CHALLENGE June 7, 2006

Working Class Must:Unite Against Rulers' Anti-Immigrant Racism

Multi-racial Protesters Blast Fascist Minutemen

Liberal Rulers Gain Upper Hand with New CIA Boss

Transit Workers Protest D.C. Metro’s Negligent Homicide

May Day Organizing 'Liberates' Workers, Now Meeting with PLP

Colombia Workers Greet PLP's Communist Politics

Boston Students Rally vs. Anti-Immigrant Racism

Profit System Murders Five More Miners

Rank-and-File Solidarity Moves Beyond Pro-Boss Union Hacks

PLP Summer Project Will Bring Red Ideas to New Orleans

Workers’ Rebellion Defies Mexican Cops’ Attacks


'Lives not worth risking for a war that's not their's'

Nature of Workers’ Collective Self-Interest

Evangelicals Also Oppose Iraq War

Lemon Meringue Pie and Workers' Unity

GM Article Needs More Explanation

Red students Impressed with PLP Role at LA March


Review of ‘Soldiers Speak Out!’

Fighting Racism on Deployment to Iraq

Overcoming Famine and Disease in the Soviet Union

Working Class Must:Unite Against Rulers' Anti-Immigrant Racism

Throughout the rulers’ debate about immigration, the U.S. ruling class has bee fearing the unity of black and Latin workers, the two most exploited and potentially revolutionary groups of workers. Both are targeted for military service in expanding Middle East wars. This is why the rulers are feeding them lies that immigrant, mostly Latino workers are "stealing black workers’ jobs." These rulers fear the militant leadership that both groups united can give to the whole working class, including tens of millions of exploited white workers.

Workfare, mass imprisonment, racist layoffs and hiring practices have meant a soaring rate of unemployment for black youth, all because of capitalism’s inherent drive for maximum profits. Immigrants are victims of imperialism which exports the same racist conditions — working in the lowest-paying jobs in factories, the fields and service industries and creating unemployment, which forces them to emigrate to the U.S. where they also receive the lowest wages and are victims of mass unemployment.

The rulers use racist segregation in hiring to try to pit the two most exploited groups of workers against each other. They use the BIG LIE technique, trying to blame black unemployment on immigrant workers, rather than on the racist bosses and the capitalist system. The latter impoverishes the whole working class by creating a "reserve army of the unemployed," which the bosses use as a club over the heads of all workers, including white workers.

Congress’ proposals on immigration are racist and fascist to the core. The McCain-Kennedy version attacks all workers. It calls for a biometric ID card to be used as a "tamper proof" national ID for the entire population, not just for immigrants. This fits in with the Hart-Rudman plan for fascist Homeland security to control citizen and immigrant workers alike (see CIA editorial, page 2).

In a TV interview, Ted Kennedy bragged that his plan would require military service for immigrants. The liberals plan to beef up the border and build patriotism while painting themselves as the "saviors" of immigrants. They want immigrants to answer the racist Minutemen by showing they can be "good Americans" by joining the military. Both parties agree to install 370 miles of fencing along the Mexico/U.S. Border and cap off the guest worker programs at 200, 000 a year (Wall Street Journal, 5/23). The New York Times attacked the Minutemen in order to hide the liberals' fascist agenda. The liberal rulers are the main danger in the fight against racism and the system that spawns it because they build illusions that capitalism can be fixed.

Communists in PLP state that all workers have the same class interests in opposing racism, which weakens us as a class. Fighting racism against immigrants and against black workers strengthens our whole class in the fight to destroy capitalism with communist revolution.

Multi-racial Protesters Blast Fascist Minutemen

LOS ANGELES, May 21 — Chanting, "Asian, Latin, black and white, Workers of the world unite!" over 300 anti-racist demonstrators confronted a racist group of Minutemen, SOS ("Save Our State") and Ted Hayes, a supposed "homeless advocate." The racists were constantly protected by hundreds of cops in riot gear.

PLP’ers, especially youth, gave militant leadership to a multi-racial group trying to stop the racist march. The police repeatedly threatened to arrest those leading chants and giving speeches attacking the racists and the capitalist system. Every time they tried to shut down our bullhorn, others continued our chants, indicating we had lots of support. The racists were pelted with eggs as demonstrators tried to elude the cops to reach the racists.

As the racists marched, protected on both sides by a police line, the anti-racists also marched. The approximately 70-90 Minutemen carried the flag of U.S. imperialism along with racist signs. The anti-racist marchers had only red flags, the flag of the international working class, as well as signs and banners calling for unity of workers worldwide against all racists. PLP’s signs called for smashing all borders and fighting for communism.

At one point on Broadway, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of angry workers joined in the chants. Later a Minuteman e-mail said he could see from the hatred on the workers’ faces that only the cops' presence stopped workers from beating them up. Many young workers and students who came to denounce the racists witnessed mass support for our militant anti-racist stance.

The protesters discovered the racists were planning to march late Monday. During the week, there were discussions at factories and schools about the importance of standing up to racism and fascism. These discussions led black, Latin and white youth and workers to confront the racists. The bosses used the fact that Ted Hayes (who is black) was calling the march to try to pit Latino and black workers against each other. PLP took this racist attack head-on, explaining that black and Latin workers and youth are all part of the same working class, and all victims of capitalism’s racist unemployment, which drags down wages and conditions for white workers as well. (See adjoining editorial.)

Other groups also supported the anti-racist march. Two area meetings of the UTLA (teachers’ union) passed resolutions condemning the racist march and calling on teachers to march against it. The resolutions noted that the rulers are trying to divide black and Latino workers.

During the week preceding the march, leaders of some immigrant rights groups were challenged to build for the protest. While some rank-and-file members of these groups — hearing about the racist march for the first time — participated, some leaders said the Minutemen’s march should be ignored. The "Immigration Solidarity Network" e-mailed people to NOT build for the protest because confronting the racists would "hurt the fight over Congressional legislation. These social fascist "leaders" stress passage of the McCain- Kennedy Bill. Along with the liberal rulers, they use the Minutemen as a foil, to make themselves look "less racist" and to scare workers into looking to the liberal rulers, nationalist leaders, and Democratic Party politicians as the workers’ saviors.

Before the racist Minutemen march, the TV and radio ignored it, because they don’t want masses of people who hate them to hit the streets and oppose them. These are the same hypocrites who say the Minutemen and their Congressional supporters like Sensenbrenner are the "main enemy." But they refuse to confront them.

Some thought that protesting the Minutemen march would only "give them more publicity." But they get plenty of publicity AFTER they engage in their racist practices — like patrolling the border — publicity which is used to try to make immigrants more fearful and rely on the politicians, not their untied strength. However, when confronted by a militant, multi-racial march with red flags and angry youth and workers, the racists got little publicity.

The rulers don’t want workers to realize their potential power to not only smash the gutter racists but the whole capitalist system, the source of racism. They don’t want workers to understand that the liberal leaders are part of the problem, not the solution!

Liberal Rulers Gain Upper Hand with New CIA Boss

(Numbered footnotes identify reports, groups and individuals.)

Conflicting strategies for preserving U.S. imperialism’s dominance over its rivals underlie the recent CIA flap. Amid great turmoil, a career military officer has shoved out a Bush crony for the agency’s top spot.

On one hand, U.S. rulers, centered in the Eastern Establishment1, dream of a militaristic police state mobilized for world war. The Hart-Rudman (H-R) commission reports2 outline drastic plans for realizing this deadly vision. On the other side, the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld camp thinks the U.S. war machine, at present strength, can master any future crisis. These "cheap hawks" demand little monetary sacrifice from U.S. capitalists and are reluctant to restore the draft. But Bush & Co.’s failure in Iraq now gives the Establishment the upper hand. So, at CIA, Bushite chief Porter Goss is out, his No. 3 operative faces criminal investigation and General Michael Hayden is in.

Under Goss, the CIA’s main role was to cook up phony intelligence, like the lies about Iraq’s weapons and its ties to al Qaeda, that justified Bush-Rumsfeld’s undermanned invasion. Goss spent much of his CIA tenure weeding out anti-Bush whistle blowers. Hayden, however, marches to Hart-Rudman’s tune. His boss and mentor in the Air Force was Gen. Charles Boyd3 who oversaw the H-R project from beginning to end. Boyd’s article in the Wall Street Journal (5/10), "A Symphony for Hayden," sang the nominee’s praises.

Bush’s CIA never managed to infiltrate al Qaeda and failed to translate 9/11 tip-offs in time. Hayden vows to deploy a worldwide network of multilingual spies preparing far-flung future battlefields. Hayden’s plans mesh with Gary Hart’s, the co-chairman of H-R. Speaking in March before the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)4, Hart proposed a "fifth service" of covert Special Forces backed by a new Human Intelligence Corps operating wherever U.S. imperialism may require.

So what’s to be made of the liberal, Establishment New York Times’ May 19 editorial opposing Hayden’s appointment? It offers a lesson on the relation of form and content. The Times objects only to Hayden’s image. It prefers a pin-striped Ivy League law school grad — untainted by the legally questionable eavesdropping Hayden conducted at the National Security Agency (NSA) — to head the CIA. The Times frets about how Hayden tarnishes liberal illusions like "the rule of law" and civilian control of the state but says he’s mainly on the right track, "General Hayden...was...properly critical of the way Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld created his own intelligence agency before the war in Iraq."

Meanwhile, other liberal advocates of the war and police-state agenda back Hayden without reservation. Richard Falkenrath5, an architect of U.S. fascism sporting a Harvard pedigree, says, "Hayden is...exactly the sort of man that we should have at the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency while we are at war." (Washington Post, 5/13/06) Michael O’Hanlon, Brookings top military expert, called Hayden "capable of facing down [Rumsfeld’s] Pentagon." (National Public Radio, 5/7/06)

As for Hayden’s spying on private communications, most liberals advise us to accept this police-state tactic despite the Times’ quibbles. CFR fellow Max Boot, commenting on a 1970’s anti-wiretapping statute said, "This archaic law should be euthanized." (Los Angeles Times, 5/17/06) Falkenrath sees no such need for legislative change. He wrote in the Washington Post (5/13), "The Right Call on Phone Records," that "the NSA's alleged receipt and retention of such information is perfectly legal." And while pundits debate legalistic niceties, rulers having state power blithely ignore them. The May 20 Wall Street Journal reveals, "Time-Warner’s America Online employs more than a dozen people, including several former prosecutors, handling almost 12,000 requests [for e-mail contents] from federal, state, and local agencies. The unit works 24 hours a day."

Hayden and the liberals behind him seek to expand the CIA’s spying, kidnapping, torture and murder as U.S. rulers seek to militarize and mobilize society for sharpening inter-imperialist rivalry. In 1999, Hart-Rudman foreknowingly called this a period of intensifying "casualties, carnage, and death."


1. Eastern Establishment — Shorthand for the dominant wing of U.S. financiers and industrialists having the greatest need to control the world’s resources, markets and labor through imperialism. Includes companies like major East Coast banks, Exxon Mobil, GE and many others. Ideology outlets are Ivy League colleges, network TV, Time Warner, the New York Times, etc. Rockefeller family plays a leading role.

2. Hart-Rudman — Clinton’s 1999-2001 presidential commission that laid out plans for protecting U.S. world dominance through 2025. It proposed reorganizing government into a centralized police state capable of mobilizing for war with China, Russia or both. A 1999 H-R report said a major terrorist attack on U.S. should be followed by a campaign to "galvanize" the public into willingly sacrificing "blood and treasure" for U.S. imperialism.

3. Gen. Charles Boyd — Executive Director of the Hart-Rudman commission. Former Senior Vice President of CFR. Married to Jessica Tuchman Mathews, a Rockefeller Foundation trustee.

4. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) — Rockefeller-led think-tank. Eastern Establishment billionaires have used it to steer U.S. policy since World War II.

5. Richard Falkenrath — Fellow at the liberal, CFR-allied, Brookings Institution. Deputy Homeland Security Advisor on 9/11. As a Harvard professor, he wrote in 2000 that, in case of terrorist attack, government should be ready to:

• Impose a state of emergency, including curfew;

• Compel people to remain in one location or move to another;

• Use the military for domestic law enforcement;

• Seize community or private property;

• Censor and control the media.

Transit Workers Protest D.C. Metro’s Negligent Homicide

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 18 — Capitalism kills. That was the message brought today to over 50 transit workers, members of Local 689, Amalgamated Transit Union, as they picketed Metro bosses’ offices protesting management’s negligent homicide of two track workers over the past seven months. Chanting "Metro opens doors, they shouldn’t open caskets!," the workers, led by their communist president, condemned the bosses for their failure to take seriously last October’s death of track worker Michael Waldron, killed by a high-speed train while working on the track. In a reprise of this grisly event, Jong Won Lee was killed as he was caught between two 40-mile-per-hour trains roaring past each other inside a subway tunnel.

Trains have killed several track workers over past decades. After each incident, Metro would post a flagman and run trains on manual in work areas. Then, after a few months, Metro would return to unsafe practices until another track worker was killed. Today, there are no flagmen and trains are allowed to run on automatic at high speeds through "minor" work areas as "efficiency" measures. The result? Two deaths in the past 7 months!

The union has protested this unsafe policy. Close calls abound; track workers have had buttons torn off their shirts when they leaped up against walls with insufficient clearance as trains unexpectedly tore through tunnel work areas.

Metro’s callous disregard for workers’ lives (just how many workers’ deaths is "customer satisfaction" worth?) is typical of the capitalist need to maximize profits and minimize costs. Just as the lives of the 30 coal miners who’ve been killed in mine explosions this year mean nothing to the coal bosses (especially as the price of coal skyrockets!), so, too, Metro workers can die in the name of "improved efficiency."

Now Metro bosses have agreed to a "high-level" safety committee to recommend new policies. Don’t hold your breath waiting for meaningful reforms. A revolutionary communist movement that fights for power is the only force that will end the rule of these bosses and change society’s priorities from "efficiency" and "maximum profit" to the sovereignty and well-being of workers. That’s why the fact that 20 workers at this rally took copies of CHALLENGE bodes well for the future.

The demonstration revealed important divisions within the union leadership. Less than half of the executive board members joined the rally, and fewer built for it. Some of the others, disdaining the rank-and-file, attended a "Labor 2006" meeting to plan "strategy" for the fall Congressional elections. These traitors to the working class rely on the bosses’ politicians, not the workers, whom they arrogantly believe to be incapable of organizing change.

But this rally, occurring just four days after the death of Jong Lee, was organized precisely by the rank-and-file workers who have supported a militant, anti-racist direction for the union. Twenty workers came from one garage, and others responded to organizing efforts of workers who are just learning about revolutionary politics from the Local’s communist president.

May Day Organizing 'Liberates' Workers, Now Meeting with PLP

BRONX, NY, May 22 — Back in March, members and friends of Progressive Labor Party held a successful fundraiser event for three PLP members arrested at a demonstration in Farmingville, Long Island last July, protesting affiliates of the fascist Minutemen. Approximately 35 students, parents and teachers attended the event, contributing almost $800. Our main speaker connected the attack on immigrant workers with the continuing rise in war and fascism.

Everybody left energized after one of the defendants and a City College PLP student asked everyone to join with PLP to celebrate May Day "as we raise the red flag within the anti-war march and call for an end to all imperialist wars and attacks on immigrant workers with a communist revolution".

After that fundraiser, we viewed every participant as a potential organizer for May Day. If somebody said they were interested in attending, we’d respond by saying, "Great, are there any friends, family or co-workers you would like to invite?" One long-time friend of PLP and his wife invited approximately 10 people to May Day. Although none actually made it to the march, their efforts reflected organizing for May Day in a serious way.

One NYC Dept. of Education employee brought two high school students and helped out with security on the march. When asked what she thought about it, she replied, "I felt liberated!"

Lastly, a NYC transit worker and strike veteran attended our May Day dinner. Inspired by its youth-led character, he agreed to invite his family and a couple of co-workers to our "2006 Summer Project Barbecue" on June 3. It’s important to note that all of our marchers attended activities leading up to May Day.

One highlight occurred when our transit worker was asked to speak at a Brooklyn dinner. During his speech he detailed the shortcomings of contract negotiations and of reliance on union hacks. When asked what he thought of our Party, he replied, "I usually play devil’s advocate, but lately I find myself agreeing more and more with the ideas of the PLP."

The best news is that these three workers have agreed to meet with a PLP club. We hope they’ll consider joining and help us "liberate" the working class from its capitalist chains!

Colombia Workers Greet PLP's Communist Politics

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — Several May Day marches here converged into a mass trade union rally. Workers and youth demonstrated against state-sponsored terrorism, the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., against the re-election of fascist President Uribe and against all his anti-working class privatization policies. Some marched in support of Chavez’s "Bolivarian revolution."

PLP denounced the electoral farce and called for the fight for communist revolution internationally. Our contingent included a strong group of workers and students and differentiated itself with revolutionary chants like: "The history of the working class is not a carnival-like parade!"; "Workers’ struggles are not won through ballots!"; "The best education is to fight for communist revolution!"; "Down with the nationalism of the bosses, long live workers’ internationalism!"; "Smash imperialist war with communist revolution!" Some fake leftists even repeated our chants, but substituted the word "socialism" for communism.

Our main job was explaining PLP’s politics through distribution of DESAFIOS and communist leaflets. Many agreed with our analysis, and photographed our signs. They expressed their approval by chanting "Long live communism!"

When we passed a group protesting the cops’ murder of a youth last May Day, they saluted us with raised fists of solidarity. When we passed a group listening to the favorite Presidential candidate of the fake left, Carlos Gaviria, who claims he’s fighting for "true democracy," we denounced bourgeois democracy and elections as essentially anti-working class.

We joined many others singing The Internationale until we reached Plaza Bolivar where the union hacks had the crowd listen to a bunch of politicians and union sellouts.

Overall, it was a great experience for new younger and older comrades.

Boston Students Rally vs. Anti-Immigrant Racism

BOSTON — On May 1, for the first time in over five years, students at Roxbury Community College (RCC) rallied in the cafeteria denouncing anti-immigrant racism and calling for working-class unity. The budding student leaders came out of a student club, Pizza and Politics, which holds regular discussions about world and local events. The mostly women students leading the rally were pleasantly surprised at the students’ receptivity.

A PLP member at RCC warned against the McCain/Kennedy bill as more dangerous than the openly racist Sensenbrenner bill because McCain/Kennedy forces immigrant workers into low-wage labor under threat of deportation. Most importantly, he explained how the liberal rulers need immigrant youth to join the U.S. military and fight in their imperialist oil wars.

Everyone had a positive evaluation of the event. They learned that their fellow students do care about what’s happening in the world, despite on the surface seeming shallow and individualistic. They also learned about leadership: if you make a plan and carry it out, you can make things happen.

The next day, the counter-attack began. Some faculty and administrators — whose political agenda is to encourage the growth of the next generation of the black elite — demanded an apology from the club. They criticized the flier’s class analysis of anti-immigrant racism, which compared the division within the working class — U.S.-born vs. immigrants — to divisions among slaves. Unfortunately, their criticism overshadowed the positive nature of the May 1st rally. But in a heated meeting of the club, it was clear that nationalist and anti-communist politics were being used to attack the working-class unity and growing class consciousness of members of Pizza and Politics.

PLP is working hard to develop this consciousness and student leadership at the college. PLP members in Pizza and Politics advocate anti-imperialist and anti-fascist ideas and argue for the need to destroy capitalism with communist revolution as the only way to forever eliminate war, fascism, racism and exploitation. By developing closer ties we can win some students into PLP’s base. This will help us develop into an organization that can lead the working class in the period ahead.

Profit System Murders Five More Miners

Once again the profit drive of capitalism has murdered the workers who mine the coal that keeps the bosses’ economy going. Once again a mine-owner has flaunted safety rules that could have saved the lives of five Kentucky miners. The Kentucky Darby LLC company has been guilty of 41 citations in the last five years for not cleaning up coal dust — three times in just the last month — that was responsible for the explosion that sent these miners to an early grave.

The mine bosses have refused to supply the miners with properly working air equipment that is supposed to provide clean air for at least an hour but in this case lasted only five minutes. Priscilla Petra, the wife of George Petra, 49, said, "There would probably be three men still alive if their air equipment had worked the way they should." (NY Times, 5/23)

These were the same air packs that didn’t work for the 12 Sago, West Virginia miners who died in the same manner in January. The other two Kentucky miners were killed by the explosion set off by the mixture of coal dust and methane gas present in the mine, coal dust that was supposed to be cleaned up by the profit-driven coal barons.

And what of the bosses’ government that permits mine-owners to get away with violation after violation, killing miner after miner? What could one expect when this same government launches war after war against workers in the Mid-East, Latin America and Asia, killing millions?

These are not "accidents." They are murders. A society based on profits first, workers last, cares not one bit for workers’ lives. The dead miners can easily be replaced by other workers needing jobs to survive life under capitalism.

In a society that abolishes bosses and their profits — communism — the safety of those workers who descend into the bowels of the earth would have the highest priority. No expense would be spared to protect their lives.

The only way to prevent such murders is to destroy the system that perpetrates these atrocities. That requires a revolutionary communist party leading a working class in a fight for workers’ power. This is the goal of PLP. Every worker and youth who joins PLP is driving another nail in the coffin of capitalism, in the long-range struggle to bury this murderous system.

Rank-and-File Solidarity Moves Beyond Pro-Boss Union Hacks

LOS ANGELES — When the LAX Hilton fired a worker known as a union activist on May 15, the bosses hoped to intimidate others and squelch the drive for union recognition. Instead, 90 workers gathered in the cafeteria the next day and 75 conducted a work stoppage in solidarity with their fired comrade.

When the bosses suspended all 75 for a week without pay, they returned every day all week — with friends, relatives, and supporters — to picket the hotel, chanting loudly and enthusiastically. Other Hilton workers came out on break or after work and joined them. "I’ve never seen anything like this!" said a young woman worker. Drivers of cars and trucks on busy Century Boulevard honked in support, and some taxi drivers refused to cross the picket line.

Chants grew more militant as the week wore on. "We are the union, the mighty mighty union" became "we are the workers, the mighty mighty workers." "Aqui estamos y no nos vamos" ( "We’re here and we’re not leaving") became "Aqui luchamos y no nos vamos." ("We’re fighting here and we’re not leaving.")

Though the level of militancy was high, the political level remains low, focused mainly on bread-and-butter issues and abstract demands like "respect." For example, one worker — asked what the organizing campaign had achieved so far — responded thoughtfully that, although they hadn’t received the usual 20˘ raise, they also hadn’t gotten the usual 30˘ hike in insurance premiums. He figured they were already ahead. But when workers are fighting like this, they should be fighting for more than pennies!

The UNITE-HERE union leadership is sabotaging the potential development of class consciousness in this struggle by promoting a "Century Corridor" campaign in which hotel workers are supposed to ally with hotel bosses and politicians to gentrify the area around the airport. Still worse, low-paid hotel workers would no longer be able to afford to live near their jobs.

Some workers involved in this campaign understand the limitations of the UNITE-HERE leadership’s approach. Suspended workers responded well when a few pickets introduced the chant, "Este puno si se ve los obreros al poder." ("See this fist, workers to power.")

The originally fired worker has won his job back, and the suspended workers are back at work, more united and even more determined. And, more than ever, they need the political perspective that CHALLENGE provides. While a limited number of these workers are receiving the paper, readers need to find ways to get it to more hotel workers and their families.

PLP Summer Project Will Bring Red Ideas to New Orleans

PLP is organizing a summer project in New Orleans, where the contradictions of U.S. capitalism have been laid bare. The events surrounding Katrina continue to be among the most intense fascist and racist attacks in recent history. It is the same ruling class that has killed over a million Iraqi working-class families in 15 years of imperialist war. Both attacks are driven by the need for capitalists to maximize their profits.

The ruling class abandoned more than 100,000 hurricane victims. If Katrina had made a direct hit on the city, all but the luckiest would have been killed. Neither FEMA, the Red Cross, the National Guard, nor anyone in government lifted a finger to evacuate the poorest workers. After complaining several years ago "that New Orleans has too many poor people . . . [and] argue[ing] that . . . African-Americans . . . might be better served by a Greyhound ticket to another town" (The Nation), the head of the Transit Authority parked the city’s 264 buses two days before the hurricane.

The government gave no warning that the levees had been breeched and the city was beginning to flood. Instead, it carried out a vicious fascist occupation of the city, followed by an equally vicious forced evacuation. Hundreds of thousands nationwide have been left to face homelessness.

Conditions in New Orleans’ working-class neighborhoods are still appalling. Huge areas still lack any utilities or city services. Toxic waste fills the streets. Dead bodies are still being found in vacant houses. No government money is being spent on rebuilding workers’ homes, helping them to return, or maintaining them in their new cities. Only the working class is keeping them alive.

The rebuilding of the business district and rich areas is being done mainly by temporary, immigrant "guest workers," with no job security, little or no safety gear, no benefits, ultra-low wages and prison-camp type housing. This is the rulers’ fascist immigration "reform."

Just as the ruling class leads both sides of the immigration movement (see page 1), the other side of the rulers’ open racist terror is voter registration and Democratic Party politics through organizations they control. through organizations they control they’re also trying to mislead thousands of concerned people, mainly youth, who went to the city to try to help. Our Summer Project will fly in the face of their plans.

We’ll be mainly organizing the surviving black workers in the city to rebuild and fight for their needs by building Survivors Councils. Some already exist; we hope to help expand them to other neighborhoods and cities.

At a recent Survivor Council meeting in the Lower Ninth Ward, 40 residents met to continue their work, which includes prioritizing the clean-up to give preference to the elderly and single-parent families, as well as reclaiming a local school targeted for destruction. We will be working with hundreds of student volunteers, taking part in both reconstruction and door-to-door canvassing activities.

We believe that workers can and must grasp communist ideas in order for communism to win. This summer project can teach us some very valuable lessons in building a mass PLP, in bringing communist ideas to these victims of capitalism, that the profit system is the source of their exploitation.

We’ve raised Katrina front and center in CHALLENGE and in virtually all of our mass organizations, and encouraged numerous friends and comrades from a few cities to go to New Orleans; but now we’ll be making a Party-wide response there. We’ll enter this Summer Project with the approach of trying to learn from those who have preceded us while we struggle to win workers to PLP’s revolutionary communist politics.

We have long believed that black workers are the key force for communist revolution. We have much to learn and many experiences in fighting racism to help build the Party among black workers and youth. This will work towards transforming PLP and qualitatively strengthen the fight for communism.

Workers’ Rebellion Defies Mexican Cops’ Attacks

MEXICO CITY, May 4 — Yesterday, a second workers’ rebellion hit the administration of Vicente Fox in San Salvador Atenco, a settlement near Mexico City. The first uprising had fought the government’s attempt to displace workers with a new international airport in the area.

When workers recently tried to sell the flowers they grow in neighboring Texcoco, the mayor — a member of the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) of Lopez Obrador — ordered the police to stop them from erecting stalls to sell their flowers. But yesterday the workers set up their stalls, defying the mayor. When the cops arrived to throw them out, the workers repelled the attack and surrounded the area with a defensive guard.

Meanwhile, neighbors organized to support them, closing down the highway passing through the settlement. When state police tried to clear the highway, workers fought them with exceptional bravery, given that the cops had thrown a tear gas grenade killing a 14-year-old boy. That only strengthened the people’s resolve.

As happened on April 21 at Sicarsa, in Lazaro Cardenas Michoacan, the confrontation was broadcast live on television. Many victims of police brutality sympathized with the rebels, but TV hacks, being "indignant" at the workers’ action, called for the "hard hand of the government." They offered their video footage to help the police identify rebels.

This fascist response came quickly. Since the state police could not oust the workers, at 7:00 this morning the federal government sent in the Federal Preventative Police to violently recapture the settlement, arresting hundreds, including university students and others who had arrived at night to support the workers.

Thousands are protesting in various cities, demanding the charges be dropped against the hundreds arrested and that they be freed immediately. Some are calling for President Fox, to be tried for crimes against the people.

We must organize ourselves against this capitalist system that can do nothing but oppress workers. Lenin wrote that the political characteristic of imperialism is the tendency to violence and reaction (what we today call fascism). While politicians spread the illusion that the world is "advancing" towards more democracy — some using as an example "leftist" governments in Latin America — the truth is that we’re facing increasing fascism. These repressions will occur more frequently, since workers are resisting oppression more and more, and the ruling class needs stricter control of the working class as inter-imperialist rivalry and war gets sharper.

A comrade from Mexico

CHALLENGE comment: Thank you for the letter. We would just like to add that the whole murderous capitalist system should be destroyed. We must organize the Progressive Labor Party to lead a real communist revolution that ends, once and for all, this capitalist hell. One concrete step toward that goal is massive distribution of this revolutionary communist newspaper.


'Lives not worth risking for a war that's not their's'

A friend who is a U.S. Army public affairs soldier attached to a Special Forces unit recently sent me a long letter from Iraq. Following are excerpts highlighting the brutality of the war and the increasing difficulty U.S. imperialism is facing in fielding an army.

"My time has been mostly preoccupied by making memorial videos. I’m up to number 10 now….The platoon is currently operating at 40% of its strength due to injuries and deaths….

"Soldiers are getting maimed and killed and many will tell you that they don’t feel their lives are worth risking for a war they feel is not theirs….

"The soldiers I memorialize…died when a bomb exploded under their vehicle, exploded the extra gas canisters on the back and engulfed the vehicle in flames, and thanks to the combat locks on the doors and their inability to move because of excessive body armor, barbequed them alive. Last time I checked, Dateline didn’t have a special report on them.

"The Army is so desperate for bodies right now that they deployed soldiers…who can’t run…. They waived weight restrictions, increased the age limit, and are talking about making basic training easier. They’ve kept soldiers here with combat injuries like shrapnel and gun shot wounds, sending them to physical therapy so they can be rehabilitated and then send them back out….

"Don’t believe everything the media tells you (in fact, ignore most of it)….

"Imperialism is ugly on the ground. Let’s crush it.

"GI Jane"

Nature of Workers’ Collective Self-Interest

In the March 29 issue, a letter from Red Rider (RR) says that selflessness is the foundation of communism and that there is too much emphasis in the paper on "narrow self-interest." The letter contains misconceptions about the role of selflessness and the nature of self-interest.

Communist selflessness requires cooperation when giving, and sharing when receiving. The letter focuses one-sidedly on giving and rejects receiving altogether. It also neglects the difference between collective and individual self-interest.

By eventually abolishing classes (after perhaps centuries), communist revolution will abolish class interests and absorb all human interests into the varying needs of individuals in varying circumstances. Then selflessness and self-interest will be merged into one, with no contradiction between them.

RR says, correctly, that "Communism is not about offering the workers a better deal than the capitalists," implying that CHALLENGE is guilty of doing so. But when every issue describes the millions of ways that capitalism robs the working class, it does not imply that communism "offers" the working class a "better deal." Rather it means that by seizing control of the world from the capitalists and liquidating the system that produces — and is run by — these murderous thieves, the working class will enable workers to serve each other, based on our collective needs.

RR says communism is "about sacrifice and commitment on behalf of others." True, in part. But this formulation poses a contradiction between the needs of self and the needs of others, which is a central characteristic of capitalism, not of communism. When a tsunami or earthquake or hurricane occurs, workers internationally struggle to aid each other. In so doing, workers are not merely "sacrificing" self for the needs of others, but rather, as CHALLENGE points out, are in fact repairing the damage to a part of our own international class.

Millions of workers in the U.S. and abroad asked how they could help Katrina’s victims. Thousands helped each other with transportation during the recent NYC transit strike, without blaming the strikers. Workers always come to each others’ aid under severe circumstances, even without PLP’s local presence. But PLP is necessary to explain how to achieve a communist world, where such mutual aid will be an every-day occurrence.

CHALLENGE is filled with calls for workers in, say, the U.S. to support workers in Tehran or India or Iraq or Afghanistan or Sudan. But CHALLENGE points out that this support can best be given, under present circumstances, by attacking the imperialist bosses where they are weak. In particular, it showed how the recent NYC transit strike weakened the bosses in their effort to control the Iraqi oil fields through war.

The merging of self-interest with selflessness was implicit in Marx’s call on white workers to fight black slavery, saying that workers in white skin will never be free so long as workers in black skin are enslaved. This merging is also implicit in the slogan, "An injury to one is an injury to all."

Finally, RR contradicts himself when he says, correctly, "Down with nationalism...of this kind!" and then says, referring to the genocidal wars in Iraq and Sudan, "for which our society has a certain collective responsibility due to all the indulgence and gluttony that we passively accept and participate in." But nowhere on earth, much less in the U.S., is the society "our society." It belongs to the capitalists. By claiming it as "ours," RR unwittingly accepts the responsibility for the genocide in Iraq and Sudan on behalf of the U.S. working class. This merging of working class and capitalists is the essence of nationalism — the very nationalism that he correctly condemns in the previous sentence.

Saguaro Rojo

Evangelicals Also Oppose Iraq War

My church’s reputation is conservative, evangelical ("soul-saving"), but at least a few members aren’t politically conservative. One told me he believed many members oppose the Iraq war.

To check this out, he and I asked around and found a few more who agreed to call for immediate U.S. pullout, and no attack on Iran. We sent letters to every parishioner asking them to join us in that call. In a few days 17 had signed on, including three pastors. Not bad for a small conservative church! Eleven have read CHALLENGE, and some see it frequently.

The 17 then sent letters to 150 other churches like ours in our area, stating our position and calling on them to join us. It noted that the national church body voted to label the war "unwise, illegal and immoral." So the call wasn’t to the bosses’ government or politicians but to other church people.

Some opposition surfaced. First, a member criticized our "failure" to call directly on the government. Then a couple of pro-war members pressured one pastor to leave the group. Another member wrote a letter praising that pastor. It called me (correctly) "...a Stalinist communist who believes that the entire electoral system in a capitalist society is a sick, cynical sham..."! The political attacks and red-baiting were clearly efforts to throw cold water on our effort.

One person in the group has suggested we hold a forum in the church to discuss the war, with veterans as speakers. Others agree. We may not succeed in this immediately, but the effort has been worth it. The work goes on.

Pennsylvania Red Churchgoer

Lemon Meringue Pie and Workers' Unity

Mostly we have to initiate revolutionary discussion. These days, though, opportunities are just as likely to come to us, as us to them. Because of my current job insecurity I have missed some of the recent major events, or had to play a subdued role in them. Nonetheless, political opinion is everywhere.

I walk into my grocery store and immediately a worker I know stops stocking the shelves to engage me in a passionate discussion on immigration. A sometime CHALLENGE reader, he’s angry. As a black man he feels the sudden media attention paid to Latino immigrants "threatens" his community, which is already under a vicious and sustained assault. We argue. Whose country is it? Ours or the richest 1%? Who jails us, imports the drugs, replaces welfare with workfare? Who benefits when one section of the working class fights another over who can wave the flag of imperialism? We end by keeping our friendship and our differences.

Hell, I think, I came in here to get a Lemon Meringue pie for tonight’s party and got a debate on working-class unity instead. Later, at the party among black professionals, the issue is raised again in a quieter tone. "Is it really a Civil Rights issue?" is the question that leads us off. Again a wide-ranging debate, although half-way through I begin to wonder, is there something about Lemon Meringue pie or is it that "The times they are a’changin’?"

Driving home I realize that in neither case did I have CHALLENGE in my hip pocket, so to speak. I don’t mean that literally. I mean that in neither case was the idea that I am actively building a revolutionary party — the PLP — part of my argument. Misjudging the period we’re entering means missing out on the opportunities that will present themselves.

It was a useful reflection that perhaps helped me make a somewhat better plan for my next dilemma. After a too-long stint of unemployment, I had found a temporary job only to find myself in a pre-strike situation. Fortunately, one of the union activists is a former PLP’er who still distributes CHALLENGE. We meet and begin to probe the deeper forces behind the potential strike. It becomes apparent that imperialist rivalries — especially between the U.S. versus China and Europe — are shaping the issues surfacing in the contract negotiations. Also, because the scope and magnitude of capitalism’s direct intervention in our school system becomes clearer, the question of developing fascism also emerges. Disagreements over tactics bubble up, but despite my clumsiness the activist agrees to start meeting with the PLP club again.

Another friend of mine who’s been reading CHALLENGE for some six years recently organized a mass action involving a student walkout and parent support against the draconian consequences confronting students who fail the Exit exam. The friend has many disagreements but is clear on U. S. imperialism’s war plans and on CHALLENGE’S position that U.S. rulers aim to recruit thousands of Latino youth into their Army. So he’s now taking five CHALLENGES an issue.

Events have opened a window of opportunity. Imperialism, war, fascism and the need for a revolutionary communist party are more easily discussed. It’s no exaggeration to say that today a million people would read CHALLENGE on a regular basis, if they only had the chance. We may not have the means to meet that potential, but we do have an opportunity to expand our influence if only, as in my case, modestly. The window is open now. It won’t stay open forever. Let's seize the moment.

A Comrade

GM Article Needs More Explanation

A recent CHALLENGE article titled "GM Restructuring Follows Führer's Footsteps" (4/12) states that GM's layoffs are "similar to the 'restructuring' done by Hitler and the Nazis." This statement is incorrect, and no connection is made between GM's crisis and Nazi Germany.

When the Nazis seized power in Germany, productive forces were destroyed because under capitalism the economy cannot keep up with the development of productive techniques. Unemployment was greatly reduced. Military production sped up and became the center of economic development; commercial production was reorganized for military use.

Was the point of the article that GM's attacks on workers demonstrate a period of rising fascism? Or, more specifically, that we can draw a parallel between these current attacks and part of Nazi economic policy?

It's important that we talk about fascism, but it's more important that we explain it! Most workers don't know what the term means, and we can't throw it around without backing it up with solid historical evidence. We must clearly define and back up our terms and points in all of our writing.

Red students Impressed with PLP Role at LA March

On May 1, I went with two co-workers to the rally site of the LA Immigrant Rights March. Although we were quite early hundreds were already there. So on May Day, we waited for the march that would eventually grow to half a million.

As the crowd grew much larger, I raised a sign that said (in Spanish) "The boss and the migra are the same bastards." Not only did my co-workers like it but many marchers also commented on it, asking to photograph us with the signs. One co-worker now displays an enlarged copy in his toolbox of him holding the sign with other marchers.

The street had filled up and we were shoulder to shoulder. I knew the Party had a contingent somewhere in our area but in this huge crowd I couldn't possibly find them. Then a tall black student came through the crowd passing out flyers. I took one look at the headline, "Fight anti-immigrant racism. Power to the workers on May Day," and I quickly said, "We're with you; where's our group?" He gestured behind him.

I told my co-workers and we worked our way back to where the Party was distributing flyers and making speeches about workers' power and the failure of capitalism to provide a decent life for our class. Someone handed us a big stack of leaflets. I couldn't pass them out quickly enough — people were actually lining up to get one, and a pink sheet with our chants in Spanish and English. I think my friends from work were surprised at how willingly people took the flyers.

The party gave short one-minute speeches on racism and the racist Minutemen, the McCain/Kennedy Bill and the war in the Middle East. Each one ended with a chant reflecting the ideas in the speech. It was a very effective combination. After listening to each speech, the crowd picked up the chants in spirited fashion. We had a good, strong contingent and made ourselves heard up and down Broadway.

The two young workers who came from my job were at almost every meeting we've had over the last six months to discuss our upcoming contract and the political issues of the current period. They've gotten CHALLENGE several times. Perhaps they're less cynical or demoralized than some of the older workers who sometimes talk a good game but don't show up for one reason or another.

At any rate, it's both the Party's advanced ideas and also the organization of our contingent that impressed these workers. It's not only what we in PLP say but what we do that counts - and also, how we do it.

A Worker Comrade


US has long used law to exploit Mexicans

A pattern of deliberately leaving the country’s "back door" open to Mexican workers, then moving to expel them and their families years later, has been a recurrent feature of immigrant policy since the 1890’s.

…As commercial agriculture created "factories in the field," undocumented entry became the norm. Growers pointed out that no willing field hand could afford the "head tax" that went with legal entry. And employers regularly cited informal entry as a feature that made Mexicans more desirable than cheap foreign laborers like Filipinos, because they were easier to deport. As one rancher quoted in Mr. Zolberg’s book remarked to a Mexican hand: "When we want you, we’ll call you; when we don’t — git."

The full, brutal weight of that formula hit in the Depression. Roundups of Mexican families in public places, summary deportations — and well-publicized threats of more to come — sent panic through Mexican-American communities in 1931. The tactic was called "scare-heading" by its architect, Charles P. Visel, the director of the Los Angeles Citizens Committee on the Coordination of Unemployment Relief. It worked. Even many legal immigrants were panicked into selling their property cheap and leaving "voluntarily."

"I have left the best of my life and strength here, sprinkling with the sweat of my brow the fields and factories of these gringos, who only know how to make one sweat and don’t even pay attention to one when they see one is old," said one worker….

Today, the nature of the deal can no longer be disguised, said Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, co-director of Immigration Studies at New York University. "It’s a bad-faith pact," he said. "We can’t have it both ways — an economy that’s addicted to immigrant labor, but that’s not ready to pay the cost." (NYT, 5/21)

Immigrants pay plenty of taxes

…Americans say they are concerned that immigrants "overburden government services and programs."

….In the upcoming issue of the Harvard Latino Law Review, Francine Lipman, a professor at Chapman University’s law school in Orange, Calif., writes that the widespread belief that undocumented immigrants cost us more than they give us is "demonstrably false."

…There are 7 million undocumented workers….They cannot access or easily access many public services, yet in 2003 alone the labor of undocumented workers poured $7 billion in taxes into Social Security even though they cannot legally claim those benefits.

Often ignored by anti-immigration forces is that undocumented workers pay sales taxes and real estate taxes—directly if they are homeowners, indirectly if they are renters. (NYT news service)

Tax Cuts: $20 for you, $42,000 for rich

The tax cut bill that Senate and House leaders have generally agreed upon is expected to save Americans at the center of the income distribution an average of $20….Those making more than $1 million would save, on average, almost $42,000. (NYT, 5/5)

Muslims see US push for ‘democracy’ as a lie

In the western world, the view prevails that democracy is a better form of government than any other…But…..In the light of Gunatánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Falluja, the other horrors of the Iraq war, and the continuing revelations about so-called extraordinary rendition — a fancy phrase for kidnapping — the Muslim world may not be over-impressed with protestations about the rule of law. Muslims generally regard such ideas as self-serving hypocrisy. (GW, 5/4)

Free Labor market deepens child-labor trap

…In a report last week….

The ILO said hard labour was still a reality for one in seven children around the world aged five to 17….

A vast majority — 69% — of working children are found in agriculture, an area that the report’s authors said tended to be overlooked by campaigners. Trade unions in this sector are traditionally weak and…child labor on family farms was seen as "family solidarity".

The ILO stressed, however, that child labour paradoxically deepened the poverty trap in poor countries, with investment in education and health offering a better route to prosperity. Sending children to work was often essential to the survival of poor families but the resulting increase in the supply of workers tended to drive down wages, further convincing families that their children should work rather than study. (GW, 5/18)

Pfizer used African kids as guinea pigs

A panel of Nigerian medical experts has concluded the pharmaceuticals firm Pfizer violated international law during a 1996 epidemic by testing an unapproved drug on children with brain infections at a field hospital.

That finding is detailed in a lengthy Nigerian government report that has remained unreleased for five years, despite inquiries from the children’s lawyers and the media. The Washington Post recently obtained a copy….

An approval letter from a Nigerian ethics committee, which Pfizer used to justify its actions, had been concocted and backdated by its lead researcher in Kano, the report said. (GW, 5/8)

NY cops send spies to live among Muslims

A young police detective testified yesterday at the Herald Square bombing plot trial that he was recruited from the Police Academy 13 months after 9/11 to work deep undercover in the [N.Y.] Muslim community….

The Police Intelligence Division’s program to post detectives overseas has been widely publicized. But this detective’s testimony yesterday in federal court in Brooklyn provided the closest look yet at how the division is using undercover investigators to penetrate mosques, bookstores and other places where Muslims gather in the city.

His testimony confirmed what many Muslims have believed since the Sept.11 attacks: that law enforcement agencies have worked to infiltrate their community during terrorism investigations. It also revealed the extraordinary steps the department took to create a fictitious identity so a Muslim investigator could live for years in an insular neighborhood where people have become highly suspicious of the authorities. (NYT, 5/19)

Review of ‘Soldiers Speak Out!’

Trying to Corral A GI Movement

The "biggest weakness" of the documentary Sir, No Sir! according to CHALLENGE'S review (5/24), "is its failure to tie … the anti-war activities of those who were supposed to fight [the Vietnam War] to the current imperialist war in Iraq." Another documentary, Soldiers Speak Out! could have remedied this weakness as it features anti-war Iraq veterans. Unfortunately, it doesn't because it's fatally flawed.

Indeed, the word imperialism is never mentioned. To its credit, the movie does include a brief statement from a veteran about how the army uses racism to "dehumanize the enemy." Racism — never presented as a class question — is a key ruling-class weapon used to divide and control the working class, be it to wage imperialist wars or to split workers domestically. Smashing racism is in every worker's interest and can only be accomplished with communist revolution, since only that system abolishes profits and bosses, the source of racism. In this regard, "Soldiers" shares this flaw with "Sir, No Sir," although it contains more examples of anti-racist struggle.

"Soldiers" aims most of its firepower at stopping recruitment. It quotes soldiers bemoaning a "loss of self," how one is trained to follow "Pavlovian bells." One Iraqi veteran even asserts that "most soldiers" can't "think about the …justifications for a war" when they're in it. They can only think of survival, which sometimes leads to civilian deaths. Only when they come home can they think about such things. The implication is clear: stay away from the army.

How then can one explain the mass rebellion of active-duty troops depicted in Sir, No Sir? Two Vietnam veterans introduce the first GI newspaper mentioned in Sir, No Sir, — the "Last Harass." The documentary fails to note that a revolutionary communist PLP member organized this underground paper. Here's his rationale:

"We needed a paper that had more faith in the ability of the G.I. to understand the true nature of the war and the system that is responsible for it. It had to discuss the issues at hand and explain how those in power — the factory owners, bankers, landlords and capitalists in general — are responsible for the war and poverty at home."

This class view of soldiers stands in stark contrast to the one that says soldiers are, and will remain, helpless (or morally compromised) fools or cannon fodder. Soldiers can — and have historically — played a key role in revolution when organized under the leadership of a communist party.

Our Party has always had the outlook of reaching out to these working-class sons and daughters, joining the army to build for revolution. U.S. counter-intelligence officer Taylor spoke to our modest success during the Vietnam War period. "Other organizations were being overshadowed by . . . PLP in the 6th Army," he warned in the early 1970's. (House Internal Securities Committee, Vol. II)

At the end of Sir, No Sir, a number of veterans talk about how their experiences fighting the Army had led them to the option of "changing the world." Changing the world requires a communist revolution. All attempts to "progressively" reform this system inevitably leads back to imperialist war, racism and exploitation.

The ruling class is well aware of the history of GI rebellions. These two documentaries can be useful and we should arrange showings. But we should harbor no illusions that these movies would advance the cause of revolution. On the contrary, each in its own way wants to corral any soldiers' movement into dead-end reformist and/or pacifist politics. We must be prepared to answer any attempt to build a soldiers' movement that would only abet liberal-led imperialism.

Fighting Racism on Deployment to Iraq

Building a base to fight racism and overthrow capitalism takes patience and diligence. But after some years in the military, the work is starting to bear fruit. Recently I invited several soldiers to watch the PBS special on the "Scottsboro Boys." Two came, one African American and one Puerto Rican.

Neither had heard of this landmark case in the fight against racism, nor did it shock them since they knew the general history of U.S. racism. But what did surprise them was the role of the communist-led International Labor Defense in vehemently fighting for the release of the nine framed victims. The image of white anti-racists being beaten by NYC police officers in rallies for the Scottsboro Boys sparked conversations on the role of whites in an anti-racist movement and the history of communism in the U.S.

Afterwards my African American friend and I continued talking about the role of workers fighting racism in the military and eventually overthrowing capitalism. I shared with him the history of the 1905 Potemkin mutiny in Russia and gave him one of our readings on this. We hope to discuss it soon.

This exchange highlighted the importance of building strong on-the-job relationships. My ties to both these soldiers were strengthened during our deployment to Iraq when an equal opportunity complaint was filed against a racist who had harassed soldiers in the shop by displaying a noose, making a mockery of lynching. This was the culmination of many unpunished racist/sexist acts.

A full investigation validated our complaints. The perpetuator was stripped of his rank and confined to the base for thirty days.

The most important consequence from our standpoint was eliminating the defiant acts of racism/sexism in the shop (at least for a time) and demonstrating to other soldiers that struggle can produce results when workers unite and fight back! Of course, this didn’t change the military’s role in protecting the racist capitalist system, but our morale in the struggle against racism has certainly improved!

Our little group and a buddy from boot camp will be viewing the movie "Sir No Sir" soon. It documents the GI movement against the Vietnam War via sit-down strikes, work stoppages and the ultimate act of "fragging" (killing officers with fragmentation grenades). Our next goal is developing a Study Action Group and, hopefully, winning new comrades.

Red Soldier

Forward to communism

Overcoming Famine and Disease in the Soviet Union

Part 2

In her book "I Change Worlds," U.S. communist writer Anna Louise Strong writes about bringing supplies to famine areas in the Soviet Union in the 1920’s. Following the 1917 revolution and the 3-year wars of intervention by 14 capitalist countries to crush workers’ power, there were severe droughts in 1920 and 1921. Like everyone, Strong was exposed to typhus from lice. She spent four bed-ridden months, so weak she couldn’t wash her face.

Strong shared a cabin on the supply train with Sonia, an interpreter, who was devoting her month’s vacation to famine relief. "I thought in the past that there were impossible things," said Sonia. "For eight months I ran a typhus hospital where a thousand men lay on wooden floors that could not be disinfected. The men had been in dirt so long that we had to cut the clothes from them; they were rotten with filth that crumbled in your hands. The lice were imbedded in their flesh; you had to scrub hard or use a razor to get them off. We had no beds, no mattresses, no sheets, no blankets, no soap. The doctors and nurses came down with typhus regularly; there was no way to protect them.

"I thought it was impossible. But always something can be done. We sent word throughout the city asking every family to bring us one suit of underwear for the men who were left naked when we cut their clothing off....Communists, of course, were not permitted to refuse. They must give, even if they have no underwear left for themselves. We communists are making the revolution; we must do whatever is demanded."

She spoke of the revolution not as a past violent upheaval but as an ongoing process. "I learned that there is nothing impossible. There is always a way. This famine is nothing compared to the wars of intervention....Now that we’ve beaten the intervention, don’t think this famine can stop us."

This Sonia of the hard-won philosophy was a woman in her twenties. She said to Strong casually, "I should like a couple of babies more than anything, but we have plenty of children in Russia, and not many women who can work like I can."

In those initial five months, Strong never tasted fresh water or milk. After two months’ convalescence and work in Warsaw and England, she returned to Moscow, where she worked for the labor press. She shared two rooms with a comrade who gave her a bed of boards with a thin straw mattress and a writing table. She would rush to her office, and on coming home at midnight would turn on her desk lamp and work till three in the morning.

Strong "learned to go to bed with the door unlatched and never knew how many people would be occupying the rooms next morning. Meetings there lasted after the street cars stopped, so visitors simply slept on the floor and went directly back to their offices. Anyone who came ate whatever there was in the flat, and when there was nothing left we went hungry till the next day. They were all absorbed in keeping the country going."

But in Moscow, not all was selfless labor. Strong noted how stores with stolen goods were opening. The city was "becoming a regular…market-place, bargaining, cheating. There’s a horrible new-rich set growing, and opera audiences have changed from workers to petty traders showing off their women. It’s rawer by far than the capitalism of America."µ

(Next: rampant profiteering.)