May Day: Made in the U.S.A. / by Milton Howard

This 1886 engraving was the most widely reproduced image of the Haymarket massacre. It shows Methodist pastor Samuel Fielden speaking, the bomb exploding, and the riot beginning simultaneously; in reality, Fielden had finished speaking before the explosion. | Chicago Historical Society

Download and print a PDF of this article for easy distribution at May Day events.

CHICAGO—On the morning of Oct. 6, 1886, Albert Parsons, native of Alabama, whose brother was a general in the Civil War, rose in a Chicago courtroom to make the last speech of his life.

He was facing his doom as one of the convicted co-called “anarchists,” one of the “detested aliens” who had been seized in the police frame-up following an explosion on Chicago’s Haymarket Square during a workers’ demonstration on May 4.

Parsons spoke long and well. He was going back over his life, telling the remarkable story of how the boy who ran with the Texas trappers and Native American traders as a kid grew up to become a leader of industrial strikes and an agitator for a new social system.

“The charge is made that we are ‘foreigners,’ as though it were a crime to be born in some other country,” he said. “My ancestors had a hand in drawing up the Declaration of Independence. My great great grand-uncle lost a hand at the Battle of Bunker Hill.” His speech then took an edge of defiant bitterness. “But I have been here long enough, I think, to have the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of my country.”

Ringing up to the ceiling of the room which was to be his death chamber, the voice of this man, a printer in the shop of the Chicago Tribune and a labor organizer after the early days of the frontier, became deep with exaltation:

“I am also an internationalist. My patriotism covers more than the boundary lines of a single state; the world is my country, and all mankind my countrymen.” Parsons was speaking against a force, a conspiracy that was determined to throttle him, and he knew it. But why was the state determined to see him dead?

The 8-hour day

The demand for an 8-hour workday was sweeping over America at that time as workers demanded relief from the 12-, 14-, or even 16-hour days that were the norm. On May 1, 1886, hundreds of thousands of workers launched a general strike—the first in the history of the United States—which saw demonstrations in all the big cities greater than anything America had ever seen.

Albert Parsons | Public domain, Wikimedia Commons

But it was in Chicago where the movement reached its height. There, a small core of class-conscious organizers and agitators helped rouse a militant spirit not previously seen. 70,000 workers shut down the plants of that roaring city. At the head of the band of leaders stood the wiry and eloquent Parsons.

The campaign dragged on for several days. On May 3, there was a bloody attack by the police against strikers at the McCormack Reaper plant. Six workers had been shot in the back, with at least one killed. A mass protest meeting was called to take place the next day at the Haymarket Square.

A peaceful rally took place that evening, with speeches from Parsons and other labor leaders condemning what had happened the night before. A light rain began to fall as the meeting neared its end, and most people began to head home. Without warning, a force of some 200 police officers charged the square. A fight broke out between the cops and the crowd, and then, suddenly, a bomb was thrown. A number of police officers were killed by the explosion. Volleys of police bullets then plowed through the terrified and fleeing audience, killing at least four workers and wounding scores.

Flyer calling for a rally in the Haymarket on May 4, 1886. | Public domain, Wikimedia Commons

No one knew who threw the bomb (and historians have never discovered to this day), but it didn’t matter. The news media of the entire country raged in a red-baiting pogrom which has hardly ever been paralleled. Working-class leaders and trade unions everywhere were targeted. The strategy was to smear the 8-hour movement with the fearful stigma of “alien anarchism” and to kill it. One prominent economist, with characteristic servility, declared the idea that workers should only be on the job for eight hours to be an “irresponsible demand of lunatics aimed at the basis of civilization.” The stage was set for the Haymarket frame-up.

Parsons, along with several fellow organizers, were rounded up and charged with being an “accessory to murder.” Prosecutors eagerly followed advice given by the New York Times to “pick out the leaders and make such an example of them as would scare others into submission.” A Chicago newspaper was even more blunt, with editors writing, “The labor question has reached a point where blood-letting has become necessary.”

The trial was a classic case of intimidation, perjury, and forgery. The prosecution quickly gave up any attempt to prove that the men charged had thrown any bombs. No, the defendants were guilty of a far greater crime. They had inculcated among workers a theory of social change and spread in America the fearful idea of class consciousness.

Socialism on trial

As he faced the gallows, Parsons told the world that it was not just himself and the other defendants who were on trial, but rather the ideas of socialism and workers’ power. He declared to the judge, “Socialism is simple justice, because wealth is a social, not an individual product, and its appropriation by a few members of a society creates a privileged class, a class who monopolizes all the benefits of society by enslaving the producing class.”

Knowing history would absolve the leaders at Haymarket, Parsons spoke his last solemn words to the court: “They lie about us in order to deceive the people, but the people will not be deceived much longer. No, they will not.”

The Haymarket Memorial, a statue by Chicago sculptor Mary Brogger, remains a pilgrimage site for workers from around the world. Here, it is officially unveiled on Sept. 15, 2004, in Chicago. | Chuck Berman / AP

A carefully picked businessmen’s jury sealed their doom and garnered offers of a reward of $100,000 from a grateful “Citizens Committee” of big capitalists. On Nov. 11, 1886, Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer, and George Engel (the latter two weren’t even present at the rally) were hanged at the Cook County Jail, victims of a cold-blooded frame-up. Over 100,000 people followed the bier to their graves at Chicago’s Waldheim Cemetery.

When the Second International, a global organization of socialist and labor parties, was founded three years later in 1889, it declared that May 1st would permanently be known as International Workers Day, in honor of the The 8-hour day. Thus was born May Day—a global day of struggle and celebration—right here in the U.S.A.

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared as “Haymarket Hangings Vain Effort to Halt American Labor,” in the Nov. 12, 1937 edition of the Daily Worker.

 Read Albert Parson’s final speech as he headed to the gallows in 1886.

Milton Howard was the pen name of Milton Halpern, a correspondent for the Daily Worker (a People’s World predecessor publication). He served in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II and was among those who liberated the Nazi death camp at Dachau. He was later an editor for Masses and Mainstream and was subjected to government harassment during the McCarthy period.

People’s World, May 30, 2022,

Posting May Day – The Story of International Workers’ Day Through Trade Union Posters / by Lorna Miller

Posting May Day | MR Online

May Day is known throughout the world as International Workers’ Day. It is celebrated in over one hundred countries to highlight workers’ struggles and triumphs. Though the movement celebrating May Day originated in the United States, it is not a recognized holiday there. May Day commemorates the mass protests on May 1, 1886, for the eight-hour day, when sixty thousand workers went on strike in Chicago, and the subsequent Haymarket Affair, where eight labor organizers were hanged by the state. This was a pivotal event in the history of workers’ and anarchist movements.

In Scotland, for example, a number of trades councils hold events on or around May 1. The festival in Glasgow has always been well attended and has a long tradition going back to the days when heavy industry provided much of the job for working class people in the city: dangerous, hard labor that was low paid and extremely exploitative conditions. May Day was a day to dress up smart, spend time with family, friends, and fellow workers, highlight problems in the workplace, and be inspired and emboldened by trade union representatives and guest speakers from around the world. Educate, agitate, organize, and have fun!

| 2014 May Day Poster | MR Online

In 2014, I was asked to design the Glasgow May Day poster and I have been doing it almost every year since. Every year there is a new theme linked to local and international, past and present, trade union activism. My body of work is, in a sense, a historical record in itself. The very first poster I designed was based on an old, silent film about U.S. bass-baritone concert artist, stage and film actor, athlete and activist Paul Robeson, who led the May Day march in 1960. I was touched by how he kept doffing his cap to the huge crowd cheering him on, an enthusiastic welcome from ten thousand people. “There can be no question that we, the people, in the deepest sense, create the wealth,” he told the audience. “We are building a world in which we can live a rich and decent life, and we and our children should enjoy it.” He sang old favorites Water Boy  and Old Man River  as well as a song of peace. The following day, he led a miners’ gala day parade in Edinburgh. I was asked to create an image that linked this wonderful moment in history with that year’s theme: the impact of austerity policies on the majority of residents. Columnist and author Owen Jones was the keynote speaker, known for speaking out for those most disadvantaged by the Westminster government and their friends in the media, and for his acclaimed nonfiction work Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. I enjoyed walking at the head of the march with Owen and Kerry Fleck, a trade unionist from Belfast. We chatted and laughed about all sorts, including Owen’s beloved pet cats and the funny things they do.

| May 3rd May Day | MR Online

The 2015 poster also linked past and present international protest. “We Are Not Rats” as a slogan came out of the iconic speech by Glaswegian Jimmy Reid: “The rat race is for rats. We are not rats.” His speech was reprinted in full by the New York Times and projected the Clydeside shop steward to a new level of popularity. He was voicing the feelings of many who felt chained to their lives within monopoly capitalism. The theme for the 2015 May Day Festival was young people who face the brunt of this unjust capitalist system of austerity, enduring insecure low-paid employment and zero-hour contracts. The placards in the background were inspired by the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike in 1968 during the civil rights movement.

The “I Am a Man” slogans displayed en masse above the heads of the twenty-five thousand civil rights activists is a powerful, lasting image that appeals to the heart in a direct way. It represents peaceful dignity and self-worth in the face of discrimination and violent state attack. Historically, the term boy was used as a demeaning, racist insult toward men of color, Black men in particular. In response, “Am I not a man and a brother?” became a catchphrase used by British and U.S. abolitionists. The “I am a man” slogan developed out of this.

The Memphis sanitation workers’ strike was a strong movement in which local high school and college students participated, nearly a quarter of them white, alongside sanitation workers in daily marches supported by Martin Luther King Jr. and other national civil rights leaders. King praised the group’s unity: “You are demonstrating that we can stick together. You are demonstrating that we are all tied in a single garment of destiny, and that if one black person suffers, if one black person is down, we are all down.” King was brutally assassinated during his visit to Memphis for the strike.

| May 1st May Day | MR Online

The 2015 May Day Festival also centered the U.S. fast-food worker movement, in which workers campaigned to raise wages and gain rights at work including union representation. The main character in the poster and the slogans depicted emanating from the megaphone represent this movement. The fight for $15 minimum wage (and a union) continued and acted as a springboard for other movements, including Black Lives Matter. Since the first Fight for $15 strike in 2011, workers have won wage increases for 22 million in the United States, including tens of thousands in New York State.

In 2016, I designed the poster around my version of the May Day maypole, a tradition associated with European folk festivals. May Day is also the ancient celebration of spring and rebirth—the traditional time for planting new seeds in old ground. I wanted to bring a spirit of joy and optimism at a time when the introduction of the Trade Union Bill represented the biggest assault on working people’s rights in living memory. It was a deliberate attack on public sector trade unions and shifted the balance of power in workplaces toward the advantage of employers and away from workers. In spite of this, a united movement was created, resulting in heavy blows to the Conservative government’s plans. At the top of the maypole there is a garland of flowers decorating the assertion that “the TU Bill threatens the basic right to strike.” The white ribbons hanging down depict various slogans that represent some of the triumphs of worker organizing, such as “equal rights for all,” “a living wage,” “paid holidays,” “workplace pensions,” “paid maternity leave,” “workplace safety,” and “defends public services.”

| April 30th May Day Poster | MR Online

I also wanted to pay tribute to some of the young women activists who were involved in various political campaigns at the time, so I depicted them wearing bright colors and flower crowns, holding ribbons and dancing. Better than Zero, for example, was a movement spearheaded by young people, formed by precarious workers in 2015. In 2016, one hundred thousand workers were on zero-hour contracts in Scotland. That same year, Better than Zero took on the GI group, a £45 million empire of restaurants, pubs, and nightclubs that failed to pay minimum wage to thousands of its zero-hours workers. Workers took them to tribunal and won.

The theme of the 2017 poster was the heartbreaking Ken Loach film, I Daniel Blake; the screenwriter Paul Laverty was the May Day festival guest speaker that year. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2016 and is described as one of Loach’s finest films. This is my favorite poster, not least because I have a photo of Ken proudly holding it. The film starsDave Johns as Daniel Blake, a middle-aged man who is refused employment and support allowance because he cannot walk fifty meters and “raise either arm as if to put something in your top pocket,” even though his doctor instructed him to rest after having suffered a heart attack at work. He befriends a young single mother who is facing her own struggles within a cruel, humiliating system that pushes anyone needing support to breaking point. She is sanctioned for arriving late to her job centee appointment. They are pulled together amid horrifying circumstances out of their control. With biting humor and the will to survive and thrive, they struggle on. “My name is Daniel Blake. I am a man, not a dog. As such, I demand my rights. I demand you treat me with respect. I, Daniel Blake, am a citizen, nothing more and nothing less. Thank you.”

We had to ask permission to use the iconic image of Daniel with his fist defiantly raised, which was well known from the film’s promotional material. I drew a graphite pencil version of it. In the background, I drew Kelvingrove bandstand as it would look on the day of the festival, filled with people. It was a triumphant victory of community activism that the bandstand could be used at all. The determined people of Glasgow had brought it back to its former glory after many years of committed campaign work. The iconic clamshell amphitheater surrounding the cast iron bandstand, constructed by architect James Miller, was opened in 1924. Situated in Kelvingrove Park, with a dense foliage backdrop of glorious mature trees, Scotland’s first open air concert venue had fallen into a sorry state of disrepair and dilapidation by the 1990s. Devoted locals saved the much-loved bandstand from demolition and proceeded to fight for proposed restoration works, setting up the campaign group Friends of Kelvingrove Park. Thanks to their successful fundraising efforts and many community-organized family fun days, in 2000 the bandstand received listed building status by Historic Scotland and the restoration process could begin. It opened in May 2014 to everyone’s delight.

| May 6th May Day Poster | MR Online

My 2018 poster brings together Glaswegian women activists from different decades that fought for equality through the trade union movement. Mary Macarthur (1880–1921), on the left, was a suffragette who rebelled against her Tory family to become chair of the Ayr branch of the Shop Assistants’ Union, then became secretary of the Women’s Trade Union League when she moved to London in 1903. In 1906, she formed the all-female National Federation of Women Workers to support women who worked in some of the worst paid jobs in the country. She gave them a voice to make sure that their wages were higher and conditions were better. She led women in the chain-makers strike of Cradley Heath in 1910 in their fight for better pay, saying: “Women are unorganised because they are badly paid, and poorly paid because they are unorganised.” The ten-week strike ended in victory with the employers agreeing to pay the minimum wage. Macarthur’s life was cut short at the age of 40 due to cancer, but she achieved more than most people would in twice that time.

To the right of Macarthur is Agnes McLean (1918–94), a trade union activist for workers’ rights and a councilor from Glasgow. Born in Ibrox, she came from a family of committed socialists and attended Socialist Sunday School as a child. She began working as a bookbinder at Collins publishing house at the age of 14 and became a Union activist from the start. She successfully argued for the bookbinders to receive a pay raise. “It’s a case of fat profits and wage packets suffering from malnutrition,” she said. During the Second World War, she worked for Rolls-Royce on the shop floor, in engineering component manufacturing with ten thousand other women. She led them on a successful strike for equal pay in 1943, supported by male workers. In the 1960s, she was awarded the Gold Badge of the Trades Union Congress.

Next to McLean is Denise Phillips, a UNISON (Scotland’s biggest public service trade union) activist and homecarer. Phillips marched with hundreds of women from Glasgow Green to George Square, dressed as Suffragettes as part of UNISON’s equal pay campaign in 2018. She is wearing a bonnet decorated with the distinctive purple, white, and green Suffragette colors that I used as the main color scheme for the poster. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, coeditor of Votes for Women magazine, devised the concept of the Suffragette colors in the 1900s. Purple stood for loyalty and dignity, white for purity, and green for hope. The twelve-year dispute over equal pay for care, catering, cleaning, caretaking, administrative, and educational support roles for Glasgow City Council (mainly by women) was said to be the biggest strike by workers over equal pay since the 1960s, and the biggest-ever equal pay strike in the United Kingdom. An agreement was reached in 2019, with organizer Rhea Wolfson stating: “The strike succeeded in its aim of making the council take these claims seriously. It was also a spectacular event that put equal pay for low-paid women on the national agenda.”

| May Day 2020 | MR Online

I started working on my next poster during the 2020 lockdown, when a new and deadly virus paralyzed the whole world. Everyone had to suddenly adjust and I was feeling terribly ill. There was no community testing available at the time, but it was clear that I had caught COVID-19. My general practitioner told me to visit one of the treatment centers that had been set up, but then changed her mind. Apparently, since my lips weren’t turning blue and I could breathe, I was on my own, a single mother, living with the worst fear that my son would find me dead. I had never experienced an illness like this before. I carried on as best as I could with waves of nausea, dizziness, and other distressing symptoms, forcing myself to my desk, glad to have some artwork on which to focus. I had no idea that it was the beginning of two years of chronic illness and fighting for treatment and support with thousands of others, many of whom I was celebrating in the poster. Many frontline workers, who were literally applauded as heroes, were then left on their own to survive long COVID, loss of work, financial difficulty, medical gaslighting, mental health strain, family problems, and more. People reached out to each other online, setting up support groups that also became campaign groups. Trade union activism continued to be a force against state dereliction and inefficiency. Sadly, the poster wasn’t printed and the May Day Festival took place online.

| May 1 2021 May Day Poster | MR Online

By 2021, we were still trying to assimilate the fact that pandemic restrictions were an ongoing necessity of our lives. We had all been living with unprecedented fear, control, and uncertainty, trying to process grief and loss on a devastating scale. Jokes about the perils of working from home and Zoom meetings were wearing thin and joyful clapping for heroes was replaced by weary despair: everyone was just hoping that the never-ending nightmare would, well, end. The image of a mother and her child was chosen for the year’s poster to represent the resilience to carry on, the new life symbolizing hope for better days. The image is based on a photograph of Debbie and her newborn baby, from Anderston, Glasgow, by documentary photographer Kirsty Mackay: “In Glasgow, as everywhere else a person’s place of birth has a huge bearing on their overall life chances. That first journey home from the hospital, depending on which area home is, will have an impact on health, well-being and life expectancy.” Mackay’s project examining the “Glasgow Effect,” where life expectancy is shorter than the UK average, is available as a book, The Fish That Never Swam. I used charcoal for the drawing, creating a softness that worked well with the serious, determined expression of the mother. The theme of this year’s May Day was the extension of universal protections: specifically free school meals and promotion of the campaign for free public transport. Universal protection of the National Health Service was recognized as fundamental for recovery and, by extending these protections, some of the inequalities and poverty in Glasgow could be tackled. The main speaker at the festival was Christina McAnea from UNISON, who had just been elected as UNISON’s general secretary. I designed a new, stylized version of the well-known bird, fish, bell, and tree that are a part of the Glasgow coat of arms, representing the four miracles that the city’s patron saint, Saint Mungo, is said to have performed during his life.

| May 1 2022 May Day Poster | MR Online

I have just completed the 2022 May Day Festival poster. The theme this year is the cost-of-living crisis. This is another cruel blow for exhausted residents, many of whom have had to deal with reduced income or loss of work due to the pandemic. I created a scene representative of Glasgow, with apartment buildings, one with the slogan “Low Rent,” an electricity pylon, the distinctive St. Andrews in the square tower, a petrol pump, a shop with the slogan “Affordable Food,” a broadband mast with the slogan “Broadband for All,” and a bus that says “Free Buses” on the front. Free public transport was provided for the UN Climate Change Conference delegates and attendees in Glasgow in November 2021, which led people to call for permanent free travel for all on the public transport network. Susan Aitken, leader of the Glasgow City Council, was hoping to trial such a scheme, but the transport minister (who has since stood down for health reasons) said this would not be possible: money was needed to keep public transport running, coping with reduced passenger numbers and staff shortages during the pandemic. Nevertheless, a motion passed by the council recognized work of campaign groups Get Glasgow Moving and Free Our City, who back free public transport and led to Aitken requesting the trial run. In November 2021, first minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the introduction of free bus travel for anyone under the age of 22 in Scotland, making around 930,000 people eligible for the scheme. Earlier in the year, legislation was laid in parliament to allow those under 19 to travel free across the country.

Designing the posters has always been a wholly collaborative process with Glasgow Trades Council, with special thanks to chair Jennifer McCarey. It is always an ongoing learning process. The approach I take to the work is different from my other main form of creativity of the past ten years: editorial cartooning. It has been an opportunity to experiment with materials and style, and for an artist this is always beneficial for growth. Earlier in my career, I created comic art for children’s magazines, was a digital colorist, and wrote, drew, and designed my own comics. It was good practice for learning a variety of skills (most self-taught) that has enabled me to create the poster designs. I designed my first magazine cover for Scottish arts magazine Variant in 1999. The work of an artist, even a commercial one, is often shrouded in mystery.

Lorna Miller is an autistic, satirical political artist, cartoonist, activist, and campaign illustrator for unions. In 1999, she was the first Scottish woman to have a trade paperback of comic art published, entitled Witch, which was very well reviewed internationally. She is the first Scottish woman to have a position created for her in Private Eye (Britain’s best-selling satirical magazine) and from 2020 to 2022 was the only woman in the United Kingdom to have a regular political cartoon platform. She currently works for the Guardian.

MR Online, April 29, 2022,

Commentary: Toward building a “New World” / by Victor Wallis

Climate March Vancouver | Photo:

The aspiration to “build a new world within the shell of the old” has a long history. It is typically associated with the traditions of cooperativism and anarchism. But it is also part of the socialist/communist tradition, as articulated by Marx himself. Marx characterized communist society, in Capital, as the society of “associated producers.” Although he did not delineate this vision in detail, he explicitly situated its embryo in the cooperative movements of his time. Viewing producer cooperatives as a dimension of the labor movement, he argued that their role in ultimately empowering the “associated producers” depended on their embracing, along with their workplace practices, the wider class struggle against the power of capital.

The tension between the tasks of transforming one’s immediate surroundings and restructuring the larger society has never abated. It reflects a duality that is present in all living creatures. We are at once separate beings and units of a collectivity. In the case of humans, especially, the collectivity exists at multiple levels, with links of reciprocity not only between individuals and their immediate communities, but also between any such local entities (as well as individuals) and wider regional/national/global structures. 

This observation draws us back to recent arguments in Green Horizon, where a certain impatience if not exasperation is expressed in regard to socialist agendas, and it is suggested that our movement might more fruitfully focus on transforming our immediate surroundings rather than aiming at state power. More broadly, it is argued that socialism shares with capitalism a top-down and productivist orientation that we should firmly reject, in favor of a supposed Third Way that is neither capitalist nor socialist, but Green. 

The inspirational model for this non- and even anti-socialist approach lies principally in the beliefs and practices of Indigenous peoples. I share the appreciation of Indigenous societies, as I explain in a whole section of my book on ecosocialism, in which I discuss the conditions under which the priorities of those societies might come to gain wider acceptance. The view that socialism or Marxism necessarily clashes with such an approach derives from particular 20th-century experiences of revolution as interpreted through a capitalist ideological prism. The stereotype of Marxism as inherently developmentalist, however, has been thoroughly refuted, over the last three decades, in the writings of Richard Levins, John Bellamy Foster, Paul Burkett, Kohei Saito, and Michael Lebowitz. The common thread in their arguments is that the anti-Marxists attribute to Marx a perspective–as with the labor theory of value–that Marx treats as belonging (on the contrary) to the dynamics of capital, which he seeks to undercut. As he puts it (contrary to widespread misconceptions about his position),

Labor is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use values… as is labor.

Marx’s approach, in its refusal to view Nature through the eyes of capital, i.e., as a resource which, like workers, can be used up and cast off at will, clashes frontally with capital’s developmentalist stance. Thinkers who fail to see this then fall easily into the “plague on both your houses” attitude expressed in many Green Horizon articles that touch on capitalism and socialism. 

These articles consider capitalism and socialism side-by-side as if we were simply shopping for our preferred system (including “neither of the above”). But there’s a problem here, in that, without our having had any say in the matter, we are actually living under capitalism. This is so obvious that one easily forgets it. What it means, however, is that if we want to adopt any other way of organizing our lives, the alternative does not just offer itself to us on an even playing field with capitalism. In order to attain it, we must first get out from capitalist domination; we must strip away the power of capital!

No matter what our ultimate goal might look like, this is the sine qua non. We can have endless discussions about the precise contours of the society we want to achieve, and I share with Green Horizon writers a preference for as biodiverse, decentralized, and democratic an arrangement as possible. But the framework for whatever arrangement we seek will be set by the process through which we initially escape the claws of capital.

Given, then, that our starting point is the rejection of capitalism, what we face is not an either/or between socialism and a “green economy.” Our task instead is to envisage the general contours of what we want and then assess the various possible ways of getting there. While certain elements of a green or localized economy can be introduced directly, the complete liberation it envisages cannot be reached without dissolving the core institutions of capitalist power, including its aggressive/competitive/exhibitionistic culture. This has been, and remains, the historic task of socialism. After all, what can replace the power of a minuscule profit-driven propertied class if not the power of the organized majority (whatever precise form this power might take)? And what is it that can weld this majority into a political force, if not a common class interest?

The reason so many Green writers seem to balk at this conclusion is that, echoing the surrounding capitalist consensus, they identify socialism by definition with the harshest of its first-epoch manifestations (e.g., the Soviet Union under Stalin), thereby refusing to challenge the negative impression of socialism that they encounter in workers socialized by corporate media. Lifting actual socialist revolutions out of their historical context, they turn the outcomes of particular mixes of national and conjunctural traits into ironclad axioms as to what socialism entails. They see socialism as being inherently bureaucratic and top-down, whereas in fact the revolutionary process brings numerous impulses and tendencies to the fore, making for a range of possible outcomes. 

What drives the frequent negative or repressive traits is a mix of factors, which vary in character and importance from one country or set of conditions to the next. Some aspects of the prerevolutionary culture–e.g., patterns of hierarchy–may be difficult to shake, especially under conditions of scarcity. Probably the biggest adverse factor, however, is the drive of capitalist interests–whether internal or external–to disrupt and destroy the revolution, even (or especially) if it has wide popular support and could serve as an inspiration to others. To the extent that a revolutionary process begins on a note of hope (for example with an election victory by a socialist-oriented party or coalition), globally imposed U.S. sanctions can be counted on to bring it grief, compromising its achievements and giving corporate media and politicians a pretext to call its leadership dictatorial (as in the present case of Venezuela).

Those with “green” goals who seek to avoid such unpleasantness tout the scenario of local grassroots organizing, including a multiplicity of diverse institutions. I do not reject any of this; it plays a necessary role in drawing people into activism and also in eventually running the society that we aspire to. The problem, however, is that it does not address the current persistence of the monster in the room, namely, overarching capitalist power. Political action to confront that power requires a unified movement. The view that such unity precludes concern for the diversity of popular needs reflects precisely the negative stereotype of socialism–and of revolution–that the capitalist ruling class invokes to preserve its own legitimacy. The point is not to deny instances where revolutionary parties or regimes have done the wrong thing; the point is to understand those moments and to recognize that socialist movements and socialist-oriented governments are “works in progress,” with conscious protagonists who have every reason to try to avoid the consequent disappointments in the future. 

If you really want changes requiring the dismantling of capitalism–and this does include the changes necessary to the imagined “green economy,”–then you will join in these efforts rather than condemning the project that inspires them.

Victor Wallis is a former associate professor of political science, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis and a former director of study programs in Peru and five European countries. He is the author of numerous articles, book chapters, and books, including Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism (Political Animal Press, 2018), Democracy Denied: Five Lectures on U.S. Politics (Africa World Press, 2019), and Socialist Practice: Histories and Theories (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)

MR Online, April 29, 2022,

Manoomin May Day / by Peter Linebaugh

AIM Wounded Knee Occupation solidarity poster (Detail), 1973.

“The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell therein for ever.”

– Psalms 37:29

The international worker’s day must become a day to protect the earth, its air, and waters. We are co-creators.

War is a means of conquering at home, Tom Paine said in Rights of Man. Randolph Bourne died of the 1919 ‘flu but had written that war is the health of the state.  The war in Ukraine now threatens the energy systems, the food systems, and ideas of sovereignty.  I’ll reflect on manoomin, this workers’ holiday, and ‘the rights of nature.’

In the life cycle of manoomin, or wild rice, the month of May is an important stage. After three months of dormancy germination begins in the spring.  The ice has melted and the waters warmed to at least 45F.  By May manoomin is present on the waters.  This is its floating leaf stage.  It doesn’t have to happen exactly on May Day but depending on conditions of weather and water it may.  The long slender leaves grow towards the light and the surface.  Meanwhile the roots reach further into the sediment to anchor manoomin.  This enables the plant to continue its life by standing up, growing taller, flowering, pollinating, until in late summer or early fall, its flowers having turned to seed the grains “shatter” or break away and plummet into the water to find rest in the mud and the cycle begins again. But at the floating leaf stage it lies on the surface of the lake waters like wisps of hair from Mother Earth, to borrow an expression from Robin Wall Kimmerer.

A community subsistence practice of the people of the Great Lakes here on Turtle Island, ricing as they call it, is thus endangered.

The founders of the American Indian Movement (AIM) had fond memories of ricing.  Clyde Bellecourt remembers, “We lived in rice camps as fall came to a close.  I looked forward to the rice camps; they would spring up like little villages.  People made tar paper shacks maybe a week before they started harvesting the wild rice.  Tents, tipis, little cookshacks, and shelters for playing poker – little card rooms – sprung up all over.  On the reservation, everyone lived so far apart.  Ricing season was a time when I could look forward to seeing all of my friends come together in one place.  There would be moccasin games at night, storytelling around the fire, and lots of card games and gambling.  The men would gamble bags of wild rice.  Winners sometimes went home with a few hundred pounds of rice.  Perhaps more than any other time, the rice camps gave us a true understanding of who we were as Ojibwe people.

“The elders had complete control over all aspects of the wild rice harvest.  In the morning they would send somebody onto the water to get some rice grains.  If they were still milky the elders would say, ‘Well, you can’t go on this lake today,’ or ‘the sun’s shining on that side of the lake, and the rice is ripe over there, so you can only harvest on that side.”

Dennis Banks, another founder of AIM, writes, “The men gathered wild rice while the women parched corn and steamed the rice.” He remembered the first time he saw the boats going out for rice.  “The rice sticks out of the water, which is about ten feet deep.  Stalks of wild rice can be fifteen or even twenty feet tall.”  Sharp slivers on the stalks can fly around during the knocking, “so we had to wear bandannas around our faces to protect our eyes.” “The concept of ownership, either of land or of whatever grows or lives upon it, is not part of what Native people believe.”

His birth was celebrated by his mother’s friends and relations with a feast of wild rice with deer and moose meat.”  “We lived close to nature, in rhythm with the seasons – fishing, hunting, trapping, ricing, sugaring, berry-picking. “ the kitchen filled with the scents of these seasons.

Bellecourt and Banks, warriors of liberation, had no trouble recognizing the power of women.  “The Anishinaabe … recognize the women as the true leaders, the ones who select our leaders,” says Bellecourt and adds that it was An elder woman, Alberta Downwind, actually named AIM.  As for Banks he remembered the spine-tingling, high-pitched brave-heart cry which sent chills through the crowd, which the women and girls made at a decisive turn in the action in the struggles at Wounded Knee.  “Do it, AIM, Do it!” they cried.  Ellen Moves Camp pointed her finger at Dennis Banks saying, “Dennis Banks, what are you going to do?”

Manoomin is gathered with canoes.  One person standing and polling, and another sitting and knocking.  The pole was sixteen feet with a forked foot.  A pair of sticks, like a drummer’s, did the knocking, one for gathering a bunch and another for gently knocking the grain into the canoe.

Sioux Sherman remembers, “One early fall day, I went ricing with a friend on a lake so still and quiet that the only sound was that of my rice knockers tapping the seeds that rained into the canoe, of fish jumping, and water lapping.  Time stood still.  I sensed how this ritual, these earthly rhythms, resounded through generations.”

Richard Horan remembers jigging.  “I was a dancing fool!  With my big feet stretching out those lovely white moccasins, I twisted and shimmied and swiveled until the balls of my feet were raw and swollen.  And it seemed that every time I looked up into the sky, a huge raven was there soaring low over the treetops.  There were bald eagles, too, high above the lake, a mile in the air, watching all.”

Tashia Hart bicycled across the Great Lakes gathering stories about manoomin.  In the process found solutions to homelessness and its accompanying psychic disturbance.  She praises ‘the good berry’ (as manoomin may be translated).  She writes, “today our water protectors put their freedom at risk to try to stop the advancement of oil pipelines in watery territories that are the homeland of manoomin.  The plants require clean water, just as people do, and a pipeline burst in this delicately balanced ecosystem would wreak havoc for generations to come.”

Mother Earth is endangered by ‘the black snake’ as Line 3 of the Alberta tar sands pipeline is aptly called by the water protectors here in the Great Lakes.

The manoomin has been appropriated and the ricers expropriated by gene-splicing, machine-building, gasoline consuming, land-taking, profiteering white guys, who transformed manoomin into a commercial crop and moved it to California, thus forsaking both the people – the Anishinaabe – and the lands at the headwaters of the Mississippi and its lacustrine environs.  These are now further threatened by seapages, spills, and “accidents” of the petroleum product pumped through pipeline number three.

It’s all but inevitable that future spills, leaks, seappages will hurt the lakes, rivers, and estuaries and the creatures therein  (ducks and the muskrat). The transference of petroleum entails not only a huge land-grab, but a gigantic transformation of the geology of Turtle Island, as the energy stored by the sun millions of years ago in the form of peat, coal, gas, and oil in order to support a desolated, asphalted landscape relying on the automobile with vast array of supportive administration to maintain the social infrastructure, and whose “side-effects” of methane and CO2 have turned the world upside down by inverting the lithosphere and the stratosphere with dire consequence to the Creations, or relations, in between.

Ervin Oelke has composed a history, Saga of the Grain: A Tribute to Minnesota Cultivated Wild Rice Growers of the post NATO approach, i.e. of increased agricultural productivity as a means of economic and social development.  These are the technicians, the razor scientists, the gene splicers.  The white men with baseball caps, steel-rimmed glasses, plain shirts, and polyester pants worn high on the waist.  They stand around and consult during a photo op in a grass field or hand out certificates to one another.  He did the genetic engineering which was the precursor to the mechanization and removal to northern California of “paddy rice.”  This is the old capitalist thing promising one panacea after another – an end to world hunger, a cure of disease – by means of mechanization and production by proletarians.

Airboat, combine, pull-type combine, dragline, harvester, paddy wagon, parcher, picker, rototiller, speedhead, thinner.  Wild rice cutter harvester.  Floating wild rice thinner.  Wind separator.  Hullers. Electric pumps to flood paddies.  Dams to control depth, dikes. Sportsmen and vacation cabin owners early entrepreneurs.  Isolation cages for plant breeding.

The book contains a lavish number of color photographs.  I counted 212 people in them.  Only fifteen (7%) of them are of native growers.  Of the remaining 197 93% are men, and twenty-three are women.  Among the native Americans eight are men, seven are women.  All fifteen of the native Americans are photographed at work – knocking rice, polling the canoe, parching, jigging and winnowing, while the others, the “pale faces” so to speak, are photographed standing in a field, or next to a big machine, or receiving a certificate, displaying an ad, or glancing at account books.  Just posing.  It is not difficult to see the difference in the mode and relations of production.

Oelke’s “saga” does not include native Americans.  And a note displaying uncertainty about the spelling of the Ojibwe as well as the “proper” or “correct” term for Native American, American Indian, or Indian reveals a nervous uncertainty about indigenous nomenclature as well as the Ojibway people themselves. “Cultivated wild rice” is an oxymoron written with a straight face. But what is the meaning of “wild”? “In wildness is the preservation of the world,” wrote Henry David Thoreau.  The world, indeed, is at stake.

The government regulates.  Bureaucracy transforms sound and meaning into ideograms and code.  Look at all these unpunctuated abbreviations. The letters no longer stand for sounds or even words. Such kind of coding is widespread in corporations and the Pentagon where it functions as secrecy and exclusion. Obfuscation is the result and occasionally unintended humor.

Consider the PHMSA, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration of the Department of Transportation, and its OPS, Office of Pipeline Safety.  Or, consider the PIPES, Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety act of 2020, which mandated that PHMSA update the regulatory definition of the USA “Unusually Sensitive Areas,” which are a subset of HCAs, High Consequence Area, to include the Great Lakes, coastal beaches, and coastal waters. Here the IM of the HL (the integrity management of the hazardous liquid) and the IM of the GT (the integrity management of gas transmission) combine to form the HLIM and the GTIM with ILI (in-line inspection), sometimes under an IFR (interim final rule) by a POQ, pipeline operator qualification.  As the face of the settler-colonial breaks into a shit-eating grin, the USA becomes an “unusually sensitive area.”

The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway is a coloring book, written for children, designed for generations hence.  “Mishomis” means “grandfather” in the Ojibway language. It tells the Ojibway creation story, how original man walked the earth with his grandmother, the earth’s first people, the flood, Waynaboozhoo (the name of original man), the seven grandfathers, the Medewiwin ceremony, the clan system, the pipe, the eagle, the sweat lodge, then of special interest, the seven fires and seven prophecies, containing the migration of the Anishinaabe, and stepping into modern history.

 Seven prophets left the people with seven prophecies.  “Each of these prophecies was called a Fire and each Fire referred to a particular era of time…” and a particular place.  They lived peacefully in the east by the salt waters of the Atlantic.  The first prophet told the people to follow the sacred shell to the Midewiwin Lodge, that is, to travel west and not to stop until they come to a land where the food grows on the water.  This is the ur concept of the people, the Anishinaabe people (Ojibway, Ottawa, and Pottawatomie).

The second prophet says the Anishinaabe people will weaken, lose the sacred shell, and find stepping stones pointed out to them by a child.

The third prophet is most explicit.  The Anishinaabe will find the path to the chosen ground, a land in the West to which they must move their families.  This will be the land where food grows on water.  This will be the big lakes, Superior, Huron, and Michigan.

The fourth fire was given by two prophets telling of the coming of the light skinned race.  One prophet says they will bring new knowledge and brotherhood.  The other says they will bring death and destruction.  “if the rivers run with poison and fish become unfit to eat” you will know which is which.

The fifth prophet spoke of struggle and false promise. Light-skinned people make war and take the land.  The Ojibway called them the Long Knives. The sixth Fire says that the children will cease to listen to elders, the ceremonies will die out, sickness will prevail, and “the cup of life will almost become the cup of grief.”  This was the time of the Indian schools.  The teachings are forgotten.

The seventh prophet was young and had a strange light in his eyes.  A new people will emerge, and they will retrace their steps to find what was left by the trail.  Two roads are available, technology or spiritualism.  Which of these two clashing world-views will win?  It might be possible to return to the first prophet at the time of the Fourth Fire, the path of peace and harmony.  Edward Benet-Banai concludes, “Are we the New People of the Seventh Fire?

Let us take this advice from the Seventh Fire to go back and retrace our steps.  Kondiaronk, the Huron leader and eloquent indigenous critic of European “civilization,” was born in 1649.  In Europe that was the year that King Charles I head was chopped off by Oliver Cromwell, the aggressive privatizer and champion of enclosure.  With gunpowder and cavalry Cromwell also put an end to the Levellers (the folks who gave us the phrase “We the People”) as well as the Diggers (“the earth is a common treasury for all mankind without respect for persons”), thereby draining the meaning out of the word “common wealth.”

David Graeber and David Wengrow, esteemed anthropologist and archaeologist respectively, begin their work The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by quoting Kondiaronk. They mistakenly call him “the Rat” when they mean “Muskrat,” a different creature entirely, akin to the beaver not the rat.  Here let’s remember how Turtle Island got its name, that is, the origin of the Earth.  Before it existed there were the primordial waters.  Sky woman sent one animal after another to dive deep to fetch some dirt from the bottom of the oceans, but none could do it until Muskrat tried and succeeded in bringing up some dirt that he placed on Turtle’s back.  Turtle had kindly offered it for this purpose and from there Earth grew to its present condition.  It is a tale of dependence on fellow creatures, Turtle’s generosity and Muskrat’s bravery.

Kondiaronk opposed European selfishness, blind submission to authority, law based on punitive principles of torture and differentials between rich and poor.

“I still can’t think of a single way they act that’s not inhuman, and I genuinely think this can only be the case, as long as you stick to your distinctions of ‘mine’ and ‘thine.’”

“You honestly think you’re going to sway me by appealing to the needs of nobles, merchants, and priests?  If you abandoned conceptions of mine and thine, yes, such distinctions between men would dissolve; a leveling equality would then take its place among you as it does now among the [Huron].”

In 1887 a year after Haymarket when a mood of repression still prevailed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs J.D. Atkins, former slave owner, (1825-1908), ‘The Indians must be taken out of the reservation through the door of the General Allotment Act, and he must be imbued with the exalted egotism of American civilization so that he will say ‘I’ instead of ‘we,’ and ‘this is mine’ instead of ‘this is ours.’”  The Dawes Act of the same year destroyed indigenous common lands.  Atkins supervised the notorious hair-cutting, language forbidding, brutalizing culture destroying Indian schools beginning at Carlisle.  “Education for extinction” sums up the policy.

The rice grows on the water.  However, Water Protectors have emerged, and they can give us hope as world energy and food systems are damaged by war.  The hope derives from experiences of mutuality. It derives from many generations of survivance by First Nations and Indigenous folks transmitted by grandmothers over kitchen fires through story and even prophecy.  Now the story is preserved by native food sovereignty, restaurants, books, videos, and all the many ways of remembrancing which May Day brings.

May brings another promise.  The Haymarket promise, the beautiful idea of Chicago in 1886.  It is the promise of eight-hours.  Us remembrancers must tell the story again, of the Haymarket disaster of 1886 and the vow made by the organizations of the international working class to make May Day a day to remember the struggle for Eight Hours of Work, Eight Hours of Rest, and Eight Hours for What You Will.

Alienation from himself, from his work, from the product of his work.   He felt bad. Work gave no pleasure.  He was cheated in the end.  What he made was of no interest whatsoever.  Its use-value was neither here nor there.  He wanted wages, he wanted to work less.  It was purely a quantitative question of time and money.  Therefore the old slogan – Eight hours work! Eight hours rest! Eight hours for what you will! – no longer gets to the nub of the matter.  It does not concern social reproduction.  Work, rest, and play, as such, do not inherently entail ecological safety.   How will work, rest, and play protect the water?  How will work, rest, and play nurture the ground?  How will they clean the air?  How will they control the fossil fuels?

These are the questions which May Day must try to resolve.  The worker must become a protector.  The worker takes control of production and its speed, its organization, its tools, its product, and above all its purpose. It must subordinate quantitative abstract value to its qualitative, concrete effects on water, earth, air, and fire.  And if it does not know how to do this, it must learn from those who do.  Those who do are the wageless, the mothers and housewives, the indigenous and colonized, the slaves and the hewers of wood and drawers of water, even the children – especially the children.  For them subsistence is not, by definition, a quantitative issue.  It is always an issue of uses.  Survival or survivance.  Hail to the water protectors!

At each step, therefore, in the history of the working-class we must closely examine the relationships to those who are unwaged, those who do not live by money, because in our current epoch money answers nothing!  It did in the past but at the expense of huge divisions, terrible splits, and separations that felt eternal.  Here, now on May Day, I want to hold in one hand reverently the water protectors, and to hold in the other hand respectfully the workers.

The combine machine combined harvesting and threshing work that had formerly been done by hand with sickle, scythe, and flail (though with each tool more than hand was at play).  This machine will shave the grain of the prairie like a razor.

The iron workers led the eight hour movement.  In Chicago they built combines for McCormick who cut their wages by 15% then installed pneumatic molding machines to eliminate the need for their skills.  They struck on May 1, 1886.  The police shot some.  Outrage swept through Chicago’s workers.  A meeting was called at the Haymarket where as the sun set a bomb was thrown and seven policemen and four workers were killed.

No one asked the iron molders or the metal craftsmen at the combine works of McCormick whether they were proud to be producing the machines which would clip the prairie grains far quicker and closer to the ground than the hand-held sickle or the swaying scythe.  He did not know that the resulting monoculture, though seeming to feed the world, created the dust bowl. Indeed since the end of the Civil War the iron workers led the struggle for the eight hour day.  When he was shot down by police for this, he aroused the collective of fellow-workers of Chicago to assemble.  At Haymarket the workers did not consult the horses whose feed and power and strength depended on the hay.

The rulers of this Gilded Age closed ranks and howled against Apaches and anarchist, alike as “terrorists.”  Geronimo surrendered in 1886.  Wounded Knee massacre occurs in 1890.

Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, and Michael Schwab were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to hang.  These are the Haymarket martyrs, and four of them were hanged on 11 November 1887.  August Spies famously predicting, “There will come a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”  The power of that silence is ringing today.

Albert Parsons whose partner, Lucy, was descended from native Americans, spoke.  August Spies had lived several months with Anishinaabe people in Canada.  Spies had lectured on socialism when “the necessity of common ownership in the means of toil will be realized, and the era of socialism, of universal cooperation begins.”  Albert Parsons had written two years earlier:

“The Indian has been ‘civilized’ out of existence and exterminated from the continent by the demon of ‘personal property….  Their lands appropriated by ‘law,’ the surveyor’s chain reaching from ocean to ocean, driven from the soil, disinherited, robbed and murdered by the piracy of capitalism, this once noble but now degraded, debauched, and almost extinct race have become the ‘national wards’ of their profit-mongering civilizers.  Under the aegis of ‘mine and thine,’ barbarism became so cruelly refined that man prospers best and only when he exterminates his fellow man.”

Mechanization of agriculture relied on iron, the iron came from Mesabi range in Minnesota, the iron mine workers were Slovaks, Finns, and native people (Ojibway).  Metal workers made and invented machines to remove manoomin from Ojibway control after 1949 when Truman announced NATO and world-wide agricultural development (the “green revolution”) in the same speech.  In the 1960s significant leaders of the American Indian movement were iron workers, especially the prophet, Eddie Benton-Benai, also Bellecourt and Banks.  The story of Indians in the working-class movement or the labor movement has not been well-told.  Frank Little of the IWW lynched in 1917. There’s the Anishinaabe man, “Hap” Holstein who was active in the Minneapolis teamsters strike of 1934 which, together with strikes in Toledo and San Francisco, pushed for a New Deal of relief, welfare, and security.  The most famous iron workers perhaps were the Mohawk sky-scraper builders who set and joined with hot rivets the beams and struts up there with the clouds in the sky – the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building, the Twin Towers, &c.!  They belonged to the League of the Haudenosaunee.

This was a crucial year in the history of mine and thine.  The buffalo had been exterminated, the Lakota starved.  Sitting Bull was gone, Geronimo too.  Tolstoy published his wonderful parable against the property statute.  The commons was being taken away world-wide.

Honoré Jaxon, the “prairie visionary,” stands out.  He was connected with the leadership of the Ojibway people and their relations in the struggle that led to the political formation of the province of Manitoba. Louis Riel, a métis or what the Canadians call mixed Anglo and Indian, led the Red River resistance of 1870 following the first appearances of land surveyors, and then led the Rebellion of 1885. He was hanged by the Anglo Canadian government in November 1885. Jaxon, his secretary, fled to the USA, assumed Anishinaabe identity, followed the commons principles of Henry George, arranged for the publication of the last words of the Haymarket martyrs, became an active ally of Lucy Parsons, the anarchist Voltarine de Cleyre, and Mary Elizabeth Lease of Kansas (“raise less corn and more hell”).  He advocated of “the Indian’s view upon the land question.” Acuple years after Wounded Knee massacre he joined Coxey’s army of the unemployed marching behind the Afro-American standard bearer on their way across the mid-west to Washington D.C.  For a living built side-walks with his own hands.  He was evicted from his Manhatten apartment and his archive of oral histories of the North West Rebellion sold as waste paper.

In Minnesota the Stillwater prison received its first inmates in 1853. Prisoners made agricultural equipment.  More than a thousand prisoners made engines and threshing machines until the Minnesota Threshing Company failed in 1894.  This same prison also produces the oldest continuous prisoner operated newspaper, The Prisoner Mirror, partly financed by the Younger brothers, the famous 19th century bank robbers.  So many Ojibway and Dakota people passed through the prison.

In fact, the American Indian Movement (1968) started there.  1966 in the penitentiary, for stealing 16 bags of groceries. 1966-1968 in Stillwater, state prison.  9 months in solitary.  “I began to read about Indian history and became politicized in the process.” He got out of prison in May 1968.  28 July 68 first meeting.  Clyde Bellecourt spoke with intense enthusiasm.  “In that moment, AIM was born.” The story was something like this.  Clyde Bellecourt was incarcerated at Stillwater and having a bad time of it.  Isolated in solitary confinement he fell into existential despair and violent danger.  A fellow inmate whistling in the corridor “You Are My Sunshine” caught his attention. That inmate was Edward Benton-Banai who began to teach Bellecourt the history, prophecies, and instructions of his people.  Soon they built a drum, then conducted ceremonies, and before long were organizing for liberation, at first in prison, then in the outside, and before long in Indian country, the Red Nation.  They made a careful study of William W. Warren’s, History of the Ojibway People, originally written in 1852 (published more than thirty years later) and based upon extensive interviews.  He had much to say about manoomin.

In 1761 Mr Alexander Henry, the Englishman, visited Michilimackinac, and met the Ojibway chieftain who addressed him as follows:  “Englishman!  Although you have conquered the French you have not yet conquered us!  We are not your slaves.  These lakes and these woods and mountains were left to us by our ancestors.  They are our inheritance, and we will part with them to none.  Your nation supposes that we, like the white people, cannot live without bread and pork and beef.  But you ought to know that the Great Spirit and master of life has provided food for us in these broad lakes and upon these mountains.”  His name was Minweweh

The hard work [of the women] again commences in the autumn, when the wild rice which abounds in many of the northern inland lakes, becomes ripe and fit to gather.  Then for a month or more, they are bused in laying in their winter’s supply.”

At his trial Spies referred to Jan Huss, the feminist, the friend of Wycliffe, and hanged in 1415.  He had lived for several months with a Chippewa community in Manitoba.

What have they to do today with the Water Protectors?

The Lakota man, Henry Standing Bear, was his friend.  Jaxon said, “Study the Indian and his ways,” he said, “if you would find the light which alone can save the white man’s civilization.”  His mother and brother lived on the rez in Sascatchewan.  Later he allied with a son of the Zapotec, Ricardo Magón. He fled across the border and soon changed his name to Honoré Jaxon, and allied with the Haymarket martyrs.  He visited them in jail, he saw that their speeches were published.  He began to collect and to preserve the oral records of the struggles on that part of Turtle Island.   Time went by.  His collection grew and grew until it came to be measured in tons.

The settler, white, war-making, patriarchal ruling class is not content to take the land, extirpate the culture, exterminate the people, and in so doing create propertyless, homeless, expendable proletarians.  If the division between the water protectors and the workers, between white skins and those whose skin is the color of the earth, is to be preserved as a means of capitalist governance, it must erase the memory too of our struggles.

Jaxon was evicted from his basement apartment on West 34th St., N.Y., in 1951, and all his archives which certainly would have helped us tie the common themes of life and spirit of the indigenous people to the movement of the poor laboring proletarians of the capitalist city, were thrown in a pile on the street where they were sold off as “waste paper.” Many thousands were thrown off the rez or ceded land to make a “living” as proletarians.

He was a poet too.  Here is his “Song of the Citizen.”
Thus, in human affairs
More than half of our cares
Come from [people] who in greed are enwrapped.
They’re too lazy to work
And all effort they shirk,
Save to get honest people entrapped!
So, while others produce
All real wealth that we use,
They produce only schemes to possess!
And they chuckle in glee
Like a blood-sucking flea
While the real working [person] they assess.

There is one other theme, if you will bear with me.  I mean law.  The anarchist tries to think free of law.  To the poor, law often means little more than a knee on the neck, or the clanging prison gate.  The romantic will sing the praises of the outlaw.  The theologically inclined will adhere to grace not law, and be an antinomian.  At the moment one of these is the legal innovation called “the rights of nature.”  A brief of behalf of the rights of manoomin was submitted last year.  It goes back to the U.S. Constitution.  Evelyn Bellanger of the White Earth Reservation helped establish Rights of Manoomin, “a gift from the Creator or Great Spirit and … possesses inherent rights to exist, flourish, regenerate and evolve, as well as inherent rights to restoration, recovery, and preservation.”Why does not the bill of rights include the rights of manoomin when little was more significant to life than it and its waters?

John Thelwall wrote The Rights of Nature in 1796.  It begins obscurely:  “The tocsin of aristocracy sounds once more – the generale is beaten on the tortured hide of ‘old John Zisca,’ and the yell of persecution rings through the harassed country.”  This is the first sentence. He makes no separation between rights of man and rights of nature.  He had a vision of farming, similar to Wendell Berry – slow moving, subsistence, with plenty of time for reading and talking to friends and relations. He writes of “this profligate crusade of the powerful and the wealthy, against the poor and weak – of governments, and government contractors, against their oppressed and plundered people.”  And the sacrifice of tens of thousands “to the Moloch of West Indian avarice.”  The artificer, the slave, and the peasant groan under their burdens until they acquire “the decided tone of authoritative complaint.”

John Zisca was a follower of Jan Hus, the 15th century Bohemian heretic burnt at the stake.  They were both followers of the English translator of the Bible, John Wycliffe.  Zisca was a soldier and a prominent precursor of the Protestant Reformation A rumor spread after his death that his skin was stretched to make a drum-head so that he could continue to terrorize his enemies. Montaigne explained, “Even as Nature makes us see that many dead things have yet certaine secret relations unto life,” Essays, I, iii.

Thelwall expressed an important truth.  “The fact is, that monopoly, and the hideous accumulation of capital in a few hands, like all diseases not absolutely mortal, carry, in their own enormity, the seeds of cure.  Man is by his very nature, social and communicative – proud to display the little knowledge he possesses, and eager, as opportunity presents, to increase his store.  Whatever presses men together, therefore, though it may generate some vices, is favourable to the diffusion of knowledge, and ultimately promotive of human liberty.  Hence every large workshop and manufactory is a sort of political society, which no act of parliament can silence, and no magistrate disperse.”

Turtle Island needs to constitute commons all over because the present constitution at its origin was a deliberate application of law to smother the commons which was sold away in uniform, little squares as the surveys of US imperialism.  If you doubt this the evidence will be found in the first lectures given at the University of Pennsylvania law school by James Wilson.  He was one of George Washington’s Supreme Court justices.  He devised the notorious three-fifths clause of the USA Constitution.  He “owned” as private property vast areas.  He explained in his lecture how that Constitution was against the principles of the commons.

Scott Momaday describes the oscillation between hunting, horticulture, and foraging on the mesa and twelve hours on the assembly line in the city with cigarettes and black coffee.  “They have a lot of words, and you know they mean something, but you don’t know what, and your own words are no good because they’re not the same; they’re different, and they’re the only words you’ve got.”

The first Europeans on the Great Lakes didn’t know what to call it.  It tasted good, was filling, and nutritious.  They likened it to oats.  By the 1730s a specimen was sent to Linneaus, the Swedish inventor of binomial classification.  Manoomin was Zizania palustria or Zizania aquatic, i.e. of the marshes or the waters.  Gilbert White, England’s first ecologist and beloved ornithologist, had a brother, Thomas who in 1789 quoted Ecclesiastes (11:1) “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days,” and then reminded the readers of The Gentleman’s Magazine that zizania was the pernicious weed mentioned in Matthew (13:36-43) though it was “of great service to the wild natives.”  The parable says that enemy (the devil) sows zizania which chokes the wheat, the good grain, while the farmers slept.  The Son of Man sends forth his angels to gather the zizania from the field, and they shall be “cast into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  History does not record the Christian who first named manoomin zizania, tying the sacred plant to all that is offensive and iniquitous.  A nasty piece of genocidal linguistic sacred text inversion if there ever was one!

To conclude:  the working-class, the co-creators, must become protectors of water, air, and earth at all costs by any means possible, as we install the graceful but sublime transition to the epoch of rest, peaceably if we may and forcibly if we must.

References and Suggestions for Reading

Dennis Banks with Richard Erdoes, Ojibwa Warrior: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Movement (Norman, Oklahoma: U.O.P., 2004)

Barbara J. Barton, Manoomin: The Story of Wild Rice in Michigan (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2018)

Clyde Bellecourt, The Thunder before the Storm (Minnesota Historical Society Press: St. Paul, 2016)

Edward Benton-Banai, The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway (St. Paul, Minnesota:  Red School House, 1988)

Jonathan Carver, Travels through America in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768 (1778)

Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014)

James Taylor Dunn, “The Minnesota State Prison during the Stillwater Era, 1853-1914,” Minnesota History (December 1960)

Nick Estes et al, Red Nation Rising: From Bordertown Violence to Native Liberation (Oakland, California: PM Press, 2021)

David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021)

Tashia Hart, The Good Berry Cookbook: Harvesting, and Cooking Wild Rice and other Wild Foods (St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society 2021)

Richard Horan, Harvest: An Adventure into the Heart of America’s Family Farms (New York:  HarperCollins, 2011)

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass (2013)

Johann Kohl, Kitchi-Gami, Wanderings Around Lake Superior (1860)

Winona LaDuke and Brian Carlson, Our Manoomin, Our Life: The Anishinaabeg Struggle to Protect Wild Rice (Minnesota: White Earth Land Recovery Project, 2003)

Baron de Lahontan, New Voyages to North America, English translation (1703), reprint Chicago 1905, edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites.

Aylmer Bourke Lambert, “Observations on the Zizania aquatica,” Transactions of the Linnean Society, volume 7 (1804)

Peter Linebaugh, The Incomplete, True, Authentic, and Wonderful History of May Day (Oakland: PM Press, 20)

Andro Linklater, Owning the Earth (Bloomsbury, 2013)

N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn (1968)

J. Raleigh Nelson, Lady Unafraid (Idaho: Caxton, 1951)

Ervin Oelke, Saga of the Grain: A Tribute to Minnesota Cultivated Wild Rice Growers (Hobar Publications:  Lakeville, Minnesota, 2007)

Dave Roediger & Franklin Rosemont, Haymarket Scrapbook (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1986)

Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, part one (London, 1791)

Sioux Sherman with Beth Dooley, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen (University of Minnesota Press:  Minneapolis, 2017)

John Thelwall, The Rights of Nature: Against the Usurpation of Establishments (London 1796)

Leo Tolstoy, How Much Land Does a Man Need? (1886)

David Treuer, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present (New York: Riverhead Books, 2019)

Thomas Vennum, Jr., Wild Rice and the Ojibway People (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988)

William W. Warren, History of the Ojibway People, second edition, edited by Theresa Schenck (St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009)

Thomas Holt White, “Natural History of the Wild Rice,” The Gentleman’s Magazine (1789)

Anya Zilberstein, “Inured to Empire: Wild Rice and Climate Change,” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 72, no. 1 (January 2015)

* I thank Michaela Brennan’s near daily messages concerning Line 3 and the Giniw Collective; I thank Peter Rachleff of the Minneapolis Working Class History Library, and I thank Silvia Federici and the students of her Binghamton commons seminar.

Peter Linebaugh is the author of The London HangedThe Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (with Marcus Rediker) and Magna Carta Manifesto. Linebaugh’s latest book is Red Round Globe Hot Burning. He can be reached at:

Counterpunch, April 29, 2022,

The Amazon Labor Union Victory, Lessons for All Workers / By Ed Grystar

Amazon Workers in Staten Island, NY Vote to Unionize in Historic First | Democracy Now!

In one of the most remarkable labor organizing victories in decades, the Amazon workers in Staten Island voted to unionize with the independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU). This is the first organizing victory for any union at any of Amazon’s 110 warehouses across the USA, the nation’s second largest employer with over a million employees.

This was a real bottom-up organizing effort potentially highlighting an effective way forward for the rest of labor – a victory that gives momentum to workers not only in the other Amazon warehouses but in all industries. It demonstrates how and why rank and file workers are the essential elements of not only a successful organizing drive but critical to a revitalized labor movement based on struggle.

In a remarkable moment of candor, the Financial Times, which always speaks for big business, admits Amazon workers took great inspiration from none other than legendary communist William Z. Foster.

Amazon’s warehouse in Staten Island is a thoroughly 21st-century workplace where human “pickers” select items from shelves brought to them by a fleet of robots. Yet when the leaders of the newly formed Amazon Labor Union wanted to unionize the place, they turned to a manual called ‘Organizing Methods in the Steel Industry’ from 1936. The pamphlet recommends among other things a “chain system” whereby workers recruit other workers.

That Amazon workers should look back to the history of the steel industry is not as strange as it might sound. Steel was a vital sector of the American economy a century ago, as is ecommerce today.

Justine Medina, Amazon organizer, described Foster’s Organizing Methods in the Steel Industry in Labor Notes as a “must-read”.

Why Follow William Z Foster? And Why Now?

While written in the 1930s, the short but informative pamphlet illustrated and combined the necessary ideological foundation, strategic outlook and practical tasks needed to take on the biggest Steel corporations and win. And it remains relevant today.

Unfortunately the strategy and victory for the ALU is an exception to the norm in today’s labor movement. A combination of red baiting, de-industrialization, and lack of desire to actually fight has seen the broader labor movement completely abandon any semblance of class struggle for class collaboration since Foster’s time.

Not only have traditional unions been largely unable to organize large militant units like the ALU just did in Staten Island, but the same losing class-collaborationist approach was most apparent when unions were unable to protect workers who were already organized. In the late 1970’s and onward, the de-industrialization of the USA was in full swing. Steel, coal, auto, rubber, transportation were just a few of the basic industries that were offshored, downsized or dis-invested by capital. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs, communities were devastated, as infrastructure and public services took a major blow.

The causes of this man-made disaster were pictured and portrayed by politicians, business, the media, and labor as inevitable results of living under the magic of the capitalist market. The mayor of Pittsburgh, Richard Caliguiri remarked that workers should leave the city for greener pastures, essentially defending the bosses’ shut down of the steel mills in western Pennsylvania. Rather than use their existing political and organizational muscle to mobilize the tens of thousands into a grand coalition to put up a fight, unions simply folded into a charity-based approach, reducing their credibility and giving credence to the bosses’ arguments that the unions caused the offshoring because they “asked for too much”. Given that all these industries were unionized yet collapsed without a mass struggle is crucial for workers today.

Labor’s efforts today, with the exception of a few unions in particular sectors, largely mirror this defeatist approach.Tied to the bosses and the twin corrupt mainstream political parties, labor’s efforts are reduced to lobbying, email campaigns, media releases, and excessive legalistic strategies. For years, rather than attempt to unionize many low-wage sectors, labor lobbied for a federal minimum wage bill, something still yet to come to fruition.

This is what makes the Amazon victory so exciting, and one can see the incredible relevance today that is exhibited by the Foster pamphlet used to organize the Steel Industry decades ago. The parallels for the labor movement today and in the late 1920s and early 1930s are remarkable:

The organization campaign must be a fighting movement. It must realize that if the steel workers are to be organized they can only rely upon themselves and the support they get from other workers. While every advantage should be taken of all political institutions and individuals to defend the steel workers’ civil rights and to advance their interests generally, it would be the worst folly to rely upon Roosevelt, Earle or other capitalist politicians to adopt measures to organize the steel workers. There is every probability that only through a great strike can the steel workers establish their union and secure their demands, and this perspective must be constantly borne in mind.

Although the steel workers must not place their faith in capitalist politicians, they should utilize every means to develop working class political activity and organization in the steel areas. Especially there should be organized local Labor parties in the steel towns and thus foundations laid for an eventual Farmer-Labor Party.

Christian Smalls, leader of the ALU, in an interview on Fox News commented on being ignored by politicians in the runup to the NLRB election, “Whether they showed up or not, they didn’t make or break our election. We just had to continue to organize.” Like Foster, Smalls is setting an example in which unions chart an independent course, focusing on confidence and mass support of the rank and file over tacit support from politicians – worrying about whether AOC or Bernie Sanders attends a photo op rally is not a priority.

Democracy Defined as Rank and File Control and Involvement

For both Foster and now the ALU, mass participation among the rank and file and a captivating positive attitude among the organizing committee were crucial.

The necessary discipline cannot be attained by issuing drastic orders, but must be based upon wide education work among the rank and file and the development of confidence among them in the cause and ultimate victory of the movement.

A central aim must always be to draw the largest possible masses into direct participation in all the vital activities of the union; membership recruitment, formulation of demands, union elections, petitions, pledge votes, strike votes, strike organization, etc. This gives them a feeling that the union is actually their movement.

This critical strategy to draw in the workers to participate in the drive was necessary to destroy management’s attempt to picture the union organizers as “outsiders” that can confuse employees and reduce the union‘s credibility. Unfortunately, Amazon was successful in defeating the first Alabama organizing drive by the RWDSU by constantly highlighting the out-of-town supporters who would pass flyers or visit workers instead of rank-and-file workers at the sites. Solidarity support and professional staff are critical but only work when following a worker-led movement.

What Kind of Union Do Workers Need Today?

Can we learn from our past mistakes? Unions are essential for protecting the workers on the job and that’s why the capitalist class is relentless in opposition to workers organizing. But the Amazon Labor Union model can not exist in a vacuum. Its approach is a guide and for the working class to move to the offensive its principles must be extended far and wide.

The ALU and other new leaders in labor must shift the broader labor movement away from the strategy of class collaboration in order to be strong enough to withstand the ongoing attacks by capital. Workers can only actually go on the offensive once campaigns are moved beyond individual bargaining units to a class-level fight.

The ALU has shown the working class in simple and practical terms that it’s more important to build bottom-up solidarity among all workers than building an identity with your boss. This is something we should understand and help to nurture and grow.


Ed Grystar has more than 40 years experience in the labor and healthcare justice movements. He served as the President of the Butler County (PA) United Labor Council for 15 years. He has decades of experience organizing and negotiating labor contracts with the Service Employees International Union and the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals.

ML Today, April 18, 2022,

Opinion: Does the peace movement still need to oppose NATO? / by John Wojcik

Peace activists in the UK demonstrate against expanding NATO. | Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

NATO, the international arm of the Pentagon, is in the news much these days because of its role in the war in Ukraine. For now, millions in the U.S. see it as charting a path that can end that war and bring about peace. This false perception results from a truly unprecedented, 24-hour propaganda blitz to which the people of the U.S. are being subjected.

While NATO is close to having expanded throughout all of Europe, right up to the borders of Russia, less noticed is its additional expansion now around the world.

A major question that has to be answered is whether NATO’s expansion and its continued pumping of weapons into the war in Ukraine and other wars around the world is the path to world peace.

Less talked about than Ukraine are other wars going on right now in Palestine, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia. In all of them, a dangerous nuclear-armed NATO is a factor. NATO is not a committee with an office on a tree-lined street in Brussels somewhere. It is essentially an extension of the Pentagon, a global outfit armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons that pushes the policies of U.S. imperialism on people everywhere.

Since NATO’s inception after World War II, peace movements here and across Europe have opposed its expansion. The need today is for that opposition to continue, despite attempts by some to push the peace movements off course.

One would not know it from coverage in the corporate media, but there is pushback by a peace movement which, while it is small and divided in places like the United States, is growing in other places around the world.

There has long been a need for a vibrant peace movement around the globe. That need increased dramatically in the 1990s when the Pentagon, through NATO, decided it needed to station a new generation of nuclear missiles in Europe. That decision was part of the Pentagon claim that what was needed to preserve democracy was its new missile defense system, which had been under development for years. No more “Mutually Assured Destruction,” the Pentagon was saying. The U.S. wanted a system that could defend against any and all nuclear missile attacks, and the new missiles it was placing in Europe, it said, would do just that. Prior to that time, the world relied on fear of mutual annihilation to prevent nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Now, supposedly, it could rely on a wonderful new generation of U.S. missiles to do the trick.

Peace movement in the U.S. addressed the NATO-backed Ukraine Russia war in this demonstration at the White House |

While the Pentagon, through NATO, was blessing Europe with deployment of “peacekeeping” nuclear missiles, it began its first round of expansions which, after the Cold War, it had promised never to do. The result of that expansion was reflected as soon as the military alliance started the bombing and destruction of Yugoslavia.

It was officially the end of the new world of peace and happiness that was supposed to be ushered in by a Pax Americana via the Pentagon and NATO after the demise of the socialist countries in Europe. It was instead, for Europe, the beginning of a more militarized period of tension, conflict, and war—something Europe had not seen since 1945. It was the end of nearly 50 years of peace in Europe, a peace pursued by the socialist countries, and a peace, the length of which had not been seen in the entire history of the continent.

Peace offensive

Peace movements in the U.S. were actually mobilizing against Pentagon threats as early as the 1950s when they opposed massive nuclear bomb testing in the air—testing of bombs that were a thousand times more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Women played a leading role in those movements, as noted in one popular Hollywood film, The Way We Were, starring Barbara Streisand. While school children were ducking under their desks to protect against non-existent nuclear salvos from the Soviet Union, women across the country were fighting to end the harmful effects of bomb testing and radiation on their children. They said “No” to the irradiated milk many children and babies in the U.S. were drinking. It was the mobilization of peace forces that curbed the deadly practices of the Pentagon in those days.

From that time onward, the peace movements always came forward to fight the good fight for peace and justice, whether it was in the struggle to end the colonial wars and domination in Latin America, the wars in Korea and Vietnam, or countless other wars.

The anti-nuclear weapons movement has always been among the strongest and most important currents in the peace movement, both in the U.S. and around the world. It needs to grow exponentially once again to counter the dangers posed by modern-day Pentagon-NATO exploits.

Today, the peace movement in the U.S is said to be having a hard time getting its act together. If history is any guide, however, it is only a matter of time before it does that and joins hands with an international peace movement that is taking on NATO all over the world. The nation’s capital, and the White House itself, have already been the site of vigorous anti-war protests led by groups like CodePink and others. Those movements have rightly taken aim at NATO’s share of responsibility for getting the world into this war.

Why it’s important to oppose NATO

Why is it necessary for peace forces to challenge NATO’s role in Ukraine and other wars today, and to challenge NATO’s plan to expand around the world?  The answer is that the “alliance” is as committed to militarism, war, and profits for weapons makers today as it was back in the days of those first anti-nuclear bomb protests. And today, it is even worse because NATO has access to far more powerful and dangerous nuclear weapons than it had back then.

At the end of the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact, which was the defensive alliance of the socialist countries, was dissolved. Rather than dissolve NATO and develop a new kind of security arrangement encompassing everyone in Europe to begin the work of developing a truly new and peaceful world order, the decision was made in Washington to maintain and increase the strength and power of NATO.

NATO was not only maintained; it expanded in a number of tsunami waves staggered over a period of years from the late 1990s up to the present day. The peace movements everywhere were opposed because it meant the deployment of more dangerous weapons. It meant bringing more and more countries into a dangerous nuclear-armed pact controlled by the Pentagon.

When the alleged reason for its existence (protection against an attack from the Soviet Union that never came) vanished, the Pentagon decided it was in the perfect position to continue anyway and step up its battles to impose imperialist aims everywhere, even outside of Europe.

In 2001, under NATO’s umbrella, European countries joined the U.S. war on Afghanistan, a country far away from Europe. That move was essentially a declaration that NATO was now a global alliance controlled by the Pentagon and the U.S.

Today, there is a lot of talk that NATO is defending the sovereignty of Ukraine and other countries when it, in fact, undermines the sovereignty of even its own members by specifying how much they must spend on their own military budgets, often at the expense of social programs and infrastructure needs in those countries. Member countries are also required to open themselves to traffic of heavy weaponry or to allow nuclear missiles to be stationed within their borders.

And the expansion up to the borders of Russia is not the end of NATO’s plans. At the last NATO summit, it was made clear that the next target is China. Leaders talked about how they are orienting the alliance toward the Pacific to “contain” China, which they see as a hostile power.

In addition to the planned moves against China, NATO is forming partnerships in Latin America and Africa too, in their quest, no doubt, to “protect democracy.”

No room for error

With this history and with the direction it is taking, there should be little expectation that NATO is going to bring about any good results for people suffering and dying in Ukraine. The course of more troops, more weapons, and more war is not the answer.

ceasefire, followed by withdrawal of Russian troops, then negotiations around new security guarantees is the only way to go when it comes to the war in Ukraine. Any other path, especially the one espoused by the Pentagon and NATO, will result only in more war and more death.

Perhaps the worst danger of continuing on the nuclear-armed NATO path is that, one way or the other, we will end up in an unthinkable nuclear war. There are almost 20,000 nuclear bombs in the world, each one more powerful than the ones that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Given this danger, who could possibly want to see a continuation of NATO expansion around the world?

The growth of NATO has always been and—under the circumstances of today’s wars in Ukraine and elsewhere—still is something the peace movement must oppose. Throughout history, humanity has been able to come back from and fix many of our mistakes, but we can never come back from a nuclear war.

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People’s World. John Wojcik es editor en jefe de People’s World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and ’80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper’s predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

People’s World, April 29, 2022,

Commentary: Truth Lost in the Muck / by Greg Godels

If the Pew Research Center polling is to be believed, a remarkable– perhaps unprecedented– change in US attitudes occurred between January and the end of March. In January, forty-nine percent of the US population thought that Russia was a mere competitor to the US. Another seven percent saw Russia as a partner. Today, seventy percent see Russia as “an enemy”!

Where Republicans have tended in the past to carry over Cold War attitudes to the twenty-first-century Russian Federation, Democrats with a very unfavorable opinion on Russia now surpass Republicans with a similar view. Seventy-two percent of Democrats or those leaning Democrat see Russia unfavorably, with sixty-six percent perceiving Russia as “a major threat to the US.”

Interestingly, those who are older, better educated, and liberal are more likely to “see Russia as an enemy.”

While a shrill, uncritical media have amplified official hysteria over the February 24 invasion, Pew research shows that the negative view of Russia as a “major threat” has trended up for most of the last decade and a half. After the 2016 election, Democrats’ fears of Russia increased sharply and, of course, again now, with the invasion.

Whatever one thinks about the Russian invasion– and one can credibly both deplore the invasion and the ensuing growing risk of escalating war while denouncing the US and NATO provocations and aggressions that preceded it– the manufacturing of hatred for Russia orchestrated by US officialdom and the media demonstrates an enormous power to move public opinion with little regard to reality or responsibility.

Russia has no military bases near US borders and has neither attacked or threatened to attack US personnel or property. Yet, the US government and NATO have portrayed Russia as a potential or actual enemy for most of this century.

Beginning with the 2016 election of Donald Trump, the Democrats have elevated Russia to the source of all their failings or setbacks, leading the charge on damning everything Russian. Russia has become the great meddler: Russia meddled in the elections; it supported Trump; it spread disinformation and peddled influence. For leading Democrats, electoral victory was only denied because of Russia.

Of course, all the charges of Russian meddling proved false or insignificant. From embarrassing leaks of campaign shenanigans, from alleged Internet bot farms to Russian collusion with Trump, the Democratic Party claims were debunked or shown of little consequence. Nonetheless, the media charged ahead, legitimizing, exaggerating, and fabricating. Only those playing close attention or following alternative media would know that Russia-blaming was bogus, unworthy of note.

US rulers, self-anointed as guardians of the capitalist world order, have never forgiven Russia for its decisive role in defeating the US proxies in the Syrian war, prompting another example of a relentless media campaign misrepresenting interests, motives, and facts.

The media not only docilely parrots State Department and Defense Department explanations of Russia’s ill intentions, but dutifully masks the machinations of the new US Cold Warriors. For years, the US has encouraged the expansion of NATO, closing in on Russian borders, and arming hostile anti-Russian states surrounding Russia. The US military has staged war games near Russia and violated its airspace. The cable news commentariat and Sunday morning blowhards have neither noted this trend nor warned of its consequences.

Against the backdrop of this crude, unbalanced propaganda campaign, it should come as no surprise that a Russian invasion– regardless of the history and circumstances– should generate another round of demonization and hysteria. But the dimensions of the current media blitz– a relentless depiction of the noble, heroic Ukrainians versus the brutal, inhuman Russians– transcend all proportion.

Even a doctrinaire liberal obsessed with legalisms, like Professor Richard Falk, is surprised by the extreme, rabid vitriol directed at the Russians: “There have been other horrific events in the period since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, including Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Palestine yet no comparable clamor for criminal justice and punitive action.” While Falk accepts the conventional depiction of “clear criminality” on the part of the Russians, he is equally appalled at the “pure geopolitical hypocrisy on the other side.”

And hypocrisy it is. Writing on the same day (April 8) as Falk, Nick Turse recounts a US bombing of a city in Iraq in 2015 that “killed at least 85 civilians, may have injured 500 or more people, and reportedly damaged 1,200 businesses and 6,000 homes…”

Almost seven years after the attack, Hawija has never recovered, according to the new report. “The airstrike killed breadwinners and destroyed many workplaces and so cost many people their livelihood; because people’s homes had become uninhabitable, they became displaced; damage to the electricity network reduced civilians’ access to clean (and thus safe) drinking water,” it states. “This demonstrates how one single airstrike can cause reverberating civilian harm effects that last years, even generations.”

Both the horrific attack on Hawija– one of countless civilian atrocities inflicted by the US military and its allies over many years and many wars– and the recent FOIA revelations cited by Turse got or get none of the attention brought on by allegations of civilian casualties afflicted in today’s war in Ukraine. The US media has been silent, skeptical, or matter-of-fact over charges of civilian casualties inflicted by US or allied forces, even when the incidents were conceded by the US military!

Any careful reader or viewer of US media accounts of alleged Russian criminality must note that there is no independent investigation of the charges made or welcomed. The word of Ukrainian authorities is simply taken, with no hesitation or attempt made at securing secondary confirmation. The words “alleged,” “claimed,” or purported” — hedge words associated with good journalism– never appear before the reports made by Ukrainian officials.

On the other hand, claims by the Russian Ministry of Defense or other Russian authorities are nearly always followed by something like “Those claims couldn’t be confirmed independently.” Clearly different scales of evidence are being used.

Enormous pressure has been exerted on the more deliberate European leaders who have been hesitant to join the sanctions frenzy stirred by the US, UK, NATO, and Eastern European ultra-nationalists. For Italy, the charges by Zelensky of a massacre in Bucha, Ukraine were, without further substantiation, sufficient to move Italy to reduce its reliance on Russian oil and gas. Only Germany, Austria, and Hungary in the EU continue to resist imposing further hardships on their people to advance NATO’s militaristic aims.

Ukraine’s president, Zelensky, has attained rock-star status in the West with a tour of venues from parliaments to the Grammys, adding his TV-honed skillful appeals to the politician-concocted, media-transmitted message that Russia is the enemy of mankind. No Western talking head ever casts any doubt on Zelensky’s political legitimacy in the wake of the 2014 coup.

With NATO, Ukraine, and Russia arming at a maddening pace and the threat of an expanding war increasing exponentially, the shameless, truth-bending role of the media is irresponsible, if not criminal.

Yet, it should come as no surprise. In 2003, a similar overwrought, frenzied media campaign behind the US invasion of Iraq rallied a majority with a very thin tissue of lies at its foundation. In retrospect, it is difficult to remember even one journalist, outside of the fringes of the mainstream or with the alternative media, who dared to challenge the official, US government narrative. It should have been a profound refutation of the notion that we have a free and independent press.

And recent Western media coverage of wars in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Syria show the same slavish obeisance, the same conformity, underscoring the myth that capitalist journalism and objectivity belong in the same room.

Of course, the fusing of the private press and the government opinion-makers reaches its highest stage in the US. Moreover, it is not a new phenomenon, but one that has evolved with the concentration of media assets into complex monopoly-entertainment corporations.

Even farther back, during the Korean War, the flow of war “information” was contaminated with the taken-at-face-value, tainted statements of generals and politicians, as documented by I. F. Stone’s nearly-forgotten classic, The Hidden History of the Korean War, 1950-1951. Through a careful reading of news releases, press conferences, and date-lined reports, Stone was able to find the inconsistencies, the exaggerations, and the prevarications that passed for the official account of that war.

As perhaps the US’s foremost and most fearless liberal investigative reporter, Stone continued to puncture the smug, self-satisfied journalism of his and our era. He was one of the very few voices to challenge the Gulf of Tonkin fabrications that led to the massive escalation of the Vietnam War.

In response to a speech by President J. F. Kennedy before the American Newspaper Publishers Association after the Bay of Pigs debacle, Stone wrote:

Now it seems that no truly patriotic American, especially a newspaperman, is supposed to tell the truth once our government has decided that it is more advantageous to tell a lie. This is the real meaning of President Kennedy’s appeal to the American Newspaper Publishers Association for self-censorship in the handling of the news. (When the Government Lies, Must the Press Fib?— May 3, 1961)

If Stone were alive today, he would be sickened by the utter servility of our media to power and wealth.

Greg Godels

ML Today, April 14, 2022

Maine News: ‘We are unified’: Maine Med nurses, supporters rally for fair union contract / by Evan Popp

Image credit: WMTW

Hundreds rallied in solidarity with nurses at Maine Medical Center on Wednesday morning, braving a steady rain to urge management at the state’s largest hospital to agree to adequate staffing levels, competitive benefits and wages, and other policies to improve working conditions and patient safety within nurses’ first union contract, which is currently being negotiated. 

The rally, which took place both Wednesday morning and evening, came nearly a year to the day after a strong majority of nurses at the hospital voted to join the Maine State Nurses Association (MSNA), overcoming an aggressive anti-union campaign by hospital leadership.

Now, though, nurses are still negotiating their first contract with the hospital. While progress has been made in some areas, management still has not agreed to take steps within the contract that resolve significant issues at the hospital, nurses said at the informational picket held Wednesday in front of Maine Med in Portland.   

“We are standing out here so management knows we are completely unified, that we are here and we’re not going away, and it’s time for them to realize that we deserve a seat at the table,” said Jonica Frank, a registered nurse working in the operating room at Maine Med. 

Nurses and supporters rally in front of Maine Medical Center in Portland on April 27, 2022. | Beacon 

Frank said while meetings have been taking place between the nurses’ bargaining team and management, the pace of progress has been slower than the nurses had hoped. 

An important issue that still needs to be ironed out within the contract is safe staffing levels, she said. Frank said the ratio of nurses to patients must improve so that nurses are able to pay more attention to each individual patient rather than having to juggle providing care for myriad people at once. 

“One of our number one goals is to have safe staffing and Maine Med has already shot that down and said they don’t want to change our ratios. And that’s not okay. Our patients deserve better, our staff deserve better,” she said, noting that not having adequate staffing is a safety issue for patients and nurses. 

Frank added that nurses are also seeking increased safety in the workplace, additional time for breaks, and protection for per diem nurses. In material provided to the media, MSNA said the hospital is attempting to exclude per diem nurses from “just case” protections they have agreed to for other nurses, which the union said is unacceptable. 

Nadine Kern, a registered nurse at Maine Med who works in the surgical trauma ICU, said another priority with the union contract negotiations is ensuring that working conditions at the hospital lead to nurses wanting to stick around. 

“The biggest reason I’m out here is to retain the amazing nurses that we have in the walls of the hospital,” she said. “Having a fair contract and getting that as soon as possible is going to help with retention. It is the biggest thing that will help retain nurses here at Maine Medical Center.” 

Signs and supporters at the April 27, 2022 rally in support of Maine Medical Center nurses. | Beacon

Additional priorities for nurses in the contract negotiations, according to an MSNA informational sheet, include ensuring that travel nurses aren’t prioritized for hours over permanent staff, getting better accommodations for nurses working “on-call” such as increased pay and time off the next day, improved overall pay and benefits to help retain nurses, establishing a committee of nurses to advise hospital leadership on how to improve patient and nurse safety, and ending rotating shift hours that nurses say are unhealthy and unsafe. 

The informational sheet did note that Maine Med has agreed to a policy within the union contract that will ensure patients are cared for by the nurses who are most qualified to provide treatment for them and that the bargaining team has also taken steps forward on gaining protections against discrimination and unfair discipline and creating a grievance and arbitration system that will hold management accountable if the eventual contract is violated, among other other policies. 

“We are committed to making progress on all these issues in our first union contract,” said Madison Light, a registered nurse in the interventional radiology unit and a member of the union bargaining team. “That’s why we want to get the best agreement we can for our patients, ourselves and our community. Everything we win in this contract will not only benefit us, but our patients as well. There is no difference between the conditions in which we work and the conditions within which patients receive their care.” 

In response to the picket Wednesday, Maine Medical Center Chief Nursing Officer Devin Carr released a statement saying that “Nurses and the hospital share a commitment to ensuring that MMC continues to be an outstanding place to both give and receive care, and contract discussions with the labor union representing nurses at MMC have been respectful on all sides.” 

“MMC is committed to bargaining in good faith and working toward a contract that is fair to the nurses as quickly as reasonable,” Carr added. “There have been 20 bargaining sessions to date and negotiations are progressing on the schedule agreed to by both parties.” 

‘We are strong’

Along with nurses, Wednesday’s rally also featured a large number of people from the Portland community, fellow union members, and advocacy groups. Walking up and down the street in front of Maine Medical Center, participants waved signs of support for the nurses and recited a litany of labor chants, such as “Portland is a union town.” 

Maine Med nurses picket amid first union contract negotiations | Image: Maine Public

Frank said the level of support from the surrounding community is extremely heartening and makes nurses even more resolved to win a fair first contract. She added that nurses and community members are united in wanting an agreement that will enhance patient safety. 

“We are unified, we are strong. Maine Med would love to see a crack in our foundation. Look at this. It’s not there. There’s no crack there,” Frank said, pointing toward the large crowd of supporters. “We are strong and they need to recognize that and they need to start working with us. They need to give us a good contract.” 

Kern agreed, saying the level of support for the union demonstrates the impact nurses have. 

“Almost every single person here, if they don’t work at this hospital, their lives have been affected by this hospital and their lives have been affected by a nurse,” she said. “So it just shows how much we are embraced by the community here, and it just feels really good that people do have our backs.”

“Workers and the World Unite” read a banner at the April 27, 2022 rally in support of Maine Medical Center nurses.| Beacon

After the march in front of Maine Med, supporters gathered at a nearby park, where fellow union members and advocates expressed support for the nurses’ bargaining effort. 

Jason Shedlock, president of the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council and regional organizer for the Laborers’ International Union, noted that union members frequently do construction work at the Maine Medical Center facilities. 

“God forbid anything ever happens to those men and women. It’s you that will take care of them inside that hospital,” he said. “So, selfishly, we want to make sure you’re well rested, we want to make sure you’re well paid and that you’re well taken care of.”

The nurses’ bargaining drive is also supported by dozens of state lawmakers, who sent a letter Wednesday to Maine Medical Center President Jeff Sanders and Board of Directors Chair Kathy Coster urging the hospital to agree to the changes pushed for by nurses. 

“We know Maine Medical Center nurses care deeply about improving staffing, safety in the workplace, patient safety and retention of employees. We support progress on all of these fronts as it will benefit all Mainers. We, as elected leaders, respectfully urge Maine Medical Center to negotiate and settle a fair contract in a timely manner,” the letter reads. The document was signed by over 55 lawmakers, including Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) and Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford). 

Organized labor scores victories 

The fight for a fair first contract for Maine Medical Center nurses comes as the organized labor movement has renewed momentum behind it. Advocates said 2021 was a watershed year for building worker power in Maine, pointing to victories such as the formation of the Maine Med union along with a union for workers at the Portland Museum of Art and a litany of successful contract negotiations. 

While the number of workers in a union was still down significantly from organized labor’s heyday, there was also increased activity in the workers’ rights movement around the country in 2021, with over 100,000 workers voting to go on strike during the course of the year and thousands standing on picket lines to push back against workplace conditions that have often gotten more dangerous amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Such activity has only escalated in the early months of 2022, as successful unionization campaigns take place around the country at large corporate entities such as Starbucks. Labor also won a massive victory earlier this month when workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island voted to unionize, overcoming an aggressive union-busting campaign by the powerful corporation.

In Maine, one of the most closely-watched unionization campaigns in 2022 is at Bates College, where workers are attempting to form a bargaining unit amid an anti-union campaign by the college. The results of that election are currently delayed because the Bates administration is seeking to split workers into different bargaining units.

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

Maine Beacon, April 28, 2022,

Maine News: Wabanaki vow to continue larger sovereignty push amid Mills’ opposition to historic bill / Evan Popp

Supporters of tribal sovereignty at the State House last month | Via Wabanaki Alliance 

After opposition from Gov. Janet Mills halted progress on a bill that would reinforce Wabanaki sovereignty and reset a relationship with the state that the tribes argue is fraught with paternalism, Wabanaki leaders say they will continue the push to be treated like other federally recognized tribes but recognize that the fate of their effort stands with governor and legislature. 

A statement from Wabanaki leaders was released Wednesday morning on LD 1626, one of the highest-profile bills of the 2022 legislative session. As Beacon previously reported, the bill would alter the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 to reinforce Wabanaki sovereignty by strengthening tribal communities’ criminal jurisdiction and recognizing the rights of tribes to regulate hunting, fishing and natural resource and land use on their territory. 

“We are going to continue to push for our sovereignty regardless of the outcome on L.D. 1626, and we acknowledge that this process now rests with state government and is out of our hands,” the statement from the tribes said. “Our ancestors made sacrifices so we could be here today, and it is our sacred duty to continue to press for full restoration and recognition of Wabanaki sovereignty. We look forward to continuing this work with all of our partners and allies.” 

Mainers from across the state have lined up en masse behind LD 1626, with over 1,500 people testifying in favor of the bill in February during a public hearing. The measure was then passed by the legislature with strong majorities in both chambers. However, Mills opposes the effort to reinforce Wabanaki sovereignty, making her one of only a few Democratic officials in the state to argue publicly against the measure. 

Likely hoping to avoid a high-profile veto sure to infuriate her base in an election year, Mills applied pressure on the legislature to kill the measure and not send it to her desk. Because it had a fiscal impact on the state budget, LD 1626 needed to be funded by the legislature’s powerful — and some say anti-democratic — budget-making panel, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee (AFA). In response to the governor’s concerns with the language of the bill, the legislature declined to include the historic sovereignty measure in the bills funded with leftover budget money. 

There may still be a chance for AFA committee members or lawmakers to take the tribal sovereignty bill off the “Special Appropriations Table” and amend it or fund it by other means when the legislature reconvenes on May 9 to vote on bills vetoed by the governor. However, it’s unclear if that will happen. 

AFA chairs Sen. Cathy Breen (D-Cumberland) and Rep. Teresa Pierce (D-Falmouth) did not respond to a request for comment from Beacon.

On Monday evening, the sponsor of LD 1626, House Assistant Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland), said she hopes there is still a legislative path to fund her bill. “After all these years, we’re still hoping it still has some life,” she told Beacon

But lawmakers took no further action on the bill during the last regular day of the session Monday, meaning it currently remains with the legislature.

‘More work to be done’

In the statement Wednesday, the tribes made clear that reinforcing their permanent sovereignty as Indigenous Nations — and changing a system that currently treats them as municipality-like entities — is still a top legislative priority. They noted that the Settlement Act must be amended, as it has resulted in “decades of social and economic injustice for the Wabanaki people and has also harmed the surrounding rural communities because our Nations have been prevented from fully accessing federal dollars to support critical social and health services.” 

However, Wabanaki leaders said it’s unlikely that the sovereignty bill has enough votes in the legislature to overcome Mills’ opposition. 

“We are disappointed that the Governor and Attorney General’s office continue to have concerns about the provisions of L.D. 1626,” they said. “But, in talking with the Democratic legislative leaders and looking to the vote count for L.D. 1626, it is clear that there are not enough votes in the 130th Legislature to override a veto. So, while we have made significant and concrete progress in moving the needle, there is still more work to be done.”

Supporters of tribal sovereignty at the State House | Beacon

In their statement, the tribal chiefs asked the wide-ranging coalition in support of LD 1626, along with the lawmakers who have pushed for the bill, to continue working with them on sovereignty efforts. The leaders added that more work to educate people around the state about the benefits of the bill — both for Indigenous nations and surrounding communities — is essential. In particular, such education is needed for “local municipalities and the forest products industry, who continue to misunderstand how tribal sovereignty can be the rising tide that lifts the economies and overall socio-economic wellbeing of our neighbors in rural Maine,” the Wabanaki said.  

The statement also acknowledged that two other bills the tribes have advocated for, LD 906 and LD 585, reached Mills’ desk this session. LD 906, a bill to address the unsafe and deteriorating water system at the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Reservation, was signed by Mills last week. 

LD 585 — which seeks to facilitate better tribal-state relations, implement tax benefits on tribal land and legalize and establish a regulatory framework for sports wagering on Wabanaki territory — has passed the legislature and is currently before Mills for consideration. That bill is a compromise between the governor and the tribes. 

The Wabanaki in their statement noted the importance of both LD 906 and LD 585 and said they appreciated Mills’ support for the measures. However, they also made clear that neither of those bills represents the much-needed sovereignty that would be recognized through LD 1626.  

Mills has not signed LD 585 yet but has said that she will. However, the governor appears to have been playing LD 585 and the larger sovereignty bill off one another in negotiations with the tribes. The Bangor Daily News reported last week that Mills’ top lawyer informed the tribes that LD 585, the governor’s own compromise proposal, would be vetoed if the larger sovereignty bill was advanced. 

Mills seeks to avoid a ‘confrontation’

While the governor has brokered some compromises with the tribes over the years, Mills has opposed the push for recognition of Wabanaki sovereignty since taking office in 2019. In addition, as Maine’s former attorney general, she opposed the Wabanaki in court during some of the legal battles over tribal rights that led to the current stalemate.

While the governor has frequently shown willingness to use her authority to kill progressive priorities, she has appeared desperate to save face during the current fight over tribal sovereignty and avoid a veto of LD 1626 that would likely draw widespread condemnation for refusing to sign what amounts to a basic reinforcement of rights common to tribes around the country. Mills is up for reelection in November. 

“I do not wish to have a confrontation over LD 1626,” the governor wrote in a letter to tribal and legislative leaders last week in which she argued — without citing concrete evidence — that LD 1626 would lead to a wave of litigation and increased divisions in the state. “It would serve no constructive purpose and only inflame emotions on all sides of the discussion, while likely harming the positive and constructive relationship we have worked so hard to build. To help us continue to move forward, I ask that LD 1626 remain with the legislature and that LD 585 be enacted into law while we continue our work together on areas of mutual concern.” 

Earlier this week, however, Republicans tried to force the legislature’s hand and put the onus to make a decision back on Mills by attempting to remove LD 1626 from the Special Appropriations Table in a move that would have allowed the bill to be considered again by lawmakers. However, the Democratic majority in the Maine Senate voted 16-13 to table the bill. Sens. Chloe Maxmin of Lincoln County and Ben Chipman of Cumberland County were the only Democrats to oppose delaying action on the measure. 

“I don’t want it to die on the table, because it’s only $44,000,” Maxmin said of the bill, referring to its fiscal note. 

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

Maine Beacon, April 27, 2022,

Civilian Deaths Beyond Bucha / by Nick Turse

Victims of the Narang night raid that killed at least 10 Afghan civilians, including eight schoolchildren. Photo: RAWA–CC BY 3.0

Madogaz Musa Abdullah still remembers the phone call. But what came next was a blur. He drove for hours, deep into the Libyan desert, speeding toward the border with Algeria. His mind buckled, his thoughts reeled, and more than three years later, he’s still not certain how he made that six-hour journey.

The call was about his younger brother, Nasser, who, as he told me, was more than a sibling to him. He was also a close friend. Nasser was polite and caring. He loved music, sang, and played the guitar. Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, and Bob Marley were his favorites.

Abdullah finally found Nasser near the village of Al Awaynat. Or, rather, he found all that remained of him. Nasser and 10 others from their village of Ubari had been riding in three SUVs that were now burnt-out hunks of metal. The 11 men had been incinerated. Abdullah knew one of those charred corpses was his brother, but he was at a loss to identify which one.

If these bodies had recently been found strewn about in the village of Staryi Bykiv, in the streets of Bucha, outside a train station in Kramatorsk, or elsewhere in Ukraine where Russian forces have regularly killed civilians, the images would have been splashed across the Internet, earning worldwide attention and prompting fierce — and justified — outrage. Instead, the day after the attack, November 29, 2018, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) issued a press release that was met with almost universal silence.

“In coordination with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), U.S. Africa Command conducted a precision airstrike near Al Awaynat, Libya, November 29, 2018, killing eleven (11) al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorists and destroying three (3) vehicles,” it read. “At this time, we assess no civilians were injured or killed in this strike.” Photos of the aftermath of the attack, posted on Twitter that same day, have been retweeted less than 30 times in the last three and a half years.

Ever since then, Abdullah and his Tuareg community in Ubari have been insisting to anyone who would listen that Nasser and the others riding in those vehicles were civilians. And not just civilians, but GNA veterans who had fought terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and even, alongside the United States two years earlier, the Islamic State in the city of Sirte. For more than three years now, despite public protests and pleas to the Libyan government for an impartial investigation, the inhabitants of Ubari have been ignored. “Before the strike, we trusted AFRICOM. We believed that they worked for the Libyan people,” Abdullah told me. “Now, they have no credibility. Now, we know that they kill innocent people.”

Hellfire in Libya

Earlier this month, Abdullah, along with a spokesperson for his ethnic Tuareg community and representatives of three nongovernmental organizations — the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Italy’s Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo, and Reprieve, a human rights advocacy group — filed a criminal complaintagainst Colonel Gianluca Chiriatti, the former Italian commander at the U.S. air base in Sigonella, Italy, from which that American drone took off. They were seeking accountability for his role in the killing of Nasser and those other 10 men. The complainants requested that the public prosecutor’s office in Siracusa, where the base is located, prosecute Colonel Chiriatti and other Italian officials involved in that air strike for the crime of murder.

“The drone attack of 29 November 2018 where 11 innocent people lost their lives in Libya is part of the broader U.S. program of extrajudicial killings. This program is based on a notion of pre-emptive self-defense that does not meet the canons of international law, as the use of lethal attacks of this nature is only legitimate where the state is acting to defend itself against an imminent threat to life. In this circumstance, the victims posed no threat,” reads the criminal complaint. “In light of this premise, the drone attack on Al Awaynat on 29 November 2018 stands in frontal contrast to the discipline, Italian and international, regarding the use of lethal force in the context of law enforcement operations.”

For the last two decades, the United States has been conducting an undeclared war across much of the globe, employing proxy forces from Africa to Asia, deploying commandos from the Philippines to the West African nation of Burkina Faso, and conducting air strikes not only in Libya, but in AfghanistanIraqPakistanSomaliaSyria, and Yemen. Over those years, the U.S. military has taken pains to normalize the use of drone warfare outside established war zones while relying on allies around the world (as at that Italian base in Siracusa) to help conduct its global war.

“Clearly, a drone operation employing lethal force is not routine,” said Chantal Meloni, legal advisor at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. “While AFRICOM is directly responsible, the Italian commander must have known about and approved the operation and can therefore be criminally responsible as an accomplice for having allowed the unlawful lethal attack.”

That November 2018 drone attack in Libya was anything but a one-off strike. During just six months in 2011, alone, U.S. MQ-1 Predator drones flying from Sigonella conducted 241 air strikes in Libya during Operation Unified Protector — the NATO air campaign against then-Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi — according to retired Lt. Col. Gary Peppers, the former commander of the 324th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron. The unit was responsible, he told The Intercept in 2018, for “over 20 percent of the total of all Hellfire [missiles] expended in the 14 years of the system’s deployment.”

The U.S. air war in Libya accelerated in 2016 with Operation Odyssey Lightning. That summer, the Libyan Government of National Accord requested American help in dislodging Islamic State fighters from Sirte. The Obama administration designatedthe city an “area of active hostilities,” loosening guidelines designed to prevent civilian casualties. Between August and December of that year, according to an AFRICOM press release, the U.S. carried out in Sirte alone “495 precision airstrikes against Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices, heavy guns, tanks, command and control centers, and fighting positions.”

The Shores of Tripoli

Those military strikes were nothing new. The United States has been conducting attacks in Libya since before there even was a Libya — and almost a United States. In his first address to Congress in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson spoke of coastal kingdoms in North Africa, including the “least considerable of the Barbary States,” Tripoli (now, the capital of modern Libya). His refusal to pay additional tribute to the rulers of those kingdoms in order to stop their state-sponsored privateers from seizing American sailors and cargo kicked off the Barbary Wars. In 1804, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a daring nighttime mission, boarding a captured U.S. ship, killing its Tripolitan defenders, and destroying it. And an attack the next year by nine Marines and a host of allied mercenaries on the North African city of Derna ensured that “the shores of Tripoli” would have prime placement in the Marine Corps hymn.

Libya has also been a long-time proving ground for new forms of air war. In November 1911 — 107 years to the month before that drone attack killed Nasser Musa Abdullah — Italian Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti conducted the world’s first modern airstrike. “Today I have decided to try to throw bombs from the aeroplane,” he wrote in a letter to his father, while deployed in Libya to fight forces loyal to the Ottoman Empire. “I take the bomb with my right hand, pull off the security tag and throw the bomb out, avoiding the wing.”

Gavotti not only pioneered the idea of launching air raids on troops far from the traditional front lines of a war, but also the targeting of civilian infrastructure when he bombed an oasis that served as a social and economic center. As Thomas Hippler put it in his book Governing from the Skies, Gavotti introduced aerial attacks on “hybrid target[s]” that “indifferently mingled civilian and military objectives.”

More than a century later, in 2016, Operation Odyssey Lightning again made Libya ground zero for the testing of new air-war concepts — in this case, urban combat involving multiple drones working in combination with local troops and U.S. Special Operations forces. As one of the drone pilots involved was quoted as saying in an Air Force news release: “Some of the tactics were created and some of the persistent attack capabilities that hadn’t been used widely before were developed because of this operation.”

According to Colonel Case Cunningham, commander of the 432nd Expeditionary Wing at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada — the headquarters of the Air Force’s drone operations — about 70% of the MQ-9 Reaper drone strikes conducted during Odyssey Lightning were close-air-support missions backing up local Libyan forces engaged in street-to-street combat. The drones, he reported, often worked in tandem with one another, as well as with Marine Corps attack helicopters and jets, helping guide the airstrikes of those conventional aircraft.

“The Deaths of Thousands of Civilians”

Despite hundreds of attacks in support of the Libyan Government of National Accord, the employment of U.S. proxies in counterterrorism missions, combat by American commandos, and more than $850 million in U.S. assistance since 2011, Libya remains one of the most fragile states on earth. Earlier this year, President Biden renewed its “national emergency” status (first invoked by President Barack Obama in 2011). “Civil conflict in Libya will continue until Libyans resolve their political divisions and foreign military intervention ends,” wrote Biden, failing to mention the U.S. “foreign military intervention” there, including that November 2018 airstrike. “The situation in Libya continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

In early 2021, the Biden administration imposed limits on drone strikes and commando raids outside of conventional war zones, while launching a review of all such missions, and began writing a new “playbook” to govern counterterrorism operations. More than a year later, the results, or lack thereof, have yet to be made public. In January, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin directed subordinates to draw up a “Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Plan” within 90 days. That, too, has yet to be released.

Until the Defense Department overhauls its airstrike policies, civilians will continue to die in attacks. “The U.S. military has a systemic targeting problem that will continue to cost civilians their lives,” said Marc Garlasco, formerly the Pentagon’s chief of high-value targeting — in charge, that is, of the effort to kill Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein in 2003 — and now, the military adviser for PAX, a Dutch civilian protection organization. “Civilian deaths are not discrete events; they are symptoms of larger problems such as a lack of proper investigations, a faulty collateral-damage estimation methodology, overreliance on intelligence without considering open-source data, and a policy that does not recognize the presumption of civilian status.”

Such “larger problems” have been revealed again and again. Last March, for example, the Yemen-based group Mwatana for Human Rights released a report examining 12 U.S. attacks in Yemen, 10 of them airstrikes, between January 2017 and January 2019. Its researchers found that at least 38 Yemeni noncombatants had been killed and seven others injured in those attacks.

A June 2021 Pentagon report on civilian casualties did acknowledge one of those incidents, the death of a civilian in al-Bayda, Yemen, on January 22, 2019. Mwatana’s investigation determined that the attack killed Saleh Ahmed Mohamed al Qaisi, a 67-year-old farmer who locals said had no terrorist affiliations. The U.S. had previously acknowledged four to 12 civilian deaths in a raid by Navy SEALs on January 29, 2017, also chronicled by Mwatana (though it reported a higher death toll). As for the remaining allegations, Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, told Mwatana in an April 2021 letter that it was “confident that each airstrike hit its intended Al Qaeda targets and nothing else.”

Rigorous investigative reporting by the New York Times on the last U.S. drone strikeof the Afghan War in August 2021 forced an admission from the Pentagon. What General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had originally deemed a “righteous strike” had actually killed 10 civilians, seven of them children. A subsequent Times investigation revealed that a 2019 U.S. airstrike in Baghuz, Syria, had killed up to 64 noncombatants, a toll previously obscured through a multilayered cover-up. The Times followed that up with an investigation of 1,300 reports of civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria, demonstrating, wrote reporter Azmat Khan, that the American air war in those countries was “marked by deeply flawed intelligence, rushed and often imprecise targeting, and the deaths of thousands of civilians, many of them children, a sharp contrast to the American government’s image of war waged by all-seeing drones and precision bombs.”

Since the Sirte campaign ended in late 2016, U.S. attacks in Libya have slowed considerably. AFRICOM conducted seven declared airstrikes there in 2017, six in 2018, four in 2019, and none since. But the U.S. military has made little effort to reevaluate past strikes and the civilian casualties they caused, including the November 2018 attack that killed Nasser Musa Abdullah. “U.S. Africa Command followed the civilian casualty assessment process in place at the time and determined that the reports were unsubstantiated,” said AFRICOM spokesperson Kelly Cahalan. Despite the criminal complaint filed on April 1st, the command is not reexamining the case. “There is nothing new or different regarding the Nov 30, 2018 airstrike,” Cahalan told me by email.

Africa Command has clearly moved on, but Abdullah can’t. Memories of his brother and those charred bodies are irrevocably lodged in his mind but get caught in his throat. “I was in shock,” he told me when discussing the phone call that preceeded his dash across the desert. “I’m so sorry, but I can’t explain in words what I felt.”

Abdullah was similarly stuck when he attempted to describe the grisly scene that greeted him hours later. He was eloquent in speaking about the justice he seeks and how being branded a “terrorist” robbed his brother and their community of dignity. But of his final memory of Nasser, there is simply nothing that can be said, not by him anyway. “What I saw was so terrible,” he told me, his voice rising, ragged and loaded with pain. “I can’t even describe it.”

This column is distributed by TomDispatch.

Copyright 2022 Nick Turse.

Nick Turse is an American investigative journalist, historian, and author. He is the associate editor and research director of the blog TomDispatch and a fellow at The Nation Institute.

Counterpunch, April 28, 2022,