Lexington, Kentucky and Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism lost a strong leader with the passing of April Browning. Her strong voice for justice and equality could be heard on many fronts, often the one holding the megaphone and leading chants.
April was born in Flint, Michigan but grew up in Central Kentucky. She understood first hand the struggle of low income parents in Kentucky. She understood first hand being denied right as a former felon for a mistake long past paid for. She understood the struggle of the 99% against the 1%. Because of all of this, she was committed to working for a socialist future.
April always put her beliefs into action. She was the inspiration behind and one of the founders of Occupy Lexington in 2011. She was passionate about the issues raised in the Occupy movement. As part of her work with Occupy, she led a “Mic Check” at local auction of foreclosed homes and a flash mob at a local Walmart. She loved being on the frontline.
April didn’t let her advocacy end when Occupy disbanded. She joined CCDS and continued working with comrades from Occupy to found Kentuckians Against the War on Women, lead two marches against Monsanto, and be a prime mover in local movement against a war with Syria.
Notably she was also spokesperson for the restoration of voting rights for former felons in Kentucky. Kentucky is a state that takes voting rights away for life if convicted of a felony. While fighting to change the law in Kentucky, April was also petitioning the Governor to get her rights back so she may vote for the first time in this year’s elections. In her own words, "I am politically active and I feel that my voice as well as thousands of other Kentuckians’ voices should be heard. … I’m fighting for progress across the board and this fight is personal.”
April and her partner, John Blickenstaff, both CCDS members, attended the CCDS Youth School and Convention last summer. Comrades from across the country sent messages to Lexington to express their remorse at the news.
Will Emmons, a Lexington CCDS member and participant in the school, said, “April was dealt a rough hand but sought to play it in a way that contributed to the liberation of humanity.” He stated he met her at the first CCDS meeting he attended in Kentucky. He said that when he met April and the other CCDS comrades he felt had “found the community of people here in Lexington who wanted to work for the things I want to work for.” He added, “Unfortunately, that community is a lot poorer today for the stupidly tragic loss of. . .April.”
While April was a committed revolutionary, she was also a dedicated mom. Whenever April’s made a speech about herself she began, "First and foremost, I’m a mom," In an interview with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth she said, "My son Elijah . . . makes every day worth living and special . . . That’s the first and most important thing you need to know about me." She went on to explain, "But after that, it’s really important to me to take initiative to make my community a better place – for Elijah and everyone else."
We mourn the loss of her leadership and activism but her spirit will remain with us as the struggle continues.
Statement of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
March 5, 2014
Sensational headlines in the U.S. of opposition protests in Venezuela amid escalating violence have dominated the coverage of the corporate mainstream media over the past three weeks. This is part of a multipronged strategy by the U.S. government and multinational corporations to destabilize Venezuela politically and economically and pave the way for another coup attempt as was the case in 2002 during the Bush administration. These same policies have continued with the Obama Administration despite denials that it is backing the opposition. Such denials lack credibility given the results of extensive investigative reporting on U. S. funding for and training of leaders of the Venezuelan opposition and recent leaks of extensive communication between U.S. officials and right wing opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez.
None of the mainstream media narrative accurately reflects the complex reality of Venezuela. U.S. news and analyses are routinely distorted, manipulated, and even manufactured to support the corporate media’s narrative which is that student-led protests have been violently repressed amidst severe government repression of speech and press in Venezuela. Anti-government protests that appear to engulf the country are in reality mainly in the wealthiest neighborhoods of Caracas.
According to a report by Mark Weisbot of the Guardian, there have been eight confirmed deaths but no evidence that they were caused by a repressive government crack-down. Actually a number of security officers have been arrested for crimes. And there has been random protestor-on-protestor violence, a far cry from a government policy of brutal force to squash dissent.
The mainstream media’s narrative also includes sensational distortions and misinformation regarding Venezuela’s economic situation. The economy is portrayed as being on the verge of collapse, due to bad policies and mismanagement of the Venezuelan government. The fact is that the government of President Maduro has continued the humanitarian “Bolivarian” policies of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, whose untimely death one year ago, is commemorated today, March 5th. Their government policies have reduced poverty dramatically and channeled the country’s resources to improve employment, education, health care and housing for the majority of Venezuelans.
Maduro’s government has won two national elections within the last year including 75 percent of municipal government offices two months ago. It is a legitimate, democratically-elected constitutional government. The policy of the U.S. government is an attack on democracy and constitutional government in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan government faces many political and economic challenges. The CCDS stands in solidarity with the heroic workers and poor of Venezuela as they tackle these challenges.
The CCDS joins with peace and justice organizations in demanding:
- An end to all U.S. government support, overt and covert, for the Venezuelan opposition as it constitutes an unacceptable and immoral intervention in the politics and economy of a sovereign nation
- An end to all covert efforts to sabotage Venezuela’s economy and cause suffering among the Venezuelan people.
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
March 15, 2014
A dangerous situation continues to develop in Eastern Europe and Ukraine. With no solution in sight, there is major tension with potential for long-term instability and war. Many protesters in the Ukraine’s Maidan Square understandably are demanding democracy, clean government and economic justice. The repression and use of force by the Yanukovich government was reprehensible. However, rightwing nationalists and fascistic groups gained leadership in the movement. With the backing of the European Union and U.S. neo-cons, attempts at compromise were thwarted and a coup was staged. Russia responded with military action to safeguard its perceived national security interests including its naval base in Crimea, and is thus supporting a Crimean referendum to secede from the Ukraine.
The Obama administration, confronted by U.S. involvement engineered by Bush appointed State Department officials, sided with the neo-cons to back the new Ukrainian regime. Thus the president greeted the coup-installed Prime Minister Yatsenyuk on March 12 at the White House in a highly publicized meeting. The U.S. increased its military maneuvers on Russia’s borders and is threatening visa restrictions, economic sanctions and various other ways to isolate Russia.
The Obama administration immediately proposed a billion dollar aid package for the new government, even as U.S. cities and pensions are going bankrupt and food stamps cut. U.S. energy companies savor the thought of huge deals to supply Western Europe with newly fracked natural gas if Russian supplies are cut. The IMF is contemplating various sorts of structural adjustment in the Ukrainian economy to benefit the rich. Meanwhile, there is no sign of Russia backing down or a resolution to the crisis.
Thus, the Obama-led centrist Democrats formed a block with right-wing Republicans and neo-cons. Anti-Russian propaganda is nearly universal in the mainstream media. Russia’s response has been universally condemned with no mention of the U.S.-European role in fomenting the illegal coup. Criticism of U.S. policy is confined to questioning whether the Obama response is too weak. These developments have increased the danger of war.The Progressive Democrats of America, however, issued a statement condemning US collaboration with fascist forces and thus split with the dominant US narrative.
After the collapse of the SovietUnion, the West pledged to respect Russia’s national security concerns, advancing NATO’s “not one inch east” statement. Breaking their promises, U.S./NATO incorporated one Eastern European country after the other into NATO and the EU. An anti-ballistic missile system was installed in Eastern Europe, ostensibly to stop an Iranian attack, but obviously targeting Russian missile systems. The Western attempt to bring Ukraine into its orbit transgressed Russia’s most important “red line,” according to Prof. Stephen Cohen, and the Russian reaction was entirely predictable.
The Ukrainian situation is a clear example of the U.S. “Deep State” (http://ouleft.sp-mesolite.tilted.net/?p=1682) determining foreign policy – a combination of financial, corporate and military-industrial interests, motivated by anti-communist and now neo-con ideology. Formed at the end of World War II, the Deep State is the actual power center of U.S. capitalism and imperialism. The Deep State has the loyalty of many key government officials and has been able to push its policies with various successes over the last few decades, regardless of what party wins national elections. Thus the Obama administration is not fully in control of its own foreign policy. Influential neo-cons within the Deep State are currently putting forward a far-right agenda in not only Ukraine but also in Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Japan and other places, trying to substitute confrontation and military action for diplomacy. The neo-con objective is to persist in constructing the so-called “new American century” of regime change not only in the Middle East but eventually in Russia and China to facilitate their long-term goal of U.S. global hegemony.
The U.S. peace movement was strong in responding to the Syrian crisis last summer, surging to stop war. However, the response to the Ukraine crisis has been slow.
This is due in part to the shifting strategy of U.S. imperialism from a strategy of invasion and occupation during the Bush years to covert and high tech operations today. How does the antiwar movement oppose a covert program that is all but invisible? Organizing a consensus response to the new imperial strategy of mainly covert operations is a major challenge to the peace and justice movement.
- No U.S. intervention in the Ukraine situation and no economic or military support for a government with major fascist participation.
- Support for negotiations, demilitarization and a peaceful resolution of a dangerous situation.
- Balanced and objective education to counter the rightwing mainstream narrative.
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
By Randy Shannon
The situation in the Ukraine is cause for concern. An additional cause for concern is the deliberate distortion and misrepresentation of events there by the US media. And this is a situation that calls for Americans to study some history really quickly.
What seems to have happened based on the US media is that a “revolution” against a brutal thieving government by democracy loving people has taken place. And the Russians are trying to “violate” the territorial integrity of the Ukraine.
What really happened is that Nazi sympathizers, Nationalistic, anti-Semitic, and anti-Russian forces long nurtured by the CIA and elites in the West took over a west Ukrainian city, broke into its armory and used the weapons to overthrow the Constitutional government. The President fled the capital and the country. The far right government immediately eliminated the Russian language as an official language of the state and sent armed militia into the Crimea to take over the security forces. The mayor of the capital of the Crimea and the President asked Russia to defend the regional government and the Russian people in the Ukraine.
A bit of history. The Ukraine Republic was created in 1954. The western Ukraine bordering on Europe was part of the Axis Powers during WW2. The eastern Ukraine was part of Russia. The Crimea was part of Russia. Russia agreed to cede Crimea and eastern Ukraine to make the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine. The regions ceded by Russia were mostly populated by Russians, and minority Ukrainians and Tartars. Russians were guaranteed their civil and human rights in the new Soviet Socialist Republic.
The usurper government consists of a coalition of fascist, nationalists, and far rightists backed by the US and European allies. Two of the main fascist groups are the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) and the Svoboda Party (Social-National Party of Ukraine). The name Social-National Party of Ukraine is an intentional reference to Adolph Hitler’s National Socialist Party. The major social and cultural character of these fascist forces is hatred of Russia, Russian people, and the Russian language. The wealthy Ukrainians in the western part are descendants of the defeated Axis Powers. They have not accepted the defeat of fascism and feed this revanchist sentiment by blaming not Hitler, but Russia for their defeat. These revanchists have been nurtured by the CIA and similar forces in Europe.
The fascist-nationalist coalition has moved quickly to capture Ukraine in order to impose their economic dominance of the region. This serves two ends, first to immediately displace Russian economic interests in favor of their US patron. Also it furthers the objective of encirclement and subjugation of Russia and China by the US. The second objective was clearly mapped out by Zbigniev Brzezinski in his 1998 manual “The Grand Chessboard.” The Ukraine figures prominently in this strategy of conquest. As an aside, Pres. Obama, who must be one of the most well-read Presidents, made an interesting comment last week: "And our approach as the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia."
Based on this history it is eminently logical that the Russians living in Ukraine fear for their civil rights, if not possible violence. After all, the fascist coup was heavily armed and killed numerous police. And it is to be expected that since Russian had handed them over to Ukraine under previous peaceful conditions, that these Russians would now look to their former homeland to protect them. As an ancient culture and very old nation, Russia will act to uphold the rights and lives of its citizens, especially after having sacrificed 12 million people in WW2 to defeat the parents of today’s Ukrainian fascists. The Russian occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine is the only choice available now that powerful western corporations and secret agents have backed a fascist coup.
These forces are now demanding that the US and European governments support and help consolidate the coup government. As in the 1930’s anti-Russian forces are being armed, encouraged, and legitimized. The American people should demand that the threats stop and that the coup be denounced, and the coup government boycotted.
The Obama administration should call for a restitution of the Constitution of the Ukraine. The February 20th agreement between the Ukrainian government and the right wing opposition should be restored. The President of Ukraine should return to Kiev with his life protected. The elections scheduled by the fascists in May should be cancelled and the regularly scheduled elections at the end of the year reinstated.
Randy Shannon is a CCDS bational committee member. A Statement by CCDS will be forthcoming.
Pete Seeger in Greenwood, Mississippi, 1963
FROM PEGGY SEEGER: “As most of you will know by now, my beloved brother Pete died peacefully, surrounded by close family members, at the Presbyterian Hospital (Columbia), New York City, on January 27th at 9:17 pm. His daughter Tinya, who had been caring for him for some time, was lovingly holding his hand. I was still in mid-air making a frantic attempt to get there from New Zealand. I arrived four hours too late. I take solace from our last phone calls where much was said but unspoken. I know many of you will be saddened by Pete’s death but we must remember that he led a very full and productive life. He leaves a prodigious body of work for us to enjoy, a legacy the enormity of which will continue to grow. He touched so many people’s lives, from children to the golden oldies like myself. As for me, I have lost the last person who has known me from birth and who has always been there for me. I cannot express how heavy losing Pete lies with me. My thanks to all for your kind and thoughtful condolences.
FROM CARL DAVIDSON: CCDS leader Jay Schaffner composed this summary of Pete’s life for his 80th birthday, and Pete only added more in this tradition in his last years, Even as his voice weakened, his message and spirit were strong to the end. We all knew that at the age of 94, this day was coming. Still the news pierced all of our hearts with dismay. Let us stand at attention and raise a fist in salute. A great man has passed, one who touched all of our lives, and will continue to do so.
I Remember Pete Seeger – A Tribute on his 80th Birthday
Pete Seeger – People’s Troubadour, Folk Singer, Clarion for Civil Rights, Labor and Peace, Pioneering Environmentalist, Socialist
Remarks of Jay Schaffner at Evening to Honor Pete Seeger on his 80th Birthsay- Nov. 12, 1999
Brothers and Sisters
I am very happy to welcome you to tonight’s program on behalf of the New York Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. It is a real treat to be here to be able to learn from and celebrate with Pete Seeger on his 80th birthday. I guess I should let people in on a little secret – growing up as a child of the 1960s, as a product of the 1950s, of that breed now known as “Red Diaper” babies, I was weaned on the music of Pete Seeger and the Weavers.
Obviously many of you here tonight have also been weaned, sung to and joined in song with one of our country’s unique national treasurers. That’s how Pete Seeger was described a few years ago when he was awarded the Kennedy Center honors. Years after being denied the opportunity to perform on national television, years after the only concert venue that would book Pete were union halls like that of 1199, now the nation was awarding one of its highest cultural salutations to Pete.
But we are honoring Pete for another reason tonight. We are honoring Pete as an individual who fought the good fight, who walked the picket lines, who sang at the rallies, who went south to finish the second American revolution, who early on was one of those we could count on in the fight to end the war in Vietnam, to win the freedom of Angela Davis, or in support of Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers.
We are honoring Pete because he has continued to believe in that dirty word: that dangerous word, and I am not referring to the new national debate on are you now or have you ever been a liberal. Pete has hung in there; Pete is still, heaven forbid, a socialist. We in the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism are pleased to be able to count Pete and Toshi as our members, as activists who on the eve of the millennium still believe in the possibility of a better world. They still believe in a world free of exploitation, discrimination, racism, sexism, genocide, war and environmental destruction.
In honoring Pete, we are honoring a fine tradition. - A tradition of rebellion, radicalism and revolution. Over two hundred years ago, the revolutionaries of their day decided that things needed to change. These revolutionaries dumped the King’s tea in the Boston harbor, and the American Revolution was born. They built their own revolutionary organization, and they came up with a unique name, the Committees of Correspondence. Our country was built on such rebellion and radicalism.
Our revolution was unfinished. African Americans were held in bondage, women were denied the vote, and only men who owned property were initially franchised. But radicals struggled and persevered. In the first place was the valiant struggle of those enslaved, and their allies the abolitionists, who were initially called crazy, then radicals, then revolutionaries, and then it was a mass movement to end slavery. The bloodiest war in our nation’s history was required to end slavery, to finish the American revolution. We can thank Pete, and Paul Robeson, and Huddy Leadbetter and Malvina Reynolds for forever keeping that drive for equality in our country’s songs. Generation after generation has been brought up singing Go Down Moses and We Shall Overcome.
The Pete’s, and the Paul’s, the Woody’s and the Florence Reese’s took their side with their working brothers and sisters during the 1930s, 40s and 50s, and in Pete’s case, into the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. There wasn’t a picket line, that wasn’t loud, shouting and singing. They knew how to picket. There weren’t any Taft-Hartley or Landrum-Griffin laws that prevented solidarity labor picket lines and secondary boycotts.
Then it was my generation’s turn. We traveled south, answering the call of the southern civil rights movement, answering the call of the generations before, those pre-mature fighters against lynching and legal segregation, the communists, socialists, radicals and revolutionaries of their days. The old SNYC, the Southern Negro Youth Congress gave rise to the new SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. And they were joined by the troubadours of their day, including the ever- young Pete.
Years later, one of the earliest advocates for the freedom of Angela Davis was Pete Seeger. And today, Pete is in the front ranks of those calling for a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Almost thirty years ago, Angela Davis was on trial for her life. The people’s movement at that time said that if we could win an end to Angela’s solitary confinement, if we could win bail, if we could get Angela to actively participate in her own defense, if we could build such a mass movement, then we could win in the jury of public opinion, political presence, and the actual trial jury.
We in the CCDS are joining today with our members like Pete, like Angela, in fighting for a new trial for our brother Mumia Abu-Jamal. We are saying this brother must not die! We are demanding a new fair trial, a trial that is not filled with tainted evidence. We feel that in such a trial, that we can overcome, that we can win. We feel that such a momentum, such a victory can impact on hate crimes, can be a brake against police terror, and will be a real repudiation of the Klan. We ask you here to join with us in carrying the message of saving the life of our brother to all corners. They said in the past that it couldn’t be done, and we showed them, let’s do it again.
We in the CCDS, feel that there has to be a better way. Mumia is on death row, and the industrial polluters of our country run free. Thousands of children in our country don’t have enough to eat, don’t have decent health care, yet the insurance companies continue to rake in billions. In today’s world, one individual is richer than most nations in the world, and for those of us who do not use Macs, Bill Gates not only has run rough-shod over the competition, but has most of us who use computers, at his mercy, with unstable Windows.
With the end of the cold war, why is our nation’s military budget larger than ever? Why did our Senate refuse to sign onto the call for nuclear disarmament? Why has our country supported the dictatorships in Indonesia, the Philippines, apartheid South Africa, Pinochet’s Chile, Guatemala, Serbia, and Franco’s? Is there a real need for the rich to get continuously richer, and the poor, poorer. Why can’t we have an increase in the minimum wage to $6.15; why can’t future increases be tied to increases in the cost of living index, why can’t we have a living wage? The answer is blowing in the wind.
Yes, brothers and sisters, there has to be a better way. For some few capitalism is working, but not for the overwhelming majority of others. Call it what you want, but I know of no word that describes an alternative to capitalism other than socialism.
You may ask, what kind of socialism? What are your models? And I and members of the CCDS will honestly answer, we don’t know what forms it will take, but this clearly isn’t working. We will say, let’s work together, let’s talk together, let’s debate together, let’s struggle together, and as we do, we will find our way, the way to socialism in the new century.
Our models… we don’t have any, and many of us feel there never were any models, since every country and situation are different from others. We will chart our path as we struggle, the so-called models of the past were in fact distortions of socialism.
What we can say is: If you want to join this struggle with others, if we want to learn from past generations of radicals, revolutionaries, socialists and communists, then we should all want to work together. Join us, let’s work together, together we can struggle and win.
Our struggles, and our childrens’ and their childrens’ struggles will make our revolution. Thank you,
[Jay Schaffner has been an activist since the 60s in Chicago, when he was a member of the W.E.B. DuBois Clubs and Students for a Democratic Society, then helping to found the Young Workers Liberation League, and later becoming part of it's national leadership. He helped form and was part of the New York and national leadership of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s. He became a staff organizer for the musicians union, Local 802, AFM, later being elected to its executive board, even though he was not a professional musician himself. He helped develop and found Portside in 2000, and now retired, he continues as one of the moderators of Portside.]
State of the Union: Obama Pulled His Best Punches
By Carl Davidson and Harry Targ
Progressive America Rising
In the lead-up to President Obama’s speech Chris Hayes, MSNBC host, presented a segment on the national mobilization of low wage workers in 2013. He described courageous work stoppages by fast food workers, campaigns by public employees, particularly health care and home care workers, and how seemingly isolated pockets of protest spread like wild fire across the nation.
This, Hayes suggested, stimulated progressive groups, selected Congresspersons, and visible pundits such as Robert Reich and Paul Krugman to reemphasize the economic crisis the American working class is facing, particularly youth, people of color, women, and older workers. Hayes suggested that we are on the verge of a new mass movement and that Obama would capture the spirit of this movement in his State of the Union address.
President Obama took the podium a little after 9 pm Eastern Standard Time and presented a State of the Union address that referred to income inequality, the need for immigration reform, creating jobs by renovating the transportation infrastructure, and reducing greenhouse case emissions to forestall climate change.
Specific resolutions and demands were articulated. He did announce that he would use his executive authority to require that the minimum wage of companies with government contracts be raised to $10.10 an hour. He urged Congress, states, and municipalities to follow and raise their minimum wages as well.
He recommended the creation of a new program that would allow workers who do not have pensions to invest in a government created pension fund, similar to 401Ks.
He praised growing government business partnerships and collaboration with colleges and universities to extend job training, make college more affordable, and create a 21st century work force that he claimed could fill the jobs that are not being filled now. Read more of this article »
The Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism are deeply saddened by the news that Amiri Baraka will no longer be in our midst. He leaves the world a rich, deep body of revolutionary work as poet, activist, writer and mentor to many.
In 2006, Amiri keynoted an evening of culture, politics and youth at the CCDS 5th national convention in Chicago. He spoke passionately about the role of art and culture in affecting social change.
Pictured with Amiri above are other panelists who also spoke – Sam Lewis of the Elastic Arts Foundation and SW Youth Collaborative, and Andrei Mills of the University of Hip Hop.
Following is a remembrance of Amiri Baraka posted to the CCDS member list serve by Keith Joseph.
In Memory of Amiri Baraka: The First, The Last, The Only Poet Laureate of New Jersey!
In April of 1994 I attended a speech given by Amiri Baraka at the Douglass College Student Center; my life changed dramatically. He said, “We are here to tell you that there is still a revolutionary movement in the United States.” I became Baraka’s student, what used to be called a disciple. He knew the things that I wanted to know, he said the things that I wanted to say, he did the things that I wanted to do. I listened carefully to everything he said and read everything he wrote. When I met Amiri he was in his sixties. He was hunched over and gray bearded, but wiry and quick witted– always with a can of Lite beer from Miller. I, along with many others, worked with him on the revolutionary newspaper Unity & Struggle throughout the 90’s.
During this time, Amiri churned out political essays and political programs that have never been correctly gathered, organized or published. They were photocopies passed around among those in the local movement. Essays that are truly avant-garde: deep expressions of what is happening NOW. A wild mix of Marxism-Leninism, the Afro-American tradition, and modernist poetry, essays with titles like: “Revolutionary Democracy needs an Anti-Imperialist Cultural Revolution,” “The International Business of Jazz and the Need for Cooperative and Collective Self-Development of an International People’s Culture.” Essays describing the future RAZOR project – “Revolutionary Art for Revolutionary Culture,” essays describing organizations to sustain the creation of Jazz, essays describing the relation of urban institutions to revolutionary politics, essays describing the building of revolutionary organization and movement in the United States, along with cultural criticism and agit-prop poetry like: A Modest Proposal for Guiliani’s Disposal in 41 Verses which are also Curses. Baraka’s writings dazzle because he never allows his thinking to be constricted by the formality of language. Instead he forces the language to bend to the will of his thinking. He is an innovator of necessity. He isn’t an avant-garde writer for the sake of being avant-garde. The content of his thinking requires the formal innovations of his literary style.
Hopefully whoever the forces are that care about Baraka’s political legacy can work together to organize this stuff, and put it out as something like: “The Collected Political Writings of Amiri Baraka.”
Amiri often pointed out that as a Black Nationalist he had a much easier time getting his work published then when he began to call for working people of all races to fight capitalism together. Indeed, Baraka’s mature work as a Marxist is little known. The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader edited by William J. Harris includes a “Third World Marxist Period” but the work included is confined to the mid-eighties and a few poems from the early nineties. Baraka remained prolific until the end of his life. A huge body of work remains little known. Even ostensible allies played games around the publication of his later works and important book length analysis like Jessie Jackson and Black People remain unknown and of limited availability. So this is a call to gather and publish all of this stray work (I am working on a list of what I have and I hope others will do the same).
So much of what is coming out about Baraka around his passing is about his style or form. They say he was “offensive” or “controversial,” his legacy was “contradictory.” This obviously misses the point. I want to point out the crucial lessons I took from Baraka’s later work in the hopes that it will be intriguing enough to create some demand for original.
First, the objective of revolutionary struggle is taking power. Taking power is not an event in the future. We organize to take power today wherever we can touch it, “Wherever you can put your hands on it.” School boards, PTA’s, city councils, little leagues, public library’s, student governments, tenants associations, trade unions etc . Revolution is this process of taking power not a distant event. This is the process of creating “dual power” an idea that Baraka developed from Lenin — the power of working people existing and growing side by side with the power of capital until the former can defeat the latter. We take power by any means necessary. Baraka pointed out over that the promise of democracy is the Achilles heel of capitalism. A promise it cannot deliver but a promise we should insist on and here electoral politics are a crucial tool. Amiri’s son Ras Baraka is currently running for Mayor of Newark, NJ. The election of Ras Baraka as mayor of Newark was a long standing goal of Amiri’s efforts. A victory for Ras Baraka in Newark would also be a victory for the majority of people of Newark and fitting tribute to Amiri. Socialists have also won important elections recently in Seattle and Florida. Baraka actively encouraged this type of struggle.
Amiri insisted that we understand the Russian and Chinese revolutions correctly. They were democratic revolutions. In the parlance of Marxism, they were the bourgeois democratic stage of the revolution. This understanding was the basis for Baraka’s insistence on the centrality of the struggle of oppressed nations in general and the Afro-American nation in particular in the United States. Baraka was critical of Manning Marable’s book on Malcolm X for this reason. Baraka understood Malcolm X to have gone through a transformation similar to his own — a clarification of the enemy more so than a change of basic tasks. In other words, because of slavery, because of Jim Crow, because of the continuation of “separate but equal” and because of mass incarceration of Afro-American people the democratic revolution in the United States was and is incomplete. The relation of Black people to the United States is still the basic political question informing the history and politics of the country. It was the question struggled over during the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the writing of the Constitution, the Civil War—it is the central issue of U.S history. So, the struggle for Afro-American self-determination, equality and democracy remains the cutting edge of the revolutionary struggle whether you are a Black Nationalist or a Marxist-Leninist as Baraka would become. The difference is a better understanding of allies and the enemy.
Baraka further developed the idea of self-determination for oppressed nations. Self-determination was not simply the question of should a land area secede from the U.S. but rather “what should be the relationship of the Afro-American people to the United States.” A question for Black people to debate and decide for themselves.
Baraka often quoted Lenin’s essay “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. “
Baraka was particular inspired by Lenin’s idea of an alternate superstructure –a form of dual power. Restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, summer camps, cultural organizations linked to the revolutionary movement. Baraka led this effort by example. Amiri and his wife Amina opened their home for meetings and cultural events regularly. Kimako’s Blues was the name of the coffee house/cultural event held monthly in the Baraka’s basement. These events are among the fondest memories I have: food, poetry, and music often of the most outstanding quality in the most intimate setting. There are videos of these events out there. We need to collect them and make them widely available!
The last thing I learned from Baraka was not found in any essay. It was his example. Only those who never knew him would call him “offensive” or “controversial. “ He was accessible, generous, and warm. He loved to laugh and was always quick with a joke. Indeed, he highly prized humor. He always encouraged the younger generation. He lived his commitment to human freedom and dignity eschewing fame and fortune for the daily grind of organizing for revolution. When the horse piss started flying around his poem, “Somebody Blew Up America” and calls for him to resign as poet laureate came from opportunist politicians Baraka wrote “I will not apologize, I will not resign.” Because he was so uncompromising on principle his enemies could not defeat him they had to abolish the post of poet laureate. Thus Amiri Baraka is rightfully and forever the first, last and only poet laureate of New Jersey!
Long Live the indomitable spirit of Amiri Baraka!
The world is engaged in an unprecedented global celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela. Little-known information about his life is coming to light for the first time.
For us on the global Left, we approach the celebration of the revered freedom fighter’s life from a somewhat different perspective from what is appearing on television screens around the world.
Nelson Mandela was the first to say that the South African liberation struggle was led collectively. The decades-long alliance of the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party, and the South African trade union movement – most recently, the Congress of South African Trade Unions — worked together inside the country in urban centers and rural villages, in exile around the world, and in an armed struggle led by Umkhonto we Sizwe, over many years. While there are many reasons why Mandela came to represent the leadership of this alliance, tens of thousands of women and men collectively brought the South African National Democratic Revolution to the breakthrough of the first democratic election of 1994.
Nelson Mandela was unwavering – against severe pressure from the apartheid forces, the United States, and others — in his unwillingness to renounce his and the ANC’s association with the South African Communist Party and its leaders such as Chris Hani and Joe Slovo. His personal friendships with Communist leaders lasted for the rest of their lives.
At this time, information comes to light that Mandela was maintained on the United States’ "Terrorist Watch List" as late as 2008. A campaign has been launched to open the files of the Central Intelligence Agency concerning Mandela and his activities during the 1960s prior to his imprisonment.
CCDS demands the full truth be told about the relationship between the US Government and the apartheid regime’s suppression of the South African liberation movement.
CCDS continues to hope for the ongoing deepening of struggles for democracy and economic equality in the the U.S. in South Africa and across the globe. This is a difficult period for the people of South Africa, millions of whom face dire poverty, unemployment, illness – particularly HIV-AIDS – and racial and gender oppression almost twenty years after political democracy was won. The example of Nelson Mandela’s "ethical core" – as some have termed it — must remain alive in every nation and people’s movement and is needed now, more than ever.
Viva Nelson Mandela, Viva!
National Executive Committee, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
United States, Dec 12, 2013
[Thanks to Marilyn Albert in preparing this. A CCDS leader and a trade unionist, she was an International Observer of the 1994 election in South Africa and worked with the COSATU health care union in South Africa for about a year during 1996-97.]
By Merle Ratner
I am very saddened at the passing of General Vo Nguyen Giap on Friday! Bac Giap, as he is called as a term of great affection, dedicated his entire life to achieving the national liberation and independence of Vietnam. He led the victory of the Vietnamese people against French colonialism and U.S. imperialism, making Vietnam the first country to achieve decisive victories over colonial and imperialist powers. Bac Giap and President Ho Chi Minh together led the movement for national liberation and socialism which made these victories possible. Developing Marxism Leninism creatively and applying it to the particular conditions of Vietnam, they were able to meld the demands for national independence and ending feudalism and oppression into a powerful and all-sided people’s struggle.
Bac Giap developed a theory and practice of people’s war — an integrated strategy of military, political and diplomatic mobilization of the entire Vietnamese people. This unique comprehensive approach maximized the agency of the Vietnamese masses in achieving their own liberation, mobilizing their grass roots initiative. Some bourgeois press obituaries of General Giap have claimed that he was “ruthless,” willing to lose millions of people to win Vietnam’s independence. Those who write this clearly do not understand Bac Giap or the Vietnamese people! The French colonialists and U.S. imperialists’ scorched earth war against the Vietnamese made the fight for liberation burn in the heart of the people, who were willing to make incredible sacrifices to achieve their liberation. Bac Giap successfully led this movement with great love and respect for those he commanded and his love has been reciprocated. The massive outpouring of people, including many youth, this weekend in the streets of Vietnam to honor Bac Giap underscores how beloved he is in Vietnam, as he is around the world.
After liberation, Bac Giap continued to fight for the development of people’s power and socialism, particularly focusing on the empowerment and advancement of the majority of the population — the peasant community. He has been a consistent voice criticizing corruption and opportunism and advocating for environmentalism. Around the world Bac Giap embodied proletarian internationalism as an inspiration to people struggling for independence, equality and justice
In an interview he gave in 1999 with PBS, Bac Giap summed up some of the lessons which the world has drawn from his life of service to humanity, There is a limit to power. I think the Americans and great superpowers would do well to remember that while their power may be great, it is inevitably limited…. Since the beginning of time, whether in a socialist or a capitalist country, the things you do in the interests of the people stand you in good stead, while those which go against the interest of the people will eventually turn against you. History bears out what I say.
I met Bac Giap and his wife and comrade, Dang Bich Ha, several times over a number of years from the 90′s to 2005. The first time, I was immediately struck by his kindness and his humility. As I shook his hand, somewhat awestruck, he waved his hand and stopped me when I started to say how honored I was to meet him, He said that he had come to hear my thoughts, and the thoughts of our movement, about the situation in Vietnam and the U.S. He asked me to tell him about the communist and left and anti-war movements in the United States, about how people here viewed Vietnam and about what we thought of the current situation of the Vietnamese revolution. He was particularly interested in how young people in the U.S. understood the situation in Vietnam and the about basis for long term friendship and solidarity.
Bac Giap told me that about his research and investigation into the living conditions of the peasants, land use issues and his desire to ensure that they were able to improve their lives and prosper as Vietnam developed. He expressed concern for Vietnam’s workers, saying that in a socialist country, particularly in this stage of development, policies must focus on the well-being of the majority- the workers and peasants.
In a later meeting, we spoke about socialism and about the challenges of political education of youth. Bac Giap was always hopeful, even when acknowledging the contradictions that development brings.
I was also privileged to spend some additional time with his wife, Dang Bich Ha. Bac Ha is a strong revolutionary woman who took part in all the discussions and raised many questions about the communist movement in the U.S. Bac Giap and Bac Ha’s relationship impressed me as an expression of the Vietnamese revolution’s emphasis on the equality of women from the earliest days. It struck me as a marriage of love, equality and respect, with common beliefs as well as lively discussions and even some disagreements!
In my final meeting, General Giap spoke mainly of his activities in the revolution against the French and his work together with President Ho Chi Minh. At that time, he was resting in Do Son at a very modest Army house. His body was becoming frail, but he still managed to climb a flight of stairs to meet with a large group of soldiers who had come to visit bearing flowers and great enthusiasm. With the young soldiers Bac Giap radiated energy and warmth, making everyone feel comfortable. I will always remember Bac Giap, Bac Ha at his side, among that group of young men and women with their eyes shining!
Merle Ratner, former member of the CCDS national coordinating committee, was instrumental in organizing the two CCDS study tours to Vietnam and contributed to the CCDS pamphlet "Vietnam: From National Liberation to 21st Century Socialism." She is a Co-coordinator of the US-based Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign and coordinated an international workshop on Marxist Theory and Practice in the World Today at the Ho Chi Minh Academy in Vietnam. She also has two articles on Vietnam today in the new CCDS book, Vietnam: From National Liberation to 21st Century Socialism
CCDS welcomes the UN resolution on the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, which was passed unanimously by the Security Council including support from Russia and China and the US, as well as Syria itself. The resolution reduces tension and the possibility of war; implementation may lay the basis for a Geneva conference towards resolution of the Syria crisis, especially with full Syrian participation.
CCDS further calls for the destruction of all chemical weapons in the region, including those held by Israel, and points out there is no mention of the US use of depleted uranium ammunition in Iraq, which is now contributing to elevated cancer rates in the Iraqi population. To ensure peace in the region, all countries need to agree to establish a nuclear weapons free zone, a proposal initiated by Iran and today opposed only by Israel.
The Obama administration’s plan for a military attack on Syria, supported by Israel and Saudi Arabia, was defeated for several reasons: US public opinion opposes a new war, Congress, including neo-isolationists in the Republican party, was reluctant and the British Parliament vetoed UK participation. Russia led international opinion against the war which included all the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) with BRICS emerging as a stronger alternative to the US for international leadership. The peace movement surged into action with lobbying andstreet protests. The Obama administration found itself isolated and chose for now to not go it alone in yet another Middle East conflict.
The progressive majority, the peace movement and the left helped stop the attack and win at least a temporary victory; however, with the US keeping "all options on the table," continued vigilance is necessary. Revived negotiations regarding Syria made possible the reestablishment of US communications with Iran at the UN General Assembly. More diplomacy, adherence to UN resolutions and continued democratic demands by the people will improve the overall situation in the Middle East.