Juneteenth Is About Freedom, by Dale Kretz

From Jacobin

Today, as we celebrate Juneteenth, we should remember not only the struggle against chattel slavery but the struggle for radical freedom during Reconstruction — snuffed out by the reactionary forces of property and white supremacy.

It’s a funny thing how folks always want to know about the War,” mused Felix Haywood about that central fixation of American memory. Haywood had been born in slavery some fifteen years before the Civil War near San Antonio, Texas. “The war weren’t so great as folks suppose,” he told his interviewer, a member of the Federal Writer’s Project collecting testimony from surviving ex-slaves in the late 1930s. “Sometimes you didn’t knowed it was goin’ on. It was the endin’ of it that made the difference.”

Juneteenth marks the day — June 19, 1865 — that the enslaved people of East Texas at long last received word of their freedom as well as the freedom of a quarter million others in the state. Two months had passed since the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s forces at Appomattox and two and a half years since President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves still held in Confederate-controlled areas “forever free” and pledging the federal government to the recognition and maintenance of their freedom. 

Juneteenth has been widely celebrated every year since US general Gordon Granger first made the announcement to a crowd of black and white onlookers in Galveston in June 1865. It remains one of the most powerful currents of emancipationist memory in the United States — a counterdemonstration to the noxious propaganda of the Lost Cause. 

By their very nature, commemorations tend to simplify events, to strip away the freighted complexities of the past in search of one more usable, if not celebratory. Juneteenth deserves celebration. But the circumstances of the original Juneteenth also deserve our fullest appreciation, for in that confounding history of emancipation in Texas we might glimpse prophetic outlines of the very meaning of freedom in the post-slave — but far from post-racial — United States. 

“Hallelujah Broke Out”

Felix Haywood’s account of isolated south-central Texas reveals less about the Civil War itself than the war that was American slavery. He and others on the ranch found that life “went on jus’ like it always had before the war.” Work, worship, whippings — all meted out as usual. 

But the flurry of wartime activity in the trans-Mississippi East infiltrated Texas in other, subtler ways. From time to time, Haywood recalled, “someone would come ’long and try to get us to run up North and be free. We used to laugh at that,” he chuckled, for “there wasn’t no reason to run up North. All we had to do was to walk, but walk South, and we’d be free as soon as we crossed the Rio Grande. In Mexico you could be free” no matter your color. Though Haywood and his family never fled southward, they knew of hundreds who did.

Texas served as a very different sort of beacon. From the 1860 census to June 19, 1865, the enslaved population of Texas nearly doubled. During the war, more than 150,000 enslaved people had been forcibly relocated to the relative safety of Texas, the frontier of the slaveholding Confederacy. Torn from nearby Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, among other states, those enslaved men and women were the rearguard of the massive forced migration enacted in the six decades before the Civil War, a commercial riptide that pulled over a million enslaved men, women, and children toward the cotton kingdom of the lower Mississippi Valley. 

Felix Haywood, age 92, c. 1937. (Library of Congress)

As the war unfolded across the South, those fugitive slaveholders who stole themselves and their human chattel westward to Texas merely delayed what was becoming the inevitable, as the concerted actions of enslaved peoples and the United States Army weakened slavery at every turn. Historians estimate that half a million enslaved people absconded from their plantation labor camps during the war; those who remained engaged in what W. E. B. Du Bois famously termed the “general strike.” 

Having heard Haywood’s rather unexciting account of the war in remote San Antonio, his interviewer felt pressed to inquire how the former slave knew “the end of the war had come.”

“How did we know it?” the freedman asked incredulously, “Hallelujah broke out. . . . Soldiers, all of a sudden, was everywhere — comin’ in bunches, crossin’ and walkin’ and ridin’. Everyone was a-singin’. We was all walkin’ on golden clouds.” Haywood recited one of the anthems heard that day:

Union forever,
Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Although I may be poor,
I’ll never be a slave —
Shoutin’ the battle cry of freedom.

Up to that point in his interview, Haywood’s account of the Civil War was distant, even dismissive. But the announcement of freedom — of Juneteenth — forever punctuated his memory. “Everybody went wild,” he suddenly exclaimed. “We all felt like heroes and nobody had made us that way but ourselves. We was free. Just like that.” Right away, the erstwhile slaves of Texas “started on the move. They seemed to want to get closer to freedom, so they’d know what it was — like it was a place or a city.” 

The landing of US forces at the port of Galveston in June 1865 underscored what the formerly enslaved already knew — and what historians are only beginning to fully appreciate: freedom relied not simply on declarations, laws, and amendments in distant Washington, but on the force of arms. The Juneteenth announcement required enforcement by the 1,800 federal soldiers assigned to the state to make freedom meaningful for the freedpeople of Texas.

The Meaning of Freedom

Though black people had long nurtured their own understandings of what freedom might entail, in June 1865 the very legality and defensibility of their newfound status was anything but certain. Scarcely two weeks had passed since the surrender of Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith’s division in Galveston, though the fighting did not so much disappear as devolve into rampant guerilla warfare and anti-black terrorism. 

Lincoln had fallen to an assassin’s bullet two months prior to the Juneteenth announcement, succeeded by the embodiment of racist and reactionary Unionism, Andrew Johnson. The Thirteenth Amendment, which formally abolished involuntary servitude, had passed both houses of Congress in January but was still in the process of state ratification. Newspapers in Texas were predicting that slavery would survive in the state at least another ten years thanks to northern industrialists’ rapacious desire for cotton.

Entering the fray, the official announcement on June 19 might not have settled the matter of emancipation, but it did contain the outlines of a new order. General Granger’s declaration informed “the people of Texas that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.”

General order No. 3 of June 19, 1865, issued by General Gordon Granger to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, in the Department of Texas.

But as the army of liberation turned into an army of occupation — and one imperfectly dedicated to protecting the rights and lives of black Southerners — commanders like Granger stressed that freedom came with many strings attached. “The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” In other words: work for your old masters, and don’t gather together, especially at places, to borrow Haywood’s phrase, “closer to freedom.” 

Making good on the implied threat of the June 19 proclamation, the Galveston mayor, with the tacit approval of the provost marshal, rounded up black refugees and runaways and returned them to their owners. Others were dragooned into working for the army. 

“With the proclamation of freedom came a practical lesson in its duties,” the Galveston Daily News reported on June 22. “On Monday morning, a guard of Federal soldiers scoured the streets,” rounding up every “loose” freedman “they could lay their hands on, to go to the country and cut wood, man steamboats, or assist in such labor as was necessary for the army. A panic soon seized the new class thus conscripted,” the reporter jeered, “but the quick feet of the white soldiers and the persuasive and pointed argument of the bayonet brought them to a sense of their obligation to support the government which had given them their freedom.”

The new order was to be based on wage labor. But because of the severe cash shortage throughout the post–Civil War South, many planters were unable to pay wages; sharecropping thus emerged as a compromise between wage slavery and actual slavery. Black farmers would rent their land from white planters and pay for it using a portion of their crop come harvest time, usually a quarter to a half. 

Employers were free to void the contracts for virtually any “offense,” seizing thereafter the entire harvest and evicting the black sharecropping family from their land, exposing them to vagrancy laws and the dragnet of the convict lease system, what has aptly been called “slavery by another name.” Such was the vaunted ideal of contract freedom. Sharecropping emerged as a compromise between wage slavery and actual slavery.

It took a while for news of emancipation to reach black Texans in the most remote parts of the state — and even longer for it to register with their enslavers. Susan Merritt, enslaved in northeast Texas, reckoned it must have been September when she heard the news. As Merritt recalled in her own Depression-era interview, one day while she and others were picking cotton a stranger rode up to the house — “a government man,” with a “big book and a bunch of papers” — and demanded to know why the planter hadn’t surrendered ownership of his workers. It was from this man — likely an official of the Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal agency designed to oversee the transition to freedom and market relations — that Merritt first learned she was free.

Yet she and others were still compelled to work for their old enslaver for “several months after that.” Oft-enacted threats of gunning down deserters doubtless kept many on the plantation. The relative impotency of the US Army and Freedmen’s Bureau emboldened planters. Freedpeople found themselves as precarious tenants, locked into labor contracts that looked more like debt peonage than the freedom they had long envisioned. 

As the Freedmen’s Bureau began to establish itself in Texas that fall, reports circulated that its officials were planning to consult with local planters trained in the “management” of black workers — a far cry from the agency’s founding mission. The original charter had included provisions to distribute hundreds of thousands of acres of land that had been abandoned by or confiscated from rebel planters over the course of the war. 

By the spring of 1865, the Freedmen’s Bureau controlled roughly 900,000 acres of “government land,” enough for nearly twenty-three thousand black homesteads. General William Tecumseh Sherman, moreover, had issued Field Order No. 15 back in January, arranging for the parceling out of some 485,000 acres to freedpeople in the South Carolina Sea Islands and Lowcountry in 40-acre plots, land on which the general had ordered “no white person whatever . . . will be permitted to reside.”

But the counterrevolution came in October 1865. President Johnson unceremoniously revoked Sherman’s order and commanded the head of the Freedmen’s Bureau to denationalize the government’s lands — returning it to the rebel planters Johnson had recently pardoned en masse. 

In the emancipated South, then, black dispossession went fist in glove with the coerced imposition of “free” labor. At the same time, Northern capitalists and federal officials conspired to prevent widespread black landownership — the very thing freedpeople almost universally regarded as the precondition for freedom in a post-slave society. One sixty-year-old freedman of the Mississippi Valley commented to a Northern journalist shortly after the war, “What’s de use of being free if you don’t own land enough to be buried in?”

From Reconstruction to Jim Crow

Black-led protests during the final months of 1865 were widespread, though on small scales and usually in response to specific inciting confrontations. One ex–slaveholding planter complained to the Waco Register that although several of his fellow planters deigned to sign contracts with their new black employees, he estimated that three-fourths of the freedpeople in his area “look forward to Christmas as the dawn of the millennium, when meat and bread will come as a matter of course.” 

Many black families indeed refused to sign the loathsome contracts for the coming season, waiting on the promise of land redistribution. Among white Southerners, especially of the planter class, fevered rumors spread of an impending Haitian-style revolution. The pervasive fear in the winter of 1865–66 was soon given a label: the Christmas Insurrection Scare. But in the end, it proved to be just that. Promises broken, freedpeople reluctantly entered into labor contracts.

Freedmen Voting in New Orleans (1867). (New York Public Library)

The freedpeople of Texas had plenty of reason to be fearful, however, as some thirty-eight thousand Confederate parolees returned with a vengeance. In addition to raiding the treasury in Austin, the rebels of the failed Confederate state harassed, brutalized, and killed freedpeople at will. As Du Bois noted in Black Reconstruction, the pervasive anti-government, anti-black terrorism so widespread across the South was perhaps the worst in Texas. Simply acting free was grounds for white retaliation. The occupying US Army, meanwhile, lacked either the capacity or will to make black freedom meaningful. In any event, the return to peacetime in 1871 and the swift demobilization of the army spelled disaster for the formerly enslaved.

At the twilight of slavery, then, a new system of dependency and precarity greeted freedpeople in Texas and across the emancipated South — vastly different from the freedom dreams of the formerly enslaved. For their part, the enslavers-turned-employers routinely griped about perceived obstinacy of their black workers — that is, their resistance to being rendered docile vectors of their employers’ will. They complained that “labor is incompatible with their ideas of freedom.” Threats and orders from on high appeared to register little with them. One planter, in a letter to the Dallas Daily Herald, sneered that “they do not believe anything that we tell them or which we may read from papers that is at variance with their ideas of freedom.” It was partly a matter of trust, but even more so a matter of political struggle and conviction that kept them at odds with their exploiters. At the twilight of slavery, a new system of dependency and precarity greeted freedpeople in Texas and across the emancipated South — vastly different from the freedom dreams of the formerly enslaved.

After the fall of Reconstruction, that great experiment in biracial democracy, black workers channeled their organizing efforts into various associations such as the Colored Farmers’ Alliance, formed in Houston County, Texas, in 1886. Then came the ascent of the Populist Party in the early 1890s, which depended — especially in the former slaveholding states — on the mobilization of black voters. Texas in particular witnessed a surge of black support for the Populist Party and soon became a Populist stronghold. 

The Populist Party was the only meaningfully biracial political party that existed. It was also the only party that spoke to the needs of hundreds of thousands of black sharecroppers in the benighted South. 

In the words of C. Vann Woodward, Populism offered to working-class blacks and whites “an equalitarianism of want and poverty, the kinship of common grievance and a common oppressor.” Under unprecedented threat, the two established parties conspired to race-bait and red-bait the Populist Party to death. They succeeded. By the mid-1890s the Democratic Party had cynically adopted a few planks of the Populist platform, coopted some of its leaders, and cast black voters into the electoral oblivion of the increasingly disenfranchised South.

What Juneteenth Means Today

“We knowed freedom was on us,” Felix Haywood recalled in the late 1930s, “but we didn’t know what was to come with it. We thought we was goin’ to get rich like the white folks. We thought we was goin’ to be richer than the white folks, ’cause we was stronger and knowed how to work. . . . But it didn’t turn out that way. We soon found out that freedom could make folks proud but it didn’t make ’em rich.”

Juneteenth is worth celebrating for its promised end to human bondage, but its history also reminds us of the “counterrevolution of property” waged against the revolution that was the American Civil War — a conflict that ultimately freed four million black people once legally held as property, a conflict wherein more than 140,000 formerly enslaved men enlisted and countless other black men and women lent their fullest devotion.

Emancipation Day celebration in Richmond, Virginia, c. 1905. (VCU Libraries)

It’s common to say nowadays that the Civil War is unfinished. We can, after all, readily point to the ubiquitous battles over so-called Civil War monuments (better understood as monuments to Jim Crow that merely adopt the iconography of the war). But the most enduring legacy of the Civil War is not symbolic or cultural but substantive and economic. Not only did sharecropping prevail into the 1960s, but the particular formulation of freedom exacted upon black people in the emancipated South can be said to weigh like a nightmare on the living, to borrow Marx’s phrase.

Over the past year of the pandemic, political leaders on both sides of the aisle spoke and acted like modern-day Gordon Grangers, brandishing the freedom to work and the threat that we “will not be supported in idleness.” The meager stimulus checks, barely a few weeks’ worth of subsistence for most families, made good on this threat. 

So did conservatives’ shameless assaults on unemployment benefits, which they roundly denounced as disincentives to work. Like the ex-slaveholding planters of old, they betrayed a bone-deep belief in the natural laziness of the working class and an unstinting opposition to a different vision of freedom. To that end, too, they devoted themselves to austerity and anti-distributive economics, to incapacitating the welfare state while ramping up the punitive one — and setting it against black-led protests for something closer to approximating the promise of “absolute equality.” 

“It was the endin’ of it that made the difference,” Felix Haywood said of the war. This Juneteenth, let’s remember how slavery ended, and how freedom remained — and remains — elusive. And that nobody can make us free but ourselves.

Juneteenth and the Second American Revolution, by Trévon Austin and Tom Mackaman


Last Thursday, US President Joe Biden signed legislation establishing June 19, “Juneteenth,” as a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. The law, passed with overwhelming support from both capitalist parties, went into effect immediately. The holiday was first officially marked on Friday, since June 19 itself came on a weekend.

The final emancipation of slaves, the culmination of the Civil War—what historians have aptly called the Second American Revolution—cost the lives of more than 350,000 Union soldiers. The destruction of the slave oligarchy in the US South was an event of immensely progressive significance, not just for American, but for world history.

Emancipation Day celebration in Richmond, Virginia, ca. 1905.(Image Credit: Wikipedia/Public Domain)

Amidst the endless media commentary on the official marking of the holiday, however, there is no serious historical examination, either of the emancipation of the slaves in 1865 or its revolutionary implications for the present.

Juneteenth celebrates the date in 1865 when enslaved black people in Texas learned that they had been freed. This came over two months after the surrender of Confederate forces by Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in far away Virginia and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln five days later by the racist southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth in Washington D.C. In a legal sense, the slaves’ freedom had come earlier still, through the Emancipation Proclamation, which liberated slaves in rebel-controlled territory and went into effect on January 1, 1863. The Thirteenth Amendment, which was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified by the states in December, abolished slavery everywhere in the American union.

The masters attempted to keep slaves in the dark about all of this. But on the morning of June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston, Texas to take command of more than 2,000 union troops, with the aim of enforcing the emancipation of Texas’ enslaved population and ensuring a peaceful transition of power from the slavocracy to the federal government. With his announcement of General Order No. 3, Granger dissolved slavery in the last Confederate state where it remained effective.

The order read:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

With these matter-of-fact words the Union general crystallized the revolutionary content of the Civil War—the destruction of an entire social order and the freeing of the slaves—but also the stark reality of the new order. Four million workers were no longer the property of others, yes, but they had no property of their own either. They were now free to sell their labor power, perhaps to their former masters.

Notwithstanding its limitations, the former slaves in Galveston celebrated Granger’s announcement. The end of slavery at the point of Union bayonets was an enormous advance, and the slaves knew it. These “freedmen,” as they were called, did not sneer at the Civil War or Lincoln as the contemporary peddlers of racialist politics do. On June 19, 1866, one year after the announcement, the freedmen organized the first of what became the annual celebration of “Jubilee Day,” now commonly known as Juneteenth. Later, the holiday moved out of rural east Texas with the sons and daughters of the slaves as they went from country to city, and from sharecropping to wage labor.

None of these issues are even broached in the commentary on the significance of Juneteenth. In a political climate obsessed with racial identity, the occasion of Juneteenth has been usurped to advance racialist interpretations of the holiday.

New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie summed up the conceptions that are being promoted around Juneteenth in a column published one year ago, “Why Juneteenth matters.” According to Bouie, “It was black Americans who delivered on Lincoln’s promise of ‘a new birth of freedom.’” He writes, “Neither Abraham Lincoln nor the Republican Party freed the slaves… Who freed the slaves? The slaves freed the slaves.” Bouie’s article was aimed to buttress Nikole Hannah-Jones’ claim, made in her lead essay of the discredited 1619 Project, that black Americans “fought alone” in their struggle for emancipation and civil rights.

A more recent comment on the same theme came on Friday in the Atlantic, in an article by Daina Ramey Berry, chair of the history department at the University of Texas at Austin, titled “The truth about Black freedom.” Responding to the question, “What is the meaning of Juneteenth?” Berry answers by diminishing the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. She argues that “self-liberated” black people “continuously claimed their freedom, in every historical moment, always preceding and precipitating movements by governments, institutions, and corporations.”

The claim that the slaves “freed themselves” makes the history of the Civil War incomprehensible. If slaves were able to simply free themselves, why did they not do so in, say, 1750, rather than 1863–1865? Why was the Civil War necessary at all? Do Berry and Bouie believe the old “Lost Cause” myth that the Civil War was a mistaken struggle waged between “brothers,” to which slavery was only tangentially related? And, if the slaves freed themselves, why was it necessary for General Granger to enter Galveston with an army, some two months after Appomattox, to “deliver the news,” as Bouie absurdly puts it?

To claim that slaves freed themselves diminishes the horrors of the system of chattel slavery itself, which was upheld with a staggering level of violence. The abolition of this system required a civil war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands, until, as Lincoln put it in his Second Inaugural Address, “every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”

In reality, the defeat of the wealthiest and most powerful slaveholding class on the planet was inconceivable without the victory of Lincoln at the head of a political party that called for the destruction of human bondage. Lincoln’s victory, and the threat it posed to slavery, was indeed the reason why the southern states seceded, as was spelled out in their secession resolutions and the Confederate constitution. Even more crucially, the victory of the Union would have been inconceivable without mass support in the North, the endurance of the Union army, the resistance of slaves in the South, and even the opposition of slaveless whites to secession, as historian Victoria Bynum and others have shown. And it was Lincoln’s Proclamation, as Marx explained at the time, that gave the conflict a definite social revolutionary character.

Like those alive during the Civil War, we live in a time of irreconcilable conflict. A similar number of American workers died from COVID-19 in one year as Union and Confederate soldiers died over four years of bloody conflict. Meanwhile, the stock markets continue to break records and the rich have seen their wealth skyrocket.

Terrified of the explosion it is conjuring, the American ruling class fears the past nearly as much as the present. The essential purpose of the current campaign for the re-writing of American history is to replace the dynamics of class and class conflict—the slave system was, in the end, a system of labor exploitation—with a racial interpretation that does not permit “whites” to have been anything other than oppressors of “blacks.” In this “new narrative,” the role of Lincoln, along with white Union soldiers, must be diminished or written out.

The emancipation of the slaves in the Civil War, like the American Revolution of 1776, deserves to be celebrated. But class conscious workers in the United States, and the world over, must not allow the revolutionary significance of the emancipation of four million slaves to be usurped for the defense of capitalism.

Working-class Black and brown trans ballroom scene birthed contemporary gay culture, by Maicol David Lynch

In honor of Pride Month, it’s important to highlight the working-class roots of the LGBTQ liberation movement in the United States. While a popular show like RuPaul’s Drag Race has made it to mainstream television, appearing on VH1 and Paramount+ and streaming endlessly on Netflix, we cannot forget where LGBTQ culture came from. Much of what is now seen as everyday gay pop culture and lingo has roots in the Black and brown transgender-dominated ballroom scene of New York City.

A lot of what passes as mainstream (middle class) white LGBTQ culture in gay bars across the United States today simply wouldn’t exist without the pioneering experience of the working-class ballroom scene led by trans women of color.

Famed performer Venus Xtravaganza in a scene from the 1990 documentary, ‘Paris is Burning.’ | UCLA Film and Television Archive

The LGBTQ ballroom scene in New York City has its roots in the 1960s and ’70s. According to urban legend, famed drag performer Paris Dupree brought a copy of Vogue magazine to a Harlem ballroom scene, turned through its pages, and began imitating the poses that white celebrities made in the glossy photos. And thus, a new dance form was born: voguing.

Soon enough, “houses,” or chosen families of Black and brown LGBTQ youth across Harlem, Washington Heights, and the Bronx, formed as their biological families rejected them for living their truth. Homeless transgender women and gay/bisexual men forced to make a living by turning to sex work were welcomed into these houses and taught to “walk” and vogue in the ballroom scene as a form of entertainment and self-expression.

As the number of ballroom houses grew, so did the “categories” that entertainers walked and danced in. For example, the category known as “Butch Queen Vogue Femme” was (mostly) men voguing in a feminine manner against other dancers in that same category. The same would go for the category known as “Face,” where individuals of all gender identities compete to show how confident they are with their beauty and structure by walking down the runway selling it to judges.

Twilight Escada

One particular member of the ballroom scene known for his performance in the “butch queen vogue femme” category and star of the first season of HBO Max’s hit show Legendary, Justin “Twilight” Escada, sat down with People’s World to discuss a bit of ballroom history and their role in the contemporary ballroom scene.

“I was 24-years-old when I walked my first ball as a member of the House of Escada,” Twilight says. “I come from humble beginnings. I was raised in Nashua, New Hampshire, by a single working-class mother and have been attending balls in New York City since I was a teenager… I had watched America’s Best Dance Crew on MTV as a teenager and that’s where my desire to vogue was born. I was deeply inspired by Leiomy Maldonado and Prince Mugler on this particular television show.”

Leiomy Maldonado, a well-known icon in the ballroom scene, starred alongside her now co-star, Dashaun Wesley, on America’s Best Dance Crew in 2010 as members of Vogue Evolution, a Black and Latinx dance team which exposed ballroom to mainstream culture for the first time in nearly 20 years. (The first being Madonna’s 1990 release of her hit single, Vogue, and Jennie Livingston’s documentary Paris is Burning.)

Twilight taught themself to vogue after watching America’s Best Dance Crew and the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. Twilight eventually found themself rooming with London Escada, the regional New England “mother” of the House of Escada, in Boston. Escada asked Twilight to officially join the house, which was originally called the House of Evangelista (coincidently, the same name used for the house of the protagonists on the FX and Netflix series Pose) founded in 1996. Ballroom houses are often named after fashion icons or designer name brands. For example, Linda Evangelista was a model for the brand Escada, hence the connection between the two names of the house to which London and Twilight belong.

The House of Escada on ‘Legendary.’ Twilight Escada is at right. | HBO Max

Twilight helped teach vogue classes together with London Escada at Emerson College in Massachusetts and made the cover of the Boston Globe, a feat which gained them the attention of a talent scout looking for dancers for the HBO Max ballroom dance competition show Legendary, which was filmed during the first three months of 2020 just before the pandemic. The House of Escada made it to the top three and was recognized by the judges for being the most family-like house in terms of their respect, love, and relationship to one another.

“I feel honored to have been on the show and to have been a part of a culture and movement founded by Black and brown transgender women. I am a guest in the ballroom community for being a white kid from New England, but seeing all of the love and support for me and my house has really been a humbling moment that has reassured me of my career and proven to me that I’m a part of something and accepted,” Twilight told the World.

When asked about what they would say to young LGBTQ folks who feel oppressed, shy, silenced, or embarrassed about who they are, especially if they are inspired or interested in ballroom culture, Twilight replied: “There is support waiting for you. Find your way to it. Live your truth. Be 100% yourself. It will take time, but you are not alone, and we find strength together in this struggle.”

This Pride Month, we must reflect on where the LGBTQ movement came from and how it has evolved over time. While white-dominated gay bars often sport their blonde-wigged drag queens and Madonna songs, we must remember that contemporary mainstream LGBTQ culture wouldn’t exist as it is without those of the ballroom community who came first and opened the door. We must honor their memory and continue their legacy.

As Twilight Escada put it, “Ballroom has a space for everybody, even categories for cis-gender women…. It’s a space where we can be who we are and while the struggles against racism and homophobia and transphobia are separate, they come together in ballroom.”

Correction: In the first published version of this article, there were a few misspellings of names. They have now been corrected. People’s World apologizes for the error.

Source: https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/working-class-black-and-brown-trans-ballroom-scene-birthed-contemporary-gay-culture/

Opinion: Corporations celebrating Pride gave thousands to Maine anti-LGBTQ candidates, by Mike Tipping at MaineBeacon

“We are proud to recognize and celebrate Pride Month,” Comcast declared on June 1, “as we work to create a world of open possibilities for all.”

The largest cable TV and internet service company in the United States also announced the launch of a virtual reality “Pride World,” with “events, Pride floats, Pride flags, and even a Pronoun Guide for employees.”

Back in actual reality, however, Comcast is funding the campaigns of anti-LGBT politicians across the country, to the tune of more than a million dollars over the last two years.

In Maine, the company contributed to the 2018 re-election of Rep. Beth O’Connor, a Republican from Berwick who is the lead sponsor of a bill targeting transgender student athletes in Maine.

Last session, O’Connor voted against protections based on gender identity in Maine’s Human Rights Act and in favor of allowing “conversion therapy” to be practiced on young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Comcast’s virtual reality “Pride World.”

As Popular Information revealed in a recent analysis, Comcast is far from the only company to change their social media logo to a rainbow while funding the extreme opponents of everything Pride represents. They noted that 25 large U.S. corporations have spent more than $10 million in support of members of Congress with a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign, and even more supporting state-level opponents of LGBTQ rights.

Even in Maine, where most legislative candidates run without corporate contributions through the Clean Elections system, a quick look at campaign finance reports shows more than a dozen companies who are funding exactly the kind of hatred they claim on social media to be standing against.

Portland-based law firm Verill (formerly Verill Dana), for one example, tweeted out a rainbow graphic last Pride pledging their commitment to “building a more diverse and inclusive firm” while “fostering mutual respect within our communities and society at large.” During the past two election cycles they’ve given at least $3,150 to Maine politicians who have sponsored anti-trans bills, backed conversion therapy and opposed LGBTQ rights.

Other corporations that have both supported Pride celebrations and given to anti-LGBTQ politicians in Maine include Anthem, Astra Zeneca, Bangor Savings Bank, Bayer, Spectrum, Cigna, Maine Credit Union League, Merck, Monsanto, Pfizer, Unum and Verizon.

Now, I’m sure these companies aren’t giving to these legislators simply because of their abhorrent pro-discrimination positions. It probably just so happens that the same extreme Republicans who sponsor anti-transgender bills also back economic and regulatory policies that benefit banks, pharmaceutical giants and insurance firms.

But it’s clear where Pride figures in their corporate priorities.

One might argue that these companies are better than those that fund anti-LGBTQ politicians while not even bothering to make a rainbow-hued nod toward equality every June, but I disagree. These corporations have proven, through their tweets and graphics and virtual reality parades, that somewhere in their corporate structure they know the harm they’re causing, and yet they do it anyway.

Source: https://mainebeacon.com/opinion-corporations-celebrating-pride-gave-thousands-to-maine-anti-lgbtq-candidates/

Leslie Feinberg interviews Sylvia Rivera, from Worker’s World

‘I’m glad I was in the Stonewall riot’

Workers World Managing Editor Leslie Feinberg interviewed Sylvia Rivera. Rivera, a Puerto Rican drag queen, was a combatant at the Stonewall Rebellion in June 1969 that ignited the young gay liberation movement.

Sylvia Rivera and African American drag queen Marsha P. Johnson co-founded STAR: Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries in New York City in 1970. In this interview, which is included in Feinberg’s upcoming non-fiction book “Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue” (Beacon, Oct.1998), Rivera describes memories of life on the streets of New York as a drag queen, the uprising in Greenwich Village, and the era that followed:

I left home at age 10 in 1961. I hustled on 42nd Street. The early 60s was not a good time for drag queens, effeminate boys or boys that wore makeup like we did. Back then we were beat up by the police, by everybody. I didn’t really come out as a drag queen until the late 60s.

When drag queens were arrested, what degradation there was. I remember the first time I got arrested, I wasn’t even in full drag. I was walking down the street and the cops just snatched me. We always felt that the police were the real enemy. We expected nothing better than to be treated like we were animals-and we were.

We were stuck in a bullpen like a bunch of freaks. We were disrespected. A lot of us were beaten up and raped. When I ended up going to jail, to do 90 days, they tried to rape me. I very nicely bit the shit out of a man.

I’ve been through it all. In 1969, the night of the Stonewall riot, was a very hot, muggy night. We were in the Stonewall [bar] and the lights came on. We all stopped dancing. The police came in. They had gotten their payoff earlier in the week. But Inspector Pine came in-him and his morals squad-to spend more of the government’s money.

We were led out of the bar and they cattled us all up against the police vans. The cops pushed us up against the grates and the fences. People started throwing pennies, nickels, and quarters at the cops. And then the bottles started. And then we finally had the morals squad barricaded in the Stonewall building, because they were actually afraid of us at that time. They didn’t know we were going to react that way. We were not taking any more of this shit. We had done so much for other movements. It was time.

It was street gay people from the Village out front-homeless people who lived in the park in Sheridan Square outside the bar-and then drag queens behind them and everybody behind us.

The Stonewall Inn telephone lines were cut and they were left in the dark.One Village Voice reporter was in the bar at that time. And according to the archives of the Village Voice, he was handed a gun from Inspector Pine and told, “We got to fight our way out of there.”

This was after one Molotov cocktail was thrown and we were ramming the door of the Stonewall bar with an uprooted parking meter. So they were ready to come out shooting that night.

Finally the Tactical Police Force showed up after 45 minutes. A lot of people forget that for 45 minutes we had them trapped in there. All of us were working for so many movements at that time. Everyone was involved with the women’s movement, the peace movement …

Buy Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue here.

A Socialist, Feminist, and Transgender Analysis of “Sex Work”, from AF3IRM

CW: Rape

Dear Sister Comrades at Red Canary Song and the NYC DSA Socialist Feminist Working Group,

My name is Esperanza and I am a socialist, a feminist, a transgender Latina woman, and a survivor of the sex trade. I am writing to you as comrades in the struggle for socialism and as sisters who have presumably shared the experience of being prostitutes. I prefer the term “prostitute” to “sex worker” because the latter is too vague to describe my experiences. “Sex worker” can include porn actors, cam girls, sugar babies, strippers, prostitutes, and others. I wasn’t a porn actor and I can’t relate to that experience. I was however a prostitute: my first “date” was by walking down the street and being picked up by an older man in a car after getting out of the club one late night. Being young and in the car with an older man, I didn’t know how to protect my boundaries. I gave him a blowjob with no condom, spit out his disgustingly-flavored cum, and got $80 in return.

In the transgender community prostitution is glamorized. In a world where trans women of color are murdered by men of our own race and class with impunity, where men will fuck us in private but act like they never knew us in public, where we are rejected from jobs, housing, and cut-off from our families and communities, I understand why prostitution made us feel powerful. In many ways, being a prostitute is a complete rejection of all we’ve been through: fuck the man that won’t hold my hand in public, I’ll charge him instead. Fuck my family for rejecting me, fuck that job for firing me, I don’t need them anymore. The whole world can reject me and it doesn’t matter because I could make it on my own. Not to mention, for those of us not independently wealthy, usually our only option for transition related medical care is through prostitution — whether we like it or not.

But the reality of being a transgender prostitute was not so simple. What started out as empowering in my mind quickly became a trap I couldn’t escape. The longer in the trade, the harder it is to leave. I’ve been raped more times than I can count. I remember some of the more brutal ones. One time I went home with a client and accepted a drink from him. Drinks always made it easier for me. I felt more confident and they allowed me to ignore the isolation and the reality of what I was doing. It allowed me to ignore the fetishization that clients do to transgender prostitutes which always caused me severe dysphoria and depression (calling me a feminine boy, shemale, dissecting which parts of me were masculine or feminine, telling me how much I’m really worth, judging my passibility, telling me never to fully transition because I’d loose what makes me special, pressuring me to stop hormones so I could achieve an erection and ejaculate, etc.). This particular client drugged my drink and I woke up naked on my stomach to him on top of me jerking off. I wanted to say no but I couldn’t because my limbs were so heavy and I was so tired. I fell back out of consciousness and woke up the next morning to him trying to negotiate a lower rate with me. I called him the next day and pleaded with him to tell me if he penetrated me so that I would know if I was at risk for HIV. I promised I wouldn’t turn him in.

I’ll save you the pain of recounting all my stories, but I will tell you it got much worse from there. Aside from the common experience of clients pulling off condoms to put it back in me when they thought I wasn’t paying attention, the last time I was raped was the most brutal. After a few years of the sex trade, I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt trapped in the industry and it made me feel so alone and so sad. I wanted a “normal” life. I didn’t want to give random men access to my body anymore. I didn’t want to pretend every day to be okay with clients who played out their worst fantasies on me: sometimes I reminded them of their underage sisters, others of their mom, to others I was something they had to pay for because they could never be with a girl like me in public. Dealing with men who had to be drugged up just to fuck me, because in their minds I was taboo. I didn’t know the term “right to exit” at the time, but looking back I know that’s what I longed for. The right to just say no, pack up, and leave for something better. But I couldn’t because, like many transgender prostitutes, I was homeless and living hotel-to-hotel, forced to see clients to afford my room each night. It was a lonely and heavy existence.

I became utterly suicidal and desperate. I ended up taking refuge in a client, telling him how sad I was. He told me he’d make me feel better and gave me meth. I never did that before, but I was desperate to stop the pain. A few days later and I found myself tied up on the bed, drugged from doing too much meth, not having eaten for days, with a white man penetrating and suffocating me when I was begging him to stop. He ultimately did stop when he finished, stole my money and left me on the bed with a bag of meth in my own fluids from the douche he forced me to do after raping me.

I couldn’t work anymore; my body shut off. I couldn’t stop though, because I had to keep paying for my room. On top of that my mom got misdiagnosed with cancer. I had to keep working to pay her medical bills, her vitamins, her uber drives to the doctor. When I tell you it killed my soul, that is an understatement. The last client I ever saw I felt a heaviness through my body as I kneeled down in front of him. I felt as if I was raping myself, and I don’t mean just “mentally.” That physical and spiritual feeling I got every time I was raped, that dissociation from my body, that’s how I felt with him. Because there is no “right to exit,” when I stopped seeing clients I went completely homeless. Living on the streets. It’s been a really long few years. My experience is similar to so many other women I worked with, including ones who have died before they ever had a chance to make it out and live the fulfilling and free lives they dreamed of. It is with that heaviness that I write to you. I refuse to denounce the countless nights I spent with women who told me “I know it’s gonna hurt sister, but we just have to do this a few more months to get our surgeries;” women who spent nights slipping into severe depression; women who fell into drug addiction, and from that psychosis or overdose, due to the sadistic conditions of our lives as trans women in the sex trade.

I need to tell my story in such graphic detail because it is essential for readers who are not intimately familiar with the industry to understand the reality of many women in prostitution. It is equally important to understand that when you oppose the right to exit, you are telling me that women who share my experience don’t deserve to have a right to leave. You are denying the most denied right of women, the right to say no.

Recognizing and moving through the flames of my trauma have not turned me into a victim, as pro-prostitution advocates claim, but into a revolutionary communist and a serious student of feminism and socialism. For me, abolition and revolution isn’t a “horizon;” it’s a necessity. I know that stories like mine, and of the many women I worked with, are not being told by the dominant, liberal, and unprincipled supporters of the sex trade who mask themselves as “pro sex worker.” To this day I maintain contact with women who do feel trapped, who don’t have the right to exit, and who dream of an emancipated future where they can pursue other careers but can’t because of how the sex trade traps them inside of it. For that reason, I am responding to your statement entitled “Rights, Not Rescue: A Response to AF3IRM in defense of DSA Resolution #53” which influenced the DSA’s mistaken decision to let it pass.

The origin of prostitution and violence against prostitutes

By claiming that prostitution has existed in “virtually every society” you intentionally mislead people into an idealist understanding of history that is both ahistorical and attempts to present prostitution as natural. As Marie Mies notes in Women The Last Colony, “no aggressor can maintain permanent control over those he has conquered and subordinated unless the subordinated are made to accept this state of affairs as nature-imposed or, what amounts to the same, as God-given.”

The first historical mention of prostitution was around 2400 BC, in Ancient Sumeria, a society whose mode of production was that of slavery and patriarchal property relations. The origin of prostituting women and children is linked directly to the regulation of women’s sexuality, the practice of enslaving women, military conquest, and child debt slavery. Although mythical tales are told about “sacred prostitutes,” that assertion has been disproven by historians such as Gerda Lerner. As Lerner notes in The Origin of Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia, “slavery became an established institution, slave owners rented out their female slaves as prostitutes, and some masters set up commercial brothels staffed by slaves.” Similar to today, the ruling class of the time not only used women for sexual pleasure but also displayed captive women as a sign of their wealth and power. Indeed, it was men’s appropriation of women’s sexual and reproductive capacities which laid the foundation for private property, class society, and the state to develop.

Never before in history was prostitution as widespread as it is now under global capitalism. Engels notes in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific that as industry developed on the capitalist basis of production, poverty and misery of the working classes became widespread. He stated that “oppression by force was replaced by corruption; the sword, as the first social lever, by gold.”

In previous modes of production, the force of the sword is what disciplined the masses into submission to the desires of the ruling class. Under capitalism, however, the sword has largely been replaced by money. “The right of the first night,” or the legal right in feudal Europe which allowed lords to sleep with women of the subordinated classes, “was transferred from the feudal lords to the bourgeois manufacturers.” And with that transition, Engels noted, “prostitution increased to an extent never heard of.”

Understanding that prostitution has been passed down primarily as a right of the ruling class of the time — slave masters, feudal lords, and now the bourgeoisie — we can see that prostitution has always been a right of the ruling class to access subordinated bodies in whatever manner they please, for the purpose of their own self-gratification (whether that is a male orgasm, or a compulsive maladapted coping mechanism dressed up as “therapy”).

To believe that prostitutes are not under coercion because of the absence of physical force (although to be clear, in many situations they are) is to misunderstand that it is money and capital which act as the “first social lever” in capitalist society.

The right of the subordinated classes of men to buy access to women’s bodies has been used historically to break class solidarity in order to maintain the dominant social relations of the time. This was true in feudal Europe and remains true today: when proletarian and petit bourgeois men get to buy women too, they develop a false consciousness and build solidarity with bourgeois men of their own gender rather than aligning with women of their own class. And because the overthrow of capitalism is only possible by the overthrowing of the bourgeoisie, prostitution serves two great purposes: (1) allows bourgeois men access to a reserve army of women for their pleasure, and (2) prevent class consciousness and thus helps stop the proletariat from organizing as a class.

While there might have been some amount of sexual exchange in tribal communities prior to colonialism, it is imperative to understand that it cannot be understood as prostitution which started in the slave/master mode of production and passed through feudal Europe where it overtook the world. It was settler-colonialism that brought with it the capitalist markets that so rapidly proliferated wage-slavery, prostitution, and the abysmal conditions for the proletariat and enslaved people. It was capitalism transported through settler-colonialism that created the dire conditions which pressure women into the sex trade in the first place. It was settler-colonialism that forced the capitalist system on native people which, in its wake, killed and commodified everything.

The claim that increases in prostitution is due to “women’s increasing economic power and buiser executive schedules” is incorrect and is an attempt to sanitize the real reasons prostitution is on the rise. Throughout all of history, when economic conditions worsen, prostitution increases. I could provide examples thoroughly that would take up several pages, but let’s zero in on one most relevant to socialists history.

Michael Parenti notes in Dirty Truths that when communism was overthrown and market reforms aimed at capitalist restoration were introduced, “Russia’s health system was crumbling; the education system was deteriorating; cholera, diphtheria, and tuberculosis were spreading, as was poverty, hunger and homelessness; and crime, corruption, and prostitution were flourishing.” He goes on to state that “whatever economic democracy the communists had managed to put together — including the guaranteed right to a job, medical care, and education, and subsidized food, housing, and utilities — was being scuttled.” When material conditions worsened, prostitution increased because people are more desperate to survive. And when real existing socialism was overthrown, trafficking and prostitution increased once again, reasserting the right of the ruling class to women’s bodies.

Anuradha Ghandy, a Maoist revolutionary feminist from India, noted in her 2001 International’s Women’s Day speech that, “the cosmetic industry, tourism and bourgeois media have degraded the women’s body as never before, without any respect for their individuality,” and that “this, coupled with mass poverty, has led to entire populations turning to prostitution as witnessed in East Europe, East Asia, Nepal, etc.”

You state that “the violence we all experience stems from the criminalization of not just the trade, but of LGBTQ folks, non-citizens, poor people, people of color, and other marginalized communities.” Yet from understanding the historical and material origins of prostitution, we see that violence is part and parcel of what is definitively a vestige of slavery, patriarchy, feudalism, and class war. Prostitution has never existed without violence, slavery, patriarchy, and class oppression.

Of course, the police are a large source of violence against prostitutes. The police are the weaponized arm of the repressive state. But to lump all the violence prostitutes experience to criminalization is incorrect and attempts to present a simple answer to a far more complex problem. Prostitutes experience violence primarily because the relationship between the prostitute and the client is necessarily antagonistic. The “session” between a prostitute and her buyer is always a power struggle between the man and the woman, the buyer and the bought. Any prostitute knows this intuitively: clients want us to do more for less money, we want to do less for more money. This isn’t dependent on the disposition of the client: the structural positions of the buyer and the bought necessitate these interests. While you can say this antagonism does exist in all labor under capitalism, the difference is that when the power struggle is enacted in such a tangible way during sex, a sex that most in the trade were coerced into by material conditions, sexual violence is a necessary component of the equation. Every interaction as a prostitute is to fight a battle on the terrain of our own body: the prostitute is fighting for her right to bodily autonomy and the client is fighting for his entitlement to her body.

These misconceptions are generated largely by the focus on the voices of the most privileged classes of women dabbling in “sex work” and attempting to speak for the whole class. As philosopher J. Moufawad-Paul states:

Thus, someone who owns property and has a secure job cannot actually experience what it means to be a sex-worker because her prime vocation is not one where she is forced to sell her body as an economic necessity. Sex labour in a context of class privilege is an activity, a game, where one’s material reality produces a different set of options: you can always stop, you have a far greater margin of choice (your clientelle are more like dating options on Craigslist but with reimbursement attached), and by-and-large you are not a sex-worker because this is simply compensated dating — it is not the material institution of prostitution defined by labourers who have no other choice but to sell their labour in this institution. You are not part of this institution’s army of labour; you are not part of its reserve army of labour when you aren’t working.

Those who fit into the category of the former should be immediately deprived of their right to speak on behalf of the actually oppressed women in the sex trade. And those that fit into the latter category form the actual army of prostituted labor and are there due to economic and social pressures, thus proving that coercion is the main driving force of the sex trade.

The only real freedom in prostitution is the freedom for bourgeois men to access the bodies of proletarian women

As Michael Parenti stated in Dirty Truths, “There is no such thing as a freedom detached from the socioeconomic reality in which it might find a place.” As you note, we are “complex human beings, making difficult decisions under the constraints of poverty, and many other intersecting forms of marginalization.” Yet in the next sentence, you state that people “choose” to work in the sex industry. As you noted above, constraints are necessarily coercive. The definition of a constraint is a “limitation or restriction.” The very act of constraining someone is to restrain their freedom to move. The definition of “constraining” is to “compel or force (someone) to follow a particular course of action.”

Consent does not exist in a vacuum, sealed off from the other conditions of society. To decontextualize consent from the broader structures of the economy and society, which both create the options we are able to choose from and apply pressure for us to choose certain options over others, is to only understand consent in its most superficial meaning.

You correctly note that low-wage work is not enough to pay the enormous debt that comes from being an immigrant or a working-class person in the United States. Yet after naming the coercive conditions of capitalism, you say that “most people are not doing this work against their will, any more than other types of immigrant work.” This is erroneous on two grounds. Firstly, by naming that people enter the sex trade because all other options of sustaining their lives are exhausted — the “other types of immigrant work” — you are necessarily saying that they are pressured by the dreadful conditions of capitalism to enter the sex trade as the only option they have left to adequately provide for themselves. This downplays the conditions of wage-slavery and the reactionary ideologies within capitalism — racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, etc. — which cut people out of participation in the formal economy. Those two factors make “choice” impossible. Secondly, you ignore the very real data that the majority of prostituted people are between the ages of 13 and 25 and of that an overwhelming majority of prostitutes are forced either physically or through coercive economic conditions.

Russian Revolutionary feminist Nadezhda Krupskaya, speaking on the conditions of prostituted women in 1899, in The Woman Worker, still holds true today.

One has only to listen to how the well fed bourgeois and his wife talk with contempt of the depraved factory women and girls, and with what hypocritical disgust these ladies who have never known poverty pronounce the word “prostitute.” Bourgeois professors shamelessly go into print to assert that prostitutes are not slaves but are people who have chosen to take that road! It is the same hypocrisy that insists that no one prevents a worker from leaving a given factory where it is impossible to breathe, what with the dust, poisonous vapours, heat, and so on. They “voluntarily” remain working there for 16 to 18 hours a day.

Selling the only commodity we have left: our bodies

Under capitalism, workers are forced to sell the only commodity they have, namely their labor-power, in order to survive. Those of us cut out from the formal economy, unable to sell our labor-power, are forced to sell the only thing we have left: our bodies. Proletarian work under capitalism is wage slavery; forced or coerced sex is rape; prostitution under wage-slavery is in every instance either forced or coerced and therefore qualifies as rape. By asserting it’s not, you are defining rape only as sex by physical force, and thus denounce decades of pro-consent activism that clearly states: coerced sex is rape and coercion means pressure. Economic and social forces are absolutely what pressure the most oppressed women into the sex trade!

The concept of wage-slavery doesn’t deligitimize its earlier manifestation, chattel slavery. In fact, chattel slavery has historically been used to justify wage-slavery, and the inverse is true as well. The understanding that prostitution is inherently rape doesn’t negate the even more violent forms of rape that prostitutes experience. Those that try to limit the word “rape” to its most bare legal meaning align with those that fight to limit rape to “forcible vaginal penetration.” Understanding rape in its most narrow sense serves only the rapists that, by exclusion from definition, are alotted exclusion from responsibility.

As a prostitute that was raped well over the amounts of times I can count on my two hands, I can clearly explain how I both experienced rape and how none of the sex I had as a prostitute was truly consensual because of the conditions which forced me to enter and trapped me in prostitution. Prostitution thrives off vulnerability. The buyer knows this, and therefore uses his money to coerce women in vulnerable social and economic positions to get off. That is why prostitution, like other forms of rape, is not just about sex or money but about power.

If the sex trade was truly a free choice then those who have the most freedom in society (the rich) would not be the least likely to engage in it. And those who have the least freedom in society (proletarians, indigenous women, colonized peoples, transgender women) would not be over-represented in the sex trade.

You can’t reform violence out of a violent industry, you can only abolish it

You correctly state that most people in the sex trade “are doing so in order to escape more punitive, low-paid work, that may have stricter schedules prohibitive to people with disabilities, mothers, students, and many people who are primary caretakers for their families.” Yet for some reason, instead of abolishing the conditions that act as a pressure valve to push people into prostitution as a last resort, you instead opt to reform the sex trade itself.

Prostitution will always retain its class character: offering scant benefits to those few at the top while imposing its most brutal forms of expropriation and violence on those at the bottom. This is due to market forces and the laws of motion of capitalism. For classes to be eradicated in one industry would mean that classes would have to be eradicated within all of society. And if that were to happen then the sex trade itself would cease to exist. We know this from (1) a historical analysis of the origin of the sex trade in the original appropriation of women’s reproductive and sexual capacities as private property, and (2) from the withering away of the sex trade in actually existing socialisms.

The sex trade under market forces will always result in the degradation of conditions for those trapped within it. You want to demand higher rates? Too bad, a woman from the lower strata of the sex trade will do it cheaper. You want to demand safer conditions? A more exploited woman is available elsewhere, whether in poorer neighborhoods at home or abroad in the peripheries of imperialism. With the decriminalization of pimps and johns, the global sex trade increases. And with that increase, the market becomes saturated and prices and conditions for prostituted women decline.

Prostitution cooperatives also aren’t the answer. Cooperatively owned and “worker run,” they are still subject to the same competitive market forces which inevitably lead to the same capitalist exploitation that workers experience in enterprises that aren’t “worker run.”

We see the intermingling between the sex trade and imperialism best exposed in the sex tourism industry. As Maria Mies notes in Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, “the main export product which, perhaps more than sunny beaches, has attracted streams of male tourists from Japan, the USA and Europe, are Asian, African and Latin American women,” and that “governments are offering their women as part of the tourism package.” The commodification of prostituted women at home is visible in mainstream music which talks of “hoes” along with cars, high fashion brands, and money as assets of social capital to be shown off to prove their wealth and dominance, while abroad is demonstrated by western male fixation “on cars and their exotic sex holidays,” which is so strong according to Mies that “the governments do all they can to supply these two most important mass consumer goods at a fairly low price.” The international sex trade can only be understood as the severe sexual exploitation of racialized women as a tool of capital accumulation.

To think that you could end imperialism and the sex trafficking it produces through building power with unions (which is idealistic considering there is no “boss” in the traditional sense) is truly fantasy. This is part of the problem of the term “sex work.” Strippers might be able to organize a union because they have a boss and a workplace, but prostitutes do not. And considering you openly and for good reason oppose the legalization which would lead to bosses and brothels, the union organizing argument is therefore moot.

Real power doesn’t lie in forming loose associations to ask your abuser for slightly less-sadistic abuse. Real power is the ability to crush your enemy — the bourgeoisie, the pimp, the john, the trafficker — in order to abolish the conditions causing your exploitation. In a literal way, we must crush their global market that sells and trades women and girls and initiate a revolutionary movement demanding ambitious improvements to women’s conditions.

Calls for financial literacy as a solution to the ways that many of us are trapped in the sex trade is grossly misguided and, quite honestly solutions like “banking” are just insulting. Never in the history of capitalist exploitation has “financial planning,” “financial literacy,” or other victim-blaming approaches to poverty been able to actually end class oppression. By opposing the “right to exit,” but offering half-hearted “solutions,” you show that you are more concerned with protecting pimps and johns than defending women.

When you claim that the only real legacy of chattel slavery is mass incarceration, you grossly downplay the impact of slavery on our society. Even a cursory survey of the trans-atlantic slave trade shows that the legacy of slavery permeates nearly all of American life, including but not limited to: food service, tipping, domestic work, farm work, labor law, techniques of scientific management, technologies of surveillance, and yes, even the sex trade.

Workers can organize unions to fight their boss, slaves can only organize violent insurrections or escape their slave masters. There is a long history of documentation that pimps brand their women like slaves, utilize coercive and deceptive tactics to target children to traffick them, and enact the worst forms of violence to maintain control over the women, mostly women of color, that they prostitute. You cannot organize your pimp; you can only kill or escape him.

Pimps and johns do not see us as human. Take the words of one pimp: “Women are sitting on a gold mine — they got something between their legs that’s like a commodity.” This commodification doesn’t stop there, there are entire websites devoted to slicing women up by body part, function, appearance, and level of service to value her based on the ratings of johns.

Redacted screenshot of some of the categories rated in The Erotic Review (TER).

Far more detailed than a yelp review, The Erotic Review (TER) and other “escort review services” dismember the woman into her component parts. Each part of the woman is meant to be reviewed, so you see rankings for information such as: pussy, breasts, body type, breast appearance (youthful/older), and for transsexuals, even the amount and quality of their ejaculation (a phenomenon nearly impossible for trans women on hormones, yet nearly universally demanded by buyers). This is not something you can reform away. This is a natural consequence of commodifying human beings, specifically women.

To deny that this sort of female dismemberment does not discipline the male psyche to dismember all of his potential sexual partners — to judge and value them based on their component parts — is to be entirely ignorant as to how culture works. And to believe that these websites can be banned through reform is dually ignorant: these men already use text groups, independent websites, and Facebook groups to discuss and rate the women they buy.

Prostitution thrives off reaction. It is ageist, because of its prizing of young women who always age out at some point. It is ableist because it glorifies the able-bodied woman as the perfect form while fetishing or rejecting the disabled woman. It is racist because it thrives on the vulnerability of racialized and colonized women, values white women over women of color, and fetishizes Black, brown, and asian women. It is transphobic because it thrives off the vulnerability of trans women and fetishizes them. It is mysoginistic because it teaches men that women are commodities to be bought at will and because it rates, values, and pays women according to their attractiveness under the male gaze.

You might argue that you are for the abolition of the sex trade but only with the abolition of all “wage labor.” Yet such a “negation through negation” argument leads to a dead end. The same argument is applied to Israel: “Yes the Israeli state is committing genocide against Palestinians, but all states are repressive, so we shouldn’t single out Israel.” Such logic leads only to inaction by downplaying work we can do to save lives right now on the road to a broader social revolution.

Far from attempting to preserve it — hoping the “invisible hand” of the market will regulate women into safer conditions — socialist feminists should instead attempt to smash the sex trade along with every patriarchal vestige in order to transform society and end gender and class oppression.

Who are the real carceral feminists?

While we know criminalizing women trapped in the sex trade is not the answer, it would be incorrect to assume that decriminalizing johns and pimps would lead to better conditions for prostitutes themselves. The reality is that the existence of a pimp is criminal. It is abhorrent, and no one has the right to be a pimp, just as no one has the right to be a slave master. To say that a pimp is criminal is not to say that his rehabilitation can occur through the bourgeois carceral system. It is to say, however, that no person has the right to become a pimp, that there needs to be a mechanism to repress pimps from targeting vulnerable women and trapping them in slave-like conditions, and that women escaping pimps need physical protection from their abusers.

There is evidence that nations which have decriminalized or legalized pimps and johns do not see a decrease in violence against prostituted women, but an increase. In Canada, the supreme court ruled that criminalization of pimps and buyers was unconstitutional in order to secure the rights of a few well-off “sex workers” to better conduct their “business.” In doing so they acknowledged that there are two-classes of prostitutes, those petite bourgeois women (minority) and the masses of proletarian women forced into prostitution (majority). Decriminalizing buyers and pimps only helps the minority of privileged “sex workers” while disparaging those on the bottom. That is why, rather than protecting buyers and traffickers, we should create opportunity for those most at-risk. As one Canadian proletarian feminist front put it, “we must reject the idea that prostitution could be a solution or a social safety net for proletarian women; instead we should fight for creating real opportunities — employment, education, etc.”

You are not merely calling for an end to the criminalization of women in the sex trade. If you were calling for that then you would be mostly aligned with AF3IRM’s statement. Where you differ is that you are calling to decriminalize johns and pimps. And by doing so, you attempt to legalize and vindicate the right for bourgeois men to buy proletarian women; the right of settler men to buy indigenous women; the right of western men to buy women from the Global South.

The argument that employment law and not criminal law should be used to protect people in the sex trade is based on a faulty understanding of the American legal system. Employment law is civil law and the most critical factors endangering women in the sex trade fall under criminal law: rape, physical and sexual assault, slavery, trafficking, and robbery. So even if you were to gain some small “employment rights” for the sex trade, these issues would still be dealt with by criminal law due to the nature of our legal system. Therefore such an argument is a moot point.

There is no need to think of criminalization in such a banal and binary way. In the final analysis, we can, and must, defend our proletarian sisters while also denouncing the sadism of the sex industry and the exploitation from buyers and pimps. As AF3IRM has demonstrated, both are possible: We can be survivors without being victims or criminals.

You say that abolitionists are carceral feminists. Yet pimps keep their prostitutes in a form of a prison, economically and physically entrapping them so that they are unable to escape. Prisons force labor to expropriate the surplus, pimps and the state force sexual labor to expropriate the surplus. Sex trade markets trap women inside. In the final analysis, in defending pimps and johns, it is you who are the true carceral feminists.

Pro-prostitution is always in the last instance pro-john

You state that “the migrant massage parlor so often serves as a place of comfort, healing, and survival — for both the immigrant men and women struggling to maintain wholeness within a capitalist state that coercively cuts them apart with borders and arbitrated currencies.”

Let me be extremely clear: The debate over the sex trade should never be predicated on how much johns enjoy buying prostitutes. Clearly they enjoy it and in many instances do so out of addiction, feeling compelled to buy prostitutes due to the alienated conditions of modern life and their entitlement to our bodies. Furthermore, if we are claiming that “sex work is consensual,” but then justifying the existence of the sex trade on the basis that johns get off on it, then a conversation on consent is de facto impossible.

To defend the right of johns to buy women to get off, and to use that as a justification for the existence of the sex trade, is to argue that it is socially necessary for a reserve army of proletarian women to exist to serve the desires of men. And because historically prostitution has never existed without the ruling class having the first and privileged access to it, you are arguing for the right of the capitalist class to buy proletarian women as they please. Furthermore, because all prostitution has existed in class societies, you are arguing that the most oppressed of the working classes, forced by poor economic and social conditions, should compose that reserve army of prostitutes.

This is a clear example that in the last instance, pro-prostitution advocacy is always freedom for the right of men to purchase women and never actually about the right of women to not live in a society where the only thing we have left to sell are our bodies.

Pro-prostitution activism is liberal feminism

You correctly identify that pro-prostitution advocates are deemed liberal feminists, but then say that you are not liberals because your movement is based on a critique of capitalism. Such an assertion is deceptive: liberalism is hegemonic in our society and it is hard to escape the “common sense” that is liberal ideology. This ideological hold is so strong that even those of us able to rupture it enough to become anti-capitalists still struggle with liberalism infecting our movements, leading us to incorrect ideas and opportunism. If an anti-capitalist movement necessarily was not liberal on the basis of it being anti-capitalist, then there would be no need for anti-revisionist movements, capitalist restoration would never have happened in socialist nations, and activists wouldn’t get co-opted.

Many mainstream feminists consider their uncritical support of the sex trade to be a radical notion because it is rebellious against the puritanical “common sense” values that they grew up with. Yet such a feminism cannot be radical because legitimizing the sex trade does not challenge the system itself, and on the contrary is quite comfortable existing within the peripheries of patriarchal capitalist society and culture. The sex trade is part and parcel of class society. Bourgeois and settler men love the sex trade because it allows them unhinged access to the bodies of subordinated classes of women. Far from socialist, such sex trade positive feminists are actually deeply influenced by liberalism, an ideology marked by intense individualism and developed by the rising bourgeoisie in the revolutionary period from feudalism to capitalism. Whereas the liberal theorists of the burgeoning capitalist societies defended settler-colonialism, slavery, and genocide on the basis of protecting the individual liberty of a few, liberal feminists today defend an inherently exploitative industry, which has the worst effects on women impacted the hardest by imperialism, on the basis of protecting their own individual liberty (which is, in the last instance, always about protecting the liberty of bourgeois men to access and buy proletarian bodies).

When you dismiss abolition as a direct descendent from 2nd wave feminism you are intentionally ignoring third world, revolutionary, proletarian, and indigenous feminisms. The Zapatista women militants in Chiapas, many of whom survived the sex trade themselves, do not allow prostitution on their territory. This is known as Rule #33 of Revolutionary Law and exists, not because of hypocritical bourgeois moralism, but because they abolished patriarchal and capitalist conditions that give rise to prostitution. To dismiss them is to view them under western eyes, in the words of Chandra Mohanty, and as backwards because of their indigeneity.

Women revolutionaries across the world such as Alexandra Kollontai, NK Krupskaya, Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemberg, Anuradha Ghandy, Comrade Parvati, Comandanta Amada, and countless others engaged in making revolution in the Philippines, Russia, China, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Mexico, Palestine, and elsewhere have all been clear: prostitution is sexual exploitation and has no place in an emancipated socialist society.

By focusing on the individual right for a few individual prostitutes to ascend to capitalist success, at the expense of proletarian and colonized women, you are necessarily engaged in a liberal focus on individual success at the expense of the many. As Anuradha Ghandy notes in Philosophical Trends in the Feminist Movement, liberalism focuses on individual rights rather than collective rights (right to buy women vs right to exit and not be prostituted), is ahistorical (does not understand the role of prostitution throughout history), mechanically supports formal equality at the expense of other classes of women (formal equality for pimps and johns at the expensed of those trafficked and forced into prostitution), and does not question the economic and political structures that give rise to patriarchal discrimination (not understanding the material forces creating the market for prostitution).

Because of pro-prostitution activism spearheaded by the most privileged “sex workers,” many of our sisters have been lead into a false consciousness, mistaking attacks on the sex trade as attacks aimed at their own person. This is not uncommon: when I was organizing grocery workers and we would reveal the unsafe practices of the company, a few workers got extremely defensive thinking that by attacking the company we were attacking them. Additionally, because women in the sex trade are so often attacked by all angles, it is understandable that they would feel abolitionist feminists are attacking them. This is not the case. We must fix this with feminist consciousness raising and building revolutionary socialist organizations.

Even Rosemary Tong, in her authoritative primer on feminist theory, Feminist Thought, states:

That liberal ideologies, typically spawned in capitalist economics, present practices such as prostitution and surrogate motherhood as contractual exercises of free choice, then, is no accident, according to Marxist and socialist feminists. The liberal ideologies claim that women become prostitutes and surrogate mothers because they prefer these jobs over other available jobs. But, as Marxist and socialist feminists see it, when a poor, illiterate, unskilled woman chooses to sell her sexual or reproductive services, chances are her choice is more coerced than free. After all, if one has little else of value to sell besides one’s body, one’s leverage in the marketplace is quite limited.

Some few women in the sex trade might come forward against abolition. So you should ask: should we protect an inherently violent industry because a minority of its “workers” at the centers of imperialism want it to remain? Surely, if we apply this logic to the fossil-fuel industry, where workers have confronted environmental activists thinking they’re attempting to take their jobs, then we should stop fighting the fossil-fuel industry and just commit ourselves to total annihilation through climate change now. No, instead we need to abolish both and provide workers with an ambitious just transition plan.

In many ways the rise of pro-prostitution “feminism” coincides perfectly with neoliberalization: the personal is no longer the political, divorced from material conditions, the right of the individual reigns supreme, and capitalism is something that exists outside, not effecting our lives. Thus, an incorrect understanding of prostitution leads us to draw incorrect conclusions about how to handle prostitution as feminists and socialists. In the final analysis, your continued insistence on individual agency over a historical, materialist and systemic analysis on the origin of prostitution and the economic and social conditions which forcefully funnel oppressed women into it, is in every instance liberal feminism.

Socialists must call for abolition

You claim to be socialist feminists and that you are working towards overturning capitalism. Yet one is left to wonder, what actually is your strategy for overturning capitalism? A correct historical materialist approach to overthrowing capitalism would look at revolutions that have been successful in smashing the bourgeois state, studying the economic and social conditions of the time, and aptly applying the theories proven correct through practice to the material conditions of our time. To do that you would need to look at actually existing socialisms, which you don’t mention at all throughout your article. Presumably, it’s because nearly every, if not all, successful revolutions have been quite clear on prostitution: it has no place in a socialist society.

Prostitution began to wither away in actually existing socialist nations. This didn’t happen through criminalizing women engaged in prostitution, but because, as Moufawad-Paul states, “a) they banned pimps and brothels; b) they provided women with property rights; c) they pursued an agenda of women’s equality that, regardless of some of its failures, was still far ahead of anything else in the world at that time and even today.” As Engels correctly concluded: “Communist society, instead of introducing community of women [prostitution], in fact abolishes it.”

As Rosa Janis with Cosmonaut rightly notes, “prostitution and gambling were opposed [by revolutionaries] not because of the cheap moralism of the petit-bourgeois concerned about the impurity of such acts but because they took advantage of working-class and surplus population poverty by selling people into sexual slavery and debt.”

Prostitution in the final analysis cannot be reformed, it must be abolished along with the conditions that created it. Why is this so?

  1. Prostitution is a vestige of patriarchal property relations and a vestige of womens’ enslavement passed down through class society as “the right of first night.”
  2. It’s a weapon that the ruling class uses to break class solidarity.
  3. It’s fundamentally about the right of bourgeois men to buy access to proletarian women’s bodies.
  4. The power struggle plays itself out over the woman’s body making it impossible to root out violence and rape from the sex trade.
  5. The sex trade under imperialism always results in the enslavement and hyper-exploitation of Asian, Pacific Islander, African, and Latin American women for capital accumulation.
  6. It disciplines the male psyche to associate money with sexual access and entitlement to women’s bodies, thrives off vulnerability, and reproduces reactionary ideologies.
  7. Prostitution is simply not socially necessary.

The correct socialist feminist orientation to prostitution would include:

  1. Decriminalizing and de-stigmatizing prostituted people.
  2. Repressing global sex trade markets through containing demand.
  3. Creating accountability for buyers and pimps outside of the bourgeois state judicial system.
  4. Ensuring the universal right to exit and right to not be prostituted.
  5. Focusing specifically on the most vulnerable proletarian women in the sex trade, including women who are indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Black, Latin American, transgender, and especially children.
  6. Pursuing an ambitious plan for women’s liberation alongside increasing opportunities for women at the bottom including good jobs, housing, education, etc.
  7. Organizing towards complete abolition on the road to social revolution.

I am asking you to correct your stance on the global sex trade, start proceedings to reverse Resolution #53, and denounce your unprincipled support of johns and pimps over proletarian and colonized women across the globe.



Note: I’m not sure why you’d say George Soros’ funding of advocacy groups aimed at decriminalizing pimps and johns is a “conspiracy theory.” There is documented evidence of this through his charity, Open Society Foundations. Additionally, the group you display in the image on your letter, Fuckförbundet, lists George Soros’ philanthropic organization as a funder on its homepage.

Please read my follow-up to this letter, here.

The Capitalist Theft of Pride and How We Can Take It Back By Raina Overskride

When I first came out in 2012 as a trans woman, I knew little about Pride and what I saw was many corporations supporting Pride. At the time, I thought this kind of corporate support was a great thing. I was a very naïve, freshly hatched, transwoman who still had so much more to learn. I thought it was some sort of kindness being shown by corporations and seeing police at various Pride marches gave me the illusion that they supported LGBTQ2+ people. This was a grave mistake and a terrible misunderstanding.

When I started talking to other LGBTQ2+ people within my friend circles and doing online research, mostly consisting of scouring YouTube and whatever I could find on Wikipedia as starting points, I soon discovered a far more militant, radical, and even revolutionary history of Pride that capitalism hid from me. Worse yet, capitalism perpetuates a very distorted and pink-washed history of Pride, meant to stifle, and defang any-and-all revolutionary spirit LGBTQ2+ people may have at their time of coming out.

I am not going to go into all the details but, in short, on June 28th, 1969, there was a police raid on the Stonewall Inn located at Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan. There have been many raids before but on this fateful day, the LGBTQ2+ people had had enough and they fought back to the point of overpowering the police and locked them in the bar for well over 45 minutes, before more police showed up, leading to many beatings and arrests. This was a pivotal moment. It was led by many LGBTQ2+ people, along with houseless people as well.

Two major figures emerged from that moment: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two amazing and strong transwomen who had had enough of the rapes, beatings, and jailing. They would go on to blaze a trail for gay and trans liberation, like nothing ever seen before in America. This would also kick off many gay power marches, eventually becoming Pride.

It is important to note that Johnson and Rivera would also go on to create the revolutionary organization Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries or STAR for short. This was a revolutionary struggle for not only survival but liberation as well. Since the capitalist system, combined with white supremacy and bigotry, made it almost impossible for many LGBTQ2+ people to find work, let alone housing that was safe. STAR provided housing and food to LGBTQ2+ people due to the tremendous sacrifices Johnson and Rivera, made through sex work, which gave them the capital to care for those no one else would care for.

Both transwomen were truly revolutionary figures. They gave everything they had, and endured the horrors of capitalism and white supremacy, so that I and countless others can one day live in dignity in a society where we are accepted, with our full humanity respected.

Modern day Pride is an absolute slap in the face to everything Marsha and Sylvia and so many others have fought for. The absolute worst corporations like Raytheon, the Pinkertons (literal class traitors who did everything they could to destroy worker’s movements) Coca-Cola, Nestle, and various alphabet agencies – the list goes on and on – who have the extreme audacity to use the Pride Flag on their social media profiles, or try selling us their products at marked up prices because it has a Pride logo slapped on it, ALL THE WHILE donating money to anti-LGBTQ2+ efforts across the country.

Not to mention one of the worst things: that being, police across the country wanting to march in Pride or have a presence at Pride. News flash, Pride is not for pigs, Pride is not for corporations, Pride is not about commodification, Pride is not about capitalist putting on an act one time a year to get our money. Pride is about OUR rights and OUR liberation from this capitalist hellscape which continues to oppress so many of us.

We, as the working class within LGBTQ2+ community, must reject what Pride has become. Instead, we must try to organize marches and demonstrations during Pride month that are anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist-centered, with the goal of maintaining intersectionality with allies and other leftist movements that share our views and want to support us in our quest for LGBTQ2+ Liberation and Rights.

In this moment many of us should look to our comrades in Cuba, which despite grave errors in its early treatment of LGBTQ2+ people for the first decade after Fidel took power, and which he later apologized to the Cuban people for, has now embraced LGBTQ2+ far more than the United States ever has. We acknowledge this more sincere approach thanks to Mariela Castro and her solidarity with our LGBTQ2+ comrades, not only in Cuba but worldwide. Cuba is not only far ahead of the United States in terms of providing gender confirming surgery for Trans people and life-saving medicine like hormone replacement therapy (HRT), but, that medicine is provided free, since Cuba does recognize access to healthcare as a human right. In Cuba, it is not left to private insurance companies to decide whether you get to live or die.

Some final thoughts: We also must never lose sight of the fact that our fellow BIPOC LGBTQ2+ people are still struggling while many white LGBTQ2+ have far more access to resources. We must correct this contradiction within the movement.

A black or indigenous transwoman will always face far more violence and discrimination then a white transwoman. So, for us who are white LGBTQ2+, we must always stand in solidarity with them and use our privilege to speak up when they cannot, and lastly, stand side-by-side with them in this fight against white supremacy, capitalism, and imperialism.

I leave you the reader with a video of Sylvia Rivera in 2001 https://vimeo.com/38227391 Rivera goes on to say, “This Movement has become so capitalist, it is a capitalist movement. The first four years were basically fun, I mean the festival took place right on Christopher Street and everything was moderately priced. I did not believe that I would have to sit here 32 years later and basically bitch about the fact that they have become so capitalist. This is no longer my Pride, I gave them their Pride, but they have not given me mine.”       

Carbon sequestration: Climate solution or bridge to more fossil fuel profits? By Len Yannielli from People’s World

Connecticut gets almost half its energy from methane, also called natural gas. Some, especially in certain ruling circles, see this fossil fuel as a bridge to renewable energy. While methane makes up much less of the carbon in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide, it does so in an unfortunate, powerful way. Methane molecules trap 25x more radiant energy than carbon dioxide. In Connecticut, environmentalists describe this fossil fuel as a bridge to nowhere.

Energy in the state is now almost evenly divided between methane and nuclear. In the 1960-70s, energy policy experts told us that going nuclear for our energy would lead to almost zero costs for electricity. It never happened. What did happen was Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, and more recently in Fukushima, Japan. So disasters followed the false projections.

Connecticut’s conversion from coal and oil to natural gas started bigtime in 2011 when Yale professor Daniel Esty, head of the university’s Environmental Department, was hired to take over the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). It was Esty who pushed methane as a “bridge” to renewables. Many incentives, including free gas-line connections to homes, became available. The construction of the bridge to nowhere was off and running. Esty is now back at Yale.

Fast forward to 2021. It raised eyebrows when the public learned FedEx CEO Fred Smith donated $100 million to Yale for a center to study carbon capture to combat climate change. Smith is on the Forbes list of top U.S. billionaires. Here’s what “breaking news” didn’t say. Over the last 10 years, Smith has donated $300,000 to Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans. The latter has gone to extremes to block measures to mitigate climate change.

Is Fred Smith riding a horse in opposite directions?

Hardly. There is another section in ruling circles that sees carbon sequestration as a way to draw out the use of fossil fuels. It is seen as a way to keep the golden calf of fossil fuels churning out mega-profits for as long as possible. The lure is a classic offering of the technical fix. The hope is that many scientists and engineers will bite and jump on the research wagon. The message is both obvious and subliminal. It’s okay to keep knocking out those gas-guzzling trucks. High-tech gadgets will capture carbon. Enjoy the ride on fossil fuel profits, that is, and the pollution in its train.

Are there other approaches to carbon sequestration that don’t feed fossil fuel profits?

Mexico is proposing that three million trees be planted in Central America to create a million green jobs and, in the process, mitigate emigration and climate change. Those trees would remove 70 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere every year. Of course, to be effective on a planet scale, saving existing forests and other green areas has to happen along with such plantings. For example, the world’s forests absorb about 17.5 billion tons of carbon per year.

Of the three forms of carbon sequestration—technical, geological, and natural—it is the latter that heads in a healthy direction for a conscious working class, struggle approach.

Let’s use Connecticut as an example. The state has 1.7 million acres of forest. They function as carbon sinks, the old term for carbon sequestration. That may seem like a lot, except 80% of those forests are in private hands. As we’ve learned through many hard lessons, stopping unwanted development and sprawl is tough when citizens come up against private property rights.

The best direction for carbon sequestration, including a formative, collective learning experience, is to pick a place special to citizens from an aesthetic, ecological, and/or historical viewpoint. Organize a climate/passive open space committee to move your city/town to purchase and preserve such land, be it in an urban neighborhood, suburbs, or exurbs.

This grassroots pressure can lead to changes in national policy.

Given the number of millionaires and billionaires in Connecticut, a statewide wealth tax could fund a climate committee in each city or town, emphasizing a passive open space (land with no impervious, hard surfaces) approach to carbon sequestration. Greenwich alone has 11 billionaires with a combined wealth of $47.2 billion! Communities can use such a proposal to dovetail and help ameliorate other environmental problems, such as sprawl.

Another example: Letting some public forests go to old-growth status with trees topping 120 years of age. That would nurture added biodiversity with more deep forest wildlife. At the same time, it would put natural limits on deer and tick populations (think Lyme disease, as both prefer younger trees and forest edges).

Fast-tracking renewables, solar and wind in many places, is our best direction to combat climate change. Carbon sequestration via passive open space would make a solid grassroots complement to this. With organized labor, environmentalists, and racial/social justice advocates in an alliance, those struggles can yield green jobs and sustainability.

Art Perlo contributed to this article.

Photo: Rob Griffith, AP

Astounding Victory in Peru of Socialist Candidate for President by Tom Whitney

In voting on June 6, Pedro Castillo, candidate of the Perú Libre(Free Peru) political party, defeated three-time presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori. Five days later, with all votes counted, Castillo claimed a victory margin of 69,546 votes, or 50.2 % of the votes. Keiko Fujimori, who gained 49.8% of all votes, is charging fraud and demanding that 200,000 votes from rural areas be recounted.

Castillo’s narrow victory, yet to be officially validated, represents an abrupt shift from Peru’s norm of corruption, right-wing ascendency, and political instability (such that in one week in November 2020, three presidents took office, one after the other.) Castillo’s unexpected first-round victory on April 11, with 18.5% of the votes, was unsettling enough to his competitors that almost all of them backed Keiko Fujimori in the recent voting. Each of Peru’s two Communist parties backed Castillo (as evidenced here and here).

In office, Castillo will face formidable obstacles: a hostile national press, a Congress that overwhelmingly opposes him, business and financial establishments in panic mode, and retired military figures threatening revolt. Additionally, Peru’s total of deaths attributed to climate change is the third highest in Latin America and its rate of deaths due to COVID-19 infection is tops in the world.

Under the auspices of dictator Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), Peru turned to undiluted neoliberalism characterized by foreign profiteering from mining and oil and gas extraction and by privatization of healthcare and education. A long-established rural-urban gulf widened. Rural disadvantage, affecting Peru’s indigenous population in particular, provided the boost accounting for the victory of Pedro Castillo and his party. 

The divide separates Lima, with 40% of Peru’s population, from rural districts, where Castillo scored overwhelming pluralities, some in the 80-90% range. Political attention to rural life from national centers of power, from Lima, has been sparse. Candidate Fujimori campaigned only fitfully in Peru’s countryside. 

Pedro Castillo, born in 1969 of illiterate parents, has taught in a rural elementary school since 1995. In 2002, he was an unsuccessful mayoral candidate.  Earlier, Castillo had taken a leadership role in autonomous peasant patrols (known as “ronda campesina”) responding to thievery and political turmoil. He gained prominence in 2017 for his part in a teachers’ strike. He and his family operate a small subsistence farm.

The Perú LibreParty, established in 2012, calls for nationalization of extractive industries, a new constitution, and respect for women’s rights, including reproductive rights. It claims to be Marxist, socialist, and anti-imperialist – but not Communist.  Campaigning, Castillo called for “No more poor people in a rich country.” Keiko Fujimori based her campaign on fear as she associated Castillo with terrorism, communism, and Cuban and Venezuelan socialism. She extolled her father’s success in corralling the Shining Path guerrillas.

According to the Party’s website, Perú Libre “originates from the provinces, represents Deep Peru, and is committed to people who are most in need … Perú Libre has governed in the regions and [small] cities … and firmly defends decentralization … We are internationalists … The Party condemns all types of imperialism … interventionism, and foreign dependency.” 

Perú Libre calls for the departure of USAID and closure of U.S. military bases. Castillo supports solidarity alliances such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and the Union of South American Nations.

Vladimir Cerrón, a neurosurgeon educated in Cuba and Peru, founded Perú Libre’s predecessor party in 2012.  He has served as governor of Junim Province, was briefly a presidential candidate in 2016, and continues as Peru Libre’s secretary general. Charged with corruption, Cerrón entered prison in August 2020.  A judge annulled the charges against him on June 9, coincident with the election of Pedro Castillo.

Defeated presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori was imprisoned briefly in 2018 on charges of taking bribes from Brazil’s Odebretch corporation to finance her presidential run in 2011. Presently she is under investigation on charges of money-laundering and obstruction of justice. From age 19 on, she served as “first lady” for her father who, having abandoned his presidency in 2000, is serving a 25-year presidential term on charges of corruption and human rights abuses.

The Perú Libre Party adopted the thinking of José Carlos Mariátegui, founder in 1928 of Peru’s Communist Party. Mariátegui endeavored to adapt Marxist thought to the rural and indigenous realities of Latin America.  As explained by Gilberto Calil, whose report appears on rebelion.org, Mariátegui held that Peru’s elite, concentrated in Lima, despised and oppressed indigenous peoples. The divide was such, according to Mariátegui, that Peru lacked a “national project” and a bourgeois revolution. Only indigenous peoples based on the land were potentially ready to advance social and democratic demands.

Mariátegui insisted that any socialist revolution in Peru and Latin America would have rural and indigenous origins. Accordingly, Calil regards Perú Libre’s program as “coherent … in centering on concrete demands of Peru’s rural population: agrarian reform, social rights, education and healthcare.”

Photo: Pedro Castillo’s supporters took to the streets in the capital, Lima. From: Reuters.

Red Alert: Only One Earth, from Tricontinental

Source: https://thetricontinental.org/red-alert-11-environment/

A new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Making Peace with Nature (2021), highlights the ‘gravity of the Earth’s triple environmental emergencies: climate, biodiversity loss, and pollution’. These three ‘self-inflicted planetary crises’, the UNEP says, put ‘the well-being of current and future generations at unacceptable risk’. This Red Alert, released for World Environment Day (5 June), is produced with the International Week of Anti-Imperialist Struggle.

What is the scale of the destruction?

Ecosystems have degraded at an alarming rate. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report from 2019 provides stunning examples of the scale of the destruction:

  • One million of the estimated eight million species of plants and animals are threatened with extinction.
  • Human actions have driven at least 680 vertebrate species to extinction since 1500, with global vertebrate species populations dropping by 68% in around the last 50 years.
  • The abundance of wild insects has fallen by 50%.
  • Over 9% of all domesticated mammal breeds used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with another thousand breeds currently facing extinction.

Ecosystem degradation is accelerated by capitalism, which intensifies pollution and waste, deforestation, land-use change and exploitation, and carbon-driven energy systems. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report, Climate Change and Land (January 2020), notes that only 15% of known wetlands remain, most having been degraded beyond the possibility of recovery. In 2020, the UNEP documented that, from 2014 to 2017, coral reefs suffered from the longest severe bleaching event on record. Coral reefs are projected to decline dramatically as temperatures rise; if global warming rises to 1.5°C, only 10-30% of reefs will remain, and if global warming rises to 2°C, then less than 1% of reefs will remain.

As things stand, there is a good chance that the Arctic Ocean may be ice-free by 2035, which will disrupt both the Arctic ecosystem and the circulation of ocean currents, possibly transforming global and regional climate and weather. These changes in the Arctic ice cover have already triggered a race among major powers for military domination in the region and for control over valuable energy and mineral resources, opening the door even further for devastating ecological destruction; in January 2021, in a paper titled Regaining Arctic Dominance, the US military characterised the Arctic as ‘simultaneously an arena of competition, a line of attack in conflict, a vital area holding many of our nation’s natural resources, and a platform for global power projection’.

The warming of the ocean comes alongside the annual dumping of up to 400 million tonnes of heavy metals, solvents, and toxic sludge (among other industrial wastes) – not accounting for radioactive wastes. This is the most dangerous waste, but it is only a tiny proportion of the total waste thrown into the ocean, including millions of tonnes of plastic waste. One study from 2016 finds that, by 2050, it is likely that there will be more plastic by weight in the ocean than fish. In the ocean, plastic accumulates in swirling gyres, one of which is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an estimated mass of 79,000 tonnes of ocean plastic floating inside a concentrated area of 1.6 million km 2 (roughly the size of Iran). Ultraviolet light from the sun degrades the debris into ‘microplastics’, which cannot be cleaned up, and which disrupts food chains and ruins habitats. The dumping of industrial waste into the waters, including in rivers and other freshwater bodies, generates at least 1.4 million deaths annually from preventable diseases that are associated with pathogen-polluted drinking water.

The waste in the waters is only a fraction of the waste produced by human beings, which is estimated to be 2.01 billion tonnes per year. Only 13.5% of this waste is recycled, while only 5.5% is composted; the remaining 81% is discarded in landfills, incinerated (which releases greenhouse and other toxic gases), or finds its way into the ocean. At the current rate of waste production, it is estimated that this figure will rise by 70% to 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050.

No study shows a decrease in pollution, including the generation of waste, or a slowing down of the rise in temperature. For instance, the UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report (December 2020) shows that the world at the present rate of emissions is on track for warming by at least 3.2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. This is far above the limits set by the Paris Agreement of 1.5°-2.0°C. Planetary warming and environmental degradation feed into each other: between 2010 and 2019, land degradation and transformation – including deforestation and the loss of soil carbon in cultivated land – contributed a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, with climate change further worsening desertification and the disruption of soil nutrition cycles.

What are common and differentiated responsibilities?

In the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development declaration, the seventh principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ – agreed upon by the international community – establishes that all nations need to take on some ‘common’ responsibilities to reduce emissions, but that the developed countries bear the greater ‘differentiated’ responsibility due to the historical fact of their far greater contribution to cumulative global emissions causing climate change. A look at the data from Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre’s Global Carbon Project shows that the United States of America – by itself – has been the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions since 1750. The main historical carbon emitters were all industrial and colonial powers, mainly European states and the United States of America. From the 18th century, these countries have not only emitted the bulk of the carbon into the atmosphere, but they also continue to exceed their fair share of the Global Carbon Budget in proportion to their populations. The countries with the least responsibility for creating the climate catastrophe – such as small island states – are the ones hardest hit by its disastrous consequences.

Cheap energy based on coal and hydrocarbons, along with the looting and plundering of natural resources by colonial powers, enabled the countries of Europe and North America to enhance the well-being of their populations at the expense of the colonised world. Today, the extreme inequality between the standard of living for the average European (747 million people) and the average Indian (1.38 billion people) is as stark as it was a century ago. The reliance by China, India, and other developing countries on carbon – particularly coal – is indeed high; but even this recent use of carbon by China and India is well below that of the United States. The 2019 figures for per capita carbon emissions of Australia (16.3 tonnes) and the US (16 tonnes) are more than twice that of China (7.1 tonnes) and India (1.9 tonnes).

Every country in the world has to make advances to transition from reliance upon carbon-based energy and to prevent the large-scale degradation of the environment, but the developed countries must be held accountable for two key urgent actions:

  1. Reducing harmful emissions. Developed countries must urgently bring about drastic emission cuts of at least 70-80% of 1990 levels by 2030 and commit to a pathway to further deepen these cuts by 2050.
  2. Capacitating mitigation and adaption. Developed countries must assist developing countries by transferring technology for renewable energy sources as well as by providing financing to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change recognised the importance of the geographical divide of industrial capitalism between the Global North and South and its impact on respective inequitable shares of the global carbon budget.

That is why all of the countries at the numerous Climate Conferences agreed to create a Green Climate Fund at the Cancun Conference in 2016. The current target is $100 billion annually by 2020. The United States under the new Biden administration has pledged to double its international finance contributions by 2024 and triple its contributions for adaptation, but, given the very low baseline, this is highly inadequate. The International Energy Agency suggests each year in its World Energy Outlook that the actual figure for international climate finance should be in the trillions. None of the Western powers have intimated anything like a commitment of that scale to the Fund.

What can be done?

  1. Shift to zero carbon emissions. The world’s nations as a whole, led by the G20 (which accounts for 78% of all global carbon emissions), must enact realistic plans to shift to zero net carbon emissions. Practically speaking, this means zero carbon emissions by 2050.
  2. Reduce the US military footprint. Currently, the US military is the single largest institutional emitter of greenhouse gases. The reduction of the US military footprint would considerably reduce political and environmental problems.
  3. Provide climate compensation for developing countries. Ensure that developed countries provide climate compensation for loss and damages caused by their climate emissions. Demand that the countries that polluted the waters, soil, and air with toxic and hazardous wastes – including nuclear waste – bear the costs of clean-up; demand the cessation of the production and use of toxic waste.
  4. Provide finance and technology to developing countries for mitigation and adaption. Additionally, developed countries must provide $100 billion per year to address the needs of developing countries, including for adaptation and resilience to the real and disastrous impact of climate change. These impacts are already borne by developing countries (particularly the low-lying countries and small island states). Technology must also be transferred to developing countries for mitigation and adaptation.