Thursday, July 30, 2009

Portuguese Trade Union Job Safety and Health Seminar Sparks Discussions and Demands

by Mike Tolochko

Dr. Mariana Alves Pereira from the University of Lusofona located in Lisbon, Portugal sent a strong message to over 75 transportation union leaders that Vibration Acoustical Disease VAD is a problem that requires their immediate attention. She presented study results from over 20 years of research that impressed Seminar participants. This is a relatively new area of research.

This Seminar, organized by the National Federation of Transport and Communication Unions FECTRANS, was led by its coordinator, Amavel Alves. FECTRANS represents subway [metro], railway, bus and truck drivers. Alves opened the Seminar by stating the need for safe and healthier conditions; the need for more studies and research as part of the European Campaign for a safer transportation system.

The main topics of the Seminar, a Seminar that was in part supported by the European Union organizations in charge of transportation, focused on worker fatigue and ergonomics, i.e., musculo-skeletel diseases.

Pereira spoke at length about the growing dangers of Vibro Acoustic Diseases stemming from Low Frequency Noise. She said that many neurological problems which heretofore have been left undiagnosed, now can be labeled and treated.

Manuela Calado an official with the Portuguese government, and related to the European National Agency, reported on efforts by the government to protect workers. But, she said that, it would take the pressure of the trade unions, like FECTRANS, to get these government agencies to do the right thing.

Dr. Frank Goldsmith, former director of Occupational Health for Local 100, Transport Workers Union from New York City, reported on the study of the Health Status of Urban Mass Transit Workers that was conducted a few years ago by Dr. Steven Markowitz of Queens College, City University of New York. The study covered all 60 job titles of the 38,000 bus and subway transit workers employed by the New York City Transit authority.

That groundbreaking report was the first stage of an in-depth study that will be continued in the near future. Problems such as steel dust in the subways, job stress and ergonomic issues for bus operators, and general issues of occupational exposure to carcinogens and respiratory problems were described.

Goldsmith represents the World Federation of Trade Unions at the United Nations.

In an extensive discussion following these reports, the Portuguese union leaders from all part of Portugal, including Lisbon and Porto from the north, reported on their working conditions and the need for continued strong trade union support and demands at the appropriate government agencies. Bus operators, lorry drivers [over the road truck drivers] and subway workers gave example after example of their working conditions and their strategies to protect their members.

Many of them agreed that vibration and noise issues are present in their places of work. The issue of vibration acoustic disease they said was a new one for them, but they were pleased that it was reported and looked forward to taking the appropriate actions.


Anabela Vogado, the occupational health specialist for FECTRANS, in the afternoon session, reported extensively about the increasing pressure to work longer and longer hours per day and week. This has made worker fatigue a major labor issue. She cited European directives in describing the need for trade union actions.

Vogado's report sparked lengthy comments from many of the Seminar participants.

Jose Manuel Oliveria, President of the Railway workers Union [SNTSF] voiced strong support for all the reports and urged quick action.

At the close of the Seminar Alves, himself a subway train operator said that these reports and comments would NOT be put on the shelf. They will be used to develop plans to be brought to the proper officials for action.

The conference was simultaneously translated into both Portuguese and English.

He said that in the current period of economic and financial crisis, all of these issues are all the more important to address. Sitting back and doing nothing is NOT an option.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

State Dept. on Honduras diplomatic visas

Honduras: Diplomatic Visa Revocations (Taken Question)

Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
Question taken at Daily Briefing of July 28, 2009
July 28, 2009

Question: Are any of the holders of diplomatic visas that we’re reviewing currently in the U.S.?

Answer: We do not discuss individual visa cases due to federal laws.

Question: How many visas are we reviewing?

Answer: Some other cases concerning diplomatic visas are under review.

Question: Why did we not take this step earlier?

Answer: The decision to revoke visas is not one taken lightly or without due diligence. We arrived at this decision after careful consideration. We have said repeatedly since the crisis began that we do not acknowledge the de facto regime in Honduras as the legitimate government there.

Question: Are we having any dealings with the Honduran Embassy here in Washington, DC?

Answer: Charge Rodolfo Pastor, appointed by President Zelaya, is the current head of mission at the Honduran Embassy in Washington. We are dealing with him and other diplomats representing the Zelaya government.

Question: Are we considering revoking their visas and sending them back?

Answer: The Zelaya government has indicated it will terminate Honduran Embassy diplomats and staff who support the de facto regime. Once they submit the proper notification of termination on these individuals, the United States will take steps to terminate their status.

Better news: GDP contraction expected to slow to negative 1.5%

GDP Preview: The parachute deploys as Recovery Act takes hold
By Josh Bivens
From Economic Policy Institute

A July 31 Commerce Department report is expected to show that the U.S. economy contracted at a 1.5% annualized rate in the second quarter of 2009, according to a consensus of Wall Street economists polled by Dow Jones Newswires. If their forecasts are accurate, it would be a substantial improvement over the previous six months, when the economy contracted four times as fast - at a 6% annual rate.

A substantial portion of the improvement registered in the second quarter can be attributed to the effects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Both Goldman Sachs and Mark Zandi of Moody’s have estimated that ARRA added approximately three percentage points to growth in the second quarter. Both of these estimates are confirmed by the Economic Policy Institute’s own calculations.

A second quarter annualized GDP contraction of 1.5%, instead of the 4.5% contraction that would have occurred without the Recovery Act, translates into approximately 720,000 jobs that were created or preserved as a result of the ARRA. Given that actual job loss in April, May, and June of this year totaled 1.3 million, this means that job loss would have been more than 50% higher without the moderating influence of ARRA.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Apparel corporations call for "restoration of democracy" in Honduras

Originally posted at Nike's website:

Letter to Secretary Clinton Regarding Honduras
July 27, 2009

The Honorable Hillary R. Clinton
Secretary of State
2201 C St NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton:

As companies that have products made in Honduras, we are deeply concerned about recent events in that country. We understand that serious disagreements exist between the elected President, Congress and the Supreme Court, but these should be resolved through peaceful, democratic dialogue, rather than through military action.

While we do not and will not support or endorse the position of any party in this internal dispute, we feel it is necessary in this case to join with the President of the United States, the governments of countries throughout the Americas, the Organization of American States, the UN General Assembly and the European Union in calling for the restoration of democracy in Honduras.

We are also very concerned about the continuation of violence if this dispute is not resolved immediately, and with restrictions on civil liberties under the July 1 Emergency Decree. We urge for an immediate resolution to the crisis and that civil liberties, including freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association be fully respected.

We welcome the participation of the contending parties in mediation talks and are hopeful they will achieve a prompt and just solution to all issues in dispute.


NIKE, Inc. The adidas Group Gap Inc. Knights Apparel

Copy: Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon
OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza

State Department considering revoking visas of pro-coup diplomats from Honduras

This is from the State Department:

Revocation of Diplomatic Visas

Ian Kelly
Department Spokesman, Office of the Spokesman
Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC
July 28, 2009

The Department of State is currently reviewing the diplomatic (A) visas of individuals who are members of the de facto regime in Honduras, as well as the derivative visas for family members of these individuals. We have already revoked diplomatic visas issued to four such individuals who received their diplomatic visas in connection with positions held prior to June 28 under the Zelaya administration, but who now serve the de facto regime.

MR. KELLY: Well, as you know, we don’t recognize Roberto Micheletti as the President of Honduras. We recognize Manuel Zelaya. And so in keeping with that policy of non-recognition, we have decided to revoke official diplomatic visas or A visas of four individuals who are members of that regime, the regime of Micheletti.

Nurses urge passage of HR 3200

Monday, July 27, 2009

Portuguese Transportation Union Leader: Main challenges

Privatization Struggle Highlights Union Focus

by Mike Tolochko

Amavel Alves is the co-ordinator of National Federation of Transport and Communication Unions [FECTRANS.] He comes from the subway Metro workers union where he was a train operator/an engineer.

He said that main goal of the labor federation over the past few years was to better focus its work under one umbrella: Industrially and Geographically. He said that FECTRANS is the largest federation of its kind; there is another one, which is far smaller. It is affiliated with the CGTP the National Federation in Portugal.

International Solidarity

While FECTRANS is not officially affiliated with any of the two international federations it works strongly on international labor solidarity. He said that FECTRANS believes in class-oriented trade unionism, "Without a Shadow of a Doubt." He said that the union works with the Trade Union International - TUI associated with the World Federation of Trade Unions.

Three Main Challenges

Alves said that there are three main challenges before the union:

A. Fighting Against the Wage of Privatization. We are struggling to keep our work in the public domain. He said that the current financial and economic crisis caught the privateers "red-handed." "They are a bit more cautious these days." He said that unemployment in Portugal is at it's highest since the end of the dictatorship: 1974.

B. Fighting Against Recent Labor Codes. The labor movement is struggling against the anti-union direction of the European Union and also the current Portuguese government.

C. Struggling to Maintain and Improve Working Conditions. The struggle against increasing working hours is crucial, he reported. Also, casual labor is causing troubles. Truck/lorry drivers are facing increasing driving hours.

More to come; stay tuned

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Coalition Politics Portuguese Style: A Case in Point

by Mike Tolochko

As most people know, the Portuguese Communist Party is a strong and powerful Marxist – Leninist Party. It has historically taken very robust positions on all of the issues of the international working class movement.

What is not known is that it has an equally aggressive mass electoral policy.

Peniche, For Example

In an earlier Blog, I referred to the United Democratic Coalition –CDU where the PCP along with the Greens and many independent work together. In these coalitions, the final outcomes in terms of leadership, when they win, are not always predetermined.

For example, in the historic town of Peniche with a population of 16,000 people, the Socialist Party has held the Mayor position for decades. Peniche is where the fascist/dictatorship of Salazar jailed members of the Communist Party and others. [It is the 35 anniversary of April 25, 1974 when the dictatorship was overthrown; and 75 years since that prison was built.]


Four years ago, the CDU for that town put forward candidates for the:

Town Council
Municipal Assembly/Parliament
Local Boroughs

The CDU was and is made up of the CPC, the Greens and many independents. They all agreed, however, to the Platform of the CPC. The program had simple things like: street lights; taking care of green and garden areas; playgrounds; social support systems and local school development.

The Town Council has 11 members and the CDU won over 50% of the votes. They also won the Assembly and most of the boroughs.

This made Peniche a "Communist Town." As reported earlier, there are 308 towns in Portugal and the PCP heads up 33 of them.

The different thing about Peniche is that the Mayor of the town is not a member of the PCP; which is fine with everyone. Of course, he ran on the PCP platform.
Now that is non-sectarianism at its best.

Note: In Portugal, there are about 60,000 members of the PCP with about one-third being elected to government positions, or about 20,000 PCP serving the public.

National Health in Portugal: Specialty Care

Portuguese National Health Service Remains Strong

by Mike Tolochko

Based on the post Dictatorship Constitution, the Portuguese National Health Service was established in 1979. Over 90% of the population uses its system of public hospitals and salaried physicians. This needs to be said, because recently, the directives of the European Union, followed too closely by the governing Socialist Party, has allowed some of the funding for the NHS to deteriorate. This opened the door to the insurance monopolies.

This has resulted in the selling of private insurance policies to some people. On the other hand recent attempts to regionalize the NHS were soundly defeated. The struggle continues.

Abortion Rights

Under the NHS, and since a couple of years ago, there are full abortion rights up to 10 to 14 weeks. This being a Catholic country, these rights are all the more significant. It took mass pressure to uphold the rights of women in this regard. In Spain, there are full abortion rights for over 20 years…there the law allows abortions up to 12 weeks.

Personal Medical Records on Data Base

There is a national database of individual medical records so that everyone in the system can have their records pulled up when traveling to any part of the country. This is still a dream on the U.S.

When traveling out of the county and when health services are needed, the cost of the services are fully reimbursed upon return.


Since 1979, again the new Constitution, organ transplants are a common medical procedure. Under the law, in accidents and similar occurrences, all organs are made available. Only, if people specifically reject this possibility will the organs not be removed. That is the kind of default system that works.


There is a National Registry of Organs.

As the U.S. goes through its latest struggle to beat off the insurance carriers, medical device, supplies and equipment companies; drug companies and the banks; here in Portugal the people enjoy full health care rights.

Maybe the U.S. needs a constitutional Amendment for the right to health care like what was needed for other crisis and important economic and social issues?

China understands need for transition to new clean energy economy

By Julian L. Wong, Andrew Light
From: Center for American Progress

A common refrain from climate action naysayers is that, “China is building two coal-fired power plants a week!” They insist that the United States should wait until this major emitter takes on binding commitments to climate change mitigation before it decides to adopt global warming pollution reduction policies in the American Climate and Energy Security Act (H.R. 2454). They further claim that if such a bill became law, the United States would be transferring its jobs to countries such as China and India that are doing nothing to curb emissions. But that thinking is exactly wrong.

Critics fairly point to the fact that 80 percent of China’s power is derived from dirty coal, and that China recently surpassed the United States as the word’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Yet China’s per capita emissions remain a fifth that of the United States, and its historical cumulative per capita emissions from 1960 to 2005 are less than one-tenth that of the United States.

Still, the Chinese have recognized that it’s climate inaction—not climate legislation—that will lead to its own economic undoing. As the U.S. Congress debates the merits of enacting renewable electricity and energy efficiency standards, China has already forged ahead with building its own low-carbon economy, laying the foundation for clean-energy jobs and innovation.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Greens and Portuguese Communist Party Combine i n National Elections; A word On Health and Labor Rights

by Mike Tolochko

The Greens and the Portuguese Communist Party United in Elections: A Word About National Health & Workers Rights: The 1975 Constitution

In the last national elections, the Portuguese Communist Party and the Portuguese Green Party coalitioned under the banner of the CDU: The United Democratic Coalition. In those elections, 4 years ago the CDU elected 15 for the national parliament. The Parliament has a total of 230. The 15 number is determined by the voting strength at the polls and the use of proportional representation. Within the CDU, the PCP won 13 and the Greens 2 to the Parliament.

In the upcoming September 27th elections the CDU will again be the coalition to run. This very different from the actions of the Green Party of Germany and France which acts as a front for corporate interests and opposes labor unions and peoples' economic and social rights.

A Word About Health and Workers' Rights/Vacations

The peoples' victory over the Dictatorship in April 25, 1974 brought about the demand for a new constitution. The dictatorship's constitution was completely discarded and for over a year the peoples' movements discussed and debated a new one. On April 2, 1976 a new Constitution was made legal.

In that Constitution a new set of labor and workers rights were emblazoned in print and law. More on that soon.

In the field of health rights for the people, the Constitution made health care a legal right for all Portuguese. This would cover both the private and public sectors. However, about 30 years later, in 2004, changes started creeping into the system stemming from the lessoning of public financing support for the national health care systems of public hospitals and salaried physicians. This has cleared the way for private insurance companies to offer policies to fill the gaps. Sound familiar?

More on this soon.

Under current law, every worker receives 22 days of vacation a year. Under the labor code there is a possibility of adding 3 days.

A Travel Note:

In traveling by car from Lisbon to the southeast areas, you travel over a relatively new bridge that bears a resemblance to the San Francisco Bay Bridge. In fact, with the small streetcars, which resemble the cable cars of the San Francisco in the historic Alfama District; and, the common disasters of earthquakes and fire, in Lisbon in the mid-1770s and in San Francisco in 1906….the comparison are very significant.

That bridge was finished during the Dictatorship in the mid-1960s and it was named the Salazar Bridge. After the revolution, the bridge is now named, the April 25th Bridge.

Stay tuned………..

Portugese Railway Workers in Major Struggles Against Privatization

Railways in Portugal/European Union: The Union Perspective Against Privatization

by Mike Tolochko

As most U. S. railway travelers who look forward to rail travel in Europe and parts of Asia know, similar experiences in the U.S. are rare. The "fast trains" of France, the TGV, are reaching ever corner of the European Union countries. This is both good news and bad news.

Jose Manuel Oliveira, President of the Railway Workers Union [SNTSF], reports this mixed experience.

On the positive side, there are plans to link Lisbon in two ways to the rest of Europe. The "fast train" link would be to France and up to Paris; and the other would be a direct link to Madrid, Spain. These are fully supported by the SNTSF. Another project which does not have their support is to put a similar "fast train" on the cost of Portugal, linking Porto to Lisbon and then South. Oliveira said that the current travel time for that route is already quite short; so the use of valuable resources to reconstruct that line would be a mistake.

There is a problem with the rail gauge between Portugal and the rest of Europe. The Portuguese gauge is narrower; so, it would have to be rebuilt in conformance with the rest of Europe.

The main problem part of these projects is what has not been determined: if these expansion projects would be: fully public; joint ventures with other governments such as the Spanish; or would they be fully private. Regardless of who runs the lines, public money would be main, if not only, financing of the expansion.

After the Dictatorship

The Portuguese system, called the CP system, since the end of the dictatorship in 1974, has been completely public. In a note, Oliveira said that since that same date, all the buses were also made fully public. That meant that there is a fully articulated system between the public trains and buses that needs to be maintained as we go forward, he said.

But, over the past years the public bus lines have been severely cut to the rural areas. This has forced people to buy cars. This has come as a result of EU directives and the government of Portugal going along. It is against all environmental and climate change imperatives.

Suburban train lines are under attack. The new train between Lisbon and the town of Setubal was built with only public moneys but it was turned over to a private company for its running. And, the practices of those running that suburban line are to strongly discourage those workers from joining the union. Security cameras document the activities of the workers and especially if these workers are being engaged by the union.

Wage Growth

From 1993 to the present time the union has been able to win 23 wage increases for the workers; but at the same time the managerial personnel's salaries were increased by 120%.


Olivier said that his work in the World Federation of Trade Union's Trade Union's, Trade Union International [TUI] for the International of Rail and Transport unions is essential to their work. He is the President of that TUI and the General Secretary is from Brazil. With powerful political organizations such as the European Union making decisions that directly affect workers lives, the WFTU-TUI on this issue can help deter those most dangerous attacks on workers rights and solidarity. Of course, the EU is just a part of the G8's efforts to maintain the goals of the neo-liberal agenda.

This TUI is an independent formation whose members come from the WFTU and the more centrist International Trade Union Confederation ITUC.

News of the Day

by Norman Markowitz

I haven't been writing too much recently for our blog because I have been very busy with a variety of personal and political things, including teaching two summer courses, fighting against an administration which is seeking to use the economic crisis to tear up our contract, and dealing with the loss of a good friend and longtime colleague at Rutgers.

But a story today has to be commented on and from a Marxist perspective, a perspective that understands what fascism is, rather than seeing it as a bunch of storm troopers marching around with swastikas on their arms, listening to a grotesque little man shouting at them to hate and kill various foreign and domestic "enemies of the German race."

The story is that in 2002 the Bush administration "debated" sending the U.S. army into the suburbs of Buffalo to seize a group of suspected terrorists. Let me say that the issue here was not so clearly the individuals involved who were later arrested and held as "enemy combatants." The FBI and various other police agencies at all levels had the personnel to arrest these people, but the issue was really as I see it an important symbolic one.

Sending the U.S. army in to apprehend individuals engaged in a conspiracy was unprecedented in U.S. history, although the military (most often though the national guard) had been used to break strikes and deal with rioting throughout U.S. history. Cheney according to the press argued for the use of the army and specifically that the President had the power to do so, in effect that the president had the power to suspend the constitution without consultation of Congress.

Military forces coming into towns and cities is martial law. Martial law is the foundation of dictator hip, whether it was the "enabling act" of the German Reichstag that Hitler used in 1933 to suspend the Weimar Constitution, or the present military backed ruling circles in Honduras ousting of President Zelaya, in which military suppression of protests has already claimed lives.

Sending in the army would have also intensified the fears of terrorist attacks which the administration was using and developing to achieve its political ends at the time and also the fears of citizens to challenge such policies. It would have set a precedent that could have been expanded greatly in subsequent actions to subdue anti-Iraq war protests and wound the Bill of Rights more deeply than at any time since the domestic cold war repressions aka McCarthyism.

That Bush decided against the actions should not be the source of either great relief or praise for him. I suspect that even in the political atmosphere of 2002 his decision made more out of fear of opposition across the political spectrum than anything else. Bush's subsequent acts in terms of surveillance of U.S. citizens without warrants and preventive detentions in violation of both the Bill of Rights and the Geneva convention show that his view of civil liberties and the rule of law as it has been understood in the U.S. wasn't really different than Cheney's, even if he stopped short at a high profile use of the regular army in an American city, Buffalo, to both spread fear in all sections of the population and rally the kind of people who did march around with Swastikas on their arms in Germany in the 1930s to destroy foreign and domestic enemies.

Another story that the mass media is running with (much more so than this one, which is a blip) is the incident concerning Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr,of Harvard, who was arrested and handcuffed by Cambridge police for arguing with them when they, in response to a call, confronted him at his own home where he was trying to get in after returning from China. President Obama initially referred to the act as "stupid" and today issued a statement apparently attempting to defuse the situation by referring to the police officer quite positively in regard to his background and his following proper police procedure (what I interpret as an apology to a police officer who has made it clear that he will not apologize to Professor Gates).

Let me say first of all that I don't know what happened in the event and there are important discrepancies in the stories. Professor Gates claims that he showed the officer his Harvard ID and his drivers license. The officer claims that he didn't show him his driver's license with his address on it. Professor Gates claims that the officer asked him to provide further proof that he was a Harvard Professor after showing his ID (my Rutgers ID has my picture and most university and other IDs that I know of do have pictures, whereas many older drivers licenses don't).

But there are a wide variety of issues involved here which mass media taking the line that this is a "misunderstanding" with levels of "complicity" is not addressing, much less attempting to clarify. First, what clearly is "proper police procedure" in an event like this. Can we look at similar cases in which police have been called to the home of a white person trying to get into his home after being locked out (these things happen much more than one thinks and they have happened to me but the police were not called and I wonder how many times the police would be called into what is probably an affluent neighborhood --Gates neighborhood, not mine, which is hardly affluent--to a white person seeking to get into his home and what their actions were under those circumstances).

Individual policemen differ greatly in their response to citizens they stop--many are courteous, some are brusque and even threatening in my personal experience: some are helpful, others unreasonable. I have also seen police in court lie about specific events, where they were and what they said, to defend their conduct and be routinely backed up by judges and prosecutors, especially against people who are not represented by counsel. The lack of consistency, as in many other things, characterizes police in the U.S.

I am not here to attack the police who after all are fellow public employees facing the same kind of attack on their unions and living standards as I am, but I am saying that throwing around words like "proper police procedure" without investigating what those words actually mean and starting with the premise that the police are doing their job properly and that citizen protests are either malicious or, in this case, the "over-sensitivity" of African-Americans should not be acceptable in a democracy.

As for Gates himself, he is what I would call a high liberal establishment scholar whose work does not compare in my opinion with Manning Marable or Gerald Horne or my former colleague David Levering Lewis in its use value for understanding the role of and struggles against ideological and institutional racism in U.S. history. But ideological and institutional racism (the former the superstructure, the latter the base) are constantly changing, restructuring, and it is rarely either or. The question that media should be asking is this: is Gates the victim of what ideological and institutional racism is today. And, if an event like this can happen to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and be buried, what does this mean for millions of African American and other minority people, manual and professional workers and employees, who are not affluent and famous?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Portugal Takes its Ballots and Street Heat Seriously

In Portugal: 35 Years Since the Revolution:

by Mike Tolochko

Traveling to Portugal and of course Lisbon, or any place that you're not familiar with, you always buy a guide to help to focus your limited time. The "Green Guide" by Michelin gives a good description of Portugal and even mentions the dictatorship of Salazar. You learn that it ended in April, 1974. Foders guide marks that date, but little more.

The Lonely Planet guide is far more political, it is published in England. The town of Peniche was highlighted as a good place to visit. Stating that it was the location of one of Salazar's main prisons.

But, what is missing for more politically minded travelers is that Peniche, the Abu Ghraib and Guantanomo, of its time, and after having Socialist mayor's for many years, elected a Communist Party leader as its Mayor three years ago. They could have also said that this wasn't a fluke. Of the 308 municipalities in Portugal, 33 have Communist Party or over 10%.

Thirty-five years ago, April 25, 1974, the dictatorship, lead by Salazar, came an end. The military and peoples' movement brought democracy to the Portuguese people and ever since the Portuguese Communist Party [PCP] has been in the leadership of keeping the promise of democracy, economic and social rights; and peace a reality for workers' and their families.

Year 2009 Balloting/Elections

In the year 2009, the PCP has won important victories in the European Parliamentary elections; and, is looking forward to the elections for national government offices and municipalities in September and October of 2009. After decades of right wing and dictatorships, they take democracy seriously in Portugal.

While the wave of ultra right wing parties had some success in the large European countries; the Communist Parties of Greece and Portugal out paced them. They were not rubbed out completely, but they did not do very well.

At the same time, the Party leads mass demonstrations throughout the country to make it possible for the thoughts and ideas of workers and communities have a voice. As is explained, every form of expression is needed to pressure the government and the employers.


In the 2009 EU Parliamentary elections, the PCP polled 10.67% of the vote, which was higher than achieve in the previous similar election in 2005, or 9.1%. The most recent national elections vote, 2005, of the PCP was 7.8%; which was an increase from the 7.0% four years earlier. Municipal elections found the PCP candidates doing even better in 2005 than in the previous local elections where they were voted into 30 municipalities.

In the EU Parliament and the Portuguese Parliament the PCP representation stayed the same.

Street Heat

Keeping the streets hot with demonstration is a hallmark of the PCP. On May 13, 2009, over 250 trade unionists hit the streets to protest the new Labor Code by the National government. On April 25 the 35th Anniversary of the Revolution, over 50,000 marched. On May 1st, MAY DAY, Lisbon had a demonstration of over 250,000 with demonstrations in 55 other Portuguese cities.

And, then on May 25, a coalition of political parties demonstrated for peoples' rights; about 85,000 strong.

Elections in September

National elections will take place on September 27 this year; with municipal elections two weeks later. The Party hopes to improve upon its 7.8% of four years ago; and improve on its 33 cities with Communists in the municipal elections

The Annual Festival of the PCP will precede these national and local elections, September 3-5, 2009. Each year, the Party attracts over 550,000 people. This festival has the traditional foods and speeches and debates.

The main issues have been:

The directives coming from the European unions of increased privatization; cutbacks on pensions and health benefits; increasing the age to retire and other anti-working class and anti women issues; these demonstrations and elections will keep worker and their families alert to the dangers ahead.

They will also, as reported, voice solidarity with trade unions and workers from other EU countries to stop the assault.

More to come; stay tuned!!!

For a relatively small country with 11 million people and 1 million in Lisbon proper [2.3 great Lisbon] this population is ready to fight. [Sweden has 3 million people.]

Cuba Caravan Crosses with 100 Tons of Aid

Cuba Caravan Crosses with 100 Tons of Aid & Venceremos Brigade Returns on Aug 3rd
Written by Paulo Gusmao & Andy Turner
Friday, 24 July 2009
From Latin America Working Group

Activist groups nation-wide continue to rally against the travel ban. The Inter-religious Foundation for Community Organization/ Pastors for Peace’s annual U.S.-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan (video) successfully crossed the U.S.-Mexico border with 100 tons of aid bound for Cuba. Click here to see the press release about the crossing.

Pastors for Peace will be delivering medicine as well as building supplies to help hurricane victims from the 2008 storm season. The Venceremos Brigade will also be returning from Cuba on August 3rd, marking their 40th trip exercising their constitutional right to travel while demanding change in U.S. policy toward Cuba. See the press release here.

Faith-based groups, like Pastors’ for Peace have been instrumental in calling for a new course on U.S.-Cuba relations. Every major Protestant denomination in the U.S. has come out to condemn the travel ban. In an open letter to the President the leaders of the denominations voiced their frustration and called for action. “These impractical restrictions have reduced our ability to send religious delegations to Cuba, limited our opportunity to accompany and support our Cuban church partners, and have the effect of severely limiting participation in Cuba missions by many U.S. churches and congregants. In addition to lifting the restrictions on religious travel, we urge you to end the travel ban for all Americans.”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Political Affairs #105 - Is the minimum wage enough? Plus an interview on the Honduras coup

Subscribe to this podcast in iTunes

Political Affairs #105 - Is the minimum wage enough? Plus an interview on the Honduras coup

On this episode, President Obama fires back against Republican obstructionism of health reform. The minimum wage goes up July 24th to $7.25 per hour. And we play excerpts of a recent interview with Dan Kovalik a United Steelworkers union staffer who traveled to Honduras earlier this month to observe pro-democracy protests against the military coup.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Comment on CPUSA newspaper online

Could this guy at least get the CPUSA's name right? Fact-checker anyone?

Black and White and Red No More: Communist Paper Goes Online-Only
By Mark Fitzgerald
Editor and Publisher

CHICAGO Readers of the nation's official Communist newspaper -- unite, you have only your links to lose!

The United States Communist Party has shut down the print edition of its People's Weekly World newspaper, the successor to the Daily Worker, to go online-only. People's Weekly World is now producing a PDF version for its Web site each week, although it is also offering daily news online.

In a note to readers, Editor Teresa Albano said the Chicago-based PWW is also considering a downloadable daily version of the paper.

"Perhaps, with the wind at our back and successful fundraising efforts, a regular printable daily digest could be a doable goal in the not-too-distant future," she wrote.

"The Daily Worker began in Chicago in January 1924," Albano added. "This is our 85th year of 'fighting words.' We're very excited about this new venture, and look forward to your continued involvement and support."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Recovery for whom?

by Joel Wendland

This economist is predicting the end of the recession by the end of this year by with 11 percent unemployment. Why is it that unemployment rates are the last thing on anyone's mind when it comes to economic issues? How could he say there is a recovery with such high unemployment? Even with the end of an official recession, a second stimulus will be needed to make the economy come back and to protect working Americans from this "recovery."

From CNBC:

Nouriel Roubini, the economist whose dire forecasts earned him the nickname "Doctor Doom", told CNBC Monday that the economic recovery is going to be "very ugly."

Nouriel Roubini

"The recovery is going to be subpar," Roubini said. "I see a one percent growth in the economy in the next few years. There will also be 11 percent unemployment next year and the recovery is going to be slow. It's going to feel like a recession even when it ends."

Asked about his comments in a speech last week about the recession ending in 2009, Roubini said, "I've been saying all along the recession is going to last 24 months. It started in December of 2007 and my view is that it won't be over until December of this year."

Read more and watch the video...

The Rosenbergs revisited

Rosenberg backers say, ‘Case is still full of holes’
By Mary Reinholz
The Villager

For nearly six decades now, friends and sympathizers of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg have marched, picketed and petitioned the U.S. government, claiming that the Lower East Side couple were framed by prosecutors as atomic spies for Russia before they were unjustly executed in Sing Sing’s electric chair on June 19, 1953.

The sensational case seared the American psyche during the Cold War and still elicits passionate debate even as many Rosenberg supporters came to believe that Julius and possibly Ethel had been at least minor players in an espionage ring starting when the U.S. was an ally of the Soviet Union during the Nazi onslaught of World War II.

Then came a stunning acknowledgement last September: For the first time, Morton Sobell, a co-defendant of the Rosenbergs who had maintained his innocence before and after more than 18 years in federal prisons, including Alcatraz, admitted to Sam Roberts of The New York Times that he had been a spy with Julius Rosenberg, passing on military and industrial secrets to the Soviets.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Bertrand Russell on Bolshevism (6)

Thomas Riggins

Part Two of Bertrand Russell's "The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism" comprises seven chapters under the heading 'Bolshevik Theory. Briefly the main points of each chapter:

1. 'The Materialistic Theory of History'

This chapter reveals the sad state of Russell's knowledge of Marxist theory but is reflective of what the best and the brightest of what non Marxist thinkers of the time exhibited in the way of familiarity with the fundamental texts of Marx and Engels. To be fair, some of these texts were not available to Russell, having become generally known only in the 1930s so he has that as an excuse for some of his misinterpretations of basic Marxist ideas. But that excuse fails with his 1948 ratification of this 1920 text.

Russell begins with stating that the materialistic conception of history "means that all mass phenomena of history are determined by economic motives." This is a poor beginning as all major Marxist writers, not just Marx and Engels, have denounced the concept of "economic determinism" when applied to history and have maintained that this is a mechanical view of historical development characteristic of bourgeois historians and having very little to do with the Marxist theory of Historical Materialism.

Russell defines materialism as a philosophy holding that "all apparently mental occurrences either are really physical, or at any rate have purely physical causes." All Marxists accept this view. Russell says this may or may not be true but is independent of Historical Materialism ("economic causes are fundamental in politics")-- an example is Buckle who says climate is a "decisive factor" which goes along with materialism but not economic determinism.

Economic causes "operate through men's desire for possessions and would be supreme if this desire were supreme, even if desire could not, from a philosophical point of view, be explained in materialistic terms." Thus there is "no logical connection" between the philosophy of materialism and the theory of Historical Materialism.

What is going on here? Russell has said Historical Materialism = Economic Determinism = Men's desire for possessions-- i.e., Marxists think the motive force in history is human desire for goodies. Of course humans need goodies to live and desire goodies. But what is Marxism really saying?

Humans find themselves living in nature and in relations with each other and those relations are CONDITIONED by the society they live in and their relations to their mode of living and finding the goodies necessary for life. Are they hunters, gatherers, farmers, slaves, are there classes, do they live in industrial or pre-industrial conditions? These relations and conditions of life influence how they look at the world, at each other and at other societies. These conditions also influence what desires they have and how they satisfy them.

Engels said he and Marx stressed the economic factors in their early writings because they were making a new theory, but that of course there were feed back mechanisms and the ideas, philosophies and religions, etc., that evolved in the course of history fed back on and influenced the way people looked at the world from the point of view of the different societies they found themselves in and this also influenced the economic base.

This seems to be just what Russell himself believes, for he says, and I think Marx and Engels would heartily agree, "Treated as a practical approximation, not as an exact metaphysical law, the materialistic conception of history has a very large measure of truth." So Russell is more of a Marxist than he thinks! He gives a very good example of what he calls the "truth" of Historical Materialism i.e., 'the influence of industrialism upon Ideas. He writes: "it is industrialism, rather than the arguments of Darwinians and Biblical critics, that has led to the decay of religious belief in the urban working class." Marx and Engels would, however, allow for a reinforcement feedback influence from Darwinians and Biblical critics upon the working class, especially its more class conscious elements. They were not unidirectional causationists.

Russell gives another example. Plato, Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill all argued for the equality of women but W.W.I forced women into industrial employment to free men for the front and "traditional sexual morality collapsed, because its whole basis was the economic dependence of women upon their fathers and husbands." Nevertheless, Marxists would not discount the big women's movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as playing an important role is preparing public opinion for the eventual emancipation of women in the West, however oppressed and enslaved their sisters in the East may in some places remain.

All of this leads Russell to exclaim, "Such facts as these justify Marxians in speaking as they do of 'bourgeois ideology,' meaning that kind of morality which has been imposed upon the world by the possessors of capital." Russell is coming perilously close to becoming a comrade!

He finally arrives at a conclusion which is completely in line with the views of Marx, Engels and Lenin! "But in spite of the fundamental importance of economic facts in determining ["conditioning" would be a better tern] the politics and beliefs of an age or nation, I do not think that non economic factors can be neglected without risks of errors which may be fatal in practice." A common place of Marxist thought.

Russell's ignorance of Marxism now causes him to go off on a ridiculous tangent. He says Marxists think humans are governed by a "herd instinct" and the herd of workers will band together based on class interests. Neither Marx, nor any Marxists, have talked about workers being governed by a herd instinct. They have rather discussed how human consciousness reflects the concrete living conditions of the surrounding world and it is life experiences rather than some vague primitive "herd instinct" that will lead to the development of class consciousness in working people.

Russell is determined to refute Marx, however, not on the basis of what Marx actually thought, but on the basis of ideas he never had. To refute the idea that the herd instinct is conditioned by class Russell points out that "Religion has been the most decisive factor in determining a man's herd throughout long periods of the worlds history." But this begs the question. There are concrete historical and socioeconomic factors to be discussed when writing about the philosophy of religion but it is more likely that religion is a REFLECTION in the consciousness of human population groups and their experiences rather than the determining factor in their composition.

Russell tells us what, "in the last analysis" the theory of Historical Materialism boils down to. That is, ONE DESIRE must consume "every politically conscious" person which is to accumulate as many goodies as possible not only for himself or herself but his or her class as well. This conclusion is one arrived at by someone with no comprehension at all of what Marx and Engels were trying to achieve with the theory of Historical Materialism. They did not intend that the proletariat engage in one long and gigantic shopping spree.

The theory was constructed to explain the alienation and dehumanization of modern life due to money and profit having become the be all and end all of human existence at the expense of all other human values. The economic laws of the capitalist mode of production were found to be responsible for this outcome and Historical Materialism explained how this had come about and how a different society could be constructed and human beings could live without exploitation, slavery and dehumanization. It has nothing to do with a desire to accumulate the greatest amount of commodities for oneself and one's class. It has to do with abolishing an economy based on commodity production itself.

Russell thinks that psychoanalysis must be applied to politics. In his next chapter, "Deciding Forces in Politics" he promises to give a political psychology which he thinks will allow us to understand the world better than the psychology of Marx.

Click here for part one of this series
Click here for part two of this series
Click here for part three of this series
Click here for part four of this series
Click here for part five of this series

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Podcast #104 – Swine flu, popular science, and Junkyard EmpirePodcast #104 – 

Subscribe to this podcast in iTunes

Political Affairs Podcast #104 - Swine flu, popular science, and Junkyard Empire

On this episode, the government is now saying that the swine flu may not be as bad as expected, plus, we interview scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson about his new radio show, Star Talk Radio, and we talk with up and coming hip hop band Junkyard Empire about politics and music.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Scoopin' the NY Times: Reports of the death of union cardcheck still premature

Reports of the death of union cardcheck still premature
by John Wojcik
People's Weekly World

A report in the New York Times today that says senators have “dropped” the majority sign-up provision of the Employee Free Choice Act is not accurate.

A spokesperson for Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is shepherding the bill through the Senate, said that “no particular provisions of the bill have been agreed to and cannot be agreed to until there is an entire bill that can be agreed to.”

“As we have said from day one, majority signup is the best way for workers to have the right to choose a voice at their workplace,” declared Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, this morning. He added, referring directly to the Times article, “The Employee Free Choice Act is going through the usual legislative process, and we expect a vote on a majority signup provision in the final bill or by amendment in both houses of Congress.”

Majority signup has been the way workers designate a union as their representative since the Wagner Act was passed during the Great Depression. Taft-Hartley amended that after World War II to allow companies the option of requiring a “secret ballot” election if workers indicate, by signing cards, that they want to be represented by a union.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Yoo's argument points out systemic arrogance and anti-democratic ideology Bush admin.

by Joel Wendland

In defending himself from a recent federal report that sharply criticized as faulty his legal justification for a massive and secret Bush administration domestic spying and data mining program, ostensibly under the guise of stopping terrorism, John Yoo, a former Bush admin. lawyer wrote this in the Wall Street Journal today: "Our Constitution created a presidency whose function is to protect the nation from attack."

This is the upshot of his argument? Has Yoo read the Constitution? The oath the president is required to take before entering office, which is written into the Constitution, says this:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

This oath says nothing about protecting the nation from attack.

It states quite clearly that the president must uphold the Constitution, even those messy amendments and articles that create protections against unreasonable search and seizure and equal protection under the law and the co-equal branches of government the Bush administration, under the patently amateurish legal advice of Yoo, found so dispensable.

No joke: AMA endorses House health reform bill

Re-posted from HCAN:

July 16, 2009
The Honorable Charles B. Rangel
Chairman, Committee on Ways and Means
U.S. House of Representatives
1102 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Rangel:

On behalf of the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association, I am writing to express our appreciation and support for H.R. 3200, the “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009.” This legislation includes a broad range of provisions that are key to effective, comprehensive health system reform. We urge members of the House Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means Committees to favorably report H.R. 3200 for consideration by the full House.

In particular, we are pleased that the bill:
•Promises to extend coverage to all Americans through health insurance market reforms;
•Provides consumers with a choice of plans through a health insurance exchange;
•Includes essential health insurance reforms such as eliminating coverage denials based on pre-existing conditions;
•Recognizes that fundamental Medicare reforms, including repeal of the sustainable growth rate formula, are essential to the success of broader health system reforms;
•Encourages chronic disease management and care coordination through additional funding for primary care services, without imposing offsetting payment reductions on specialty care;
•Addresses growing physician workforce concerns;
•Strengthens the Medicaid program;
•Requires individuals to have health insurance, and provides premium assistance to those who cannot afford it;
•Includes prevention and wellness initiatives designed to keep Americans healthy;
•Makes needed improvements to the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative that will enable greater participation by physicians; and

Initiates significant payment and delivery reforms by encouraging participation in new models such as accountable care organizations and the patient-centered medical home.
The AMA looks forward to further constructive dialogue during the committee mark-up process. We pledge to work with the House committees and leadership to build support for passage of health reform legislation to expand access to high quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

This year, the AMA wants the debate in Washington to conclude with real, long overdue results that will improve the health of America’s patients.

Michael D. Maves, MD, MBA

Steelworkers President Urges Action on Health Reform Before August Recess

Pittsburgh - Leo W. Gerard, President of the United Steelworkers (USW) issued the following statement in response to the U.S. House of Representatives’ health care reform bill:

“Members of the United Steelworkers (USW) and their families are appreciative of efforts by the U.S. House leadership to fix our broken health care system by introducing ‘America’s Affordable Health Choices Act’ (H.R. 3200). The legislation meets President Obama’s goals to control runaway health care costs, offering all Americans real choices for expanded access to quality health care.

“It creates a high quality public health insurance plan option that will bring real competition for private insurance from day one. It calls on corporations to pay their fair share and will no longer permit free riders to off-load their health care costs onto the national system. The House bill introduces much-needed insurance market reforms so that pre-existing conditions will be covered and discriminatory practices will no longer be tolerated.

“We are especially pleased this bill provides for a temporary reinsurance program for pre-Medicare retirees ages 55-64 that will help employers continue to provide coverage, as healthcare costs have skyrocketed for this vulnerable population.

“Health care reform must be acted on by Congress before they go home for their August recess. USW members will be sure to echo the urgent message that health care reform cannot wait.

“Today I’ve transmitted a USW letter to the each of the three congressional chairs of the committees that worked on this historic bill to provide unqualified praise for working together to make good on the promise of providing quality health care accessible and affordable to all Americans.

“The House Tri-Committee bill deserves our recognition. The Energy and Commerce; House Ways and Means; and Education and Labor Committees have together produced landmark reform. Chairmen Henry Waxman, Charles Rangel and George Miller know they can count on Steelworkers to vigorously fight attempts to weaken this bill in the remaining legislative days.”

Seems so obvious: Tax the rich

From Robert Reich's blog:

The House: Tax the Wealthy to Keep Everyone Healthy

It's the most blatant form of Robin-Hood economics ever proposed. The universal health care bill reported by the House yesterday pays for the health insurance of the 20 percent of Americans who need help affording it with a surtax on the richest 1 percent.

I don't recall the last time Congress came up with such a direct redistribution. Occasionally Congress closes a few tax loopholes at the top and offers a refundable tax credit to workers at the bottom, or it creates a poor people's program like Medicaid, paid for out of general revenues from a progressive income tax. But to say out loud, as the House has just done, that those in our society who can most readily afford it should pay for the health insurance of those who cannot is, well, audacious.

There's another word for it: fair. According to the most recent data (for 2007), the best-off 1 percent of American households take home about 20 percent of total income -- the highest percentage since 1928. Yes, I know: Critics will charge that these are the very people who invest, innovate, and hire, and thereby keep the economy going. So raising their taxes will burden the economy and thereby hurt everyone, including those who are supposed to be helped.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

This is the third time, at least, that US and Cuban reps. have met this year

Cuba Migration Talks
Office of the Spokesman
Department of State
Washington, DC
July 14, 2009

Today, U.S. and Cuban representatives will meet in New York to discuss implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. The discussions will focus on how best to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Craig Kelly will lead the U.S. delegation, which includes representatives of the agencies involved in managing migration issues.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Chinese Labor-ACFTU Meets with WFTU in Athens Headquarters

by Mike Tolochko

Chinese Labor Organization -ACFTU Leadership Visits WFTU;
First Time Since 1965

A high-level Delegation from the ALL CHINA FEDERATION OF TRADE UNIONS headed by Sun Chunlan, Vice-Chairwoman and First Secretary of the ACFTU, visited the headquarters of the World Federation of Trade Unions.

The meeting took place July 8-10, 2009.

The WFTU reported that was a historic meeting and the "first such high level visit since 1965 when the ACFTU had withdrawn its affiliation from the WFTU. The ACFTU is the largest trade union in the world with 210 million members."

The WFTU reported that the discussion focused on:

"Strengthening of democracy, transparency and proportional representation at all levels of the International Labour Organization [ILO];

"International trade union cooperation for peace, stop of war conflicts and the right of every people to determine their present and future;

"Intensifying of efforts to strengthen the World Trade Union Forum of Beijing, to be established as an important event for the world working class and the international trade union movement;

"Exchange of bilateral visits and contacts aiming to protect workers and their rights in time of international economic crisis;

""Mutual respect between the two organizations, both for issues of common approach as well as for issues where there are different views."

The ACFTU had meetings with the President Of the Hellenic Republic Mr. Karolos Papoulias; and, both the ACFTU and WFTU met with the Minister of Employment and Social Security Mrs. Fani Petralia. The economic crisis was high on the agendas.

WFTU General Secretary George Mavrikos "considers as very positives this visit that will help to further strengthen the stable and genuine relationship between the two organizations."

Video: Iraqi communists mark July 14th anniversary

Book Review: Person of Interest

A Person of Interest, Susan Choi
Penguin. 2008

by Eric Green

Ever since Susan Choi wrote the far reaching novel, "A Foreign Student," she has always ventured into areas of writing that few chose to go. In "A Foreign Student" she unveiled the Korean War in ways that no novelist let along foreign policy writer had gone. In her novel form, she demonstrated the lies and half-truths about the Korean War and its aftermath that only true veterans of the war can account for.

Since then she's written a Pulitzer Prize level book, American Woman.

With this book, she takes us through the life of an Asian, probably Chinese national, professor in math at a Midwestern University. Professor Lee is the main character. As you can probably guess, Lee becomes a Person of Interest, in a highly volatile murder investigation.

Choi's book takes into the world of the "Mad Bomber" who existed some years ago; actually, in the time period of this book. Also, Choi brings us into contact with the Asian nuclear scientist who was accused of violation of national security. That person is not directly in the book, but the way in which the FBI and the U.S. society treats foreign born people, especially Asian people regardless of their rank in society, is certainly an aim of Choi.

This is intertwined in a long and arduous, difficult life of a math professor whose life is embroiled in faculty relationships; family difficulties and children. Choi has given us a character that does not receive the sympathy that other writers would. That is another unique and different aspect of her book.

This is not an easy book to read and follow, but well worth the readers struggle. There is more narrative than dialogue and the narrative often moves around quite briskly.

If you're just going to begin to read Choi, I would suggest the "Foreign Student," but immediately after than; "A Person of Interest" should not be missed.

That's capitalism

by Joel Wendland

Today the White House commented that First Lady Michelle Obama's father, Fraser Robinson, is buried in the Burr Oak Cemetary outside of Chicago, the site of a massive grave-robbing where four employees allegedly dug up corpses in order to re-sell plots for financial profit.

What's the difference between what those four people apparently did and Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme or Bank of America – besides the dollar amounts?

That's capitalism for oyu.

Happy Bastille Day

Equality and Freedom
Monday 13 July 2009
by: Maurice Ulrich
L'Humanité, via

Two hundred and twenty years after the taking of the Bastille, new Bastilles offer a challenge to reason. Hundreds of millions of men, women, and children live on less than a Euro a day, but that's not all. Access to water, massive air pollution, access to health care, to education, the situation of women, children, and minorities are so many abysmal and often criminal inequalities in a world that people say has become a village. In developed countries, in France, how can anyone justify the fact that the CEO of a big corporate group earns three hundred times more than the employees of the same group? What is equality for the most humble employees, the unemployed, youth going from one temporary job to another without any security, immigrants deprived of the right to vote, the undocumented, the homeless?

The crisis has revealed the many scandals of golden parachutes, stock options, phenomenal bonuses that the big bosses and their elite circles help themselves to. Indignation seems even to have overcome the head of state, although he is very much their friend, as he frowns, shrugs his shoulders, raises his voice. Some heads have been lectured, it's true, but the whole thing has only taken off again with renewed vigor and, above all, nothing has changed with respect to the basis of the system. The seizure by a small number of people of the wealth produced by many more. That's called capitalism. The rents paid to those who owe everything to other people's labor: that's called dividends.


Iraqi Communists march in Baghdad to celebrate July 14th, 1958 revolution

July 14th 1958 saw the overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy, which had been deeply tied to British Imperialism.

See more photos at:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bertrand Russell on Bolshevism (5)

Thomas Riggins

Part One of Bertrand Russell's "The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism" comprises eight chapters under the heading 'The Present Condition of Russia' [1920]. Briefly the main points of each chapter:

5. 'The Failure of Russian Industry'

It was evident to Russell, as to other visitors, that Russia in 1920 was economically the pits. Russian industry was not operating efficiently and could not properly respond to the needs of the people. Anti-communists were blaming "socialism" for the problems and trying to show that any non capitalist system just doesn't work. In this respect little has changed in 90 years.

Russell points out one of the real reasons for industrial failure was the economic blockade maintained against the Bolsheviks by the West. Russia needed access to the world economy for spare parts and machinery and Russell wrote: "Thus dependence on the outside world persists, and the blockade continues to do its deadly work of spreading hunger, demoralization and despair." This brings to mind the US's criminal blockade against Cuba and the anti-communist claims that Cuban economic problems are entirely due to "socialism."

The above point made by Russell is entirely correct. Unfortunately his half baked psychological theories again come to the fore and he makes a comment about the Russian "character" being seemingly "less adapted to steady work of an unexciting nature [factory labor] than to heroic efforts on great occasions [storming the Winter Palace].

The Russian civil war also devastated industrial areas that needed reconstruction. The Russian communists held their Ninth Congress in 1920 and decided to continue a policy adopted for the Civil War-- i.e., the militarization of labor. A resolution from the Congress stated they must further "mobilization of the industrial proletariat, compulsory labor service, militarization of production and the application of military detachments to economic needs." The resolution also states that workers are to be employed "with the same consistency and strictness "as used "in relation to the commanding staff for army needs."

The workers were in fact subject to Draconian production rules and regulation. It is evident, Russell said, "the Bolsheviks have been compelled to travel a long way from the ideals which originally inspired the revolution." However, "the situation is so desperate" that if they succeed they should not be blamed for having made these decisions. "In a shipwreck," Russell said, "all hands must turn to, and it would be ridiculous to prate of individual liberty." Russell will not always remember his own injunction.

6. 'Daily Life in Moscow'

Ok, life wasn't so great in Moscow in 1920 according to Russell. Russell, however, blames both the previous history of Russia and the policies of the West for most of the sad state of conditions in the capital city : "the Bolsheviks have only a limited share of responsibility for the evils from which Russia is suffering."

7. ' Town and Country'

In this chapter Russell goes deeper into the "peasant problem." He tells us that Russia is large and that the peasants in one part have no idea what is going on in other parts. They are so ignorant that they have "no national consciousness" and will not give up any of their produce "merely for purposes of national defense." There is intense hostility between the peasants and the government because the government wants to take a portion of their crops to feed the cities but the blockade and war prevent it from giving the peasants any of the goods they want.

"The food problem," Russell said, "is the main cause of popular opposition to the Bolsheviks." Russell admits, however, that no popular policy is possible to adopt due to the existential conditions. The Bolsheviks are the representatives "of the urban and industrial population" and and cities are little islands in a sea of hostile peasants. This is the case even though, as Russell pointed out earlier, the Bolsheviks had done more for the peasants than any previous government. He points out that if the Bolsheviks were democratic and followed the will of the majority of the people "the inhabitants of Moscow and Petrograd would die of starvation." Sometimes democracy just doesn't work.

The two conditions that have brought this about is that all industrial energy is consumed by the war on the one hand, and ignorance of the peasants about the war and blockade on the other. "It is futile to blame the Bolsheviks for an unpleasant and difficult situation which it has been impossible for them to avoid," Russell notes. In order for them to supply the needs of the peasants and build up industry both the war and the blockade must end.

8. 'International Policy'

Russell states that the cure for Russia's problems "is peace and trade." The Bolshevik government is so far stable but it could, if something happened to Lenin, evolve into "a Bonapartist militarist autocracy." Well, a few years later Lenin was out of the picture and a Bonapartist regime did not emerge and the Soviet government never became a "militarist autocracy." The Stalin cult may be called an "autocracy" but it was based on the working class and attempted to build socialism in conditions that were not favorable for that economic system.

Russell did note that he was "persuaded that Russia is not ready for any form of democracy and needs a strong government." They certainly got one. He did not base this opinion on the economic backwardness of the country but what he saw "of the Russian character" [a purely subjective and non scientific impression] and the disorganized state of the "opposition parties." The opposition was soon eliminated but not because of a lack of democratic ideals but because it cavorted with the enemy in attempts to undermine the Bolsheviks during the Civil War and the allied invasion.

Russell was interested in Lenin's "First Sketch of the Theses on National and Colonial Questions" which he presented to the Second Congress of the Third International held in July of 1920. Lenin advocated a unification of the colonial freedom movements and oppressed nations with the Soviet government in the struggle to overthrow world imperialism. Soviet Russia would lead this movement but its existence as a separate federated republic was to be "transitory" because Lenin really wanted, as he said in the "Theses", "the complete unity of the workers of all countries." One world socialist state. A tall order indeed.

With respect to Egypt, Ireland, and India, Lenin wrote of the "necessity of the co-operation of all Communists in the bourgeois-democratic movement of emancipation in those countries ('Theses'). Communists could make temporary alliances with bourgeois democracy in backward countries but "must never fuse with it."

Russell, evidently worried about the future of BRITISH INDIA, thinks that Lenin is hatching an imperialist plot to get power in Asia. Russell becomes very strange at this point. He says Bolshevism is "partly Asiatic" as is "everything Russian." He sees two trends in Bolshevism. A practical trend for settling down to make a regular country and to co-exist with the West and a more adventuresome group that wants "to promote revolution in the Western nations" and has a "desire for Asiatic dominion."

This desire is "probably accompanied in the minds of some with dreams of sapphires and rubies and golden thrones and all the glories of THEIR FOREFATHER SOLOMON." I stressed the end because it seems extremely weird to think of any of the Bolsheviks tracing their political aspirations back to Solomon and his "golden thrones." I will be charitable and ascribe this passage to Russell's having been unconsciously influenced by the popular anti-Semitism of his day. There is a leitmotiv in right wing thinking that Bolshevism was a Jewish plot. Russell was not a man of the Right so he must have just got this notion from popular culture. It is a very strange thing to have written. At any rate there is no chance, he says, of making peace with Britain unless the Bolsheviks change their Eastern policy.

Now we are told there are two attitudes to the world-- the religious and the scientific. Almost all the good in the world has come from people with the scientific outlook and all the evil from those with the religious. "The scientific attitude is tentative and piecemeal, believing what it finds evidence for, and no more."

The religious attitude leads to "beliefs held as dogmas. dominating the conduct of life, going beyond or contrary to evidence, and inculcated by methods which are emotional or authoritarian, not intellectual." [This by the way, is a perfect description of Russell's attitudes towards Communism for most his life.]

Using this distinction Russell determines that Bolshevism is a religion (a really bad one) and Bolsheviks are "impervious to scientific evidence and commit intellectual suicide." Russell seems not to be aware of the fact that all the great Bolshevik leaders agreed with Lenin's dictum the Marxism was NOT A DOGMA but a guide to action and that scientific methods should be applied to social questions and to the construction of socialism. Like any human endeavor there is a range of behaviors and among both religious and scientific people you can find all sorts from the most dogmatic to the most open minded, so we don't have to take Russell's spurious and dogmatic pronouncements too seriously.

Well, not only is Bolshevism a religion, it is a religion that should be compared with Islam ("Mohammedanism") rather than Christianity and Buddhism. Russell thinks Bolshevism and Islam are "practical, social, unspiritual, [and] concerned to win the empire of this world." While Christians and Buddhists care about "mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation."

I think all this very naive as the spread of different types of Buddhists, Christians and Moslems completely overlap one another and these types of invidious comparisons are simply unwarranted and unscientific.

Russell thinks it possible that Bolshevism "may go under in Russia" [well it finally did but on a time table far exceeding anyone's imagination in 1920] "but even if it does it will spring up again elsewhere, since it is ideally suited to an industrial population in distress." We shall see.

Now Russell makes a very valid point for the1920s, and in general. Russia was a backward country and he will not actually criticize the methods used by the Bolsheviks "in their broad lines" because they "are probably more or less unavoidable." But Western socialists should not engage in "slavish imitation" of the Bolsheviks because these methods are not "appropriate to more advanced countries."

He concludes part one of his book by saying, quite rightly I think, that the Bolsheviks "are neither angels to be worshiped nor devils to be exterminated, but merely bold and able men [he should have added "and women"] attempting with great skill an almost impossible task." I think he has a schizophrenic outlook on the Bolsheviks!

Part two of the book comprises seven chapters on "Bolshevik Theory" and that is what I shall review next.

Click here for part one of this series
Click here for part two of this series
Click here for part three of this series
Click here for part four of this series

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tax the Rich, Not Workers

No, To Soaking the Workers; Yes, To Soaking the Rich
No to Taxing Health Benefits; Yes, To Taxing the Rich

by Phil E. Benjamin

“House Democrats will be asking wealthiest Americans to help pay for overhauling the health care system with a $550 billion income tax increase…..”

This is the latest news concerning the financing of health care. What is not linked to this NY Times front page story [July 11th] is the other path that all Republicans and too many Democrats wanted to travel, i.e., taxing of workers health benefits.

The announcement of this TAX the RICH direction came from House Ways and Means Chair, NY Congressman Charles Rangel. It was Rangel who recently survived an ethics committee attack from Republicans and too many Democrats which would have removed him from that powerful House position. It was Rangel who recently announced, along with Senate Majority Leader Reed, that there would be no TAXING OF WORKERS’ HEALTH BENEFITS as a way to pay for health reform.

With the White House saying that the health reform legislation must be able to pay for itself, the money would either come from workers or the rich. With this strong statement from Rangel and the one from Reed, it is not up to health care activists to continue pressure of Senate Finance Chair, Max Baucus; and, Senate Health Chair, Ted Kennedy, to follow their lead.

The logic is simple. Workers have already paid for their health benefits by accepting less wages and even some their pensions to keep their health benefits. This has been necessary given the private/market based health system in our country.

And, the tax give a ways to the rich over the past 30 years, must come to and end with a payback for the social and economic needs of the country as a whole and working class people in particular.

Moving in that direction can also set the stage for funding public health infrastructure projects [local and state health departments getting ready for the Fall, ’09 H1N1 flu potential], public hospital and community clinics support, and the greatly needed expansion of the Federal National Health Corps which must train the hundreds and thousands of primary care doctors the country needs in rural and urban areas. In the Federal Health Service Corps medical students matriculate at NO tuition, in return for working in rural and urban places in medical needs.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hemingway a Soviet spy?

Hemingway revealed as failed KGB spy
Notes from Stalin-era intelligence archives show 'agent Argo' as a willing recruit in 1941

by John Dugdale, Thursday 9 July 2009

Up till now, this has been a notably cheerful year for admirers of Ernest Hemingway – a surprisingly diverse set of people who range from Michael Palin to Elmore Leonard. Almost every month has brought good news: a planned Hemingway biopic; a new, improved version of his memoir, A Moveable Feast; the opening of a digital archive of papers found in his Cuban home; progress on a movie of Islands in the Stream.

Last week, however, saw the publication of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale University Press), which reveals the Nobel prize-winning novelist was for a while on the KGB's list of its agents in America. Co-written by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, the book is based on notes that Vassiliev, a former KGB officer, made when he was given access in the 90s to Stalin-era intelligence archives in Moscow.

Its section on the author's secret life as a "dilettante spy" draws on his KGB file in saying he was recruited in 1941 before making a trip to China, given the cover name "Argo", and "repeatedly expressed his desire and willingness to help us" when he met Soviet agents in Havana and London in the 40s. However, he failed to "give us any political information" and was never "verified in practical work", so contacts with Argo had ceased by the end of the decade. Was he only ever a pseudo-spook, possibly seeing his clandestine dealings as potential literary material, or a genuine but hopelessly ineffective one?

The latter reading would chime with his attempts to assist the US during the second world war in his fishing boat El Pilar, patrolling waters north of Cuba in search of U-Boats, making coded notes but only one sighting.


Friday, July 10, 2009

House ready to unveil health plan

From Alliance for Retired Americans:

U.S. House is Close to Unveiling Its Health Care Plan
The U.S. House is expected to release its health care reform plan on Monday. However, Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), the chairman of the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs’ health care task force, warned House leadership in a Thursday night meeting that the vast majority of the group could not support the current House health care reform bill unless major changes are made. The most contentious element is reportedly a public plan option based on existing Medicare reimbursement rates - rates that Rep. Ross says have driven three of the six doctors out of his hometown. According to the publication Roll Call, forty Blue Dogs signed a two-page letter listing a series of demands, including increased aid to rural areas, more cost-cutting, and protections for small businesses. House Democrats have focused on a surtax on the wealthy in order to pay for reform. Together with hospitals' and drug makers' concessions of subsidies of $155 billion and $80 billion, respectively, a tax on the wealthy could help the system pay for itself. "The good news is that the public plan option is moving forward in the House," said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance.

New Science Oriented Radio Show Aims at Working-class Audience

New Science Oriented Radio Show Aims at Working-class Audience
By Joel Wendland

Are you a Discovery channel junky? If so, a new radio show hosted by renowned astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson will hit the spot. Tyson has teamed up with Comedy Central's Lynn Koplitz for a new science-based radio talk show called Star Talk.

During a recent telephone interview, Tyson said the show blends comedy, talk and great interviews with all kinds of people, from scientists and artists to TV celebrities like Stephen Colbert and Bill Nye.

"The goal is to convince people that science is all around us," Tyson said. "Science doesn't have to be as though you're taking medicine; you can have fun with it."

Tyson said that he thinks his show will appeal most to the kind of working-class people he meets everyday who recognize him from the TV programs he has hosted or appeared on. "They're discovery channel junkies, and they still want to learn. Maybe they didn't get a chance to go to college, but they remained intellectually curious all their lives," he said.

"I see this show as science for the common man. Science for people who never imagined they could have liked science at all," he added.


Whites-only swimming pool?


Two weeks ago outside Philadelphia, 65 children from a summer camp tried to go swimming at a club that their camp had a contract to use. Apparently, the people at the club didn't know that the group of kids was predominantly Black.

When the campers entered the pool, White parents allegedly took their kids out of the water, and the swimming club's staff asked the campers to leave. The next day, the club told the summer camp that their membership would be canceled and that their payment would be refunded. When asked why, the club's manager said that a lot of kids "would change the complexion ... and the atmosphere of the club."

A "Whites only" pool in 2009 should not be tolerated. The club's actions appear to be a violation of section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act. Whether or not any laws were violated, a "Whites only" pool should be something every American condemns.

Please join us in doing exactly that, and please email your friends and family and invite them to do the same. Your signature will also be used to call on the Department of Justice to evaluate suing the facility under federal law. It takes just a moment to do both, here:

Bertrand Russell on Bolshevism (4)

by Thomas Riggins

Part One of Bertrand Russell's "The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism" comprises eight chapters under the heading 'The Present Condition of Russia' [1920]. Briefly the main points of each chapter:

3. 'Lenin, Trotsky and Gorky'

This chapter is full of personal impressions of Lenin, Trotsky and Gorky. It is really very subjective, more so than many other opinions in this book, so I will pass it by after giving just a few examples.

Of Lenin, Russell says, "I have never met a personage so destitute of self-importance." Lenin thought it would be difficult to build socialism with a majority population of peasants (little did he know). He told Russell that the world revolution was needed before any real achievement could happen.

Of Trotsky, Russell says the Russians don't regard him at all as equal to Lenin but he impressed Russell more as to "intelligence and personality" but he had only "a very superficial impression" of the man. He had "admirable wavy hair" and appeared vain. He brought to mind a comparison with Napoleon!

Gorky was ill when Russell interviewed him. "He supports the government," Russell wrote, as I should do, if I were a Russian-- not because he thinks it faultless, but because the possible alternatives are worse." If Russell really thinks that, then he, as a Leibniz scholar, should have recognized that the Bolsheviks were the best of all possible Russian governments and thus mitigated some of his criticisms since he could see the Bolsheviks were doing the best they could. He should have at least made constructive criticisms of the faults instead of comparing them to his ideal of Britain since 1688 and suggesting incommensurable historic parallels

Now for a more substantive chapter.

4. 'Communism and the Soviet Constitution'

Russell wanted to study and compare the Soviet system, set up by the Constitution, with the Parliamentary system but could not as he found the Soviets "moribund." The All Russian Soviet , the legal supreme body, hardly ever met and had already become a rubber stamp for the CP.

This was due to the fact that the Western blockade and the Civil War had reduced the country to the verge of collapse and the Bolsheviks could only hold out by extreme measures. The idea was first the government had to survive and after peace was established there could be a return to more democratic measures.

Russell was aware of the fact that the peasants were hostile to the Bolshevik regime. To feed the cities it was necessary to take food from the peasants and this was paid for by essentially worthless paper money which the peasants could not really spend.

Nevertheless, Russell thought the peasants "never better off" and their dislike of the Bolsheviks seemed unwarranted. He saw no "under fed" peasants and the big landlords' property had been confiscated for the benefit of the peasants.

The peasants were very ignorant, knowing little beyond the confines of their villages. Knowing nothing of the Civil War or blockade "they cannot understand why the government is unable to give them the clothes and agricultural implements that they need."

Russell saw the CP in Russia ('the bureaucracy") divided into three parts. First, the old Bolsheviks, "tested by years of persecution", who have the the most important positions. They are upset by the backwardness and hostility of the peasants and by the fact their ideals have to be postponed awaiting better material conditions.

Second, the second rank of "arrivistes" who have the second level positions. They benefit from the fact that the Bolsheviks are in power (the police, informers, secret agents, etc.,) From their ranks come the members of the Extraordinary Commission [i.e., the Cheka or,in 1920, All Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combatting Counter-Revolution, Profiteering and Corruption).

This was a violent revolution and the White Guards, the pro Tsarist side in the Civil War had unleashed the "White Terror" in areas it controlled and the Bolsheviks, fighting fire with fire, unleashed the "Red Terror" against their perceived enemies. Needless to say many untoward actions were taken by both sides.

Lenin addressed these issues of democracy and dictatorship in a speech he gave in 1920. "[In] the era of capitalism, when the masses of the workers are subjected to constant exploitation and cannot develop their human capacities, the most characteristic feature of working-class political parties is that they can involve only a minority of their class. A political party can comprise only a minority of a class, in the same way as the really class-conscious workers in any capitalist society constitute only a minority of all workers. We are therefore obliged to recognise that it is only this class-conscious minority that can direct and lead the broad masses of the workers.... What is this organized minority? If this minority is really class-conscious, if it is able to lead the masses, if it is able to reply to every question that appears on the order of the day, then it is a party in reality." And because of the dire situation in Russia it was really a small group of leaders at the top who actually ruled Russia.

Now for the third group in Russell's view. These were people who supported the government NOT because they were fervent communists but because the communists were in power and they could benefit from serving the communists-- either out of motives of patriotism or self interest (or both).

These people were of the same type as American businessmen (being motivated to advance themselves and take advantage of situations) and Russell "supposes" that if peace comes this group will help in the industrialization of Russia making it "a rival of the United States."

The Russian workers in 1920, Russel said, were lacking in the habits of "industry and honesty" and the "harsh discipline" of the Bolsheviks will allow Russia to become "one of the foremost industrial countries." This attempt will be made in the 1930s in earnest.

Coming up, 'The Failure of Russian Industry'

Click here for part one of this series
Click here for part two of this series
Click here for part three of this series