After an extended break and a false start at resuming our activities, Return to the Source is back at it. We appreciate the readers and comrades who have stayed with us through this long period of inactivity and hope to provide some insightful pieces in the next few weeks. The project we’re most excited about presenting in the next two weeks is an extended essay on Cambodia that comes at the end of a collective study on the history of Kampuchea by several comrades. We’re hoping to ignite some discussions on several topics that Marxist-Leninists in the US don’t discuss often – the Khmer Rouge, Democratic Kampuchea, Cambodia’s war with Vietnam, the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, and the overthrow of socialism in this often-overlooked southeast Asian country – and offer conclusions from our study. Without further ado, though, we begin with Syria.
A little over a month ago, the US war machine kicked into high gear and came as close as ever to striking Syria in the almost three years of unrest. Although the US, Western Europe, Saudi Arabia and Israel have intervened on behalf of the so-called rebels since the conflict began – with the latter actually striking Syrian military facilities twice in 2013 – President Barack Obama’s appeal to Congress for war authorization represented a new stage in the conflict. Repeating lies and nonsense about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons, the US sought to build a case for war that eerily paralleled the build-up to the war in Iraq, which began a decade ago in March.
Several factors torpedoed this proposal. Russia, Iran and China firmly came out against military intervention by the Western powers in Syria, with Russia and Iran threatening material consequences for a strike. Moreover, a dramatic change in strategy by the Assad government in the last year – fighting the conflict as a civil war rather than relying solely on counter-insurgency measures – broke the nearly two year stalemate and gave momentum back to the Syrian Arab Army. In other words, Assad is winning the conflict. Though this was part of the reason for the West’s increased threats of military force, it was dialectically a factor in their calculus to avoid intervention.
However, another factor sunk the President’s proposal for military force: that of popular protests by people in the US. From California to New York, Chicago to Florida, and everywhere in-between, anti-war activists took to the streets and organized demonstrations pressuring Congress to not authorize a strike on Syria. As the votes tallied higher against military action – not incidentally coming largely from the Republican right-wing of Congress – and as public opinion reached a low-point with a stunning 91% of Americans voicing opposition to the proposal, it was quietly withdrawn by the Administration.
Though the protests against the war on Syria were far smaller than those protesting the build-up to the war in Iraq a decade ago, they were significantly larger and more targeted than the movement against President Obama’s strike on Libya. In part, this owed to the courageous activism and organizing of countless Syrian-American organizations, not least of which was the Syrian-American Forum. This strong strategic alliance between the anti-war movement and the bulk of the Syrian-American community played a significant role in stopping the Administration’s threats of war.
Despite overwhelming unity within the active anti-war movement against intervention and against the US and Saudi-backed rebels, several so-called “leftist” organizations remained obstinate and continued calling for the downfall of President Assad’s government, even during the height of the US’ pro-war propaganda campaign. These organizations preferred to continue supporting an imaginary “Syrian revolution” free from Western, Saudi, Israeli, or al-Qaeda influence against the “tyranny” of the Assad government instead of taking a stand in principled solidarity. While they played no significant role in the anti-war movement during this latest victory, it didn’t stop national chauvinist leftists like those in the International Socialist Organization (ISO) from slandering the activists who resisted war. Read the rest of this entry →
“In 1934, the [Soviet Union] government abolished the existing national department of labor and turned its functions over to the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, it being taken for granted in a socialist regime that no group in the country is more competent or trustworthy to administer the nation’s labor laws than those persons most directly concerned, the workers themselves.
But imagine what a wild outcry such a proposal in the United States would wring from the reactionaries. The Soviet trade unions, in protecting the rights and welfare of the workers in the industries, have the power to issue regulations having the binding force of law, and for whose infraction careless or bureaucratic factory managers may be punished. To supervise the country’s great labor protective service the trade union movement has its own system of factory inspectors. Each factory council has a commission to attend to problems of local enforcement in the plant, mine, office, or railroad.
This is a concept utterly unthinkable in any capitalist system.”
– William Z. Foster, American Trade Unionism, pg. 331
This essay is an expansion of a chapter in a recent post, Actually Existing Socialism in Vietnam. The chapter, “Trade Unions & Actually Existing Socialism in Vietnam,” was one of the most discussed parts of the essay by readers of Return to the Source. Although the chapter began to address the fundamental distinction between trade unions in socialist countries versus capitalist countries, the essay’s particular focus on Vietnam limited the scope of discussion. Thus, it is our hope to expand on many of the points made in the chapter. Fragments of this chapter appear in this piece uncited.
In the United States, organized labor is under outright assault from the imperialist class. Devastated by so-called ‘right-to-work’ legislation and no-strike clauses written into contracts by management and conservative union leaders alike, state and local governments across the US have sought to deal trade unions a finishing blow.
The onslaught of anti-union governors provoked a strong, militant upsurge in union activism, from Wisconsin to Ohio to Florida. Many of these measures were defeated using a variety of tactics: In Wisconsin, it took a state Supreme Court ruling to overturn the worst provisions of Governor Scott Walker’s law stripping public workers of the right to collectively bargain. In Ohio, the AFL-CIO, the SEIU, and other unions spent a staggering $24 million to successfully defeat Governor John Kasich’s Issue 2, which similarly attacked the collective bargaining rights of public workers. In Florida, the unions defeated some of Governor Rick Scott’s attacks on organized labor through direct lobbying a tentative coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature.
For all of the success stories, however, there are also revealing defeats that demonstrate the limits and failures of the reformist tactics embraced by most national and state trade union leaders. In Wisconsin, of course, the trade unions suffered a devastating blow when they lost the Scott Walker recall campaign, having spent $10.6 million on the effort. In Florida, the state Supreme Court upheld Governor Rick Scott’s wage-cut for state employees in a 5-4 decision that was tipped in the Governor’s favor by a justice that the unions endorsed in the 2012 general election!
These defeats have something in common, namely the reliance on purely reformist tactics by union leadership instead of resorting to more militant actions, particularly the strike. Criticizing this conservative trend in the trade unions in the US, however, is not the purpose of this piece. For the most up-to-date look at the American trade union movement, its flaws, and its potential for recovery, Return to the Source wholeheartedly recommends reading Joe Burns’ book, Reviving the Strike.
Instead, we briefly remind readers of the attacks and defeats suffered by American trade unions to make a point that should be obvious: Workers do not have even a semblance of ‘democracy’ or political power in a capitalist country. Relying on the democratic institutions in a capitalist country to affect change for workers proves fruitless time and time again, especially as conservative trade union leaders ‘bargain’ away the last vestiges of class-self-defense that workers have in the United States. Strikes, as Burns’ book points out, are the most effective weapon that workers have in capitalist relations of production, and abandoning that weapon in lieu of the ballot box is a poor trade, indeed. The proof, as it is said, is in the pudding.
However, there are countries and nations whose people have overthrown capitalism and created a dictatorship of the workers, in which working people become the ruling class and run the state and economy in the interests of the majority. Generally speaking, this is socialism, and it still exists in about 1/5 of the world despite the overthrow of the Soviet Union and most of the Socialist Bloc in the late-80s/early-90s.
In every major instance of actually existing socialism, trade unions have continued to play a role in the economy, albeit a drastically different role. Since most workers in the US are primarily familiar with trade unions as the most basic organization defending their wages, benefits, and rights, this begs an obvious question: If socialism is the class rule of the workers, why do trade unions continue to exist after the defeat of capitalism? Further still, what are the roles and continued significance of trade unions in socialism? And finally, how do they differ from trade unions under capitalism? Read the rest of this entry →
Tags: china, communism, cuba, john kasich, labor, labor unions, marxism, marxism-leninism, rick scott, scott walker, socialism, soviet union, sports, trade unions, unions, USSR, vietnam, walmart, wisconsin, workers, workers rights
True, we have a higher gun violence level, but overall, muggings, stabbing, deaths — those men raped that woman to India to death with an iron rod 4 feet long. You can’t ban the iron rods. The guns, the iron rods, Piers, didn’t do it, the tyrants did it. Hitler took the guns, Stalin took the guns, Mao took the guns, Fidel Castro took the guns, Hugo Chavez took the guns, and I’m here to tell you, 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms! It doesn’t matter how many lemmings you get out there in the street begging for them to have their guns taken. We will not relinquish them. Do you understand?
Of all the most common arguments used by the Right in the US to defend their helter skelter view of the Second Amendment, none stands more dishonest than their indictment of socialist leaders like Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro as ‘tyrants who take guns’.
The argument goes something like this. First, throw out the names of some political leaders demonized in the United States. Second, claim that they banned guns and confiscated firearms from the population and that this act more than anything else facilitated their rise to power. Finally, liken gun control advocates and liberals to these leaders and argue that regulation of gun ownership is a slippery slope towards ‘tyranny.’
Incidentally, this argument has gotten a lot more press coverage in the last week. The now-infamous Alex Jones-Piers Morgan interview was only outdone by a Drudge Report headline from January 9th, which featured pictures of Stalin and Hitler above a caption that read, “White House Threatens Executive Orders on Guns.”
It’s all nonsense, of course, starting with the premise that the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, warrior of the highest escalations of capital, has anything in common with revolutionary leaders like Stalin, Mao, Castro, and Chavez. Then there’s the bloated death totals we hear quite often in the corporate media and Western academia, parroted most recently by Jones, who claimed that Mao “killed about 80 million people because he’s the only guy who had the guns.”
However, a closer examination of the historical record reveals that the entire argument is based on distortions or outright falsehoods. Guns were not summarily banned in any of these countries – including Nazi Germany, as a matter of historical note. Although firearm ownership took a distinctly different form than the Wild Wild West policies in the United States, which favor individual rights and vigilante justice over social and class rights, guns remained an important part of defending socialism from imperialist aggression. Read the rest of this entry →