French communists have slammed the decision of President Emmanuel Macron to impose his highly unpopular bill that would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Macron shunned parliament Thursday by opting to push through his controversial plans by triggering a special constitutional power known as Section 49.3.
The rarely used maneuver will likely spark a vote of no confidence in Macron’s government. The pensions bill had already completed its passage through the Senate earlier in the day but still required support from the National Assembly before becoming law.
But the government changed course just before the vote was scheduled in the Assembly because it was unsure whether it had enough votes to pass the bill. That’s when Macron decided to go over the head of parliament and make the bill law by presidential decree.
The pensions bill is the flagship legislation of Macron’s second term, but the deeply unpopular plan has sparked major strikes, and millions of people have taken to the streets in protests across the country since January.
As lawmakers gathered in the National Assembly to vote on the bill, left-wing members of the parliament—including deputies from La France Insoumise, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and others—broke into a boisterous rendition of “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem.
The impromptu sing-along prevented Macron’s Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne from speaking and prompted the speaker to suspend the session.
Once the session was back underway, Borne announced the plan to invoke 49.3, saying: “We cannot take a gamble on the future of our pensions system.”
Amid chaotic scenes and calls for a vote of no confidence in Macron’s government, French Communist Party General Secretary Fabien Roussel said Macron was “not worthy of our Fifth Republic.” He added, “Parliament has been flouted and humiliated to the end.”
Roussel called for a referendum vote on the pension plan. “Let’s engage in a great popular battle alongside the unions.”
Meanwhile, police in Paris “requisitioned” sanitation workers in the capital and threatened them with prosecution if they continue their week-long strike action against the pension plan.
Roger McKenzie is the International Editor of Morning Star, Britain’s daily socialist newspaper.
Members of Veterans for Peace rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial on May 30, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Letter to President Biden from Gerry Condon, former president of Veterans For Peace.
Dear President Biden,
I am writing you as a proud member of Veterans For Peace and its former president. We have been following the war in Ukraine closely, since well before the Russian invasion on February 24 of this year. We were alarmed when you and President Obama supported the regime-change coup in Ukraine in 2014, which was openly cheered on by the State Department’s Victoria Nuland, and spearheaded by self-described Nazis.
We watched in horror as those same self-described Nazis set fire to an Odessa union building full of Ukrainians who were protesting a new law outlawing the Russian language as an official language of Ukraine. 50 people were burned alive or shot and beaten to death. This in a country with a long history with Russia and millions of Russian speakers.
Appalled at the aforementioned atrocities, the Russian-speaking population of the Donbass in Eastern Ukraine declared their independence from Ukraine, and were soon attacked by Nazi militias. These self-described Nazi militias were then incorporated into the Ukrainian army, and the attacks continued. By the time that Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 of this year, 14,000 Ukrainians had already been killed in that terrible civil war.
Russian president Putin repeatedly warned and almost begged the US and NATO: Do not push your hostile military forces any further onto Russia’s borders. Taking Ukraine into NATO would cross a serious “red line.” Russian troops then massed along the border with Ukraine, in a clear show of force.
Mr. President, you might have stopped this war from happening merely by announcing that Ukraine would not become part of NATO and that you would end the militarization of Ukraine. You could have accepted President Putin’s offer to negotiate a new security arrangement in Europe. We looked on in disbelief as you rather cavalierly brushed aside Russia’s legitimate concerns. It looked like you were saying, “Bring it on!”
Well, Russia brought it on. We were horrified by the Russian invasion as well as by your response. You armed Ukraine to the teeth and fanned the flames of war. Ukraine (and the Black market in Europe) is now awash with high-tech US weaponry. A full-on war has killed many thousands of civilians, made millions homeless, and destabilized much of the world. We are now facing economic disasters and fearing the all-too-real possibility of nuclear war. Why?
As veterans who have experienced the carnage of war, we are concerned about the young soldiers on both sides who are being killed and injured in the tens of thousands. We know all too well that the survivors will be traumatized and scarred for life. These are additional reasons why the Ukraine war must end now.
We ask you to listen to veterans who say “Enough is Enough—War is Not the Answer.” We want urgent, good faith diplomacy to end the war in Ukraine, not more US weapons, advisors, and endless war. And certainly not a nuclear war.
It is not too late to do avoid further disaster, Mr. President. It is never too late to do the right thing. Show us a Profile of Courage and save the world from World War III, a war that could literally destroy human civilization as we know it. You must distance yourself from the neocons and weapons manufacturers who are giving you terrible advice. You must reverse course now. Drop the weapons and embrace diplomacy. For the sake of Ukraine. For the sake Russia, Europe and the United States. For the sake of the all the peoples of the world.
Negotiate, Don’t Escalate!
Gerry Condon, former president VETERANS FOR PEACE
Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Gerry Condon is a Vietnam-era veteran and former president of Veterans For Peace.
Emissions rise from the smokestacks at the Jeffrey Energy Center coal power plant as the sun sets, Sept. 18, 2021, near Emmett, Kan. The right-wing-dominated Supreme Court says the EPA has no power to regulate emissions by power plants, setting the stage for a speed-up of climate change. | Charlie Riedel / AP
Continuing a right-wing rampage that has already seen abortion rights gutted, the open carrying of guns given free rein, eviction moratoriums killed off, and coronavirus controls eviscerated, the Supreme Court on Thursday gave big fossil fuel corporations the freedom to fill our air with more planet-warming carbon dioxide.
In a 6-3 ruling, the conservative majority announced it was stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to regulate emissions from power plants. The move destroys the core of the Clean Air Act of 1970 and puts the Biden administration’s plans for fighting climate change in jeopardy.
And with its broad denunciation of the power of government agencies to enact rules and standards without specific and down-to-the-last-detail instructions from Congress, the court has also potentially put every regulation on the chopping block—not just when it comes to emissions, but also things like safety conditions in the workplace, fair wages, exposure to toxins, environmental protection, what bathroom transgender students can use, which people can cast a ballot and how, and more.
The decision is a preview of what the far-right and its corporate backers envision for the country.
Victory for fossil fuels, loss for life on Earth
The ruling is a major win for polluting energy corporations. EPA data shows that the power sector is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, but now it will be largely beyond the reach of environmental regulation.
Corporate energy giants will be able to fatten their profits by saving on costly emissions control measures in their plants and offload the cost of environmental contamination onto the rest of us—via dirtier air, increased respiratory health problems, and a speed up in climate change and all the problems it brings.
The decision in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, sides with big energy producers and Republican attorneys general at the state level who have been trying for years to tie the hands of the EPA.
The court declared that the EPA is severely limited in its ability to regulate the fossil fuel sector as a whole and that it can only deal with major pollution issues that crop up at specific individual plants. It also rules out pursuing other climate change-combatting measures through the EPA, such as a carbon cap-and-trade market.
Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the dissent of the three Democratic-appointed justices, warned, “Today, the court strips the Environmental Protection Agency of the power Congress gave it to respond to ‘the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.’”
She wrote that right-wing justices had appointed themselves, “instead of Congress or the expert agency [EPA],” to be the “decision maker on climate policy.” Kagan said she “cannot think of many things more frightening.”
Climate change activists and environmentalists expressed outrage—but no surprise—at what the right-wing majority did.
The executive director of Food and Water Watch, Wenonah Hauter, characterized the ruling as “part of a broad-based assault on the ability of regulators to protect our air, water, and climate.” She said the decision has been “long-sought by corporate polluters, industry-backed think tanks, and politicians who serve monied fossil fuel interests.”
“A Supreme Court that sides with the fossil fuel industry over the health and safety of its people is anti-life and beyond broken,” John Paul Mejia, a spokesperson for the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said immediately after the decision was announced. “We cannot and will not let our Democratic leaders stand by while an illegitimate court and the GOP go on the offense.”
The Biden administration’s promise to put the nation on a path toward 100% clean electricity by the middle of the next decade may be sunk because of the ruling, as the president’s plan hinged on using tougher regulation to speed up the transition away from fossil fuels like coal.
It was a continuation of moves made by the Obama administration under its “Clean Power Plan,” which never went into effect thanks to endless lawsuits by power companies and Republican-run states, an earlier Supreme Court block, and a repeal by the Trump administration. The current court decision stems from one of those previous lawsuits.
Environmental groups were already skeptical of the scheme even before the Supreme Court’s ruling, however, because the government, even under Biden, has also approved many new oil and gas leases on public lands recently—moves seemingly at odds with the goal of reducing fossil fuel reliance.
Regardless, the entire plan now faces a rethink. Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that “capping carbon dioxide emission at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity” might sound sensible, but that the law does not allow it.
The impact of the court’s decision could go far beyond just emissions controls and sets a precedent for destroying the power of government to regulate almost anything.
Part of a bigger corporate offensive
Among legal and constitutional scholars, the EPA case has been called the “administrative state” case.
The term “administrative state” is a somewhat obscure one outside the circles of political science and public administration scholars, but it’s one Republicans use regularly in their meetings with disdain.
Dwight Waldo, a professor and former government price control official, first coined the term “administrative state” in 1948. He wrote that public servants should be informed, active agents of change dedicated to improving people’s lives and strengthening democratic participation.
He asserted that the orthodox notion of bureaucrats who just mindlessly follow orders from the top was incompatible with democracy. Bureaucrats had a responsibility to serve the public, not just their political masters.
The most important principle of the administrative state idea was that government cannot be run like a business. Democracy, the Constitution, and public interest required adherence to higher criteria than simply watching out for the bottom line or following orders.
Republicans have long detested the notion of such a government and have systematically set out to destroy it. The Trump administration, in particular, took steps to undermine the ability of agencies (like the EPA) to pursue the public interest, and instead wanted them to follow edicts issued by the president or his appointees—essentially, a more dictatorial arrangement.
Enumerating all the cabinet appointments that the incoming President Trump had made at that time, Bannon stated that the people chosen were all “selected for a reason…deconstruction of the administrative state.”
Bannon continued: “Every business leader we’ve had in is saying it’s not just taxes, but it is also the regulation… the way the progressive left runs, if they can’t get it passed, they’re just gonna put in some sort of regulation in…in an agency.” He vowed, “They’re all going to be deconstructed.”
What followed was a shock-and-awe campaign of rapid-fire executive orders, policy guidance memoranda, and a directive to drop two regulations for every new one implemented. Demanding adherence to presidential authority and extreme loyalty on the part of cabinet secretaries and other officials, the Trump White House made it clear that it viewed the entire American government as an instrument to be wielded by the man at the top.
Bureaucrats that don’t obey? They were shown the door. Courts that won’t validate decisions? Pack the judiciary with the most pro-business judges you can find so that you win next time. Total authority and unrestricted executive power was the goal.
Think tanks like the Heritage Foundation provided the intellectual ammunition, publishing claims that the “growth of the administrative state can be traced, for the most part, to the New Deal (and subsequent outgrowths of the New Deal like the Great Society).” Any pro-people policy that has come about since the 1930s was lumped into the trash pile.
And because presidential administrations come and go (though Jan. 6, 2021, showed that the Republicans wanted to do away with even that reality), the ultimate weapon in this war was to be the Supreme Court.
Speaking of Trump’s appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch at the 2017 CPAC meeting, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said the Republicans would use the courts to cement their policies in place for a long time to come: “We’re not talking about a change over a four-year period. We’re talking about a change of potentially 40 years of law.”
Republican strategy comes to fruition
Thursday’s decision to gut the power of the EPA is proof that the GOP-corporate offensive against all government regulations is well underway. This ruling is a goalpost along the route that the extreme right ideologues and servants of big capitalists in the Republican Party want to take the country down.
Today, it is the struggle to reverse climate change which is under attack, but so many other things will follow.
The situation calls for massive mobilization at the polls in November and immediate pressure on elected officials to use the power of new legislation to codify regulatory power and make it resistant to elimination by the courts.
When it comes to the climate, a coalition of over 1,200 environmental groups, People vs. Fossil Fuels, is calling on Biden to use the authority he still has to “declare a climate emergency and stop new fossil fuel leases, exports, pipelines, and other infrastructure today.”
It pointed to the powers of the presidency under the National Emergencies Act and the Defense Production Act, saying Biden could “also halt crude oil exports, stop offshore oil and gas drilling, restrict international fossil fuel investment, and rapidly manufacture and distribute clean and renewable energy systems.”
Hauter, of Food and Water Watch, said that “while this ruling intends to hamstring the federal government’s ability to regulate dangerous emissions, it does not signal the end of climate action.”
State-level regulatory action now moves to the frontline, especially where Democratic governors and legislative majorities prevail. There, in alliance with growing climate justice movements, progress is being made to achieve carbon neutrality. Such efforts now have to expand further.
Hauter vowed that the climate movement “must and will continue to pressure agencies and elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels to enact policies that ensure a swift reduction in climate pollution and an end to the fossil fuel era.” She said not even the Supreme Court can “stand in the way of the fight for a livable planet.”
It won’t stop the right-wing majority on the court from trying, though. Still expected in the coming days is a decision on a major immigrant rights case, and the Supreme Court has also announced it will hear a case that could give Republican state legislatures unchecked power to suppress votes via gerrymandered districts—setting the stage for widespread election fraud in 2024.
It all makes getting out the vote for this fall’s midterms even more essential.
C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People’s World. C.J. Atkins es el editor gerente de People’s World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People’s World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.
In 1988 there was a large march and demonstration in Harlem starting on 125th Street. The lead banner in the march declared, “Africa Called — Cuba Answered.” It was a bold statement in support of Cuban military assistance to Angola, which was under attack from internal counter-revolutionary forces, backed and prodded by the apartheid South African military. In the ensuing battles, nearly 5,000 Cuban soldiers gave their lives for African freedom. With Cuban assistance, the Angolan government defeated the South African army, which led to the consolidation of the Angolan revolution, the independence of Namibia, and, a few years later, the collapse of apartheid South Africa.
Nelson Mandela, on his first visit to Cuba, noted:
What other country has such a history of selfless behavior as Cuba has shown for the people of Africa? How many countries benefit from Cuban health care professionals and educators? How many of these volunteers are now in Africa? What country has ever needed help from Cuba and has not received it? How many countries threatened by imperialism or fighting for their freedom have been able to count on the support of Cuba?
There has also been a long relationship between socialist Cuba and African Americans. Cuba has repeatedly hosted and given safety and support to African American activists who were under violent police assault.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Black Lives Matter Global Movement (BLMGM) would raise their voices in support of the Cuban Revolution. In a statement released last July they wrote:
Black Lives Matter condemns the U.S. federal government’s inhumane treatment of Cubans, and urges it to immediately lift the economic embargo.
This cruel and inhumane policy, instituted with the explicit intention of destabilizing the country and undermining Cubans’ right to choose their own government is at the heart of Cuba’s current crisis. Since 1962, the United States has forced pain and suffering on the people of Cuba by cutting off food, medicine, and supplies, costing the tiny island nation an estimated $130 billion. . .
Cuba has historically demonstrated solidarity with oppressed peoples of African descent, from protecting Black political prisoners, revolutionaries like Assata Shakur through granting her asylum, to supporting Black liberation struggles in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, and South Africa.
One misguided professor, who was born and educated in Cuba but moved to the U.S., added:
The sympathy that BLM expresses for Cuba’s Communist government is steeped in a sense of Cuba as it was in the 1980s — and that Cuba no longer exists. Like the United States, Cuba had a long history of slavery, followed by various forms of institutional racism. The Cuban Communist revolution in 1959 resulted in socioeconomic opportunities for Black and mixed-race Cubans. Resources from the former Soviet Union helped bolster the economy and reduce historical disparities. Cuba under Fidel Castro was a dictatorship, but it’s also true that racial equity in education, life expectancy, and employment improved for a time during his tenure.
What the well-meaning professor seems to ignore, while at the same time acknowledging, is that the Cuban government made great strides toward “racial” equality from 1959 until the 1990s. What limited those strides was the U.S. embargo and constant hostilities against Cuba by the U.S.
There is a long discourse among scholars and activists on racism in Cuba. Most of them, whether pro-Revolution or anti-Revolution, admit that major steps were taken to abolish institutional racism by the Cuban government in its early period. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba entered a “special period,” during which its economy suffered greatly as the U.S. embargo exacted a heightened effect. Slowly, the Cuban economy began to recover due to the expansion of the Cuban tourism industry in the mid- to early 2000s and Obama’s relaxation of the embargo much later.
Then Cuba was hit by two disasters — the Trump administration and the Covid-19 pandemic. The Trump administration resurrected the sanctions that Obama had softened and significantly strengthened the embargo. In Trump’s last week in office, he added 240 additional sanctions — including marking Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism (due to its support of Venezuela), halting remittances, barring U.S. cruise ships from entering Cuba, and clamping down on educational trips. These are estimated to have cost the Cuban economy more than $20 billion.
In addition to the embargo, the U.S. government spends $20 million annually to Cuban “pro-democracy” organizations and another $28 million for the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which operates Radio and TV Marti’s non-stop anti-government propaganda.
Despite the U.S. embargo, which is opposed by nearly every country in the world except Israel, Cuba has achieved a life expectancy of 79.74 years (U.S. = 78.69), a literacy rate of 99.95% (U.S. = 99%), and an unemployment rate of 1.7% (U.S. = 5.8%).
When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, it dramatically increased the impact of the restrictions on the Cuban economy resulting from the embargo. This created the conditions for the Cuban economy to contract. And, as in any economy in crisis, the poorest sections of Cuban society were hit the hardest. That this poor section is probably disproportionately composed of African-descended people is a reality of the long global history of slavery and racism.
It is clear that the U.S. embargo is the major impediment to improving the lives of all Cuban people — especially the African-descended population. Consequently, the central demand for activists in the U.S. must be to end the embargo. We, supporters of the Cuban Revolution, feel that the Cuban people are capable and willing to solve their internal problems. Our task is to ensure that the U.S. government is not acting as an obstacle to that process.
Organizing one’s community to demonstrate against the U.S. embargo of Cuba, working with unions and community groups to educate on the embargo and support Cuba, writing one’s representatives and senators, and calling for an end to U.S. imperialist intervention in other countries, and for peace, are some ways to advance this struggle.
Statement by the African-American Equality Commission, Communist Party, USA, August 5, 2021.
The two struggles have continued for decades, even centuries. Cubans fight to end slavery; gain independence from Spain and the United States; and, for 60 years, protect their socialist revolution. Ruling classes in the United States sought to annex Cuba, then to control Cuba’s economy, and for those 60 years have clamped down on the audacity of Cubans who struggle for independence and socialism.
Justice-seeking peoples in the United States have joined in struggle to defend Cuban independence and/or Cuba’s revolution. This report from Maine takes note of two rainy day rallies on July 25, each of 25 or so people and each one held in protest of the U.S. blockade of Cuba. One was in Bangor, the other in Brunswick.
These protesters and other Maine people know that the blockade is purposed to overthrow of Cuba’s socialist government. The author of a 1960 State Department memo – born in Houlton, Maine – made that perfectly clear.
These Mainers were joining in solidarity with demonstrations carried out on July 25 throughout the United States, for example, in Washington, Seattle, San Francisco, Fresno, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Dallas, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh. In Washington, Cuban-Americans calling for Puentes de Amor (Bridges of Love) gathered with supporters in Lafayette Park to protest the blockade. They had walked from Miami to Washington.
Lots of Maine people know that Cuba is at another watershed moment. Many recall the onset in the early 1990s of Cuba’s “Special Period,” which was resulted from the fall of the Soviet Bloc. The powers in Washington at that time sought to finish off Cuba’s revolution. The “Cuba Democracy Act” of 1992 was their big tool.
Similarly, the Biden presidency now takes advantage of three phenomena: economic and healthcare havoc wrought by the Covid 19 pandemic, the Trump administration’s intensified blockade restrictions, and mounting shortages in Cuba of money and goods essential for human survival.
Now Biden inveighs against supposed autocracy in Cuba. His administration remains silent when elected officials viciously threaten Cuban leaders. He and they follow a script fitted out for anti-government demonstrations like the ones playing out in Cuba on July 11. These surely reflected U.S. financial support provided over decades for internal subversion in Cuba. Accompanying them was a massive social-media assault against Cuba’s government orchestrated from abroad.
U.S. media have long cast a blind eye to the political movements in the United States mobilized on behalf of Cuban independence and Cuba’s revolution. Those rallying in Maine on July 25 were testifying to their relevance now.
In 1992, at the beginning of Cuba’s Special Period, veteran Maine activists traveled to the island. Sensing big troubles ahead for Cuba at the hands of the U.S. government, they formed the Let Cuba Live Committee of Maine. The new organization undertook to educate and activate fellow Mainers.
Let Cuba Live arranged for the Pastors for Peace leader Rev. Lucius Walker Jr, to speak before a large crowd in Monument Square, in Portland, Maine on July 21, 2001 – 20 years and four days prior to the protests reported here.
“In issue after issue, in area after area, Cuba lights the way,” Lucius Walker insisted; “Cuba has established the fact that it is the leader in the world community in the affirming of and guaranteeing the rights of the poor people of this world.”
That was not news for the ruling classes in the United States for whom revolutionary Cuba was a threat. Therefore, as pointed out by Lucius Walker: “if we really want to see the world continue to have hope and possibility for the creation of a new society, we must support Cuba.”
Let Cuba Live of Maine – see www.letcubelive.org – admits to gratification. The slogan that is the group’s name now resonates widely. It’s the title of an appeal to President Biden that, endorsed by 400 prominent activists, may be viewed in a full-page advertisement appearing in the July 23 New York Times. To see the open letter to Biden, go to www.LetCubaLive.com.
The twin rallies putting forth the demand of no more blockade broke new ground in Maine. They gained support from multiple statewide organizations that oppose U.S. imperialism and war-making and/or try to make good on socialist aspirations.
What follows are excerpts from remarks offered by some of the rally participants at talk-sessions that concluded the two affairs. A listing appears below of the organizations claiming commentators and many participants as members.
Here’s Barbara West: “We are not gathered today simply to demand a reduction in the criminal measures the US has taken against Cuba for 61 years. We are here to insist on respect for Cuba as a sovereign country … We insist that land in Guantanamo occupied in defiance of the Cuban people be vacated. … Our respect for Cuba as a sovereign nation, with its people fully able to chart their own path without any US interference, is really our agenda today.”
And Michael Mosely: “I do not believe that there is a difference between a Hispanic family in Maine and a Hispanic family in Cuba. Just like there is no difference between a Black family in Maine and a Black family in Africa. We are all under the same system fighting the same fight.”
And Daniel Carson: “In the over six decades that the United States has enforced such a cruel blockade, the Cuban government has reported that economic losses resulting directly from the blockade total $144.4 billion dollars. These figures are those of 2020. Excluded is an additional $5.4 billion in economic losses this year. When adjusted for dollar depreciation over the life of the blockade the number becomes $1.098 trillion … So when [U. S. leaders] proclaim Cuba to be a failed state or that the Cuban revolution has failed: this is a bold-faced lie. The truth lies in those numbers. That’s why we are here today to say, “End the blockade!”
And Bruce Gagnon: “The US has an MO (modus operandi), a way of repeating its regime change behavior as it desperately attempts to hang-on to its place as ‘king of the hill’. But due to $27 trillion in debt, more than 800 costly military bases around the world, and long-time disinvestment in our own nation, America’s ‘imperial project’ is destined to collapse. US efforts to force regime change in Cuba – like in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia and other nations – are destined to fail.”
And Ed Jurenas: “When the U.S. talks about democracy, it is hypocritical. It does not support the most basic democratic right to self-determination, but viciously opposes it. And in regard to the economic democracy championed by Cuba – free health care, free education, a right to housing, the just distribution of food – the U.S. is silent in its shame. Cuba ascribes to economic democracy, something the U.S. is incapable of practicing.”
Most of the participants in the Maine rallies belonged to one or more of these organizations: the Let Cuba Live Committee of Maine, The Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, Maine Veterans for Peace, Maine Socialist Action, Maine Democratic Socialists of America, and the Maine Communist Party. The latter group had responsibility for organizing the rallies.
Lucius Walker has the last word (July 21, 2001): “We must name the powers. We must stand against the powers. And we must realize that in the course of doing so, we wrestle not just with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers, against spiritual wickedness in high places. We cannot be deterred because they say evil things about us, because they revile us, because they put us in jail. We must continue to march, to work, to struggle, to be in solidarity no matter what obstacles they put in our way, because we are the future hope of the world! “
Javiera Reyes, who is 31 years old, is the new mayor of the Santiago municipality of Lo Espejo in Chile. “I grew up in a home where Salvador Allende was always the good guy,” she told us, “and Augusto Pinochet was a tyrant. That marked my life.” Reyes’s comment reflects the old divides that have convulsed Chile’s politics since General Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’état against former President Salvador Allende of the Popular Unity coalition on Sept. 11, 1973.
Almost 50 years have gone by and yet Chile is still influenced by the legacy of that coup and of the Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted from 1973 to 1990. The May 2021 election that propelled Reyes to the mayor’s office in Lo Espejo also voted in a new constitutional convention to rewrite the Pinochet-era constitution of 1980. Reyes’s victory and the gains made by the left alliance to shape the new constitution suggest that it is Allende’s legacy that will shape the future and not that of Pinochet.
Reyes is a member of the Communist Party of Chile (PCCh), which has rooted itself deeply in Chile’s society over the past 109 years. A PCCh leader—Daniel Jadue—will be the left’s candidate in the presidential election to be held in November 2021. Jadue, like Reyes, is a mayor of a municipality in Chile’s vast capital city of Santiago (a third of Chile’s 18 million people live there). In the May 2021 election, he was re-elected to the mayoralty of Recoleta, which he has governed since 2012.
“There is a historical continuity in [PCCh’s] policy,” Jadue told us, “with the same horizon—updated, of course. No one is thinking of taking up statist projects [again] or socialism as it has been tried, but there is undoubtedly a historical continuity, and we are in one way or another participants in the dream of the people who in the 1970s sought to build a fairer country and who today seek exactly the same thing.”
Vote without fear
Jadue leads in the November 2021 general election polls to replace Chile’s right-wing President Sebastián Piñera. Already, the press has started reporting about the various stances taken by Jadue during his life, particularly his association in the 1980s with Palestinian activism.
The smearing of candidates of the left has become part of the electoral process in Latin America. The extreme-right press in Ecuador said that the left-leaning candidate for president, Andrés Arauz, had taken money from the Colombian left-wing guerrilla group ELN (National Liberation Army). The right-wing press also reported that Peru’s current presidential candidate Pedro Castillo, who is leading by a narrow margin, was similar to Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), which is a Maoist guerrilla insurgency in Peru. Jadue dismisses these claims made against the leftist candidates. “I want my entire record to be visible because I have nothing to hide,” Jadue said when he spoke to us.
The Communists participated in the elections held on May 15 and 16 under the slogan “Vote Without Fear” (Vota Sin Miedo). This slogan comes from a long history, which is part of the party’s legacy. The PCCh was banned, and its members were subjected to persecution over three periods: 1927-1931, 1948-1958, and 1973-1990. Pinochet’s dictatorship killed thousands of Communists, including many key leaders. A swath of Chile’s society was gripped by fear brought about by Allende’s socialism, which was essentially a result of the hatred cultivated during Pinochet’s dictatorship. Even today, years later, it still takes courage to stand with the Communists.
Fear of communism has been diminishing, Reyes told us, because the PCCh elected officials have shown their constituents efficiency and compassion through their governance. Jadue’s Recoleta has become a showcase, with a municipal pharmacy, optical shop, bookstore and record store, open university, and real estate projects operating free of any profit motive under Jadue’s vision as the mayor of the municipality.
Javiera Reyes says that her communism is rooted in her “conception of a municipal government that starts with the universalization of rights and the capacity to create conditions for a good life.” The project of municipal socialism starts with “health, education, and common spaces,” says Reyes. It is a project that is “democratic and open to the community.”
Unlike Chile’s right-wing mayors, the communist mayors in Santiago such as Reyes, Jadue, and Iraci Hassler (who was elected in May 2021 to the mayoralty of Santiago Centro) put the role of women at the core of their policies, including mechanisms to tackle violence against women. They want to create a society without fear in the broadest sense possible.
In 2006, students across Chile protested the privatization of education. Their mass struggle was called the “Penguin Revolution” because of their black-and-white school uniforms. “The Penguin Revolution in 2006 was my first [introduction] to politics,” Reyes told us. Reyes and Hassler both participated in the massive protests in 2011 and 2013 over the inequalities that marked secondary and university education in the country. Reyes joined the PCCh during that period. Other students who are currently Chilean politicians, such as Camila Vallejo and Karol Cariola as well as Hassler, were already Communists.
Student demonstrations came alongside manifestations and strikes by workers from all sectors. Their protests rattled the elite consensus, which since the fall of Pinochet in 1990 had not attempted to write a new constitution for the country or bothered to formulate a path out of neoliberal suffocation.
In October 2019, high school students protested the rise of fares for public transport. This wave of protests, which is ongoing, began to define Chile’s political life. With the slogan “It’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years,” the students have highlighted the need for a new constitution.
A new Chile
Chile has the lowest electoral participation rate in Latin America. After 17 years of dictatorship, trust in the state structures had practically disappeared. Voting was compulsory until 2009, although registration to vote was not compulsory. Young people did not register with the electoral service (Servel). The demand for a new constitution was a wake-up call for the youth. Data shows that more than half of Chile’s young people between 18 and 29 years of age voted in the election, with women constituting 52.9% of the voters.
Women and young people will shape the Constitutional Convention, just as women and young women in particular—such as Reyes and Hassler—have taken over the mayors’ offices. The 155-member Constitutional Convention is filled with young people like Reyes and Hassler, a sizable section of the left. The right wing was unable to win one-third of the convention, which would have given it veto power. This means that the new constitution, which will be drafted in the next nine months, will have a progressive character.
On July 18, Jadue faces a primary against Gabriel Boric, another student leader and now a leader of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front). All indications suggest that Jadue will prevail over Boric and then meet the candidates of the right in November. He will be the third Communist to run for the presidency, following Elías Lafertte Gaviño (1931 and 1932) and Gladys Marín (1999). If the polls are accurate, Jadue will be the first Communist president of Chile.
Letter to the President from CPUSA Maine Club member, Daniel Carson
Dated July 14, 2021
The world is no longer fooled by the lies and manipulations of the imperialist United States. Decade after decade has the world witnessed the violent and murderous regime-change tactics employed by the United States and increasingly are the peoples and nations of the world standing in opposition to these on-going criminal actions.
It is foolish for the United States to believe that the world is incapable of knowing that the color revolution currently underway in Cuba bares all the markings of a United States regime-change operation. The fact is, only the most loyally indoctrinated of United States citizens are incapable to see the truth: that it is neither the Cuban government nor Socialism that is responsible for the ongoing misery of the Cuban people but rather the United States and its criminal actions.
For over 60 years, the United States has maintained an illegal and total economic blockade against Cuba significantly depriving the Cuban people access to food, medicine, oil, currencies, world commodities and markets.
Like a mafia boss, in its enforcement of this criminal blockade, the United States violently threatens and pursues consequences to any nation, business entity, political party or individual person who dare to stand against it. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the world does the United States enforce such a genocidal blockade.
It is this criminal and genocidal blockade for which the whole of the world has demanded an end. Having convened a vote on June 23, 2021, 184 members of the United Nations unified their call for the United States to end its blockade. Even then, it was only the United States and its puppet neo-colony, Israel, who firmly supported this evil.
The Cuban people are a revolutionary people; they will neither surrender their self-sovereignty nor their Socialism to the imperialism and capitalism of the United States. Even now, thousands of revolutionary Cubans have taken to the streets to defend their revolution, their liberation, their Party and their people. The criminal actions of the United States and its puppet actors – the color revolutionaries – are doomed-to-fail.
You’ve claimed to care for the Cuban people. Such a claim demands the burden of proof. It is therefore that you must immediately bring an end the United States’ genocidal blockade of Cuba. You must, further, bring an end to all of the United States’ criminal regime-change policies against Cuba, and to all of the United States’ regime-change policies and programs, worldwide.
Despite the intensified lies and manipulations of the United States’ State Department propaganda campaign against Cuba which can be heard blaring from the talking heads of the 24/7 news media and read in the print-journalism of many United States’ newspapers – despite the use of recycled photos and fabricated stories, the carefully edited video clips and selective reporting – many Americans are standing in solidarity with the revolutionary Cuban people and are lifting our voices in unison with the peoples of the world as we demand:
Today, as we celebrate Juneteenth, we should remember not only the struggle against chattel slavery but the struggle for radical freedom during Reconstruction — snuffed out by the reactionary forces of property and white supremacy.
It’s a funny thing how folks always want to know about the War,” mused Felix Haywood about that central fixation of American memory. Haywood had been born in slavery some fifteen years before the Civil War near San Antonio, Texas. “The war weren’t so great as folks suppose,” he told his interviewer, a member of the Federal Writer’s Project collecting testimony from surviving ex-slaves in the late 1930s. “Sometimes you didn’t knowed it was goin’ on. It was the endin’ of it that made the difference.”
Juneteenth marks the day — June 19, 1865 — that the enslaved people of East Texas at long last received word of their freedom as well as the freedom of a quarter million others in the state. Two months had passed since the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s forces at Appomattox and two and a half years since President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves still held in Confederate-controlled areas “forever free” and pledging the federal government to the recognition and maintenance of their freedom.
Juneteenth has been widely celebrated every year since US general Gordon Granger first made the announcement to a crowd of black and white onlookers in Galveston in June 1865. It remains one of the most powerful currents of emancipationist memory in the United States — a counterdemonstration to the noxious propaganda of the Lost Cause.
By their very nature, commemorations tend to simplify events, to strip away the freighted complexities of the past in search of one more usable, if not celebratory. Juneteenth deserves celebration. But the circumstances of the original Juneteenth also deserve our fullest appreciation, for in that confounding history of emancipation in Texas we might glimpse prophetic outlines of the very meaning of freedom in the post-slave — but far from post-racial — United States.
“Hallelujah Broke Out”
Felix Haywood’s account of isolated south-central Texas reveals less about the Civil War itself than the war that was American slavery. He and others on the ranch found that life “went on jus’ like it always had before the war.” Work, worship, whippings — all meted out as usual.
But the flurry of wartime activity in the trans-Mississippi East infiltrated Texas in other, subtler ways. From time to time, Haywood recalled, “someone would come ’long and try to get us to run up North and be free. We used to laugh at that,” he chuckled, for “there wasn’t no reason to run up North. All we had to do was to walk, but walk South, and we’d be free as soon as we crossed the Rio Grande. In Mexico you could be free” no matter your color. Though Haywood and his family never fled southward, they knew of hundreds who did.
Texas served as a very different sort of beacon. From the 1860 census to June 19, 1865, the enslaved population of Texas nearly doubled. During the war, more than 150,000 enslaved people had been forcibly relocated to the relative safety of Texas, the frontier of the slaveholding Confederacy. Torn from nearby Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, among other states, those enslaved men and women were the rearguard of the massive forced migration enacted in the six decades before the Civil War, a commercial riptide that pulled over a million enslaved men, women, and children toward the cotton kingdom of the lower Mississippi Valley.
As the war unfolded across the South, those fugitive slaveholders who stole themselves and their human chattel westward to Texas merely delayed what was becoming the inevitable, as the concerted actions of enslaved peoples and the United States Army weakened slavery at every turn. Historians estimate that half a million enslaved people absconded from their plantation labor camps during the war; those who remained engaged in what W. E. B. Du Bois famously termed the “general strike.”
Having heard Haywood’s rather unexciting account of the war in remote San Antonio, his interviewer felt pressed to inquire how the former slave knew “the end of the war had come.”
“How did we know it?” the freedman asked incredulously, “Hallelujah broke out. . . . Soldiers, all of a sudden, was everywhere — comin’ in bunches, crossin’ and walkin’ and ridin’. Everyone was a-singin’. We was all walkin’ on golden clouds.” Haywood recited one of the anthems heard that day:
Union forever, Hurrah, boys, hurrah! Although I may be poor, I’ll never be a slave — Shoutin’ the battle cry of freedom.
Up to that point in his interview, Haywood’s account of the Civil War was distant, even dismissive. But the announcement of freedom — of Juneteenth — forever punctuated his memory. “Everybody went wild,” he suddenly exclaimed. “We all felt like heroes and nobody had made us that way but ourselves. We was free. Just like that.” Right away, the erstwhile slaves of Texas “started on the move. They seemed to want to get closer to freedom, so they’d know what it was — like it was a place or a city.”
The landing of US forces at the port of Galveston in June 1865 underscored what the formerly enslaved already knew — and what historians are only beginning to fully appreciate: freedom relied not simply on declarations, laws, and amendments in distant Washington, but on the force of arms. The Juneteenth announcement required enforcement by the 1,800 federal soldiers assigned to the state to make freedom meaningful for the freedpeople of Texas.
The Meaning of Freedom
Though black people had long nurtured their own understandings of what freedom might entail, in June 1865 the very legality and defensibility of their newfound status was anything but certain. Scarcely two weeks had passed since the surrender of Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith’s division in Galveston, though the fighting did not so much disappear as devolve into rampant guerilla warfare and anti-black terrorism.
Lincoln had fallen to an assassin’s bullet two months prior to the Juneteenth announcement, succeeded by the embodiment of racist and reactionary Unionism, Andrew Johnson. The Thirteenth Amendment, which formally abolished involuntary servitude, had passed both houses of Congress in January but was still in the process of state ratification. Newspapers in Texas were predicting that slavery would survive in the state at least another ten years thanks to northern industrialists’ rapacious desire for cotton.
Entering the fray, the official announcement on June 19 might not have settled the matter of emancipation, but it did contain the outlines of a new order. General Granger’s declaration informed “the people of Texas that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.”
But as the army of liberation turned into an army of occupation — and one imperfectly dedicated to protecting the rights and lives of black Southerners — commanders like Granger stressed that freedom came with many strings attached. “The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” In other words: work for your old masters, and don’t gather together, especially at places, to borrow Haywood’s phrase, “closer to freedom.”
Making good on the implied threat of the June 19 proclamation, the Galveston mayor, with the tacit approval of the provost marshal, rounded up black refugees and runaways and returned them to their owners. Others were dragooned into working for the army.
“With the proclamation of freedom came a practical lesson in its duties,” the Galveston Daily News reported on June 22. “On Monday morning, a guard of Federal soldiers scoured the streets,” rounding up every “loose” freedman “they could lay their hands on, to go to the country and cut wood, man steamboats, or assist in such labor as was necessary for the army. A panic soon seized the new class thus conscripted,” the reporter jeered, “but the quick feet of the white soldiers and the persuasive and pointed argument of the bayonet brought them to a sense of their obligation to support the government which had given them their freedom.”
The new order was to be based on wage labor. But because of the severe cash shortage throughout the post–Civil War South, many planters were unable to pay wages; sharecropping thus emerged as a compromise between wage slavery and actual slavery. Black farmers would rent their land from white planters and pay for it using a portion of their crop come harvest time, usually a quarter to a half.
Employers were free to void the contracts for virtually any “offense,” seizing thereafter the entire harvest and evicting the black sharecropping family from their land, exposing them to vagrancy laws and the dragnet of the convict lease system, what has aptly been called “slavery by another name.” Such was the vaunted ideal of contract freedom. Sharecropping emerged as a compromise between wage slavery and actual slavery.
It took a while for news of emancipation to reach black Texans in the most remote parts of the state — and even longer for it to register with their enslavers. Susan Merritt, enslaved in northeast Texas, reckoned it must have been September when she heard the news. As Merritt recalled in her own Depression-era interview, one day while she and others were picking cotton a stranger rode up to the house — “a government man,” with a “big book and a bunch of papers” — and demanded to know why the planter hadn’t surrendered ownership of his workers. It was from this man — likely an official of the Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal agency designed to oversee the transition to freedom and market relations — that Merritt first learned she was free.
Yet she and others were still compelled to work for their old enslaver for “several months after that.” Oft-enacted threats of gunning down deserters doubtless kept many on the plantation. The relative impotency of the US Army and Freedmen’s Bureau emboldened planters. Freedpeople found themselves as precarious tenants, locked into labor contracts that looked more like debt peonage than the freedom they had long envisioned.
As the Freedmen’s Bureau began to establish itself in Texas that fall, reports circulated that its officials were planning to consult with local planters trained in the “management” of black workers — a far cry from the agency’s founding mission. The original charter had included provisions to distribute hundreds of thousands of acres of land that had been abandoned by or confiscated from rebel planters over the course of the war.
By the spring of 1865, the Freedmen’s Bureau controlled roughly 900,000 acres of “government land,” enough for nearly twenty-three thousand black homesteads. General William Tecumseh Sherman, moreover, had issued Field Order No. 15 back in January, arranging for the parceling out of some 485,000 acres to freedpeople in the South Carolina Sea Islands and Lowcountry in 40-acre plots, land on which the general had ordered “no white person whatever . . . will be permitted to reside.”
But the counterrevolution came in October 1865. President Johnson unceremoniously revoked Sherman’s order and commanded the head of the Freedmen’s Bureau to denationalize the government’s lands — returning it to the rebel planters Johnson had recently pardoned en masse.
In the emancipated South, then, black dispossession went fist in glove with the coerced imposition of “free” labor. At the same time, Northern capitalists and federal officials conspired to prevent widespread black landownership — the very thing freedpeople almost universally regarded as the precondition for freedom in a post-slave society. One sixty-year-old freedman of the Mississippi Valley commented to a Northern journalist shortly after the war, “What’s de use of being free if you don’t own land enough to be buried in?”
From Reconstruction to Jim Crow
Black-led protests during the final months of 1865 were widespread, though on small scales and usually in response to specific inciting confrontations. One ex–slaveholding planter complained to the Waco Register that although several of his fellow planters deigned to sign contracts with their new black employees, he estimated that three-fourths of the freedpeople in his area “look forward to Christmas as the dawn of the millennium, when meat and bread will come as a matter of course.”
Many black families indeed refused to sign the loathsome contracts for the coming season, waiting on the promise of land redistribution. Among white Southerners, especially of the planter class, fevered rumors spread of an impending Haitian-style revolution. The pervasive fear in the winter of 1865–66 was soon given a label: the Christmas Insurrection Scare. But in the end, it proved to be just that. Promises broken, freedpeople reluctantly entered into labor contracts.
The freedpeople of Texas had plenty of reason to be fearful, however, as some thirty-eight thousand Confederate parolees returned with a vengeance. In addition to raiding the treasury in Austin, the rebels of the failed Confederate state harassed, brutalized, and killed freedpeople at will. As Du Bois noted in Black Reconstruction, the pervasive anti-government, anti-black terrorism so widespread across the South was perhaps the worst in Texas. Simply acting free was grounds for white retaliation. The occupying US Army, meanwhile, lacked either the capacity or will to make black freedom meaningful. In any event, the return to peacetime in 1871 and the swift demobilization of the army spelled disaster for the formerly enslaved.
At the twilight of slavery, then, a new system of dependency and precarity greeted freedpeople in Texas and across the emancipated South — vastly different from the freedom dreams of the formerly enslaved. For their part, the enslavers-turned-employers routinely griped about perceived obstinacy of their black workers — that is, their resistance to being rendered docile vectors of their employers’ will. They complained that “labor is incompatible with their ideas of freedom.” Threats and orders from on high appeared to register little with them. One planter, in a letter to the Dallas Daily Herald, sneered that “they do not believe anything that we tell them or which we may read from papers that is at variance with their ideas of freedom.” It was partly a matter of trust, but even more so a matter of political struggle and conviction that kept them at odds with their exploiters. At the twilight of slavery, a new system of dependency and precarity greeted freedpeople in Texas and across the emancipated South — vastly different from the freedom dreams of the formerly enslaved.
After the fall of Reconstruction, that great experiment in biracial democracy, black workers channeled their organizing efforts into various associations such as the Colored Farmers’ Alliance, formed in Houston County, Texas, in 1886. Then came the ascent of the Populist Party in the early 1890s, which depended — especially in the former slaveholding states — on the mobilization of black voters. Texas in particular witnessed a surge of black support for the Populist Party and soon became a Populist stronghold.
The Populist Party was the only meaningfully biracial political party that existed. It was also the only party that spoke to the needs of hundreds of thousands of black sharecroppers in the benighted South.
In the words of C. Vann Woodward, Populism offered to working-class blacks and whites “an equalitarianism of want and poverty, the kinship of common grievance and a common oppressor.” Under unprecedented threat, the two established parties conspired to race-bait and red-bait the Populist Party to death. They succeeded. By the mid-1890s the Democratic Party had cynically adopted a few planks of the Populist platform, coopted some of its leaders, and cast black voters into the electoral oblivion of the increasingly disenfranchised South.
What Juneteenth Means Today
“We knowed freedom was on us,” Felix Haywood recalled in the late 1930s, “but we didn’t know what was to come with it. We thought we was goin’ to get rich like the white folks. We thought we was goin’ to be richer than the white folks, ’cause we was stronger and knowed how to work. . . . But it didn’t turn out that way. We soon found out that freedom could make folks proud but it didn’t make ’em rich.”
Juneteenth is worth celebrating for its promised end to human bondage, but its history also reminds us of the “counterrevolution of property” waged against the revolution that was the American Civil War — a conflict that ultimately freed four million black people once legally held as property, a conflict wherein more than 140,000 formerly enslaved men enlisted and countless other black men and women lent their fullest devotion.
It’s common to say nowadays that the Civil War is unfinished. We can, after all, readily point to the ubiquitous battles over so-called Civil War monuments (better understood as monuments to Jim Crow that merely adopt the iconography of the war). But the most enduring legacy of the Civil War is not symbolic or cultural but substantive and economic. Not only did sharecropping prevail into the 1960s, but the particular formulation of freedom exacted upon black people in the emancipated South can be said to weigh like a nightmare on the living, to borrow Marx’s phrase.
Over the past year of the pandemic, political leaders on both sides of the aisle spoke and acted like modern-day Gordon Grangers, brandishing the freedom to work and the threat that we “will not be supported in idleness.” The meager stimulus checks, barely a few weeks’ worth of subsistence for most families, made good on this threat.
So did conservatives’ shameless assaults on unemployment benefits, which they roundly denounced as disincentives to work. Like the ex-slaveholding planters of old, they betrayed a bone-deep belief in the natural laziness of the working class and an unstinting opposition to a different vision of freedom. To that end, too, they devoted themselves to austerity and anti-distributive economics, to incapacitating the welfare state while ramping up the punitive one — and setting it against black-led protests for something closer to approximating the promise of “absolute equality.”
“It was the endin’ of it that made the difference,” Felix Haywood said of the war. This Juneteenth, let’s remember how slavery ended, and how freedom remained — and remains — elusive. And that nobody can make us free but ourselves.
Last Thursday, US President Joe Biden signed legislation establishing June 19, “Juneteenth,” as a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. The law, passed with overwhelming support from both capitalist parties, went into effect immediately. The holiday was first officially marked on Friday, since June 19 itself came on a weekend.
The final emancipation of slaves, the culmination of the Civil War—what historians have aptly called the Second American Revolution—cost the lives of more than 350,000 Union soldiers. The destruction of the slave oligarchy in the US South was an event of immensely progressive significance, not just for American, but for world history.
Amidst the endless media commentary on the official marking of the holiday, however, there is no serious historical examination, either of the emancipation of the slaves in 1865 or its revolutionary implications for the present.
Juneteenth celebrates the date in 1865 when enslaved black people in Texas learned that they had been freed. This came over two months after the surrender of Confederate forces by Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in far away Virginia and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln five days later by the racist southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth in Washington D.C. In a legal sense, the slaves’ freedom had come earlier still, through the Emancipation Proclamation, which liberated slaves in rebel-controlled territory and went into effect on January 1, 1863. The Thirteenth Amendment, which was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified by the states in December, abolished slavery everywhere in the American union.
The masters attempted to keep slaves in the dark about all of this. But on the morning of June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston, Texas to take command of more than 2,000 union troops, with the aim of enforcing the emancipation of Texas’ enslaved population and ensuring a peaceful transition of power from the slavocracy to the federal government. With his announcement of General Order No. 3, Granger dissolved slavery in the last Confederate state where it remained effective.
The order read:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.
With these matter-of-fact words the Union general crystallized the revolutionary content of the Civil War—the destruction of an entire social order and the freeing of the slaves—but also the stark reality of the new order. Four million workers were no longer the property of others, yes, but they had no property of their own either. They were now free to sell their labor power, perhaps to their former masters.
Notwithstanding its limitations, the former slaves in Galveston celebrated Granger’s announcement. The end of slavery at the point of Union bayonets was an enormous advance, and the slaves knew it. These “freedmen,” as they were called, did not sneer at the Civil War or Lincoln as the contemporary peddlers of racialist politics do. On June 19, 1866, one year after the announcement, the freedmen organized the first of what became the annual celebration of “Jubilee Day,” now commonly known as Juneteenth. Later, the holiday moved out of rural east Texas with the sons and daughters of the slaves as they went from country to city, and from sharecropping to wage labor.
None of these issues are even broached in the commentary on the significance of Juneteenth. In a political climate obsessed with racial identity, the occasion of Juneteenth has been usurped to advance racialist interpretations of the holiday.
New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie summed up the conceptions that are being promoted around Juneteenth in a column published one year ago, “Why Juneteenth matters.” According to Bouie, “It was black Americans who delivered on Lincoln’s promise of ‘a new birth of freedom.’” He writes, “Neither Abraham Lincoln nor the Republican Party freed the slaves… Who freed the slaves? The slaves freed the slaves.” Bouie’s article was aimed to buttress Nikole Hannah-Jones’ claim, made in her lead essay of the discredited 1619 Project, that black Americans “fought alone” in their struggle for emancipation and civil rights.
A more recent comment on the same theme came on Friday in the Atlantic, in an article by Daina Ramey Berry, chair of the history department at the University of Texas at Austin, titled “The truth about Black freedom.” Responding to the question, “What is the meaning of Juneteenth?” Berry answers by diminishing the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. She argues that “self-liberated” black people “continuously claimed their freedom, in every historical moment, always preceding and precipitating movements by governments, institutions, and corporations.”
The claim that the slaves “freed themselves” makes the history of the Civil War incomprehensible. If slaves were able to simply free themselves, why did they not do so in, say, 1750, rather than 1863–1865? Why was the Civil War necessary at all? Do Berry and Bouie believe the old “Lost Cause” myth that the Civil War was a mistaken struggle waged between “brothers,” to which slavery was only tangentially related? And, if the slaves freed themselves, why was it necessary for General Granger to enter Galveston with an army, some two months after Appomattox, to “deliver the news,” as Bouie absurdly puts it?
To claim that slaves freed themselves diminishes the horrors of the system of chattel slavery itself, which was upheld with a staggering level of violence. The abolition of this system required a civil war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands, until, as Lincoln put it in his Second Inaugural Address, “every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”
In reality, the defeat of the wealthiest and most powerful slaveholding class on the planet was inconceivable without the victory of Lincoln at the head of a political party that called for the destruction of human bondage. Lincoln’s victory, and the threat it posed to slavery, was indeed the reason why the southern states seceded, as was spelled out in their secession resolutions and the Confederate constitution. Even more crucially, the victory of the Union would have been inconceivable without mass support in the North, the endurance of the Union army, the resistance of slaves in the South, and even the opposition of slaveless whites to secession, as historian Victoria Bynum and others have shown. And it was Lincoln’s Proclamation, as Marx explained at the time, that gave the conflict a definite social revolutionary character.
Like those alive during the Civil War, we live in a time of irreconcilable conflict. A similar number of American workers died from COVID-19 in one year as Union and Confederate soldiers died over four years of bloody conflict. Meanwhile, the stock markets continue to break records and the rich have seen their wealth skyrocket.
Terrified of the explosion it is conjuring, the American ruling class fears the past nearly as much as the present. The essential purpose of the current campaign for the re-writing of American history is to replace the dynamics of class and class conflict—the slave system was, in the end, a system of labor exploitation—with a racial interpretation that does not permit “whites” to have been anything other than oppressors of “blacks.” In this “new narrative,” the role of Lincoln, along with white Union soldiers, must be diminished or written out.
The emancipation of the slaves in the Civil War, like the American Revolution of 1776, deserves to be celebrated. But class conscious workers in the United States, and the world over, must not allow the revolutionary significance of the emancipation of four million slaves to be usurped for the defense of capitalism.
In honor of Pride Month, it’s important to highlight the working-class roots of the LGBTQ liberation movement in the United States. While a popular show like RuPaul’s Drag Race has made it to mainstream television, appearing on VH1 and Paramount+ and streaming endlessly on Netflix, we cannot forget where LGBTQ culture came from. Much of what is now seen as everyday gay pop culture and lingo has roots in the Black and brown transgender-dominated ballroom scene of New York City.
A lot of what passes as mainstream (middle class) white LGBTQ culture in gay bars across the United States today simply wouldn’t exist without the pioneering experience of the working-class ballroom scene led by trans women of color.
The LGBTQ ballroom scene in New York City has its roots in the 1960s and ’70s. According to urban legend, famed drag performer Paris Dupree brought a copy of Vogue magazine to a Harlem ballroom scene, turned through its pages, and began imitating the poses that white celebrities made in the glossy photos. And thus, a new dance form was born: voguing.
Soon enough, “houses,” or chosen families of Black and brown LGBTQ youth across Harlem, Washington Heights, and the Bronx, formed as their biological families rejected them for living their truth. Homeless transgender women and gay/bisexual men forced to make a living by turning to sex work were welcomed into these houses and taught to “walk” and vogue in the ballroom scene as a form of entertainment and self-expression.
As the number of ballroom houses grew, so did the “categories” that entertainers walked and danced in. For example, the category known as “Butch Queen Vogue Femme” was (mostly) men voguing in a feminine manner against other dancers in that same category. The same would go for the category known as “Face,” where individuals of all gender identities compete to show how confident they are with their beauty and structure by walking down the runway selling it to judges.
One particular member of the ballroom scene known for his performance in the “butch queen vogue femme” category and star of the first season of HBO Max’s hit show Legendary, Justin “Twilight” Escada, sat down with People’s World to discuss a bit of ballroom history and their role in the contemporary ballroom scene.
“I was 24-years-old when I walked my first ball as a member of the House of Escada,” Twilight says. “I come from humble beginnings. I was raised in Nashua, New Hampshire, by a single working-class mother and have been attending balls in New York City since I was a teenager… I had watched America’s Best Dance Crew on MTV as a teenager and that’s where my desire to vogue was born. I was deeply inspired by Leiomy Maldonado and Prince Mugler on this particular television show.”
Leiomy Maldonado, a well-known icon in the ballroom scene, starred alongside her now co-star, Dashaun Wesley, on America’s Best Dance Crew in 2010 as members of Vogue Evolution, a Black and Latinx dance team which exposed ballroom to mainstream culture for the first time in nearly 20 years. (The first being Madonna’s 1990 release of her hit single, Vogue, and Jennie Livingston’s documentary Paris is Burning.)
Twilight taught themself to vogue after watching America’s Best Dance Crew and the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. Twilight eventually found themself rooming with London Escada, the regional New England “mother” of the House of Escada, in Boston. Escada asked Twilight to officially join the house, which was originally called the House of Evangelista (coincidently, the same name used for the house of the protagonists on the FX and Netflix series Pose) founded in 1996. Ballroom houses are often named after fashion icons or designer name brands. For example, Linda Evangelista was a model for the brand Escada, hence the connection between the two names of the house to which London and Twilight belong.
Twilight helped teach vogue classes together with London Escada at Emerson College in Massachusetts and made the cover of the Boston Globe, a feat which gained them the attention of a talent scout looking for dancers for the HBO Max ballroom dance competition show Legendary, which was filmed during the first three months of 2020 just before the pandemic. The House of Escada made it to the top three and was recognized by the judges for being the most family-like house in terms of their respect, love, and relationship to one another.
“I feel honored to have been on the show and to have been a part of a culture and movement founded by Black and brown transgender women. I am a guest in the ballroom community for being a white kid from New England, but seeing all of the love and support for me and my house has really been a humbling moment that has reassured me of my career and proven to me that I’m a part of something and accepted,” Twilight told the World.
When asked about what they would say to young LGBTQ folks who feel oppressed, shy, silenced, or embarrassed about who they are, especially if they are inspired or interested in ballroom culture, Twilight replied: “There is support waiting for you. Find your way to it. Live your truth. Be 100% yourself. It will take time, but you are not alone, and we find strength together in this struggle.”
This Pride Month, we must reflect on where the LGBTQ movement came from and how it has evolved over time. While white-dominated gay bars often sport their blonde-wigged drag queens and Madonna songs, we must remember that contemporary mainstream LGBTQ culture wouldn’t exist as it is without those of the ballroom community who came first and opened the door. We must honor their memory and continue their legacy.
As Twilight Escada put it, “Ballroom has a space for everybody, even categories for cis-gender women…. It’s a space where we can be who we are and while the struggles against racism and homophobia and transphobia are separate, they come together in ballroom.”
Correction: In the first published version of this article, there were a few misspellings of names. They have now been corrected. People’s World apologizes for the error.