Steven Estrada, Army veteran and Communist, running for Long Beach City Council / by Eric A. Gordon

Steven Estrada speaks on behalf of residents and workers impacted by the closure of Kroger’s grocery stores in Long Beach. They closed so they wouldn’t have to pay a temporary hazard pay increase. | via Estrada Campaign

LONG BEACH, Calif.—Steven Estrada, a community organizer, U.S. Army veteran, and proud member of Long Beach’s working class, is running for the City Council seat in District 1. If elected, he would serve for a four-year term alongside eight others representing different council districts.

All but one of the present City Council members are Democrats, and the mayor, Robert Garcia since 2014, is as well, though the election itself is non-partisan. The primary for this seat will be held in June 2022, and the top two candidates will go on to the general election in November.

Steven Estrada speaks at a rally against police violence. The Long Beach Club of the CPUSA took to the streets and talked to people about lack of accountability on the part of city police. | Photo credit: Richard H. Grant / via Estrada Campaign

What makes Estrada’s campaign unique is that he is running as an open member of the Communist Party USA.

Will an article about his candidacy in People’s World (PW) hurt him? “The primary goal of the campaign is to win,” Estrada responds. “But also to disarm people from some common beliefs about what Communists believe in. We’re not running from our principles, nor from the redbaiting. We need to answer those questions, teaching and educating people.”

District 1 is located at the southwestern edge of the city, intersected across its middle by Anaheim St., adjacent to the Port of Long Beach. Together with the Port of Los Angeles in neighboring San Pedro, this shipping complex is the largest port in the United States, significantly helping to define the regional economy and accounting for thousands of jobs.

Through his work developing free food programs for the city’s homeless, mobilizing against police injustice, and advocating for other working people’s needs in the city, Estrada has become a familiar presence, dedicating himself in service to the everyday people that make his city run.

“Years of government inaction, corruption, and lack of solutions to municipal problems,” he says, “made it clear that it is time for a bold vision for the future of our city.”

City Councilwoman Mary Zendejas got into office through a special election in 2019 and will be defending her seat for the first time next June. PW asked Estrada why he’s running against her. Not bold enough?

“There are glaring contradictions in the way Long Beach is run,” Estrada replies. “It’s a diverse city, racially, ethnically, with good LGBTQ representation. But on economic issues, there’s high poverty, homelessness, rent increases, no tenants’ rights in a majority rental city. The real estate developers have the final say on what happens in Long Beach, and the people suffer. In District 1, 22-25% are below the federal poverty line. It was time for a candidate to run on a pro-worker program.”


Steven Estrada’s life is a testament to the resilience and strength commonly found among working-class people. He was born in Glendora, Calif., and raised with an absent father in Riverside, primarily by his grandmother during his formative years. It was from her that he picked up his conversational Spanish, though he claims it’s not yet quite adequate enough for him to explain the programmatic points of his campaign. His wife, from Perris, Calif., came from a Spanish-speaking home and it’s her first language.

Members of the Long Beach Club of the Communist Party hitting the streets. The candidate is at left. | via Estrada Campaign

At the age of 19, shortly after graduating from high school in 2010, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a way of paying for his future education, graduating from basic training in 2011. During his stint in the Army, he rose to the level of Sergeant, qualified as a paratrooper, and deployed twice to the Middle East. PW asked how he reflects back on his military career now, and why he emphasizes his veteran status so prominently in his campaign.

“I feel a strong connection to others who went into the service, though I see it now as exploitative, targeting underserved people. I knew my immediate jobs and assignment, but I was confused and disillusioned about what it was that we were doing. What was the bigger picture? My reading now shows me we were in service to the rich, against poor people in other countries. But service doesn’t need to be that way. Long Beach has a large VA hospital, several recruitment centers, and a lot of vets live in Long Beach. There was a Veterans for Peace chapter in Long Beach, and some of us are trying to revive it.”

Upon his return to civilian life, he attended community college in Riverside, then commuted for a time to Long Beach State University, finally moving to the city in 2018. He graduated in 2019 with a degree in sociology and trained as a legal assistant. Now a veteran and a father, he uses his skills and experiences as a community organizer “to build worker power.”

Since moving to Long Beach, he has helped found mutual aid networks that feed the unhoused population in Long Beach, has aided in the organization of anti-war protests, and been a vocal critic against police violence. His work providing groceries and meals left him wanting something more, a national structure for effecting change, and he started looking into the Communist Party. He’s been a member for about two years now.

Steven’s party club has been active in the campaign, often going door-to-door wearing Long Beach CPUSA t-shirts. Others are involved as well—“people I knew before, family members, helping with online work and graphics. My mom went to one outreach event and got a whole lot of petitions signed, so she’s growing politically, having never been involved before. When we’re getting ready to leave the house to do campaign work, my six-year-old daughter asks, ‘Are we going out to do Power to the People?’”

As the representative of District 1 on the City Council, Steven Estrada believes it is only through the organization and unity of working people that we can solve poverty, unaffordable housing, and make Long Beach home again. The campaign is “completely grassroots,” he tells PW. “We have no affiliation to real estate consulting firms, no large political contributions, such as police unions, PACs, or developers. The campaign depends on people who work for a wage because those are the people we are beholden to should we win.”

PW inquired about the campaign’s color scheme, and Steven chuckled at the question. “I actually did a lot of research into colors,” he answered. “The yellow stands out bright and bold, like the sun, a new era. I didn’t like the ‘socialist red.’ This red is deeper and darker, with a seriousness to it, bold but moderate.”

Priorities for Long Beach

The Estrada campaign is focused on a number of key issues that have emerged out of long hours of meet-ups and discussions in the district:

No Poor People in a Rich City. District 1 is in the midst of a poverty crisis that has raised rates of homelessness, increased crime, and economically devastated the community. Estrada proposes major reinvestment in urban neighborhoods by providing free job training, city grants for debt alleviation, and immediate financial relief for the city’s unemployed.

Public Transportation Fixes the Parking Crisis. To solve issues of parking and overcrowded streets, public transportation must be transformed. The Estrada plan will increase ridership and decrease the need for parking by investing in making public transportation faster, safer, more reliable, and fare-free for all Long Beach residents.

Renters’ Bill of Rights. The City Council has shown itself to be deep in the pockets of large banks and luxury developers, which have failed to build affordable housing for all. The Estrada campaign proposes to establish a Renters’ Bill of Rights that would: grant renters direct control over the types of housing built in the city; protect tenants’ rights to organize; cancel back rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and end all evictions in the city.

Steven Estrada talking with community members about the Long Beach youth detention center. | via Estrada Campaign

Move the Money. Long Beach spends close to half of its General Revenue budget on policing solutions that have failed to keep residents safe. To address crime, Estrada proposes to address what is at the root of crime. The city must shift funding to bolster mental health resources, fund youth projects, and create sustainable, high-quality jobs to keep communities safe and free from crime.

Planet Over Profit. West Long Beach is home to some of the highest levels of pollution that negatively affect community health and disproportionately impact the working-class and Black and brown neighborhoods. Estrada will fight to make Long Beach green, sustainable, and healthy for all of its residents.

The would-be Communist Councilman

So, what kind of response is he getting as an open Communist in the community? “It’s varied. In the most working-class areas without public services, people are more receptive, especially about free public transportation. Nine out of ten are not fazed by my presenting myself as a Communist. There’s not a lot of hostility—most of that we see online. We’re just now getting the full spectrum of reaction. I expected some public backlash, and I felt I was prepared for it. I think I can handle it.”

When he was growing up, Estrada recalls, “I didn’t have people to identify with, so I feel the campaign is important for people to see someone running who looks like them, overwhelmingly Black and brown and working-class.”

PW asked one final question, based on some of his campaign photos where he can be seen sporting prominent tattoos on both forearms. “I’m not hiding any aspect of who I am. I’m open and honest about everything, not hiding any of the choices I made, like being a veteran. The whole campaign is about that. Actually the imagery is Buddhist and it’s about “duality, or dialectical materialism.” He still considers himself a Buddhist.

  • Check out the Estrada campaign: Website

Author: Eric A. Gordon is the author of a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein, co-author of composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography, and the translator (from Portuguese) of a memoir by Brazilian author Hadasa Cytrynowicz. He holds a doctorate in history from Tulane University. He chaired the Southern California chapter of the National Writers Union for two terms and is director emeritus of The Workers Circle/Arbeter Ring Southern California District. In 2015 he produced “City of the Future,” a CD of Soviet Yiddish songs by Samuel Polonski. Aside from numerous awards for his writing from the International Labor Communications Association, he received the Better Lemons “Up Late” Critic Award for 2019. His latest project is translating the nine books of fiction by Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese. The first volumes are already available from International Publishers NY.

Source: People’s World, October 8, 2021,

Opinion: Progressives are being attacked in Portland because they’re winning / by Ethan Strimling

People First Portland rallying at City Hall for rent control, a local Green New Deal, and more. (Photo by Em Burnett)

Losing sucks.

I should know.

In 2019, as the unapologetically progressive incumbent mayor of Portland, Maine, I got my ass kicked, in part, because of a Republican-operated, Chamber-backed, landlord-funded, law-breaking attack PAC.

Bitterness. Anger. Sadness. It all boils up after a loss like that. If you aren’t careful, it can make you act out in ways that are unhelpful and damaging.

Thankfully, I was able to channel my “acting out” by joining and supporting progressive activists to achieve results as good, if not better, than what we were able to achieve from inside City Hall.

I tell you this because it might help you understand the reactionary antics of conservative power structures when progressives actually start winning. It has certainly helped me.

Here in Portland, through years of hard work, we’re on the verge of gaining a progressive majority on our city council, we have passed broad policy initiatives transforming the power balance of the city, and we’ve re-opened our charter with the chance to finally rid ourselves of 100 years of governance designed and imposed by the KKK.

In response to these victories, city councilors have ramped up calling progressives “divisive” and three of the most conservative members have chosen to not even stand for re-election. Two similarly ideological school board members are also taking their balls and going home. Business interests have filed lawsuits to invalidate progressive laws enacted at the ballot box (and lost every time) and allies of the Chamber of Commerce have spent absurd amounts of money producing negative mailers and social media ads to try and stem the tide.

Even the Press Herald has joined the elite to oppose most of the change being demanded in our city. In just the last month, they wrote two opinion pieces sympathizing with reactionary forces—one by the editorial board, and one by Bill Nemitz. The Nemitz piece attacked a Latino city council candidate for privately questioning the fitness of a potential school principal after she sent a racist missive attacking two newly-elected Black women.

And finally, in just the last week, our current mayor, Kate Snyder, lashed out at progressives calling us “unhinged,” and our behavior “untenable.”

So what, specifically, is all this backlash in response to? Since November of 2019 here is just some of what we’ve achieved:

• In July 2020, 72% of Portlanders voted to open our charter so our current form of government could be made more democratic and humane.

• In November 2020, we passed four ballot measures, by an average of 60%, that reset the balance of power by instituting rent control, a $15 an hour minimum wage with hazard pay, a facial surveillance ban, and a Green New Deal.

• Also in Nov. 2020, two conservative councilors were replaced by progressive alternatives (this fall most expect similar results).

• In June 2021, Portlanders elected a charter commission made up of 40% people of color (compared to zero people of color in the last commission) and a majority who publicly declared support for a stronger elected executive, clean elections, immigrant voting, police oversight, and stronger labor standards.

• Our school board, under the leadership of progressive Democrat Emily Figdor, has succeeded in getting cops out of our schools, paying hazard wages during the pandemic, expanding our universal Pre-K program, and switching the vast majority of their energy needs to solar.

So what does all this mean? Remember, this is nothing new. Every time those out of power begin to demand a seat at the table, demand equity in power, cries from the powerful for “civility” over “divisiveness” have been used to dismiss the marginalized.

Women’s suffrage. Bus boycotts. BLM. Every time.

That’s because power cedes nothing without a fight. And when you start using the tools of change as effectively as we have been able to in Portland, name calling may be all they have left.

So, if, in your city, you are fighting for progressive change, as I hope you are, remember that when you start winning, be ready for the establishment to become “unhinged.” And when they do, double down on your work.

Because, while they will not go quietly into that good night, go, they will.

Photo via Progressive Portland

Author: Ethan Strimling served ten years as Mayor and State Senator for Portland, Maine.

Source: Maine Beacon, October 12, 2021,

Remembering Maurice Bishop and the revolution in Grenada / by Owen Schalk

May Day 1980: Grenada's Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, center, is flanked by Cuba's leader Fidel Castro, right, and Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega in Havana, Cuba. | AP

nearly ten years later
look at me here analyzing
still distraught and debating
sympathizing synthesizing
regretting and remembering
and time
just passing

~ “Nearly Ten Years Later (For Grenada)” by Merle Collins

Oct. 16 marked 38 years since the death of Maurice Bishop, leader of the tragically short-lived People’s Revolutionary Government of Grenada (PRG). The PRG was formed when the New Jewel Movement (NJM), led by the widely popular Bishop, seized control of the country from the U.S.-backed dictator Eric Gairy. Although the NJM government lasted only four years before Bishop was killed in a military coup led by Bernard Coard (after which the U.S. invaded to destroy the remnants of the movement), Bishop’s humane and popular policies, as well as his internationalist perspective, remain an inspiration to students of the Grenadian Revolution.

A crowd gathers on the Market Square in Grenada, Oct. 21, 1983, in support of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. | Alleyne / AP

Grenada is a small island in the southern Caribbean, near the coast of Venezuela. Prior to the colonization of the Americas, it was populated by the Indigenous Arawaks and the Kalinago, or Caribs, the people from whom the Caribbean gets its name. The island was eventually colonized by the French, who killed most of its Indigenous population, but it was taken by the British at the end of the Seven Years’ War, which explains why English is the most common language in Grenada today. In a pattern replicated across the Americas, the British forcibly relocated thousands of enslaved Africans to the island and used their labor to produce profits for the metropole. As a result, the vast majority of Grenadians claim African ancestry.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many Grenadians lost work. This caused them to seek employment abroad, which often led to involvement in trade unionism and anti-colonial activism. One of the most important activists at this time was Eric Gairy, who returned to lead his country out of the colonial period in 1974. Once in power, however, he became a brutal dictator who received considerable support from the U.S. and its allies.

Gairy terrorized the population with his Mongoose Gang, a private militia that targeted critics of the regime for torture and death (including Rupert Bishop, the father of Maurice Bishop, who was killed in 1974) and received arms and training from Pinochet’s Chile. In exchange for his loyalty, he was granted membership to the English Privy Council in 1977, and later that year he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

Unsurprisingly, Gairy and his clique showed little interest in the economic development of Grenada. Agricultural production dropped, unemployment rose, prices skyrocketed, and movements against his government gained more and more influence. The NJM, a communist group modelled on the tenets of Marxism-Leninism, became the primary body for collecting and organizing anti-Gairy resistance. Gairy was aware of the NJM’s goals, and in 1979 he planned to have its leaders murdered while he was away on a trip to the United States.

The NJM learned of his plot and acted first, detaining the Mongoose Gang and seizing control of the state. On March 13, 1979, with the resounding support of the population, they declared the founding of the People’s Revolutionary Government of Grenada. Maurice Bishop became prime minister.

Bishop was a well-travelled Marxist with an internationalist philosophy, and he spoke positively about anti-imperialist intellectuals like Frantz Fanon, post-colonial leaders including Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Julius Nyerere, and figures of American resistance such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Under his premiership, healthcare became a human right, low-income housing was established for the first time, food production soared, and adult illiteracy was reduced to less than 5% in three years.

Furthermore, the National Women’s Organization of Grenada (NWO) was established with the intention of prioritizing gender equality. Trinidadian scholar Rhoda Reddock declares that “the leadership of the Grenada Revolution was unmatched in its public acknowledgement of women’s role in bringing about the revolution and extended an invitation to them to participate in the ‘process of revolutionary transformation.’”

Following the U.S. invasion of Grenada, members of the U.S. Army carry a body bag containing the remains of the one of three to four bodies found in a shallow grave at the Calivigny, Grenada military training compound on Nov. 9, 1983. The grave was found on a tip by a civilian who said he saw the bodies of former Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and three others being buried. | Pete Leabo / AP

All of these initiatives were undertaken in a popular, participatory fashion, and they resulted in significant social and infrastructural gains. The successes of their governance model made the PRG an enemy of the United States. After his normalization efforts with the U.S. collapsed, Bishop recognized that he had become a target. As he outlined during a speech at Hunter College in New York City on June 5, 1983:

“They give all kinds of reasons and excuses [for opposing us]—some of them credible, some utter rubbish. We saw an interesting one recently in a secret report to the State Department…. That secret report made this point: that the Grenada revolution is in one sense even worse—I’m using their language—than the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions because the people of Grenada and the leadership of Grenada speak English, and therefore can communicate directly with the people of the United States…. They [also] said that 95% of our population is Black…if we have 95% of predominantly African origin in our country, then we can have a dangerous appeal to 30 million Black people in the United States.”

Both Pesidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan looked for ways to demonize and destabilize the Grenadian government. Reagan even called an airstrip built to support tourism, the second largest sector of the island’s economy, a “Cuban-Soviet power projection”—and the American media played along. As Noam Chomsky writes in Necessary Illusions, “U.S. actions…to undermine the government of Maurice Bishop were barely reported…Also unreported were the other measures pursued [ex. the blocking of aid to Grenada after the August 1980 hurricane] to abort progress and development under a government now conceded to have been popular and relatively successful.”

When Bernard Coard, the PRG’s Deputy Prime Minister, seized power in a coup whose exact circumstances remain muddled to this day, Bishop was imprisoned and ultimately executed.  The Reagan administration seized this opportunity to finish off the New Jewel Movement once and for all.

Over 7,000 U.S. troops invaded on the pretext of protecting U.S. students on the island, but it soon became clear that their true intention was to prevent the revolution from holding onto power. As Lola Campos writes, “[the American invasion] resulted in the reinstitution of the former Grenadian constitution and an immediate reversal of the accomplishments of the NJM’s revolution.”

Over 40 years later, students of the violently interrupted Grenadian Revolution are—to borrow the words of poet Merle Collins, an ardent supporter of the NJM—“analyzing / still distraught and debating / sympathizing synthesizing / regretting and remembering” the circumstances that brought Maurice Bishop to power and those which resulted in his ouster.

Although the PRG is no more, the social and economic accomplishments of the New Jewel Movement, in addition to its internationalist focus, remain an inspiration to those seeking to imagine a new North-South relationship outside the bonds of global neocolonialism.

Author: Owen Schalk is a writer of short stories and essays from Winnipeg, Manitoba. His articles have appeared in Canada’s leading socialist newspaper, People’s Voice.

People’s Voice,

People’s World, October 18, 2021,

The Politician-Scholar: Eric Williams and the tangled history of capitalism and slavery / by Gerald Horne

Illustration by Joe Ciardiello

Before he became a celebrated author and the founding father and first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Eustace Williams was an adroit footballer. At his high school, Queen’s Royal College, he was a fierce competitor, which likely led to an injury that left him deaf in his right ear. Yet as Williams’s profile as a scholar and national leader rose, so did the attempts by his critics to turn his athleticism against him. An “expert dribbler” known for prancing downfield with the ball kissing one foot, then the other, Williams was now accused by his political detractors of not being a team player. Driven by his desire to play to the gallery—or so it was said—he proved to be uninterested in whether his team (or his nation, not to mention the erstwhile British Commonwealth) was victorious.

What his critics described as a weakness, though, was also a strength: His willingness to go it alone on the field probably contributed to his willingness to break from the historiographic pack during his tenure at Oxford University, and it also led him to chart his own political course. Williams, after all, often had good reason not to trust his political teammates, particularly those with close ties to London. Moreover, he was convinced that a good politician should play to the gallery: Ultimately, he was a public representative. And this single-minded determination to score even if it meant circumventing his teammates, instilled in him a critical mindset, one that helped define both his scholarship—in particular his groundbreaking Capitalism and Slavery—and his work as a politician and an intellectual, though admittedly this trait proved to be more effective at Oxford and Howard University than during his political career, which coincided with the bruising battles of the Cold War.

A new edition of Capitalism and Slavery, published by the University of North Carolina Press with a foreword by the economist William Darity, reminds us in particular of Williams’s independent political and intellectual spirit and how his scholarship upended the historiographical consensus on slavery and abolition. Above all else, in this relatively slender volume, Williams asserted the primacy of the enslaved themselves in breaking the chains that bound them, putting their experiences at the center of his research. Controversially, he also placed slavery at the heart of the rise of capitalism and the British Empire, which carried profound implications for its successor, the United States. The same holds true for his devaluation of the humanitarianism of white abolitionists and their allies as a spur for ending slavery. In many ways, the book augured his determination as a political actor as well: Williams the academic striker sped downfield far ahead of the rest and scored an impressive goal for the oppressed while irking opponents and would-be teammates alike. But his subsequent career as a politician also came as a surprise: Despite his own radical commitments as a historian, as a politician Williams broke in significant ways from many of his anti-colonial peers. For both reasons of his own making and reasons related to leading a small island nation in the United States’ self-proclaimed backyard, Williams as prime minister was hardly seen as an avatar of radicalism.

Welcome to the USA
Eric Williams was born in 1911 in Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, then a financially depressed British colony. His father was far from wealthy, receiving only a primary education before becoming a civil service clerk at the tender age of 17. In his affecting autobiography, Williams describes his mother’s “contribution to the family budget” by baking “bread and cakes” for sale. She was a descendant of an old French Creole family, with the lighter skin hue to prove it.

Despite his humble origins, the studious and disciplined Williams won a prized academic scholarship at the age of 11, putting him on track to become a “coloured Englishman,” he noted ruefully. His arrival at Oxford in 1931—again on a scholarship—seemingly confirmed this future. There he mingled in a progressive milieu that included the founder of modern Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, and the self-exiled African American socialist Paul Robeson. It was at Oxford that Williams wrote “The Economic Aspect of the Abolition of the West Indian Slave Trade and Slavery,” which was later transformed into the book at hand. In both works, but in the book more decisively, Williams punctured the then-reigning notion that abolitionism had been driven by humanitarianism—an idea that conveniently kept Europeans and Euro-Americans at the core of this epochal development. Instead Williams stressed African agency and resistance, which in turn drove London’s financial calculations. He accomplished this monumental task in less than 200 pages of text, making the response that followed even more noteworthy. Extraordinarily, entire volumes have been devoted to weighing his conclusions in this one book.

It would not be an exaggeration, then, to say that when Williams published Capitalism and Slavery in 1944, it ignited a firestorm of applause and fury alike. His late biographer, Colin Palmer, observed that “reviewers of African descent uniformly praised the work, while those who claimed European heritage were much less enthusiastic and more divided in their reception.” One well-known scholar of the latter persuasion assailed the “Negro nationalism” that Williams espoused in it. Nonetheless, Capitalism and Slavery has become arguably the most academically influential work on slavery written to date. It has sold tens of thousands of copies—with no end in sight—and has been translated into numerous European languages as well as Japanese and Korean. The book continues to inform debates on the extent to which capitalism was shaped by the enslavement of Africans, not to mention the extent to which these enslaved workers struck the first—and most decisive—blow against their inhumane bondage.

Proceeding chronologically from 1492 to the eve of the US Civil War, Williams grounded his narrative in parliamentary debates, merchants’ papers, documents from Whitehall, memoirs, and abolitionist renderings, recording the actions of the oppressed as they were reflected in these primary sources. The book has three central theses that have captured the attention of generations of readers and historians. The first was Williams’s almost offhand assertion that slavery had produced racism, not vice versa: “Slavery was not born of racism,” he contended, but “rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.” To begin with, “unfree labor in the New World was brown, white, black and yellow; Catholic, Protestant and pagan,” with various circumstances combining to promote the use of enslaved African labor. For example, “escape was easy for the white servant; less easy for the Negro,” who was “conspicuous by his color and features”—and, Williams added, “the Negro slave was cheaper.” But it was in North America most dramatically that slavery became encoded with “race” and thus, through its contorted rationalizations, ended up producing a new culture of racism.

This thesis was provocative for several reasons, but perhaps most of all because it implied that once the material roots of slavery had been ripped up, the modern world would finally witness the progressive erosion of anti-Black politics and culture. This optimistic view was echoed by the late Howard University classicist Frank Snowden in his trailblazing book Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks. Of course, sterner critics could well contend that such optimism was misplaced, that it misjudged the extent to which many post-slavery societies had been poisoned at the root. But this sunnier view of post-slavery societies was spawned in part by the proliferation of anti-colonial and anti–Jim Crow activism in the 1940s and ’50s.

Williams’s second thesis hasn’t stirred as much controversy, but it also exerted an enormous influence on the scholarship to come: He insisted that slavery fueled British industrial development, and therefore that slavery was the foundation not only of British capitalism but of capitalism as a whole. To prove this claim, Williams cited the many British mercantilists who themselves knew that slavery and the slave trade (not to mention the transportation of settlers) relied on a complex economic system, one that included shipbuilding and shackles to restrain the enslaved, along with firearms, textiles, and rum—manufacturing, in short. Sugar and tobacco, then cotton, were ferociously profitable, adding mightily to London’s coffers, which meant more ships and firearms, in a circle devoid of virtue. Assuredly, the immense wealth generated by slavery and the slave trade—the latter, at times, bringing a 1,700 percent profit—provided rocket fuel to boost the takeoff of capitalism itself.

If Williams’s first thesis has been critiqued by subsequent historians and scholars, who have found its apparent optimism about the ability to uproot racism misguided, his second has been largely embraced and bolstered by subsequent scholars, including Walter Rodney in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and Joseph Inikori in Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England.

The latter, in fact, goes farther than Williams does. Inikori argues that before the advent of the slave trade, England’s West Yorkshire, the West Midlands, and South Lancashire were poorer regions; but buoyed by slavery’s economic stimulus, they became wealthy and industrialized. Similarly, in the period from 1650 to 1850, the Americas were effectively an extension of Africa itself in terms of exports, buoying the former to the detriment of the latter. More polemically, Rodney portrays Africa and Europe on a veritable seesaw, with one declining as the other rises, the two processes intrinsically united in a manner that echoes Williams.

The scholarship that followed Williams’s book also pointed to something that Williams missed in his account of the entwined nature of capitalism and slavery: The intense feudal religiosity that characterized Spain, Protestant England’s inquisitorial Catholic foe, began to yield in favor of a similarly intense racism—albeit shaped and formed by religion, just as racial slavery shaped and formed capitalism. As the historian Donald Matthews suggested in his book At the Altar of Lynching, this ultimate Jim Crow expression of hate—often featuring the immolation of the cross, if not of the victimized himself—was also a kind of religious sacrament as well as a holdover from a previous epoch in England’s history, in which Queen Mary I (also known as “Bloody Mary”) burned Protestant foes at the stake during her tumultuous and brief 16th-century reign. In the bumpy transition from feudalism to capitalism, there is a perverse devolutionary logic embedded in the shift from torching presumed heretics to torching actual Africans.

Nonetheless, Williams’s most disputed thesis was his downgrading of the heroic role of the British abolitionists. In his telling of their story, he argued that naked economic self-interest, more than morality or humanitarianism, drove England’s retreat from the slave trade in 1807 and its barring of slavery in 1833. Like The New York Times’ 1619 Project, this part of Williams’s argument pricked a sensitive nerve in the nation’s self-conception. In 2007, on the 200th anniversary of the official banning of human trafficking from Africa, the British prime minister and the monarch presided over a commemoration that sought to foreground Britain’s abolitionism, not its central role in the muck of slavery’s repulsiveness. Instead of focusing on the United Kingdom as a primary beneficiary of the enslavement of Africans, they refashioned their once formidable empire as the very embodiment of abolitionism.

This sleight-of-hand at once evaded the continuing legacy of slavery’s barbarity and undermined the question of reparations for the country’s crimes against humanity. The evasion eventually led one Black Britisher to argue that the plight of descendants of the enslaved in the UK was reminiscent of the movie The Truman Show, “where you know something is not right but nobody wants to admit it.”

When it comes to Britain’s subjects in North America, Williams shows how 1776 led to a disruption of the profitable chain of enrichment that linked the 13 colonies and the British Caribbean. The resulting republic, he said, “diminished the number of slaves in the empire and made abolition easier”—which is difficult to refute, though Williams curiously omitted the salient fact that the republic swiftly supplanted the monarchy as the kingpin of the African slave trade. Williams also illustrated how, in this void, the unpatriotic settlers who had broken from the British Empire were busily developing ties with the French Caribbean, heightening the profitability—and the exploitation—of those enslaved in what became Haiti. It was a process that would backfire spectacularly with the transformative revolution sparked in 1791; indeed, this was the revolution that led to abolition. (This thesis was explored in even greater depth in The Black Jacobins, by Williams’s frequent political sparring partner and fellow Trinidadian, C.L.R. James.)

Despite the convincing evidence that Williams deploys to make his case, this particular thesis is still routinely ignored by many contemporary historians, who argue that the abolitionist movement was ignited instead by the rebellion of 1776 and its purportedly liberatory message, often citing Vermont’s abolition decree in 1777. But as the unjustly neglected historian Harvey Amani Whitfield observes in The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, the language of this measure was sufficiently porous that even the family of settler hero Ethan Allen was implicated in the odiousness of enslavement. (More to the point, the decree could easily be seen as a cynically opportunistic last-ditch attempt to appeal to Africans who were already defecting to the Union Jack.)

In Capitalism and Slavery, Williams also stressed the agency of the enslaved and their role in abolishing slavery—“the most dynamic and powerful” force, he argued, and one that has been “studiously ignored.” Early on, Williams demonstrated, the enslaved sought to abolish slavery through insurrection, murder, poisonings, arson—“indolence, sabotage and revolt” was his descriptor of these actions—and he charts how these acts of militant resistance made their way back to London as well, where many took note and realized that lives and, more importantly, investments could be jeopardized. “Every white slave owner in Jamaica, Cuba or Texas,” Williams wrote, “lived in dread of another Toussaint L’Ouverture,” the true founder of revolutionary Haiti and the grandest abolitionist of all. Rather than accede to this “emancipation from below,” the British government, prodded by British abolitionists, opted for “emancipation from above.”

Williams’s masterwork is so rich with ideas and historical insights that it still speaks to today’s historiography, but in ways that have seemingly eluded many contemporary practitioners. For example, in his focus on England’s so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688—which unleashed a devastating era of “free trade in Africans,” as merchants descended on the beleaguered continent with the maniacal energy of crazed bees, manacling Africans and shipping them in breathtaking numbers to a cruel fate—Williams anticipated the illuminating contribution of the British historian William Pettigrew in his insightful Freedom’s Debt.

Part of the problem is that today’s historians are so siloed, narrowly focused on an era, such as 1750-83 or 1850-65, that they remain oblivious to preceding events—even ones as momentous as 1688, 1776’s true precursor. These scholars mimic the uncomprehending jury in the 1992 trial of the Los Angeles police officers whose vicious beating of Rodney King was captured on tape. Instead of allowing the tape to unfold seamlessly from beginning to end, sly defense attorneys exposed the jury to mere fragments and convinced its members that the disconnected episodes hardly amounted to a crime.

Indeed, just as slavery drove 1688, it assuredly compelled Texas’s secession from Mexico in 1836 and then—finally—the failure of 1861. And yes, along with the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which sought to restrain real estate speculators (including George Washington) from moving westward to seize Indigenous land, forcing London to expend blood and treasure, slavery was at the heart of 1776. As with many earthshaking events, the lust for land and enslaved labor drove the founding of the republic.

Williams also anticipated one of the more important scholarly interventions of recent decades: He offered an early account of the “construction of whiteness,” a subject written about in the enlightening work of David Roediger and Nell Irvin Painter, among others. The slave trade, Williams argued, “had become necessary to almost every nation in Europe.” As a result, a new identity politics of “whiteness”—militarized and monetized—had to emerge in order to justify the subjugation of continents and peoples and the gargantuan transfer of wealth to London, Paris, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Madrid, Amsterdam, and Washington. No insult to Brussels intended, but the formation of the United States was little more than a bloodier precursor of the European Union, manifested on an alien continent with a more coercive regime.

Inevitably, this cash machine of enslavement and the way it racialized humanity did not disappear when slavery itself was finally abolished. The legacy of racism persisted in Jim Crow, then in outrageously disparate health outcomes and the carceral system. There is no more illustrative example than the hellhole that is Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana, which inelegantly carries the name of the region in Africa that produced a disproportionate share of the US enslaved—and thus today’s imprisoned.

Unfortunately, all of the jousting that Williams had to do with the mainstream of British and US historiography, which tended to downplay slave resistance while failing to think critically about capitalism as a system, prevented him from forging a larger political framework in the book that would have strengthened its historical insights. Encountering his discussion of the still-astonishing influx of enslaved Africans into Brazil in the 1840s, the uncareful reader could easily conclude that British nationals were largely responsible—and not US citizens. Perhaps understandably, Williams, who languished under the British Empire’s lash for decades, directed his ire toward London more than any other place—much in the way that James, his fellow countryman, focused intently on London’s malign role in subjugating revolutionary Haiti and hardly engaged with Washington’s.

Ironically, when he finally entered politics, Williams—who had so successfully broken from the pack on the soccer field and in his scholarship—managed to achieve only lesser results. Although Karl Marx, in Chapter 31 of the first volume of Capital, prefigured him in treating slavery in the Americas as essential to the rise of British industry, Williams was no Marxist—even if many of his peers in the Pan-African movement were decidedly of the socialist persuasion. This was true not only of James but of another Trinidadian, Claudia Jones, a former US Communist Party leader who was deported to London and became a stalwart of Black Britain (though she is better known today as a foremother of intersectionality). Jones was part of a circle that included Nelson Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki, both of whom had been leading members of the South African Communist Party, as well as the similarly oriented founding fathers of postcolonial Africa: Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah; Angola’s Agostinho Neto; Mozambique’s Samora Machel; Guinea-Bissau’s Amilcar Cabral. All of these leaders were more than willing to receive aid from Moscow in order to combat their North Atlantic foes. Nonetheless, both Williams and those to his left still tended to see 1776 as the start of an “incomplete” revolution.

On this, there is much to dispute, and one might start by comparing the outcome of 1776 to the 1948 implantation of “apartheid” in another USA: the then Union of South Africa. Apartheid was founded with the central goal of uplifting the Afrikaner poor (akin to the “American dream”) while grinding Africans into neo-slavery (they objected strenuously, as did their counterparts in 1776). Decades earlier, the Afrikaners, who were the descendants of Dutch immigrants, had fought a putatively anti-colonial war against London, then sought to gobble up the land of their sprawling neighbor, today’s Namibia, not far from the size territorially of California and Texas combined, just as the Cherokee Nation was expropriated by Washington. Thus, as with 1776, the launch of apartheid South Africa could be deemed an “incomplete” revolution that somehow forgot to include the African majority—or was this exclusion and exploitation central to such a draconian intervention?

For his part, Williams the politician was forced to reckon with many of these knotty matters, in particular as they pertained to the purposefully incomplete process of decolonization and the rise of new forms of empire. As prime minister, in order to court the United States’ favor, he was derelict in extending solidarity to its antagonists in Cuba and neighboring Guyana, where Cheddi Jagan would be joined by Jamaica’s Michael Manley in seeking to pursue a noncapitalist path to independence.

Williams’s tenure as prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago extended for nearly two decades, from 1962 to 1981. But the presence of oil on the archipelago attracted the most vulturous wing of capital, further limiting his aspirations. As in Guyana, tensions between the various sectors of the working class—one with roots in Africa, the other in British India—were not conducive to anti-imperialist unity, hampering Williams’s ability to forge a sturdy base. Incongruously, though he did as much as any individual to assert the primacy of enslaved Africans in modern history, he ran afoul of the Black Power movement in his homeland, which—not altogether inaccurately—found him too compliant in dealing with the intrusive imperial presence in Trinidad. Yet despite being hampered by a divided working class and a proliferating Black Power movement that often regarded him with contempt, Williams was able to hang on to office, though he lacked the political strength to solve the persistent problems of poverty and underdevelopment.

The scholar whose X-ray vision detected the role of enslaved people in the innards of capitalism and empire was seemingly felled by both when the moment to confront their toxic legacy arrived. Even so, the failings of Williams the politico should not be used to vitiate the insights of Williams the scholar. As slavery-infused capitalism continues to run amok, we must, like an expert diagnostician, finally develop an adequate history that can drive a comprehensive prescription for our ills.

Author: Gerald Horne is the author of books on slavery, socialism, popular culture, and Black internationalism.

Source: The Nation, October 5, 2021,

AFRICOM: An Extension of U.S.-European Colonialism and Genocide / by Gloria Verdieu and John Parker

Protesters in Accra, Ghana, demonstrated against AFRICOM expansion in 2018.

In 2007, the George W. Bush administration inaugurated the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) to further the influence of the U.S. and extend its military reach directly into Africa. AFRICOM, however, wasn’t officially established in Africa, with its expanded troop presence and unprecedented use of drones on the continent, until Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.

This Oct. 1, the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) hosted a webinar titled “AFRICOM at 13: Building the Popular Movement for Demilitarization and Anti-Imperialism in Africa.” The event featured voices rarely heard in the U.S., from countries most affected by AFRICOM, including internationally-known activists for liberation and those representing the growing movement on the continent against AFRICOM.

The program started with a film by BAP exposing the imperialist aims of AFRICOM and its yearly price tag of $2 billion in Africa alone.

Guest speakers exposed the other resources required for AFRICOM’s maintenance: the cost of peoples’ sovereignty and right to self-government, in addition to the cost of inflaming humanitarian crises.

This webinar was part of a month-long effort by the Black Alliance for Peace to educate and advocate for these demands: the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Africa; the demilitarization of the African continent; the closure of U.S. bases throughout the world; and that the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) oppose AFRICOM and support hearings on AFRICOM’s impact on the African continent.

‘To dominate and exploit us’

Imani Na Umoja is a member of the Central Committee of the African Party of Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, the largest political party in Guinea-Bissau, which participated in its armed struggle for independence from Portugal. Umoja spoke about AFRICOM’s major role in the recent coups on the continent to ensure resources for U.S. imperialism and deny its peoples’ right to self-determination.

U.S. claims of promoting democracy are the exact opposite in its deeds.

“The agreements are so horrendous it makes me sick, and should make anyone sick,” said Kwesi Pratt Jr., a journalist and general secretary of the Socialist Movement of Ghana. He was referring to the establishment of U.S. bases in Ghana and agreements signed by the government that allow U.S. forces more immunity, freedom of movement and secrecy than its own citizens, diplomats or even the president of the country, “simply by showing their U.S. ID cards.”

Pratt said that the agreements do not allow anyone to question what the U.S. forces bring into or take out of the country. “The U.S. Army can use our resources for free … the agreement was signed to dominate and exploit us.”

Irene Asuwa of the Revolutionary Socialist League of Kenya spoke further on AFRICOM’s domestic cost to her people. “The war on terror is an excuse to kidnap people,” she said, explaining the heightened profiling of Somali peoples in Kenya. “In less than 12 hours they are taken into court and sentenced as terrorists with no lawyer, then taken away.”

Asuwa also spoke about the refugee crisis that was exacerbated by AFRICOM’s insistence that refugee camps be closed. This reality belies the false claim that AFRICOM is involved in solving humanitarian crises on the continent, rather than being one of the major causes of those crises — in spite of the well-polished public relations efforts touted on the organization’s official website.

The speakers helped bring to life what award-winning journalist Nick Turse, who exposed the unreported buildup of AFRICOM in 2008, wrote for the Intercept in February 2020: “Since 9/11, the U.S. military has built a sprawling network of outposts in more than a dozen African countries. … During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee late last month, Stephen Townsend, the commander of AFRICOM, echoed a line favored by his predecessors that AFRICOM maintains a ‘light and relatively low-cost footprint’ on the continent.

“This ‘light’ footprint consists of a constellation of more than two dozen outposts that stretch from one side of Africa to the other. The 2019 planning documents provide locations for 29 bases located in 15 different countries or territories, with the highest concentrations in the Sahelian states on the west side of the continent, as well as the Horn of Africa in the east.”

That so-called “light footprint” has had the effect of increasing, not decreasing terrorist activity.

U.S. presence promotes terrorism

The result: Turse goes on to explain that the number of extremist groups went up 400 percent, according to the Defense Department’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies. In 2019, there were 3,471 reported violent events linked to these groups, a 1,105% increase since 2009.

Said Turse: ¨The situation has become so grim that U.S. military aims in West Africa have recently been scaled back from a strategy of degrading the strength and reach of terror groups to nothing more than ‘containment.’”

This also echoes a 2017 United Nations report called “Journey to Extremism in Africa,” which states that government actions of repression, including increased drone killings, killings of family members, jailings and repression are the main motivation for recruitment into extremist organizations.

Many studies have also correlated the lack of food and basic necessities of life as the greatest cause of internal conflict. The U.N. report makes that point with a quote from Secretary-General António Guterres: “I am convinced that the creation of open, equitable, inclusive and pluralist societies, based on the full respect of human rights and with economic opportunities for all, represents the most tangible and meaningful alternative to violent extremism.”

In 2018 the U.N. also reported that it would take just $175 billion per year for 20 years to eradicate poverty, not only on the entire continent of Africa, but the entire world. That’s just 17% of the U.S. yearly military spending of nearly $1 trillion (the total expense is more than the defense budget).

So the money supposedly spent on fighting terrorism — which actually acts as a recruitment agent for folks joining extremist organizations — could be spent to actually end the conditions that create these extremist organizations. And it would have the added benefit of removing the greatest source of terrorism on the continent, the U.S. military.

So why isn’t that happening?

Profits before people

The fact is that AFRICOM’s “war on terror,” in addition to being a vital tool for U.S. imperialism, is also a self-perpetuating money machine for the ruling class – a huge bonanza for the military-industrial complex and the politicians and corporations who directly or indirectly benefit from it.

As Turse stated in his article on AFRICOM expansion, “The U.S. has been building up its network of bases, providing billions of dollars in security assistance to local partners.”

As many of the webinar speakers pointed out, the primary goal of AFRICOM is to ensure the continued theft of resources by the U.S. and its allies and to maintain U.S. military dominance on the continent.

“In 2007 to 2009, a discovery of oil on the Congo and Uganda border of 1.7 billion barrels brought heavy militarization and oil conglomerates and then, in 2012, Obama announces troops [being dispatched] to capture Joseph Kony (leader of a small rebel grouping), although he hadn’t been in Uganda for almost six years,” said Salome Ayuak, a member of BAP and Horn of Africa Pan-Africans for Liberation and Solidarity.

Ayuak also explained that one-third of permanent and semi-permanent AFRICOM bases reside in the Horn of Africa, reflecting the strategic importance of its waterways for trade and oil exploration. “We must look at AFRICOM through a materialist lens to see the long history of its policing in African states,” she stated.

“AFRICOM is linked with the history of exploitation and slavery and is part of NATO. It must [also] be seen as part of British, French and other imperialist countries’ armed forces,” stated Kwesi Pratt Jr.

He mentioned that this history and the military backing of imperialism created the situation where Ghana’s currency drops despite the country’s position as fifth in the world in gold production. The country receives only 3% of the interest and 2% of the revenue produced from gold mining.

Militarism or mutual assistance?

Kambale Musavuli, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo and national spokesperson for Friends of the Congo, stated: “The U.S. has been engaged in the DRC since 1885. It was the first country to recognize the Congo as the personal property of King Leopold [Belgian monarch who committed the most horrendous atrocities against the native population, killing more than 10 million, in the exploitation of their labor for rubber production and export]. The U.S. used the relationship built with Leopold to get the uranium from the DRC used to bomb Hiroshima in 1945.”

And in a further example of war crimes and genocide, Musavuli explained the role of the U.S. and its AFRICOM partners in the 1996 and 1998 invasions of the Congo by Rwanda and Uganda — causing the deaths of over 6 million Congolese.

This was followed by a huge extraction of mineral wealth essential for phones and computers. “Most of us have devices that use those minerals,” he noted.

Musavuli also contrasted the approach of U.S. militarism to China’s mutual assistance in the race for cobalt and coltan, minerals primarily found in the Congo. “While the Chinese sent foreign ministers in the middle of the pandemic to forgive loans and discuss needed development programs, two weeks later [U.S.] soldiers showed up to meet local officials and sign military agreements.

“Then, this past summer, we see a group of American special forces in the Congo after leaving Afghanistan, supposedly going after ISIS … The U.S. today says the DRC has ISIS, when every local person knows we don’t.”

What is to be done? Maybe Kwesi Pratt Jr. of Ghana should answer that:

“All of these atrocities would not be possible if the power was in the hands of working people in Africa. So our task first and foremost is to make sure power resides in the hands of working people, to make sure that the revolutionary forces control power, that neocolonial regimes are defeated, and we move away from neocolonialist capitalism …

“Only under the banner of socialism can we stop all these enemy forces – we are in danger otherwise.”

Which means we in the U.S. have to work towards exposing and dismantling AFRICOM, the Pentagon and capitalism here in the belly of the beast – which requires principled unity, solidarity and struggle – just as our comrades in Africa are determined to keep pushing forward.

(Courtesy: Struggle La-Lucha, a US socialist publication.)

Source: Janata Weekly, October 17, 2021,

See also, Black Alliance for Peace at

The Brutal Slave Trade in the US Has Been Largely Whitewashed From History / by Joshua D. Rothman

A trade card with printed black type for the domestic slave traders Hill, Ware and Chrisp, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Mountains of material expose the depravity of the men who ran the largest domestic slave trading operation in American history and reveal the fortitude of the enslaved people they trafficked as merchandise.

For my recently published book, “The Ledger and the Chain,” I visited more than 30 archives in over a dozen states, from Louisiana to Connecticut. Along the way, I uncovered mountains of material that exposed the depravity of the men who ran the largest domestic slave trading operation in American history and revealed the fortitude of the enslaved people they trafficked as merchandise.

But I also learned that many Americans do not realize that a domestic slave trade existed in the U.S. at all.

A domestic slave trader's newspaper ad from 1844 says 'CASH FOR NEGROES.'

Slave trader Joseph Bruin placed this advertisement in the Alexandria Gazette on March 20, 1844. City of Alexandria, Virginia

Mentioning my research to others repeatedly provoked questions about Africa, not America. They obviously assumed that a scholar working on the slave trade must be working on the trade that brought millions of Africans to the Western Hemisphere via the terrifying Atlantic Ocean crossing known as the Middle Passage.

They did not appear to know that by the time slavery ended in 1865, more than 1 million enslaved people had been forcibly moved across state lines in their own country, or that hundreds of thousands more had been bought and sold within individual states.

Americans continue to misunderstand how slavery worked and how vast was its reach – even as the histories of race and slavery are central to ongoing public conversations.

Indifference to suffering

Enslaved people were bought and sold within the boundaries of what is now the United States dating back to the Colonial era. But the domestic slave trade accelerated dramatically in the decades after 1808.

That year, Congress outlawed the importation of enslaved people from overseas, and it did so at a moment when demand for enslaved laborers was booming in expanding cotton and sugar plantation regions of the lower South.

Two vintage posters from the 1840s advertising slave trader services in Kentucky.

Two posters advertising the services of slave traders L.C. Robards, top, and Silas Marshall and Bro, bottom, Lexington, Ky. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Growing numbers of professional slave traders stepped forward to satisfy that demand. They purchased enslaved people primarily in upper South states like Maryland and Virginia, where a declining tobacco economy left many slaveholders with a surplus of laborers. Traders then forced those enslaved people to migrate hundreds of miles over land and by ship, selling them in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and other states where traders hoped to turn a profit.

The domestic slave trade was a brutal and violent business. Enslaved people lived in constant fear that they or their loved ones would be sold.

William Anderson, who was enslaved in Virginia, remembered seeing “hundreds of slaves pass by for the Southern market, chained and handcuffed together.” Years after he fled the South, Anderson wrote of “wives taken from husbands and husbands from wives, never to see each other again – small and large children separated from their parents,” and he never forgot the sounds of their sorrow. “O, I have seen them and heard them howl like dogs or wolves,” he recalled, “when being under the painful obligation of parting to meet no more.”

Slave traders were largely indifferent to the suffering they caused. Asked in the 1830s whether he broke up slave families in the course of his operations, one trader admitted that he did so “very often,” because “his business is to purchase, and he must take such as are in the market.”

‘So wicked’

Domestic slave traders initially worked mostly out of taverns and hotels. Over time, an increasing number of them established offices, showrooms and prisons where they held enslaved people whom they intended to sell.

By the 1830s, the domestic slave trade was ubiquitous in the slave states. Newspaper advertisements blared “Cash for Negroes.” Storefront signs announced that “dealers in slaves” were inside. At ports and along roads, travelers reported seeing scores of enslaved people in chains.

A handwritten letter announcing the opening of a slave trading company at a hotel in Richmond, Virginia.

An 1852 letter from James B. Hargrove quotes the market prices for enslaved men, women and children. Library of Virginia

Meanwhile, the money the trade generated and the credit that financed it circulated throughout the country and across the Atlantic, as even European banks and merchants looked to share in the gains.

The more visible the trade became, the more antislavery activists made it a core of their appeals. When abolitionist editor Benjamin Lundy, for example, asked white Americans in the 1820s how long they could look at the slave trade and “permit so disgraceful, so inhuman, and so wicked a practice to continue in our country, which has been emphatically termed THE HOME OF THE FREE,” he was one among a rising chorus.

But abolitionists made little headway. The domestic slave trade ended only when slavery ended in 1865.

Propaganda obscures history

Vital to the American economy, important to American politics and central to the experience of enslaved people, the domestic slave trade was an atrocity carried out on a massive scale. As British traveler Joseph Sturge noted, by the 1840s, the entire slaveholding portion of the United States could be characterized by division “into the ‘slave-breeding’ and ‘slave-consuming’ States.”

Yet popular historical knowledge of the domestic trade remains hazy, thanks largely to purposeful forgetting and to a propaganda campaign that began before the Civil War and continued long past its conclusion.

White Southerners made denial about the slave trade an important tenet in their defense of slavery. They claimed that slave sales were rare, that they detested the slave trade and that traders were outcasts disdained by respectable people.

Kentucky minister Nathan Lewis Rice’s assertion in 1845 that “the slave-trader is looked upon by decent men in the slave-holding States with disgust” was such a common sentiment that even white Northerners sometimes parroted it. Nehemiah Adams, for example, a Massachusetts resident who visited the South in 1854, came away from his time in the region believing that “Negro traders are the abhorrence of all flesh.”

Four slave traders with guns guarding enslaved people they were transporting south from Virginia.

Franklin and Armfield slave trading company partner John Armfield watching over enslaved men and women chained together who he and several employees were moving south from Virginia. John Murray/Library of Virginia

Such claims were almost entirely lies. But downplaying the slave trade became a standard element of the racist mythology embedded in the defense of the Confederacy known as the Lost Cause, whose purveyors minimized slavery’s significance as they discounted its role in bringing about the Civil War.

And while the Confederacy may have lost on the battlefield, its supporters arguably triumphed in the cultural struggle to define the war and its meaning. Well into the 20th century, significant numbers of white Americans throughout the country accepted and embraced the notion that slavery had been relatively benign.

As they did so, the devastations of the domestic slave trade became buried beneath comforting fantasies of moonlight and magnolias evoked by movies like “Gone With the Wind.

Recent years have seen monuments to the Confederacy coming down in cities and towns across the country. But the struggle over how Americans remember and talk about slavery, now perhaps more heated and controversial than ever, arguably remains stuck in terms that are legacies of the Lost Cause.

Slavery still conjures images of Southern farms and plantations. But the institution was grounded in the sales of nearly 2 million human beings in the domestic slave trade, the profits from which nurtured the economy of the entire country.

Until that history makes its way more deeply into our popular memory, it will be impossible to come to terms with slavery and its significance for the American past and present.

Joshua D. Rothman, Professor of History, University of Alabama

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Source: Portside, October 15, 2021,

What is imperialism? / by Anti-Imperialist Network

What is imperialism and why is it important to have a precise definition?

Let’s stop for a moment and think how we would answer the question: what is imperialism? We are an anti-imperialist movement, we are fighting against imperialism, and if we are stopped on the street and asked what are we trying to fight against, what should we say? It is very likely that each anti-imperialist would give a different definition without necessarily being consistent with the definition of the other anti-imperialists. It may be a simple problem, but it has very deep consequences: if there is no consensus on common understanding of the problem, then there cannot be a consensus on the solution. In other words, if we don’t agree on what we’re fighting against, we are likely to fight against different things, hence there is no unity in struggle.

When people think about imperialism, the first thing that comes to their mind is military intervention or some kind of interference in the affairs of other countries. By “interference” we mean a violation of sovereignty in any field, be it military, economic or cultural. Therefore, sometimes we find terms like: cultural imperialism, economic imperialism, etc. In this sense, imperialism is presented as a type of an aggressive foreign policy of certain countries.

Sometimes we find ideas about imperialism in the sense of relations of domination and dependence between countries. These ideas go beyond the conception of simple foreign policies and try to explain imperialism in terms of power relations between the rich and poor countries.

The most common definition we find is Lenin’s classic definition. Lenin defines imperialism in five points:

  1. the concentration of capital produces national monopolies,
  2. industrial and banking capital merges into financial capital, giving birth to the financial oligarchy,
  3. the export of capital replaces the export of goods,
  4. the formation of international monopolies, and
  5. territorial division of the world between the capitalist powers.

An alternative interpretation

While the above approaches are not wrong and they do capture the essential characteristics of what imperialism is, it can be said that they do not succeed in addressing the problem in its entirety nor grasp the full picture. Thus, if we focus on one or a few aspects of imperialism, we can draw wrong conclusions that can become counterproductive rendering our struggle ineffective or even contrary to our intentions.

Reaching a common definition is a collective work of all anti-imperialists. We want to give the first impulse to this discussion process and propose a definition based on the latest academic research in this field by Torkil Lauesen, Zak Cope and Donald Clelland, among many others. We build on the tradition of unequal exchange theory, dependency theory, world-systems analysis and Global Capitalism School.

Although it is very difficult to reduce such a complex concept to a single sentence, we would like to propose the following one:

Imperialism is a hierarchical system based on the transfer of value, which constitutes its economic infrastructure, which in turn is being reproduced by the ideological, political and military superstructure.

The key to the definition lies in the conceptualisation of imperialism as an integral whole whose elements are the individual states and which share common processes–that is, it is a system. Individual states produce value (we can also call it wealth, economic surplus, etc.) that does not necessarily remain within their borders but, thanks to economic mechanisms, flows to other states. The states in this system form a hierarchy according to this flow of value, so that the states which produce value and do not enjoy it find themselves at the bottom of the hierarchy, while the states which appropriate and enjoy the value created by other states are at the top.

There are other ways of referring to this division, for example: Global North-Global South, First World-Second World-Third World, etc. According to the tradition of dependency theory and world-system analysis, this type of division is called the centre-periphery hierarchy and consists of three elements:

  1. periphery: the countries at the bottom of the hierarchy
  2. centre: the countries at the top and
  3. semi-periphery: countries with an intermediate status that benefit from the value extracted from the periphery but at the same time lose some of it to countries in the centre.

That economic basis of the system is capitalism and its logic of accumulation. When we talk about capitalism, we talk within the framework of individual states and in abstract economic terms. In practice, the imperialist system is the real existing form of capitalism. For that reason, imperialism can also be called global capitalism.

Imperialism in the sense of the flow of value from the periphery to the centre of the system is institutionalised and its institutions were transformed and adapted to each era. Thus we can distinguish historical periods of the development of the system from the periods of classical colonialism, neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism.

Classical colonialism sought to incorporate non-capitalist territories into the system by using military conquest, to maintain the system by force and direct management of the colonial territories, and to apply extreme forms of coercion such as slavery in order to extract value from the peripheral labour force.

In neo-colonialism, the direct application of force was replaced by the formal independence of the peripheral regions and their de facto dependence through military “aid” and economic “cooperation”.

The current era of neoliberalism is based on institutions that stand above the sovereignty of states and that control the market mechanisms: IMF, World Bank, etc.

What guarantees the integrity of this economic base is the superstructure of the system. The superstructure manifests itself in military, political and ideological policies. While military force and political relations maintain the balance of the economic system of plunder, ideology gives it legitimacy and builds the moral system to sustain the  stereotypes that allow not to question the status quo.

What do we mean by balance in the system? Peripheral countries are in a position that condemns them to perpetual underdevelopment, a situation they want to change. To be able to change it, they have to change the economic model to one that contradicts the logic of the system. Such a change and possible delinking can lead to crises of the system and blockage in the process of accumulation of capital and wealth. Examples of this type can be seen in countries that resist the systemic logic, such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, etc.

In the semi-peripheral zone we have states that want to move up the hierarchy of the system while challenging the countries of the centre and their hegemony. Today we have the example of China and Russia, whose development poses a danger to the interests of, for example, the USA. In the past, the USSR threatened to change the economic infrastructure of the system itself.

While the countries at the bottom are struggling to improve their position within the hierarchy, the countries at the centre are fighting not to lose their dominant position. The example can be seen in the United States, which is trying to preserve its hegemonic position by all means.

In all these previous examples we can see how military intervention, political interference, economic pressure and their ideological justification serve to prevent changes in the logic of the system and preserve the “balance” that guarantees the well-being of the few at the expense of the misery of the many.

Therefore, instead of understanding imperialism as a set of states in the form of more or less autonomous entities, we propose to analyse it as an integrated system with common processes.

Consequences of our interpretation

If we compare our approach with the other ideas on imperialism, we can draw several important conclusions that affect the strategy of the struggle.

When we talk about imperialism in the exclusive sense of an aggressive and interfering foreign policy, it is usually put in the context of a particular country or power, for example: “American imperialism”, “French imperialism”, “English imperialism”… If it is a question of policies, and we put all our forces to stop them, can we say that the end of these policies means the end of imperialism? According to our perspective, no. According to our perspective, the aggressive policies are a way of keeping the position in the hierarchy, therefore, the end of these policies would simply mean that another power would have the chance to step in and keep the “loot”.

In the same way, if we consider imperialism only as a relation of dependence, can we assume that the respect of the sovereignty of the dependent country would put an end to imperialism? Again, no. Previous eras show us that this may not be the case. The wave of anti-colonial struggle and the struggle for national liberation, although it has brought an immense emancipation of the oppressed peoples, did not know how to defeat the logic of capitalist accumulation and again found itself in the position of dependency. Imperialism adapted itself to the new circumstances and found a way to restore the “balance”.

Talking about Lenin’s definition, we can say that it belongs to a particular historical epoch and does not reflect all the ways of imperialist development to this day.

Towards a common strategy

In order to put our perspective into practice, it would be important to talk about the method of analysis. The Marxist tradition offers us a very powerful tool: dialectics. Based on Mao’s work on contradiction, the Danish anti-imperialist academic Torkil Lauesen, in his work “The Principal Contradiction”, presented a way to develop strategy by analysing contradictions within the system.

First, what is a contradiction? In a simple way we can say that it is about two mutually dependent pieces that are in opposition.

The processes in the system are developed through contradictions. For example, if we think about the relationships between those who produce value and those who appropriate it, we can identify contradictions at various levels: between states at a regional or global level, between regions within the same state, between classes within a society, etc.

Moreover, in the current neo-liberal era, we can find the contradictions between the state and accumulation (the need of the people to maintain the welfare state and the need of the capitalists to eliminate it to facilitate the accumulation of wealth), between economic growth and natural limits (the need to expand production and markets to increase profits on the one hand and the limited resources of the planet on the other hand).

The contradictions are numerous, but only one is dominant. Therefore, if imperialism is a system, then all the contradictions arise from its structure. In this sense, the main and dominant contradiction appears in the capitalist logic of accumulation. Its consequences are competition between the countries of the centre for access to resources and new markets, and blocking of the development of the periphery (caused by the transfer of value).

In other words, all the problems we observe today: poverty, wars, ecological catastrophe, discrimination and immigration, are all integral parts and at the same time consequences of the capitalist logic of accumulation. They will inevitably reappear again if their origin, which is the main contradiction of imperialism, is not eliminated. By eliminating it, imperialism will be eliminated as well.

A failure to identify the hierarchy of contradictions within the system can affect our strategy of struggle in such a way that, without being aware of it, we end up supporting policies, groups or movements that strengthen imperialism instead of weakening it. The most common trap is the so-called “third way” or “neither-nor”, which focuses on the secondary contradictions while strengthening the primary one. Examples of such positions can be seen in attitudes such as “Neither Assad, nor NATO”, “Neither Maduro/Lukashenko/Ortega/(name your favourite”dictator), nor opposition”, etc. Apart from confusing the victims with the executioners, those who argue in this way also ignore the marginality of their own strength and their lack of capacity to become a relevant actor to carry out their ideal objective. In this way, their attitude becomes an implicit support to systemic forces.

Therefore, analysing the contradictions, the most important thing is:

  • to put the local struggle in a global context in relation to processes and actors worldwide,
  • to understand our place in these processes and how we can strengthen the struggle, and
  • to have a clear strategy with the aim of weakening imperialism.

Transnational focus

The imperialist system, or global capitalism, is in a systemic crisis. The current system of accumulation has reached the limits of growth and is threatened by its own contradictions. The consequence can be either transformation or collapse. What we do not know is whether the end result will be a new system of plunder or a fairer system. What we do know for sure is that a better system will not appear by itself. It needs to be built and for that we need a movement.

What kind of movement will be able to build a new world? The first obstacle to overcome is the idea that the scope of the struggle has to be local and national. Imperialism is global capitalism, it is a system that covers the whole world and does not respect the borders. Borders are not an obstacle for the capital, but only for the people. Therefore, the focus of the new movement has to be global from the beginning. The movement has to be transnational, the anti-imperialist struggle cannot be submitted to the objectives of the local struggle, since the “local” is the direct consequence of the global processes.

The second obstacle is to identify groups and movements with an anti-systemic character. Not all those who call themselves anti-imperialists weaken imperialism, just as many movements that do not identify with anti-imperialism can have an effect (consciously or not) on weakening the imperialist system. Therefore, the new movement has to be anti-systemic, including all kinds of movements that aim at putting an end to the logic of capitalist accumulation.

Source: MRonline, October 8, 2021,

Originally published: Anti-Imperialist Network by Anti-Imperialist Network (October 4, 2021)

Cuba blocks U.S.-sponsored regime-change ‘protests’ aimed at overthrowing government / Steve Sweeney

Washington-backed Cuban exiles are plotting the overthrow of the island’s socialist government, but authorities there are taking moves to block their shcemes. Here, Cubans in support of their revolution march in the 2018 May Day parade in Havana. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

Cuban authorities have banned a series of marches that were aimed at destabilizing the country, claiming that the organizers are linked to groups financed by the U.S. government. It said that the demonstrations were set to be held in several provinces including Havana, Villa Clara, and Las Tunas.

The actions, which were planned for Nov. 15, were rejected as a threat to public order and a breach of the nation’s constitution. A letter handed to the organizers said permission had been denied as the planned actions were “a provocation, and part of a regime-change strategy for Cuba, tested in other countries.”

Authorities said that those behind the demonstrations were linked to “subversive organizations or agencies financed by the U.S. government [and] have the manifest intention of promoting a change of political system in Cuba.”

Havana municipal official Alexis Acosta accused Washington of deploying a similar strategy to the one it deployed in Bolivia “with the coup against President Evo Morales.”

“As soon as the march was announced, it received the public support of U.S. lawmakers, politicians, and media that encourage actions against the Cuban people and call for military intervention in our country,” he noted.

Anti-communist forces in Washington and the state of Florida are major supporters of the interference effort. Here, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., right, Reps. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., speak outside the Capitol at an event targeting Cuba’s government on May 20, 2021. | Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via AP

The Facebook group of Archipelago, one of the leading organizations calling for anti-government activities next month, insisted that its plans were peaceful. It said that it was rallying for civil liberties and an amnesty for those jailed during riots that rocked the socialist island in July.

But most of its 20,000 members are believed to live outside the country, plotting to oust Cuba’s progressive government from beyond its borders. The demonstrations were also backed by the opposition Cuban Christian Democratic Party, the leadership of which is based in Miami.

Protests in Cuba this summer boosted Washington’s thirst for regime change, prompting President Joe Biden to express supposed concern over human rights. But many of the anti-government voices, amplified through mainstream press organizations around the world, are linked to the U.S. government via the shady National Endowment for Democracy.

Funding for dissidents has increased through projects, such as “Empowering Cuban Hip-Hop Artists as Leaders in Society,” which is channeling cash to art and cultural projects across the country.

Money is also funneled towards artists, journalists, and bloggers via the U.S. State Department, the United States Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

In July, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez called for airstrikes on Cuba and other military intervention—indicating that a cultural and economic war is not enough for some in the U.S.

Biden’s supposed support of the Cuban people has not extended to lifting the six-decade blockade which some estimates suggest has cost the Cuban economy in excess of $1 trillion.


Author: Steve Sweeney writes for the Morning Star, the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. He is also a People’s Assembly National Committee member, patron of the Peace in Kurdistan campaign, and a proud trade unionist.

Source: Morning Star (UK), October 13, 2021, ; Reprinted in People’s World, October 14, 2021,

U.S. intervention and capitalism have created a monster in Honduras / by W.T. Whitney, Jr.

In this Oct. 24 2019, file photo, a man holds a sign that reads in Spanish “Hurray for those who fight” as he sits in front of a street blocked by a burning barricade, during a protest to demand the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernández, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. | Elmer Martinez / AP

Chilean author and human rights advocate Ariel Dorfman recently memorialized Orlando Letelier, former Chilean President Salvador Allende’s foreign minister. Agents of dictator Augusto Pinochet murdered Letelier in Washington in 1976. Dorfman noted that Chile and the United States were “on excellent, indeed obscenely excellent, terms (like they are today, shamefully, between the United States and the corrupt regime in Honduras).”

The Honduran government headed by President Juan Orlando Hernández does have excellent relations with the United States. The alliance is toxic, however, what with the continued hold of capitalism on an already unjust, dysfunctional society. Hondurans will choose a new president on Nov. 28.

Honduras, a dependent nation, is subject to U.S. expectations. These center on free rein for businesses and multi-national corporations, large foreign investment, low-cost export goods, low wages, foreigners’ access to land holdings and sub-soil resources, and a weakened popular resistance.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government casts a blind eye on Hernández’s many failings. These include: fraud and violence marking his second-term electoral victory in 2017, an illegal second term but for an improvised constitutional amendment, testimony in a U.S. court naming him as “a key player in Honduras’ drug-trafficking industry” and lastly, his designation by U.S.  prosecutors as a “co-conspirator” in the trial convicting his brother Tony on drug-trafficking charges.

Some 200 U. S. companies operate in Honduras. The United States accounted for 53% of Honduras’s $7.8 billion export total in 2019. U.S goods, led by petroleum products, made up 42.2% of Honduran imports.

Honduras’s Economic Development and Employment Zones (ZEDE) reflect planners’ exuberant imagination. They envision privately owned and operated “autonomous cities and special investment districts” attracting foreign investment and welcoming tourist and real estate ventures, industrial parks, commercial and financial services, and mining and forestry activities.

Banks and corporations active in the ZEDEs will appoint administrative officers, mostly from abroad and many from the United States. They, not Honduras’s government, will devise regulations and arrangements for taxation, courts, policing, education, and healthcare for residents.

The first ZEDEs are taking shape now. The idea for them cropped up following the military coup in 2009 that removed President Manuel Zelaya’s progressive government. Hernández, as congressional leader and as president from 2014 on, led in promoting them. Honduras’s Congress in 2013 amended the Constitution to legitimize legislation establishing the ZEDEs. The recent end of litigation before the Supreme Court resulted in their final authorization.

For most Hondurans, who are treated as if they were disposable, capitalism has its downside.

Honduras’s poverty rate is 70%, up from 59.3% in 2019. Of formally employed workers, 70% work intermittently; 82.6% of Honduran workers participate in the informal sector. The Covid-19 pandemic led to more than 50,000 businesses closing and almost half a million Hondurans losing their jobs. Some 30,000 small businesses disappeared in 2020 owing to floods caused by hurricanes.

Violence at the hands of criminal gangs, narco-traffickers, and the police is pervasive and usually goes unpunished. Victims are rival gang members, political activists, journalists, members of the LGBT community, and miscellaneous young people. According to, Honduras was Latin America’s third-most violent country in 2019 and a year later it registered the region’s third-highest murder rate. Says Reuters: “Honduras has become a sophisticated state-sponsored narco-empire servicing Colombian cartels.”

Associated with indiscriminate violence, corruption, and narco-trafficking, Honduras’s police are dangerous. President Hernández eight years ago created the “Military Police for Public Order” (PMOP), the Interinstitutional National Security Force, and the “Tigres” (Tigers). These are police units staffed either by former soldiers or by “soldiers…specializing in police duties.” Police in Honduras numbered 13,752 in 2016 and 20,193 in 2020.

Honduras’s military has grown. Defense spending for 2019 grew by 5.3 %; troop numbers almost doubled. For Hernández, according to one commentator, “militarism has been his right arm for continuing at the head of the executive branch.” The military forces, like the police, are corrupt, traffic illicit drugs, and are “detrimental” to human rights. The looming presence of security forces is intimidating as they interfere, often brutally, with voting, protest demonstrations, and labor strikes.

According to Amnesty International, “The government of…Hernández has adopted a policy of repression against those who protest in the streets.… The use of military forces to control demonstrations across the country has had a deeply concerning toll on human rights.”

The U.S. government has provided training, supplies, and funding for Honduras’s police and military. Soto Cano, a large U.S. airbase in eastern Honduras, periodically receives from 500 to 1500 troops who undertake short-term missions throughout the region, supposedly for humanitarian or drug-war purposes.

Not only does serious oppression exist but, according to Reuters, severe drought over five years has decimated staple crops. “Nearly half a million Hondurans, many of them small farmers, are struggling to put food on the table.” The UN humanitarian affairs agency OCHA reports that as of February 2021, “The severity of acute food insecurity in Honduras has reached unprecedented levels.”

For the sake of survival, many Hondurans follow the path of family and friends: they leave. Among Central American countries, Honduras, followed by Guatemala and Mexico, registered the highest rate of emigration between 1990 and 2020. The rate increases were: 530%, 293%, and 154%, respectively. Between 2012 and 2019, family groups arriving from Honduras and apprehended at the U.S. border skyrocketed from 513 in 2012 to 188,368 in 2019.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. | Elmer Martinez / AP

The undoing of Honduras by U.S. imperialism follows a grim pattern but is also a special case. Rates of migration from Central American countries to the United States correlate directly with levels of oppression and deprivation in those countries. As regards hope, the correlation is reversed.

Differing rates of apprehension of Honduran and Nicaraguan migrants at the U.S. southern border are revealing: Capitalist-imbued Honduras specializes in oppression, while optimism is no stranger in a Nicaragua aspiring to socialism.

Department of Homeland Security figures show that between 2015 and 2018 the yearly average number of Nicaraguans apprehended at the border was 2292. The comparable figure for Hondurans was 63,741. Recently the number of Nicaraguan migrants has increased; 14,248 presented themselves at the border in 2019—as did 268,992 Honduran refugees. The difference cannot be explained by the two nations’ populations: This year the Honduran population reached 10,104,920, and the Nicaraguan population 6,724,836.

Recent reflections of Carlos Fonseca Terán, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) international secretary, show why hope has persisted in Nicaragua. He points out that since 2007, poverty, inequality, illiteracy, infant mortality, and murders have dropped precipitously. Citizens’ safety, electrification, renewable energy sources, women in government, healthcare funding, and the minimum wage have increased markedly. Fonseca adds that the “percentage of GDP produced…under associative, cooperative, family and community ownership went from less than 40% to more than 50%.”

As they taught us in school, contrast and compare.

Author: W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine.

Source: People’s World, October 13, 2021,