Cuba Defeats Covid-19 with Learning, Science, and Unity / by W.T. Whitney Jr.

Photograph Source: Phillip Pessar – CC BY 2.0

Education is central to Cuba’s brand of socialism. The revolutionary government’s dedication to scientific knowledge and healthcare for all shows up now as Cubans cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. The United States is not so lucky.

Cubans have wholeheartedly carried out masking, social-distancing, testing and quarantining. Cuba’ s bio-medical research and production facilities created five anti-Covid vaccines. As of December 3, 90.1 percent of Cubans had received their first dose; 82.3 percent of them were fully vaccinated. Only seven other countries have higher rates. (1) Trials showed that Cuba’s workhorse Abdala and Soberana 02 vaccines were protective for over 90 percent of vaccine recipients.

Cuba’s Covid vaccines don’t need extremely low-temperature refrigeration as is the case for major U.S. vaccines. In that regard they are particularly useful in poorly resourced countries. Cuba has sent, or is preparing to send, vaccines to Vietnam, Venezuela, Iran, and Nicaragua. Cuban scientists are elaborating a version of their Soberana Plus vaccine that will protect against the Omicron variant.

Cuba’s achievement in producing anti-Covid-19 vaccines is remarkable in the face of shortages of equipment, reagents, and supplies due to the U.S. economic blockade.

U.S. and Cuban assumptions regarding vaccination programs and other public health measures are different. Vaccine production in Cuba is a matter of the common good, pure and simple. In United States, government-subsidized manufacturers will be making huge profits – $18 billion for Moderna in 2021. U.S. government scientists and their pharmaceutical company counterparts collaborated in developing vaccines, but the companies now are claiming intellectual-property and patent rights for themselves.

Rejection of scientific facts and expert opinion is widespread in the United States. Myth-making leads to vaccine refusal. Political and cultural frictions frustrate consensus on mask-wearing and social distancing. The upshot is that the prevalence of Covid-19 infection in the United States is 14.9 per 100,000 persons; in Cuba it’s 8.5. The two countries’ Covid-19 mortality rates are, respectively, 240.18 and 73.31 per 100,000 persons

The message here is that a society coping with a major pandemic must draw upon reserves of unity and learning. Cuba’s recent experience shows that long attention paid to schooling and science is bearing fruit.

In the 19th century, according to one account, Felix Varela, a Catholic priest, “introduced Cuba to the principles of scientific thought, the first independence ideals, and the pursuit for national identity.” Jose Martí, Cuba’s national hero and independence leader, was teaching in Guatemala in 1878. There he wrote that, “Knowing how to read is knowing how to act. Knowing how to write is knowing how to ascend. Those first lowly school books put at man’s disposal feet, arms, and wings.” (2). He later suggested that, “to study the forces of nature and learn to control them is the most direct way of solving social problems,”

Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro attacked Santiago’s Moncada Barracks in 1953. In honor of Martí, born in 1853, they called themselves the centennial generation. Martí’s educational mission was in good hands.

Fidel Castro on December 16, 1960 told a meeting of spelunkers (explorers of caves) that, “We teach about accidents of nature but we don’t teach about tremendous accidents of humanity.” Calling for the study of nature, he declared that, “The future of our country must necessarily be a future of men of science, it must be a future of men of thought.” He noted that “many of our people had no access to culture or science” and “only 5% of farm-worker children have reached the 5th grade.”

A pre-revolutionary national census revealed almost 26 percent of Cubans to be illiterate. A major literacy campaign took place in 1961, the “Year of Education.” Some 100,000 young people, barely into their teens, and most of them raised in towns and cities, received instruction on teaching literacy. They went into rural areas and taught marginalized farm people how to read and write. The teenagers lived in their houses and did farm work.

Midway, goals were not being met. Taking up the slack were 20,000 volunteer factory workers and large numbers of regular teachers. Soon Cuba’s literacy rate was among the highest in the world.

Fidel Castro on December 22, 1961 spoke to literacy-campaign volunteers massed before him in Havana: “I will begin. [T]here are many jobs, jobs for all and we’re going to see if we can fill them … pay attention to these choices …”

He outlined scholarship opportunities for tens of thousands of the students to become teachers of those who would teach in primary schools, basic secondary schools, pre-university schools, schools for domestic workers, and art and music schools.

Castro also urged the literacy volunteers to serve as “technicians … language professors, engineers, physicians, economists, architects, educators, specialized technicians. “We are converting fortresses into schools” and “filling the island with teachers, so that in the future the homeland can count on a brilliant galaxy of men of thought, of researchers, of scientists.”

On being interviewed 60 years later, Dr. Agustin Lage spoke of “another literacy campaign.” He asks for “a massive penetration of the scientific method in our general culture.” Science would “be converted into a national culture for Cubans.”

Lage, head of Cuba’s Center of Molecular Immunology (CMI) since its founding in 1994, praises young scientists working in Cuba’s bio-medical institutes for their “moral values, social commitment, and a vision of what the world must be.” “Young people,” he explains, “led in confronting the challenge of Covid and making the vaccine[s].”

Lage surveys Cuba’s large biomedical research and production institutes, mentioning the National Center for Scientific Investigations (formed in 1965), the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (1986), the Finlay Vaccine Institute (1991), and his own CMI. Each of these centers, on its own premises, carries out research, development, production, and marketing of products. BioCubaFarma, created in 2013, serves 34 such entities by facilitating worldwide commercialization of vaccines, immunologic agents, chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, tests, medical equipment, and more.

Lage observes that in Cuba “science is a social process,” that “human societies, not individuals, make science.” He envisions “freely available and universally accessible healthcare, scientific and biotechnological development, and the pharmaceutical industry as a base of social cohesion.”

He suggests that economic development, “material well-being, and protection of our kind of social construction are possible only in a high-technology economy.” Without “internal demand or natural resources to drive our economy,” Cuba relies upon “science and technology.”

For Lage, social context matters. For example, when “an innovative laboratory of a multinational [corporation] sells its vaccine abroad, prices and the cost of healthcare go up, and inequalities are greater.” The process “helps to enrich those private companies.”

“Inequalities are now expanding in the world” he points out, “and we have to defend our achievements. We do that by connecting culture, scientific thought, and science with the economy so that social conquests can provide leverage for economic development.”

Lage had earlier stated on his blog that, “Cuba’s scientific culture always promotes analyzing with data, generating new hypotheses about reality, submitting hypotheses to criticism… and rejecting improvisation, superficiality, pseudoscience and superstition.” Ultimately, “we need science and technology to develop our economy, but also to preserve and solidify its socialist character.”

Concerned about vaccine rejection, a physician and sociologist writing recently in The New York Times point out that “governments have slashed budgets and privatized basic services and people are unlikely to trust institutions that do little for them.” And “public health is no longer viewed as a collective endeavor, based on the principle of social solidarity and mutual obligation.” They seek “policies that promote a basic, but increasingly forgotten, idea: that our individual flourishing is bound up in collective well-being.”

Neighboring Cuba has by no means forgotten this agreeable message.

Cuba, of course, is the model practitioner of what they are preaching.


1. None of those seven countries – Chile, United Arab Emirates, Portugal, Cayman Islands, Singapore, Brunei, and North Cyprus – produced their own Covid vaccines.

2. Philip S. Foner, ed., On Education by Jose Martí, (Monthly Review Press, NY, 1978), p.68

The author translated.

Author: W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

Source: Counterpunch, December 16, 2021,

I Want to Get Our Rights from the Americans Who Harmed Us / Vijay Prashad

Latif al-Ani (Iraq), Eid festivities in Baghdad, 1959

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

On 12 July 2007, two US AH-64 Apache helicopters fired 30-millimetre cannon rounds at a group of Iraqi civilians in New Baghdad. These US Army gunners murdered at least a dozen people, including Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chmagh. Reuters immediately asked for the US to conduct a probe into the killing. Instead, they were fed the official story by the US government that soldiers of Bravo Company, 2-16 infantry had been attacked by small arms fire as part of their Operation Ilaaj in the al-Amin al-Thaniyah neighbourhood. The soldiers called in air strikes, which came in and cleared the streets of insurgents. Reuters had information that the helicopters filmed the attack, and so the media house requested the video from the US military. The United States refused, claiming that there was no such video.

Two years later, Washington Post reporter David Finkel published The Good Soldiers, a book based on his time embedded in the 2-16 battalion. Finkel was with the soldiers in the al-Amin al-Thaniyah neighbourhood when they heard the Apache helicopters in action. He defended the US military, writing that ‘the Apache crew had followed the rules of engagement’ and that ‘everyone had acted appropriately’. The soldiers, Finkel wrote, were ‘good soldiers, and the time had come for dinner’. In his recounting, Finkel made it clear that he had watched a video of the incident, even as the US government denied its existence to Reuters and to human rights organisations.

On 5 January 2010, Chelsea Manning, a US soldier in Iraq, downloaded a tranche of documents and videos pertaining to the war onto compact discs and took them back with her to the United States. On 21 February 2010, Manning passed on the material related to Iraq to the WikiLeaks organisation, which had been set up in 2006 by a group of engaged people led by an Australian national by the name of Julian Assange. WikiLeaks and Assange went through the footage and published the full video from the Apache helicopters on their website under the title ‘Collateral Murder’ on 5 April 2010.

WikiLeaks, Collateral Murder, 2007.

The video is horrifying. It shows the appalling inhumanity of the pilots. The people on the ground were not shooting at anyone, but the pilots fire indiscriminately. ‘Look at those dead bastards’, one of them says; ‘nice’, another says after they fire at the civilians. Saleh Mutashar Tuman, a van driver, drives onto the scene, stops, and gets out to help the injured, including Saeed Chmagh. The pilots request permission to fire at the van; they are rapidly granted authorisation and begin to open fire. Minutes later, Army Specialist Ethan McCord – part of the 2-16 battalion in which Finkel was embedded – surveys the scene from the ground. In 2010, McCord told Wired’s Kim Zetter what he had witnessed: ‘I have never seen anybody being shot by a 30-millimetre round before. It didn’t seem real, in the sense that it didn’t look like human beings. They were destroyed’.

In the van, McCord and the other soldiers found Sajad Mutashar (age 10) and Doaha Mutashar (age 5) badly injured; their father, Saleh was dead on the ground. In the video, the pilot saw that there were children in the van; ‘Well’, he said callously, ‘it’s their fault for bringing kids into a battle’. When WikiLeaks released the video, then twelve-year-old Sajad Mutashar said, ‘I want to get our rights from the Americans who harmed us’. His mother, Ahlam Abdelhussein Tuman, said, ‘I would like the American people and the whole world to understand what happened here in Iraq. We lost our country and our lives were destroyed’. They were met with silence. Sajad, who recovered partly from his injuries, was killed by a car bomb in Baghdad in March of 2021.

Robert Gibbs, press secretary for former US President Barack Obama, said in April 2010 that the events depicted in the video were ‘extremely tragic’. But the cat was out of the bag. This video showed the world the actual character of the US war on Iraq, which United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called illegal. Neither US President George W. Bush nor UK Prime Minister Tony Blair have had to answer the charge of the illegality of their war against Iraq, although Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi did throw his shoes at Bush in Baghdad in 2008 while saying, ‘This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog’, and filmmaker David Lawley-Wakelin did interrupt Blair’s testimony at the Leveson inquiry in 2012 to call him a war criminal.Ali Talib (Iraq), Mesopotamia, 2004.

Ali Talib (Iraq), Mesopotamia, 2004.

When WikiLeaks and Assange released that video, they embarrassed the United States government. All its claims of humanitarian warfare lost credibility. It is from this point onwards that the US government – whether under the charge of Obama, Trump, or Biden – sought to punish Assange. Assange had to be brought to the United States and thrown into prison. No one was going to be allowed to get away with revealing the truth of US warmongering.

In 2019, the government of Ecuador ejected Assange from his refuge in its London embassy and turned him over to British authorities. A few days later, the British government explained why the WikiLeaks founder was sitting in Belmarsh Prison: ‘We can confirm that Julian Assange was arrested in relation to a provisional extradition request from the United States of America. He is accused in the United States of America of computer-related offences’. The US Justice Department said that Assange was wanted for a ‘computer hacking conspiracy’. But Assange did not hack into any computer. The material was collected by Chelsea Manning, who passed it onto WikiLeaks, which published it along with a range of media outlets. Assange is a journalist and a publisher, not a hacker. It is journalism that is being punished here.

That is why eight media houses from around the world joined together to publish a statement on the recent British court decision that Assange can be extradited to the United States. This statement is below:

On December 10, Human Rights Day, a British court delivered a verdict that clears the way for the extradition of journalist and publisher Julian Assange to the United States. If the extradition goes through, Assange will face criminal prosecution in the US, including under the infamous Espionage Act, and if convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in jail.

Julian Assange and his organisation WikiLeaks published vital information received from whistle-blowers such as Chelsea Manning that chronicled US war crimes and atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. This includes ‘Collateral Murder’, the horrifying video that showed US military personnel killing Iraqi civilians, including two journalists. WikiLeaks revelations also exposed corruption and human rights violations by governments across the world, and these reports have been carried and cited by media organisations globally.

It is for this crime of journalism that Julian Assange has been persecuted for over a decade. He is the first publisher to be charged under the Espionage Act. The US government and its allies across the world have refused to accept the fact that Assange is a journalist. The persecution of Julian Assange is thus a fundamental assault on journalism, press freedom, and freedom of expression.

We, the undersigned media organisations, reject and denounce this attack on Julian Assange and journalism. Freedom of the press will remain a hollow phrase as long as Julian Assange and WikiLeaks continue to be hounded.

ARG MediosBrasil de FatoBreakThrough NewsMadaarNewsClickNew FramePan African TV, and Peoples Dispatch.

In 2004, the Iraqi artist Nuha al-Radi died from leukaemia caused by depleted uranium that the United States used in Iraq. Her captivating book, Baghdad Diaries: A Woman’s Chronicle of War and Exile (2003), tells us about the suffering endured by all living beings in her native Baghdad during the US bombing of Iraq in 1991: ‘The birds have taken the worst beating of all. They have sensitive souls which cannot take all this hideous noise and vibration. All the caged love-birds have died from the shock of the blasts, while birds in the wild fly upside down and do crazy somersaults. Hundreds, if not thousands, have died in the orchard. Lonely survivors fly about in a distracted fashion’.

On 28 January 2007, a few months before he was killed by the US Army’s Apache helicopter, Namir Noor-Eldeen went to a secondary school in the Adil district of Baghdad, where a mortar attack had killed five female pupils. Noor-Eldeen took a photograph of a young boy walking past a pool of blood with a football under his arm. Beside the bright red blood lies a few rumpled schoolbooks. It was Noor-Eldeen’s humane eye that took this powerful picture of what had become normal in Iraq. This is what the US illegal war has done to his country.

Assange, who published the story about Noor-Eldeen’s death, sits in his cell, waiting to be extradited. After the verdict of the higher court, the journalist John Pilger observed, ‘Recently, I passed Tony Blair’s £8 million mansion in London’s Connaught Square. It’s an hour’s bleak journey to Belmarsh prison, where Julian Assange “lives” in a small cell. This is Britain Christmas 2021: the war criminal rewarded, the truth-teller punished, perhaps to death’.



Contributor: Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including “The Darker Nations” and “The Poorer Nations.” His latest book is “Washington Bullets,” with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

Source: Tricontinental, December 23, 2021,

Chileans elect Gabriel Boric president, reject ultra-conservative candidate / by W.T. Whitney Jr.

Supporters of Chile’s President-elect Gabriel Boric celebrate his victory in the presidential run-off election, in Santiago, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021. Above the crowd wave several flags belonging to the Communist Party of Chile, which supported Boric’s candidacy in the run-off. | Matias Delacroix / AP

Chileans on Dec. 19 were facing a defining moment as they voted for a president to replace right-wing billionaire Sebastián Piñera, whose second term is ending. Their choice of 35-year-old Gabriel Boric, social democratic candidate of the left-leaning Approve Dignity coalition, deflected the threat from devotees of Chile’s Pinochet dictatorship. They were backing billionaire José Antonio Kast, candidate of the Christian Social Front.

At stake were prospects for overcoming leftovers from the Pinochet dictatorship that ended in 1990. Policies in place under Piñera had prompted massive protests in October 2019 and for weeks afterwards. Demonstrators demanded rights for youth, labor, pensioners, and Indigenous people. They called for a new constitution to replace the one imposed by the old dictatorship and still in force today. Under fire, the Piñera government prepared for a Constituent Assembly, which voters authorized in May 2021.

Delegates to that Assembly are at work now presumably removing constitutional protection for Pinochet-era laws and regulations, most of which are neoliberal in nature. With Kast as president, approval of a new constitution and then implementation would likely have been problematic.

Kast had secured 27.9% of the votes in the first round of presidential elections on Nov. 21. Second-place Boric had gained 25.8%. In the just-completed second round, however, Boric won 55.7% of the vote to Kast’s 44.3% of the total. Crucially, 55% of eligible Chileans voted; only 47% had done so in the first round. On that occasion, seven political parties presented candidates.

Voter participation was the highest since the authorization of voluntary voting in 2012. Since then, low attendance at the polls has been routine. Massive distrust of political parties is said to contribute to potential voters staying away. Political participation has overwhelmingly taken the form of involvement with social movements.

Social movements represented the main force behind both the watershed demonstrations that began in 2019 and the student-led mobilizations of 2008 and 2011. It’s likely that on Dec. 19 politically unaffiliated activists voted in large enough numbers to give the presidency to Boric.

Chile’s President-elect Gabriel Boric. | Luis Hidalgo / AP

The new president, who grew up in extreme southern Chile, drew attention in 2011 as one of the student leaders responsible for nationwide protests. He has served in the Chamber of Deputies in Chile’s Congress since 2014, having been the first to legislate there without party affiliation.

Speaking after his victory, Boric promised to defend the Constituent Assembly, to protect Indigenous rights, support pension reform and public education, introduce universal healthcare, and work toward reducing wealth inequalities.

Primary elections in July 2021 established Boric as a front-runner presidential candidate. Running on behalf of a center-left coalition that included his new “Social Convergence Party,” he defeated Daniel Jadue, the Communist mayor of Recoleta and candidate of a leftist coalition led by the Communist Party. The two coalitions quickly merged to form the now victorious Approve Dignity formation.

Campaigning, candidate Kast based his appeal on anti-communism and condemnation of abortion. Family ties burnishing his ultra-right credentials came to the fore. His brother had served the Pinochet dictatorship as economist, labor minister, and Central Bank head; his immigrant father was a member of Germany’s Nazi Party.

The disaster in store for Chile, had Kast been elected, was clear in a pre-election survey of his proposals for governing. Promising to “restore order,” Kast wanted to “grant legal immunity to the armed forces and fund the legal defense of police officers accused of using excessive force; give the President sweeping powers to crack down on dissent; establish an International Anti-Radical Left Coalition; identify, arrest, and prosecute radicalized troublemakers…[and] exit the United Nations.”

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, December 20, 2021,

‘Amazon won’t let us leave’: Tornado creates modern Triangle Shirtwaist Factory / by C.J. Atkins

A heavily damaged Amazon fulfillment center is seen Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in Edwardsville, Ill. A large section of the roof of the building was ripped off and walls collapsed when a tornado moved through the area Friday night. Six workers were killed. Reportedly, Amazon would not let them leave their workplace as the storm approached. | Jeff Roberson / AP

“Amazon won’t let us leave.” That was the last message 46-year-old Larry Virden sent his girlfriend on the evening of Dec. 10. A short time later, a tornado blasted through Edwardsville, Illinois, and shredded the Amazon fulfillment center warehouse where Virden worked. When the roof of the massive facility came crashing down, he and five co-workers were left dead. Cherie Jones, his partner of 13 years, is now in mourning and explaining to their four children why dad is never coming home.

According to Jones, Virden could have gotten back in time to shelter with his family—if only his employer hadn’t ordered workers to stay at the facility. Amazon claims supervisors moved to get as many workers as possible to designated safe spots in the warehouse, but Virden’s final text is a rallying cry against the willful anti-worker negligence of the retail behemoth.

‘Amazon won’t let us leave’: A screenshot shared with the media by Larry Virden’s girlfriend, Cherie Jones, shows the last text message he sent before a tornado killed him and five co-workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Edwardsville, Ill., on Dec. 10.

Amazon wasn’t the only corporation implicated in tornado-linked worker deaths that night, though. Eight more were killed at the Mayfield Consumer Products Company’s candle factory in Mayfield, Ky. There, too, workers wanted to flee an approaching twister, but bosses reportedly told them they’d be fired if they left the plant. The damage in Mayfield was even more devastating than that in Edwardsville; all that’s left of the candle factory is a pile of rubble.

The two sites—which are essentially crime scenes—invite comparisons to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. There, 146 garment workers—123 women and girls and 23 men, many of them Italian and Jewish immigrants—were killed when flames engulfed a high-rise clothing plant in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Many were burned alive, others suffocated from the smoke, while dozens more desperately jumped or fell from windows.

The Triangle company had chained the doors of the factory closed, a common practice among bosses at the time in order to keep workers from taking breaks or leaving before managers said they could.

Immediately after the tragedy, socialist leader Rose Schneiderman told the members of the Women’s Trade Union League: “I would be a traitor to those poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship…. Too much blood has been spilled…. It is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can do that is with a strong working-class movement.”

A wave of worker organizing and agitation for workplace safety was sparked by the blaze. Survivors of the fire became major advocates for unions as the only way workers might collectively protect themselves from corporate greed. Fire eyewitness Frances Perkins took up the investigation for the state and was instrumental in putting safety front and center; later she would be the United States’ first woman Secretary of Labor under FDR and said the Triangle fire was “the day the New Deal was born.”

From the ashes arose the country’s first laws mandating fire safety and improved building codes, regulations for working conditions, improved sanitary facilities, limiting of working hours for women and children, and official encouragement for collective bargaining. Everything from minimum wage laws to workers’ compensation to the creation of OSHA can be traced back to the long reform drive that followed the disaster. Triangle became a turning point in the struggle to save workers from being literally killed for the sake of profits.

The interior of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory following the deadly fire of 1911. An estimated 146 workers, mostly women and girls, were killed when they couldn’t escape the flames because bosses had chained the doors of the factory shut. | Public Domain / via U.S. Department of Labor

It was chains on doors that condemned people to death in the Triangle fire 110 years ago; orders from supervisors and threats of termination achieved the same outcome in Edwardsville and Mayfield this week. Now, just like then, corporations treat workers like they are disposable.

Amazon’s disaster in Illinois is not unique; it is the latest episode in a long-running tragedy. One worker who spoke to People’s World, recounting how Amazon kept its New York warehouses operating even during deadly flooding recently, said, “They legitimately don’t care if we die. Their profits don’t suffer.” People’s lives are being put on the line needlessly, but corporations and the billionaires who own and run them refuse to take responsibility.

The Amazon workers who are involved with the Amazon Labor Union are taking up the challenge of stopping things like this from happening again. For the employees in its fulfillment centers, Amazon dictates every aspect of their work life—pay, benefits, working conditions, safety measures, access to telephones. The workers have no power to negotiate any of these things, even though it’s their labor power which rakes in the billions for Jeff Bezos and the company’s other owners.

Amazon, the union says, consistently values its profits over the people who work there. The deaths of workers like Larry Virden in Edwardsville, who were ordered to stay at work even as a deadly storm approached, are proof of that.

Workers in Amazon—and at companies like Mayfield—need unions because a union is the only way that workers can collectively leverage their power to force change. Amazon and other corporations know this, which is why they spend so much effort trying to convince employees not to join up with the union and fire workers who try to organize. And bought-and-paid-for politicians in right-to-work states like Kentucky know it too, which is why they keep anti-union laws on the books.

Some of the workers and supporters of the Amazon Labor Union at Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center in late October. | People’s World

Soon, there will be a re-vote for union certification at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. Hopefully, workers’ voices will really be heard this time, despite the company’s intimidation and misinformation campaigns against the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU). A victory in Alabama could be the first chink in the armor of the corporate giant and spur on a Triangle-style organizing and reform wave. The workers in Bessemer and at Amazon facilities everywhere—from Staten Island, N.Y. to Bad Hersfeld, Germany—need our support and solidarity

As for how to characterize the actions of Amazon and Mayfield this week, we can give the final analysis to Frederick Engels, a pioneering advocate for liberating workers from greed and exploitation. Looking at how capitalists in Victorian England were using up workers’ lives in pursuit of profit, Engels wrote in 1845:

“When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of workers in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death…its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual. Disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offense is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains.”

Too much blood has been spilled. It is once again up to the working people to save themselves. Organize.

Author: C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People’s World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People’s World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.

Source: People’s World, December 15, 2021,

Marxism and STS: From Marx and Engels to COVID-19 and COP26 / by Helena Sheehan

The Soviet delegation at the International History of Science Congress in London, 1931 : Nikolai Bukharin, Modest Rubenstein, and Boris Hessen in the foreground

This article is a co-publication of MR Online and Science for the People.

At the recent conference of the Society for the Social Study of Science, I came to the conclusion that the history of Marxism in relation to science and technology studies is an increasingly forgotten story.

From the beginning, Marxism took science extremely seriously, not only for its economic promise in building a socialist society, but for its revelatory power in understanding the world.1 Marxism has made the strongest claims of any intellectual tradition before or since about the socio-historical character of science, yet always affirmed its cognitive achievements.

Science was seen as inextricably enmeshed with economic systems, technological developments, political movements, philosophical theories, cultural trends, ethical norms, ideological positions. Indeed, with all that was human. It was also a path of access to the natural world. There were studies, texts, theories, tensions, and debates exploring the complexities of how this was so.2

The objectivist/constructivist dichotomy could never capture its epistemological dynamic. Nor could the internalist/externalist dualism ever do justice to the interacting field of forces harnessed in its historiographical process. Knowledge was conceived always as interactive, so there was no object without subject, no access to an external world without the socially evolved apparatus of conceptualization of it, no ideas unshaped by history, but no reason to think this invalidated knowledge.

Marx and Engels were acutely attuned to the science of their times and integrated this awareness at the core of their thought process in developing the intellectual tradition and political movement that came to be called Marxism.

There have been controversies about the Marx-Engels relationship, with a tendency to counterpose a humanist Marx to a positivist Engels, especially to dissociate Marx from Engels’s posthumous work Dialectics of Nature. The dialectics of nature debate resurfaces periodically, including recently, and there is an even stronger tendency to vindicate Engels than when I entered the fray decades ago.3 What is at stake is the development of a comprehensive worldview embracing both human society and the natural world with a strong emphasis on cutting edge science.

The subsequent generation of Marxists, during the period of the Second International, also paid such acute attention to the onward development of science and there were debates among themselves and others about its implications and consequences, especially in response to trends such as positivism, Machism, neo-Kantianism.4

After the October revolution, there was an intensification of this activity in Soviet society. Science was a necessity in building a new social order. Scientific theory was thought to be not only a matter of truth and error, but of life and death. There were many debates, some between those more grounded in the empirical sciences and those who stressed the continuity of Marxism with the history of philosophy.

Intertwined with all the intellectual debates of the day was an intense struggle for power. There was tension around a more cosmopolitan Marxist intelligentsia, who had found their way to Marxism in difficult and dangerous conditions, exposed to an array of intellectual influences, accustomed to mixing with intellectuals of many points of view and arguing the case for Marxism in such milieux.

Increasingly they were coming under pressure from those who had come up under the revolution, never been abroad, knew no foreign languages, had little detailed knowledge of either the natural sciences or the history of philosophy, and never mixed with exponents of other intellectual traditions. Some were more inclined to cite the authority of classic texts or party decrees than to engage in theoretical debate. They were being fast-tracked in their careers and taking over as professors, directors of institutes and members of editorial boards, occupying positions of authority over intellectuals of international reputation. There was high drama and there was soon to be blood on the floor.

It was the more cosmopolitan intelligentsia that came to London in 1931 for what is perhaps the most memorialized conference ever. News of the Second International History of Science Congress spilled over into the mass media with the arrival of a Soviet delegation led by N. I. Bukharin and including B. M. Hessen, N. I. Vavilov and others renowned in the history of science. The 1931 congress brought forces already in motion into a new level of interaction with each other. At the congress, contrasting worldviews were in collision. The majority of those in attendance were professional historians of science or scientists with an antiquarian interest in history, who discussed the subject in a leisurely way with an implicit positivism. They were stunned by the Soviets discussing science in connection with philosophy and politics and in such a world-historical way. Those most touched by this confrontation were leftist scientists in Britain who shared the vision of the visitors from afar. The ideas of J. D. Bernal, J. B. S. Haldane and other leading scientists who became Marxists took hold among many of their contemporaries and gave rise to a dynamic radical science movement in the 1930s.5

Bernal saw Marxism as providing an integrated framework. It was a philosophy derived from science that brought order and perspective and illuminated the onward path of science. It provided a method of co-ordinating the experimental results of science and unifying its different branches in a deep socio-historical perspective. He called for a science of science—what came to be called Science and Technology Studies (STS).

After 1945, the influence of Marxism spread ever wider. In Eastern Europe, Marxism became the dominant force in the universities, research institutes, and academic journals of new socialist states. It spread to Asia, Latin America, Africa in liberation movements, some of which became parties of power.

There was serious work done in developing a distinctive approach to STS, particularly in exploring the philosophical implications of the natural sciences. This was the case in the academies of Eastern Europe, particularly in East Germany, in the intellectual life of communist parties, in journals such as Science and Society, La Penée and Modern Quarterly. It was very different from the narrowly methodological approach being pursued in philosophy of science elsewhere. It was also work of profound significance that was too little known outside these milieux.

Marxism combined attention to the advancing results of the empirical sciences, development of a philosophical framework capable of integrating expanding knowledge and awareness of the socio-historical context of it all.

The 1960s and 1970s put Marxism on the agenda in a new way in the rest of the world where capitalism held sway. New Left ferment pervaded North America and Western Europe especially. This was a time when all that had been assumed was opened to question, when the universities and the streets became contested terrain. Academic disciplines were scrutinized at their very foundations. Philosophy, sociology, literature, science—all knowledge—was seen as tied to power. University campuses and academic conferences were alive with passion and polemic. Journals such as Radical Philosophy, Insurgent Sociologist, Science for the People, Radical Science Journal, and Science as Culture gave expression to this ferment. Many of my generation threw ourselves wholeheartedly into this.

I was interested in Marxism as a comprehensive worldview and intrigued by the ways in which intellectual movements were rooted in socio-historical forces. I saw the whole history of philosophy that I had been studying in a new way. I saw everything in a new way, a way in which everything was interconnected: philosophy, culture, politics, economics, science. I decided to focus on science within this network of relationships. Researching my book Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History was an absorbing adventure, especially during my intervals in the USSR. I felt like a detective uncovering an intricate series of intersecting stories. I tried to write a Marxist history of Marxism and science, despite the enormous and opposite pressures on me as I strove to do so, pressures from east and west, from left and right, from old and new left, from commitment and career.

Sometimes, to my surprise, I felt more of an affinity with the previous generation than my own. I could not understand why my contemporaries, especially among British Marxists, turned their backs on the earlier generation of British Marxists and went flocking to Althusser or Foucault. New Left Review veered between obliviousness and hostility to the previous generation of British Marxists.

Radical Science Journal did engage with the earlier generation, however critically. Gary Werskey’s book The Visible College was perhaps the most substantial work mediating between these generations on the question of science. Robert Young’s “Science is social relations  was the most explicit and provocative exposition of a new left position on science. Reacting strongly against the view that science itself is neutral and that only the use or abuse of science is ideological, Young and Radical Science Journal held that science as such is ideological. From the premise that modern science, with its characteristic concepts of truth and rationality, and modern capitalism, with its alienating division of labour, arose upon a single edifice, came the conclusion that both would have to be totally dismantled. So, for Young, science equaled capitalist science. It was a far cry from the affirmation of science characterizing previous generations of the left.6

Living as if in some parallel universe much of the time, parts of academe proceeded as if the only story in philosophy of science was the one proceeding from the Vienna Circle through Popper, Lakatos, Kuhn.7 Philosophy of science in philosophy departments rarely took a sideward glance at this other tradition.

Meanwhile, Soviet delegations were no longer a surprise at international conferences. They were integrated into the organizing structures and gave papers in many sessions. However, how much of a meeting of minds occurred was another matter. The World Congress of Philosophy was held in Düsseldorf in August 1978. I spent much of that year in Eastern Europe, mostly in Moscow. The philosophers there were constantly talking about the upcoming congress. In fact, they were preparing for it as if for Warsaw Pact maneuvers. They kept asking me what Irish and British philosophers were planning. However, they weren’t planning anything. They were coming or not coming as individuals and thinking only about their own papers and travel arrangements.

At the congress itself, philosophers from the socialist countries and philosophers from the rest of the world mostly read papers past each other (as most academics at most congresses do). There were, however, several skirmishes and a cold war atmosphere. I felt myself to be in a similar situation to that of British Marxists at the 1931 congress. I moved between both sides in a way that very few did. People like me were constantly challenged at such congresses to prove that Marxism plus science did not necessarily equal Lysenkoism.8

There were other enclaves where there was sustained cross fertilization, such as the Boston Colloquium in Philosophy of Science, which resulted in many volumes of Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, edited by Robert Cohen and Marx Wartofsky. The Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik was also a pioneering and important base for interaction between east and west, between Marxists and non-Marxists.

In 1990 it seemed that the world turned upside down. The USSR, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia disappeared from the map. I had often wondered how many of the intellectuals I met in Eastern Europe would be Marxists if there was a regime change, and I soon found out. I had several confrontations in the 1990s with those who had made their careers professing Marxism and then made their careers by denouncing it. Academic life all over the world is full of such people. They do what is necessary to advance themselves and they are rewarded, then and now, but they will never produce anything of real value.

I have returned over the years to Eastern Europe to see where all the Marxists have gone. I have been most impressed when visiting the vanquished, the Marxist intelligentsia who were still Marxists, who once occupied the apex of academe and subsequently led quite marginalized lives. Loren Graham of MIT, who spent his whole professional life studying Soviet and post-Soviet science and philosophy of science said of dialectical materialism: “This philosophy of science is actually quite a sensible one and corresponds to the implicit views of many working scientists all over the world.” Graham, not a Marxist, also went on to show that this philosophy had a lasting impact on Russian scientists, even after the demise of the Soviet state.

So what does Marxism have to offer to science and STS now? Science and STS seem to be flourishing in the sense that there is much funding, many metrics,9 all sorts of empirical studies. Much of this is interesting and valuable, although a lot of it is bland and bitty. Many studies are short and shallow and driven by market demand and fast-track careerism more than intellectual quest. There is not much in the way of thinking that is simultaneously empirically grounded, philosophically integrated, socio-historically contextualized. This is what Marxism could bring to bear. Instead, science and STS go from one extreme to the other: from the minutiae of molecules to the “tao” of physics. It is either science stripped of philosophical or historical reflection or it is new age nonsense stepping into the philosophical gap and filling the bookshop shelves. Both are commercially successful. Contradiction sells.

The intensification of the commercialization of science, as part of the general commodification of knowledge, is the strongest force in the field today. A new orthodoxy has taken command, not so much by winning arguments, but by wielding systemic power on a global scale. Universities are being harnessed to operate by market norms and survival of the fittest in commercial competition is outstripping all other forms of validation, particularly truth criteria, theoretical depth and breadth, moral responsibility, political engagement. There are powerful pressures disincentivizing, eroding and marginalizing critical thinking, creative thinking, systemic thinking.

Universities are contested terrain. The atmosphere has changed drastically from what prevailed in the 1960s and 1970s. Then there were large-scale contending paradigms in every area facing off with each other with great energy and passion. It has dissipated now. It is disconcerting, because it is not as if anything has been solved. It is that people have learned to live with problems unresolved or unacknowledged or to settle for resolution at a less than fundamental level. The confrontations of worldviews have given way to low-level eclecticism. There is a narrowing of perspective and a retreat from engagement, whether through myopia, ignorance, shallowness, conformity, fear or careerism.

So much of what I read or review in so many areas is so half-baked. Conceptualization is weak and confused. Contextualization is thin and random. Marxism has nurtured in me a demand for conceptualization that is strong and lucid, for contextualization that is thick and systemic. Many social studies of science, including some associated with the strong program, are still too weak in conceptualization and contextualization.

There have been periodic rediscoveries of the socio-historical context of science as if Marxism had never happened —from Kuhn to Edinburgh School to Latour or whomever. This is not to deny the significant contribution of the Edinburgh School, who have offered an impressive output of empirical studies of intriguing episodes in the history of science.10

The science wars of the 1990s took up the threads of this tension.11 I found myself on both sides, yet wholly on neither. I agreed with those who wanted to defend the cognitive capacity of science against epistemological anti-realism, irrationalism, mysticism, conventionalism, especially against anything-goes postmodernism. I also agreed with those who insisted on a strong socio-historical account of science against a reassertion of scientism. A better grounding in what the Marxist tradition has brought to bear on these issues would have illuminated the terrain.

I do not believe that the debunking of science in terms of its cognitive capacity is an appropriate activity for the left. It is neither epistemologically sound nor politically progressive. The left should take its stand with science, a critically reconstructed, socially responsible science, but with the possibilities of science.

STS has tended increasingly to back away from the big ideas that were once in play. It is becoming too small, too introverted, obsessed with mini-debates of micro-tendencies with only weak evidence of relevant intellectual history and thin social context.

As to philosophy, although it is central to the human condition, many professional philosophers have reduced STS to technicist esoterica or obfuscating nonsense. They have alienated many who have come to it seeking meaning, putting any defense of its declining status on dubious grounds. Some texts in philosophy of science seem to me to be equivalent to obsession with a game of chess while the house is burning down around it.

Marxism is still an alternative. It is still superior to anything on the scene. It is a way of seeing the world in terms of a complex pattern of interconnecting processes where others see only disconnected and static particulars. It is a way of revealing how economic structures, political institutions, legal codes, moral norms, cultural trends, scientific theories, philosophical perspectives, even common sense, are all products of a pattern of historical development shaped by a mode of production.

Marxism as a philosophy of science is materialist in the sense of explaining the natural world in terms of natural forces and not supernatural powers. It is dialectical in the sense of being evolutionary, processive, developmental. It is radically contextual and relational in the sense that it sees everything that exists within the web of forces in which it is embedded. It is empiricist without being positivist or reductionist. It is rationalist without being idealist. It is coherent and comprehensive while being empirically grounded.

Marxism has been a major position in the history of philosophy. It has been a formative force in STS and other disciplines and it is a continuing influence. It is not as influential as it deserves to be on the current intellectual landscape, but it is still more influential than many might think. It is there in ways that are not always acknowledged. It is sometimes the philosophy that dare not speak its name. Moreover, many of its premises have come to be so accepted that it seems no longer necessary or opportune or even known from where they have come.

There are ebbs and flows and new waves of realization all the time.

The current push for decolonization of knowledge is important. I cheered as Rhodes fell at University of Cape Town in 2015, but I have watched as a lot of this progressive impulse has become unmoored with a year zero mentality denying what has been achieved by previous generations as well as a failure to see that the central force colonizing knowledge is capital. I am already seeing a lot of it co-opted into the bland and blind liberal agenda of diversity and inclusion.12

There is evidence of a revival of interest in Marxism in relation to science now in our current planetary emergency, particularly the looming climate catastrophe and the persisting COVID-19 pandemic. Positivist scientism has some limited potency, but is too narrow, too myopic to grasp the full picture. Premodern or postmodern anti-science is a blind alley. The postmodernist critique of science has evaporated. Because science has become so salient, so immediate, so crucial to our collective fate, no one wants to hear that we have no criteria for deciding between contending truth claims or that science is inherently deceptive or oppressive.

Yet science under capitalism has become problematic and only systemic analysis can deal with that.

The statistics on carbon emissions or loss of biodiversity only get us so far unless we address the system that created the problem, fuels the process onward and blocks possible solutions. There is so much being written about ecological crisis, but it is Marxists, such as John Bellamy Foster, Ian Angus, and Andreas Malm, who connect the science to philosophy, sociology and political economy, who bring the whole picture into clear focus and point the way beyond it.13

It is the same with the current pandemic. The statistics on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths, vaccinations and mitigation measures only get us so far unless we see what conditions have created this pandemic and persist to create future and fiercer pandemics. It is Marxists, such as Mike Davis and Rob Wallace, who predicted that such a pandemic was coming and showed when it came how it was bound up with the circuitry of capital. Whatever may have happened in the Wuhan lab or Wuhan market, the real source is deforestation, destruction of habitats, wildlife trafficking, the whole industrialized system of food production and the global circuitry of capital. Marxists and others have highlighted the downgrading of public health systems, the negative effect on patents and the stranglehold of big pharma in obstructing just distribution of vaccines and therapeutic medicines.14 We need a more open, cooperative, international science to deal with these problems. There have been moves in this direction in response to current crises, but the obstructions are still formidable.

Marxists have been to the fore in doing the systemic thinking demanded by these crises, not only in clarifying the causes, but in pointing to the solutions—solutions difficult to achieve, because the imperatives generated by ecological and epidemiological crises go contrary to the very logic of capitalism. I think this is being realized by more and more people, the sort of people who gathered outside the barriers of COP26 or those who couldn’t travel but followed news reports with dismay.

The history of Marxism and its relation to science is tied inextricably to the history of everything else. It is still the unsurpassed philosophy of our time.


  1.  This article is an edited version of Helena Sheehan, “Science and Technology Studies: A Marxist Narrative,” online presentation, November 17, 2021, Youtube Video, 1:58:47,
  2.  This article is necessarily sketchy, sweeping through decades and dealing with many thinkers, theories and debates. For the fuller story, see my more comprehensive account in Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History (London: Verso Books, 2018).
  3.  For a good account of the whole history of this debate, see Kaan Kangal, Friedrich Engels and the Dialectics of Nature (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).
  4.  Sheehan, Marxism and the Philosophy of Science.
  5.  For more on this congress and its aftermath, see Gary Werskey, The Visible College: A Collective Biography of British Scientists and Socialists of the 1930s (London: Allen Lane, 1978); Christopher Chilvers, “Five Tourniquets and a Ship’s Bell: The Special Session at the 1931 Congress,” Centaurus 57, no. 2 (2015): 61–95; Sheehan, Marxism and the Philosophy of Science. A book containing the Soviet papers from this congress was published as N. I. Bukharin et al., Science at the Crossroads (London: Kniga 1931).
  6.  Werskey, The Visible College; Robert Young, “Science is Social Relations,” Radical Science Journal 5 (1977): 65–129.
  7.  This tradition began with the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle and progressed through various forms of neo-positivism and post-positivism, generating a considerable volume of literature. It was narrowly focused on epistemology and scientific method, particularly demarcation criteria, rather than questions of worldview preoccupying Marxism.
  8.  For a more elaborate account of these conferences and other events and movements of these years, see Helena Sheehan Navigating the Zeitgeist (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2019).
  9.  By metrics here I mean quantitative studies as well as impact statistics.
  10.  The strong program in the sociology of knowledge of the Edinburgh School held that scientific theories considered both true and false should be treated equivalently in terms of their need for sociological explanation.
  11.  The catalytic events were the publication of, among many, Gross and Levitt Higher Superstition in 1994, the infamous Sokal hoax in 1996 and the flurry of publicity surrounding it, the science wars special issue of Social Text with the Sokal article in it and the book without it, the New York Academy of Science conference published as The Flight from Science and Reason. For an overview, see Ullica Segerstrale, eds., Beyond the Science Wars: The Missing Discourse about Science and Society (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000) and Helena Sheehan, “The Drama of the Science Wars: What Is the Plot?” Public Understanding of Science 10, no. 2 (2001).
  12.  Helena Sheehan “Class, Race, Gender and the Production of Knowledge: Considerations on the Decolonisation of Knowledge” Transform 7, 13-30, 2020.
  13.  John Bellamy Foster, Marx and Ecology (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000); John Bellamy Foster, The Return of Nature (New York: Monthly Review, 2020); Ian Angus, A Redder Shade of Green: Intersections of Science and Socialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2017); Andreas Malm, The Progress of This Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World (New York: Verso Books, 2017); Andreas Malm, Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency: War Communism in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Verso Books, 2020).
  14.  Mike Davis, The Monster Enters: COVID 19, Avian Flu, and the Plagues of Capitalism (New York: Verso Books, 2020); Rob Wallace, Big Farms Make Big Flu (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016); Rob Wallace, Dead Epidemiologists: On the Origins of COVID-19 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016).

Author: Helena Sheehan is Professor Emerita at Dublin City University in Ireland where she taught STS as well as history of ideas more generally. Her books include Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History, The Syriza Wave, Navigating the Zeitgeist and Until We Fall (in progress). She has also published many articles on philosophy, science, politics, and culture. She has lectured in various countries in America, Europe and Africa. She has been an activist on the left since the 1960s.

Source: MR Online and Science for the People, December 11, 2011,

The Housing Crisis and the Case for Expropriation / by Ivan Stoiljkovic, Doug Yearwood and Romy Sugden

Photo: Housing advocates in Berlin march in support of expropriation / People’s Voice

The defeat of the Soviet Union caused misery and death to millions of Soviet people and ushered in the increased immiseration of the working class in capitalist countries. Without the threat of a workers’ superpower, Western capitalist powers quickly set out to dismantle social provisions and squeeze as much profit as possible from the working class. 

Governments at all levels stopped building social housing and eliminated funding for investing and maintaining it. They scrapped rent controls and transformed rental tribunals into instruments that are inaccessible to the tenants and function as eviction factories for landlords. More people are now living on the street, while others are forced to navigate very complicated and stressful situations with people often being forced to remain in abusive relationships in order to keep a roof over their and their kids’ heads. Housing became fully commodified.

Governments have responded to the housing crisis with promises to increase the housing supply, transferring billions of dollars into the pockets of the large landlords and developers under the pretext that this will naturally create affordably priced rental units. In Kingston, Ontario, city officials concluded that building more housing “at all levels of affordability” would create enough affordable housing to house everyone at their own level of affordability. However, despite increased vacancy rates over the past two years, rents in the city continue to climb. 

The federal National Housing Strategy Program transfers billions of public dollars to enrich private developers who often receive still more subsidies, such as tax forgiveness, through municipalities. 

“Existing strategies have failed, and we now need “innovative” solutions to the housing crisis…” This sentence appears at the beginning of almost every policy and city staff report. These “solutions” vary from band-aid approaches (sleeping pods and containers for homeless people, encouraging homeowners to allow people to camp in their backyards or making it easier for homeowners to rent out every inch of their property and living space) to home ownership schemes that would help people who are already (or nearly) able to buy a home. Rent-subsidy programs which flourish under widespread “housing first” strategies give landlords money that used to go to public housing and shelters. 

The result of this “innovation” is that landlords and developers get richer while the wages of working-class tenants are squeezed and siphoned back to the capitalists through rent extraction. 

The good news is that there are signs of a powerful countermovement appearing all over the world. Some bright news has come out of Germany, with the recent overwhelming vote for expropriation of large landlords in Berlin. This victory is the result of a long struggle by local activists, which continues as they work to ensure implementation of the demand by more than a million people to shift to socialized housing.

Specifically, the referendum called to expropriate 240,000 apartments owned by some of the regions’ largest corporate landlords. While the current model of privatized housing concerns itself primarily with providing a hefty return on investment, activists involved in this referendum seek to establish a public agency that would be banned from realizing profits and democratically run by the tenants. Indeed, the wording of the referendum question ensures that the former landlords will not be receiving market value for their seized assets.  

A recent study written for the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations (FMTA) shows how expropriation could be accomplished in Canada. Focusing on Toronto, author Grayson Alabiso-Cahill points out that there is an unresolvable contradiction in a commodified housing market, with the competing interests of the landlord (“to squeeze money out of every square foot of the units they own”) and the tenant (“to live with security and stability”). Under capitalism, the interests of the landlord – specifically of the corporate landlords and Real Estate Income Trusts (REITs) which currently own over a fifth of rental units and homes – takes precedence. This causes a collective power shift in favour of the corporations when it comes to public policy. 

But Alabiso-Cahill claims this can be reversed with a targeted expropriation of the largest landlords, using tools available to municipal governments. He proposes four measures:  1) expropriation in lieu of inclusionary zoning, in which new privately-owned residential buildings can be made to include a certain percentage of affordable units; 2) expropriation of buildings with repeated health and safety violations; 3) expropriation of abandoned buildings, including those which landlords are waiting to appreciate in value and 4) expropriation of large landlords such as REITs. The last measure would involve setting a limit on how many units a single landlord can own, which Alabiso-Cahill and FMTA propose should be 1000 units.  

These measures are not revolutionary – neither the Berlin referendum nor the FMTA proposals call for complete elimination of landlords. They are strong reforms and a welcome intervention into the landscape of a housing crisis which reached those proportions partly because the “solutions” on offer have been far less ambitious and threatening to landlords and their bourgeois-politician friends.  

Reforms can serve as important rallying cries in building class power but should not be sought as an end in and of themselves. It is very important not to be satisfied with reforms and allow them to become “the solutions” (that is, to become reformist). Reforms are only concessions by the ruling class and, as we’ve seen very clearly with housing over the long history of capitalism, they get reversed as soon as the balance of class forces is altered. 

The only thing that has ever done anything for workers is organizing. The working-class revolutions of the 20th century paved the way for massive social housing construction programs in non-revolutionary Western countries. In the 1960s and 70s, working-class and organized tenants across Canada mobilized to demand rent controls and co-operative housing, which resulted in huge campaigns that built hundreds of thousands of affordable rental units in this country. 

Over the past few years, tenants in Ontario have resisted the capitalist government’s agenda by participating in rent strikes, clogging up the Landlord Tenant Board, supporting encampments and more. Governments at all levels have supported home ownership and suburbanization as a means of downloading fiscal responsibility for housing onto individuals rather than the state. Home ownership and landlordism can be considered as a part of a powerful private interest agenda whose resolution can only be provided through working class-led public ownership of housing, which needs to be treated as a human right and not a commodity. 

It is time again for tenants and organized labour to stand up for housing. Today we need to use expropriation as a means of resolving the crisis. 

Source: People’s Voice, December 1, 2021,

Income of wealthiest in Maine nearly doubled from 2019 to 2020, report shows / by Evan Popp

Photo: Mainers rally in Augusta in 2019 for a fair tax code | Beacon

he wealth of the 30 highest income earners in Maine nearly doubled from tax year 2019 to tax year 2020, a recent report from the Maine Revenue Services Office of Tax Policy shows. 

The report, which helped inform a December 2021 revenue forecast that projected a large surplus for Maine over fiscal years 2022 and 2023, found that “In tax year 2020, the income tax liability of the top 30 taxpayers ($68.4 million) is 94% higher than top 30 in 2019 ($35.2 million).” Tax liability refers to the amount of money owed in taxes.  

Sarah Austin, director of policy and research at the Maine Center for Economic Policy, said because there weren’t any big changes to the tax code between those two years, that increase in liability for the wealthiest 30 earners in 2020 over 2019 “is a reflection of how much income is being reported by the richest people in the state.” 

Austin said assuming that the 30 wealthiest filers in Maine paid about 7% in state income tax, the average income of those in that cohort went from about $16.7 million in 2019 to about $32.5 million in 2020, although she added that the richest 30 filers in Maine in 2019 weren’t necessarily the same people as the richest 30 in 2020. 

“It’s enormous, it’s a huge jump,” Austin said of that rise in income. 

Austin said one factor that likely contributed to the increase was the strength of the stock market and corporate profits in 2020. Because the richest Americans own the vast majority of U.S. stocks, they tend to benefit the most when the market goes up, she said. 

The increase in income for the state’s wealthiest comes as a pandemic that has laid bare the flaws in the state’s social safety net and exposed the vulnerability of many Maine workers continues to rage. During the crisis, one in four Maine adults have reported not being able to afford weekly household expenses. In addition, job losses from the pandemic have been particularly concentrated among Maine’s lowest wage earners. And around the state, a projected 13.5% of people could face food insecurity issues. 

Nationally, a similar picture has emerged. Amid the crisis in 2020, the richest 400 Americans saw their wealth rise 40%, adding $4.5 trillion in riches. In contrast, nearly 20 million adults live in households without enough to eat, according to a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and 12 million renters are behind on housing payments. Additionally, a year after the onset of COVID-19 in the U.S., a Pew Research Center study found that about four in ten Americans were struggling financially. 

The yawning disparity between the rich and the rest of Americans has promoted renewed calls for tax fairness policies that ensure the wealthiest pay their share.

In Maine, though, such efforts have faced roadblocks. During former Gov. Paul LePage’s time in office, Maine passed tax cuts that favored the wealthy and corporations. And during the legislative session earlier this year, a litany of tax fairness proposals were voted down. The only such measure lawmakers did manage to pass — a bill that would have made Maine’s real estate transfer tax more progressive, implementing higher rates on those with more wealth — was subsequently vetoed by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. 

“There’s a lot of work to be done on the policy level to make sure we are leveling the playing field here and making sure that everyone is able to come back from the pandemic stronger and [that there is] not just huge power and wealth accumulation for folks at the top,” Austin said. 

At the national level, the Build Back Better bill — which passed the House in November and is currently being considered in the Senate — is projected to raise average taxes for people who make over $1 million by 3.2%. That bill would strengthen the social safety net in the U.S., investing in child and health care, reductions to the cost of prescription drugs and fighting climate change, among other policies. 

Austin said the wealth growth of top income earners shows that needed social service programs like those in Build Back Better can be funded by increasing taxes on the rich. 

“This is where to go for raising revenues ethically and in a way that can actually afford the investments that we need to make,” she said. 

Author: Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at

Source: Maine Beacon, December 2, 2021,

Penobscots don’t want ancestors’ scalping to be whitewashed / by David Sharp

Dawn Neptune Adams holds a copy of the Phips Proclamation of 1755, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, in Bangor, Maine. Adams recently co-directed a film that focuses on the proclamation, one of the dozens of government-issued bounty proclamations that directed colonial settlers to hunt, scalp and kill Indigenous people for money. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Most Americans know about atrocities endured by Native Americans after the arrival of European settlers: wars, disease, stolen land. But they aren’t always taught the extent of the indiscriminate killings.

Members of the Penobscot Nation in Maine have produced an educational film addressing how European settlers scalped — killed — Indigenous people during the British colonial era, spurred for decades by cash bounties and with the government’s blessing.

“It was genocide,” said Dawn Neptune Adams, one of the three Penobscot Nation members featured in the film, called “Bounty.”

She said the point of the effort isn’t to make any Americans feel defensive or blamed. The filmmakers say they simply want to ensure this history isn’t whitewashed by promoting a fuller understanding of the nation’s past.

At the heart of the project is a chilling declaration by Spencer Phips, lieutenant governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

Issued in November 1755, it gave “His Majesty’s Subjects” license to kill Penobscots for “this entire month.” The reward was about $12,000 in today’s dollars for the scalp of a man, and half that for a woman’s scalp. The amount was slightly less for a child. Settlers who killed Indigenous people were sometimes rewarded with land, in addition to money, expanding settlers’ reach while displacing tribes from their ancestral lands.

The declaration is familiar to many Penobscots because a copy of the document was displayed at the tribal offices at Indian Island, Maine.

“If every American knew the whole history of this country, even the dark and uncomfortable parts, it would help us to get along better and to understand each other better,” said Maulian Dana, who co-directed the film with Neptune Adams.

Both Europeans and Native Americans engaged in scalping, but English colonists greatly expanded the practice when the government sanctioned the effort with bounties, the filmmakers said.

The first known colonial scalping order is from 1675. That’s just a few short decades after the first Thanksgiving in 1621, when Pilgrims gathered with Wampanoag people for a harvest celebration, said Chris Newell, who is Passamaquoddy and wrote “If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving.”

All told, there were more than 70 bounty proclamations encouraging white colonists to kill tribal members in what’s now New England, and another 50 government-sanctioned proclamations elsewhere across the country, the filmmakers’ research found. Colonial governments paid out bounties for scalps of at least 375 Indigenous people across New England between 1675 to 1760, they said.

Emerson Baker, a Salem State University professor who specializes in New England history, called the tribal education effort “a powerful course correction.”

“Most people realize that Native Americans were here first and that the colonists did their best to remove them from the land. They just have no idea of the extremes that it took,” Baker said. “Pretty much any Native American man, woman or child was considered fair game at times, and sometimes by the government.”

Collaborating with the Massachusetts-based Upstander Project, the filmmakers released “Bounty” in November during National Native American Heritage Month.

Neptune Adams and Dana, along with Tim Shay and their families, were filmed at the Old State House in Boston. It’s the same location where Lt. Gov. Phips’ scalping order was signed.

In “Bounty,” the three participants describe having nightmares of Penobscots being chased through the woods, and discuss the dehumanization and massacre of their people.

“When you learn about a people’s humanity, that affects how you treat my kids, how you vote on public policy, how you may view my people,” Dana said.

Accompanying the short video is a 200-page study guide aimed at teachers. Several school districts, including Portland Public Schools in Maine’s largest city, are purchasing licenses for the video and plan to use the study guides to assist instruction.

In Portland, the scalp bounties will be included as one element in a curriculum that will bring the school district into compliance with a 2001 law requiring students to be taught Wabanaki Studies focusing on Native Americans in Maine, said Fiona Hopper, social studies teacher leader and Wabanaki studies coordinator.

“Students and teachers will see in ‘Bounty’ the ongoing endurance and resistance of Penobscot Nation citizens,” Hopper said.

Source: AP, December 4, 2021,