The Tragic Quest for Education by Cindy Sheehan


What follows is a piece by Cindy Sheehan which relates to feelings that many young US students feel, of anger at the commodification of education in a country that always has money to start wars around the world. It is from Ray O’ Light Newsletter #96:

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”
—Victor Hugo

Article 26 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “education is a right.” While public education from K-12 is technically “free” in the United States, access to safe education of an acceptable “well-rounded” quality is essentially disappearing.

Article 26 also declares that: “Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” Of course many elementary, middle, and high schools here in the US are being closed due to budgetary concerns and as I stated before, quality public education is hard to find while colleges and universities in this nation are not even close to being “equally accessible.”

Most nations around this world have free, or highly subsidized universities, including Cuba (depicted as “evil” by the US Empire) which has a higher literacy rate than the US! Even the public colleges in the US are becoming increasingly over-priced and with good jobs that have fair wages and decent benefits also disappearing, many of our young people are being forced to weigh the cost of education with will it be realistically “worth it?”

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I have a tale of two young Americans from the working-class who dreamed of obtaining a University degree.

The first was a young man who always felt great responsibility to “do the right thing.” His parents sent him to Catholic School from K-8 and he was an Eagle Scout. After graduating around the middle of his class in high school, he studied Theater Arts at a local community college for three years before he was able to complete his AA degree. He worked full-time at a local department store and was active in his church whenever he had the time.

In his final semester of courses at the community college, an Army recruiter preyed upon his trusting nature at a college “Job Fair.” Long story short, the young man was promised a college education, paid for with veteran’s benefits and he enlisted in the Army in 2000 and was murdered in the illegal and immoral war in Iraq on April 04, 2004. What the slimy Army recruiter failed to tell this young man (along with many other things) was that less than 20% of veterans are able to access their college benefits — either because they die, are wounded, or just find themselves unable to navigate the (intentionally?) complicated VA system.

Our other young working-class American is a woman who did well in high school and on her SATs, but her family couldn’t afford to send her straight to university and she did not do well enough for many scholarships.

She struggled in community college because she also had to work full-time as a food server to make ends meet. She matriculated to a university after spending about eight years at community college and within 4 years of that, she had completed not only her B.A., but obtained an M.A. as well. The young lady did not join the military to do this, but she now has a lifelong debt of $50k. After all her hard work, what was her reward? She now works at two bars as a bartender. She jokes wryly, “I needed a Master’s degree to tend bar in San Francisco.”

The above examples come from my own family, my son Casey and my daughter Carly. Of course, if university were free here in the US where would the military get its cannon fodder and where would the banks get their debt slaves?

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Why is it that the children of the “99%” have to go into the military or onerous debt to obtain what most people/governments of the world consider a “human right?” A country that sends all good jobs with decent pay and benefits overseas, and fails to properly educate all of its young people cannot sustain itself for long: Neither can the same country which places murder for profit in many other countries over basic human rights for its own citizens.

Another aspect of this unattainability of education that is free and high quality for everyone is that universities which were once considered to be hotbeds of leftwing organizing have basically gone silent on especially the issues of war and an out-of-control empire. I have thought long about this and by talking to my own children and other young people, the students who are in the working, or poor classes, are struggling just to keep their heads above water, much less join in protests and other principled actions.

Of course, the children of the ruling-class or bourgeoisie profit off of empire and other exploitation, so we can’t expect many of them to join us in the struggles for peace and equality.

I recognize education as a human right and I am in solidarity with the struggle. But should this access to education in our own country “trump” (sorry, no pun intended) the right to peace and to be free from war and occupation in the 180 plus countries around the world that the US infests and infects with its military? Besides saving countless numbers of lives around the world, the end of empire would also fund any social program that would help the people who live in the United States; and the world could be on a path to true healing and very needed worker solidarity.

Especially in an election year, the demand for an end to this leprous empire must accompany any demands for justice here in the US. I believe that we must be internationalists in our approach to these demands to have any credibility or gravitas in our movements.

On Trotskyites and Revisionists

I had originally intended to write a piece explaining how Trotskyism, which came into existance with the so-called “Fourth International” under a pretext of the “failures” of “Stalinism”, with some particularly ironic justifications (that the Soviet Union was not spreading revolution around the world fast enough to please Trotsky, when Trotskyism has failed to launch a single revolution anywhere in the world at any time; and that the Soviet Union under Stalin would not fight Nazi Germany), has over time, if the reader will pardon the expression, degenerated. I wanted to discuss how Trotskyites, in becoming increasingly “unorthodox” with their theoretical positions, became even “worse” than they had been before.

But as I started to write, I found myself becoming constantly distracted by asking myself what the relevance of complaining about Trotskyites was. Trotskyism has long been exposed as a pseudo-revolutionary trend to convinced Marxist-Leninists, and it cannot be said to hold tremendous appeal to outsiders either: It may be true that Trotskyism is still a relative “force” on the left in imperialist countries (it is completely insignificant in semi-colonial countries), but even in the United States or Canada, the “official” revisionist “Marxist-Leninist” parties are not exactly concerned with the Trotskyites, and not due to some sort of alliance. Britain can be argued to be an exception (mostly on the force of England and not the other countries), but even here I would argue that Morning Star and the CPB mean as much or more than any Trot paper or party still standing.

Why do we spend so much time “exposing” the Trotskyites if there is no one to expose them to? The Trotskyites simply cannot build success atop the failure of 20th century Marxism-Leninism as they had hoped, and therefore do not present an immediate practical obstacle for us. Perhaps we believe we are going to convert young Trotskyites over to “the correct line”, but I claim that this too is a misguided instinct: The aforementioned problem of 21st century Trotskyism being so “unorthodox” means that we have less and less common ground on which to debate on a theoretical level. Many young Trotskyites sound more like Kautsky or Ebert than Trotsky. Therefore, debating Trotskyites specifically is no longer meaningfully different from debating non-Marxist-Leninists in general. “Trotskyism” is increasingly a trend which lacks a recognisable Marxist or Leninist character in the eyes even of the “orthodox” Trotskyites of yesteryear (who rightly criticise the younger generation as “fakes”), and so our fixation with them (as funny as it may be on Worker’s Spatula) marks us as relics of a bygone era.

Current affairs in the eyes of old Trotskyites and Stalinists alike.

Who then is our greatest enemy today? We must be totally modest and admit that we have lost the Soviet Union, China, and Albania, so we are in a position much like that before the October Revolution, and as Lenin taught, in such a case our struggle ought primarily to be one against trends within our movement which are holding back the goal of socialism. Therefore I will say that I understand why so many English-speaking Marxist-Leninists think they ought to be attacking Trotskyites first. But for the reasons previously mentioned, I think this is redundant.

If our ideological struggle is not to be waged primarily against the Trotskyites, then is our primary target the “modern revisionists”? I am indeed an “anti-revisionist” Marxist-Leninist, and I hold that Khrushchev was an objective traitor, both due to the Khrushchev era’s totally incorrect foreign policy, and due to his deconstruction of the dictatorship of the proletariat (which paved the way for “social imperialism”). The “modern revisionists” still control several actual sovereign states around the world. Should we then focus our energy on attacking, for example, Cuba or North Korea? For practical more than theoretical reasons, I would also answer this in the negative.

Firstly, without the revisionist Soviet Union behind them, the distinction between those of us who support socialist states that no longer exist and those who support no-longer socialist states that no longer exist is similarly losing its status as a question of the day. The CPB may not be a revolutionary party, but it’s hardly encouraging any specific counter-revolution such that we should be focusing energy on them. Of course, there is great importance to the question of “revisionism” (otherwise simply having the hammer and sickle hanging on the wall would be enough for us to believe the revolution was proceeding at pace, what with the PRC and all), but it is ultra-left to consider this the primary question, and this was the essence of the error of the “Three Worlds Theory”, whereby the desire to show one’s “purity” against the Soviet revisionists led to de facto alliances with imperialism (headed by US imperialism).

Perhaps condemnation of various revisionist states made some kind of sense when we “anti-revisionists” had China or Albania “on our side” (though I still claim that not only the Three Worlds Theory, but some of Albania’s foreign policy represented an ultra-left fixation on revisionism to the exclusion of the question of imperialism). But today, if “all we have” is North Korea or Cuba, no matter what is wrong with them, we must at least defend them against imperialism (headed by US imperialism). I cannot say that in any country where my blog is being read that North Korea or Cuba are “holding the revolution back”.

Nor is it their “tankie” supporters, as liberals, Trotskyites, and anarchists like to suppose.

But again, it is also not the Trotskyites (who attack North Korea and Brezhnev and Stalin and Enver Hoxha and Mao equally, while remaining suspiciously soft on figures like Morsi).

What is holding us back is, of course, us, just as it was in Lenin’s day. Again, we have nothing in our hands. We have no Soviet Union, we have no China, we have no Albania, we have no “red base area” that fits the standards of genuine revolutionary socialists. Our primary goal is to build a new socialist state, and it’s our practice which prevents us from accomplishing this important task.

Thanks to various errors which we made, allowing our enemies to outmanoeuvre us, we lost the Cold War, and we are back to “square one”.

So what is “square one”? Well, we know what we need. We need to rebuild an international, connecting genuine revolutionary parties. Efforts towards building internationalist soldarity and coordinated action are ongoing within ICOR (which I consider the best model for how to proceed as internationalists at present). Unfortunately, ICOR, or indeed either of the two organisations named ICMLPO, have no member organisation in Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. The US is home to the ROL, which by its own admission is small and, although it has excellent theoretical output, is unable to insert itself into day to day politics in that country as of yet. This is indeed the case for most sympathetic Marxist-Leninists in imperialist countries: Isolated, writing good theory, with little to no practice, itself of poor quality (and you know what we say about quantity and quality…)

As for the ICOR organisations in semi-colonial countries, while many of them are relatively stronger and better at day to day politics, they are as yet unable to show the way forward on a world scale, and many of them are still as unconnected to each other as other admirable organisations in those same countries which lack ICOR or some other “international organisation”. The state of Marxism-Leninism in the world, therefore, is something like the state of Marxism-Leninism in imperialist countries: Divided and isolated, no matter how good it is in theory.

If we want new Octobers, our best bet is to return to the theory and practice of Comrade Lenin and the Third International. We have to rebuild a genuine revolutionary international communist movement, and finally build…

…the Fourth International.

International Workers’ Day 2016

Some music to listen to on your way to the march.

From Kurdistan, a song about May 1st:

The greatest song ever composed in the Russian language:

The Internationale, from Japan:

A more idiosyncratic rendition of the Internationale, From Tuva:

One of the most classic struggle songs from Turkey:

And what would May 1st be without Paul Robeson?

Happy May 1st, comrades!

CASEY’S GIFT (Cindy Returns to Cuba) by Cindy Sheehan

Cindy Sheehan is well known among US leftists with whom I’m in touch. She is also a sister in our common struggle and is herself one of the US leftists for whom I have the most respect. Through her work, she has shown how even as the US (North) is the chief oppressor nation on Earth today, even “its own” people are made to suffer in pursuit of profits. When her son was cut down in a senseless war, rather than blame an individual for pulling a trigger or a faraway nation living under occupation, she bravely turned her life into a crusade against the US ruling class and its profiteering off of its imperialist wars. When the Bush administration came to a close, rather than endorse the system with a new face, she risked great public humiliation by speaking truth to power and continuing to expose the entire US ruling class as imperialists and warmongers, not merely the Bush family and its most obvious friends.

Cindy Sheehan is to be honoured this year with the Eugene V. Debs Award. She, like Eugene Debs, is a committed socialist and internationalist whose steadfast opposition to warmongering and belief in peace between peoples has led her to be attacked as a traitor to the US. But around the world, those who know her know she is the honour of her people, and we share with her our hope for a future of peace and common prosperity for all humanity:

I hope that US readers, who have been the target of much of my writing of late, will take an example from Sister Cindy’s struggle and her internationalist spirit, particularly today, on International Workers’ Day. Here is her latest piece, in which she links her personal loss with the international struggle for justice and even manages to inspire hope in these dark times. So please read, and if you feel moved to do so, donate:

Cindy Sheehan with Casey’s gift in Holguín, Cuba

When my son Casey was a newly formed solider, fresh out of boot camp, he was stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas.

The first time he came home to visit, he gifted me with a golden necklace which looked like a shamrock and had a small diamond in the center. On the back it said, “For Mom, With Love.” I loved it immediately and loved the gesture, but I said, “Casey, you can’t afford to spend this much money on me,” and I sent it back to the jewelry store in Killeen, Tx and told them to return his money.

Casey came home that Christmas and re-gave me that necklace and said, “Mom, you have to take it, it’s paid for now.”

After that dear, dear boy was killed in Iraq on April 04, 2004, and I became a noted antiwar activist, I wore the piece all over the world, and found myself fingering it for comfort more than once. In fact, once during a protest in Washington, DC, my sister was holding it for me and it fell from her purse. We were both distraught, but she found it hanging precariously from a subway grate on the sidewalk.

Subsequently, in my travels, I met the families of the “Cuban 5.” Briefly, the Cuban 5 were five anti-terrorist campaigners who lived in Florida and infiltrated counter-revolutionary groups there which had caused Cuba much pain and loss of life. The “5” were captured and send to US prisons for long and unjust prison terms.

To make a long story short, after my first trip to Cuba, at the beginning of 2007, I fell in love with the country and its beautiful and strong people. Surprise! It wasn’t the evil land of hopelessness and deprivation I had been (mis)taught about my entire life. I became very involved in the “Free the Cuban 5” movement and in November of 2011, I went to Holguin, Cuba to participate in an international conference: I met people there from Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Sweden and all over Latin America.

Magali, Cindy, and Mirtha

There, I spoke at a rally and march on November 19th (which is my other son, Andy’s birthday) and, there in the front row, were the mothers of Fernando Gonzales and Antonio Guerrero and other various family members of the 5. I often feel ashamed of the United States and it’s murderous callous way, but the imprisonment of the Cuban 5 and what it did to their families and the almost complete ignorance of the case in the states was especially frustrating to me at that moment.

When I was speaking at the rally, I removed my “most precious” possession (the necklace Casey gave me) and called Fernando’s mother, Magali Llort and Antonio’s mother, Mirtha Rodriguez to the platform. I presented them with the necklace my son had given me as a pledge to them that I would do everything I could to help their sons return to Cuba to be with their families and community. We were all in tears and Mirtha and Magali pledged to me that when their sons (and the others) returned to Cuba, I would get my necklace back.

So for the next two years, I did work hard: among other events, I went to Ireland (both Northern Ireland and the Republic), Sweden, Canada, (back to Cuba), and Washington, DC. I spoke to activists and legislators; I protested in front of US Embassies and consulates; I wrote articles and had many shows devoted to The 5 on Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox.

The Cuban 5 were arrested in September of 1998, and two of them finished their sentences in 2011 and the beginning of 2014, respectively; and the other three had varying degrees of time (up to 60 years) left to serve.

I awakened on the morning of December 17, 2014, to joyfully discover that in a prisoner trade, the other three had been released back to Cuba. It was one of the best Christmas presents I have received since my son was killed. Of course, I wasn’t the only one around the world who felt that way.

As to the thawing of Cuban/American relations, I remain skeptical of US intentions, but if there ever were a people who have felt the oppression of the US and undermining of its revolution, it is certainly the Cuban people. However, as promised, I am returning to my home away from home this next week to receive my necklace back on Mother’s Day and to celebrate with my Cuban family.

Love never dies. The families of the Cuban 5 never gave up on their quest for justice, and I will never give up on my family’s drive to see US war criminals held accountable. This is not about hate, it’s about the love we have for our sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters. It’s about the love we have for each other!

It has taken over two years for me to return for my necklace, because I have been taking care of my sister who has stage 4 breast cancer. We are now at a point where it is possible for me to travel to Cuba, but very expensive to do so.

The Cuban Friendship Society is hosting me in Cuba, but my travel to and from Miami is an expense that is hard for me to afford at present. Donations to Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox have tanked in this election year, and I am my sister’s financial caregiver, also.

I will provide photos and reports about my trip.

If you can donate to Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox at this time, I would certainly appreciate it!

¡Muchas gracias!

Click to donate!