Thursday, January 29, 2009

Economic Recovery

Economic Recovery Act Needs:
More Infrastructure Spending
No Tax Cuts for Business

Despite President Obama’s efforts and the inclusion of specific measures designed to appeal to Republicans, not a single GOP House member voted for the Economic Recovery Act, popularly known as the stimulus bill, that passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 244 to 188 yesterday. Just 12 Democrats voted against the bill, which authorized $607 billion in direct spending and $212 billion in various tax cuts over two years to stimulate the economy.

Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has been gravely concerned about these politically motivated tax cuts, largely sweetheart deals for business that will benefit the very financial institutions whose high-flying speculation created the economic crisis in the first place. They are bad legislation, and certainly have no place in a stimulus bill.

We believe the federal government should minimally allocate:
$200 billion in block grants to state and local governments to make up for the annual loss in state and local revenue
$100 billion to pay for half of the increased Medicaid costs states will face
$100 billion to pay for COBRA coverage for laid-off workers and to allow people over 55 to buy into Medicare
$50 billion to increase unemployment insurance and expand eligibility. (Currently only one-third of unemployed workers receive unemployment insurance!)
$100 billion to increase Pell grants and expand the number of its recipients.
$450 billion to the Social Security Trust Fund so that workers would receive a one-year respite from paying the regressive FICA tax. Such a measure would radically stimulate consumer demand.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bolivia approves a new constitution

Aprueban bolivianos nueva Constitución: encuestas
Vota 60 por ciento por el “sí”, según sondeos preliminares. Para el presidente Evo Morales es el nacimiento de una nueva Bolivia y el fin del Estado colonial y latifundista.

Agencias y La Jornada On Line
Publicado: 25/01/2009 12:25

La Paz. Los bolivianos aprobaron este domingo en un referendo una nueva Constitución impulsada por el presidente Evo Morales que abre las puertas del poder a la mayoría indígena y da al Estado el control total sobre la economía, según proyecciones no oficiales.

Aunque los resultados oficiales de la Corte Nacional Electoral (CNE) serán dados a conocer más tarde, el mandatario boliviano -junto con el vicepresidente Alvaro García Linera- encabezó en la Plaza Murillo una multitudinaria concentración donde mencionó que el triunfo en el referendo significaba la refundación del país, así como la reivindicación de los derechos de una población mayoritariamente indígena, así como el fin del Estado colonial y latifundista.

Según las encuestas de salida realizadas por los medios de comunicación, se informó que la estatal Radio Patria Nueva, el "sí" tendría 62 por ciento, el "no" 28 por ciento, y ocho por ciento votó en blanco.

Scholarships for future union leaders

Apply Now for Union Leaders of the Future Scholarship
by James Parks, Jan 25, 2009

With the cost of college going up every day, every student needs help making ends meet. At the same time, the union movement needs a skilled, diverse leadership to continue to reach out and provide benefits to more workers.

To help build a more diverse and strong union movement, the Union Leaders of the Future Scholarship and Mentoring Program is helping more women and people of color become union leaders.

The scholarship program provides annual awards of up to $3,000 to help future leaders with the cost of continuing their education to build leadership skills and pursue their union careers. Scholarships can be used for tuition, books and travel for leadership training at accredited labor schools, colleges, universities and community
for more information go to:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Barack Obama: the new President

There will be times when we need to oppose this administration and its policies. I have already opposed them on education and economic appointments.
At the same time we should recognize that with the inauguration , a positive change has been created in the racial paradigm of this country. Race and racism have long been among the obstacles to building a progressive movement.
It is also clear that a dedicated group of activists can change the direction of this country.
Can you imagine where we would be on the economy if John Mc Cain had won?
Duane Campbell
From the SF Chronicle
(01-20) 09:06 PST SAN FRANCISCO - -- When President Barack Obama was a toddler in the early 1960s, African Americans were being charged a poll tax, interracial marriage was illegal in some states, NAACP lawyers were being murdered and police fought integration with fire hoses and dogs.

But the accomplishments of the civil rights movement that began in the 1950s - equal access to schools, voting rights for African Americans and increasing the number of black politicians in office - helped propel Obama into the White House.

"We have had peaks and valleys in the civil rights struggle and this is the mountain top," the Rev. Jesse Jackson, an activist and minister who has been fighting for civil rights for more than 40 years, said in an interview. "It says a lot about how far the movement has brought this nation."

Jackson, who was seen with tears streaming down his face the night Obama won the presidency, said the moment prompted tremendous emotions.

"I thought about the journey - the martyrs, the marches, and the bludgeoned," Jackson said. "I thought about Medgar Evers, Cesar Chavez and about Dr. King, and I wished they could have been there."

Since Obama won the election Nov. 4, there has been a renewed focus on the civil rights movement and King, who would have turned 80 this year. African Americans have compared the presidency to landing on the moon.

Obama was 7 when King was assassinated. His generation grew up in an era when King's dreams seemed possible to achieve. But African Americans felt like they were being dishonest when they told their children they could be anything they wanted.

"When I was growing up in Mississippi and said I wanted to be president, everyone snickered," said Princeton professor Eddie Glaude Jr., who teaches religion and African American studies. "Now, if Obama serves two terms, my black male child will come of age politically with a black president.

"A man of color as the head of state unleashes the imagination in so many ways for so many people and it frees up children to see themselves in more expansive terms."

A black president is far beyond the initial goals of the civil rights movement, started in the 1950s to reverse Jim Crow laws that promoted "separate but equal" segregation.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Let Justice Roll Down: M.L. King

Let Justice Roll Down
by Martin Luther King Jr.
This article appeared in the March 15, 1965 edition of
The Nation.

From 1961 to 1966, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
wrote an annual essay for The Nation on the state of
civil rights and race relations in America. This article
originally appeared in the March 15, 1965, issue.


When 1963 came to a close, more than a few skeptical
voices asked what substantial progress had been achieved
through the demonstrations that had drawn more than a
million Negroes into the streets. By the close of 1964,
the pessimistic clamor was stilled by the music of major
victories. Taken together, the two years marked a
historic turning point for the civil rights movement; in
the previous century no comparable change for the Negro
had occurred. Now, even the most cynical acknowledged
that at Birmingham, as at Concord, a shot had been fired
that was heard around the world.

Before examining 1964 in greater depth, some comment is
necessary on the events currently unfolding in Alabama.
After the passage of the Civil Rights Act and with the
defeat of Barry Goldwater, there was widespread
expectation that barriers would disintegrate with swift
inevitability. This easy optimism could not survive the
first test. In the hard-core states of the South, while
some few were disposed to accommodate, the walls
remained erect and reinforced. That was to be expected,
for the basic institutions of government, commerce,
industry and social patterns in the South all rest upon
the embedded institution of segregation. Change is not
accomplished by peeling off superficial layers when the
causes are rooted deeply in the heart of the organism.

Those who expected a cheap victory in a climate of
complacency were shocked into reality by Selma and
Marion, Ala. In Selma, the position was implacable
resistance. At one point, ten times as many Negroes were
in jail as were on the registration rolls. Out of 15,000
eligible to vote, less than 350 were registered.

Selma involves more than disenfranchisement. Its inner
texture reveals overt and covert forms of terror and
intimidation--that uniquely Southern form of existence
for Negroes in which life is a constant state of acute
defensiveness and deprivation. Yet if Selma outrages
democratic sensibilities, neighboring Wilcox County
offers something infinitely worse. Sheriff P.C. Jenkins
has held office in Wilcox for twenty-six years. He is a
local legend because when he wants a Negro for a crime,
he merely sends out word and the Negro comes in to be
arrested. This is intimidation and degradation
reminiscent only of chattel slavery. This is white
supremacist arrogance and Negro servility possible only
in an atmosphere where the Negro feels himself so
isolated, so hopeless, that he is stripped of all
dignity. And as if they were in competition to
obliterate the United States Constitution within
Alabama's borders state troopers only a few miles away
clubbed and shot Negro demonstrators in Marion.

Are demonstrations of any use, some ask, when resistance
is so unyielding? Would the slower processes of
legislation and law enforcement ultimately accomplish
greater results more painlessly? Demonstrations,
experience has shown, are part of the process of
stimulating legislation and law enforcement. The federal
government reacts to events more quickly when a
situation of conflict cries out for its intervention.
Beyond this, demonstrations have a creative effect on
the social and psychological climate that is not matched
by the legislative process. Those who have lived under
the corrosive humiliation of daily intimidation are
imbued by demonstrations with a sense of courage and
dignity that strengthens their personalities. Through
demonstrations, Negroes learn that unity and militance
have more force than bullets. They find that the bruises
of clubs, electric cattle prods and fists hurt less than
the scars of submission. And segregationists learn from
demonstrations that Negroes who have been taught to fear
can also be taught to be fearless. Finally, the millions
of Americans on the sidelines learn that inhumanity
wears an official badge and wields the power of law in
large areas of the democratic nation of their pride.

In addition to these ethical and psychological
considerations, our work in the black-belt counties of
Alabama has enabled us to develop further a tactical
pattern whose roots extend back to Birmingham and
Montgomery. Our movement has from the earliest days of
SCLC adhered to a method which uses nonviolence in a
special fashion. We have consistently operated on the
basis of total community involvement. It is manifestly
easier to initiate actions with a handful of dedicated
supporters, but we have sought to make activists of all
our people, rather than draw some activists from the

Our militant elements were used, not as small striking
detachments, but to organize. Through them, and by
patient effort, we have attempted to involve Negroes
from industry, the land, the home, the professions;
Negroes of advanced age, middle age, youth and the very
young. In Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, St. Augustine
and elsewhere, when we marched it was as a community,
not as a small and unimpressive, if symbolic,
assemblage. The charge that we were outside agitators,
devoid of support from contented local Negroes, could
not be convincing when the procession of familiar local
faces could be seen block after block in solid array.

The second element in our tactics after Montgomery was
to formulate demands that covered varied aspects of
Negro life. If voting campaigns or lunch-counter sit-ins
appeared central in press reports, they were but a part
of our broader aims. In Birmingham, employment
opportunity was a demand pressed as forcefully as
desegregation of public facilities. In Selma, our four
points encompass voting rights, employment
opportunities, improved interracial communication and
paved streets in the Negro neighborhoods. The last
demand may appear to Northerners to lack some of the
historic importance of voting rights. To the Southern
Negro the fact that anyone can identify where the ghetto
begins by noting where the pavement ends is one of the
many offensive experiences in his life. The neighborhood
is degraded to degrade the person in it.

The Mississippi Summer Project of the combined civil
rights organizations was accorded the traditional
Mississippi welcome of murder, arson and terror, and
persisted under fire until even the Klan recognized that
its sanctuary had been overrun. The isolated Negroes of
that state were drawn into the vibrant national
struggle. To mark their new status they formed a
political party whose voice was heard loudly and clearly
at the Democratic National convention and in the

But perhaps the most significant development of 1963 and
1964 was the emergence of a disciplined, perceptive
Negro electorate, almost 100 per cent larger than that
of the 1960 Presidential election. Mississippi, the
Civil Rights Act, and the new massive Negro vote each
represents a particular form of struggle; nevertheless,
they are interrelated. Together, they signify the new
ability of the movement to function simultaneously in
varied arenas, and with varied methods.

Each accomplishment was the culmination of long years of
ache and agony. The new Negro vote best illustrates this
point. Quietly, without the blare of trumpets, without
marching legions to excite the spirit, thousands of
patient, persistent Negroes worked day in and day out,
laboriously adding one name to another in the
registration books. Finally on November 7, in an
electoral confrontation vitally important to their
existence, they displayed the power which had long been
accumulating. On the following day every political
expert knew that a mature and permanent Negro electorate
had emerged. A powerful, unified political force had
come into being.

While elsewhere electioneering was being conducted
systematically, another detachment was assaulting the
fortress walls of Mississippi, long immune to the
discipline of justice. As the confrontation boiled and
seethed even in remote rural counties, the revulsion of
decent Americans mounted. The wanton burning of
churches, the inexpressibly cruel murder of young civil
rights workers, not only failed to paralyze the~
movement; they became a grisly and eloquent
demonstration to the whole nation of the moral
degeneracy upon which segregation rests.

The Civil Rights Act was expected by many to suffer the
fate of the Supreme Court decisions on school
desegregation. In particular, it was thought that the
issue of public accommodations would encounter massive
defiance. But this pessimism overlooked a factor of
supreme importance. The legislation was not a product of
charity of white America for a supine black America, nor
was it the result of enlightened leadership by the
judiciary. This legislation was first written in the
streets. The epic thrust of the millions of Negroes who
demonstrated in 1963 in hundreds of cities won strong
white allies to the cause. Together, they created a
"coalition of conscience" which awoke a hitherto
somnolent Congress. The legislation was polished and
refined in the marble halls of Congress, but the vivid
marks of its origins in the turmoil of mass meetings and
marches were on it, and the vigor and momentum of its
turbulent birth carried past the voting and insured
substantial compliance.

Apart from its own provisions, the new law stimulated
and focused attention on economic needs. An assault on
poverty was planned in 1964 and given preliminary and
experimental shape.

The fusing of economic measures with civil rights needs;
the boldness to penetrate every region of the Old South;
the undergirding of the whole by the massive Negro vote,
both North and South, all place the freedom struggle on
a new elevated level.

The old tasks of awakening the Negro to motion while
educating America to the miseries of Negro poverty and
humiliation in their manifold forms have substantially
been accomplished. Demonstrations may be limited in the
future, but contrary to some belief, they will not be
abandoned. Demonstrations educate the onlooker as well
as the participant, and education requires repetition.
That is one reason why they have not outlived their
usefulness. Furthermore, it would be false optimism to
expect ready compliance to the new law everywhere. The
Negro's weapon of non-violent direct action is his only
serviceable tool against injustice. He may be willing to
sheath that sword but he has learned the wisdom of
keeping it sharp.

Yet new times call for new policies. Negro leadership,
long attuned to agitation, must now perfect the art of
organization. The movement needs stable and responsible
institutions in the communities to utilize the new
strength of Negroes in altering social customs. In their
furious combat to level walls of segregation and
discrimination, Negroes gave primary emphasis to their
deprivation of dignity and personality. Having gained a
measure of success they are now revealed to be clothed,
by comparison with other Americans, in rags. They are
housed in decaying ghettoes and provided with a ghetto
education to eke out a ghetto life. Thus, they are
automatically enlisted in the war on poverty as the most
eligible combatants. Only when they are in full
possession of their civil rights everywhere, and
afforded equal economic opportunity, will the haunting
race question finally be laid to rest.

What are the key guides to the future? It would not be
over-optimistic to eliminate one of the vain hopes of
the segregationists--the white back lash. It had a
certain reality in 1964, but far less than the
segregationists needed. For the most part it was powered
by petulance rather than principle. Therefore, when the
American people saw before them a clear choice between a
future of progress with racial justice or stagnation
with ancient privilege, they voted in landslide
proportions for justice. President Johnson made a
creative contribution by declining to mute this issue in
the campaign.

The election of President Johnson, whatever else it
might have been, was also an alliance of Negro and white
for common interests. Perceptive Negro leadership
understands that each of the major accomplishments in
1964 was the product of Negro militancy on a level that
could mobilize and maintain white support. Negroes
acting alone and in a hostile posture toward all whites
will do nothing more than demonstrate that their
conditions of life are unendurable, and that they are
unbearably angry. But this has already been widely
dramatized. On the other hand, whites who insist upon
exclusively determining the time schedule of change will
also fail, however wise and generous they feel
themselves to be. A genuine Negro-white unity is the
tactical foundation upon which past and future progress

The rapid acceleration of change in race relations in
the nation is occurring within the larger transformation
of our political and economic structure. The South is
already a split region, fissured politically and
economically as cleanly as the Mississippi River divides
its banks. Negroes by themselves did not fragment the
South; they facilitated a process that the changing
economy of the nation began. The old rural South,
essentially poor and retarded, had to industrialize as
agricultural regions contracted under the impact of
heightened soil productivity. The exodus from Southern
farms coincided with the influx of industry seeking the
natural resources and cheaper labor market of the area.

Negroes were drawn off the farms into urban service and
into limited, semi-skilled occupations. Though many
migrated North, most remained in the South. Just as they
had not been content to erode with the old plantations,
they were not disposed to take a permanent place as
industrial untouchables. The ferment of revolutionary
change by the backward and dispossessed peoples of the
whole world inspired them to struggle. In some areas,
economic and social change enabled them to advance
against an opposition that was still formidable but of a
different quality than that of the past. The new South,
with its local needs and with an eye to its national
image, could not adhere to the brutal, terroristic
overseer psychology of bygone days. For these reasons
Atlanta, Savannah and some cities of Florida are
markedly different from the underdeveloped belts of
Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

In the next period, Negroes are likely to find new white
Southern allies of even greater importance among the
rural and urban poor. It is an irony of American history
that Negroes have been oppressed and subjected to
discrimination by many whose economic circumstances were
scarcely better than their own. The social advantages
which softened the economic disabilities of Southern
poor whites are now beginning to lose some of their
attractions as these whites realize what material
benefits are escaping them. The section of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 which withholds federal aid when it
is used discriminatorily in federally assisted programs
has revolutionary implications. It ties the interests of
whites who desperately need relief from their
impoverishment to the Negro who has the same needs. The
barriers of segregation are splintering under the strain
of economic deprivation which cuts across caste lines.
To climb the economic ladder, Negro and white will have
to steady it together, or both will fall.

This is already occurring among many who have run for
office in different areas of the South. The faces were
the same as of old, but looking closely, one could see
that some of the features had changed. Especially, the
language had changed: "Negro," not "darky"; "the law of
the land," not "States' rights"; the "new prosperity and
affluence," not the "old Southern traditions." These new
phrases may be uttered with many private agonies, but
their commitments are public.

Space does not permit a sufficient discussion of the
President's program, nor is it yet adequately
elaborated. But without wishing to diminish the high
respect which the President earned from the civil rights
movement one aspect of his program should be studied, if
only because of the emphasis he has given it. The
President's concept of consensus must be subject to
thoughtful and critical examination. The New York Times
in a perceptive editorial on December 20 asked if Mr.
Johnson really means to be a "consensus President." It
pointed out that such were Coolidge and Eisenhower, who
"served the needs of the day but not of decades to come.
They preside over periods of rest and consolidation.
They lead no probes into the future and break no fresh
ground." The Times then added, "A President who wants to
get things done has to be a fighter, has to spend the
valuable coin of his own popularity, has to jar the
existing consensus....No major program gets going unless
someone is willing to wage an active and often fierce
struggle in its behalf."

The Times is undeniably correct. The fluidity and
instability of American public opinion on questions of
social change is very marked. There would have been no
civil rights progress, nor a nuclear test-ban treaty,
without resolute Presidential leadership. The issues
which must be decided are momentous. The contest is not
tranquil and relaxed. The search for a consensus will
tend to become a quest for the least common denominator
of change. In an atmosphere devoid of urgency the
American people can easily be stupefied into accepting
slow reform, which in practice would be inadequate
reform. "Let Justice roll down like waters in a mighty
stream," said the Prophet Amos. He was seeking not
consensus but the cleansing action of revolutionary
change. America has made progress toward freedom, but
measured against the goal the road ahead is still long
and hard. This could be the worst possible moment for
slowing down.

A consensus orientation is understandably attractive to
a political leader. His task is measurably easier if he
is merely to give shape to widely accepted programs. He
becomes a technician rather than an innovator. Past
Presidents have often sought such a function. President
Kennedy promised in his campaign an executive order
banning discrimination in housing. This substantial
progressive step, he declared, required only "a stroke
of the pen." Nevertheless, he delayed execution of the
order long after his election on the ground that he
awaited a "national consensus." President Roosevelt,
facing the holocaust of an economic crisis in the early
thirties, attempted to base himself on a consensus with
the N.R.A.; and generations earlier, Abraham Lincoln
temporized and hesitated through years of civil war,
seeking a consensus before issuing the Emancipation

In the end, however, none of these Presidents fashioned
the program which was to mark him as historically great
by patiently awaiting a consensus. Instead, each was
propelled into action by a mass movement which did not
necessarily reflect an overwhelming majority. What the
movement lacked in support was less significant than the
fact that it had championed the key issue of the hour.
President Kennedy was forced by Birmingham and the
tumultuous actions it stimulated to offer to Congress
the Civil Rights Bill. Roosevelt was impelled by labor,
farmers and small-businessmen to commit the government
in revolutionary depth to social welfare as a
constituent stimulus to the economy. Lincoln signed the

Proclamation under the pressure of war needs. The
overwhelming national consensus followed their acts; it
did not precede them.

The contemporary civil rights movement must serve
President Johnson in the same fashion. It must select
from the multitude of issues those principal creative
reforms which will have broad transforming power to
affect the whole movement of society. Behind these goals
it must then tirelessly organize widespread struggle.
The specific selection of the correct and appropriate
programs requires considerable discussion and is beyond
the purview of this study. A few guidelines are,
however, immediately evident.

One point of central importance for this period is that
the distribution of Negroes geographically makes a
single national tactical program impractical. During the
Civil War, Frederick Douglass perceived the difference
in problems of Negroes in the North and in the South. He
championed emancipation, aside from its moral
imperatives, because its impact would transform the
South. For the North, his principal demand was
integration of Negroes into the Union Army.

Similarly today, the Negro of the South requires in the
first place the opportunity to exercise elementary
rights and to be shielded from terror and oppression by
reliable, alert government protection. He should not
have to stake his life, his home or his security merely
to enjoy the right to vote. On the other hand, in the
North, he already has many basic rights and a fair
measure of state protection. There, his quest is toward
a more significant participation in government, and the
restructuring of his economic life to end ghetto

Very different tactics will be required to achieve these
disparate goals. Many of the mistakes made by Northern
movements may be traced to the application of tactics
that work in Birmingham but produce no results in
Northern ghettoes. Demonstrations in the streets of the
South reveal the cruel fascism underlacing the social
order there. No such result attends a similar effort in
the North. However, rent strikes, school boycotts,
electoral alliances summon substantial support from
Negroes, and dramatize the specific grievances peculiar
to those communities.

With the maturation of the civil rights movement,
growing out of the struggles of 1963 and 1964, new
tactical devices will emerge. The most important single
imperative is that we continue moving forward with the
indomitable spirit of those two turbulent years. It is
worth recalling the admonition of Napoleon (he was
thinking of conquest, but what he said was true also of
constructive movements): "In order to have good
soldiers, a nation must always be at war."


Friday, January 16, 2009

Immigration policy

March 15, 2007 | EPI Briefing Paper #186
Getting Immigration Reform Right
by Ray Marshall
Congress' difficulty in passing immigration reform legislation comes as no surprise to those who have followed this issue over the years, especially the debates that led to the seriously flawed Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. Many of the factors that caused IRCA to fail are as prevalent now as they were in 1986. Diverse economic interests, personal biases, and political ideologies make it hard to build consensus for effective immigration policies. These complications are exacerbated by the absence of reliable information about the magnitude of unauthorized immigration and its impact on the American economy and society. Unlike many other policy issues, there are no clear political alignments on immigration, making it difficult to build the coalitions needed to align the complex components of a successful immigration policy.
By the time IRCA was amended enough to pass the Congress, it became very clear to immigration experts that, instead of restricting their entry, IRCA would accelerate the flow of unauthorized immigrants into the United States, which is exactly what happened. Common estimates of the number of unauthorized immigrants in 1986 were between 3 and 6 million; today, estimates range from 10 to 20 million. The networks that give employers a dependable supply of unauthorized immigrant labor are much more institutionalized and difficult to control. If the United States does not get policy right this time, 20 years from now the number of unauthorized immigrants probably will have at least doubled and be even more difficult—if not impossible—to control.
That said, however, immigration is not the problem: the United States is and will remain a nation of immigrants, who have contributed greatly to the vitality, diversity, and creativity of American life. Immigrants are particularly important to the U.S. economy, accounting for over half of the workforce growth during the 1990s and 86% of the increase in employment between 2000 and 2005. Because there will be no net increase in the number of prime-working-age natives (aged 25 to 54) for the next 20 years, the strength of the American economy could depend heavily on how the nation relates immigration to economic and social policy.
Unauthorized immigration, on the other hand, subjects migrants to grave dangers and exploitation, suppresses domestic workers' wages and working conditions, makes it difficult to adjust immigration to labor market needs, perpetuates marginal low-wage industries addicted to a steady flow of unauthorized immigrants, is unfair to people waiting to enter the United States legally, and undermines the rule of law. The issue is not immigrants, but their legal status, characteristics, and integration into American life.
Because of its importance to America's diverse and rapidly growing Hispanic population, immigration also has significant political implications. Hispanics' political power is enhanced by their geographic concentration in areas where Democrats and Republicans must contend for national dominance, especially in the Southwest and Rocky Mountain West. This reality was an important component of the political strategy fashioned by George W. Bush and Karl Rove. During his first term, President Bush courted Latinos with a strategy that included speaking Spanish, Hispanic appointments to prominent positions in his administration, and an immigration policy that included a guest worker program championed by Mexican president Vicente Fox. The Bush-Rove strategy was derailed by nativist Congressional Republicans, who adamantly opposed comprehensive immigration reform in favor of exclusive reliance on border security.
Because of deep international economic and demographic integration, immigration has important foreign policy implications, especially for U.S. relations with Mexico, the source of most unauthorized migrants to the United States. In fact, for many years, Mexican policy has been based on the expectation of heavy migration to the United States. In the 1970s, for example, Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda (the father of former President Vicente Fox's first foreign minister) told us that, whatever we did, the United States would absorb a large part of Mexico's population growth. Many of us who were attempting to formulate policy for the United States did not want to believe that we would have so little control of immigration, but he was right.
Migration clearly is very important to Mexico: it provides a safety valve to compensate for that country's failure to provide adequate domestic jobs for most of its workforce growth, and remittances from the 20 to 25 million Mexicans living in the United States have become second only to oil exports as a source of Mexican foreign exchange. Remittances also are the lifeblood of many rural communities and supplement that country's weak social safety nets. Given Mexico's slow growth and serious structural problems (poverty and inequality; corruption; low tax collections; poor education system; ineffective political checks and balances; inadequate infrastructure development; restrictive business regulations; rigid, antiquated, and inefficient labor market policies and institutions; and the limited capacities of governments at every level), it is unlikely that its citizens will have adequate job opportunities at home anytime soon. What the United States does about immigration, therefore, has important implications for Mexican economic and political developments, with significant positive or negative spillover effects for America.
Read the entire report at

Monday, January 12, 2009

Renegotiate NAFTA

Renegotiate NAFTA.
In 2008, we launched a policy proposal entitled "NAFTA Must be
Renegotiated; A Proposal from North America Civil Society Networks"
prepared jointly by Canadian, Mexican and U.S. organizations that
calls for a revision and renegotiation of NAFTA so as to establish
economic relations based on social justice within a paradigm of
sustainable development." In this proposal, we synthesize ten
priorities for the renegotiation of NAFTA based on our work of many
years, namely: agriculture, energy, foreign investment, financial
services, the role of the State in the provision of services,
employment, migration, environment, intellectual property rights and
dispute settlement provisions.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Carta de Amlo a Obama

(10 de enero de 2009)

Barack Obama, Presidente Electo de los Estados Unidos de América.

Ciudadano presidente electo:

El lunes próximo tendrá usted una entrevista con nuestro compatriota Felipe Calderón, quien se ostenta como presidente de México.

Este ciudadano ocupa dicho cargo como resultado de un gran fraude electoral, orquestado por un grupo mafioso de traficantes de influencias y políticos corruptos.

En nuestro país existe una República aparente, simulada, falsa; hay Poderes Constitucionales, pero en los hechos un grupo ha confiscado todos los Poderes.

Esta especie de dictadura encubierta no solo ha nulificado la vida democrática, sino que ha causado una infame desigualdad económica y social.

Aunque cruda, esta es la realidad: en México la riqueza de unos (pocos) se ha edificado con la miseria de otros (muchos).

Pero independientemente de esta penosa circunstancia, que los mexicanos ya estamos enfrentando de manera soberana, el propósito principal de mi escrito es expresarle que sería un grave error poner en marcha, por parte de su futuro gobierno, una política que impida el flujo migratorio hacia Estados Unidos.

Tenga en cuenta que la política de pillaje, llamada neoliberal, impuesta en México desde hace 26 años, ha devastado la actividad productiva, ha impedido el crecimiento económico y la generación de empleos, y esto ha llevado a que millones de mexicanos (más de 500 mil por año) se vean en la necesidad de emigrar, arriesgándolo todo, en busca de oportunidades que mitiguen su hambre y su pobreza.

Como usted comprenderá, después de un largo periodo sin crecimiento económico, si no fuese por el fenómeno migratorio, ya hubiese habido un estallido social en México.

En consecuencia, es indispensable que la relación entre los dos países se finque en la cooperación y no en el uso de medidas coercitivas.

La solución al problema migratorio no se encuentra en la construcción de muros ni en la militarización de la frontera, sino en el desarrollo económico y social de México.

Asimismo, esperamos que de manera congruente con sus repetidos compromisos de campaña, ponga en práctica un plan para solucionar la situación migratoria de los mexicanos que viven y trabajan en su país.

Estoy seguro que tendrá la virtud y la suerte para responder a las grandes expectativas que ha despertado entre su pueblo y el nuestro.


Andrés Manuel López Obrador,
Presidente Legítimo de México.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Labor Leaders : Obama, We have your back

Labor Leader to Obama: "We Have Your Back; We Will Not
Let You Back Up!"

The African World

By Bill Fletcher, Jr., Executive

January 8, 2009 - The Black commentator, Issue 306

The president of the Maryland and DC AFL-CIO, Fred
Mason, had an idea. Following the electoral victory of
Barack Obama he found himself perplexed by the
enthusiastic, yet very unfocused, response of organized
labor as to what should happen next. While there was
optimism in the air, what was missing was real content.
But what was especially missing was any sort of public
display of both support AND concern by US workers for
an incoming Administration at a point of significant
economic and political crisis.

The traditional labor union response to incoming
Administrations, particularly those viewed as favorable
by and towards unions and workers, has tended to be
side-bar meetings where an agenda is discussed. These
behind-the- scenes gatherings might have worked when
unions were in a stronger position, but the diminishing
power of workers and unions has resulted in such
meetings having limited impact.

Mason, a long-time progressive, African American union
activist and leader, started suggesting a different
course of action. Why not have unions hold or sponsor
celebratory parades around the USA to make plain both
their support for President-elect Obama, but also the
important issues that the incoming Administration must
address that have a direct impact on working people?

Mason received two responses to his suggestion, which
is what makes this commentary a 'good news/bad news'
piece. On the one hand, there were few takers on the
idea of nation-wide rallies. True to form, there were
no explicit objections raised to the suggestion;
instead, silence. The failure to respond is
illustrative of the crisis facing organized labor and
the challenge to overcome it. A movement that has over-
relied on lobbying and small meetings has strayed light
years from the notion that a movement is disruptive and
challenging. A social justice movement cannot always
play by the rules, but has to call upon its members and
supporters to make their voices heard - publicly and
defiantly. In fact, mobilizing our base(s) is often the
only weapon we have in order to win in the court of
public opinion.

The silence that Mason encountered represented
something far more dangerous than what at first glance
could appear to be timidity. Rather, the silence was
the result of years of defeat that have been
rationalized away. The decline of the union movement,
largely the result of mega-economic factors (for
example, globalization) combined with vicious political
assaults (such as the mass firings of the air traffic
controllers in 1981 by then President Ronald Reagan),
is as well the result of internal problems that inhibit
many leaders and members from understanding the global
economic and political battlefield on which we operate.
Thus, when Mason suggested a nation-wide mobilization,
the leaders' collective silence in effect said the
following: 'If we can even mobilize our members - which
many of us think that we cannot - we run the risk of
antagonizing political and business leaders. If we
antagonize them, we will not be invited into meetings
and we will be condemned to the wilderness.'

What Mason recognizes, along with some other key union
leaders and activists, is that the union movement was
condemned to the wilderness a very long time ago by
political and business leaders in the USA. The problem
that the union movement confronts is how to change the
terms of the discussion and ensure that the voices of
the voiceless are heard on a national stage and can
actually shift reality.

Though Mason was unsuccessful with his first proposal -
and here comes the good news - he won support for 'Plan
B': a union contingent in the 56th Presidential
Inaugural Parade on January 20th under the banner
'America's Workers United for Change.' What makes this
contingent of more than 250 workers of particular
interest, in addition to its historical significance,
is that it brings together union leaders and activists
from the AFL-CIO unions, Change to Win, the National
Education Association, and constituency groups
affiliated with the AFL-CIO. In other words, despite a
painful split the union movement suffered in 2005,
Mason was able to bridge the divide and help
representatives from both sides, plus the independent
NEA, join together to convey critical messages to a
nation-wide audience:

Workers, through their unions welcome the election of
President Obama.

Workers, through their unions, are demanding immediate
action by the incoming Administration to support an
economy that works for all; equitable economic
development through the creation of GOOD JOBS - GREEN
JOBS; and creating GREAT PUBLIC SCHOOLS as a critical
to enhancing the participation of American workers in
the global economy.

Workers, through their unions, will support the
Administration in taking on the task of reforming our
healthcare system to provide healthcare for all.

Workers, through their unions and community allies must
demonstrate that they will prepare to support the
administration in meeting the great challenges ahead,
but that they are unwilling to retreat in the face of
the onslaught of employer attacks being felt, be they
the auto loan issue - which is a de facto attack on
auto workers - or the threats in state governments
across the country to layoff workers and cut back on
public services.

In this sense, this contingent is not the equivalent of
a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. While
union members can look at this contingent with pride
and see themselves after years of being treated as both
disposable and invisible, this contingent is not mainly
about making people feel good. This contingent, more
than anything else, is a public statement. Just as the
workers at Chicago's Republic Windows made a statement
in their takeover of the plant when Bank of America
initially cancelled loans and denied the workers the
compensation they were due, this labor contingent is
putting the incoming Administration on notice: workers
in the USA have had enough, and are not prepared to
fall any deeper into despair; further retreat is simply
not an option.

[ Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher,
Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy
Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica
Forum and co- author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis
in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice
(University of California Press), which examines the
crisis of organized labor in the USA.]


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Chicana Poster exhibit

See the AFL-CIO blog

Che Guevara- a history

"Hatred is an element of struggle; relentless hatred of the enemy that impels us over and beyond the natural limitations of man and transforms us into effective, violent, selective, and cold killing machines. Our soldiers must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy."

Che Guevara
Message to the Tricontinental

The Resurrection of Che Guevara,

Samuel Farber

[from New Politics, vol. 7, no. 1 (new series), whole no. 25, Summer 1998]

Samuel Farber was born and raised in Cuba and has written extensively on that country. His book, Revolution and Reaction in Cuba, 1933- 1960, was published by Wesleyan University Press.
THIRTY YEARS AFTER HIS SUMMARY EXECUTION BY THE BOLIVIAN ARMY in which the C.I.A. was complicitous, Che Guevara has once more captured public attention. His image has been reproduced over and over again by a strange combination of people and institutions ranging from Argentina's right-wing President, Carlos Menem, who issued a commemorative stamp through the Cuban government, to advertising agencies selling trendy goods to Yuppies which led a cartoonist for the left-wing Mexican daily La Jornada to draw the image of Che Guevara with a Nike logo on his beret. This resurrection has been accompanied and in part caused by the publication of a number of books widely reviewed in newspapers and political and intellectual journals.*

Mystified and mythified since he was executed, Che has become a source of political inspiration for many who have only a vague notion of his political activities and ideas. With that in mind, this essay aims to reconstruct a political portrait of Che Guevara, drawing on the invaluable materials provided by these three works. I will rely primarily on Castañeda's book, the most politically astute and perhaps most widely reviewed of the three, with occasional references to Anderson's and Taibo's biographies.

Jorge G. Castañeda is a prominent Mexican writer with deep roots in his country's political Establishment (his recently deceased father was a one-time cabinet member). A former Communist of Althusserian persuasion, he has recently become well known for his advocacy of a social democratic political program for Latin America and a concomitant rejection of a revolutionary road for the region. This book, however, cannot be considered generally hostile to Che Guevara. As for the claim made by some reviewers that Castañeda accuses Fidel Castro of having abandoned Che Guevara to die in Bolivia, Castañeda is actually far more tentative. He suggests that as one hypothesis and, even while entertaining such a possibility, he explores in detail the powerful Soviet pressures curtailing Castro's freedom of action at the time.

Castañeda's critical tone is primarily directed to the revolutionary in Che. Thus, in the Prologue he comments on Che's "eternal refusal of ambivalence," and the tendency of the 60s generation to which he belonged to engage in "a wholesale rejection of life's contradictions," and to exclude in themselves the "very principles of contradictory feelings, of conflicting desires, of mutually incompatible political goals," in an era that was "writ in black and white." (pp. xv-xvi) Given these underlying assumptions and tone, it would be very difficult for the general reader to make a distinction between the generally justifiable criticisms that Castañeda makes of guerrilla warfare as a general revolutionary strategy, and such specific applications of it as in the Congo and Bolivia, on the one hand, and Marxist revolutionary politics and strategy in general terms, on the other. The reader is thus left with the implication, at least by default, that reform rather than revolution is the only viable, sensible alternative.


ERNESTO GUEVARA DE LA SERNA WAS BORN IN 1928 IN ARGENTINA, then not only the richest nation in Latin America but among the more affluent countries in the world. But his elite family was no stranger to financial difficulties due to Guevara senior's business failures. While no doubt assimilating the general political values of a left-wing household strongly affected by the Spanish Civil War, Guevara was not particularly political during his teenage years and early twenties. He was then more bohemian than leftist, a phenomenon most common at the time in the relatively affluent, European ambiance of Che's Argentina than in most other Latin American countries including Cuba. This early bohemianism was not entirely abandoned when Guevara became thoroughly politicized as he traveled through Latin America in the 50s. Significant traces of it remained that would color his subsequent political development.
By the time he left Guatemala in 1954 in the aftermath of the overthrow of the constitutional government of Jacobo Arbenz orchestrated by U.S. imperialism, Guevara was thoroughly politicized, accepting a Stalinist view of the world. This was true in both the generic sense that he had become a staunch supporter of the political model represented by the USSR of a repressive one-party state owning and controlling the economy without any democratic popular controls, independent unions, workers' or civil liberties, as well as in the narrow literal sense of his great admiration for Joseph Stalin. Thus even before his Guatemalan experience, when Guevara traveled through Costa Rica and witnessed first-hand the awesome and terrible power of the United Fruit company, he wrote to his aunt Beatriz telling her that he had sworn "before a picture of our, old much lamented comrade Stalin that I will not rest until I see these capitalist octopuses annihilated." Another letter to the same aunt was signed with the words "Stalin II." (p.62 and Anderson, p.167) More important was the fact that when Guevara visited the USSR in his capacity as one of the most important leaders of the victorious Cuban revolution in November of 1960, he insisted on depositing a floral tribute at Stalin's tomb even against the advice of the Cuban ambassador to the USSR.(p. 181) It is important to remember that this was more than four years after Khrushchev's revelations of Stalin's crimes.

While much of the Left associates Stalinism with its Popular Front period, Guevara's Stalinism was of a different kind, much closer to the more aggressive, collectivizing variety of the late 20s and early 30s. It is very revealing that Guevara strongly criticized Lenin for having introduced some capitalist forms of competition into the USSR in the 20s (the New Economic Policy).(Anderson, p.697) In this spirit, Guevara's collectivism was pure, unadulterated Stalinism. In March of 1960, he declared that "one has to constantly think on behalf of masses and not on behalf of individuals...It's criminal to think of individuals because the needs of the individual become completely weakened in the face of the needs of the human conglomeration." In August of 1964, Che postulated that the individual, "becomes happy to feel himself a cog in the wheel, a cog that has its own characteristics and is necessary though not indispensable, to the production process, a conscious cog, a cog that has its own motor, and that consciously tries to push itself harder and harder to carry to a happy conclusion one of the premises of the construction of socialism -- creating a sufficient quantity of consumer goods for the entire population."(Anderson, pp.470, 605)

Guevara's standards for what constituted a "sufficient quantity of consumer goods for the entire population" were plainly ascetic, consistent with his own exacting standards for himself and his family. This in turn was related to his puritanism whose effects could be checked and even reversed before the establishment of Cuba's one party state. Thus during the armed struggle against Batista, Che tried to regulate sexual relations among the men and women within his column, until he was forced to reconsider. Similarly, when his troops occupied the town of Sancti Spiritus in central Cuba in late 1958, he tried to ban alcohol and the lottery, but gave up in the face of the townspeople's resistance.(p.132) His was a Spartan view of the desirable collectivity, an egalitarian society led by the one-party state's dedicated and selfless revolutionaries with no place for democracy, individuality or material abundance which helps explain why the notion of moral incentives played such a key role in Guevara's social and political vision. Collective selflessness, sacrifice and dedication were his alternative to politically conscious, independent-minded, rational individuals who hammer out collective goals and programs through democratic discussion and voting; that is, majority rule with minority rights.

Guevara's personal and political asceticism necessarily led him to indifference, even contempt for the material needs and preoccupations of ordinary people. When he sharply criticized what he saw as the bourgeoisification of the Soviet bloc in the post-Stalin period, he didn't consider the degree to which the political and economic changes implemented by Khrushchev and his East European equivalents improved the daily lives of people precisely because those regimes were compelled to pay significantly more attention to the production and distribution of consumer goods than did his hero Stalin. Paco Ignacio Taibo's biography reveals that Guevara was much influenced by Gandhi's ideas before he adopted the Stalinist version of Marxism. This is highly suggestive and calls our attention to the elective affinity between Guevara's early Gandhiism and bohemianism, contemptuous of the "bourgeois" comforts and advances of modern civilization, and the particular form of ascetic Stalinism that he would later endorse and contribute to in his own right.*

GUEVARA'S STALINISM WAS ALSO MARKED BY A STRONG VOLUNTARISM so that his politics overlapped with the Maoist variety of Stalinism. Classical Marxism contains a virtual state of tension between the role of objective and subjective factors in historical development as in the well-known formulation in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte that "men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted by the past." This objective-subjective tension in Marx was abandoned by later tendencies claiming to be Marxist. For example, German Social Democracy elaborated a mechanical objectivism which minimized the subjective active element in history. At the other extreme, Maoism and Guevaraism have been notorious for their even more extreme voluntarism completely ignoring objective reality. Thus Guevara's economic program for Cuba involved highly centralized planning eliminating all market mechanisms and again principally relying on moral incentives, with no thought of workers' control (as distinct from participation controlled from above). None of this took any account of the specific characteristics of a Cuban economy which, although relatively advanced in comparison to the rest of Latin America, was still very far from a fully developed industrial economy. The existence of a considerable degree of petty trade was, in the last analysis, not a matter of a voluntaristic choice of governmental policy. Instead, a certain degree of mercantile activity was a reflection of material reality, i.e., a backward development of the still non-collective, petty commodity means of production, and similarly of the means of distribution. Marx and Engels had assumed that the abolition of the market as a principal regulator of economic activity would take place in the context of an extended factory system where production was already conducted on a social rather than an individual basis.

Guevara's strong voluntarism was also expressed in his emphasis on guerrilla warfare as the sole revolutionary strategy for Latin America. Interestingly, the early formulations of his guerrilla theory cautioned against attempting guerrilla warfare in Latin American countries with elected constitutional governments, no doubt in recognition of the Cuban experience where the guerrillas succeeded, in large measure, because they opposed an illegitimate government that had come to power through a military coup d'état carried out shortly before a general election that Batista was expected to lose. Che later dropped this qualification when he insisted that conditions were equally ripe for guerrilla warfare throughout Latin America. This was remarkably consistent with his inability to recognize specific political textures and historical conjunctures, evident early on in Cuba during the period of armed struggle against the Batista dictatorship. He could not understand, for example, and opposed Castro's very effective tactic of returning prisoners (minus their weapons) to the enemy,(p. 103) a tactic which made a great deal of sense when facing a mercenary and demoralized army with no social or political support in the population at large. Even more striking was Guevara's colossal political error proposing that the rebels rob banks to finance their operations. When that proposal was resisted by the urban leadership of the 26th of July Movement, Guevara took it as a sign of their social conservatism. (Castañeda, p. 129, Anderson, p.347) What he apparently did not realize (nor do any of his biographers) is that in the late 40s, not quite ten years earlier, Cuba had gone through a period of political gangsterism when many of the revolutionaries of another era had degenerated into plain gangsters, carrying out violent activities including bank robberies. Any involvement of the 50s revolutionaries in such activities would have brought back memories of that dark period and would have been extremely politically damaging, particularly since Fidel Castro himself had been associated with those groups in his student days thereby making it easy for the Batista-controlled press to argue that the revolutionaries were just bringing back the bad old days of political gangsterism.


DURING THE 50S GUEVARA SHARED THE GENERAL WORLDVIEW OF THE TRADITIONAL, pro-Moscow Latin American Communist parties but he never became a party member. Guevara was not partial to the Popular Front strategy and the devious political maneuvering it entailed and given his independent personality, he was not the type to be reduced to a cog in a bureaucratic party apparatus. However, as we shall see, Guevara did grow very close to the old Cuban Communists (Popular Socialist Party) once it changed its political line and decided to support the guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra in 1957. This closeness to the old Cuban Communists (and indirectly to Moscow) lasted through the early fateful years of the Cuban Revolution.
No topic has been subject to greater obfuscation and distortion than Guevara's break with the USSR in the mid-60s. The first inkling of his dissatisfaction with the USSR appeared during his previously cited visit to that country in November 1960. While that visit did not affect his overall admiration for the Soviet system, he was disturbed by the inequalities he witnessed in Moscow between the living standards of the leadership of the country and the rest of the population. Despite that, he rejected the critical remarks of some Cuban leaders who had also visited the USSR and Eastern Europe at the time.(pp, 180-181) It was between 1963 and 1965 that Che distanced himself from the USSR. Even in late 1962, he shared the Cuban leadership's disapproval of the way Khrushchev settled the October 1962 missile crisis without consulting Fidel Castro and his associates. A year later, on October 12, 1963, Che spoke at a meeting at his Ministry of Industries that went unreported in the Cuban press, possibly because of the harsh nature of his remarks. There, he analyzed the agricultural crisis in the USSR and squarely blamed it on the existence of private plots, decentralization, material incentives, and financial self-management.(p. 255) It is not known whether Guevara was then aware of the fairly well known fact that private plots had much greater productivity than collective or state farms. (Why people working in collective and state farms in an authoritarian Party/State were at best apathetic, and how democracy and workers' control could have resolved the problem of low productivity was a question Che could not address given his Stalinist ideology.)

During the next 18 months, as Che was increasingly involved in assisting revolutionary movements throughout the world, he became more critical of the USSR's subordination of those movements to other foreign policy concerns, including is détente with the U.S. By 1964, it had also become clear that the USSR was, with some success, pressuring the Cuban government to reduce its support of revolutionary movements, particularly in Latin America, and to concentrate on the production of sugar, thereby fulfilling its contemplated role in the "socialist" bloc's division of labor. After prolonged negotiations, Cuba and the USSR signed a long-term economic agreement on February 17, 1965. The Cubans were particularly unhappy with the high prices the Russians charged them for Soviet machinery and equipment. A week later, Che made a speech in Algiers that marked a definitive break with the USSR. As he then put it:

The development of those countries now entering the path of liberation must be paid for by the Socialist countries....We must not talk any more of a mutually advantageous trade based on prices which the law of value...imposes on backward countries. What is the meaning of "mutual advantage" when [some countries] sell at world prices the raw materials that cost backward countries infinite sweat and suffering, while they buy at world market prices the machines produced in large, mechanized factories...? If we establish this sort of relations between the two groups of nations, we must agree that the Socialist countries are, to a certain extent, accomplices of imperial exploitation...and of the immoral nature of this exchange. The Socialist countries have a moral duty to cease their tacit complicity with the exploiting countries of the West.(p. 291)
With this speech, Guevara not only burned his bridges with the USSR, but also called into question his leadership role in Cuba. It was now inevitable that Che would resign from the Cuban government and would dedicate himself to fomenting guerrilla warfare abroad, albeit with Fidel's material support. His future political course would further distance him from the USSR and the pro-Moscow Communist parties in Latin America.

While Guevara's critique represented a sharp break with the USSR and its supporting parties, there is absolutely nothing here that suggests a break with his ideologically well-entrenched Stalinism. Nothing in Che's writings, actions or speeches suggests that he ever questioned or criticized the one-party state and the complete absence of democracy in any Communist country; nor can one find anything reflective of regret or self-doubt about his own role in stamping out even early residual forms of democracy within the Cuban revolutionary process. In light of this, it is perverse to argue that one should applaud Guevara's more vigorous and militant politics, when his efforts were directed to the establishment of a system completely opposed to democracy and consequently to popular rule.


THE RECENT CHE GUEVARA HISTORIOGRAPHY HAS GREATLY ILLUMINATED HIS ROLE in the Cuban revolutionary process, including his record in power. As noted earlier, Che Guevara was a close ally of the old Cuban Communists (Popular Socialist Party) during the crucial years of the development and consolidation of Cuba's Communist system. As Castañeda aptly points out in describing Che's relations with the PSP, "he shared their views completely for almost four years."(p. 154) This relationship went back to the Sierra Maestra days. Soon after the PSP decided to support the guerrilla insurgency in 1957, it established a close relationship with Che so that when he founded his first school for the political instruction of cadres in the Sierra Maestra, Che asked the PSP to send him its first instructor. The PSP complied and sent him Pablo Ribalta, a young but experienced black Cuban party militant who would, years later, become Cuba's Ambassador to Tanzania and thus Che's principal conduit to Havana when Guevara was engaged in guerrilla warfare in the Congo.(pp. 116-117, Anderson, pp. 296-297)
Che's connection with Ribalta was an early instance of what would soon become a pro-PSP and pro-Soviet camp within the 26th of July Movement. This wing was led by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro's younger brother Raul, a former member of the PSP's youth wing in the 50s. Beginning in 1957, this pro-Communist wing would repeatedly clash with other political tendencies within the 26th of July Movement and with other revolutionary groups. Paco Ignacio Taibo's book is the only one that faithfully and accurately conveys the nature of the contending forces within the revolutionary camp. Influenced by his own political past, Castañeda fails to take proper note of the role played by non-Communist revolutionaries. Anderson's treatment is nothing short of disgraceful. He depicts all revolutionaries unsympathetic to the Communists as right-wingers, leading to the absurdity of describing radio commentator Jose Pardo Llada as a rightist at the time he accompanied Che on a world tour in the summer of 1959.(Anderson, p.426) Pardo Llada was then an unconditional supporter of the Castro government and had been a left-wing, Peronista-type nationalist for a long time.

Taibo describes three tendencies within the camp of the Revolution a hundred days after the overthrow of Batista's government. A right wing reinforced by the moderate sectors of the government, in some cases connected with sectors of the agrarian oligarchy; a self-proclaimed socialist wing led by Raul Castro and Che Guevara sympathetic to the PSP; and a third left-wing sector represented by the mostly urban leading cadres such as Carlos Franqui, Faustino Perez, Marcelo Fernandez and Enrique Oltuski, who were relatively independent of Fidel Castro and combined their anti-imperialism with a strong critique of the Communists, who they considered conservative and sectarian.(Taibo, p.275) An earlier representative of this leftist, non-Communist revolutionary wing was René Ramos Latour ("Daniel"), the National Coordinator of the 26th of July Movement, who was killed in action and did not survive to witness the triumph of the revolution. In a letter to "Daniel" dated December 14, 1957, which Che himself would later describe as "rather idiotic," without explaining what was idiotic about it, Che proclaimed "that because of my ideological training I am one of those who believe that the solution to this world's problems is to be found behind the so-called Iron Curtain." In the same letter, Che revealingly notes that he "always viewed Fidel as a genuine leader of the bourgeois Left, though his character is enriched by personal qualities of extraordinary brilliance which raise him far above his class. It is in that spirit that I joined the struggle; honestly without any hope of going beyond the country's liberation, ready to leave when the conditions of the struggle would shift toward the right (toward what you represent)..."(p.109) Ramos Latour responded by refuting Che's accusation of rightism, adding that salvation was not to be found behind the Iron Curtain and criticized Guevara for believing that "the solution to our ills lies in liberating ourselves from a noxious Yankee domination, by means of a no less noxious Soviet domination."(p.111)

Fidel Castro himself played an ambiguous role in this struggle of tendencies until he ended these debates when he, along with Che and Raul, fatefully supported the old Communists at the critically important trade union congress in the fall of 1959. That Congress signified the beginning of the end of trade union freedom and independence in Cuba. The Castro brothers and Guevara gave the old Communists the power and influence they had failed to win at the ballot box earlier that year. The exact role played by Castro before the fall of 1959 remains unclear to this day. For example, it has recently been revealed that the first organizational steps to establish the Cuban state security organs were taken just two weeks after the revolutionary victory on January 1, 1959. These initial efforts were carried out during the early months of 1959 with the participation of Raul Castro, Che Guevara, the head of the PSP's Party Military Committee and a number of Spanish Communist agents of the Soviet KGB.1 Fidel Castro, however, does not appear to have been present at any of these early intelligence gatherings. Was this a deliberate tactical move to insure his plausible deniability while he fully supported what was going on? Or was Fidel refraining from direct participation in order to retain his freedom of action vis-à-vis both the Americans and the Russians? Is it conceivable that this early collaboration with the KGB was carried out behind his back?

Since, for several years, Che was a prominent member of a group holding state power, he shares responsibility for the repressive record of that regime, particularly when he was allied with those who energetically pressed the Cuban revolutionary government to adopt the Soviet model. Guevara was personally responsible for supervising many of these repressive activities. He was the head of La Cabaña military fortress where several hundred executions were carried out in the early months of 1959. While Castañeda is correct in pointing out that innocent people were not executed there in any large or significant numbers, (pp.143-144) it cannot be ruled out that there were innocent people whose execution could have been avoided had Che been a revolutionary with different politics. It is also possible that some Batistianos may have suffered punishments quite disproportionate to the offenses with which they were properly charged. This is an area which requires additional investigation, particularly in the light of recurring charges by those who claim to have witnessed Guevara's cruelty at La Cabaña.2

Perhaps arguments could be made to justify, or at least to provide extenuating circumstances, for his behavior at La Cabaña. No legitimate arguments can be made to defend Che's principal role in setting up Cuba's first labor camp in the Guanahacabibes region in western Cuba in 1960-1961, to confine people who had committed no crime punishable by law, revolutionary or otherwise. Che defended that initiative with his usual frankness:

[We] only send to Guanahacabibes those doubtful cases where we are not sure people should go to jail. I believe that people who should go to jail should go to jail anyway. Whether long-standing militants or whatever, they should go to jail. We send to Guanahacabibes those people who should not go to jail, people who have committed crimes against revolutionary morals, to a greater or lesser degree, along with simultaneous sanctions like being deprived of their posts, and in other cases not those sanctions, but rather to be reeducated through labor. It is hard labor, not brute labor, rather the working conditions are harsh but they are not brutal...(p.178)
Clearly, Che Guevara played a key role in inaugurating a tradition of arbitrary administrative, non-judicial detentions, later used in the UMAP camps for the confinement of dissidents and social "deviants": homosexuals, Jehovahs Witnesses, practitioners of secret Afro-Cuban religions such as Abakua, and non-political rebels. In the 80s and 90s this non-judicial, forced confinement was also applied to AIDS victims.


FOR MANY, CHE GUEVARA IS AN APPEALING FIGURE. Some know full well what Guevaraism implies and are attracted to it for that very reason, as has been the case with diverse groups and individuals historically attracted to various forms of Stalinist politics. I am, however, much more concerned with those, particularly among the young, who realize that capitalist society is manifestly exploitive and unjust and want to do something to change it. Very few of them know much about Che Guevara's ideology and less about his history. Their illusions are reinforced by U.S. foreign policy and its criminal blockade against Cuba.
There are attractive aspects of Che Guevara. He was a man who gave up the perquisites of political power to engage in guerrilla warfare campaigns whose success was far from assured or even likely. In those highly inhospitable surroundings, his behavior was indeed courageous if not heroic. His personal integrity was unquestionable, especially as compared to Fidel Castro. Moreover, Che was a principled egalitarian who would even take his wife to task for using his official car for personal errands. (Castañeda pp. 235-236) But he was also arrogant and frequently humiliated those who were his intellectual inferiors. (p.120, Anderson, p.567) As I suggested earlier, his "bohemian" disdain for ordinary material comforts made him insensitive to the material concerns of ordinary people.

In the last analysis, however, the political question remains: was Che Guevara a friend or foe of emancipatory, liberatory politics? The historical record is clear; Guevaraism is incompatible with the struggle to build an egalitarian and democratic society, a society in which working people decide their own fate without reliance on "well-intentioned saviors."


* Jorge G. Castañeda, Companero. The Life and Death of Che Guevara, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997, Jon Lee Anderson, Che Guevara. A Revolutionary Life, New York: Grove Press, 1997, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Guevara. Also Known as Che, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997. return

* Paco Ignacio Taibo II, p. 11. For a discussion of the social and political implications of Gandhi's ideas see Samuel Farber, "Violence and Material Class Interests: Fanon and Gandhi," Journal of Asian and African Studies, vol. xvi, nos. 3-4 (1981). return

Castañeda, p. 146. See also the more extensive documentation of this issue presented by Alexsandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali on the basis of previously secret soviet archives in One Hell Of A Gamble. Khruschev, Castro and Kennedy. 1958-1964, New York: W. W. Norton and Company, p. 12. return

See, for example, the letter to the Editor of Pierre San Martin in El Nuevo Herald (Miami), December 28, 1997. return

Contents of No. 25

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