Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Life in one of China's last communes

A look at life inside the Chinese commune village of Nanjie

As China prepares to mark the 60th anniversary of Communist rule, the BBC's Michael Bristow takes a look at one of the country's few remaining communes, a hallmark of the early Communist regime.

In the village of Nanjie in northern China, workers begin the day by singing in praise of the country's former leader Mao Zedong.

More than three decades after his death, Chairman Mao is still remembered fondly across China, but in Nanjie he has a special significance.

The village is one of the country's last remaining communes, where workers still abide by many of the former chairman's principles.

Most communes were disbanded years ago as China's leaders began to turn the country's planned economy into one governed by the market.

But the Nanjie commune is still going strong, providing its residents with their daily needs. Few people want to see it disappear.

Economic disaster

Mother-of-one Hu Xinhe is one of the commune's 4,000 or so permanent residents.

"I feel very relaxed and secure living in Nanjie. Whether we're talking about work or life in general, I'm very satisfied," said the 34-year-old.

As China's Communist Party celebrates 60 years in power this week, it is emphasising the country's bright future.

Staff at the commune's tourist hotel wear military-style uniforms
But this commune is a reminder that some people think the past had much to offer.

Nanjie lies in the rural heartland of Henan province.

Villagers have just harvested their crop of corn, which is currently drying on roadsides and in open spaces around Nanjie.

The commune also has a number of small food-processing factories that make products such as beer, chocolate, hot sauce and noodles.

Some noodles are even sold abroad - to Australia, the US and Canada.

Collective ownership

But there are reminders that capitalist ventures are not the main goal.

A statue of Mao takes pride of place in the village square. It is flanked by giant posters of other communist revolutionaries, such as Lenin and Stalin.

With its clean and tidy streets, Nanjie looks well-ordered and pleasant.

Giant posters of Communist heroes adorn the commune's main square
Communes were formed in the late 1950s as Chairman Mao tried to force rural people to live a more communist way of life.

Villagers had to pool their land, animals, tools and crops, and work for the collective.

In the early years, communes proved to be an economic disaster; they contributed to the deaths of millions of people through starvation between 1958-61.

They were finally abandoned in the early 1980s as villagers began to farm their own plots of land.

But a handful of communes - like the one in Nanjie - stayed as they were.

Wang Hongbin, the village's Communist Party secretary, said it had been the people themselves who had not wanted to disband the commune.

"They chose to have collective ownership. And if people want it, we - the party - have a responsibility to carry on with this system," he said.

Struggle to pay

In Nanjie, workers continue to toil for low wages, but in return are provided for in other ways by the commune.

"I earn about 400 yuan a month ($59; £37), but get very good welfare benefits," said Mrs Hu, who works as a quality control inspector in the village condiment factory.

"I get free medical care and housing - even gas, water and electricity are free."

Her son, nine-year-old Wang Haoyuan, also gets free education in the commune's schools. The collective will even pay for him to go to university.

Commune worker Hu Xinhe gets a range of benefits
It is this kind of security that makes life in Nanjie commune so attractive.

When China embarked on economic reforms in 1978, many benefits, particularly for China's farmers, disappeared.

They can now sell their own crops for profit, but some still struggle to pay school fees for their children or medical bills when they are sick.

Tens of millions of farmers have decided they cannot make ends meet and have left their villages to seek work in China's booming cities.

Uncertain future

Villagers who live near the Nanjie commune look on with envy at those inside.

One woman, surnamed Liu, said: "Living in Nanjie is so good - everything is supplied by the village. Although their salaries are low, they don't have to worry about other things.

"Our village doesn't give us many benefits, and I can't survive by farming alone."

Nanjie collective does have its critics, some of whom point out that it is not as communist as it makes out.

They claim the commune is in debt and does not treat its outside workers as well as it does permanent residents.

They also point out that it tries to trade on its communist credentials by encouraging tourists to visit.

There is a special hotel for visitors where workers wear military-style uniforms, presumably to reinforce the village's revolutionary history.

But while the commune may have its flaws, the people who live here say they genuinely believe in its aims.

At a time when the wealth gap between rich and poor is rising in China and life is uncertain for many, Nanjie offers the security and certainty of a bygone era.


Monday, 28 September 2009

In Taliban Country: The story of the Taliban's fall and rise, in their own words

During wars and after them, the real voice of the enemy is rarely heard. Propaganda is plentiful, as are prideful boasts—and the Taliban have certainly been quick studies at the modern art of information warfare. But the fears and ambitions of ordinary fighters are too often buried under statistics and theories propounded from thousands of miles away. That's been even more true in Iraq and Afghanistan, where reporters who might accurately convey the other side's perspective are at risk of being kidnapped or killed for their efforts.

After eight long years of war in Afghanistan, however, America and its allies can ill afford not to understand who the enemy is and why they fight. To put together this remarkable oral history, told through the words of the Taliban themselves, NEWSWEEK turned to contributing correspondent Sami Yousafzai, who has been covering the conflict for the magazine since 2001. Over that time he has developed and maintained contact with dozens of Afghan insurgents, including the six whose stories are told here.

Working with NEWSWEEK's Ron Moreau, Yousafzai spent more than a month crisscrossing Afghanistan and Pakistan to meet these sources. He has known them all for some time, and in the past their information has generally proved reliable. Their accounts may sometimes be self-serving—most Afghan civilians recall the Taliban regime far less fondly, for one thing—but the facts are consistent with what Yousafzai knows about the men from earlier reporting. While it's impossible to confirm the credibility of everything they say, their stories offer a rare chance to understand how the insurgents see this war, from the collapse of the Taliban, through their revival and, now, their budding ascendancy.

(Click here to see a map of the area, and click on the names to see bios of the people referenced in this story)

Chapter One: The Fall

'The bombs cut down our men like a reaper harvesting wheat. it felt like judgment day.'
—Maulvi Abdul Rehman Akhundzada

HAQQANI: Two days before the September 11 attacks on America, we were all celebrating the death of [Northern Alliance commanderAhmed Shah] Masood, [who was assassinated by Qaeda agents posing as television reporters]. His forces were already on the verge of defeat, so his death all but assured us of total victory in Afghanistan. But the September 11 attacks turned our cheer into deep concern. We gave those camels [a derogatory Afghan term for Arabs] free run of our country, and they brought us face to face with disaster. We knew the Americans would attack us in revenge.

Realizing the danger, I immediately sent my wife and children to Pakistan. The entire government started to fall apart. I never thought the Taliban would collapse so quickly and cruelly under U.S. bombs. Everyone began trying to save themselves and their families. When the bombing began, I changed out of my usual white mullah's garb, put on an old brown shalwar kameez, and headed for Pakistan. I crossed the mountains on foot, and at the top I turned around and said: "God bless you, Afghanistan. I'll never come back to you under our Islamic regime."

AKHUNDZADA: When the bombing started, I was commanding some 400 fighters on the front lines near Mazar-e Sharif. The bombs cut down our men like a reaper harvesting wheat. Bodies were dismembered. Dazed fighters were bleeding from the ears and nose from the bombs' concussions. We couldn't bury the dead. Our reinforcements died in their trenches.

I couldn't bring myself to surrender, so I retreated with a few of my men in the confusion. Everything was against us. The highway south to Kabul through the Salang Tunnel was blocked. We walked four days in the deep snow without food or water. Kids started shooting at us from the hilltops, hunting us like wild animals.

By the fifth day I could barely walk. I hid my weapon and walked to a village, saying I was a lost traveler and asking for food. The villagers fed me, but I had lost touch with my comrades. I walked on until a minibus came along; I aimed my gun at the driver and forced him to stop. The van was full of Taliban. They said they had no room for me, but I threatened to shoot out their tires unless they took me. I had to lie on the floor with their feet on my body. It was uncomfortable, but I was warm for the first time in days.

A group of local militiamen captured us the next morning at a checkpoint on the Kabul-Kandahar highway. We were nearly dead. Our mouths were dry and cracked, our lips bleeding. It felt like Judgment Day. I lay in their filthy jail for a month before they let me go free, just after the Eid holidays. With the strength I had left, I made it to Peshawar. Our Islamic Emirate had collapsed with less than 40 days of resistance—I couldn't accept that. Allah would let us rise again, I thought, because of all the blood we had spilled for Islam.

KHAN: After the mujahedin began retreating, Arabs, Chechens, and Taliban raced by our house and mosque in Ghazni in convoys of cars, pickups, and trucks, headed to Pakistan. Almost immediately they started getting bombed. So they abandoned their vehicles and started walking, even the wounded. Some injured Taliban, and Arabs with their families, came to seek shelter at my father's mosque. Other villagers wouldn't help them. Only my father and I brought them food.

YOUNAS: When I was a child, my father was a mujahedin commander in the jihad against the Russians, and he sent our family for safety to an Afghan refugee camp in Wana, South Waziristan. After the Taliban's victory [in 1996], he became an official in a ministry in Kabul. I used to visit him on holidays from Wana. The Islamic Emirate's collapse was like a nightmare.

I watched as wounded, disabled, and defeated Taliban fighters straggled into Wana and the surrounding villages, along with Arabs, Chechens, and Uzbeks. Every morning as I went to school I could see them wandering around town, almost like homeless beggars. Little by little, the tribal people started helping them, giving them food. Some people even took them into their houses; at first these once proud jihadis survived, thanks to the people's charity.

The Arabs were disappointed the Taliban hadn't stood and fought. They told me they had wanted to fight to the death. They were clearly not as distressed as the Afghans. That was understandable. The Arabs felt they had lost a battle. But the Afghans were much more devastated—they had lost their country.

MASIHUDDIN: When the Taliban fell, I was a madrassa student in Nuristan. Since all the Taliban officials and militiamen had fled, I decided to continue my studies in Pakistan.

[Then-Pakistani president Pervez] Musharraf imposed new rules on the Pakistani madrassas [in 2002], including a ban on foreign students. So I went to a mosque in an outlying village [near Peshawar] to study and wait for the situation to improve. We were 10 students studying and sleeping in one small room. The people couldn't afford to bring us food, so we often went without dinner. We rarely had electricity. Without a fan it was hard to study, even to sleep. To make matters worse, the Peshawar police were harassing and arresting us. They didn't hold us for long, though—I think they just wanted to frighten us. We began praying for the survival of the Taliban who had fled. There was no reason to pray for victory, since such a return seemed inconceivable.

HAQQANI:My father, brother, and family were at Mansehra [a town in northwestern Pakistan that is home to several Afghan refugee camps]. But I realized it wouldn't be wise to move in with them. Too many people knew who I was, and some had no love for the Taliban. Instead I found a place to stay at a mosque nearby. I had to sneak over at midnight just to see my kids, like a thief. When I was visiting my daughter one night, she asked me about our Kabul home, why we didn't have a car anymore. She complained that it was too hot in the refugee camp, and that she wanted to move back to the cool climate of Kabul. I couldn't answer her. But she could tell from my eyes how sad I was. I was a wreck—nervous, worried, and almost panic-stricken.

AKHUNDZADA: Once proud Taliban mullahs and fighters changed the way they dressed so they wouldn't be recognized. No one wanted to be identified as a Talib. Friends and relatives who had respected me while I was a commander now turned away. I had no money or job. I moved my family to a village in Punjab, far from Afghanistan, to become a day laborer, but I was a failure at it. I couldn't speak the local language, and no one would hire me. So I returned to Peshawar and started selling vegetables from a basket in the market. I began making money. But I couldn't get over the Taliban's collapse, the death of my men. My wife said I was crying in my sleep. I went to a doctor, who gave me some medicine. I was so distracted that when a customer would ask me for potatoes, I'd give him tomatoes.

Chapter Two: The Rebirth

'The end of the Taliban was the start of my Jihadi career.'
—Mullah Aga Mohammad

KHAN: Mullahs like my father became depressed. Under the Taliban they had been very influential, but after the collapse people paid less attention to them. My father was so upset, he had a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. At the end of 2002 the Afghan police raided our mosque. They grabbed my father and hauled him in front of the villagers, accusing him of being with the Taliban. They demanded to know where the Taliban's weapons were stored. They personally insulted him and then threw him in jail. He was 70.

The faithful at our mosque went to the police and complained. People who a few months before seemed to have turned against my father now supported him. They said it was a disgrace for the police to have entered the mosque wearing their shoes, and to have arrested an old, crippled imam. In early 2003 he died.

I was a just a kid, but the police arrested me too, twice—once from my house, once from the mosque. They interrogated me, asking stupid questions like: "Where are the Taliban?" "Where are the weapons hidden?" My family sold our motorbike to raise the money to free me. The police also arrested my brother, who was a schoolteacher. The police even arrested, insulted, and manhandled a 90-year-old mullah in our district. People's attitudes were changing; they were becoming angry at the police and the local officials for the disrespect they were showing toward mosques and mullahs.

YOUNAS: At first I didn't hear the Afghans talking about going back to fight. But the Arabs did, and they encouraged the Afghans and the local tribal people not to give up. Nothing much happened for the first year or so, but then the Arabs started organizing some training camps. The first one I heard about was at Shin Warsak village, near Wana. When I had some time off from school, I decided to visit. I was really impressed. There was more than one camp. One was run by Arabs, and another by Chechens and Uzbeks.

Thanks to my madrassa studies I could speak Arabic; I made friends with Egyptians, Saudis, Libyans, and Yemenis. Nek Mohammad Wazir [a pro-Taliban Pakistani tribal leader who was killed by a June 2004 Predator strike] gave the Arabs places to train and access to weapons and other supplies. They moved openly on the main roads and in the towns and villages, showing no concern about security. I decided to leave my studies and join their resistance.

MOHAMMAD:The end of the Taliban was the start of my jihadi career. My father died in 1994, leaving me to take care of my mother, brothers, and sisters. So I'd had no time to join Mullah Omar's movement. For years I had a very heavy conscience for having missed the jihad. After the collapse of the Taliban in late 2001, many injured and traumatized mujahedin began coming to the mosque in Peshawar where I was the imam. Some of the worshipers asked me outright why I hadn't fought in the jihad like these men.

I needed to make up for not joining the fight. I started asking around if the mujahedin were still active, but no one could give me a real answer. Then one day I heard about a young Afghan named Azizullah who had been in the resistance—he's in jail now in Afghanistan. I went to his house, and told him I wanted to help the resistance against the Americans if it was forming. He lied, saying he was only a poor man and had nothing to do with jihad. Then one day I saw him walking to the mosque. I joined him. He was still hesitant, but finally he said he could help. He gave me directions to a militant camp in Waziristan and a letter of introduction.

HAQQANI: In early 2003 my family and I moved to a rented house near Peshawar. It was the first time I was living in my own house since 2001. I put my white clerical outfit back on. And suddenly the Taliban's defense minister, Mullah Obaidullah, came to see me—the first senior Taliban leader I had seen since our collapse. He was traveling around Pakistan to rally our dispersed forces. Half the Taliban leadership was back in touch with each other, he said, and they were determined to start a resistance movement to expel the Americans. I didn't think it was possible, but he assured me I could help.

He said to meet him again in two weeks, and gave me an address. I was surprised at the number and rank of the people I found at the meeting. There were former senior ministers and military commanders, all sitting together, all eager to resist the Americans. Obaidullah told me: "We don't need you as a deputy minister or bureaucrat. We want you to bring as many fighters as you can into the field."

AKHUNDZADA: One day a man came to buy vegetables—a mullah who had worked with our jihad in northern Afghanistan for years. We recognized each other. He asked me what I wanted to do: keep selling potatoes or go back to the jihad. I was making about 2,000 rupees [$33] a day, which was good, but I wanted to rejoin the struggle. We went to a meeting at night near Peshawar, and I couldn't believe what I saw: my top commander [from the northern front], Mullah Dadullah! He was my ideal; his name meant victory for us. My interest in the vegetable business disappeared. After six or seven months I was called to Miran Shah [in North Waziristan]. Dadullah [who would be killed in May 2007] was there; so were Akhtar Mohammad Osmani [who would be killed in December 2006] and our defense minister, Mullah Obaidullah [who would be captured by Pakistani forces in March 2007]. It was decided that each commander should go find his former soldiers and prepare to return to Afghanistan to fight.

I was sent to Quetta, where survivors from my unit had settled. There had been 400 fighters under my command. In Quetta I found 15 of them. They embraced me and the idea of returning to free our land of the American invaders. In North Waziristan we trained, re-equipped, recruited more men, and got ready to return to Afghanistan.

MOHAMMAD:I left my family in the care of my younger brother and traveled to South Waziristan. I ended up at a mosque in a remote mountain village, where a mullah looked at Azizullah's letter of introduction and led me farther into the rugged countryside to a secret place, well hidden among the hills, rocks, bushes, and trees. There were checkpoints guarded by armed men who would not even let locals pass by. A group of 20 or 30 Arab fighters from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Egypt met me there, with a few Afghans and Chechens. They were very distrustful and questioned me rather roughly.

Another more senior Arab interviewed me at length. The biggest question he wanted answered was why I hadn't fought in Mullah Omar's jihad. After a few hours I was taken to their leader, Abu Khabab [al-Masri, a senior Qaeda operative and bombmaker who was killed in a July 2008 Predator strike]. He was welcoming, not hostile like the others. He sat by my side on the floor of a mud-brick house and asked me why I wanted to join their struggle and what I thought I could contribute.

Only a few select Arabs and other jihadis were allowed up a mountain near the camp. That's where most of the leadership lived. Some big jihadi stars were there besides Abu Khabab, like Abu Laith al-Libi [a guerrilla-war expert who was killed by a January 2008 Predator strike] and Abu Hamza Rabia [a senior Qaeda planner who was killed by a Predator in late 2005]. Even so, there wasn't much food or money. I thought the mujahedin at the camp seemed disappointed at times because they had little to do. But the Arabs slowly grew friendlier with the locals. Soon local tribesmen were being welcomed into certain sectors of the camp, bringing food, supplies, and money. Some even brought us AK-47s and RPGs.

YOUNAS:In our camp there were about 150 Arabs, along with some Afghans, Chechens, and local tribal militants. The Arab instructors taught us how to fire Kalashnikovs, especially in close-range fighting; how to gather intelligence on the enemy; and how to fire mortars and rockets accurately. It was a friendly place; we all felt a commitment to help and sacrifice for each other. At the start of 2003, the weather became bitterly cold, and the camp closed. But the commander called me back that March. He told me he was working with Nek Mohammad to arrange for one of the first cross-border attacks against American forces in Afghanistan. Even with Nek Mohammad's help, we only had usable weapons for 50 of the roughly 200 mujahedin who had been trained. But 50 of us—a couple dozen Arabs, three or four Afghans like myself, and some Waziri and Mehsud tribals—were armed and ready to go.

MOHAMMAD: The first thing I learned was to shoot, field-strip, and maintain an AK-47. Then we did ambush and guerrilla-war exercises day and night in the hills. The Arabs taught us how to make an IED by mixing nitrate fertilizer and diesel fuel, and how to pack plastic explosives and to connect them to detonators and remote-control devices like mobile phones. We learned how to do this blindfolded so we could safely plant IEDs in the dark.

Discipline was strict. Any trainee who broke the rules could get a severe beating. You had to wake up before dawn every morning for physical exercises and to run in the mountains. Recruits were awakened at all hours of the night so they would learn to be alert in an emergency. I don't see this kind of discipline in camps run by the Afghan Taliban today.

After two months of hard training, we graduated. There were 200 of us: about 160 local tribals, a few Punjabis, and about 40 Afghans like me. We were divided up into 10 groups. Each had two or three Arabs assigned to it as commanders and instructors. We split up: some groups went to Khost and Paktia provinces, and others to Ghazni and Kandahar. Three of our groups were bombed by the Americans crossing the border. It was very dangerous back then. We had to run quickly and stay out of sight. We didn't want villagers to see us. At that time they weren't very supportive, and there were spies looking for us. We wanted to reach the cover of ravines, rocks, and trees before the sun rose.

Chapter Three: The Taliban Surge

'After these first few attacks, God seems to have opened channels of money for us.'
—Qari Younas

YOUNAS: One night in April [2003], we crossed the border in five pickups and one larger truck. Once we were safely across, we sent the vehicles back to wait for us on the Pakistan side. Our target was a U.S. base just across the border at Machda in Paktika province. We attacked at dawn. I think we really surprised them. We shelled them with 122mm rockets and mortars for about 30 minutes. But we didn't get close enough to fire our Kalashnikovs; before we could move in, American helicopters came, raining rockets and bullets on us. Terrified, I crawled and ran to escape death. Amid the noise and explosions, dust and smoke, I remember seeing six of us cut down and killed: two Arabs, three tribals, and an Afghan.

Still, I was strangely exhilarated. We showed our resolve by fighting, by taking a stand. We knew we'd be back. We carried the stiff and bloodied bodies of our martyrs back to Wana. Thousands of locals attended their funerals, saying it was an honor to witness the burial of these martyrs. People brought flowers, ribbons, colored cloth, and flags to decorate their graves. As the news traveled, a lot of former Taliban began returning to Wana to join us.

HAQQANI:Arab and Iraqi mujahedin began visiting us, transferring the latest IED technology and suicide-bomber tactics they had learned in the Iraqi resistance during combat with U.S. forces. The American invasion of Iraq was very positive for us. It distracted the United States from Afghanistan. Until 2004 or so, we were using traditional means of fighting like we used against the Soviets—AK-47s and RPGs. But then our resistance became more lethal, with new weapons and techniques: bigger and better IEDs for roadside bombings, and suicide attacks.

KHAN:By the middle of 2004, we were hearing rumors that the Taliban were operating once again in Ghazni. Friends and relatives in other rural districts were saying that armed men were beginning to show up in villages at night on motorbikes. Within a few months, signs of them began appearing everywhere. At first we saw shabnama ["night letters"] that the Taliban were leaving in shops, mosques, and other public places warning people not to cooperate with [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai and the Americans. By the beginning of 2005 the Taliban began targeted killings of police officers, government officials, spies, and elders who were working with the Americans.

One night around midnight someone knocked on the door of our house. We were terrified, fearing that the police had come back to arrest me or my brother once again. But when we opened the door, it was one of my father's former students. He had a Kalashnikov on his shoulder and was a Taliban subcommander already. The two other Taliban he was with also carried AKs and had several hand grenades attached to their belts. This was my first encounter with the Taliban since the defeat. We invited them to spend the night. Early the next morning I accompanied them to the mosque. My father's former student read out the names of those he accused of having betrayed Islam by following Karzai and the infidels. He warned them to cease all contact and to quit any job they may have had with the government or the Americans. He ended by saying he would return in one week.

MOHAMMAD:Those first groups crossing the border were almost totally sponsored, organized, and led by Arab mujahedin. The Afghan Taliban were weak and disorganized. But slowly the situation began to change. American operations that harassed villagers, bombings that killed civilians, and Karzai's corrupt police and officials were alienating villagers and turning them in our favor. Soon we didn't have to hide so much on our raids. We came openly. When they saw us, villagers started preparing green tea and food for us. The tables were turning. Karzai's police and officials mostly hid in their district compounds like prisoners.

YOUNAS: After these first few attacks, God seems to have opened channels of money for us. I was told money was flowing from the Gulf to the Arabs.

Our real jihad was beginning by the start of 2005. Jalaluddin Haqqani's tribal fighters came actively back to our side because the Americans and the Pakistanis had arrested his brother and other relatives. He appointed his son Sirajuddin to lead the resistance. That was a real turning point. Until then villagers in Paktia, Paktika, and Khost thought the Taliban was defeated and finished. They had started joining the militias formed by the Americans and local warlords, and were informing on us and working against us. But with the support of Haqqani's men we began capturing, judging, and beheading some of those Afghans who worked with the Americans and Karzai. Terrorized, their families and relatives left the villages and moved to the towns, even to Kabul. Our control was slowly being restored.

KHAN: My father's former student returned as promised a week later. I decided to join him. I helped assassinate those people who had continued their contacts with the government and the Americans. I didn't want to kill, but I was determined to bring back our Islamic regime and get rid of the Americans and the traitors allied with them.

By the end of 2005 the Taliban's ranks in Ghazni were increasing. There were new recruits like me and more former Taliban returning home from Pakistan. At the same time, we started receiving shipments of RPGs, rockets, mines, and bombs, most of which were old and rusty. My group only had three RPG launchers and only one mortar tube, and a few rounds for each. We had a few rusty Russian mines that only worked about 30 percent of the time. So we could only carry out very quick and limited attacks on convoys, construction crews, and district compounds. At first we didn't have much success. But we were learning. Just firing a mortar, even if it didn't hit the target, was a big deal: it proved to everyone we were there and were a force to be respected.

The Americans and their Afghan allies made mistakes after mistake, killing and arresting innocent people. There was one village in Dayak district near Ghazni City where the people had communist backgrounds, from the days of the Russians, and had never supported us. But the police raided the village, beat the elders at a mosque and arrested them, accusing them of being Taliban. They were freed after heavy bribes were paid. After that incident the whole village sent us a message asking forgiveness for the abuses of the communist era.

AKHUNDZADA: There are famous Taliban poems about how mujahedin come to free villages from occupiers at the point of a bayonet. I began living that poem. My body and mind got stronger and my mental problems disappeared. As word of our success traveled, I was able to organize another group of new, young recruits. They were smarter, more spirited, and better motivated than my former Taliban fighters.

Still, we lacked weapons and money. So I visited Mullah Dadullah. He had gone into Helmand province in early 2006 with 30 people. When he returned months later, he had organized 300 sub-commanders who each had dozens of troops. He had also signed up and was training hundreds of suicide-bomb volunteers. His return was like the arrival of rain after five years of drought.

I gave him a list of our needs. Even before he read the list, he smiled and said: "Whether I am alive or dead, remember this: the resistance will become greater than your greatest expectations. We will return to control Afghanistan." The next day he called me, took a page out of a notebook, wrote something on it, and gave it to me. The note said to go and see this guy and he will help you. Back in Pakistan, I found the man. He kissed Dadullah's letter. After two weeks this man had provided me with all the guns, weapons, and supplies I had requested. Dadullah gave such letters to many people.

MOHAMMAD:Once we sent a shipment for the making of IEDs to our forces in Zabul province. For some reason we forgot to include the remote-control devices. I got an urgent call from the commander asking me to quickly send the missing items. So I hid the remotes among some books and clothes in several travel bags. At Torkham [the Khyber Pass crossing], the police asked me to open the bags. At first I thought I should flee. But where could I run? I started searching for the key to open the bags. There was a long customs queue. The impatient policeman finally said: "You're taking too long. Get out of here."

Another night I was in a hotel in Kabul on a mission to smuggle remote devices and explosives. Afghan police and intelligence were checking all the travelers staying in the hotel. My fellow mujahedin and I hid the bags containing the remotes in the bathroom. The police checked our luggage and pockets. But God blinded their eyes to the bathroom. If they had found the devices I would have ended up in jail for life. All these close calls strengthened my faith and my commitment to the jihad.

HAQQANI: In 2007 I returned to Afghanistan for the first time. I visited the south and spoke to Taliban units, to elders and villagers, and raised new recruits. Mullah Omar has entrusted me with the job of touring towns and villages on both sides of the border to encourage people to support, contribute to, and join the jihad. Between 2006 and 2009 I have personally raised hundreds of new recruits to join the resistance. [In August] I traveled to eight Afghan provinces in 20 days. The unpopularity of the Karzai regime helps us immensely. In 2005 some Afghans thought Karzai would bring positive change. But now most Afghans believe the Taliban are the future. The resistance is getting stronger day by day.

Chapter Four: You Have the Watches, We Have the Time

'We were born here. We will die here. We aren't going anywhere.'
—Mullah Aga Mohammad

MASIHUDDIN: That base on top of the mountain [in Barge Matal] had to go. The Americans there were monitoring our phone calls and walkie-talkies, and they ran intelligence operations with Afghan spies from there. So [last June] we began carefully planning an attack. One of our men said that the mission would be hard even if the Americans only threw stones at us, as we'd be attacking up a steep mountain. Everyone laughed at him, but we knew there was some truth in what he said.

I asked for volunteers, and everyone signed up. As usual we prepared a medical team, including donkeys and stretchers to evacuate our wounded. But as I divided up weapons, ammunition, explosives, and communications gear, it started to rain heavily. The Americans have heavy boots and other mountain equipment that allows them to move up and down the steep rocks. But our men mostly wear leather sandals that don't give us any grip. So we postponed the attack for two weeks.

KHAN: Fighting the Americans is not easy. One night in the summer of 2007, my commander, Mullah Nurla, was killed in an American raid on his house. Other Americans killed 12 of our commanders. All the raids came between midnight and dawn. We found out that the Americans were finding us by tracing our cell-phone calls, and by calls from spies giving away our locations. So we forced the cell companies to stop all transmissions from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. We still worry about helicopters and bombers, but we are suffering fewer American night raids. I think they just don't have the intelligence they used to have. Fewer people are willing to cooperate with them and betray us.

Our men, on the other hand, are watching American bases 24 hours a day. They inform us of American movements. We used to hit the Americans with roadside bombs and then disappear. Now when we explode an IED, we follow that with AK and RPG fire. We now have more destructive IEDs, mostly ammonium-nitrate bombs that we mix with aluminum shards. We get regular deliveries of these fertilizers, explosives, fuses, detonators, and remote controls. One heavy shipment is on its way right now. I think we are better at making IEDs now than the Arabs who first taught us.

HAQQANI: I admit Taliban commanders are being captured and killed, but that hasn't stopped us, and it won't. Our jihad is more solid and deep than individual commanders and fighters—and we are not dependent on foreigners, on the ISI [Pakistan's intelligence agency], or Al Qaeda. Personally I think all this talk about Al Qaeda being strong is U.S. propaganda. As far as I know, Al Qaeda is weak, and they are few in numbers. Now that we control large amounts of territory, we should have a strict code of conduct for any foreigners working with us. We can no longer allow these camels to roam freely without bridles and control.

MASIHUDDIN: Late Friday afternoon, after prayers, we began to move. We slowly sent our people up the mountain as the shadows lengthened. The mujahedin climbed slowly, steadily. We waited quietly on the ridgeline overnight without fires for warmth or to cook food. We've learned that the Americans are always listening for the smallest sound.

I gave the signal to attack just before sunrise. We started with our mortar and rocket teams shelling the base from the surrounding hilltops. By dawn our mujahedin were almost hugging the base's outer walls. We killed a number of Afghan Army soldiers, and one U.S. soldier who may have been hit in a guard tower. As we fought, our video team filmed our advance. Our mortars, rockets, and RPGs destroyed most of one outer defensive wall. We yelled to those inside to come out and surrender. No one came out. So we set fire to one side of the post and moved around to wait on the opposite side. The smoke forced some, if not all, of the soldiers to abandon the post. During the attack we didn't lose any fighters.

Then American helicopters arrived, firing rockets and machine guns. We fought until sunset. We lost 12 Taliban to martyrdom, largely to the helicopter fire that comes down like heavy rain. We cannot compare our military strength to that of the Americans. But we have learned how to stay protected behind rocks and mountains. Even with all their advanced technology, we forced them to withdraw and captured that base. [Coalition forces retook the post three days later and later abandoned it; a U.S. chronology of the battle differs in some details.]

YOUNAS: Not long ago, when one of my younger brothers got married, my mother asked me: "Boy, when will you marry?" I told her that the day I help to bring the Taliban back to Kabul and restore the Islamic Emirate is the day I will marry. That day may be far away, but I know it will come.

KHAN: The Americans talk about getting Taliban to leave the jihad for their dollars. That's ridiculous. I was engaged to be married a year ago, but I don't have the $1,500 bride price to give to the girl's father or the $500 for the wedding. If I had money, I would not delay my marriage. Who would marry me? You'd be surprised. The people here are not worried about giving their daughter or sister to Taliban, who can get killed within one week of the wedding. They are happy to be part of the jihad.

It's not easy being in the Taliban. It's like wearing a jacket of fire. You have to leave your family and live with the knowledge that you can be killed at any time. The Americans can capture you and put you in dog cages in Bagram and Guantánamo. You can't expect any quick medical treatment if you're wounded. You don't have any money. Yet when I tell new recruits what they are facing they still freely put on this jacket of fire. All this builds my confidence that we will never lose this war.

MOHAMMAD: We never worry about time. We will fight until victory no matter how long it takes. The U.S. has the weapons, but we are prepared for a long and tireless jihad. We were born here. We will die here. We aren't going anywhere.

MASIHUDDIN: In the south the mujahedin have adjusted to Obama's new crusade by making some small strategic withdrawals and fighting back mostly with IEDs. But we mujahedin in Kunar and Nuristan are lucky. These mountains and forests are our protectors. Trees and rocks shelter us everywhere. The Americans can't match us here.

Two or three years ago, U.S. soldiers in the region acted as if they were on holiday. They were taking videos and photos of themselves and walking in the mountains for fun. They were playing games in the open. Those days are over. Now they are forced to keep their fingers on their triggers 24 hours a day.

AKHUNDZADA: Sometimes I think what's happened is like a dream. I thought my beard would be white by the time I saw what I am seeing now, but my beard is still black, and we get stronger every day.


Workers’ unity needed to counter ultra-right mobilizations

By Fred Goldstein
Published Sep 23, 2009 7:43 PM

The recent mass mobilization of racists and right-wingers of all stripes in Washington, D.C., and in cities around the country requires the attention of the working class, white workers especially. In the face of mounting racism and efforts to divide the workers during an economic crisis, the struggle for class unity is more pressing than ever.

While these right-wing demonstrations are numerically small, and may eventually die down, they are politically significant because they represent a de facto bloc between important sections of big business and the racist ultra-right, based upon an immediate common objective: to push back the program of the Obama administration.

Whether this is just a bloc convenient for a particular conjuncture that will dissolve depends upon the fate of President Barack Obama’s program, the course of the economic crisis and the development of the class struggle.

The social and political soil for further inflaming racism is fertile. There are short-term, specific economic interests that the health care industry and Big Oil (ExxonMobil, Chevron, etc.) have in fomenting anti-Obama sentiment, and there are long-term strategic interests that the ruling class as a whole has in stirring up racism.

As far as the right and the ultra-right are concerned, as long as there is an African-American president in the White House and an increase in unemployment, bankruptcies and economic hardship, the basis for racist mobilization will continue to exist.

At the same time, the economic crisis, which is striking relentlessly at the entire multinational working class, provides a profound and powerful basis for a united working-class fightback. Preparations must begin now to mount a strong, anti-racist, pro-working-class counterattack against both the economic crisis and racist division.

Concerning ruling-class politics, it is important to trace the evolution of recent developments.

Throughout August the capitalist media depicted the right-wing and racist intervention at the town hall meetings on health care as an expression of grassroots anger against the prospect of government intervention, excessive government spending, and fear of losing health care, among other things.

It was clear to anyone paying attention that the outrageous attacks on Obama, the racist signs and slogans, including ugly pictures and drawings of all types, had nothing to do with health care or government spending. Actual mentions of health care were a thin veneer covering racist attacks on the first African-American president. They actually popped up in a forest of other slogans about Obama being like Hitler and attacks on socialism, abortion and undocumented workers.

The so-called “tea party” in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 12 has also been depicted as a manifestation of grassroots protest against upcoming legislation on health care reform and environmental protection, including limits on industrial pollution. Tens of thousands attended this event, many with right-wing and racist slogans directed at Obama.

These orchestrated events have been on the increase since the right wing first initiated them in February against the Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout of the banks. When directed against the banks, they were quite small and not very widespread. Fox News did its best to make these pathetic showings of a handful of ultra-right stragglers look like a grassroots groundswell.

The Republican Party at first made a gesture toward the ultra-right and tried to strike a blow against Obama by voting against TARP. But Wall Street cracked the whip and forced a re-vote, and the TARP $750 billion bank bailout passed. One by one a majority of the right-wing legislators took the floor to explain why they were changing their votes. None gave the real explanation. Their Wall Street masters gave them unequivocal orders.

Because the demonstrations were against the banks, they were small and scattered. They continued to be small on tax day, April 15, when the issue used to attack Obama was still the bailout of the banks and the stimulus package, both programs that the ruling class as a whole favored.

Health insurance companies and Big Oil move in

But once the health care legislation came on the political agenda, the ultra-right, with their racist poison, took a step forward–especially in the so-called “town hall” meetings. In these meetings the ultra-right were joined by the health care industry.

UnitedHealthcare and WellPoint, two of the largest health insurance companies in the country, sent memos to their employees to take part in the town hall meetings and do lobbying. They also sent talking points along with the memos. They are both under government investigation in California for these activities. (Los Angeles Times, Sept. 3)

UnitedHealthcare and WellPoint were caught because their e-mails were leaked to the media. But other such companies undoubtedly participated in the so-called “grassroots” upsurge.

Around the time of the right-wing town hall offensive, Big Oil, which had been lobbying behind the scenes to kill Obama’s environmental legislation, decided to follow in the footsteps of the health care monopolies.

The cap-and-trade program to put limits on allowable pollution by corporations and require them to purchase pollution permits was regarded as an unwarranted restriction on profits. Furthermore, in the fall, environmental legislation is coming before Congress. After that, the international follow-up to the Kyoto Accords is scheduled for negotiation in Copenhagen. The polluters want to tie Obama’s hands in Congress so that he cannot even negotiate on significant reductions of carbon gas emissions.

A memo leaked from the American Petroleum Institute, the central organization of Big Oil, and published by Greenpeace revealed the API plan to establish “Energy Citizens” rallies across the country. The memo called upon member oil companies to recruit employees, retirees and contractors to participate in anti-climate control rallies in 22 cities.

The coal industry, railroads, utilities, the National Association of Manufacturers, and other big-business polluters have joined Big Oil in its campaign to create an anti-environmental “grassroots” campaign. The oil companies planned to field over 200,000 so-called volunteers and provide buses, rally financing and other support.

Big firms work with ultra-right

Who did the health care industry and the polluters work with? The two principal organizations operating both campaigns are called Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity.

Freedomworks is headed by right-wing politician/ideologue/organizer Dick Armey, the former House majority leader from Texas. Other right-wing racists helped form its leadership, including billionaire Steve Forbes, the late Jack Kemp, and C. Boyden Grey. Freedomworks collaborates with Newt Gingrich, among others.

Because of all the recent publicity, Armey recently resigned from his position with DLA Piper, a high-powered global lobbying firm. DLA Piper’s clients include the DuPont Corp., BP America, Edison Electric and Alliant Energy, among other energy-related polluters.

The firm also represents military contractor Raytheon, pharmaceuticals Sanovi-Aventis and Medicines Co., Qualcomm, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and various other giant companies.

Armey and Freedomworks constitute a convenient nexus between big business and the ultra-right. Up until the Obama administration took office, Freedomworks was mainly a networking organization that carried out occasional, limited campaigns. These included a campaign to privatize Social Security in 2006, a campaign against Obama’s program of aid to people facing foreclosure, and several right-wing electoral campaigns.

Another nexus is Americans for Prosperity. According to Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace, this group “is doing both attacks on cap-and-trade and attacks on health care, funded by Koch Industries ... a big oil company. So this is a coordinated attack. And as you know, it’s ... bigger than these issues. It is an attack on Obama’s power base.” (Democracy Now, Aug. 21)

Since the health care industry, Big Oil and other big-business industries began artificially manufacturing “grassroots” political opposition to the Obama program, Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity have been catapulted into the national spotlight. They have gone from behind-the-scenes networking and sporadic public activities to mobilizing demonstrations on a national scale.

Such organizations can easily be dissolved or supplanted by others, and are not a threat in and of themselves. But they are a transmission belt of funds and resources, both from the big bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie, that are used to create an arena for organizing by right-wing groups.

Right-wing strength exaggerated

The right wing appears much stronger than its actual representation in the population. Millions of white workers voted for Obama. It is doubtful at this point that they are being swept into a racist backlash.

The strength of the right is exaggerated both because the ruling class, including their media, want it that way and because the working class has not yet moved onto the arena of struggle to challenge the economic crisis.

Obama’s candidacy was predicated on getting the troops out of Iraq and achieving a domestic program of reforming the health care system, reversing the destruction of the environment, and reviving the educational system, among other things. The reforms proposed were mild at best.

But big business has been on the gravy train since the end of the Jimmy Carter administration in the late 1970s, when deregulation began in many areas of capitalism. Then, under Reagan, Clinton and the Bushes, the corporations have had a veritable free hand to expand their profits and exploitation–facilitated by the destruction of anti-trust laws, NAFTA and the repeal of depression-era banking restrictions.

The bosses want nothing to interfere with this system. They are determined to push back any reforms that diminish their profits–including even the mildest health care reform or restrictions on pollution. Hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate wealth are ultimately at stake. There is nothing that the oil and coal companies, the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and all the rest of the profiteers won’t do to get their way.

That is their immediate cause for fanning the flames of racism and getting behind right-wing propaganda about “big government” and “socialism.” The right-wing ideologues and the corporations have a common interest in promoting such poison.

But all this seems far weightier than it actually is regarding the general population. And that is because the working class has not yet entered the arena of struggle.

The situation is still at the point where it takes former President Carter to acknowledge the hostility to Obama is racism. As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote: “Did we really need Jimmy Carter to tell us that racism is one of the driving forces behind the relentless and often scurrilous attacks on President Obama? We didn’t know that? As John McEnroe might say, ‘You can’t be serious.’” (Sept. 19)

While it was progressive for Carter to call out the racism behind the anti-Obama campaign of the Republicans and the ultra-right, the African-American population and the working class should not have to rely on a representative of U.S. imperialism to fight their battles.

After all, as Herbert pointed out, Carter once defended neighborhood “ethnic purity” during his presidential campaign. In addition, Carter turned his back on millions of poor women, disproportionately Black and Latina, when he refused to override legislation banning the use of federal funds for abortion. At the time Carter was asked at a press conference if this was fair. His infamous and callous response was: “Life is not fair.” (National Black Network, July 18, 1977)

Obama and Carter

The media have pitted Carter against Obama on the question of race. Obama has denied that race has motivated the hostility to him and attributed it to fear of government. It is easy for Carter to come off smelling like a rose because now that he has no authority, he can say what he likes. When he was president and had the authority to act on behalf of the poor and the oppressed, he declined to do so.

Obama, on the other hand, is caught in a vise-like dilemma. As president, he is supposed to represent the overall interests of the ruling class. Were he to open up a struggle against racism, he would be abandoning his role as representative of the collective interests of the ruling class and would become an advocate for the oppressed.

Precisely because he is African American and is president, even the slightest tilt in an openly anti-racist direction could be a great stimulus to the anti-racist struggle and lead to destabilizing the racist status quo. The ruling class, however, would regard such a development as a gross violation of his office. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, is not endangering the status quo.

This became evident during the Professor Henry Louis Gates affair when Obama said the Cambridge cops “acted stupidly” and was then forced to take it back. The fact that the establishment allowed a local cop and a local police department to defy the president of the U.S. and to refuse to apologize for an egregious case of racial profiling shows how sensitive the ruling class is to Obama’s tilting even slightly toward criticizing racism or the racist police.

In the Gates case, Obama could not even defend one of the most prestigious members of academia against the police thug who illegally arrested him. Now, in the case of the so-called anti-health care reform demonstrations, Obama cannot even defend himself against racism. He is in the utterly contradictory position of being the first African American to head the capitalist state—which is, among other things, a racist state, the same racist state that Carter loyally served when he was president.

In any case, the arguments put forward by both Obama and Carter obscure the class truth of the present situation. It is the racist ruling class that is ultimately behind the town halls, the “tea parties,” and the arch-racists like Rep. Joe Wilson.

It is the working class that must lead the real struggle on the ground to beat back the racist attack. The unions and the community organizations should take over the town hall meetings and the streets with demands for jobs, health care, housing and an end to racism.

Out of the population of 300 million people in the United States, 100 million are now people of color. That proportion is rising. The working class is becoming more and more multinational, and the long-term strategy of the ruling class is to keep the workers from uniting.

Racism has been a prop for U.S. capitalism since the days of slavery. It has been used economically to extract super-profits from the African-American, Latino/a, Indigenous and Asian populations. And it has been used to politically poison white workers and keep them from uniting against the class enemy.

But the needs of the class struggle can turn this around. It should be remembered that the Ku Klux Klan reached its height during the 1920s. In 1924 tens of thousands of KKK members held a march in Washington, D.C. The Klan spread its influence far beyond the South. It included governors, mayors, state legislators and judges.

But then came the upsurge of the working class in the 1930s. The Klan showed its anti-union colors as workers all over gravitated toward the Congress of Industrial Organizations and industrial unionism. Union organizers promoted Black-white unity, a necessity in the struggle to organize. The Klan, always an instrument of capital and the big plantation owners in the South, turned its fire against the unions.

The KKK opposed the Unemployed Councils; it opposed the Textile Workers Organizing Committee, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, the sit-down strike movement, and the class struggle in general. It carried out floggings and murders of labor organizers. But in the long run, it lost out to the industrial union movement. While it retained strength in the South, it was pushed back for decades by the rise of the class struggle.

The road to beating back the racists today is the same as the road to beating back the effects of the capitalist crisis–the united class struggle and mass mobilization of a labor-community alliance.

White workers must recognize that racism is the tool of the class enemy. As Karl Marx wrote 150 years ago in the first volume of “Capital”: “In the United States of North America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the Black it is branded.”

An injury to one is an injury to all.

Fred Goldstein is the author of the recently published book “Low-Wage Capitalism.”

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Bill Speirs (1952-2009) Trade union leader, socialist, internationalist

Thursday 24 September 2009
by Malcolm Burns

Bill was a leading figure in Scottish and British politics, where his strategic and tactical abilities were put to good use in fighting the neoliberal onslaught of the Tory years and in helping to deliver and secure the Scottish Parliament.

He was also a staunch internationalist who contributed immensely to many of the great causes of our time, especially the victorious campaign against apartheid in South Africa and the continuing fight to win freedom and justice for the Palestinian people.

Bill grew up in Renfrew and was educated at the John Neilston Institute and then at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, where he gained a first-class honours degree in politics.

Everyone who came across Bill, friend and foe, recognised and respected his sharp intellect. Communist Jimmy Milne, who was then STUC general secretary, made a shrewd appointment when hiring the 26-year-old Bill as an assistant secretary in 1978. By that time, Bill had already cut his teeth in student politics and on the Scottish Labour Party left.

In almost three decades at the STUC, Bill rose to become deputy general secretary from 1988 and general secretary from 1998. He was also chairman of the Scottish Labour Party in 1987.

His career spanned the dark Tory years between the defeat of the 1970s Labour government following the failure to deliver devolution and the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

That Scotland finally won its parliament is due in no small part to Bill Speirs and his predecessor as STUC general secretary, the redoubtable Campbell Christie.

Trade unions are not political parties, but the STUC has played a remarkable role in Scottish political, economic and social life - not only leading industrial struggles, but raising awareness, building broad alliances and seeking democracy and justice both at home and abroad.

The miners' strike, the struggle for the steel and shipbuilding industries, Caterpillar, the fight against the poll tax, opposing nuclear weapons, defending the NHS, the long campaign for a Scottish parliament - some of those campaigns we won, some we lost. But in every case we made an impact and Scotland still retains much which Thatcher sought to destroy. Bill was in the forefront of every campaign. His creativity and energy were always deployed to try to maximise the interests of working people.

His internationalism was rooted in links of solidarity between working people - with trade unionists in eastern Europe during the cold war, in South Africa and Palestine, Cuba and Chile, in war-torn Bosnia and many more. And he was no tourist. He went to places where people needed STUC solidarity and he sometimes faced danger, even bullets, as a result.

He was to the fore in the massive anti-war protest in February 2003 and also led the Make Poverty History campaign in July 2005, each of which mobilised hundreds of thousands on the streets.

Bill also did important work as a member of the Employment Appeals Tribunal and on bodies such as the Scottish Arts Council and 7:84 theatre company.

He retired in 2006, but despite continuing ill health remained an activist in the Labour Party, Scottish Friends of Palestine and in his local community.

He enjoyed joking that on his birthday, March 8, women all over the world celebrated. He made that joke every year. Of course he too celebrated International Women's Day as a strong supporter of equal rights.

Bill loved music. He had a fine voice and lost no opportunity to sing. He would make up songs in celebration of people and events. His version of Catch A Falling Star, complete with actions, is legendary - and especially his adaptation of the words: "Buy a Morning Star and put it in your pocket, read it every single day ... never let it fade away."

Bill read, supported and contributed to the Morning Star. He took the paper every day, promoted it in his working and social life. He saw it as an essential weapon in the fight for the ideas of socialism.

Scotland has produced plenty of fine socialists, communists and trade unionists. None were finer than Bill Speirs. I'd put him in the company of Mick McGahey and John Maclean. Our mutual friend the late Peter Smith, communist, lecturer and editor of the STUC magazine the Scottish Trade Union Review, used to say: "Billy is an outstanding comrade, outstanding." So he was. The working-class movement throughout the world has lost a great fighter and a true friend.

He is survived by his wife Pat Stuart, herself a leading trade unionist, and a daughter and son from his first marriage.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Whose recession is it anyway?

Thursday 24 September 2009
by Greg Palast

I Still get a thrill whenever I get my hands on a confidential memo with “The White House, Washington” appearing on the letterhead. Even when, like the one I’m looking at now, it’s about a snoozy topic — this week’s G20 summit.

But the letter’s content shook me awake and may keep me up the rest of the night.

The six-page letter from the White House dated September 3 was sent to the 20 heads of state who are meeting in Pittsburgh. After some initial diplo-blather, the US president’s “sherpa” for the summit, Michael Froman, does a little victory dance, announcing that the recession has been defeated.

“Global equity markets have risen 35 per cent since the end of March,” writes Froman. In other words, the stock market is up and all’s well.

While acknowledging that this year’s economy has gone to hell in a handbag, Obama’s aide and ambassador to the G20 seems to be parroting the irrational exuberance of Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke who declared last week: “The recession is very likely over.” All that was missing from Bernanke’s statement was a banner bearing the slogan “Mission Accomplished.”

And the French are furious. The White House letter to the G20 leaders was a response to a confidential diplomatic missive the current European Union “president” Fredrik Reinfeldt wrote a day earlier to “Monsieur le President” Obama.

We have Reinfeldt’s confidential note as well. In it, the EU president says, despite Bernanke’s happy-talk, “la crise n’est pas terminee (the crisis is not over) and (continuing in translation) the labour market will continue to suffer the consequences of weak use of capacity and production in the coming months.”

This is diplomatic speak for what the hell is Bernanke smoking?

May I remind you, Monsieur le President, that last month 216,000 US citizens lost their jobs, bringing the total lost since your inauguration to about seven million. And rising.

The Wall Street Journal also has a copy of the White House letter, though it hasn’t released it. The paper spun the leak as the White House would want it — “Big changes to global economic policy” to produce “lasting growth.” Obama takes charge!

What’s missing in the Journal report is that Obama’s plan subtly but significantly throttles back European demands to tighten finance industry regulation and, most important, deflects EU concern about fighting unemployment.

European leaders are scared witless that the Obama administration will prematurely turn off the fiscal and monetary stimulus. Europe demands that the US continue pumping the economy under an internationally co-ordinated worldwide save-our-butts programme.

As Reinfeldt puts it in his plea to the White House, “It is essential that the heads of state and government, at this summit, continue to implement the economic policy measures they have adopted” and not act unilaterally. “Exit strategies [must] be implemented in a co-ordinated manner.”

Translating from the diplomatique — if you in the US turn off fiscal and monetary stimulus now, on your own, Europe and the planet sinks and the US with it.

Obama’s ambassador says: “Non!” Instead, he writes that each nation should be allowed to “unwind” anti-recession efforts “at a pace appropriate to the circumstances of each economy.” In other words, “Europe, you’re on your own!” So much for Obama channelling Franklin D Roosevelt.

The technical policy conflict between the Obama and EU plans reflects a deep difference in the answer to a crucial question — whose recession is it anyway?

To Obama and Bernanke this is a bankers’ recession and so, as “stresses in financial markets have abated significantly,” to use the words of the White House epistle, then happy days are here again. But, if this recession is about workers the world over losing their jobs and life savings — the EU view — then it’s still buddy, can you spare a dime.

If Bernanke and Obama were truly concerned about preserving jobs, they would have required banks loaded with taxpayer bail-out loot to lend these funds to consumers and business. China did so, ordering its banks to increase credit. And boy did they, expanding credit by an eye-popping 30 per cent, rocketing China’s economy out of recession and into double-digit growth.

But the Obama administration has gone the opposite way. The White House letter to the G20 calls for slowly increasing bank reserves, and that can only cause a tight credit market to tighten further.

It’s not that the White House completely ignores job losses. The US letter suggests “the G20 should commit to … income support for the unemployed.” You can imagine European nations which already have reasonable unemployment benefits — many without time limits — turning purple over that one.

The stingy US unemployment compensation extension under the stimulus plan is already beginning to expire, with no live proposal to continue aid for the jobless victims of this recession.

The Europeans are so cute when they’re angry, when they pound their little fists. Obama assumes he can ignore them. The EU, once the big player in the G7, has seen its members’ status diluted into the G20, where the BRIC powers (Brazil, Russia, India and China) now flex their muscle. But Europeans have a thing or two to teach the US about the economics of the twilight of empire.

Maybe the differences are cultural, not economic — that Europeans lack the US manifest destiny can-do optimism.

So, to give the visitors a taste of the yes-we-can spirit, Obama should invite Pittsburgh’s 93,700 jobless to the G20 meet to celebrate that 35 per cent rise in the stock market.

Or — my own suggestion — change Bernanke’s medication.

Greg Palast is the author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. For the entirety of the White House-EU exchange, go to

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Parasitism remains at the heart of British capitalism

210 August / September 2009

How ironic that, at this time, there should be a call by London Citizens, an alliance of community organisations, for a campaign to reinstate historic usury laws, repealed in the nineteenth century, restricting interest rate charges made by financial institutions. After all, British capitalism, as we have argued over a long period of time, with its bloated and usurious banking sector sustains the high standard of living of its citizens precisely through the income generated by the financial services sector of the economy and the ‘gigantic usury capital’ of its parasitic banks and financial institutions based in the City of London.1 DAVID YAFFE shows that the deepening crisis has not altered this, with the imperialist banks clawing their way back to business as usual.

In a recent article (The Guardian 9 June 2009), George Monbiot argues that the current political crisis facing the government in this country arises because our economic system can no longer extract wealth from other nations. He says that: ‘The great British adventure – three centuries spent pillaging the labour, wealth and resources of other countries – is over.’ It is because we cannot accept this, he argues, that we seek ‘revenge on a government that can no longer insulate us from reality.’ It is almost unheard of for a columnist in a mainstream British newspaper to point out the imperialist and parasitic nature of British capitalism. For this reason Monbiot’s article is to be welcomed. We also have pointed out the vulnerability of British capitalism to external financial shocks, given its dependence on the earnings from its vast overseas assets and particularly its parasitic banking sector. However, Monbiot underestimates the determination of the ruling elite to ensure that the British economy remains a ‘world centre of finance’ (Alistair Darling, Budget April 2009) in order to sustain its imperialist interests. So the great British adventure is not yet over – at least not without an almighty and undoubtedly bloody battle to resolve the crisis and maintain Britain’s imperialist position at the expense of both the working class in this country and the masses in the oppressed nations throughout the world.

That is why Bob Ainsworth, Labour’s Secretary of Defence, could tell us on 8 July that there were ‘compelling reasons’ for Britain’s war in Afghanistan. He said that: ‘It goes to the heart of this country’s national security and to the core of our national interests…The entire region in which Afghanistan sits is of vital strategic importance to the United Kingdom.’ On 19 July Lord Mandelson added defence (meaning war) to the list of ‘essential frontline services’ that Labour will protect from spending cuts.

Banks return to business as usual

The result of the financial crisis, government bail-outs and mergers of banks has been a much higher degree of concentration in banking. The investment banks are back on the make. In New York Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are making vast profits from trade in bonds, credit default swaps and other derivatives. Goldman Sachs reported record earnings of $3.44bn for the second quarter of 2009 on revenues of $13.76bn, a 65% rise on the same quarter last year. If that growth is maintained, its staff could share total pay and bonuses of $22bn (Financial Times 15 July 2009). In London, Barclays and Nomura are hiring and poaching staff and paying out high bonuses again. Barclays is paying tens of millions of pounds to its investment bankers as a result of huge profits from trading government debt, derivatives and foreign exchange. Barclays Capital, the bank’s investment arm, has become so profitable that it could account for around two-thirds of Barclays’ overall profit for 2009. Barclays is expected to announce an interim six-month profit of £3bn in early August. Despite these results, Barclays will scrap the final salary pension scheme for its banking employees and has cut hundreds of jobs since the financial crisis broke out in 2007. The union Unite is organising a ballot for strike action. The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), 70% owned by the British government, is offering a potential payout to its chief executive, Stephen Hester, of £9.6m, on condition that certain shareholder return targets are met and the share price returns to 70p within three years. RBS lost £36bn last year.

The banks, however, are not lending to households and businesses on anything like the scale needed for economic recovery. Despite government ministers pleas with banks to increase their lending, net bank loans to businesses contracted by £3.4bn in May after a fall of £6bn in April. Businesses filing for bankruptcy increasingly blame the banks. The banks are rebuilding their balance sheets and restoring profitability, so they steer away from lending to companies they see as uncreditworthy. Over the year to June 2009, mortgage lending was down 48%. Monetary policy in all its various forms, from near-zero short-term interest rates, massive liquidity injections into the banking system, to quantitative easing have, so far, had little impact on the production of goods and services, or on reviving the housing market.

Banking capital – the engine of British imperialism

Given the score-settling between the political parties, the dispute between the Bank of England and the government, and the differences between the European Union and Britain over regulation of the financial sector and banking capital, it is important to restate some fundamental points about financial capital and British capitalism.

• The massively increased role of financial capital, increasing speculation, and the ever expanding credit bubble built on a relatively declining productive base, which were the forerunners of the crisis, were the result of the overaccumulation of capital in the heartlands of capitalism. ‘Financialisation’, to use fashionable terminology, is the product of a crisis of profitability in the capitalist system, the lack of profitable investment opportunities for capital. The expansion of the financial sector does not produce additional value but appropriates/ plunders a greater and greater proportion of the value produced by the productive sectors of economies throughout the world.
• Britain’s relative industrial decline has been combined with a dynamic, aggressive imperialist expansion of commerce and finance overseas. This development has now reached unprecedented levels.
• This crisis of capitalism has seen the underwriting of the debt of the banks and financial institutions by the state on a scale like never before. The process has entered a new phase. The City of London has always been at the heart of the British state. The crisis has strengthened this bond to a new level of intensity. The result of the crisis has, therefore, seen a further consolidation of finance capital and the state – that is, the further development of state monopoly capitalism (imperialism).2

This is the context in which to understand British government policies with regard to banking capital and its opposition to serious regulation and control.

At the end of 2008, more than a year into the present crisis, Britain’s overseas assets reached a staggering £7,135bn, an increase of 11.75% on 2007 and 47% on 2005. These assets were an unprecedented 4.9 times Britain’s GDP. 59.7% of these assets, £4,261bn or 2.95 times Britain’s GDP, listed under ‘other investments’ are mainly loans and deposits abroad by UK banks – a gigantic usury capital.

Britain’s foreign assets are nearly matched by foreign liabilities of £7,042bn, giving overall net assets of £93bn.3 Net earnings on Britain’s international investment account were £27.6bn, a 28% increase on 2007.

In 2008 Britain had a balance of payments deficit of £25.1bn, spending 1.7% of GDP more than it earned. The deficit on trade in goods reached a massive £92.9bn in 2008, 6.4% of GDP. Without the large surplus on services trade of £54.5bn, with financial services responsible for more than 70% of this, and the income flow from the international investment account, the standard of living of British people would have significantly fallen.

Is it not surprising, given this reality, that Alistair Darling and the government rule out any radical changes to the financial institutions based in the City of London demanded by the opposition parties and the Bank of England. There are around one million people working in the financial services sector in the UK, and in the past nine years the sector has contributed tax receipts of £250bn. There will be no caps on bankers’ pay or breaking up the largest City institutions. In addition it is clear that the government will resist regulations from the European Union aimed at cutting the City of London down to size.

The crisis deepens

The crisis is already hitting the most vulnerable sections of the working class both in this country and elsewhere, especially in the underdeveloped nations. The World Bank says that the world’s poorest countries will see $1,000bn drained from their economies this year. Underdeveloped countries are expected to grow by only 1.2% in 2009 after 6% growth in 2008. If China and India are excluded, growth in the remaining countries is expected to contract by 1.6% in 2009. Hundreds of millions more people in those countries will be driven into abject poverty.

Britain experienced the worst fall in output for 50 years when GDP fell 2.4% in the first quarter of 2009. The second quarter to June saw an additional fall of 0.8%. Recent revisions to statistics now show that the recession began in April 2008, and that the British economy has suffered five quarters of negative growth, a cumulative fall of 5.7%, almost on a par with a comparable period of the 1930s slump. A fall in output in the manufacturing sector has reduced factory production to its lowest level for 17 years. Manufacturing output is 13% lower, and industrial production is down 12.3% in the first quarter of 2009, compared to the same period in 2008. The number of workers in manufacturing continues to fall, down 201,000 in the past year to an all time low of 2.67 million. Fewer than 10% of workforce jobs are now in manufacturing. Such are the characteristics of a parasitic capitalism.

Unemployment rose by 281,000 in the three months to May 2009. This is the largest quarterly increase since records began in 1971. 7.6% of the workforce are now unemployed. Unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds is at a 16-year high of 726,000, a rate of 17.3%. 528,000 workers have been unemployed for more than 12 months, the highest level for 11 years. Jobs in education, health and public administration have actually increased by 2.1% over the past year. This reality, however, will rapidly change after the general election, when the real cuts in public services demanded by international investors get underway, no matter who wins the election.4

These then are the features of British capitalism, where banking capital will be sustained and promoted by the government as the dominant sector of the British economy at the expense of the working class.

1 See David Yaffe ‘Britain: parasitic and decaying capitalism’ FRFI 194 December 2006 /January 2007, FRFI194_07_10_parasitic.pdf
2 All these points have been made in a series of articles on Capitalism in Crisis accessible on our website at
3 This is a significant change on previous years, when Britain’s external account was in deficit. The fall in the pound against other currencies, the revaluation of assets resulting from the ongoing crisis and the withdrawal of foreign investments from the UK have led to this change. All statistics come from the relevant UK national statistics and are provisional for the latest years and tend to be revised over time.
4 See David Yaffe ‘Years and years of austerity ahead’ FRFI 209 June/July 2009. On our website at

Slavery and the Origins of American Capitalism

Workers Vanguard No. 942
11 September 2009
Part One

We print below, in slightly edited form, a presentation by Jacob Zorn to a Spartacist League educational in New York on 30 March 2008, the first of several classes on black history and the development of the American labor movement.

This is not going to be a history class of everything that happened from 1492 to 1860; the material is too immense. I want to focus on the salient political points for this period, and also to try to set up the next class, on the Civil War. We are historical materialists, and as such we say that black oppression—and we say this often in WV—is not just a bunch of bad ideas but has a material, that is to say, a historical and class, basis. What I want to do in the class is explain the origins of this material basis. In the second class and in subsequent classes, this will be developed further. These are the three things I specifically want to drive home:

1. How slavery in the Americas was central to the development of capitalism, both on an international level and also here in the United States.

2. How elements of the contemporary black question, including the very concept of race, have their roots in the system of slavery.

3. How throughout every step of the development of the United States up through 1860 slavery was integral, from the colonial period, through the American war of independence, to the Constitution, and then culminating in the struggle that led up to the Civil War.

Marx and Primitive Capitalist Accumulation

I want to begin with what Marx calls the primitive accumulation of capital, which was discussed in one of the readings for this class, in the first volume of Capital. Marx has a very powerful quote in there: “In actual history, it is notorious that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, briefly force, play the great part.” And that’s kind of a summary of what I’m going to be talking about: enslavement, robbery and murder.

I’m not going to go over much of the European background, although it’s worth reviewing our pamphlet, Enlightenment Rationalism and the Origins of Marxism (1998), and also some of the articles we’ve written on the English Civil War, in addition to the Capital reading. Marx talks about the bloody origins of capitalism, and one of the key events was the enclosure acts that threw the peasantry off the land in England and Scotland in order to kind of kick-start capitalism. As Marx describes, in Europe this resulted both in a class that owned the means of production (because land became necessary as a means of production, for wool and other things) and also a class that owned nothing but its labor power. One result, necessary for the British colonization of North America, is that it created a large surplus of people in England who were subject to incredibly harsh punishment for very small crimes and for whom even colonial Virginia looked like a good escape.

Marx also talks about how the conquest of America, both North and South America and the Caribbean, was also key in the development of world capitalism. A key element of this was the dispossession of the indigenous population, a dispossession that was extremely violent and genocidal. If you want a taste of what this was like, you should read the writings of a Spanish priest by the name of Bartolomé de las Casas, which go into a lot of the gratuitous violence: about 95 percent of the pre-Colombian indigenous population was killed, perhaps 90 million people. But this early Spanish colonization, which was largely based on extracting gold and silver, fueled the development not only of Spanish but also of Dutch and English capitalism.

In North America, primitive capitalist accumulation meant not only dispossessing the indigenous population of the land, but also finding somebody to do the work, since in North America the English really didn’t use the Indians as a labor force. A comrade brought to my attention a really good article in WV No. 581 (30 July 1993), “Genocide ‘Made in USA’,” that shows how the destruction of millions of people was key in the building of the American nation and the laying of the basis for the development of North American capitalism, and how it left a birthmark of racism on American capitalism from the get-go. But fundamentally the colonists in North America had the opposite problem from what the ruling class in Britain had: that is, there was an abundance of land but a shortage of people to work on it.

I want to make the point that a lot of the history of the Americas, especially here in the United States, tends to be focused on North America. But in the early years of colonization, the most desired area of the Americas was really the Caribbean, and it was much later that North America was colonized—and not only by the English: there were Spanish outposts (for example, St. Augustine, Florida, is the longest continuously settled city founded by Europeans in the current U.S.); there was French fur trading in Quebec and plantation agriculture in Louisiana; and also obviously the Dutch in New Jersey and New York, as well as the British in Virginia. There was a lot of competition among these different European powers, and we’ll look especially at the rivalry of the Dutch and the English in terms of mercantilism.

Capitalism and Slavery

The readings talk about “chattel slavery.” So what exactly is a chattel slave? It’s not a concept that is used much today. “Chattel” means personal property. It’s related to the word “cattle.” And that is what slaves were: they were legally property that was sold and sometimes killed.

In the abstract, capitalism and slavery are fundamentally counterposed systems. One is based on free labor, and the other, on slave labor. Many of the advocates of capitalism opposed chattel slavery not only because they thought it was morally wrong, but also because they thought it was retrogressive. In The Wealth of Nations (1776), Adam Smith wrote: “From the experience of all ages and nations, I believe, that the work done by freemen comes cheaper in the end than that performed by slaves” and “Whatever work he does beyond what is sufficient to purchase his own maintenance can be squeezed out of him by violence only, and not by any interest of his own.”

Likewise, Alexander Hamilton, about whom we will be talking in a bit, said that slavery “relaxes the sinews of industry, clips the wings of commerce, and introduces misery and indigence in every shape” (quoted in James Oliver Horton, “Alexander Hamilton: Slavery and Race in a Revolutionary Generation,” New-York Journal of American History [Spring 2004]). The piece that comrades read from Eugene Genovese, “The Slave South: An Interpretation,” in The Political Economy of Slavery (1965) shows how, as a system, slavery was not capitalist; the slavocracy in the American South had its own productive system, its own values—or, to use Genovese’s phrase, its own “civilization”—that derived from this non-bourgeois system. Slavery was fundamentally different from capitalism.

However, capitalism did not evolve in the abstract, but in the concrete, and slavery was fundamental to this development. Even though the slave system itself was not capitalist, slavery was central to the development of capitalism, both in the U.S. and internationally. Slavery was also a very profitable “industry”—for lack of a better term—in its own right, and international and American capitalists are indelibly stained with slavery.

Slavery, of course, is not only a precapitalist, but also a prefeudal system of production. There is a brilliant book by Karl Kautsky called the Foundations of Christianity (1908) that, among other things, analyzes the importance of slavery in ancient Rome. Many of the elements of slavery in America are actually discussed by Kautsky in his treatment of plantation or mining slavery in Rome. He distinguishes, for example, between slavery for domestic use and slavery for profit, or commodity slavery. Obviously, commodity production in ancient Rome did not reach the level that it does under capitalism, but he made the point that when slaves make commodities that are then sold for the profit of their masters, the masters increase the exploitation of the slaves, which can only be done through immense oppression and brutality. Kautsky describes in detail a lot of the very brutal nature of Roman slavery, and he traces the decline of Rome to the contradictions in its slave system. For our purposes, one of the key elements, however, that is missing in Kautsky’s piece is race. This is not an accident, because, as we’ll see, Roman slavery was not a racial form of slavery.

With the destruction of the centralized Roman state in West Europe and the development of feudalism, slavery largely died out in medieval Europe. In 1086, for example, about 10 percent of the English population were slaves, but slavery was not central to medieval society. It was still practiced in the Mediterranean and parts of the Arab world, but in West Europe, feudalism was the dominant system, with serfdom the main productive form of labor.

The development of the English colonies in the Americas was concurrent with the development of capitalism in Britain—it was going on at the same time as the English Civil War, and there were various political intrigues over whom the colonies would support; there are cities in the United States named after both King Charles I and Cromwell, for example. Yet, the contradiction is that the rise of capitalism was accompanied with a new rise of slavery. Particularly in the English case, this was accompanied by the creation of the world sugar market. Eating sugar is not based on slavery, but the creation of the sugar market was.

I want to make some points about the development of slavery in the Americas. The first is that there is a prehistory: before the Spanish arrived in America, the Portuguese had begun using slave labor on plantations in their island colonies off Africa, such as Madeira and the Azores. By 1452, the Pope had given the Portuguese the right to trade slaves, and in 1479 the Spanish crown gave Portugal a monopoly over the slave trade. By 1502, there is evidence of black slaves in the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo
—that is to say 130 years before the English planters really began using slaves in the Caribbean and almost 200 years before slavery became entrenched in what would become the United States, in Virginia.

Slavery was crucial in almost every European colony throughout the Americas, and from the 16th century through the mid 19th century between 10 and 12 million Africans were “traded” as slaves. And it was extremely violent: depending on what century you’re looking at, between 10 and 40 percent of the slaves died in transit. Ninety-five percent of these African slaves ended up in either the Caribbean or Latin America. North America received a relatively small fraction of all the African slaves, and this would have important ramifications on how slavery developed here.

Although the first slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619, for most of the 17th century the dominant labor system in Virginia was indentured servitude, which was a really nasty and brutal system. If it weren’t for the slave system that came after, we would probably label indentured servitude one of the most brutal systems known. Indentured servants agreed to work for a period of years, usually between five and seven, in exchange for transportation to America. They might be promised land at the end of their terms.

But to begin with, many indentured servants did not live to the end of their terms of service. While they were servants, they were subjected to extremely harsh discipline and punishment. They could be whipped, they could be beaten, they could be sold for the duration of their terms of service. They worked a lot harder than English peasants worked, and a lot of what we think of as unique to slavery was also present in various ways in indentured servitude. Many servants ran away.

By the mid-to-late 1600s, from the point of view of the planters, there developed several problems with indentured servitude. Servants were living longer. (Incidentally, one of the reasons that they began to live longer is that they began to drink more alcohol and not drink polluted water.) This meant that there began to develop a layer of unruly and dissatisfied ex-indentured servants, making Virginia more and more unstable. The danger of this was highlighted in 1676 with Bacon’s Rebellion, when poor whites, mostly former indentured servants, and blacks united against the colonial government—in this case, to demand that the colonial government, among other things, drive out the Indians. But at the same time, fewer and fewer Europeans were willing to come to America as servants, partly because England was developing economically and partly because news got around England of what servitude was like, and it did not seem so attractive as it might have before.

So the fact that servants were living longer at the end of the 17th century made slavery (which was for life) more attractive, from the point of view of the planters, than servitude (which was usually for less than a decade). The planters in Virginia began to import slaves in larger and larger numbers. By the first decade of the 18th century, Virginia had been transformed from a society in which slaves were present into a society in which slavery was the central productive relationship, a slave society. This was not the only slave society in the Americas, but it was quite different from the slave societies in the Caribbean or Brazil.

When I was preparing this class, comrade Foster raised the interesting question: why did it take a revolution—the Civil War—to get rid of slavery in the United States, whereas in many other countries (not all of them, Haiti also obviously had a revolution) it did not take a revolution to get rid of slavery. There are various reasons, but one is that in the American South there were more slaveowners, many owning relatively few slaves, so that slavery was much more entrenched in colonial society and in later U.S. society. But importantly, from the point of view of the planters, slavery not only offered a source of labor, but also it offered a source of social stability, because with slavery came what veteran American Trotskyist Richard S. Fraser calls the concept of race.

The Race Concept

I’m not going to talk a lot about it because comrades are familiar, but there is no scientific basis for this concept of race. At the same time, various academics like to talk about race being “socially constructed.” But even though race is not scientifically real, it is very, very real. It affects almost every aspect of one’s life in this country, as we are reminded when we look at the newspaper every day. Marx, dealing with religion, wrote in The German Ideology (1846) that religion has no history—that is to say, no history independent of the social conditions that created it. So as Marxists, we understand that race is not just a bad idea, but one that developed out of a social system of production, a system of social relations, chattel slavery. This is explained very well in Fraser’s “The Negro Struggle and the Proletarian Revolution” [in Prometheus Research Series No. 3, August 1990, “In Memoriam: Richard S. Fraser”]. And for comrades who are interested in a more in-depth look at it, there is also a very good book on the creation of the idea of race in America by Winthrop Jordan, called White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (1968), that goes back to the 16th century.

Chattel slavery is an inherently inhuman system. It involves degrading an entire group of people, putting them by definition outside the realm of both legal and moral protection. Chattel slaves are not legally human. As John Locke said in Two Treatises of Government, in 1690, slaves “are by the Right of Nature subjected to the Absolute Dominion and Arbitrary Power of their masters. These Men cannot in that state be considered as any part of Civil Society….” This would later be paraphrased in the Dred Scott decision that the black man had no rights that the white man was bound to respect. The concept of race served as a justification for slavery, conflating class status—slavery—with physical features: skin color. While there were some free blacks, even in the South, being black became equated with being a slave, that is, outside of the norms of human society. It’s also useful to keep in mind that, of course, Africans at the time of slavery were not all of the same “race,” either: there were very different societies in Africa, and if we could borrow a term, we could talk about “how Africans became black.” Frederick Douglass has an important statement from when slavery was still in existence:

“We are then a persecuted people, not because we are colored, but simply because that color has for a series of years been coupled in the public mind with the degradation of slavery and servitude.”

—“Prejudice Against Color” (1850), in The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 2,
ed. Philip S. Foner (1950)

This is the beginning of the material basis for the creation of a race-color caste in North America. And it’s not an accident that laws banning interracial sex and marriage were passed in Virginia and Maryland at the same time that slavery became consolidated in the late 1600s and early 1700s.

The idea of race was defended using the so-called “Curse of Ham” from the Bible, which is the idea that blackness was a curse from God, going back to Noah. And there was in fact slavery in biblical times, and you can find lots of passages in the Bible about slavery, and these were used to justify American slavery. I don’t want to defend the honor of the Old Testament, but nowhere is racial slavery mentioned in the Bible because it did not exist. Comrade Don pointed out a very interesting article by George Breitman that was published in the Spring 1954 issue of Fourth International, called “When Anti-Negro Prejudice Began,” that looks at the development of racism. And he shows that in the ancient world, there was no one group of people that was by definition enslaved, nor was slavery confined to one particular group. This idea of race did not make sense—it didn’t exist. So, racial slavery did not exist.

I also want to make an aside that race in the U.S. is different than race in other places, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, which had different types of slavery. There’s a myth in Brazil called “racial democracy,” which is that there’s really no such thing as race in Brazil; everybody’s Brazilian. This is obviously untrue, but it does reflect the fact that there was a different expression of slavery there. A lot of the difference has to do with how slavery developed in North America and the nature of British mercantilism. At the time the Virginian planters began to use slaves, the Dutch had already taken over the slave trade from the Portuguese, and because of Dutch-English rivalries, in 1651 Navigation Acts were passed, making it illegal for British colonists to buy products from other countries. Slaves were included as “products,” obviously. This had an important ramification on the importation of slaves. In fact, many of the early slaves in Virginia were not actually from Africa, but from Barbados. It’s also important to keep in mind that from the British perspective, the center of the slave trade was not in North America but in the Caribbean.

Therefore, the slave population in North America became a lot more stable, tended to live a lot longer and have more children. The details, for example, of slavery in Jamaica are horrid. The average slave tended to die within seven years of arriving in Jamaica. Therefore, although the slave trade provided only half a million African slaves to North America, by the time of the Civil War, the slave population in the United States had grown to four million people. A lot of this has to do with the demographics. In the British Caribbean, many plantations were left in the hands of overseers, while their absentee owners were content to stay in Britain. Eric Williams talks about this in his book, Capitalism and Slavery (1944). In North America, the planters became more Americanized, and they tended to stay in North America. For example, the Lee family of Virginia arrived around 1639; the Washingtons arrived around the same time.

In the Caribbean, the plantations were much larger, and slaveowners there had more slaves than in North America. One result of this is that African culture was destroyed through the experience of slavery to a much larger degree in North America than in the Caribbean or Brazil. As Fraser put it in “The Negro Struggle and the Proletarian Revolution,” in the United States “the Negro people are among the oldest of all the immigrant groups. They are essentially American.” And this is also shown in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, in which Douglass pointedly calls himself An American Slave in the title. He illustrates that slaves in the U.S. spoke English, were largely Christian (he’s very powerful on the role of Christianity in supporting slavery), and were an organic part of American society. This is different than in Haiti, for example, where at the time of the Haitian Revolution, two-thirds of the black population were born in Africa. Or in Cuba. There’s a book by Miguel Barnet, The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave (1966), based on interviews with a former slave who was born 50 years after Douglass, Esteban Montejo, that talks about how even in the late 19th century there were lots of aspects of African culture that survived in Cuba.

So that’s an important part of understanding the integral and unique nature of slavery in the U.S., which has programmatic implications today: there’s no separate black nation, and our program is one of revolutionary integrationism.

Slavery and the Development of Capitalism

One of the strengths of the Williams book is that he shows how the development of British industrial capitalism was to a large degree based upon slavery. The bourgeoisie in Liverpool, Manchester and the City of London became rich through the slave trade, later through sugar trading, and then with textile production that used slave-produced cotton. Of course slavery was not what provided the labor in England in the development of English capitalism or the industrial revolution. But after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, and then slavery itself in the British Caribbean in the 1830s, British capitalism still depended on slavery because the textile mills of Manchester, for example, needed cotton. In 1860, about 75 percent of all British cotton came from the American South. This is part of the reason, as Marx wrote at the time, that a section of the British bourgeoisie supported the South during the American Civil War.

Also, throughout the late 18th century, there was slavery in much of the North (comrades might remember the very good “Slavery in New York” exhibit at the New York Historical Society), even though it was not the central method of production. By the early 19th century, slavery as a social relationship had mostly disappeared from the North (the last Northern state to free its slaves was New Jersey, in 1846). But the main connection between the nascent bourgeoisie and slavery was not that they owned slaves.

There is a very interesting book called Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery (2005), written by three reporters for the Hartford Courant. It shows how the Northern bourgeoisie was connected to the slave system by a million threads: they bought molasses, which was made with slave labor, and sold rum as part of the Triangle Trade; they lent money to Southern planters; and most of the cotton that was sold to Britain was shipped through Northern ports, including here in New York City. They financed the slave trade, and even after it became illegal, there were still ships leaving from New York that were involved in slave trading. And they sold manufactured goods to the South. This is the background to the relationship between Northern capitalism and slavery. Capitalism is very different from slavery, but at the same time they are very historically connected.