaders, a flawed response to the Covid 19 pandemic, and neo-liberalism. Later that day the police killed 11 young people. Broadening their demands, demonstrators called for Pompeo’s visit and the U. S.–Colombian military exercises to be canceled.

Former President Alvaro Uribe is under house arrest. This recipient of the U. S. Medal of Freedom and collaborator with drug traffickers and murderous paramilitaries is accused of complicity in three paramilitary massacres, including the El Aro massacre of 1997. Former paramilitary chieftain Salvatore Mancuso, responsible for that massacre and recently released from a U.S. prison, is resisting repatriation to Colombia where he might have to testify against Uribe. An obliging U.S. government may let him stay. Colombian critics of Uribe and his protegee Duque are outraged.

In both countries, ramifications of the pandemic, serious economic problems, and political divisions serve, if for nothing else, to lessen the urgency of other concerns. It’s a context in which, for many Colombians, plotting against Venezuela, especially in collaboration with the United States, may no longer be a priority. In Colombia, reports one observer, Duque has “all but lost legitimacy as president.”

If indeed direct military intervention is unlikely, the option of undercover war remains. In fact, paramilitary detachments have been operating in Venezuela for many years. The U.S. government itself recently showed what war in the shadows will look like.

Venezuelan authorities are prosecuting a CIA-connected former U.S. Marine who, well-armed and with explosives, was arrested on September 14 with Venezuelan accomplices near a large oil-refinery complex in Falcon State. Matthew John Heath is accused of preparing “acts of sabotage.”

Question: how committed are anti-Venezuelan hawks in the United States to direct military intervention? Maybe they doubt the capabilities of their Colombian ally. Maybe mess of the kind visited upon Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya would be too close to home. Maybe in the end, harassing the Maduro government, destabilization, and bluster will be enough, at least for keeping their foreign and domestic friends in line.

Masses of working people in Venezuela are mobilized for better lives and for peace. They are anti-imperialist. They are why their government survives. It would survive easier with a kindred movement in Colombia. A U.S. version would be icing on the cake.

After the election, from People’s Worlds

September 21, 2020 By Art Perlo

Knocking on doors in my diverse, low- to middle-income working-class neighborhood, almost everyone I talk to says they will vote to dump Trump and elect Biden-Harris.
The next six weeks will see a struggle critical to the future of our country and all of humanity. Claims to leadership in the post-election struggles will be judged not by how precisely we analyze the nature of Biden-Harris and reluctantly conclude that they must be elected, but by how effectively we organize our families, neighbors, friends, co-workers. By how we participate with our unions and our community or environmental or civil rights organizations to register voters, turn them out, and secure the vote. By how we participate in and initiate rallies and events on racial justice and the unemployment and eviction crises, linking them to the election and its outcome.
It would be a mistake to underestimate the historic victory if my neighbors, and tens of millions like them around the country, propel Biden-Harris to prevail over Trump. A struggle that can put Biden-Harris in the White House will by necessity involve organizing and mobilization. And it will have to continue and grow beyond the election and inauguration of Biden-Harris. In order to prevail, it must involve and effectively organize even more than the millions who turned out in the months following Trump’s inauguration in 2017.
And this organizing is happening now, as it did in 2017, largely outside the structures of the Democratic Party—by labor, environment, youth, women, racial justice, faith, and community grassroots movements that are not constrained by any corporate agenda.

“And this organizing is happening now, as it did in 2017, largely outside the structures of the Democratic Party—by labor, environment, youth, women, racial justice, faith, and community grassroots movements that are not constrained by any corporate agenda.”

That mass movement has the potential to push far beyond any limitations of the Biden-Harris ticket. For those with a transformative vision for our country, there is nothing more important than to be part of that movement, starting with a massive turnout for Buden-Harris in every state.
The very real possibilities for progress that can be won from a Biden-Harris administration stand in stark contrast to the certainties of a second Trump administration. The indecent glee at the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, exhibited by Trump and Republican Senate leader McConnell, is only the latest warning.
If Trump is able to stay in office, the ultra-right will consolidate power much faster than in the previous four years. Trump (meaning not only Trump, but his circle of fascist ideologues and far-right corporate sponsors) will move aggressively to further seize control of the judiciary and all parts of the executive, including the military, police, and intelligence services. Congress will be further sidelined. The “lock her up” slogan they deployed against Hillary Clinton in 2016 is likely to be translated into criminal proceedings against political opponents and against mass movements.
Many elements of a fascist regime will be implemented while maintaining the facade of existing political structures. And for the majority of the working class, especially low- and moderate-wage workers and people of color, conditions will get immeasurably worse, with attacks on health care, Social Security, unions, education, environment, and more, as well as tax increases for workers as state and local governments try to partially fill the gap that will be left by the destruction of essential federal programs. Not to mention the further incompetent or even malign responses to public health, climate, and other crises that will come down.
The ultra-right, backed by the most reactionary sections of the ruling class, is determined to hold on to power. They will do everything to suppress the vote for Biden-Harris. They will dispute any election results that show Biden ahead and lay claim to keeping Trump in the White House. And if Biden is inaugurated in January and occupies the White House, Trump and his ruling class allies and the millions in his movement—including much of the leadership and rank-and-file of important police and intelligence agencies—will not recognize Biden as legitimate and will use every legal and extra-legal means available to sabotage his administration, including terrorism. A Biden-Harris administration will need an organized and mobilized base to counter this fascist legacy of the Trump administration.
The outcome will be determined by many interrelated factors. A critical factor is the ability of the mass movements, including labor unions and movements like Black Lives Matter, to overcome voter suppression and deliver an overwhelming vote by mail and at the polls. Another is the level of organization and commitment of the mass movements after Election Day to oppose Trump’s coup attempt.
And another vital factor is that a part of the ruling class supports the Biden ticket, for a variety of reasons, including some narrow interests, some broad capitalist class interests, some feelings of basic human decency, and some commitment to the political system of the U.S. which is being upended by Trump.
We all have to fight to organize a massive turnout to elect Biden-Harris, not because they are our chosen standard-bearers, but to save the U.S. working class and all of humanity from American fascism. And in so doing, we build the movements that will continue to fight for more advanced demands like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, racial and economic justice, an end to militarism—a movement that, objectively, must demand a fundamental transformation of U.S. society beyond the chains of capitalism.

Under Capitalism Black Lives Are Adrift and Vulnerable

By W. T. Whitney Jr.

It’s true. Too often, in too many circumstances, for too long, the lives of Black people in the United States don’t matter. Black people fill prisons; their children fill terrible schools; too many are poverty-stricken. But at issue here are the killings and the people left to die.

Post-Civil War arrangements by which the victorious North settled with the defeated slavocracy ensured that Black people would not matter and that many would die. A thousand or so were killed in the South in 1866, reports W.E. B Du Bois. Over 2000 more would be lynched during the Reconstruction years, as documented recently by the Equal Justice Initiative. (1) That organization had already documented and memorialized thousands of lynching deaths occurring between 1877 and 1950.

Epitomized by the suffocation death of George Floyd on May 25, police killings of Black people – a matter of lynching under state auspices – brought the Black Lives Matter movement into being. But Black people are dying quite unnecessarily in the United States in other ways.  

Life expectancy is far shorter and infant mortality far greater for U.S. Blacks, for example, than for white people. And, as the Covid19 pandemic plays out, “The lives of disproportionately black and brown workers are being sacrificed to fuel the engine of a faltering economy.”

Journalist Adam Serwer, writing in the Atlantic, adds that, “workers at the front lines of the pandemic … have been deemed so worthless that legislators want to immunize their employers from liability.” 

Significantly, even white people viewed as worthless may be in trouble. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, commenting on the Covid 19 pandemic, told a reporter that “there are more important things than living. And that’s saving this country.” Representative Hollingsworth of Indiana identified Coronavirus deaths as “the lesser of these two evils,” the other being economic collapse. 

That white people die because they don’t matter is revealing.  They too may be disposable – if they are unnecessary, in the way, or far off. The victims of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Dresden are remembered, as are indigenous peoples decimated by settlers and invaders, and civilians and combatants dying in U.S. wars. The political powers do not deal realistically with the near certainty that soon many millions will be dying due to climate change. 

Dan Glazebrook, writing for Counterpunch is a witness. He asserts that, “one product has defined capitalism above all else: human waste.” Criticizing Britain’s management of the Covid 19 crisis, he notes that, “Superfluous people, not necessary for production, not able to participate in the market, and an ever-present threat to the stability of the system [are] the main output of the bourgeois epoch. … [S]urplus Europeans were exiled … to the colonies … to continue the process of exterminating surplus non-Europeans.

Glazebrook cites urban theoretician and historian Mike Davis’s observation that up to 3 billion informal workers constitute “the fastest-growing and most novel social class on the planet.” But this “is not a labor reserve army in the nineteenth-century sense: a backlog of strikebreakers. [It’s] a mass of humanity structurally and biologically redundant to global accumulation and the corporate matrix.”

Marxist scholar Andy Merrifield identifies some people as “residues.” “They’re minorities who are far and away a global majority. They’re people who feel the periphery inside them, who identify with the periphery, even if sometimes they’re located in the core. Residues are workers without regularity, workers without any real stake in the future of work … A lot of these residues know that now work is contingent [and] life itself is contingent.” George Floyd’s live was contingent. The lives of U.S. Black people who don’t matter are residues.

Under capitalism, human beings are valued for their use. Enslaved, Black workers were useful, even essential. Then their agrarian society merged with the larger one embarked upon industrial production and territorial expansion. They acquired a distant master that, like the old one, measured the worth of workers with an economic yardstick. 

Black agricultural workers, bereft of education, their ancestors stolen from Africa, didn’t fit the capitalist mold. European immigrants ready to work in factories or to occupy land being opened up by the railroads amply fulfilled capitalist objectives.  From Reconstruction on, Black people were marginalized in a country where social needs are neglected and public attention distracted. The violent thugs hovering over them have had free rein. 

Du Bois in his Black Reconstruction in America (1935) offers an explanation for how the failure of Reconstruction led to limited political rights for Black people and exclusion from real participation in the larger society. Initially, “the reconstructed states were in the power of the rebels and … they were using their power to put the Negro back into slavery.” But the North “united its force with that of the workers to uproot the still vast economic power of the planters. It hoped …to induce the planter to surrender his economic power peacefully, in return for complete political amnesty.” 

The northern business class was insecure: “the Republican party which represented it was a minority party.” But “united with abolition-democracy [with its] tremendous moral power and popularity,” the party hoped to “buttress the threatened fortress of the new industry.” Giving Blacks the vote “would save the day.” The Republicans sought to nullify apportionment based on non-voting slaves, as provided for in the Constitution. Southerners had relied on that device to inflate their representation in Washington. 

But poor whites in the South regarded Blacks as wage competitors. Landowners proceeded to “draw the color line and convince the native-born white voter that his interests were with the planter class.” Poor whites “thought of emancipation as giving them a better chance to become rich planters, landowners, and employers of Negro labor.” They wanted “to check the demands of the Negroes by any means” and were willing “to do the dirty work of the revolution that was coming, with its blood and crass cruelties.”

In the North, “Abolitionists failed to see that … the nation did not want Negroes to have civil rights and that national industry could get its way easier by alliance with Southern landholders than by sustaining Southern workers.” And so, “labor control passed into the hands of white southerners, who combined with white labor to oust northern capitalists” and themselves manage a southern-style capitalist economy.  

What resulted remained for decades. Wages for Black people, initially non-existent or very low, stayed depressed. Aspiring Black landowners met resistance, eventually at the hands even of New Deal officials. Because the methods of exploitation available to southern overlords, sharecropping and the convict-leasing system, were less profitable than those available to northern capitalists, the material value of southern Blacks was low.    

Most Black people were barred from occupying a sustainable niche in the productive apparatus of the U.S. economy. They’ve verged on the irrelevant, remaining as a “residue,” at risk of being disposed of. 

Nevertheless, the U.S. political system has been open enough to allow many Black people to find remunerative work, elevate their social-class status, and be safe.  Even Black workers defied expectations: in 1950, 43% of Black men in Michigan were working in the auto industry. (2)

The argument here has centered on social-class difference. But racism, which operates as a means for imposing differentiation among humans, also had a part. The notion of racism elaborated by political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. is relevant.  Reed explains that racism showed up historically as a tool devised by oppressors for dealing with social conflict. He claims that white settlers and other exploiters configured differences among humans – physical, cultural, and religious plus others fashioned out of upper-class snobbery – into an all-embracing concept of race. They thus gained the ability to weaponize inequalities within human society, the better to enforce oppression. 

One example: southern elites, from Reconstruction on, arranged for Blacks and the white underclass to be at each other’s throats. Their northern counterparts did likewise, leaving it so that Blacks and whites don’t easily unite in common struggle. 

Racism serves as an adjunct to classed-based oppression. Causing pain, racism works for maintaining social-class boundaries. The combination of the two has resulted in Black people being relegated to a generally precarious role within U.S. society and remaining vulnerable to lethal violence. 

Some basic ideas, no less true for being platitudinous, may suffice to conclude this effort. One, an injury to one is an injury to all. Two, ruling class prerogatives and oppression travel in the same lane. Three, dedication to equality, radical or otherwise, does matter.  

Anti-colonialist intellectual and activist Franz Fanon has the last word: “For my part, the deeper I enter into the cultures and the political circles the surer I am that the great danger that threatens Africa is the absence of ideology.” You need to replace “Africa” with “USA.” 


  1. Reconstruction in America – Racial Violence After the Civil War, 1865 – 1876, Equal Justice Initiative, Montgomery, Alabama; pp 118;  
  1. Victor Perlo, People vs. Profits, (International Publishers, NY, 2003), p. 181. 

The police killings of Black people prompted the formation of Black Lives Matter.  But they die unnecessarily in others ways. Life expectancy is far shorter and infant mortality far greater for U.S. Blacks, for example, than for white people.

According to journalist Adam Serwer, writing in the Atlantic, “The lives of disproportionately black and brown workers are being sacrificed to fuel the engine of a faltering economy.” Specifically, “workers at the front lines of the [Covid 19] pandemic—such as meatpackers, transportation workers, and grocery clerks—have been deemed so worthless that legislators want to immunize their employers from liability.” 

Epitomized by the suffocation death of George Floyd on May 25, police killings of Black people – a matter of lynching under state auspices – brought the Black Lives Matter movement into being. But Black people are dying quite unnecessarily in the United States in other ways.  

Life expectancy is far shorter and infant mortality far greater for U.S. Blacks, for example, than for white people. And, as the Covid19 pandemic plays out, “The lives of disproportionately black and brown workers are being sacrificed to fuel the engine of a faltering economy.” Journalist Adam Serwer, writing in the Atlantic, adds that, “workers at the front lines of the pandemic … have been deemed so worthless that legislators want to immunize their employers from liability.” 

That white people die because they don’t matter is revealing.  They too may be disposable – if they are unnecessary, in the way, or far off. The victims of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Dresden are remembered, as are indigenous peoples decimated by settlers and invaders, and civilians and combatants dying in U.S. wars. The political powers seem to be at ease presently with the probability that millions will be dying soon due to climate change. 

The political powers do not deal realistically with the near certainty that soon many millions will be dying due to climate change. 

Black agricultural workers, bereft of education, their ancestors stolen from Africa, didn’t fit the capitalist mold. European immigrants ready to work in factories or to occupy land being opened up by the railroads amply fulfilled capitalist objectives.  From Reconstruction on, Black people were marginalized in a country where social needs are neglected and public attention distracted. Violent thugs threatening them have had free rein. 

Black agricultural workers, bereft of education, their ancestors stolen from Africa, didn’t fit the capitalist mold. European immigrants ready to work in factories or to occupy land being opened up by the railroads amply fulfilled capitalist objectives.  From Reconstruction on, Black people were marginalized in a country where social needs are neglected and public attention distracted. The violent thugs hovering over them have had free rein.

Remembering Claudia Jones, Communist leader who spoke for black women

By W. T. Whitney Jr. 


December 24 marks the death in 1964 of Claudia Jones. A member of the U.S. Communist Party’s National Committee and executive secretary for its Women’s Commission, Jones died in England, nine years after her deportation there. We recall her life and contributions. Her analysis of black women’s oppression and her vision of black women as political activists are meaningful today.

Her 16 – page article titled “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of Negro Women” appeared in the June 1949 issue of “Political Affairs.” (1) There, Jones describes the origins and varieties of oppression against black women. What with continuing subjugation of black women, her message is relevant now. The ripple effect of what happens to women adds to the staying power of Jones’ ideas: children’s education, health, and even survival depend on women flourishing. Men who no longer dominate women may themselves gain a measure of liberation.

Jones begins: “Negro women – as workers, as Negros, and as women – are the most oppressed stratum of the whole society.”   There is “growth in the militant participation of Negro women in all aspects of the struggle for peace, civil rights, and economic security.” In fact, “the capitalists know, far better than most progressives seem to know, that once Negro women take action, the militancy of the whole Negro people, and thus of the anti-imperialist coalition, is greatly enhanced.” 

Jones identifies black women’s special capabilities. “From the days of the slave traders down to the present,” they’ve been the guardians, protectors, and advocates for their children and families. Thus, “it is not accidental that the American bourgeoisie has intensified its oppression, not only of the Negro people in general, but of Negro women in particular.” She observes black women organizing their own mass organizations; they “are the real active forces – the organizers and workers – in all the institutions of the Negro people.” 

Claudia Jones sees “a developing consciousness on the women question today.”  Therefore, “the Negro woman who combines in her status the worker, the Negro, and the woman, is the vital link to this heightened political consciousness.”  But “the Negro question is prior to and not equal to the woman question,” she states. 

Jones points to economic abuse of black people.  She examines the plight of domestic workers and organized labor’s exclusion of black workers. But she finds the line separating race – based oppression from oppression as workers to be blurred. That’s natural, because black women “far out of proportion to other women workers, are the main breadwinners in their families.” She calls upon unions to take in black women and for domestic workers to be organized. 

Employed white women, she notes, were receiving twice the hourly wage granted to black women workers. The median family income of whites in northern cities exceeded that of black families by 60 percent. (In 2015, the average hourly income for white and black women workers was $17 and $13, respectively; white families’ median income that year was 70 percent higher than black families’ income.)

Jones laments that, “The maternity death rate for Negro women is triple that of white women.”  She points to high death rates for black children. (Death rates for black mothers in our own era – in 2012 – are almost four times that of white mothers. Yes, death rates for black infants and older children in Jones’ era were twice those for white children, and that hasn’t changed.) 

Jones castigates white chauvinism.  She objects to the label “girl” applied to older black women, to progressives’ and even Communists’ hesitation at socializing with black women associates, and to Communists’ reluctance to recruit black women, alleging they are “too backward.” She denounces “bourgeoisie ideologists” for relegating all women to “kitchen, church, and home,” but also for ignoring the presence of black domestic workers “in other people’s homes.”  She thinks black men have “a special responsibility in rooting out attitudes of male superiority as regards women in general.”  

Included in Jones’ survey are emblematic news stories of assaults on black women and snippets of dialogue highlighting regressive attitudes. She identifies individual black women who resisted and/or organized labor actions. Jones argues for black women – the “most exploited” women – joining progressive organizations and the Communist Party. 

Through “active participation” as workers in the “national liberation movement,” black women will “contribute to the entire American working class, whose historic mission is the achievement of a Socialist America – the final and full guarantee of women’s emancipation.” 

Her essay concludes: “The strong capacities, militancy, and organizational talents of Negro women can … be a powerful lever for bringing forth Negro workers – men and women – as the leading forces of the Negro people’s liberation movement, for cementing Negro and white unity in the struggle against Wall Street imperialism.”  

Claudia Jones wrote and acted by the light of her own life experience. Extreme poverty forced her family’s emigration from Trinidad to New York. Her over-worked mother died there, and living conditions for Claudia and her sisters deteriorated. Jones spent a year recuperating in a tuberculosis sanatorium. She was a superior high – school student, but instead of college, she worked in laundries and factories to support her family.  

Soon – in 1936 – she was organizing for the Young Communist League and working for the Communist Party’s “Daily Worker” newspaper. She moved to writing and editorial assignments with other Party publications and to the Party’s “Negro Commission.” Her “Half the World” column – meaning women – appeared regularly in the Daily Worker. 

Claudia Jones’ life took a tragic turn.  Tried and imprisoned under the anti-communist Smith Act, she was deported to England in 1955. She died prematurely at age 49. Elements of Caribbean culture and politics, and of black people’s nationalism, had informed Claudia Jones’ activism and writings in the United States.  In London, she founded and edited the West Indian Gazette. To counter “white racists,” she organized the Notting Hill Caribbean Carnival, which continues. 

(1) Jones’ 1949 article “An end to the neglect…” may be read at:  On December 2, 2016, featured a version in Spanish of Jones’ article. It had appeared on the Basque Communist Party platform (Boltxe Kolektiboa) at:

Exploring and Praising Cuban Healthcare, for the People

By W. T. Whitney Jr. 

Book Review: Don Fitz, Cuban Health Care, (Monthly Review Press, NY, 2020), ISBN paper: 978-158367-860-2, pp.303, 

If they are paying attention, progressives worldwide know that Cuba provides healthcare that saves lives and prevents disease more effectively than does the United States, its major capitalist enemy. They know that Cuban health workers have been caring for people throughout the global South and, during the Covid -19 pandemic, in Europe too. And the word is out that Cuba educates vast numbers of physicians for much of the world. 

Many U.S. fans of Cuba’s Revolution know that, early on, care was extended to desperate rural areas of the island, that large number of new health workers were trained, that disease prevention was prioritized. They may know that healthcare planners pioneered in devising an exemplary primary medical care system. They had tried and abandoned versions of the so-called polyclinics, then arrived at the pathbreaking family doctor – nurse program.

The polyclinics featured general practitioners, pediatricians, gynecologists, dentists, pediatricians, and sometimes psychologists working in one setting. Once the family doctor-nurse teams took responsibility for primary care, in 1984, the polyclinics were assigned consulting and teaching duties. Essential to the family doctor-nurse program was the creation of a new medical discipline, comprehensive general medicine, for which a new post-graduate, multi-year training program was devised. 

Cuban Health Care, written by Don Fitz’ and recently published by Monthly Review Press, explores these developments and more. Fitz explains how healthcare was integrated into the community and how the notion of health itself came to include social, psychological, economic, and nutritional wellbeing. His book surveys Cuba’s highly successful management of the HIV/AIDS epidemic; the role of Cuban doctors – and anti-apartheid troops – in southern Africa; disaster relief and general healthcare provided in countries throughout the world, and medical training for tens of thousands of young people from Latin America, Africa, and even Asia and the United States. Fitz explores the origins and mission of Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM)  that between 2006 and 2019 provided training at no personal cost for 29,749 students from 115 nations. 

Readers of this valuable book learn about difficulties confronted by Cuban leaders as they developed a new kind of health system. These included shortages of medical practitioners and teachers due to emigration in the early 1960s, competing revolutionary goals, frictions with Cuba’s Soviet ally, fallout from the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, harmful effects of the U.S. economic blockade, and false accusations of homophobia directed at those responsible for Cuba’s HIV/AIDS treatment program. 

There would have no reformation of Cuba’s healthcare system, the author points out, without revolutionary change in the larger society. He praises Cuban healthcare as emblematic for what a revolution can achieve. His insertion of a chapter on the failings of U.S. healthcare – and a very coherent account it is – conveys the suggestion that Cuba’s model may be useful for healthcare reformers in the United States. 

No specifics are offered – and certainly no call for political revolution in the United States. Fitz critiques U. S. healthcare in terms like “profit-based health care,” or the “sickness industry,” but without explicit reference to capitalism. He finds solutions in a “post-capitalist society” or through “the emergence and consolidation of a new consciousness,” but not through socialist change. 

Cuban Health Care benefits from the author’s first-hand observations and from his interviews with providers, officials, and students – particularly students at ELAM – and interviews conducted by others that he cites. Many of the personal experiences and opinions expressed in interviews convey revolutionary purpose, enthusiasm for change, and hope for a better world. Several former Cuban soldiers who fought apartheid in southern Arica offer reflections that, intentionally or not on the author’s part, lay out the horrors of war.   

Don Fitz’s book brings together information on Cuba’s Revolution and Cuba’s brand of healthcare; it communicates a vision of progressive social change. Clearly written and easily read, it deserves a wide audience. 

One notes, however, that information, opinion, and data contained in some chapters had appeared in earlier ones. Articles the author had written for periodicals found new life as chapters in his book and those articles may have contained repetitions that made their way into the book. Plus, some data in the book is not current, due perhaps to data in the older articles not having been updated for the book.  

This is a wide-ranging book, but significant aspects of Cuban healthcare escaped mention. For example, Cuban healthcare planners are pragmatic. Ready to abandon tradition or an initiative if it doesn’t work, they experiment – as illustrated by their moving from one kind of polyclinic to another, and ultimately to the family doctor-nurse program. And, as reported by Fitz, the prevailing mode of scientific medicine co-exists with community-based healing practices.    

Secondly, healthcare renovation in Cuba made ample provision for complicated and/or unusual illnesses – to be expected of any health system, revolutionary or not, aiming at comprehensive care. Cuba has maintained an expanded corps of clinical specialists and scientists and has supported a variety of specialized care institutions. 

The New England Journal of Medicine reported (December 8, 1983) that, “Cuba has engineered a national medical apparatus that is the envy of many developing nations. For some of these nations, it is not Boston, Massachusetts but Havana Cuba, that is the center of the medical world.” The report describes “National medical institutes [that] carry out highly specialized procedures, such as kidney transplantations and some heart operations … Children are sent to separate pediatric facilities, and almost all newborns (98.9 per cent) are delivered in maternity hospitals. Cuba has a wide range of hospitals offering other kinds of specialized care. [And] most of the drugs (83 percent) used in Cuba are manufactured by its own pharmaceutical industry.” 

For a blockaded, impoverished, and tiny nation over the course of a few years to have prepared and mobilized skilled personnel and to have arranged for supplies, equipment, and appropriate physical structures was an extraordinary achievement. 

Third, Cuban revolutionaries in power embarked upon a many-faceted bio-medical-pharmacological venture with research and production capabilities. Cuban-produced vaccines, drugs and other therapeutic and testing products have benefited Cubans themselves and peoples throughout the world.  Export sales of these products have provided much-needed foreign currency. 

In a recent report, analyst Charles Mckelvey states that, “In the period 1962 to 1973, fifty-three ‘units of science and technology’ were created, including research institutions in the natural sciences, medicine, technology, agricultural sciences, and social sciences. … On October 17, 1962, the “Victoria de Girón” Institute of Preclinical and Basic Sciences was inaugurated. Formed by a group of fifteen university professors of medicine and other teaching and laboratory personnel, its mission was to strengthen education in the medical sciences. However, it soon became evident that it was necessary to considerably expand the facilities for biomedical research.” 

Fourth, a defining characteristic of Cuban-style healthcare is competence.  Measuring competence in such an arena verges on the impossible, but there are indications. In her 1991 report on “the Road to a Family Medicine Nation”, Margaret Gilpin describes an elaborate process toward that end. Advice was sought from other countries and from international agencies.  Multiple planning commissions were involved. The introductory phase was closely watched.  Little was left to chance. 

It must be noted, lastly, that the book devotes little attention to struggle between social classes as contributing to a progressive mode of healthcare. The author emphasizes instead the creativity and initiative of individuals, as with his final chapter entitled, “How Che Guevara Taught Cuba to Confront COVID 19.”  Our idea is that Cuba’s brand of healthcare grew out of social stresses, and out of ideological ferment. The socialist roots of Cuban healthcare are not explored.

The book sporadically mentions adverse effects of the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba, which indeed is a manifestation of class conflict in the international sphere. The author missed the opportunity in his hands of systematically condemning the U.S. blockade as he was praising healthcare in Cuba. 

“We Charge Genocide”—Forerunner at UN of Black Lives Matter

By Tom Whitney, August 1, 2020

The “We Charge Genocide” petition to the United Nations in 1951 is remembered as one of several major Communist Party contributions to anti-racist struggle in the United States, others being the rescue of the “Scottsboro Boys” in the 1930s, support for the Alabama Sharecroppers Union in that era, and involvement in the Civil Rights struggle later on  

The police killing of George Floyd on May 25 provoked demonstrations worldwide. The United Nations Human Rights Council on June 17 debated a draft resolution introduced by the “African Group” of nations that condemned “structural racism endemic to the criminal justice system in the United States.”  The African nations were responding to a letter from the families of murder victims George Floyd, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, and Michael Brown; 600 human rights organizations had endorsed it..  

Other U.S. appeals for relief from racist violence had arrived at the United Nations. The National Negro Congress and the NAACP delivered petitions in 1946 and 1947, respectively. Three years after the United Nations ratified its Genocide Convention, the New York-based Civil Rights Congress in 1951 submitted a petition to the United Nations. The title was:  “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of the Government against the Negro People.”(1)  

To explore international ramifications of anti-racist struggle in the United States, we examine the substance and circumstances of “We Charge Genocide” and the recent appeal to the Human Rights Council.  

Prior to the Council’s meeting, many of its independent experts, special rapporteurs, and members of its working groups divided into groups to release open letters denouncing U. S. racism. The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination produced one of its own.

The Council designated the June 17 session as an “Urgent Debate,” for only the fifth time since 2006. Opening the meeting, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet declared, “Patience has run out … Black lives matter.” Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd, asked the Council through video to investigate anti-Black police violence in the United States. “You watched my brother die,” he is heard. “You in the United Nations are your brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in America.”

U.S. allies had their say and after closed-door negotiations, the final resolution – approved by consensus on June 19 – didn’t mention the United States; it spoke instead of “all nations,” “all regions,” and “around the world.” The draft resolution’s proposal to investigate anti-Black police violence in the United States disappeared and was replaced with plans for a report on systemic racism by police everywhere and for a yearlong study of police violence against peaceful protestors everywhere. 

                                                                                                                   Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement denouncing the Council’s consideration of the resolution as a “new low.” The United States was absent at the session, having departed the Council in 2018. The Council’s platitudinous final resolution conveying generalities will likely contribute almost nothing to combating racism in the United States.

By contrast, the appeal represented by “We Charge Genocide” (WCG) took on enduring power from a narrative as comprehensive as it was riveting, from coherent ideological underpinnings, and from its sponsors’ collective experience in anti-racist struggle. 

Lawyer William Patterson, head of the Civil Rights Congress, edited WCG. (2)  He had earlier led International Labor Defense, predecessor of the Congress. In that role he shepherded the campaign that, extending internationally, saved nine Black teenagers from execution in Alabama. These were the “Scottsboro Boys.”  

Patterson in 1951 took copies of the just-published WCG to the UN General Assembly, then meeting in Paris. Meanwhile Paul Robeson, actor, singer, and Pan-Africanist, was delivering WCG to the United Nations Secretariat in New York. Back in New York, Patterson had to surrender his passport to U.S. officials. Robeson had already lost his. 

A section of WCG labeled “Evidence” details lynchings, other killings, physical abuse, and police brutality occurring between 1945 and 1951. It takes up more than half of WCG’s 238 pages. In his introduction, Patterson refers to a “record of mass slayings on the basis of race.” He calls upon “the United Nations to act and to call the Government of the United States to account.” WCG cites international law. The violent episodes recorded there are arranged to fit with specific articles of the Genocide Convention.

WCG’s message and reception reflected turmoil stemming from U.S. – Soviet conflict, U.S. war with North Korea, a brand-new People’s Republic of China, and vicious anti-Communism in the United States. William Patterson was a leader of the Communist Party USA. The Civil Rights Congress was affiliated with the Party. 

The U.S. government saw to it that WCG never received a hearing at the United Nations. But elsewhere it circulated widely and exerted an impact, mostly through consciousness-raising. WCG was “extensively covered in the [foreign] press,” says one observer. African-American newspapers reported and commented on WCG after its release. 

There would have been readers in socialist nations, in Black liberation circles, and among intellectuals and activists in the various national independence movements. Its arrival coincided with the worldwide battle of ideas of the post-World War II years. (I discovered WCG in 1955 in the office of the “Society for Minority Rights” at my college.) 

WCG depicts racist violence in the 20th century as resting on the plunder of bodies and land intrinsic to both slavery and the plantation economy. It suggested the perils of colonialism and of imperialism. Ultimately, WCG made intellectual tools available to activists resisting apartheid in South Africa, U.S. war in Vietnam, dirty wars in Latin America, U.S. intervention in the Middle East, and more.

For scholar David Helps, “International solidarity was central to the worldview of the [Civil Rights Congress].” And “movements for peace and for decolonization clearly shaped the tone and language of WCG.” According to WCG, “White supremacy at home makes for colored massacres abroad.” WCG called for an international tribunal to judge U.S. crimes against humanity.  

Teaching that racial violence occurs in both the U. S. South and North, WCG observes that “as the Negro people spread to the north east, and west seeking to escape the southern hell, the violence, impelled in the first instance by economic motives, followed them, its cause also economic.” Indeed, “Once the classic method of lynching was the rope. Now it is the policeman’s bullet.” 

WCG connects racial violence with capitalism. The authors show that exploitation and abuse of Black workers – sharecroppers in the South and industrial employees in the North – enable their white oppressors to profit and to skimp on spending for social services, schooling, and health care. WCG points to bankers and public officials enriching themselves through chicanery and procedural manipulations. It lists corporate monopolies operating in the regions where killings take place

Further, the “implementation” of genocide is “sufficiently expressed … in depressed wages, in robbing millions of the vote and millions more of the land and in countless other political and economic facts, as to reveal definitively the existence of a conspiracy backed by reactionary interests.” More: “The lyncher and the atom bomber are linked …The tie binding both is economic profit and political control.” 

WCG anticipates unity between Blacks and those whites who also are oppressed. It argues that abysmal living conditions and even psychological damage represent a kind of violence. WCG presents data on health status, mortality, housing, and education demonstrating the oppression of Black people. This kind of violence impinging upon the daily lives of Blacks, the reader realizes, can endanger white people too. Patterson says as much in his Introduction: “We [Blacks] warn mankind that our fate is theirs.”

WCG moves beyond simplistic solutions. From slavery times on, denunciations of anti-Black violence have centered on moral outrage – as heard in the streets now and at the Human Rights Council.  And anti-racist white people have denigrated the misinformation of other white people, as if that fix might be enough. William Patterson and colleagues, however, draw attention to the economic, political, and policing realities that sustain racial oppression and need to be changed. 

WCG did contribute directly, serving as a resource for  African-Americans advocating for reparations. Influenced by WCG, the National Black United Front adopted “We Charge Genocide” as the title of its own petition to the United Nations in 1996. And a Chicago organization defending Black youth against police violence also adopted the name for the petition it too presented at the United Nations in 2014.  

WCG probably gave a boost to the U.S. civil rights movement. Foreign critics reading WCG could find documentation there for their own ideas about racist brutality in the United States.  “The work of the American propagandist is not at present a happy one,” bemoaned analyst Walter Lippmann in 1957. A book reviewer noted that, “this Cold War criticism … proved to be so effective in embarrassing the United States … that it deserved major credit for helping to facilitate the struggle for racial equality at home and the eventual passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

The U.S. government’s amicus brief in the watershed Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954 declared that, “racial discrimination … has an adverse effect upon our relations with other countries. Racial discrimination [has] furnished grist for the Communist propaganda mills.” 

Ultimately, WCG and the recent appeal to the United Nations are dissimilar enough as make detailed comparison irrelevant. They differ in surrounding circumstances, breadth of vision, and in the organized preparation of the one and the improvised character of the other.

The families’ appeal clearly resulted from outrage at terrible violence.  WCG shared that but also relied on analysis of institutionalized inequalities and of economic and social handicap. It derived from a culture of resistance that prioritized organization, reliance on allies, and learning from models of struggle. 

The world of We Charge Genocide is gone. The case presented by U.S. families to the United Nations might not have been so easily dismissed, if the Soviet Bloc still existed. Or perhaps the U.S. Secretary of State wouldn’t have so glibly discounted world opinion. But all is not lost. Anticipating the police killing of George Floyd, WCG observes that, “the killing of Negroes has become the police policy in the United States and that police policy is the most practical expression of government policy.” 

That statement begs a question: what are a government’s purposes as it decides what its police should do? WCG doesn’t comment, although Patterson could have done so, having studied in the Soviet Union in 1928-1929. Citing Marx, Lenin (State and Revolution) opines that, “the state is an organ of class domination, an organ of oppression of one class by another.” (Italics in the original.) 


  1. “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People,” William L. Patterson, Ed., 2nd edition, (International Publishers, New York, 1970). pp 238, $10,                                                                                                                                                         
  1. William L. Patterson, “Man Who Cried Genocide: An Autobiography,” 2nd edition, (International Publishers, New York, 1991) pp 234, $12 ,