Opinion: This American For-Profit Healthcare System Would Just as Soon Kill You as Look at You / by Richard Eskow

To this system, it doesn’t matter whether a person lives or dies as long as it gets paid. That’s why our healthcare costs are so high, even though our life expectancy is so low.

When I was growing up in the Rust Belt, there was a phrase people would use to describe an unusually vicious or cold-blooded kid in the neighborhood (and there were a few). “He’d just as soon kill you as look at you,” they would say.

Our healthcare system is the most direct killer of all. It is designed to be indifferent to human suffering, to life and death.

I thought of that phrase when a graph went around recently on left-leaning social media comparing life expectancy and health care costs in the United States with those in other industrialized countries. It went viral, even though the information it contained has been widely discussed for years. That’s the power of a well-crafted image.

Why are our costs so much higher and our health care outcomes so much worse? There are a number of reasons, but the most important one is: our health financing system is sociopathic. That’s not hyperbole. Ours is a system that would, quite literally, “just as soon kill you as look at you.”

I found a graph on U.S. life expectancy that was produced by Max Roser, who runs a website called Our World in Data (ourworldindata.org).  

About this graph:

  • It doesn’t include the disabilities, loss of productivity, economic stagnation, and poor quality of life created our inferior health system.
  • It doesn’t break out the vast disparities in American healthcare outcomes by race or class.
  • It ends in 2018, so it doesn’t include the more than one million people who have died so far from Covid-19 in this country, much less those who died elsewhere.
  • Nor does it include the billions of dollars the government directed to private pharmaceutical companies and other vendors during the pandemic, only to have them overcharge us for the products they then developed at public expense.

And remember: when we talk about longevity, we’re not just talking about people losing the last few years of life..that’s tragic enough. But infant and child mortality bring down the curve, too, as does premature death at all ages.

Racial Disparities

During the decades covered by this graph, Black infant mortality rates were 2.5 times that of Whites. Race is a longtime predictor of health outcomes. These statistics, which I prepared for Bernie Sanders before a Baltimore speech in 2016, are all too representative of Black America’s experience:

  • If you’re born in Baltimore’s poorest neighborhood, your life expectancy is almost 20 years shorter than if you’re born in its richest neighborhood.
  • 15 Baltimore neighborhoods have lower life expectancies than North Korea. Two of them have higher infant mortality than Palestine’s West Bank.
  • Baltimore teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 face poorer health conditions and a worse economic outlook than those in economically distressed cities in Nigeria, India, China, and South Africa, according to a 2015 report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Here’s another statistic: Black children are seven to ten times more likely to die of asthma than white children. That’s one I take personally, since I nearly died of asthma myself as a child (despite being white) and it’s a terrible way to go.

I could muster more facts and figures, but you get the idea. The racialized nature of the American healthcare system—which is instrumentalized through economic discrimination—both disables and kills. That’s why, since the arrival of Covid-19, age-adjusted statistics show that Black Americans have been especially hard hit, with death rates that are approximately 67% higher than those of Whites and approximately 2.2 times higher than those of the group with the lowest adjusted death rates (Asian Americans).

Class Kills

White America is catching up, at least its poorer neighborhoods. “Deaths of despair”—suicide, opioid addiction, and alcoholism—were ravaging lower-income White American men even before the pandemic, contributing to the USA’s declining life expectancy (as seen in the graph above).

A paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that living in an area with high economic inequality was, like race, a strong predictor of Covid deaths.  In 2020, nearly 46,000 people in the United States killed themselves. White men, who make up 30 percent of the population, committed 70 percent of the suicides.

Class is a killer.

Indifferent to Suffering

Our healthcare system is the most direct killer of all. It is designed to be indifferent to human suffering, to life and death. To this system, it doesn’t matter whether a person lives or dies as long as it gets paid. That’s why our healthcare costs are so high, even though our life expectancy is so low.

Medical providers and institutions get paid for the services they provide, whether you live or die. The more services they provide, the more money they make. Health insurers operate under an even more perverse set of incentives. Their rates are based on the overall volume of services expected, which they then mark up. Their business practices are designed to shift as much cost as possible to the patient, while at the same time restricting the patient’s freedom to choose. They drive patients to providers who accept the insurance company’s low rates and agree to its restrictive rules about medical care.

That system is designed to be expensive. Let’s say you’re paying for a plan with a $5,000 deductible. As Sarah Kliff and Josh Katz documented for the New York Times, a colonoscopy at the University of Mississippi Medical Center will cost you $1,463 with a Cigna plan and $2,144 with an Aetna plan. If, on the other hand, you have no insurance at all, that colonoscopy will cost you “only” $782.

Kliff also reported on the case of a couple whose baby died while in the hospital. Although they had insurance through Cigna, the couple subsequently received a bill for $257,000 in what was described as “a dispute between a large hospital and a large insurer, with the patient stuck in the middle.”  This system is indifferent to the trauma it inflicts on patients or their survivors.

It’s About the Incentives

Outcomes are also a matter of indifference. People are billed, no matter what happens. One study found that the average cost of treating accidents in the United States with fatal outcomes is $6,880 if the patient dies in the emergency room and $41,570 if they die in the hospital.

Some historians claim that ancient court physicians in Asia were paid for every month their patients remained healthy. That may or may not be a myth. What is definitely not a myth is that, in many publicly-funded health systems worldwide, health professionals are paid by salary and not by volume, while hospitals are given a fixed (or “global”) budget to provide care. That creates less of an incentive for “churning” patients and more of an incentive to focus on patient care.

That’s the kind of system we should have. Instead, we have a system where they charge $2,144 for a colonoscopy and $41,570 for an unsuccessful treatment. That’s a system where they’d just as soon kill you as look at you. It doesn’t matter. They make money either way.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Richard (RJ) Eskow is a freelance writer. Much of his work can be found on eskow.substack.com. His weekly program, The Zero Hour, can be found on cable television, radio, Spotify, and podcast media. He is a senior advisor with Social Security Works.

Common Dreams, August 3, 2022, https://www.commondreams.org/

What Will It Take to End Violence Against Native Women? / by Mary Kathryn Nagle, Emma Lower

Native women wear red at the National Congress of American Indians 76th annual convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on October 22, 2019, to call attention to the need to pass the Violence Against Women Act. Image: Kevin Abourezk/Indianz.Com

The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is an important step, but activist Mary Kathryn Nagle argues that only full restoration of Indigenous sovereignty will stop the epidemic.

Mary Kathryn Nagle, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is one of the country’s most prominent lawyers, often appearing in court to advocate for the rights of Indigenous people. She is also a well-known playwright, and her stage work explores many of the same themes that have animated her legal career, including the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women.

More than 4 in 5 Native women have reported being the victims of violence. For 97 percent of Native women who’ve experienced violence, a non-Native was the perpetrator (over 50 percent of Native women are married to non-Native men). In some counties, Native women face murder rates more than 10 times the national average. Until recently, tribal nations were limited in what they could do to address this epidemic. While Indigenous legal authority predates the United States, and in most cases was provisioned by U.S. treaties with tribal nations, courts and other legal authorities chipped away at it until Native legal authority over non-Natives was revoked by the 1978 Supreme Court case Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe. This has meant that tribes lack the authority to prosecute non-Natives who commit violent crimes on tribal lands. And U.S. legal authorities often decline to prosecute: in 2019, federal prosecutors declined about 35 percent of cases referred to them, and perpetrators are not always held accountable by state governments.

In recent years, though, two rather remarkable things happened to reverse this trend: in the landmark Supreme Court case McGirt v. Oklahoma (2020), the Court ruled that because Congress had never formally modified the U.S. treaty with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (MCN), much of eastern Oklahoma was in fact the MCN’s reservation. It was, therefore, still “Indian Country,” to use the outmoded argot of the law. This ruling amplified the power of the 2013 federal Violence Against Women Act, which granted tribal authority over non-Native people who commit sexual and domestic violence crimes on tribal lands. These two legal sea changes, taken together, represent a potentially monumental shift in the legal recourse afforded to Native women who are the victims of violence. They have not been embraced by all, though: in Oklahoma, farmers, oil and gas developers, and business owners have fought the McGirt ruling. In a follow-up case to McGirt (Oklahoma v. Castro Huerta), the State of Oklahoma has asked that the Court grant the state criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed against Native victims on tribal lands at the expense of tribal sovereignty. Whichever way the Court rules will set a precedent for similar cases nationwide.

The Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized in March 2022, with language that further expanded tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Natives. In this interview, Nagle explores the implications of these monumental changes, and explains why tribal jurisdiction makes Native women safer.

Emma Lower: Justice Gorsuch opened the McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling by writing “on the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise.” This was a landmark ruling; you’ve likened it to Brown v. Board (1954) in terms of the scale of the change the Court is enacting. What makes McGirt a landmark case? Why does it matter for Indigenous sovereignty throughout the United States?

Mary Kathryn Nagle: McGirt was an exceptional instance of the Court ruling in favor of tribal sovereignty, rather than against it. Those of us who practice Indian law understand the law, the Constitution, and other legal doctrines, but we’re used to the reality of having the outcome of cases circumvent all of those to rule in favor of the white expectation that tribal authority be diminished. What makes McGirt so epic is that the Court just applied the law. It shocked most Oklahomans; up until now if the state or a white property owner asked for diminishment of tribal sovereignty or tribal property ownership, then that was usually the way the Court went.

My grandfathers worked on the landmark 1832 case Worcester v. Georgia in which the Court held that states did not have legal authority over Native land. But ever since then, we have become used to losing in the Supreme Court. We’re used to the Court bending over backward to reach the outcome where the tribal nation loses and whoever’s on the other side of the v. wins. There’s just so much erasure of Native people today in our tribal nations. A lot of people growing up within the borders of the Creek Nation reservation in Oklahoma were shocked following McGirt to learn that they lived on Native land. They had no idea. But it always has been.

We’re seeing a shift toward upholding tribal sovereignty, and I think it’s a good shift. It’s a shift that will actually benefit everyone. I think for many of us, seeing the Supreme Court simply apply the law and not make up fancy exceptions to get around the law was really impactful and moving.

EL: What are the effects of McGirt, and how are authorities responding to McGirt so far?

MKN: The Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to mean that once a treaty is ratified and creates a reservation for a tribal nation, that reservation can only be disestablished by Congress. In this case, Congress has never disestablished the Creek Nation reservation, but Oklahoma asked the Court to make an exception. The Court, however, decided that the law does not allow that; only Congress has the constitutional authority to disestablish a reservation created by treaty. In many ways it is a boring separation of powers case—the Court decided it just doesn’t have the authority necessary to disestablish the reservation. It’s just the law applied.

Yet the propaganda that Oklahoma has put out argues that McGirt has created a public safety nightmare and that now no one in Oklahoma will be safe because Tribal Nations won’t have the capacity to prosecute all of the cases. This is false, but Oklahoma wants everyone to believe it. The official response has a lot to do with the fact that the oil and gas companies are the most concerned by McGirt because now their extensive operations in Oklahoma are subject to tribal authority and they have decided (arguably without any rational basis) that tribal sovereignty is somehow antithetical to economic development. They’re giving money to the governor and to the other officials in Oklahoma who are championing this narrative of public danger, and I think they’re right that the public safety concern is their best PR angle for drumming up a groundswell of public sentiment against McGirt. It’s not a great talking point to publicize that oil and gas companies want to be able to do whatever they want on tribal lands without the consent of the tribal nations. So they’re really trying to convince people that they are no longer safe. The problem they face, though, is that they have no empirical data or evidence to back it up.

EL: In your 2018 play Sovereignty, the Cherokee lawyer, Sarah Ridge Polson, says of her non-Native husband and abuser, “If you can erase the sovereignty over my body, you can erase the sovereignty of my nation.” How do tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction protect Indigenous women from the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women?

MKN: The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as reauthorized in 2013 restored tribal criminal jurisdiction only in “Indian Country”—a specific legal term Congress has used to define Native land. And this makes sense: the Cherokee Nation can’t exercise criminal jurisdiction in the State of Washington, just like the State of Washington can’t exercise criminal jurisdiction in the State of New York. But because “Indian Country” legally refers to land deemed a “reservation,” that means that if the Court had decided in McGirt to disestablish the Creek Nation reservation, the Creek Nation would not have been able to exercise this authority granted by VAWA to prosecute non-Indians who abuse their Native partners throughout the entire Creek Nation Reservation. This, by the way, isn’t limited to women—it protects men who are abused by their partners, too. If the Court had made the exception to the law that Oklahoma requested, there would be no reservation, making it very difficult for tribal nations to prosecute—ultimately, that would mean that more of these violent crimes against Native women would not be prosecuted under the tribal criminal jurisdiction restored by VAWA.

Beyond that, tribal nations have a cultural understanding that women are sacred. We understand that you can’t have a nation without women—women give birth to the next generation of citizens. That’s why the U.S. military targeted Native women. They knew that if they wiped out Native women, there would be no more Native nations. It’s a military tactic that has been used all around the world. It’s horrific whenever militaries rape and kill women, to destroy another nation, but it is used, and it was used here on this soil, and Native nations understand what’s at stake when their women suffer the kind of violence that our Native women are suffering today. Any time we’re talking about whether we’re going to maintain, protect, or preserve tribal sovereignty or jurisdiction to protect Native women from violence, we are talking about protecting the continued existence of a tribal nation. Sovereignty and safety for Native women are intertwined.

EL: One of the reasons you have argued that state criminal jurisdiction is harmful to Indigenous women is because perpetrators are under-prosecuted by states. What makes Indigenous women safer when perpetrators are prosecuted under tribal justice systems? Is it just that charges are more likely to be pursued, or is there something about the process itself that is better?

MKN: No sovereign has a greater interest in protecting Native women than their own tribal nations. This makes sense in the context of other sovereigns as well. You would not expect France to be more interested in protecting U.S. citizens than the United States. While it is true that, after the Act of 1924, Native people are citizens of their tribal nations, the United States, and the state in which they live, states have historically discriminated against Native people—and continue to. More often than not, states choose to not prosecute those who commit violent crimes against Native victims simply because they do not value Native lives.

EL: This leads me to ask about restorative justice. The version of VAWA that was just reauthorized in March 2022 would require the Bureau of Prisons to accept some of the perpetrators convicted in tribal court. This reliance on prisons has led VAWA to be critiqued as a carceral solution to violence by abolition-minded criminal justice activists, who note the direct links between gendered violence and state violence. How do restorative justice and an abolitionist framework fit with tribal jurisdiction and sovereignty?

MKN: Well, I think we invented them! We were told initially that we were uncivilized and savage because part of our form of justice was restorative justice. We were told, you’d better do it our way, or you’re not going to have any authority whatsoever. So we did. We created courts. We’ve done the Western model the way we were forced to. But many tribal nations are now going back to their traditional practices of restorative justice. It’s not all tribes, and it’s a sovereign right of a tribal nation to decide what is best for them, just like it is a sovereign right of a state or the United States or any sovereign to decide what is justice, and how to effectuate justice.

But for tribes that are going back to restorative justice practice, the goal is to squarely address the epidemic of violence in the community. For instance, if you’ve got Native men in a tribal community who are committing domestic violence and sexual assault, chances are they were abused as children, or their parents were sexually abused in boarding schools, or their mom was, or their great-grandmother was raped on the Trail of Tears, and the trauma is just passed down from generation to generation. You’re never going to heal from that trauma by just putting people in jail. It gets them off the streets, and it will temporarily make a community safer, and that’s of value, and it certainly is commonly in practice now. But what some tribal nations are doing is taking traditional culture and creating cultural healing programs, so a tribal court judge sentencing the defendant to jail might send them to jail for a month, and then send them to a cultural healing program for two years. That program might include speaking your language; it might be community service; it might be working with a medicine man; it might be spending time with a specific elder who is teaching these cultural ways. What is critical in all of this is that the victim’s needs be centered. And that might necessitate a sentence to be served in jail. But we need to think beyond that, and we need to prepare this person to reenter the community after that service is completed, otherwise the cycle of violence will only continue.

These restorative practices force us to ask: Do we want to just discard members of our community? Or do we want to work on healing and trying to end the epidemic of violence? A lot of tribes are creating what they call wellness courts, or restorative justice courts, and those are relying on traditions and cultural values and methods of adjudicating disputes that go back thousands of years. These things seek to restore the person, because someone who commits those kinds of crimes—that’s a broken person. Historically, when someone committed a violent crime against someone, the tribe looked at it from the perspective: How do we make the victim whole? As opposed to: How do we punish this person for their crime against the sovereign?

In a Western model, the crime is committed against the sovereign. You still see that in the way we name our court cases: Oklahoma v. McGirtOklahoma v. Castro HuertaUnited States v. name the defendant. But traditionally, in most tribal nations, crimes were not understood as having been committed against the sovereign. We got that notion from Western common law. In England, if you commit a crime, it’s a crime against the Crown. In tribal nations, traditionally, if you did something wrong, it was against a member of your clan or a separate clan. This is very general—it’s different for every tribe—but with some tribes, the clan mothers would get together, and they’d ask: What’s justice here? What does the victim need to be made whole? Maybe the person who committed this act of violence now owes this family food from every hunt for the next twenty years, or the rest of his life. They would decide what is going to restore the victims.

It is a different model, and it’s a model that a lot of tribes are moving back toward. It’s a model that we historically practiced before contact, and then we were told that we were racially inferior and savage and heathen, because we were doing that. So it’s ironic now to see some on the left using that lens to criticize VAWA for restoring tribal criminal jurisdiction.

EL: In your 2013 play Sliver of a Full Moon, which you wrote following the reauthorization of VAWA, you write that Indigenous women are targeted, “not because of the color of their skin,” but because they are “citizens of sovereign nations.” We are also living through this age of heightened border security and the increasing criminalization of noncitizens. Why is citizenship an important framework in this context?

MKN: That line, I think, was something Lisa Brunner, executive director of Sacred Spirits First Nations Coalition, said in an interview I did with her. And I, of course, would agree with that. Obviously, there are Native women who are targeted because of the color of their skin, but in general, Native women are targeted in a political genocidal sense, because the goal of targeting Native women has been to wipe out our tribal nations, regardless of those women’s skin color. We know perpetrators still come onto tribal lands simply to target Native women.

EL: What would full federal respect of Indigenous sovereignty look like today?

MKN: The first step is either the Supreme Court reversing Oliphant—the 1978 case that took away tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Natives—or Congress legislatively fixing Oliphant as the Court has repeatedly concluded Congress has the authority to do.

Step two is funding. In our historic life ways, we had economies of huge scale—but they weren’t economies arranged around either communism or capitalism. A lot of our economies were based on an understanding of our faith, our relationship vis-à-vis everyone else in the community, and vis-à-vis the Creator. So part of what tribal nations need today is funding. We’re tribal nations surviving in capitalism. Our traditional life ways have been eradicated, so full respect for sovereignty would have to entail the federal government honoring the hundreds of treaties it signed with tribal nations that say we will fund your government forevermore. Well, then, fund our governments. Whether it’s tribal nations wanting to do a restorative justice practice model, courts with jails, or whatever, the federal government should be funding that. They fund a part of it, but not all of it. That lack of funding has become a huge issue.

EL: VAWA was reauthorized in March 2022 with some provisions that expand the range of crimes that tribes have the jurisdiction to prosecute. What might the impact of that be?

MKN: VAWA 2013 was a giant step forward, but there were holes. It wasn’t a full restoration of the jurisdiction that was taken away in Oliphant. It basically only allowed tribes to pursue charges in cases of domestic violence, dating violence, and violations of protective orders. VAWA 2022 is also not a full restoration, but it’s another huge step forward. Congress recognized in it that a lot of our Native women and girls are victims of sexual assault and rape by strangers, and that tribes need the authority to address that too. This could be anything from violence committed against children by strangers to rape committed against adults outside of the context of a consensual dating relationship. The expanded VAWA also restores tribal criminal jurisdiction in cases that involve assault against tribal justice personnel, cases involving stalking and trafficking, and obstruction of justice related to cases pertaining to any of the above. It’s a lot. It’s great. These are key categories of tribal criminal jurisdiction that I think the tribes that implemented VAWA in 2013 realized were missing. We have been working very hard in the last four years to get these categories of criminal jurisdiction restored.

EL: The Supreme Court this session has agreed to Oklahoma’s request that it clarify the scope of the McGirt ruling. What is at stake?

MKN: It is important to note that Oklahoma asked the Court to reverse its ruling in McGirt and the Court decided not to rehear the case or reconsider McGirt at all. So McGirt remains the law, and the Court is not rehearing it. That was question number one in Oklahoma’s petition. Question number two was: If you’re not going to reverse McGirt, how about giving Oklahoma criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian crimes committed against Indian victims on tribal lands? This is jurisdiction the state doesn’t have, because as the Court has repeatedly said, the Constitution grants Congress alone the authority to allocate criminal jurisdiction within “Indian Country,” or on tribal lands. There are some states that do have jurisdiction over those categories of crimes on tribal lands, and that’s because Congress explicitly gave it to them through legislation. In other words, Oklahoma is asking the Court to do something that only Congress can do, and, once again, the Court is going to consider it. Some on the Court are interested in hearing this argument.

I think what’s at stake is safety for Native women, as always—that’s certainly what I point out in the amicus brief that I filed on behalf of my client, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. But there are also huge issues at play about whether the Court will honor the constitutionally mandated separation of powers that names Congress as the only agency with the power to modify how individual states relate to tribal nations. The outcome may have huge implications for the safety of Native women and children, which does not appear to be high on Oklahoma’s list of concerns.

Emma Lower was an Editorial Assistant at Boston Review. She holds a master’s degree from University of California–Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree from Yale.

Mary Kathryn Nagle is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and the former Executive Director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program.

Boston Review, April 13, 2022, https://bostonreview.net/

Maine News: Advocates rally for tribal sovereignty as Mills signals opposition to long-sought reform / by Evan Popp

Around 100 people rallied in front of the State House on Wednesday to celebrate the progress that has been made this legislative session on recognizing the inherent sovereignty of the Wabanaki and to call on Gov. Janet Mills to sign multiple bills that would ensure the tribes are treated like other Indigenous nations around the country. 

The event featured speeches from members of the Wabanaki and lawmakers supportive of tribal sovereignty along with songs and dancing and a group of Indigenous people in a circle drumming together. 

Wednesday’s rally comes as the Wabanaki have secured big victories in the Maine Legislature on bills to reinforce their sovereignty. However, challenges lie ahead, as Mills has signaled that she may veto the most sweeping of those measures, LD 1626, which would reset a relationship with the state that Indigenous leaders have long argued is fraught with paternalism and unfair treatment.

“It’s up to her — she has an opportunity to change her mind and be a decent person,” said Darrell Newell, vice chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township, of Mills. He added, “We hope the governor will sign [these bills] into law. Maine will be a better place for it.”  

Significant victories for Wabanaki 

LD 1626, which would provide the Wabanaki with rights similar to those enjoyed by other tribes around the country, passed the legislature last week and is now awaiting funding approval from the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee before being sent to Mills’ desk. The bill would alter the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 to strengthen tribal communities’ criminal jurisdiction, recognize the rights of tribes to regulate hunting and fishing on their lands, and affirm the Wabanaki’s right to regulate natural resources and land use on their territory. Despite an unprecedented level of support for the bill, Mills has threatened to veto the legislation. 

Another priority bill that has passed the legislature this session is LD 906, a measure to address the unsafe and deteriorating water system at the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Reservation, known as Sipayik. Lawmakers passed that bill last week with strong bipartisan support. 

The measure was then recalled from Mills’ desk and an amendment was approved by both chambers that says the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s jurisdiction when it comes to drinking water does not extend beyond its territory and that the tribe can’t exercise jurisdiction over nonprofit public municipal corporations in enforcing ordinances related to drinking water. The bill was passed by both chambers and is now before Mills for consideration. 

A sign at the rally Wednesday | Beacon

A third bill, LD 585, seeks to facilitate better tribal-state relations, implement tax benefits on tribal land and legalize and establish a regulatory framework for sports wagering on Wabanaki territory. An amendment to the bill approved by the House and Senate clarified “any licensed casino is eligible to receive a facility sports wagering license” but that a commercial track in Bangor is not eligible. LD 585 is a compromise between Mills and the tribes. However, while supportive of the bill, the Wabanaki do not view it as a substitute for the sovereignty provided by LD 1626 and LD 906. 

Like LD 1626, LD 585 has also been passed by both chambers and is awaiting funding approval from the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee (AFA) before being sent to Mills’ desk. Lawmakers and proponents of tribal sovereignty expressed concern about the status of LD 1626 and LD 585 early Wednesday afternoon. With the legislature set to adjourn after Wednesday, advocates feared those bills could die before getting to Mills’ desk if there wasn’t enough time for AFA to approve funding for them. However, later Wednesday, both the House and the Senate passed an order to extend the legislative session, providing more time for the bills to be approved by AFA and sent to Mills.

‘Unprecedented support for tribal sovereignty’ 

The rally Wednesday featured a large number of speakers, including Passamaquody language and cultural teacher Dwayne Tomah, who noted the avalanche of support that the tribal sovereignty bills have received. Both LD 1626 and LD 906 had marathon public hearings, with a litany of people speaking in support of the bills. Over 1,500 people testified in favor of LD 1626 alone. Tomah also noted that many legislators have lined up behind the tribal sovereignty bills.

“Historically, this is unprecedented,” Tomah said. “It’s unprecedented the amount of support that we’re receiving from this building and also the amount of support we are receiving from the people of Maine. The people of Maine, their voices are being heard. This is a long time coming historically.” 

Multiple lawmakers also spoke at the rally. Rep. Thom Harnett (D-Gardiner) called on Mills to sign the tribal sovereignty measures, saying it is a matter of fairness and justice. 

“The time for words is over. It’s action that we need right now. It is all the words you have given us that resulted in these bills being put on the governor’s desk and the action we need is for them to be signed,” Harnett said. 

As Beacon previously reported, Mills, a Democrat, has used her veto authority to nix several legislative priorities popular within her party, including an attempt to close Long Creek youth prison and a bill that would have allowed voters to weigh in on replacing Maine’s two major investor-owned electric utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant, with a consumer-owned utility. Earlier this year, Mills drew national headlines for vetoing a bill that would have allowed farmworkers to unionize.

If LD 1626 is indeed vetoed, Sen. Rick Bennett, a Republican from Oxford County, said he hopes the legislature will override the governor, arguing that government must create laws that are right and morally just. 

“I want to express my hope, my sincere hope, particularly to the members of my own party who have opposed the initiative, that they will reconsider,” Bennett said.

Still, regardless of the ultimate outcome, Ernie Neptune, vice chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik, said getting the tribal sovereignty legislation passed through the legislature has been heartening and shows the power of persistence. 

“This legislative session has been monumental with regards to our sovereignty,” he said, adding “My brothers and sister: never give up. It is worth every bit of effort to fight for what you believe are your inherent rights.”   

Photo: Supporters of tribal sovereignty at the State House rally Wednesday | Beacon 

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

Beacon, April 21, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/

Maine News: Tribal sovereignty, housing, environmental bills among big votes taken in Augusta this week / by Evan Popp

The Maine Legislature voted on a number of important issues this week, ranging from high-profile tribal sovereignty measures to bills related to economic justice, health care, housing and the environment. Here’s a rundown of some of the recent decisions made in Augusta. 

Tribal sovereignty

The legislature this week took up multiple measures designed to reinforce the inherent sovereignty of the Wabanaki in what has been a multi-year campaign by Indigenous nations in Maine to be treated like all other tribes around the country. 

On Thursday, the House approved a bill that would alter the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980. The bill, LD 1626, would change the Settlement Act to create “an enhanced process for tribal-state collaboration and consultation as well as a process for alternative dispute resolution.” Other aspects of the legislation include strengthening tribal communities’ criminal jurisdiction, recognizing the rights of tribes to regulate hunting and fishing on their lands, and affirming the Wabanaki’s right to regulate natural resources and land use on their territory. The vote was 81-55 in favor of the bill. 

Also this week, the legislature approved another tribal sovereignty bill, LD 906. That bill would address the unsafe and deteriorating water system at the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Reservation, known as Sipayik, where dangerous levels of toxic chemicals have been found. Along with LD 1626, Gov. Janet Mills has expressed skepticism about the water legislation. But given the bipartisan support LD 906 received in both the House and the Senate, advocates have a chance to overcome a potential veto from the governor. The bill now goes to Mills for consideration. 

Juniper Ridge 

Lawmakers this week sent a bill to Mills designed to close a loophole in Maine law that has allowed Juniper Ridge landfill to become a dumping ground for waste from surrounding states.

As Beacon previously reported, about 90% of the waste sent to a processing facility in Lewiston that ends up in Juniper Ridge is from out of state. The amount of waste going into Juniper Ridge is increasing every year, the coalition noted earlier this year, filling 32% faster than anticipated. A continuation of that would mean additional expansions of the landfill, which environmental advocates have argued would lead to increased pollution.

The bill to address the issue, LD 1639, was approved with strong bipartisan votes in both the House and the Senate. 


The legislature took action on several housing bills this week. On Thursday, the House passed on a 78-51 vote a bill aimed at reforming zoning laws and cutting red tape to allow for development of affordable units. The Senate then approved the bill April 15 on a 20-13 vote. 

That bill, LD 2003, sponsored by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford), was originally larger in scope. However, it was scaled back last month amid opposition from some groups. While advocates still support the bill and view it as a step forward, they argued the changes made to the measure represent a missed opportunity for a more ambitious effort to address the affordable housing crisis. 

It was a similar story with LD 1673, another affordable housing bill that was scaled back in the face of opposition. That bill cleared final votes in both the House and the Senate this week and was placed on the Appropriations Table for funding consideration. Originally designed to set affordable housing goals in each municipality, the measure was significantly amended to include non-binding goals and reduce the scope of communities covered by such goals. 


The House gave its final approval this week for a bill, LD 2019, that would prohibit a person from distributing a pesticide contaminated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, which have been linked to a wide variety of harmful health impacts. The bill also bans the distribution of pesticides that contain intentionally added PFAS beginning in 2030. 

The measure also adds “any substance or mixture of substances intended to be used as a spray adjuvant” to the definition of pesticide.

The Senate also gave initial approval to the bill this week. The measure still faces a final vote in the chamber. 

In addition, the House this week approved another PFAS-related bill. LD 1911 would authorize the Department of Environmental Protection to “require a person licensed to discharge wastewater to sample the effluent discharged for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances and to report the sample data to the department,” among other provisions. The bill was then approved by the Senate on a bipartisan vote. 

Criminal justice 

The Senate this week officially killed a bill that would have established certain motor vehicle-related violations as secondary offenses. The measure, LD 1479, sponsored by Rep. Victoria Morales (D-South Portland), sought to make such offenses enforceable only if an officer had detained a driver for the suspected violation of another law.  

Offenses that would have been classified as secondary by the bill include operating a vehicle after suspension for not paying a fine, not registering a vehicle if the registration has been expired for less than 150 days, and hanging an object from the rearview mirror, among other similar violations. 

Supporters of the legislation added that the measure was meant to address discrimination in who is stopped, with myriad lawmakers in the House saying drivers of color are often pulled over more than white drivers. Still, the Senate voted the bill down 27-3, with only Cumberland County Democratic Sens. Ben Chipman, Anne Carney and Heather Sanborn voting for the measure. That result came after the House voted against the bill last week. 

The Senate also took action this week on a bill dealing with the issue of solitary confinement in Maine. The bill, which the House passed to define the practice as confinement in a cell for over 22 hours in a day, was then amended in the Senate this week to simply remove the term solitary confinement from statute in a move that advocates said would obscure how the practice is used in Maine prisons and jails. 

On Thursday, however, the House voted to reject the Senate’s amendment and instead passed its own amendment to the bill, sponsored by Rep. Grayson Lookner (D-Portland), that would require prisons and jails to send a report to the Maine Department of Corrections if a person is held in isolation for more than 22 hours in a day. 

Economic justice

The House and Senate this week passed a bill to direct the Department of Administrative and Financial Services to study the impact on the state of adopting “a corporate income tax system that requires worldwide combined reporting for income tax purposes.” The report on the issue would be due by February 1. 

The measure, LD 428, is an effort to start the process of eventually closing a loophole used by multinational corporations to avoid paying taxes in Maine. It will now go to Mills for consideration. 

The House this week also gave initial approval to a bill designed to improve labor standards on renewable energy projects. The bill, LD 1969, sets standards for pre-apprenticeship training programs by the Maine Apprenticeship Program, including the payment of “meaningful stipends” to participants.

The measure also requires that renewable energy projects of a certain size pay construction workers “the prevailing rate for wages and benefits,” among other stipulations. The bill was passed Wednesday by the House 81-57 and now moves to the Senate. 

Health care 

The Senate gave final approval Monday on a bill to close a loophole that has let insurance companies deny no-copay coverage of birth control. The measure, LD 1954, sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook), mandates insurance coverage of all birth control methods approved by the FDA. 

The legislation was passed unanimously in the Senate, sending the bill to Mills for consideration. 

In another unanimous vote in the Senate on Monday, the chamber sent to Mills a bill that would require the Maine Health Data Organization to document the 100 most expensive prescription drugs and the 100 most frequently prescribed drugs each year. LD 1636 also mandates the organization to determine the potential savings from subjecting such prescription drugs to a “referenced rate,” defining that rate as “the lowest cost from official publications of certain Canadian provincial government agencies and the wholesale acquisition cost.”


The House gave approval this week to a bill, LD 2018, that would ensure the incorporation of “equity considerations in decision making” at the Department of Environmental Protection, the Public Utilities Commission and other state agencies. 

The measure also requires the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt rules so that “environmental justice populations and frontline communities are provided with fair and equitable access to the department’s decision-making processes.” 

The bill was then passed by the Senate and given final approval by the House. It now returns to the Senate. 

This story was updated April 15 to reflect the Senate vote on LD 2003. 

Photo: The Maine State House | Beacon

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

Beacon, April 15, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/

Revisiting Marx on Race, Capitalism, and Revolution / by Kevin B. Anderson

Did Karl Marx have a theory of race and capitalism? Not exactly, but he theorized on these issues over four decades and much of what he wrote still speaks to us today. At a time of global and U.S. struggles for liberation in the face of a deeply racialized fascist threat, these writings are worth revisiting.

Marx’s most important writings on race center on slavery, capitalism, and the U.S. Civil War of 1861–65. While some of these are widely known, like several key passages in the first volume of Capital, a number of his most important reflections can be found in his letters or the documents of the First International. Comprehensive compilations of his writings on the Civil War have appeared in several different collections over the years, starting with one published in 1937 under the auspices of the U.S. Communist Party. The introduction by historian Richard Morais (Richard Enmale, a transparent pseudonym evoking Frederick Engels-Marx-V. I. Lenin) evoked Popular Front themes like “the progressive forces of the nation” versus the reactionaries and stressed that “Marx supported the bourgeois republic in its struggle against the slave oligarchy.” In his introduction to a recently published collection of these writings, historian Andrew Zimmerman stresses instead that, for Marx, “the Civil War was not a bourgeois revolution, but a workers’ revolution carried out within a bourgeois republic that was finally undermined by that bourgeois republic.” Zimmerman also holds that Morais “emphasized unity within the Union cause rather than the disjunctures over the issues of slavery and race” that Marx “highlighted.”[1]

Echoes of what Marx and his radical abolitionist comrades called the “slave power”—a coalition of slaveowners, their political representatives, and the wider economic interests that profited from them—can be heard in today’s Republican Party, with its defense of a mythic white United States and a Trumpist mob’s use of the Confederate flag in its assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, during the final recording of the 2020 presidential election ballots. Largely forgotten in the debates over what amounted to a fascist coup attempt, with all the talk of two hundred years of peaceful transition of power being broken, are the events surrounding the 1860 election of the mildly antislavery Abraham Lincoln. Not only did this touch off secession and civil war, hardly evidence of a peaceful transition, but at one point an early version of January 6, 2021, also transpired. As historian Ted Widmer recounts, an eerily similar event occurred as the votes for Lincoln were to receive their final tabulation in early 1861, also in the U.S. Capitol. Egged on and organized by the proslavery politicians like the governor of Virginia, armed militias descended on the Capitol to block the tabulation. However, the existing state apparatus responded differently than in 2021, as heavily armed soldiers sealed off the area, preventing the proslavery mob from approaching.[2]

To be sure, while today’s Trumpists and their white supremacist militias draw inspiration from international fascism and right-wing populism, they also look to homegrown traditions of reaction that trace themselves back to that 1861 mob and a form of U.S. racism rooted in the idealized “lost cause” of the Confederacy, one of history’s original Big Lies. This kind of politics has always enjoyed a shifting, albeit substantial, popular base, not only among sectors of the middle classes, but also among what Marx called, in generic terms, the poor whites. This is one factor that makes his writings on race, capitalism, and revolution as much a part of our time as his own.

Capitalism and Slavery

Marx tied slavery not only to early, mercantile capitalism, but also to its later industrial forms, which slavery helped spawn and continued to underpin even in his own time. As he wrote as early as 1847 in Poverty of Philosophy, “direct slavery is as much the pivot of bourgeois industry as are machinery, credit, etc. Without slavery you would have no cotton; without cotton you have no modern industry. It is slavery that gave the colonies their value, it is the colonies that created world trade, and world trade is the precondition for large-scale industry. Slavery is therefore an economic category of paramount importance.”[3]

Marx viewed this type of slavery as having taken on a uniquely capitalist form, increasing in brutality as the capitalist system developed. Whereas he saw early U.S. slavery as “moderately patriarchal” and less brutally exploitative as long as “production was chiefly directed to the satisfaction of immediate local requirements,” by the nineteenth century he underlined that any such restraint had disappeared, as a nearly limitless supply of enslaved people and the sheer scale of production and trade created a situation wherein “negro life is most recklessly sacrificed.” This was especially true of the U.S. Deep South and the Caribbean, where “fabulous wealth” was created as gigantic plantations “engulfed millions of the African race.” He used this discussion of the hyper-exploitation and long workdays imposed on enslaved people to counter the argument that “the interest of capital itself points in the direction of a normal working day.”[4]

Marx wrote these lines in the “Working Day” chapter of Capital, which focused mainly on the conditions confronting British workers during the early Industrial Revolution, where they too could be worked to death through an ever-increasing workday. He expressed the relationship between wage labor and slave labor in very succinct form in the section on “Primary Accumulation”: “While the cotton industry introduced child-slavery into England in the United States it gave the impulse for the transformation of the earlier, more or less patriarchal slavery into a system of commercial exploitation. In fact the veiled slavery of the wage-laborers in Europe needed the unqualified slavery of the New world as its pedestal.”[5]

Thus, outright slavery under capitalism was at the far end of a continuum. To be sure, while the formally free wage laborer was definitely expendable, what Marx termed wage slavery never equaled direct slavery in its oppressiveness. And just as outright slavery needed to be abolished, so did capital’s unrestricted ability to use impersonal economic forces to work “free” people to death in its unbounded quest for value: “Capital, therefore, takes no account of the health and life of the worker, unless society forces it to do so,” such as by passing laws restricting the length of the working day.[6] Such a death grip on labor was even more pronounced under capitalist slavery.

Class Solidarity Across Racial Lines: Potentials and Barriers

Marx singled out the relative privilege—and the racialized, alienated consciousness—of northern white workers in the United States in a letter he composed on behalf of the entire First International to Lincoln in late 1864: “While the working men, the true political power of the North, allowed slavery to defile their own republic; while before the Negro, mastered and sold without his concurrence, they boasted it the highest prerogative of the white-skinned laborer to sell himself and choose his own master; they were unable to attain the true freedom of labor or to support their European brethren in their struggle for emancipation, but this barrier to progress has been swept off by the red sea of civil war.”[7]

As Marx’s letter suggests, this racialized consciousness was shaken up by the U.S. Civil War. Marx made this point with greater specificity a few years later in Capital, published just two years after the war ended. The fight for a shorter working day had hit a roadblock in the United States in the period before the Civil War because the structural racism that underlay the economy, which featured in bifurcated fashion both enslaved Black and formally free white wage labor, each on a vast scale, undermined the development of a strong labor movement for many years.

In the United States of America, every independent workers’ movement was paralyzed as long as slavery disfigured a part of the republic. Labor in a white skin cannot emancipate itself where it is branded in a black skin. However, a new life immediately arose from the death of slavery. The first fruit of the American Civil War was the eight hours agitation, which ran from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New England to California, with the seven-league boots of a locomotive. The General Congress of Labor held at Baltimore in August 1866 declared: “The first and great necessity of the present, to free the labor of this country from capitalistic slavery, is the passing of a law by which eight hours shall be the normal working day in all the states of the American Union. We are resolved to put forth all our strength until this glorious result is attained.”[8]

Thus, the end of the Civil War and the concomitant abolition of slavery created new possibilities for U.S. labor as a whole. Here, in one form of labor solidarity he took up in this period, Marx was anticipating cross-racial links between U.S. workers in a new labor movement. In fact, as recounted by W. E. B. Du Bois, success in these terms was limited, as the mainly—and sometimes exclusively—white trade unions resisted the enrollment of Black workers, while also failing to do enough to support newly freed Black agricultural workers in the South during Reconstruction.[9] This resulted in (1) the eventual rolling back of much of Reconstruction, especially Black voting rights, by the time of the 1877 electoral compromise whereby Union occupation troops were removed from the South, and (2) those troops being used that same year to crush the great general strike centered mainly in the railroads of the North. But in Capital in 1867, Marx was discussing some real possibilities for labor in the period right after the war destroyed what had been a nearly unbridgeable divide between enslaved Black and formally free white labor.

A second type of labor solidarity across racial lines to which Marx pointed took place within the South between poor whites and enslaved people, and later also formally free Black working people. For example, he stressed how only the wealthier and large slaveholders initially supported secession. In a letter to Engels on July 5, 1861, he discussed the social base of the secession vote state by state:

North Carolina and even Arkansas elected Union delegates, the former even by a large majority. Subsequently terrorised.… Texas, where, after South Carolina, there is the largest Slave Party and terrorism, nevertheless 11,000 votes for Union.

Alabama. No popular vote either on secession or on the new Constitution, etc. The convention elected here passed the Ordinance of Secession by 61 votes to 39. The 39 were from the Northern Counties, populated almost exclusively by whites, but they represented more free men than the 61; for, in accordance with the United States Constitution, each slave-holder also votes for 3/5 of his slaves.[10]

At a more general level, he noted the reluctance of districts populated by white small farmers—often living in hilly or mountainous areas instead of the highly fertile land of the plains—to support secession. “The interests of the mountain districts, the west of Carolina, the east of Tennessee, the north of Alabama and Georgia, are very different from those of the southern swamps.” Marx can certainly be faulted for exaggerated hopes at this juncture, for the poor whites generally fell into line and volunteered for the Confederate Army. But, toward the end of the war, these became the very districts where antiwar sentiment emerged most strongly among the poor and from which some of the leaders who were to support Reconstruction—attacked by racists as “scalawags”—emerged during the late 1860s and early ’70s. After the collapse of Reconstruction, writing around 1877, Marx again stressed the reactionary side of their consciousness, as seen in a remark on ancient Rome: “The Roman proletarians became, not wage laborers, but an idle ‘mob’ more abject than those who used to be called poor whites of the southern United States.”[11]

The third type of solidarity across racial lines discussed by Marx was that of white British labor toward enslaved Black labor across the ocean. In a February 2, 1862, article, Marx reported on the economic plight of British workers under the impact of the Union naval blockade of southern ports: “The misery that the stoppage of the factories and the shortening of the labor time, motivated by the blockade of the slave states, has produced among the workers in the northern manufacturing districts is incredible and in daily process of growth.”[12]

Nonetheless, the working class, he wrote, refused the blandishments of upper-class British spokesmen who advocated putting “an end to the American blockade and English misery.” Instead, he wrote in glowing terms that “the persistence with which the working class keeps silent, or breaks its silence only to raise its voice against intervention and for the United States, is admirable.”[13]

This also involved Marx himself, for the international and interracial solidarity networks the British—and other European—workers formed around support for the Union became an important basis for the founding of the International in 1864, whose first public statement was the aforementioned letter to Lincoln. The International also tried to intervene directly in U.S. affairs after the war, in order to denounce half-hearted efforts under early Reconstruction, warning of a second and even more terrible civil war should Black emancipation not be carried through fully: “Let your citizens of to-day be declared free and equal, without reserve. If you fail to give them citizens’ rights, while you demand citizens’ duties, there will yet remain a struggle for the future which may again stain your country with your people’s blood.”[14] Though not composed by Marx, this 1865 open letter by the International surely expressed his sentiments.

Black Resistance and Self-Emancipation

Marx also took up the question of resistance by enslaved Black people. As with the formally free working class, this resistance could be passive as well as active. After mentioning the notion in Aristotle and others that a slave is not a human being but a “speaking instrument,” he wrote:

But he himself takes care to let both beast and implement feel that he is none of them, but rather a human being. He gives himself the satisfaction of knowing that he is different by treating the one with brutality and damaging the other con amore. Hence the economic principle, universally applied in this mode of production, of employing only the rudest and heaviest implements, which are difficult to damage owing to their very clumsiness. In the slave states bordering on the Gulf of Mexico, down to the date of the Civil War, the only ploughs to be found were those constructed on the old Chinese model, which turned up the earth like a hog or a mole, instead of making furrows.[15]

Since this argument did not yet appear in the 1861–64 manuscripts preparatory to Capital—as published in Marx and Engels’s Collected Works, volumes thirty to thirty-four—it seems to have been added later, near the end of or after the Civil War and thus in the final stages of the book’s development.[16] This suggests an increasing interest by Marx in this period, and a sharpening of his arguments, concerning the politics and economics of race and slavery.

Among the more active forms of Black resistance Marx took up were slave uprisings and participation by Black troops in the Civil War. The best-known instance of the former concerned the failed 1859 attack on a U.S. military outpost in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, where a band of Black and white abolitionists led by John Brown seized the arsenal in an attempt to touch off a slave uprising. As Marx wrote to Engels on January 11, 1860, in the wake of Brown’s execution: “In my view, the most momentous thing happening in the world today is, on the one hand, the movement among the slaves in America, started by the death of Brown, and the movement among the slaves in Russia, on the other.… I have just seen in the Tribune that there was a new slave uprising in Missouri, naturally suppressed. But the signal has now been given.”[17] This passage shows Marx’s clear support for slave uprisings and their core significance for him.

He also viewed the participation of Black troops in the Union Army, which he advocated early on in a letter to Engels on August 7, 1862, as a form of revolutionary self-emancipation: “The North will finally wage war seriously, adopt revolutionary methods, and overthrow the domination of the border slave statesmen. A single…[Black] regiment would have a remarkable effect on Southern nerves.… If Lincoln does not give way (which, however, he will), there will be a revolution.… The long and the short of the story seems to me to be that a war of this kind must be conducted in a revolutionary way, whereas the Yankees have been trying so far to conduct it constitutionally.”[18]

Here, Marx again refers to white racialized consciousness and to “the remarkable effect on southern nerves” of seeing Black troops in action against the Confederate forces, suggesting that this could demoralize them by demonstrating Black courage and humanity. His use of the n-word in this context, though redacted in the above quotation, appears to have been either for dramatic purposes or to have been used with implied scare quotes, evoking how white southerners would perceive such an eventuality. Be this as it may, Marx’s remark on the effect Black troops would have on the war was no idle prediction. There is some evidence that Union victories in battles like Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863, where Black troops held off Confederates at a crucial juncture, played no small part in the subsequent desertions of many poor whites, some of whom went so far as to form an insurgent “Free State” in Jones County, Mississippi, which briefly fought the Confederacy from inside, enlisted freed slaves, and expressed loyalty to the Union.[19] Even more importantly, their often heroic military service increased the self-confidence and prestige of Black people in the United States, who played a central part in politics and society across the South. The brutal repression that followed as Reconstruction met its demise after 1876 wiped away even the memory of these achievements, something that is now being recovered with a hefty push from the massive Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.[20]

The Civil War as a Social Revolution: Potential and Reality

The letter discussing the potentially revolutionary character of the U.S. Civil War was typical of how Marx conceptualized this struggle. Despite the foot dragging of the Lincoln administration, which Marx criticized harshly for its half-hearted opposition to slavery, Marx wrote again and again that the logic of events would force the Union to come out for the total abolition of slavery, the use of Black troops, and possibly the redistribution of plantation land to the formerly enslaved (the famous “forty acres and a mule”). The latter was never achieved save in isolated areas. Marx refers obliquely to this proposed land distribution in the 1867 preface to the first edition of Capital: “Mr. Wade, Vice-President of the United States, has declared in public meetings that, after the abolition of slavery, a radical transformation in the existing relations of capital and landed property is on the agenda. These are signs of the times.” Marx also wrote of the Civil War as a forerunner of class-based revolutions in Europe, as in his 1864 letter to Lincoln on behalf of the International: “The working men of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Anti-Slavery War will do for the working classes.” He seemed to see the Civil War as the biggest social upheaval in decades, as in his letter to Lion Philips on November 29, 1864: “When you think, dear Uncle, that three and a half years ago, at the time of Lincoln’s election, the problem was making no further concessions to the slaveholders, while now the abolition of slavery is the avowed and in part already realized aim, you must admit that never has such a gigantic revolution taken place so rapidly. It will have a beneficent effect on the whole world.”[21]

These discussions by Marx—which do not add up to a comprehensive analysis of the Civil War as a revolutionary event, and still less to a systematic theory of race, class, and revolution under modern capitalism—nonetheless point in those directions. His writings on race, class, slavery, and revolution in the United States illustrate a concept of class that is deeply intertwined with the specifics of racial divisions within the working classes, and of the potential for those divisions to be shaken up by upheavals like the Civil War, thus opening up truly revolutionary possibilities.

Far from a class reductionist, Marx viewed these issues through a complex dialectic. Though racism and slavery divided the working class and gave white workers status, if not material compensation—factors that attenuated class solidarity and revolution—these deep social contradictions also had the potential to explode in a revolutionary manner. Millions of enslaved Black people in the South gained self-consciousness and self-confidence during the Civil War and Reconstruction; poor whites of the South saw their world torn apart, their antagonism to the slaveowners deepened, and some of them solidarized with newly freed Blacks and northern white progressives; white labor in the North acquired a new respect for Black labor during the war as they fought alongside each other, combating for a time longstanding fears and prejudices; and the end of slavery called forth the first national labor union the United States had ever seen. For Marx, these issues formed part of the basis of the first volume of Capital, which he completed during and just after the Civil War, inspiring him to incorporate important discussions of race, class, and revolution into his greatest book.


  1. Richard Morais [Richard Enmale], editor’s introduction to The Civil War in the United States, by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (New York: International Publishers, 1937), xxv, xv; Andrew Zimmerman, introduction to The Civil War in the United States, by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, 2nd ed. (New York: International Publishers, 2016), xxix, xxviii. Besides these collections and the ones edited by Saul Padover (The Karl Marx Library, vol. 2 [New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972]) and Robin Blackburn (An Unfinished Revolution [London: Verso, 2011]) and their introductions, relatively few studies have examined Marx’s Civil War writings in detail. Among them are: August Nimtz, Marx, Tocqueville, and Race in America (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2003); Matteo Battistini, “Karl Marx and the Global History of the Civil War: The Slave Movement, Working-Class Struggle, and the American State within the World Market,” International Labor and Working-Class History 100 (2021): 158–85; and Kevin B. Anderson, Marx at the Margins (Chicago: University of Chicago Pres, 2010).
  2. Ted Widmer, “The Capitol Takeover That Wasn’t,” New York Times, January 10, 2021.
  3. Karl Marx, Poverty of Philosophy, in Marx/Engels Collected Works, vol. 6 (New York: International Publishers, 1976), 167.
  4. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Pelican, 1976), 345, 377.
  5. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 925.
  6. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 381.
  7. Karl Marx, letter to Abraham Lincoln, November 1864, in Marx/Engels Collected Works, vol. 20 (New York: International Publishers, 1985), 20.
  8. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 414. Emphasis added.
  9. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880 (New York: Atheneum, 1973).
  10. Karl Marx, letter to Frederick Engels, July 5, 1861, in Marx/Engels Collected Works, vol. 41 (New York: International Publishers, 1985), 306–7.
  11. Marx to Engels, 307; Karl Marx, letter to the editorial board of Otechestvennye Zapiski, November 1877, in Late Marx and the Russian Road, ed. Teodor Shanin (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983), 136.
  12. Karl Marx, “A London Workers Meeting,” in Marx/Engels Collected Works, vol. 19 (New York: International Publishers, 1984), 153.
  13. Marx, “A London Workers Meeting,” 154.
  14. General Council of the International Working Men’s Association, “To the People of the United States,” in The General Council of the First International, 1864–1866: Minutes (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1962), 311.
  15. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 303–4.
  16. Zimmerman stressed that Marx wrote Capital, volume 1, during the same period he was analyzing the U.S. Civil War, while Raya Dunayevskaya went further in her Marxism and Freedom: From 1776 Until Today (New York: Bookman, 1958), seeing influences of Marx’s thinking about the war in the very structure of his most important book.
  17. Karl Marx, letter to Frederick Engels, January 11, 1860, in Marx/Engels Collected Works, vol. 41, 4.
  18. Karl Marx, letter to Frederick Engels, August 7, 1862, in Marx/Engels Collected Works, vol. 41, 400.
  19. Marx’s use of the n-word here and on a few other occasions seems to have been for dramatic effect. In one instance, however, he used it as a pejorative when referring to Ferdinand Lassalle, in a letter to Engels on July 30, 1862 (in Marx/Engels Collected Works, vol. 41, 389–90). See also Victoria Bynum, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001).
  20. While W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1935 study, Black Reconstruction in America, was the most important early attempt to recover this legacy, recent overviews of the collapse of the Confederacy and Reconstruction include those by Douglas Egerton, The Wars of Reconstruction (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), and Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie (New York: Random House, 2014).
  21. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 93; Marx to Lincoln, 20; Karl Marx, letter to Lion Philips, November 29, 1864, in Marx/Engels Collected Works, vol. 42 (New York: International Publishers, 1987), 48.

Kevin B. Anderson is a distinguished professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, with affiliations with political science and feminist studies. He is the author or editor of ten books, including Marx at the Margins (University of Chicago Press, 2010, 2016). Courtesy: Monthly Review, the famed socialist monthly published from New York.

Janata Weekly, April 3, 2022, https://janataweekly.org/

A Poor People’s Pandemic Report links poverty, race, coronavirus deaths / by Mark Gruenberg

Rev. Dr. William Barber III talks poverty and the coronavirus.

WASHINGTON—Poverty is inextricably linked with the almost one million U.S. deaths, so far, from the coronavirus pandemic, a new and detailed report says. And the county-by-county statistics also reveal a disproportionate impact on people of color, it adds.

A Poor People’s Pandemic Report: Mapping The Intersection Of Poverty, Race And Covid-19—the formal name for the coronavirus—should serve as a resounding call to the entire country to attack the systemic ills which preceded the modern-day plague and only worsened it, said Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) Co-Chairs the Revs. William Barber II and Liz Theoharis.

While more non-Hispanic whites than any other group have died from the virus in conjunction with poverty, people of color have been disproportionately impacted, the report reveals.

Accompanied by poor and low-wealth speakers, some via zoom, from Jackson, Miss., Wausau, Wis., the Bronx, Goldsboro, N.C., and the Apache Nation in Arizona, speakers and investigators laid out the detailed research which should force policymakers to act on the problems. Those policymakers haven’t, so far.

Instead, policies have been deliberately crafted, Barber told a D.C. press conference, to worsen conditions for the estimated 43% of the U.S. who are poor or low-wealth, living paycheck to paycheck—if they even have paychecks.

“Covid-19 did not discriminate, but we did,” Barber said of the conditions—low income, poor housing or homelessness, lack of adequate funding for education, unavailable or too-costly health care, and more—that predated the pandemic and worsened it for the victims. “It does not have to be this way.”

Some “80% of the pandemic aid” went to corporations and the rich. The ultra-wealthiest class in the nation “exploit the tragedy” and enriched themselves by $2 trillion since the pandemic was first declared in March 2020, he added. Meanwhile, “poor people suffer.”

“A poverty-producing and sustaining system was also a death-dealing system. Within this analysis, we can see that it did not need to be this way, if only we were honest about poverty and systemic racism, and the systems of violence that allowed this tragedy.

“This is the painful truth we must confront before we can ever heal, before we can confront these systems of gross injustice, and before we can live into the promise of this nation.”

“We cannot say this is because of individual choices or behaviors. Something deeper is at work–systems that prey on the poor, poor white people and poor people of color.”

The figures themselves are damning. The report divides the nation’s 3,042 counties up into tenths—the tenth with the highest median incomes per person ($92,000-$142,000) down to the tenth with the lowest ($12,000-$46,000), and compared Covid-19 disease and especially death rates.

The median is the point where half the population is above and half below. The report defines the poorest counties as those with median per-person incomes under $28,000 yearly for a single person and double that for a family. Those are double the official federal poverty lines, which have not been updated in decades.

The overall Covid-19 death rate in the nation’s poorest counties is double that in the richest counties, even though the poorest counites have some residents whose incomes are above the median and the richest counties contain pockets of poverty.

“Covid-19 has been a poor people’s pandemic,” Theoharis stated.

The numbers are damning. So are the stories.

Jessica Jimenez, a 10-year caregiver from the Bronx, said she had to use pandemic aid “to make sure there was food on my table” for herself and her four kids. Her sister, a hospital worker, “got covid three times.”

“Not being able to pay the rent or pay bills on time was one of my biggest worries.”

Democratic President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill, now marooned in the Senate due to opposition from all 50 Republicans and renegade Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, is supposed to help shore up the safety net Jimenez and others need.

Northern Wisconsin PPC Chair Bruce Grau noted that his hometown, Wausau, is 80% white, but more than 50% poor. “Our rates of deaths and hospitalizations led the state” and in one nursing home, 15 of the 18 residents died, due to short-staffing as the home’s owners pursued profits.

“Had the CEO invested in more staff, some of those people could have been saved,” he said. Marathon County, whose seat is Wausau, has a median income of $62,233, but a quarter of its people live below that $28,000 poverty line—and it’s suffered 342 deaths per 100,000 people.

And the federal government first had drug companies use Indigenous people as “guinea pigs” to make sure the anti-virus vaccines were safe and effective, said Vanessa Nosie of the Apache Nation. But when the vaccines proved their worth, all of a sudden the federal Indian Health Service didn’t provide them.

“Our lives weren’t valued,” until the Apache Tribal Council’s chairman, using the tribe’s own money went out and bought the vaccines for their people.

Overall, the pandemic began with roughly equal death rates among the groups of counties, the report says. But that didn’t last long, and ratios only worsened when pandemic surges, including those of the delta and omicron variants, hit, said Poor People’s Campaign Policy Director Shailly Gupta Barnes.

In the winter of 2020-21, the first surge, the ratio of deaths in the poorest 300 counties was four and a half times that in the richest counties. When the delta variant hit, the death rate in the poorest counties, those where 42%-92% of residents earn below the median, was five times that of the richest counties. Omicron’s onset produced a death rate in the poorest counties three times that of the richest.

That’s important because another variant, BA-2, is increasing, even as Congress wrangles over further anti-pandemic funds needed to provide testing and vaccinations. Republican obstructionism has forced the Democratic Biden administration to cut its request down to $10 billion—it was double that—and the GOP is delaying even that sum.

The higher death rates are also more prevalent in the South and Southwest, though poor Northern counties, like the Bronx, also appear. And, while it’s not in the report, the federal Centers for Disease Control map of coronavirus rates by county shows spots of yellow (“caution” warranted) and orange (“danger”) counties scattered nationwide—except for one huge cluster, combined yellow and orange, covering the traditional and very poor coal country of Appalachia.

So, for example, Galax County, Va., has a median income of $33,575, and 49.85% of its people live below 200% ($28,000) of the federal poverty line of $14,000 yearly for a single person. It also has a coronavirus death rate of 1,134 per 100,000 people. It’s in Southwest Virginia coal country.

The richest county, Loudoun, Va., in the D.C. suburbs, has a per capita income of $142,299, 10.2% live below the poverty line, and it’s suffered 84 deaths per 100,000. Both Loudoun and Galax are more than three-fourths non-Hispanic white.

Half of all Bronx residents live below the report’s $28,000 poverty line, the median income is $40,088, and its death rate—much higher when the pandemic began—is 538 per 100,000 people, the report notes. The Bronx is 9% Non-Hispanic white, 43.6% Black, and, showing how Hispanic people overlap the other two groups, 56% Hispanic.

The entire report, including interactive graphics and maps, can be found HERE.

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

People’s World, April 5, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/