US gun violence: Capitalism is the culprit / by Belén Fernández

Semiautomatic rifles fill a wall at a gun shop in Lynnwood, Washington, the United States [File: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson]

Originally published in Aljazeera on July 31, 2022

To fix gun violence in America, we need an assault on capitalism.

On July 27, two top executives from prominent US gun companies – Marty Daniel of Daniel Defense and Christopher Killoy of Sturm, Ruger & Co – appeared before the United States House Committee on Oversight and Reform chaired by New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney. The hearing came on the heels of the latest succession of massacres – the Buffalo supermarket, the Uvalde elementary school, the Highland Park July 4 parade – that have come to define life in America.

As the Guardian noted, this “marked the first time in nearly two decades that the CEOs of leading gun manufacturers testified before Congress”. The CEO of Smith & Wesson Brands – which according to the committee earned at least $125m in 2021 alone from the sale of assault-style rifles, a frequent prop in mass shootings – had declined to participate in the attempt at “oversight”.

But the two willing invitees presumably spoke for the US gun industry as a whole when they shot down the notion that their products and aggressive marketing practices have anything to do with rampant killing.

Killoy insisted that a firearm is an “inanimate object” that cannot accrue responsibility, while Daniel – whose firm manufactured the inanimate object that slaughtered 19 school kids and two teachers in Uvalde – maintained that the blame must be assigned to the individual “murderers”. In Daniel’s view, “these murders are local problems that have to be solved locally”.

For her part, Maloney took the opportunity at the hearing to express her “hope [that] the American people are paying attention today”, noting “it is clear that gun makers are not going to change unless Congress forces them to finally put people over profits”.

But were we Americans really paying attention, we would have noticed long ago that our country is entirely predicated on putting profits over people – from the corporate destruction of the environment to the manic incarceration of poor minorities to a healthcare system that is decidedly ill. This is not to mention US behaviour abroad, where the “war on terror” and other forms of military slaughter with US-made weapons have also produced many, um, “local problems”.

In her initial invitation to the three arms executives to testify before the House committee, incidentally, Maloney encouraged them to “explain to Congress and the American people why they continue to sell products to civilians that are meant to be used in the battlefield”.

Which brings us to the following question: When the US converts the world into a battlefield, how do Americans know where to draw the line? More precisely put, it is not immensely shocking that a country that inculcates its citizenry with a macho, shoot-’em-up attitude vis-à-vis other human populations might end up with some, well, “murderers” on its hands – particularly when the domestic panorama is one of dystopian capitalism and acute alienation.

As for the culpability of US gun manufacturers in scenes of armed sociopathy from Buffalo to Uvalde, there is no denying that the industry itself is morally depraved – and yet it is merely fulfilling a nefariously lucrative function made possible by general systemic depravity. The fundamental blame for mass shootings does not lie with the CEOs of Daniel Defense and Sturm Ruger – just as the blame for US-bound migrant deaths does not lie with oft-scapegoated human smugglers, whose reprehensible business is only made possible by America’s brand of deadly capitalism and profit-driven border militarisation schemes.

On July 29, two days after the House Committee on Oversight hearing, the US House voted to ban assault weapons – although the measure hardly stands a chance in clearing the Senate. In its report on the vote, CNN referenced the committee’s “investigation, which alleges gun manufactures selling assault-style rifles have employed questionable marketing tactics, including appealing to White supremacists, ‘preying’ on the masculinity of young men, and running advertisements that mimic video games”.

But to pretend that predatory advertising – or the toxic propagation of the conception of life as a video game – is anything but all-American only does the disservice of distracting from the fact that America’s current blood-soaked predicament is not one that can be resolved via piecemeal legislation. In the end, it’s either profit over people or people over profit – and, if the latter arrangement is ever to be obtained, it requires nothing less than a comprehensive overhaul of society.

Unfortunately for optimists and luckily for profiteers, this is easier said than done, and any such societal rectification is unlikely to occur prior to planetary self-destruction. The failure to see capitalism as America’s underlying disease — against which all other symptoms must be diagnosed and treated accordingly — means that the country’s increasingly violent episodes will continue to be seen as “local problems”, to borrow Daniel’s words.

For evidence of the system’s pathological nature, one need look no further than this year’s dispatch from American journalist Todd Miller, author of Empire of Borders, at the 15th annual Border Security Expo in San Antonio, Texas – a venue for the discussion of weapons-mountable robotic dogs and other demented imperial visions.

He describes an expo panel featuring former US officials who had passed through the revolving establishment door into private employment, and who received a question from an audience member alluding to the ever-more lucrative field of border security: “Why would you even want a solution?”

Silence ensued – a silence that also suffices to explain why, barring an assault on capitalism, America will never get its gun crisis under control.

Belén Fernández is the author of Checkpoint Zipolite: Quarantine in a Small Place (OR Books, 2021), Exile: Rejecting America and Finding the World (OR Books, 2019), Martyrs Never Die: Travels through South Lebanon (Warscapes, 2016), and The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work (Verso, 2011). She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine, and has written for the New York Times, the London Review of Books blog, Current Affairs, and Middle East Eye, among numerous other publications.

Spain picks sides as tensions rise in North Africa / by Ignacio Cembrero

Let us in: Moroccan workers demand visa-free access to Spanish enclave of Ceuta, May 2022 | Fadel Senna · AFP · Getty

Morocco put Spain under increasing pressure to end neutrality over the disputed territory of Western Sahara and back its own autonomy plan. Spain’s agreement has made a crisis with Algeria inevitable.

Morocco put Spain under increasing pressure to end neutrality over the disputed territory of Western Sahara and back its own autonomy plan. Spain’s agreement has made a crisis with Algeria inevitable.

On 8 June Algeria suspended its 2002 friendship, good neighbourliness and cooperation treaty with Spain. The same day, Algeria’s Association of Banks and Financial Institutions (ABEF) ordered its members to freeze all operations relating to trade with Spain. This was a serious step: Spain is Algeria’s fifth-largest supplier, with exports worth €2.7bn in 2019, and Algeria’s third-largest customer for natural gas, to a value of €2.3bn; so far, the sanctions have not affected gas deliveries.

Why is Algeria trying to punish Spain? The rift is over Western Sahara, a Spanish colony until 1976 and now claimed by Morocco, which occupies a large part of the territory. Algeria, meanwhile, defends the native Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination, as prescribed by the United Nations, and supports the separatist Polisario Front movement. Morocco opposes their independence, proposing limited autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty instead.

Until recently Spain, as the formal colonial power, tried to strike a balance, saying it would respect UN decisions but also quietly backing Morocco’s rapprochement with the European Union, though this was not enough to satisfy Rabat. So Spain’s sudden policy U-turn on 18 March, when it declared its support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara, surprised and angered Algeria.

To understand what’s at stake, we must go back to the last days of Donald Trump’s presidency. On 10 December 2020 the US recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara — a step no other Western country had taken — and in return Morocco agreed to normalise relations with Israel.

Morocco felt emboldened and in January 2021 its foreign minister Nasser Bourita urged EU countries to ‘get out of this comfort zone’ and follow the US example; until then, only France had supported Morocco’s plan for resolving the conflict in Western Sahara, without recognising its sovereignty over the territory.
Morocco angles for Spanish support

Morocco felt sure that if Spain were to support the plan, other European and even Latin American countries would follow suit. Just as Trump announced his decision in December 2020, Rabat found a pretext to postpone a Spanish-Moroccan summit due to take place a week later.

In April 2021 Brahim Ghali, secretary-general of the Polisario Front and president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (RASD), was admitted to a hospital in Logroño, northern Spain, with Covid-19. This gave further ammunition to Morocco, which regarded Ghali as public enemy number one.

Spain had agreed to Algeria’s request that he be admitted for ‘strictly humanitarian reasons’ and tried to keep his arrival secret to avoid upsetting Morocco. However, the Moroccan secret services got to hear of it, perhaps by listening in on the thousands of Algerian mobile phones they were tapping with Israeli Pegasus spyware, as revealed by the Forbidden Stories website last year, or by eavesdropping on Spain’s then foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, whose phone was also tapped, as the Spanish government half-admitted. Either way, the news broke on the El Noticiario website and was immediately taken up by newspapers close to the Moroccan monarchy.

Tensions rose. Morocco’s foreign ministry summoned the Spanish ambassador, Ricardo Díez Hochleitner Rodríguez, and expressed its disappointment with ‘an act contrary to the spirit of partnership and good neighbourliness’. Then in May it recalled its ambassador to Madrid, Karima Benyaich, ‘for consultation’.

Next, Morocco weaponised migration. In less than 48 hours, on 17 and 18 May 2021, more than 10,000 Moroccans, 20% of them minors, illicitly entered Spain’s Ceuta enclave on the Moroccan coast; most swam in from the neighbouring Fnideq beach. Bourita, in a statement to international Spanish-language news agency EFE, blamed the influx on ‘Moroccan police fatigue’ after the Eid celebrations. Though two thirds of the migrants returned to Morocco within a few days, the show of strength had been effective.

Tensions and blackmail over Western Sahara

Dramatic increase in migrants

The Canary Islands, too, have seen a steady influx of migrants. Some 22,316 arrived illicitly in 2021, and in January and February 2022 the numbers were up 135% on the same months in 2021, according to Spain’s interior ministry. Almost all of the 5,496 harragas (illicit migrants from the Maghreb) who arrived this January and February were from southern Morocco and the Moroccan-controlled part of Western Sahara. In early March more than 2,500 Sub-Saharan Africans attempted to storm Spain’s Melilla enclave; nearly 900 managed to scale the security fence and enter the city.

Finally, Morocco suspended passenger traffic across the Strait of Gibraltar and closed the land borders of the Ceuta and Melilla enclaves. Last summer it had resumed passenger traffic to and from France and Italy (suspended during the pandemic) but not Spain.

Does Spain need Algeria? In June there was nothing to suggest that tensions would ease. Algeria’s tourism minister even ordered tour operators to ‘suspend all operations and tourist relations’ with Spain

Until 2019, 3.3 million Moroccans living in Europe passed through Spanish ports (in 760,000 vehicles) on their way home for the summer holidays each year. The boycott has deprived Spanish petrol stations and ports of significant revenue, but has mainly hurt these Moroccans. Ferry crossings only resumed in April and Morocco’s land borders with the Spanish enclaves stayed closed until 17 May.

Spain has taken care not to escalate tensions over the migrant crisis. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has made conciliatory gestures. As part of a cabinet reshuffle in July 2021 he fired González Laya for having agreed to Ghali’s hospital admission. In late May a Zaragoza court began investigating her for organising Ghali’s secret entry into Spain. (She has since been cleared of any wrongdoing.)

Spain reaches out to Morocco

The growing tensions between Algeria and Morocco (1) also allowed Spain to improve relations with Rabat. In October 2021, when Algeria turned off the Maghreb-Europe pipeline (GME) and deprived Morocco of the gas it had been drawing to fuel two power stations (in lieu of some transit fees), the Spanish government showed itself willing to help, agreeing to regasify liquefied natural gas (LNG) bought on the international market and send it back to Morocco via the GME.

Even King Felipe VI was enlisted to help resolve the crisis. At a reception for foreign diplomats in February, he called on Morocco to work with Spain to ‘materialise a new relationship’. But Ambassador Benyaich was still absent and the message went unheeded by Rabat. Spain reaching out in this way was not enough: nothing less than setting aside its neutrality and supporting Rabat’s plan for Western Saharan autonomy would do.

Sánchez finally accepted Morocco’s price for reconciliation. ‘Spain considers the Moroccan autonomy initiative presented in 2007 as the most serious, realistic and credible basis for the resolution of this dispute [in Western Sahara],’ he wrote in a 14 March letter to King Mohammed VI, who published excerpts of the message in a communiqué on 18 March. It was from this royal communiqué that the Spanish people, including most of the government, learned of their country’s new position on Western Sahara.

This breach of diplomatic protocol angered not only the rightwing opposition but also the far-left minority (Podemos) in the government coalition, and nationalists of all stripes. The same day that Sánchez flew to Rabat, the Spanish parliament’s lower house passed a resolution that recalled Spain’s traditional doctrine on Western Sahara — a slap in the face for the prime minister. Only the Socialists opposed the motion; the far right abstained.

Through this strong support for Morocco’s plan, Sánchez hoped to repair the relationship and win concessions from Rabat. He went to collect at an iftar (post-sunset meal during Ramadan) with Mohammed VI in Rabat on 7 April. The joint Spanish-Moroccan communiqué published that day announced the creation of airspace and maritime borders working groups. It also hinted that the customs office at Melilla, which Morocco had closed in 2018 without informing Spain, would be reopened and another established at Ceuta. (This does not mean that Rabat recognises Spain’s sovereignty over the two cities, whose court judgments and notarial documents it still doesn’t accept.)

Illicit immigration, especially to the Canaries, fell sharply after the joint communiqué was published. April arrivals averaged only 25 a day, down from 93 in January and February.

But while Sánchez had resolved the crisis of Spain’s relations with Morocco, he had started another with Algeria. The day after the publication of the royal communiqué about Sánchez’s letter, Algeria recalled its ambassador to Madrid. The Algerian authorities were especially incensed because they had learned of Spain’s ‘treachery’ (a word used several times in the official media) through the press. A month later Algeria’s president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, described Spain’s U-turn as ‘ethically and historically unacceptable’.

As Morocco dropped its sanctions against Spain, Algeria imposed its own. It stopped taking back illicit immigrants arriving in Spain’s Murcia and Almería provinces. On 1 April Toufik Hakkar, CEO of oil and gas company Sonatrach, hinted that the company might put up the price of gas to Spain alone. On 27 April Algeria’s energy ministry demanded that Spain provide a certificate of origin for any gas it delivered to Morocco to ensure that it did not originate in Algeria. Algeria has even threatened to stop supplying gas to Spain if it turns out to be re-exporting it to Morocco.
Reducing dependence on Algeria

Spain has started to reduce its energy dependency on Algeria which, as of January, is no longer its largest supplier. In 2021, 44% of all gas used in Spain was Algerian; in the first quarter of 2022, that fell to 26%, and the US overtook Algeria as a supplier to Spain, whose imports of American LNG rose by 460%. American shale gas makes up 37% of Spain’s hydrocarbon imports.

Does Spain need Algeria? As of mid-June, there was nothing to suggest that tensions would ease soon. On 20 June Algeria’s tourism minister even ordered tour operators to ‘suspend all operations and tourist relations’ with Spain immediately. Spain has appealed to the European Commission in the hope that it can persuade the Algerian authorities to listen to reason, arguing notably that the sanctions are incompatible with the 2005 association agreement between Algeria and the EU. Spain has also talked of requesting international arbitration if Algeria turns off the gas.

However, the Algerian authorities seem to be set on making Sánchez pay for his ‘treachery’ by playing on the internal divisions that the crisis has produced in Spain. They were also irritated by the groundless accusations made by two Spanish government ministers who claimed that Russia was behind Algeria’s ‘aggression’ and that Vladimir Putin was urging Algeria to punish Spain in reprisal for the sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine.

It’s highly likely that the Spanish-Algerian crisis will last into late 2023, when Spain’s current parliament ends. And equally likely that Algeria is waiting for the Socialists to be out of government (as polls suggest they will be) before it makes any conciliatory gestures.

Ignacio Cembrero Vázquez (Madrid, 1954) is a Spanish journalist, correspondent and writer, specializing in coverage of the Maghreb.
Le Monde Diplomatique (English), July 2022,

Xi warns Biden against interference in Taiwan / by Morning Star

U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington, Nov. 6, 2021, and China’s President Xi Jinping in Brasília, Brazil, Nov. 13, 2019.

CHINESE President Xi Jinping has warned his US counterpart Joe Biden against meddling in Beijing’s dealings with Taiwan, amid rising tensions over a potential visit to the breakaway island by House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

There was no indication of any progress towards agreement on contentious issues such as trade and technology exports in a phone conversation between the two leaders on Thursday night, despite it lasting three hours.

Mr Xi also warned Mr Biden against splitting the world’s two biggest economies, according to a Chinese government summary of the call.

Economists warn that such a change, brought on by trade tensions and US restrictions on technology exports, might harm the global economy by slowing innovation and increasing costs.

The Chinese government gave no indication that Mr Xi and Mr Biden had discussed Ms Pelosi’s possible plans to visit Taiwan, which the ruling Communist Party says has no right to conduct foreign relations.

But the Chinese president rejected “interference by external forces” that might encourage Taiwan to try to formalise its decades-old separation from the mainland.

“Resolutely safeguarding China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity is the firm will of the more than 1.4 billion Chinese people,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian insisted today. “Those who play with fire will perish by it.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said ahead of Thursday’s call that Washington “must not arrange for Pelosi to visit Taiwan.”

He warned that the People’s Liberation Army would take “strong measures to thwart any external interference.”

Mr Xi called on the US to “honour the one-China principle,” according to Mr Zhao, referring to Beijing’s position that the mainland and Taiwan form a single country.

By contrast, Washington’s “one-China policy” takes no position on the question but wants to see it resolved peacefully.

Tensions between the US and China were underlined again yesterday when the Chinese embassy in the Philippines blasted visiting US Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro for criticising Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea.

Mr Del Toro accused China of encroaching on the sovereign waters of its Asian neighbours in violation of international law, to which the Chinese embassy replied that it was “navigation bullying” by US warships in the disputed waters that could spark confrontations.

Morning Star (UK), July 29, 2022,

U.S. political prisoner Mutulu Shakur has six months to live. Will courts finally grant compassionate release? / by People’s Dispatch

Activists rally outside of the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, to demand compassionate release for Mutulu Shakur (Photo via @KaranjaKeita on Twitter)

Originally published in Peoples Dispatch on July 27, 2022

In May, doctors with the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons gave political prisoner Mutulu Shakur six months to live, according to his attorney. In response, activists and supporters of Mutulu are rallying for his compassionate release. On July 20, activists rallied outside of the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, to deliver a letter signed by over 200 faith leaders, demanding Mutulu’s release. An online petition for Mutulu’s release, created by faith leader Lumumba Bandele, has over 60,000 signatures.

In their fight for compassionate release, Mutulu’s supporters often uplift his legacy as a community health worker. From 1970 to 1978, Mutulu was part of the Lincoln Detox Center, a revolutionary project at the Lincoln Hospital in New York. Lincoln Detox was founded in 1970 by the Republic of New Afrika, the Black Panther Party, revolutionary Puerto Rican diaspora organization the Young Lords, and Students for a Democratic Society.

Life-long state persecution

Mutulu has been suffering from cancer since 2019. In 2020, early into the COVID-19 pandemic, Mutulu applied for compassionate release due to his severe health problems, which included hypertension, diabetes, glaucoma, and the aftereffects of a stroke while in solitary confinement, as reported by The Intercept.

Judge Charles Haight Jr., the same judge who had sentenced Mutulu to prison despite conceding that Mutulu was illegally targeted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) through the COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program), denied his compassionate release in 2020. According to Haight, since Mutulu was not at death’s door in that exact moment, he did qualify for compassionate release.

“Should it develop that Mutulu’s condition deteriorates further, to the point of approaching death, he may apply again to the Court, for a release that in those circumstances could be justified as ‘compassionate,’” Haight wrote in his decision.

Now, as the chemotherapy Mutulu had been undergoing is no longer effective against his cancer, he once again applied for compassionate release on July 17. Due to his health conditions, he is especially susceptible to the consequences of contracting COVID-19, a disease which he has already contracted at least twice.

Mutulu, like other U.S. political prisoners such as Mumia Abu-Jamal and Ruchell Magee, was a Black revolutionary activist during the height of the Black liberation movement in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Similar to those revolutionary figures such as Mumia or Assata Shakur, Mutulu was also accused of killing police officers. According to his website, the case against him contains a number of defects: “Evidence, which was illegally seized, was allowed to be presented by the prosecuting attorney,” the website states.

In the late 1960s, Mutulu joined Black Power movement organization Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and later the Republic of New Afrika, which was organizing to build a Black nation independent of the U.S.. It is for this revolutionary Black activism that Mutulu was targeted by the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO, which, in its own words, sought to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” revolutionary Black organizations.

Mutulu was close with many prominent figures and organizations of the Black liberation movement, such as the Black Panther Party, as well as his stepson, celebrated hip hop artist Tupac Shakur. Mutulu was also charged in aiding the escape of political prisoner Assata Shakur, who lives freely in Cuba to this day, to the chagrin of the FBI.

A revolutionary health project

Mutulu was central to the Lincoln Detox Center, first as a political education instructor, then certified and licensed acupuncturist, then as the program’s Assistant Director. While practicing acupuncture, Mutulu co-founded the Black Acupuncture Advisory Association of North America (BAAANA) and the Harlem Institute of Acupuncture. His work in acupuncture and drug detoxification gained international recognition; he was invited to the People’s Republic of China.

Under the leadership of these radical organizations, the Lincoln Detox Center became a wholly unique healthcare project, diagnosing drug addiction as not a problem of the individual addict, but of an oppressive system. Former Young Lord Walter Bosque told Curbed, “The patients are, unfortunately, thinking that they’re the problem, that they’re the misfits…They don’t realize that the society is corrupt.” Following the unique healthcare strategy of looking beyond the individual illness and instead at the whole of society, patients studied Marxist theory and performed community service as part of their treatment. “Political education classes at Lincoln Detox attract 50-100 people daily,” wrote allied activist publication White Lightning.

The practitioners at the Detox Center were weary of the drug methadone, used to treat recovering addicts at the time. Instead, their strategy was to begin with methadone, but then slowly wean patients off of the drug using holistic methods such as acupuncture. As written in White Lightning,

The armies of slum-lords, script doctors, organized crime, greedy drug companies, methadone pushers, corrupt cops, and producers of rot-gut wine are plundering our communities.

Activists say that Mutulu’s respected work in people’s health is precisely why he has been incarcerated for so long. Reverend Graylan Hagler told the Real News Network,

That’s what he has. An impact, just by his presence. And that makes the system fearful. Particularly a system that wants to basically control the narrative, control the message, control the image, it makes that system very harsh and evil in terms of the way they treat somebody.

Peoples Dispatch, formerly The Dawn News, is an international media organization with the mission of bringing to you voices from people’s movements and organizations across the globe. Since its establishment three years ago, it has sought to ensure that the coverage of news from around the world is not restricted to the rhetoric of politicians and the fortunes of big companies but encompasses the richness and diversity of mobilizations from around the world. Peoples Dispatch also seeks to bring to you breaking news from a perspective widely different from that of the mainstream media. We invite people’s movements and political organizations everywhere to send us information and news from their countries. The information can be in Spanish, Portuguese, English or Hindi.

Opinion: Nonprofits Need Unions, Too / by Hayley Brown and Katie Barrows

Reprinted from ZNet, July 26, 2022,

A progressive boss is still a boss. Yet for decades, senior leadership at left-leaning organizations have been excused from providing their staff with living wages, good benefits and inclusive work environments, in part because employees themselves feared holding bosses accountable for their hypocrisy could hurt the cause.

But, in recent years, workers at progressive nonprofits have realized that addressing issues on the job can make their organizations better by creating an environment where talented, passionate employees want to stay and work. They’ve taken action by organizing unions to address workplace problems and create more effective organizations. Estimates of the percentage of union nonprofit workers vary depending on how narrowly the category is defined, but the number may now be as high as 8 percent⁠—higher than the private sector average.  ⁠

Unfortunately, several recent pieces in The New York Times and The Intercept ignore the real problems that plague progressive organizations as well as the improvements nonprofit staff are making. Instead, these articles push the narrative that the left is struggling because nonprofit staff are overreacting to insignificant issues and causing internal disputes that make their organizations less effective.

These articles push the narrative that the left is struggling because nonprofit staff are overreacting to insignificant issues and causing internal disputes.

While omitting worker voices, the authors and the senior managers whom they quote depict nonprofit staff as over-sensitive and “over-woke.” They suggest that progressive nonprofits are being bogged down by meaningless forays into identity politics, redirecting valuable time and resources in ways that foster division.

Yet unions are ultimately about solidarity, not division. Unions provide workers with a structure in which they can come together to build power as a class to improve their workplace. Nonprofit workers are still workers, and to characterize their collective action as a “distraction” ignores their needs as workers.

As leaders of a union of nonprofit employees, we’ve seen progressive organizations provide staff with shockingly low wages, jobs lacking health and retirement benefits, and even fostering hostile work environments. Progressive nonprofit workers join together in unions to create workplaces that provide them with the pay and benefits they need to live. The improvements our members secure by bargaining collectively represent a step forward for the nonprofit industry. Their efforts can help improve both retention and productivity; staff can perform better when they are supported and feel they have a voice on the job.

In every U.S. state except Montana, employees are de facto considered to be “at-will,” meaning they can be terminated or disciplined at any time for any reason except discrimination against a protected class. By contrast, union members typically have “just cause” clauses in their contracts, so that they cannot be arbitrarily disciplined or dismissed. This means that union contracts can protect people from one of the most consequential forms of so-called cancel culture: losing their livelihoods.

Like other bosses, bosses at progressive nonprofits can be reluctant to give up power, and unions redistribute workplace power to the workers. But organizations flounder when those in charge prioritize preserving their own power within the organization over fulfilling the organization’s mission. Nonprofits that divert considerable sums to union-busting law firms are not putting the mission first. Effective leadership requires respecting the people you hire and empowering them in their work. In this sense, union-busting is a clear form of mission sabotage.

Like other bosses, bosses at progressive nonprofits can be reluctant to give up power.

Meanwhile, through discussions with our members and review of organizations’ reports and financials, we know that many unionized progressive nonprofits continue to flourish. Donors have recognized the effectiveness of these organizations and have chosen to contribute accordingly. When progressive nonprofit staff form unions, they make their organizations more credible by compelling them to practice what they preach.

To have a solid foundation, the progressive movement must be built on solidarity and respect, not exploitation. Union organizing offers nonprofit workers an important way to come together to improve both their workplaces and their work. It is a source of organizational and movement strength, not weakness.

This column was produced by Progressive Perspectives, which is run by The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.

Hayley Brown is President of the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union.

Katie Barrows is International Vice President for Nonprofit Professional Employees Union.

Maine News: With Redbank purchase, housing advocates warn of rise of corporate landlords in Maine / by Dan Neumann

Photo: A two-unit residence at Redbank Village in South Portland from the complex’s website.

Originally published in the Beacon on July 26, 2022

A few months after property management firm JRK Property Holdings of Los Angeles took over Redbank Village, a 500-unit apartment complex in South Portland where some tenants pay subsidized rent, they began sending out notices that rent would be going up.

JRK is a large corporate landlord with a portfolio of over 80,000 units across 30 states. The firm has been accused of several practices that large rental companies often use to maximize their profits, including hiking rents, displacing long-term tenants through evictions, and tenant harassment.

Housing advocates warn that this growing category of landlord has made displacing tenants part of their business model.

“The corporate consolidation of housing is really the greatest threat to the housing market today,” said Katie Goldstein, the director of housing campaigns for the Center for Popular Democracy. “We’re seeing corporate landlords who are responsible to investors to return as much profit as possible. The way to do that is through evictions, tenant turnover, raising rents and reducing services.”

She added, “Corporate landlords are able to buy up huge swathes of properties and units. That’s why you have a Los Angeles company buying up properties in Maine. They’re really looking for places that have weak tenant protections to extract as much profit as possible.”

In May, JRK began notifying Redbank residents that it would be raising rents in 2023 up to $2,400 per month, which represented as much as a 35% increase for some tenants who, just five years ago, reported paying $750 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. JRK also began eviction proceedings, threatening to make some residents homeless as rents and housing prices across Maine continue to climb. 

This prompted the South Portland City Council to step in. In June, the council initially planned an eviction ban and rent freeze. However, they struck a deal with JRK for a 10% year-to-year rent increase cap. Now, residents are calling for a longer-term solution.

“How many people can afford a 10% increase every year?” asked Lado Ladoka, a leader of the Maine Immigrant Housing Coalition. Ladoka has been meeting with several Redbank residents who are recent immigrants.

While large corporate landlords are nothing new in Maine, they have taken over an alarmingly large share of the rental market across the country since the 2008 foreclosure crisis. 

For Ladoka and other housing advocates, the growth of corporate landlords pose a unique threat to a worsening affordable housing crisis in Maine, where policymakers continue to grapple with a shortage of about 20,000 affordable housing units with an estimated 27,000 Maine households on the waitlist for Section 8 vouchers.

“The issue facing Redbank tenants is not new nor will it be the last,” Ladoka warned. 

Corporate landlords evict, raise rents more than average

Redbank was built in 1942 as a federal public housing project but has been in private hands since 1956 while maintaining a percentage of its units to be affordable for low-income Mainers. About 50 of the complex’s units are home to residents who pay a portion of their rent with support from Section 8 vouchers.

In November, JRK paid $110 million for Redbank and Liberty Commons, a six-building apartment complex in South Portland with 120 units. Both properties were previously owned by Portland Portfolio II LLC, an entity controlled by ​​Jones Street Investment Partners, a Boston-based real estate firm backed by private equity.

JRK’s website for Liberty Commons advertises “Multi-million dollar renovation — coming soon!” As the Center for Popular Democracy’s Goldstein explained, corporate landlords often justify rent increases through upgrades whose costs they pass onto tenants. Others tools for squeezing profits from renters include increasing fines and fees for things like parking, utilities, late rent payments, or pets. At Redbank, JRK justified its initial call for a 35% increase by alleging rising labor costs and the need for a storage shed. The company said they have plans to spend $6 million to repair and upgrade the property.

While rents are on the rise nationally, growing 5% in May, tenants of large corporate landlords have frequently faced even higher rent and fee increases. They also have faced higher rates of eviction. A recent 15-year study in Boston found that large landlords evicted tenants of single-family homes at two to three times the rate of smaller landlords. 

JRK is no exception. In 2020, the company agreed to pay their Washington tenants $350,000 to settle a lawsuit for violating that state’s eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“JRK Residential unfairly and deceptively pressured residents to pay outstanding rent by sending numerous threatening emails and notices, sometimes multiple times per day, and making harassing phone calls to tenants or tenants’ workplaces,” read a release from Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Media reports also reveal complaints made against JRK in Texas, Colorado and California for maintenance delays or neglect, including lack of air conditioning, water leaks and mold.

The need for stronger renter protections 

The rise of large corporate landlords stems from the financialization of the economy that accelerated after the 2008 recession and bled into the rental housing market, explains Mathilde Lind Gustavussen, a PhD candidate in sociology at the Free University of Berlin who researches housing and displacement.

“The post-2008 era has seen the increasing consolidation of rental housing into corporate hands — not just through well-known conglomerates like Blackstone Group and American Homes 4 Rent — but also through smaller investment firms backed by private equity, including investment banks, hedge funds, college endowments, insurance companies, and pension funds,” she wrote in Jacobin in June. “The foreclosure crisis entrenched global finance’s colonization of residential real estate, focused initially on single-family homes but expanding eventually into multifamily rentals.”

Goldstein said the Center for Popular Democracy and its affiliates are trying to organize the tenants of corporate landlords into an organization called Renters Rising to push federal, state and local policymakers for protections.

“We see the solutions as universal rent control and tenant protections and also mass investment in social housing,” she said. “We really need to have government step in to protect tenants from corporate landlords. It’s only going to get worse if we don’t do something really major and transformative.”

Ladoka worries that state and local policy makers in Maine are not up to the task of meeting these powerful economic forces head on. He believes local officials should have never let the formerly federally-subsidized Redbank Village fall into the hands of a corporate landlord, particularly as a major goal for Maine lawmakers is to build new affordable housing.

“It is something we knew very well yet turned a blind eye to,” he said. “My frustration comes when city leadership knows very well these mortgages are about to expire and they do nothing about it and allow those properties to turn into market-rate rentals. Why can’t we retain what is already in the public domain and keep it in the public domain?”

The South Portland City Council is currently working on a rent stabilization ordinance regulating year-to-year increases. The ordinance has reportedly prompted pushback from some landlords and corporate lobbyists.

Ladoka has been urging Redbank residents and other renters in South Portland to push the city council to pass much needed policies like rent control, banning application fees and barring “no cause” evictions.

“We have to be on our toes to ensure that their policy is right,” he said. “Corporate America doesn’t want us to be in the room when these policies are being decided. If working families are not at the table then they will be eaten for lunch.”

Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at

Cuban culture is a militant of life, not at the side of the people but within them / by Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez

Díaz-Canel expressed that a creative offensive is necessary in the face of imperial aggressiveness | Photo: Ariel Cecilio Lemus

Originally published: July 20, 2022 by Granma (English)

Speech by the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and President of the Republic, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, at the closing of the 2nd National Council of the Uneac, Havana Convention Center, July 8, 2022, “Year 64 of the Revolution”

(Verbatim Versions – Presidency of the Republic)

Dear friends,

We come to this National Council three years after the Congress and two of them in pandemic, without pause in the follow-up to the agreements of that long, deep and critical meeting that opened the way to some solutions and a thousand more challenges.

I have been studying the documents, which are extensive but essential, and, undoubtedly, you have worked and the Congress has been updated. Not all the problems have been solved, but good pieces have been taken out of them.

It is to be appreciated, even if you yourselves are not aware of what you are doing: this Council has become a declaration of principles, of revolutionary principles.

The country is grateful to its artists and intellectuals for the contribution they have made from the commissions to follow up most of the agreements and proposals of the Ninth Congress. The ten commissions have results to show, and some of them have been contributing for more than 20 years in transcendental matters for the nation, such as the integral formation of our citizens or the contribution of art to society.

I am speaking, of course, of the Education, Culture and Society Commission, whose first mission was designed with the contribution of intellectuals of the stature of Retamar, Graziella, Helmo and others. I highlight the contribution of this Commission for its scope, impact and years of work, but the ten commissions deserve recognition.

The Council, its debates, the quality of the discussions and proposals confirm that the Congress did not end when its sessions ended in June 2019, something that I already knew because it did not end even for me, that month after month, wherever the sun rises, I receive artists, writers and teachers in our work headquarters to continue on the agreements, giving systematic follow-up in what have become meeting spaces between the Cuban intelligentsia and the leadership of the Party and the Government in the country.

The two years and a little more that the pandemic lasted have been more productive than could have been expected. And we owe that, without a doubt, to the engines that the Congress ignited and to the unquestionable jolt caused in any patriot by the direct clash with the plans of subversion that aim first, and with particular viciousness, at the soul of the homeland, which is you and your works.

Never as now has Fidel’s reasoning become so clear when he said that culture is the first thing to be saved.

| The work of creators and artists has a direct impact on the spiritual fabric of the nation Photo Maité Fernández | MR Online

The work of creators and artists has a direct impact on the spiritual fabric of the nation. (Photo: Maité Fernández)

COVID-19 did not stop UNEAC, it did not stop the artists and intellectuals, whose drive was decisive in restoring the spirits of a society hit by two pandemics: COVID-19 and the blockade, but the blockade intensified. All this in spite of the fact that it has also been a guild hard hit by the loss of valuable colleagues, of creators who only two years ago shared the sessions of the Ninth Congress with us.

I believe that one of the merits of this Council is to have provoked a debate on the challenges UNEAC and its membership faces in the face of the colonizing wave that threatens to invade all cultural spaces through the most sophisticated and diverse channels.

I want to focus on this issue, because I would say that it is central to any of the tasks that UNEAC’s membership has proposed, even before the organization was born, since the days of Palabras a los intelectuales. That is why it was so important that the plenary debates pointed in that direction.

It is hard to talk to you about a subject on which we have worked thanks to you; in particular, I am grateful for the devotion for these matters that Victor Fowler, Helmo, Graziella, Torres Cuevas, Limia, Israel, Jose Ernesto, Elier, Javier and Abel, among others, always transmit to us every month.

A proud truth has been with us since 1868: our artistic and cultural vanguard is distinguished for having always fought a long and deep battle against cultural colonization, but no one is in a position to affirm that there is an absolute understanding of the seriousness of the phenomenon on the part of those who carry out some kind of work linked to culture.

The historical selectivity of UNEAC has been a purifying filter of rejection to uncritical, banal and impoverishing cultural consumption; but closing the doors is not enough, it is necessary to create, show, make viral, as they say now, the genuine and powerful Cuban culture and also universal, in all areas, to win the fight against mediocrity. I say universal because I believe in the value of culture in its broadest sense. “Let the world become part of our republics; but the trunk must be that of our republics,” wrote José Martí.

Universality and identity are inseparable in Cuban culture, one nurtures the other and both contribute to the conformation of the originality that distinguishes us. That originality is a key piece in the history of the peoples, it is the basis of our resistance. That is why the empire gives so much importance to the cultural war, that is why the siege, the harassment, the permanent interest in buying artists, intellectuals, sportsmen, doctors, scientists, in short, personalities with social recognition. To this end, they make use of a powerful ideological reproduction apparatus with large conglomerates of media, material and financial resources, which constantly bombard ideas, values and ways of being.

Faced with this enormous deployment of resources in order to win the minds and hearts of young people in particular and of the people in general, our resources and production capacities that would allow us to replace a good part of these products made for uncritical enchantment, are today very limited and in some cases non-existent.

| The cultural consumption of the new generations must be intelligently attended to Photo Granma Archive | MR Online

The cultural consumption of the new generations must be intelligently attended to. (Photo: Granma Archive)

What to do then in the face of this painful but undeniable certainty? In the first place, it will always be necessary to appeal to one of the fundamental weapons in Fidel’s political arsenal: to educate the people, to foster a critical conscience, a critical thinking that guarantees an educated discernment of what is worthy and what is not. We have to form that conscience, but also induce it, bearing in mind that the media and the public are no longer the same. In this sense, we need to give greater impetus to audiovisual education and culture in the digital space.

You, like almost no other professional group, have the capacity and the possibility of stimulating, from knowledge and artistic sensitivity, the development of a culture of debate from an early school age through highly creative extracurricular activities, contests, digital publications, opinion meetings, cultural festivals at school, tribute to great figures, among others.

We have, and it is a great strength, our institutional organization, which is well established and consolidated in different work systems: a national media system, an education system, a national system of cultural institutions, a system of publications and sites in the digital space.

If we achieve the articulation of these systems for the coordinated dissemination of ideas, concepts and tools, the material deficiencies will weigh less, but our ideological or communicational responses, which transit through these systems, have to stop being formal and bureaucratized.

We have to eliminate the triumphalist or empty rhetoric that often ends up distancing us from all audiences, causing the people or certain segments to distrust and distance themselves from our institutions and our discourses.

We need an absolutely creative offensive in the face of imperial aggressiveness, and the use we make of new technologies for digital communication, podcasts, YouTube videos, blogs, chat forums, discussion groups in social networks, or web series is still very poor.

We need more options that invite and offer spaces for expression and enjoyment to the young people of today and the future.

| The Program of integral attention to our neighborhoods is at the same time a process of cultural growth Photo José Manuel Correa | MR Online

The Program of integral attention to our neighborhoods is, at the same time, a process of cultural growth. (Photo: José Manuel Correa)

There is a design and a work program for cultural decolonization that we have been discussing from the Presidency and the leadership of the Party with many of you. It is broad, comprehensive, ambitious, but it is necessary to spread it, it is imperative to make the leap, to generate contents at the height of the potentialities of our culture.

In recent years and, in my opinion, with the very thrust of the debates we have held monthly, reviewing ideas, projects, achievements, potentialities, audiovisual and dramatized production has taken breath again; television, film and theater have confirmed how much our own works can penetrate and what beautiful feelings they awaken in the sensitive souls of Cubans. Suffice it to mention the series Lucha contra bandidos, Duaba, Entrega, Calendario, the documentary Soberanía, the productions of Nave Oficio de Isla, and Luz, the films El Mayor and Inocencia, and the documentary Volverán los abrazos, as important works of Cuban production.

And forgive the incomplete account, but this is the proof that under the worst attacks and the greatest shortages, with culture as the sword and shield of the Cuban nation, Cuba lives and promotes the best human values (Applause).

It is these results that inspire and drive new projects and impacts on audiences as the guide for others waiting for their chance; the more we see, the more are already emerging.

Also the spaces-meetings such as Miradas de mujer, attending to our feminist successes, and events of literature, traditions, humor, like the one that just concluded; the takeoff of the commercialization of music that is still below its potential but shows an unstoppable development, dance or ballet, are telling us from the daily news in our media that, despite the blows and above them, Cuba is culture (Applause).

These challenging years will remain in the popular memory not only for the supreme creation of scientists, but also for the inseparable sounds of triumphs. Buena Fe, Arnaldo, Fabré, Raúl Torres -again I apologize for the always incomplete list-, the same exalting the brave of the red zone and the creators of vaccines that respond directly to the attacks of the toxic media against Cuba, consecrated the resistance from the music and from the networks.

Those sounds associated with a heroic time are exciting, as it is proud to see the enormous Silvio filling squares in Mexico or Madrid, where El Necio was energetically listened to, and also in our neighborhoods.

Today it is essential to elevate that enormous work, impossible to summarize in one speech, to the traditional media and, above all, to the social networks, considering the artistic hierarchies without censorship of nature, alien to creation and promoting the best, what most distinguishes us and contributes to us. We must combine good art with good practices in the use of all platforms.

We must pay intelligent attention to the cultural consumption of the new generations, avoiding the exclusion, out of prejudice, of what they sometimes consume uncritically. We must listen, debate and move the formation of other consumptions through real dialogue and participation that ensures greater social integration.

The Program of integral attention to our neighborhoods is, at the same time, a process of cultural growth in the ways of living together, of socializing that is strengthened in the rescue of essences and traditions. I reiterate that it is not a matter of invading the neighborhood or intervening in it, it is a matter of accompanying growth without traumas and without traps, and I am glad to know that we have counted on you for the program to improve life in the neighborhoods.

UNEAC has been a pioneer in difficult times like these. The work of cultural promoters and artists in their neighborhoods, the projects that became paradigms such as Villafaña’s, Alden Knight’s, and the Palomas Project, for their extension to all areas of life in the community and the expression of that life in audiovisuals that are, at the same time, inquiry and testimony of a crucial time, opened paths along which today our efforts to conquer all possible social justice are moving.

And if proof were lacking, the period of the pandemic arrived to provide it: the positive response to the demand for artistic work in the communities, in the vaccination centers, in UNEAC headquarters and in projects such as Kcho’s in Romerillo, the cinema, television, radio, artistic brigades in hospitals and isolation centers in all the provinces. Everything was less hard because of that and remained in the memory of the Cuban soul, thanks to the work of Cuban creators (Applause).

That militancy with life, not on the side of the people but within them, has put Cuban culture under the fire of the media war that is being waged against Cuba, with the empire believing its own lie that the Revolution is living its final days. They know, of course, the direct impact of creators and artists on the spiritual fabric of the nation, that’s why they go all out against culture.

Harassed, attacked in the networks and on the stages, with the same viciousness that is pursued in the economy and finances of the country, our most valuable intellectuals and artists have responded with serenity, courage and professionalism to the worst attacks. They have not allowed themselves to be dragged down by the spiral of ignorance and hatred of adversaries without morals, without ethics and without work.

Just to cite an example: when, in the name of culture, a boycott was organized against the Havana Biennial, a historic event of the visual arts, and the freedom of creation was appealed to in order to stain the symbols of the homeland and disrespect the new Constitution as a first step to the perverse goal of dismantling the profound emancipatory process of 63 years of the Revolution, you did not give up, you did not “throw the couch” and the Biennial triumphed over hatred (Applause).

You -and when I say you, I’m talking about all the creators recognized by UNEAC, which you represent- have been tireless artisans of the alternative, defending spaces and works of national heritage and new creations, as proof of your vitality. That is also creative resistance!

And they have also been powerful shields against hatred, reminding us of that tremendous phrase of Martí in Our America: “A vital idea brandished before the world at the right moment like the mystic banner of Judgment Day can stop a fleet of battleships.”

I see no other way of being and acting when one comes from a tradition of greats like its founders, especially Nicolás Guillén, first president of UNEAC, a very personal and universal voice whose 120th birthday we celebrate with these sessions.

Every meeting with intellectuals and artists, be it this plenary session or our monthly check-up meetings, nourishes our senses and fills us with enthusiasm to undertake new projects.

We increasingly feel part of you, always sure that the present and the future must be socialist. Socialism saved us from the pandemic, socialism defeated the attempted vandalism coup, and what we are really going to celebrate as a first anniversary of July 11 is that the Cuban people and the Cuban Revolution dismantled a vandalism coup d’état (Applause).

I am convinced that by defending socialism we will overcome the current harsh situation and defeat imperialist hatred.

Finally, may an energetic sun always dawn in our veins! Finally, here we are!

Thank you very much (prolonged applause).

MR Online, July 28th,

Former CIA chief admits to U.S. meddling in foreign elections / by Morning Star Online

Former CIA director James Woolsey | Photo: Christopher Michel Creative Commons

Originally published: Morning Star Online on July 26, 2022

Former CIA director James Woolsey has admitted that the U.S. “interferes” in elections in other countries to protect its interests.

He made the candid remarks during an interview with Fox News presenter Laura Ingraham on Saturday.

Asked whether the U.S. “meddles in other countries elections,” the former CIA chief replied:

Oh probably, but it was for the good of the system in order to prevent the communists from taking over.

Mr Woolsey cited Greece and Italy in the years following World War II as examples of how the U.S. has intervened to prevent communist parties from coming to power.

“We don’t mess around,” he told the Fox News host.

Nazi collaborators known as the Holy Bond of Greek Officers were handed $1 million (worth approx £13.7m today) annually by the CIA to prevent the country coming under the influence of the Soviet Union.

Greece was an integral part of the NATO military alliance, with the Mountain Raiding Companies acting as part of its so-called stay-behind teams which crushed leftist groups across Europe.

The Greek Communist Party was banned and the country was ruled by right-wing dictatorships for decades until an uprising finally overthrew the military junta in1974.

When pressed on whether the U.S. continues to interfere in elections today Mr Woolsey laughed and said:

Only for a very good cause and in the interest of democracy.

The former CIA chief’s admission comes a week after former US national security adviser John Bolton confirmed Washington’s involvement in coups, including plans to overthrow the Venezuelan government.

Venezuela branded the former Trump aide “a psychopath.”

MR Online, July 26, 2022,

150 Years Ago, Friedrich Engels Correctly Assessed What’s Wrong With Housing Under Capitalism / by Glyn Robbins

The statue of Friedrich Engels in Manchester, England, photographed on May 8, 2019. (Alan Denney / Flickr)

In 1872, Friedrich Engels wrote The Housing Question, tying the working class’s perpetual housing crisis to the free market in Victorian England. The century and a half of housing crises since have proved Engels correct.

Friedrich Engels’s pamphlet, The Housing Question, published in 1872, is astonishingly prescient. In it, he analyses the root causes of housing inequality and its endemic relationship to the capitalist system. He describes the squalid slums of the Victorian working class, breeding grounds for disease and early death.

One hundred fifty years on, COVID has been referred to by a Labour councilor in Newham as “a housing disease” because of how it disproportionately affected his borough, the one with the most overcrowded homes in the UK. In the aftermath of the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell atrocity and the ending of the public inquiry, Engels’s concept of “social murder” continues to echo down the years. In 1872, as now, there was what Engels calls a “so-called housing shortage,” by which he doesn’t mean that housing scarcity was an illusion but that, in the more recent words of Herbert Marcuse, “the housing crisis doesn’t exist because the system isn’t working. It exists because that’s the way the system works.”

Engels wrote the pamphlet in a period of sociopolitical volatility comparable with today. The 1870s brought huge industrial and technological development but also deepening class tensions, reflected in the rapid growth of increasingly militant trade unionism. These forces were accentuated by a war in Europe, between Prussia and France, which led to the Paris Commune, an inspirational landmark in working-class history.

The capitalist metropolis, fueled by intensified domestic and imperialist exploitation, became the vortex of class conflict. The miserable housing conditions of the urban poor contrasted with opulent megadevelopment projects that displaced working-class communities, much as they do today. As Engels writes in The Housing Question:

The expansion of the big modern cities gives the land in certain sections of them, particularly in those which are centrally situated, an artificial, often economically increasing, value; the buildings erected in those areas depress this value . . . because they no longer correspond to the changed circumstances. . . . The result is that the workers are forced out of the center of the town, toward the outskirts.

These words would resonate loudly with the tenants of the scores of inner-city council estates currently threatened with demolition. But as we are likely to see again soon, waves of capitalist investment in housing are short-lived, which is why continuing to see “public-private partnerships” as an answer to the housing question is such folly.

In 1873, a frenzy of over-speculation brought a financial crash and an economic depression that lasted over a decade. By this time, Engels had given up paid work and moved from Manchester to London to be closer to Karl Marx and more available to engage in the fierce debates within the labor movement about the correct political response to perennial capitalist crisis. The Housing Question is partly a rebuttal of liberal and anarchist arguments for mediating the damage done by the capitalist housing market.

Engels was especially scathing of the proposition that private home ownership could immunize workers from housing precarity and misery. He maintains that the defining characteristic of capitalism is profit, derived from wage labor. All other social relations flow from this and as such, buying a home isn’t fundamentally different from any other form of exploitative commodity exchange. He warns against the “social quackery” and moralism of those seeking to nullify or deny the intrinsic destructiveness of the capitalist housing system. He also dismisses the capacity of philanthropy to solve the housing question — something some people still look toward today.

However, the housing picture has changed since Engels was writing. During his time and until council housing began to offer an alternative, most people in the UK were private tenants. This influenced Engels’s economic analysis. He described fluctuations in rent, interest, and debt as of only marginal significance to most workers, whose daily struggles for survival pivoted around the workplace.

Of course, the battle for a living wage continues, exemplified by the current upsurge in strike action. But housing has become financialized in a way and on a scale that would have altered Engels’s perspective. The exponential growth of global landlordism, the significant (if currently faltering) expansion of buying a home with a mortgage, and the consequent significance of interest rates all have huge implications for working-class people. Certainly, since World War II, buying a home has become a source of wealth building for many — but as Engels points out, it is inherently unstable and inequitable and directly serves the interests of the ruling class.

A good example of this and another important way the subject has changed since Engels’s time is how housing has become a key ideological and political weapon in the capitalist armory, epitomized by the Thatcherite Right to Buy, with its attendant and deliberate damage to council housing. The hegemony of homeownership and its intrinsic link to the consumer economy was summed up by the playwright Arthur Miller when he explained his inspiration for writing Death of a Salesman:

I hoped it was a time bomb under the bullshit of capitalism, this pseudo life that sought to touch the clouds by standing on stop of a refrigerator, waving a paid-up mortgage at the moon, victorious at last!

However, for an increasing number of people, buying a home is a nonstarter, and they have no alternative to private renting. But brutal as Victorian housing conditions were, tenants did not pay a third to a half of their income in rent, as is commonplace for private renters today. In The Housing Question, Engels describes how capitalism deliberately creates a situation in which workers live in a perpetual state of housing and employment insecurity. Today the UK government is, once again, pledging to end the “no fault evictions” that blight the lives of private tenants — let’s see if they deliver this time, or if the necessary legislation will again be thwarted by the landlord lobby.

For Engels, there was no circumventing the essential class interests that define housing under capitalism. He would, I’m sure, be very critical of the current trend in some parts of housing policy discourse to reduce debate to factions of “NIMBYs” versus “YIMBYs.” This vacuous form of analysis is being exploited by real-estate interests to divide local communities and thus make it easier to drive through more profit-hungry schemes. Rather, Engels would repeat his argument from 1872 that “the state as it exists today is neither able, nor willing, to do anything to remedy the housing calamity.”

For Engels, like Marx, the point was to change it. Grassroots organizing and tenants’ unions are on the rise in Britain, but the strength of movement necessary to challenge the norms of capitalist housing still feels a long way away. In terms of party politics, certainly, neither the dismal Tory leadership candidates nor New Labour 2.0 have anything useful to say on the subject. To bring a change of direction, it will be necessary to campaign around the wider vision of the place of housing in society, advocated by Engels and described elegantly by Michael Roberts in Engels 200:

For Engels, there were clear, if complex, causal connections between industrial wage labour, hazard at work, poor and adulterated diet, inadequate clothing, air and water pollution, overcrowded, damp and unhygienic housing, anxiety, demoralisation, sickness and early death.

As the planet burns, building alternatives to this capitalist death march has never been more urgent.

Glyn Robbins is a housing worker, campaigner, and trade unionist.

Jacobin, July 25, 2022,

Prospects Ahead for the Fighting Communist Party of Swaziland / by W. T. Whitney Jr.


Life expectancy in Swaziland, in southern Africa, is the world’s 7th lowest; its HIV/AIDS prevalence is the world’s highest at 26%. Unemployment is 41%, and wages for 80% of workers are less than $2 dollars per day. Swaziland is an autocracy ruled by a king.

A Communist party has existed in Swaziland since 2011. Political parties are illegal there. Many activists, Communists, live abroad, mainly in South Africa. What follows is information about the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS), its activities and goals, aspects of Swazi history, and current realities. The CPS needs international solidarity.

Its recent story begins in early May 2021 with the mysterious death, presumably at police hands, of law student Thabani Nkomonye. The police violently disrupted his memorial services.

The National Union of Students mobilized masses of young people and the police retaliated repeatedly with tear gas and bullets. The CPS called for legalization of political parties, overthrow of the “tinkhundla system” [of control by chiefs in rural areas] and removal of the king.

During May and into June, the National Union of Students organized additional marches; 3,000 students advancing on a police station met with tear gas and arrests. Anti-government protesters prevented 30,000 textile workers from entering their factories. The government banned demonstrations.

The CPS called for a National Democracy Conference at which “a common minimum program could be achieved for transform[ing] the state from a monarchy into a republic.” There was no conference. Writing a year later, analyst Joseph Mullen explains:

In this moment … the anti-monarchy forces were themselves deeply divided. While the CPS represented the radical force pushing for the abolition of the monarchy and the prosecution of the King, some opposition forces expressed willingness to settle for a constitutional monarchy with an elected government … They afforded too much power to bourgeois forces, who sought simply to reform the monarchy.

Nationwide anti-government protests, continuing for weeks, climaxed on June 29, 2021. Swazi police and soldiers initiated violent repression. Within days, 70 people were dead and hundreds wounded.

Nationwide agitation returned almost a year later as opposition groups prepared for the one-year anniversary of the massacre. The CPS, playing a leading role, was targeted early. The police captured and tortured member Bongi Nkumbula on March 23. On July 13 they were surrounding and approaching his house. He escaped.

CPS cadres organized weekly “sunset rallies.” They urged communities to form “security councils” to protect against police incursions and organized “welfare councils” to deal with unmet housing, food, education, and healthcare needs.

In cooperation with the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and the Multi-Stakeholder Forum, “a platform of political parties, trade unions, civil society and other groups,” the CPS carried out vigils, set barricades and called for schools and businesses to be closed on June 29, the anniversary day.

Police attacks continued. Security “forces shot live bullets at CPS members and activists” on June 26. Descending on sections of Mastapha municipality on June 28, they raided two houses CPS members were using as organizing centers.

The anniversary passed without killings, as was the case with an earlier period of turmoil connected to the Party’s experience. In 2011, days of anti-government agitation by students, unions, and democracy organizations anticipated the fateful day of April 12. That was the day in 1973 when King Sobhuza II, father of the present king, banned political parties and repealed the Constitution the British colonial power had granted in 1968. He ruled thereafter by decree. The CPS chose April 11, 2011 as the day for announcing its presence in Swaziland.

King Sobhuza II ruled from 1921 until he died in 1982. His reign is the longest in human history. On becoming king in 1986, his son Mswati III reinstated parliament. His government devised a constitution that went into effect in 2006 and continues. It enables the king power to appoint the prime minister, cabinet, all judges, two thirds of the upper-house members, and 12% of lower-house members. The remaining legislators require approval from tribal chiefs, appointed by the King. A harsh Suppression of Terrorism Act took effect in 2008.
A writer in 2011 summarizes: The Swazi monarchy “crushed the ambitions of all Swazis, [except for] a small parasitic elite based within the monarchy. The ambitions of the middle classes were curtailed by banning political parties and those of the working classes by suppressing the labor movement. The monarchy also enhanced its power grip … by controlling mineral royalties, business, and land administration.”
According to, “the royal family receives a 25% cut of all the mining deals … and as of 2016 has a budget of $69.8 million. The King, Mswati, has a net worth of $200 million and he controls a trust worth $10 billion.”

The Swaziland monarchy has enjoyed absolute power for centuries, even during the period of European colonial domination during the late 19th century. A British commissioner governed Swaziland from 1902 until Swazi independence in 1968. Even so, the monarchy exercised complete control over 33% of Swaziland known as the “native reserve.” On April 19, 2018, the 50th anniversary of Swazi independence,
King Mswati III renamed Swaziland. Now, officially, it’s “the Kingdom of Eswatini”.

The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), formed in 1983 and a member of the Socialist International, plays a major role in Swazi opposition politics. Others are: the Political Parties Assembly, the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress, the Economic Freedom Fighters of Swaziland, and the Swaziland Liberation Movement.

United States, Taiwan, and a few other nations provide the monarchy with military supplies. Two Taiwan-supplied and U.S.- built helicopters were used for firing upon protesters in June, 2021. The United States annually hosts 15 Swazi police officers at its International Law Enforcement Academy in Botswana, and trains security personnel in the United States. The U.S.-based World Bank and Taiwan have provided Swaziland with generous loans. Swaziland is the only African country that recognizes Taiwan diplomatically.

South Africa’s government loaned 355 million euros to the cash-strapped monarchy in 2011 and maintains supportive relations. Swaziland looks to South Africa for 85% of its imports and 60% of its exports. The Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party have expressed support for democracy efforts in Swaziland, without taking strenuous action.

CPS goals and strategies are evident in the statement the Party issued on its first appearance in Swaziland in 2011. These sections are revealing:

We join Swaziland’s mass democratic movement for change and pledge our full support to building that movement, led by PUDEMO, to bring about a National Democratic Revolution in Swaziland … [But] We do not want see the monarchic autocracy reformed or dressed in democratic trappings to appease the liberal sensibilities of any interest group or the imperialist international community.

The CPS calls for the “ending of the monarchic autocracy and the transfer of much of its wealth to the immediate tasks of fighting disease and the worst aspects of poverty (such as access to water and sanitation) [and] the confiscation of all crown property.”

Also: the “demand for democracy [as] a first step in an ongoing struggle to set our country on a totally different development path towards meeting all the needs of our people and creating a socialist system.”

In a statement appearing on on July 6, 2021, the CPS
urges Communist Parties of the world to pay attention to “news of what is happening in our country, to pressure the authorities in your respective countries to condemn the Mswati regime, … to lobby South Africa … to take more decisive positions against the lack of democracy and human rights in Swaziland.”

Our concluding emphasis is on Swaziland’s youth. They are many. Of 1.18 million Swazi people, 36.6% are less than 15 years of age. Young people have loomed large in opposing the regime, especially activist youth organizations like the National Union of Students and the Swaziland Youth Congress, PUDEMO’s youth group.

A report appearing on the CPS website highlights the plight of young people. Students had refused to take university exams. They claimed inability to study due to economic hardship. University authorities postponed the exams, but backtracked. Students protested, the police attacked, and the students sat for the exams on July 4. Afterwards student Sphelele returned to his room and killed himself. The report notes that eight Swazi university students had recently committed suicide.

The CPS reporter cites the “Condition of the Working Class in England” (1845) written by “Comrade Frederick Engel.” He quotes: “[O]nce a system has placed the working class under conditions in which they can neither retain health nor live long, and thus gradually undermine the vital force of the working class, little by little, and so hurry them to the grave before their time, such is nothing but social murder.”

W. T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.

People’s World, July 27, 2022,