The National Question and Actually Existing Socialism

As the English-speaking world in general lacks a strong anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist trend, discussions of the Soviet Union and other actually existing socialist states tend to be vulgarised into two main trends, one of uncritical defence and the other of “uncritical criticism”. I presume those actually reading this already understand the dangers of the latter trend: if we assume the Trotskyite position that more or less the entire history of 20th century socialism can be summed up as a counter-revolutionary trend of “Stalinism”, we are left with the assumption that “real revolutionaries”… never actually take part in revolutions. If Marxism cannot actually produce a blueprint (no matter how flawed) for actual revolution*, then it makes more sense to choose (as many leftists do) to abandon Marxism entirely.

The other trend assumes that the revolutions carried out in the Russian Empire, Cuba, China, Albania, etc. were positive, and is problematic for a totally separate reason. It is cultish and unscientific to be unable to provide some sort of explanation for what went wrong. The usual explanation, that the imperialist powers spared no effort to destroy these states, is itself useless: this fact was known from the beginning, and Lenin was firm in opposing such a simplistic outline for international struggle as “know that the imperialists are your enemies”. He would not have advocated a fiercer ideological, political, and cultural struggle AFTER the revolution if the internal problems of the new socialist state were irrelevant, paling in comparison to the question of defence from imperialist powers (a logic which is manifested concretely in the “military first” policy of the DPRK revisionists).

The source of this mistaken approach to struggle is in an undialectical approach to the socialist state as a stage or process in history: proponents of this worldview tend to understand the socialist state as a completely liberated zone, liberated not only from the direct control of imperialist finance capital, but liberated from all internal contradictions inherited from thousands of years of human history:

The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.
–Karl Marx

One such contradiction, that I am particularly concerned with, is the national question. This is not to downplay the importance of other contradictions (such as those between rural and urban populations, intellectuals and the rest of the society, the different levels of the party, the party and the non-party masses, contradictions of gender, etc.), but simply to emphasise a contradiction which finds itself in the centre of discussion even today, from China to Syria to the United Kingdom.

The source of national contradictions

“Nations” as we know them are a product of capitalist modernity. In pre-capitalist society, most of the features we associate with nationhood today did not have the same character they have now. The movement of “nationalism” and “nation-states” co-occurs with the penetration of capitalism into a region, because the populations in these regions suddenly find that their market had grown, and with it, forms of communication changed and expanded.

To give a concrete example, the Basques had long been differentiated within the Spanish state by their language and culture, but for most Basques up until a certain stage of historical development, these features of their culture had not been under any threat. Indeed, it is frequently observed that the Basques were relatively priveleged within Spain up until a certain point, speaking their own language among themselves and learning Spanish as a trade language which they used very much to their advantage, much as the Dutch relate to the English-speaking world today, with the side fact that they shared nominal fealty to the same monarch as the Spanish-speakers who, quite frankly, they looked down on.

But as capitalism became more and more the dominant mode of production within the Spanish state, mass communication became more and more a feature of everyday life, and an official language ideology took shape that went beyond mere concerns about a “Lingua Franca”. The growing Spanish bourgeoisie began to conceive of its territory as an economic and social unit, to which groups like the Basques posed a problem: the Spanish bourgeoisie began to understand the link between social and economic belonging, and the existence of minority social relations became particularly inefficient. The Basque bourgeoisie likewise grew conscious of this trend, and the Basque nationalist movement began to take shape.

For the proletariats of these societies, they found themselves increasingly hostage to the economic demands of capitalist modernity, which as a more “efficient” form of class society also represented a more efficient form of exploitation. The general trend of human society began to tear them from their villages, cast them into degraded wage labour, and they became increasingly aware of their lack of control of their own lives. Worse still, the Spanish state’s demands (increasingly authoritarian as the 20th century continued) included that they give up their own language, which the Basque bourgeoisie sought to protect (for selfish reasons rather than out of concern for the average Basque worker, obviously). Inside these national formations, class contradictions also grew sharper, and from this we begin to see the emergence of a Basque nationalist “left”, which rather than being concerned with Basque identity for the sake of the maximal exploiting power of the Basque bourgeoisie, was concerned with the Basque people at large, and in solidarity with other peoples facing similar conditions.

Lenin and Stalin’s answer to the national question

The multi-national Russian Empire was no exception to this international trend. Lenin’s Bolshevik party made an effort to form local communist organisations, who worked tactically with various national elements against the Tsarist autocracy. Stalin himself was one of the first leading militants of the Baku Bolsheviks and a personal friend of Mehmet Emin Resulzade, the bourgeois Azerbaijani nationalist who worked with the Bolsheviks not only past the February Revolution, but years after the October Revolution, until he finally came into such sharp conflict with the Bolsheviks that he exiled.

Under Lenin’s leadership, local communist parties were formed for each of the republics, in which local language was emphasised and local culture given a new lease on life, being raised to a higher stage of development by progressive elements living in each of the republics. Small minority groups within these republics were given education in their own languages, many of which were converted into systematic written languages for the first time by the communist leadership.

It was Lenin’s position that one must err on the side of support for the peoples of smaller, poorer. weaker nations against larger, hegemonic nations because, in practice, the larger and more powerful nations have achieved such great privilege in practice. It must here be emphasised that in contrast to today’s revisionists, Lenin and Stalin understood the “nation” as a community of people, with, yes, an associated country. But revisionists have so totally accepted the bourgeois logic of nation-statism that they do not actually consider populations and classes when analysing international relations, but only the nominal leadership of the state. Even where Comrade Stalin warns against the dangers of dealing with minority nationalities in terms of uniting with their reactionary bourgeois elements on the grounds that they are “national”, he emphasises the right to their own language of the masses of such groups that are minorities in a larger geographic unit, and the right of such peoples to even maintain reactionary cultural traditions (though encouraging communists to agitate against these, Stalin was quite firm against the idea of a quasi-colonialist approach of having a larger nation impose its own cultural ideas on minorities by force).

The Stalin era involved, of course, errors on this and other issues. But it is extremely important to emphasise, at least in public and towards Brezhnevite, Titoite, Khrushchevite, Trotskyite, etc. trends that Stalin, compared to almost every other old Bolshevik, was extremely close to Lenin in his commitment to upholding a correct line on the national question within an actually existing socialist society (in addition to the rich legacy of anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism in fighting for national liberation of oppressed people around the world). It was Stalin who emphasised the importance of full national equality within the Soviet Union, including the right to secession, culminating in the particular question of how to deal with the United Nations, wherein the Stalin era produced the conclusion that the various national republics of the Soviet Union had a right to separate UN membership. As a result, despite the heavy toll of the post-Stalin era, the Soviet Union maintained its fundamentally federal character until the bitter end.

Russification

Over the course of the history of the Soviet Union, the revisionists embraced more and more old modes of production, domination, etc. which had never really left the society so much as they had been held down momentarily by the initial construction of a dictatorship of the proletariat. Together with this came more and more problems of how to divide the world, or the so-called “socialist world” (although this character was increasingly lost over the course of various internal and external losses), much as this problem presented itself in capitalist society. Thus, despite the association in the English world of the phrase “state capitalism” with Trotskyist trends, I maintain, alongside Hoxha and Mao, that there is some accuracy to the application of this theoretical label to the Soviet Union (as there was in Yugoslavia even earlier). Indeed, we should not balk at the label itself, as Lenin understood it as an appropriate label for the Soviet Union’s transition from its tsar-era economic existence into the post-October era. Lenin understood that capitalism is not “abolished” in one fell swoop, but “withers away”. So long as capitalism was the dominant world system, it was likely that this process of withering might be reversed, as it was under Khrushchev (and indeed, this was Khrushchev’s real economic sin: not establishing something which bore resemblance to capitalism in the Soviet Union, which was inevitable to some extent, but in encouraging more and more division of labour, etc. as some manifestation of “higher” socialism!).

Over the course of the post-Stalin era, this reversal culminated in the conversion of the Soviet Union from within into something very akin to a capitalist society, with its own mass unemployment and a bureaucracy which acted as a neo-capitalist class. The treasonous bureaucracy had no interest in linguistic, cultural, economic, or political equality within the Soviet Union, or in sovereignty of “foreign” nations (consider Brezhnev’s doctrine of “limited sovereignty”), because it had become a new imperialist power.

Mao and Stalin

We must avoid economic detemrinism, however. Capitalism’s ideological hold on most of human society is in fact stronger than any economic “benefits” (which most of us do not experience ourselves at any rate), and at any rate, it has produced contradictions which, while born of and beneficial to class society and the profit motive, have now some degree of autonomy in our social belonging, including but not limited to our understanding of national divisions. It would be too easy to claim that Khrushchev and company became “greedy” and so they reproduced capitalism for short term gains for themselves (this was likely a factor, and it should be emphasised in so far as bourgeois ideologues blame the “greedy” nature of humanity for capitalist restoration, and we should retort that it was not the greed of the majority, but of a privileged minority who should be held down). Rather, features of capitalist modernity have become almost autonomised in our minds to the point they seem natural and may be reproduced due to lack of emphasis on the contradicitons outside of the immediate class implications.

A fine example of this can be found in Mao’s complaints about Stalin’s “mistakes” towards China. While there are doubltess errors into which Stalin fell with regard to China, Mao was known to demand the “return” of (Outer) Mongolia to “China”. Mao had nothing to gain personally in terms of material life by this demand, it followed from a petty bourgeois national pride that many Han Chinese felt. The problem goes further, to Chinese dealings with Vietnam, and minorities within China. Indeed, the question may be asked why China is not divided into multiple republics as the Soviet Union was? Mao also theoretically defended the right of minorities (not their republics, which didn’t exist, since all of China was one “people’s republic”, a dangerous precedent indeed) to secede from the PRC, but the lack of practical steps towards meaningful autonomy in the sphere of politics (as Stalin took) made it easier for Mao’s successors to erode what autonomy did exist.

The lack of any reckoning with this history and the weakness of the “anti-revisionist” answer (socialist Albania) to the Cultural Revolution, the Three Worlds Theory, and all that that entailed has allowed an even worse revisionism than the original Khrushchevite revisionism to flourish under the guise of “real” (“anti-revisionist”!) Marxism-Leninism in imperialist countries in particular. Thus there exists a sort of received knowledge about the 20th century experience that privileges the “theories” on the national question espoused by the Kims, Mao, or Brezhnev over those of Lenin and Stalin (who, whatever their errors, understood nations in terms of populations living in geographies over a historical process, and not pre-determined, “racial” units with near mystical relationships to state and territory), and it becomes almost normal to hear people claim “Tibet is China” without ever having the question of whether Han Chinese and Tibetans are different groups in material fact cross their minds.

Rojava and our struggle

It is one thing to consider all this as an easy explanation for why we have to hear about a “Syrian nation” (that neither the Kurdish people nor the Syrian regime accepts exists) that the Kurds are “dividing” and thus hurting the “socialism” (!!!) in Syria. We all understand that these people don’t care about the right to self-determination, have done no research into the region, or even into the positions of armed Arab communists on the ground.

The few people who read this already accept that Rojava’s struggle is progressive both for the Kurdish people and for its role as a revolutionary base manifesting revolutionary ideals in practice that we can carry forward. But we must not rest on our laurels of having outsmarted a few Three Worlds Theorists on this one news item, likely due to our own connections to Turkey, Kurdistan, or the Turkish or Kurdish peoples.

The point is that this particular case of understanding national dynamics as having a… well… dynamic character has a universal basis with its own particular realisations in various other countries. If the CPGB-ML is wrong that the Welsh are not a nation, it has implications. A Welsh bourgeoisie will not share with an English bourgeoisie, and vice-versa. This implies a space for our intervention now under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie: the Welsh bourgeoisie (and in particular the Welsh petty bourgeoisie) can have some progressive role so long as the English bourgeoisie controls the Welsh market.

Conversely, if bourgeois ideology means inequality among the nations by virtue of the goal of exploitation, the fight against exploitation must assume we would abandon the idea of inequality. The claims of some sort of “natural” Welsh “need” for English are in fact predicated upon English bourgeois domination of Wales. Thus, the claims that Welsh “nationalism” (or Welsh national consciousness and rights, which are in many cases mis-labelled as “nationalism” in spite of the fact that many non-nationalist Welsh naturally support them in spite of other ideological and practical commitments) are a bourgeois distraction miss the point that the current status quo in Wales is itself a natural byproduct of English bourgeois domination of Wales.

Consider then, if these instincts, motives, and processes are still relatively undissected and uninvestigated in British society after its various attempts at federalisation, how much more undissected they were in China and the Russian Empire even among most revolutionaries prior to the revolution. Consider how much less uninvestigated they are in Syria which has never experienced socialist revolution. And if even after having such a world historical revolutionary force as the Bolshevik Party seize power in the Soviet Union, these contradictions were able to reproduce themselves in so many ways that socialism was, in part, destroyed by them, how much can we say those who brush aside these questions in the UK today are planning for victory in any meaningful sense?

The same, of course, applies to the US, Turkey, India, Russia today, etc.

*I leave aside the Trotskyite attempts to claim the October Revolution as the one “pure” revolution, as this is a worthy subject of discussion in its own right.

Atlanta

I went to Atlanta recently for a conference, which was not altogether successful for me in an academic sense. I’m not as successful as I might be in academia, I’m told by some US colleagues, because I put all my energy into politics. My invariable response is that by the standards of what needs to be done in the current context, I don’t put enough effort into politics.

I wasn’t sure exactly what I expected from Atlanta. I was told by white people in the north to expect it to be very racist, whereas I was expecting it to have a very “New Afrikan” character.

In either case, I spent a lot of time in very white or mixed areas, and did not sense a huge difference to the north. I was hosted by a relative of a friend from Scotland, who responded to this impression by saying “Don’t be fooled, mate. If you had more time here, I could show you, this is Apartheid South Africa”.

Segregation in Atlanta is noticeable, although in central areas it does not feel altogether different to the segregation in the north of the US. I was assured that if I were to return and go further north or south from the central areas of Atlanta, I would see just how bad it gets. I had been protected from the real Georgia, I was told. If I were to take a short trip beyond, I would see. Atlanta is not representative, Atlanta is not really the Deep South.

Upon returning, I saw the film “I Am Not Your Negro”, about James Baldwin, in which Baldwin claimed that there was no difference for Afro-Americans between the north and south of the US. In vulgar economic, cultural, legal, and historical terms, this is plainly false, and it is that difference which underlies the largest, most strategically important, and least recognised national question in the US (where leftists rarely mention national questions, unfortunately).

However, I don’t think Baldwin, wherever I disagreed with his assessment of the US’s present and potential future, would have claimed they were the same because none of those differences matter at all; I suppose what he meant is that capitalist centres where various (national) communities inevitably meet are the same in terms of their dynamics, and the intolerance of “white people” (the oppressor Yankee nation) does not stem from the laws in the south, but the laws in the south came about because of the dynamics between the oppressor and oppressed nations there.

In short, if Massachusetts were as full of Afro-Americans as Georgia, Boston might maintain some of its cosmopolitan charm (itself constantly tested by oppressor nation chauvinism), but the KKK would “have to” emerge in comparable numbers there.

While I was obviously happy to be spared any encounters with KKK culture, Atlanta disappointed me by not having a very “local” culture in any sense, again owing largely to where I spent most of my time, within an academic and petty bourgeois milieu, in areas with less Afro-Americans, but enough new transplants (not only white, but Asian, etc.) to give it an apparent social structure similar to those cities in the heart of Yankeedom.

As I said, when others tell me I don’t spend enough time developing my academic career, I regret not spending more time on political work, research, and connections. I wish that I could’ve spent some time venturing into the southern environs of Atlanta to bear witness to my host’s observations. I have taken a small number of road trips in the US with other people’s cars, all firmly within “Yankee” territory. Having recently procured a car of my own, I do intend to go on “fact-finding missions” in North American regions with a “local” character so as to be better versed in the local national questions.

As long as I’m here, I have to figure out how to help out the movement here, and to do this, I need to spend more time outside of academia’s preferred geographies.

Sie war eine von uns.

Today is the anniversary of Comrade Ivana Hoffmann, internationalist hero and communist fighter who laid down her young life for the liberation of the Kurdish people in Rojava, the defeat of ISIS, and her Marxist-Leninist ideals.

Ivana’s martyrdom affected so many of us in so many ways. I remember first seeing her, with a mask round her face, in a video explaining why she had come to Kobanê in German, and seeing her dark hands and thinking how she was clearly different to the traditional German volunteers for Turkish revolutionary organisations.

Following her martyrdom, we learned just how different she was, from her mixed family background, to her LGBT identity, to her young age and deep dedication to the cause noted by her comrades and those who knew her.

Every nationally conscious Kurd I speak to knows her story by now. She is hailed as a hero by the Kurdish people, in spite of how very different she is. I have written a piece for English speakers on her significance which will emerge very soon. I can think of very little more to say that I didn’t say there, but I will say:

History is full of coincidences. It is an amazing coincidence that this brave young woman who inspired all of us would fall the day before International Working Women’s Day, fighting in the women’s battalions of the YPJ for a new February Revolution, when the original February Revolution was started by a women’s strike for International Working Women’s Day.

As we reach conditions close to a Third World War, we can only hope that new Februaries are close indeed. This is what Ivana Hoffmann fought for, and we must pick up her struggle.

Tomorrow, the fruit of a great deal of unity-struggle in Britain by followers of Ivana will be realised in the form of a new publication. Her struggle continues, and we must unite women, workers, and all the oppressed against the dark forces of fascism that cast a shadow from Syria to the United States.

Martyrs in this struggle don’t die, they live on in our every word.

Ivana Hoffmann lives on!

 

Commie Dad: Marxism, Identity Politics, and Worker’s Power

Commie Dad, a popular personality on communist Twitter, recently wrote a piece entitled Marxism, Identity Politics, and Worker’s Power, in which he set out to rebut the charges, common as Marxism reemerges as a recognised intellectual trend in the English-speaking world, that Marxism fails to account for anything except class. This is admirable and important work, and, for reasons aforementioned, part of a growing genre by Marxists of varying stripes to defend Marks Baba from charges of “brocialism”.

It should go without saying that I more or less endorse the contents of the piece. Indeed, taken as a “universal” there is relatively little to criticise, but what little there is to criticise is much more important given its positioning within the particular context of the US left, which has been robbed of a sturdy theoretical backbone for some time.

Let us begin then with a point of agreement and then launch into where I think the piece could stand to improve. Dad Commie writes that “Proponents of identity politics often see the working class as exclusively white and male, but this is far from the case.” Having spoken to a great many progressives in the US, I can say that this is indeed the preoccupation. In the shadow of the Trump victory, there is a pressure which even I feel to discuss US politics in a dichotomy between understanding “the working class” that voted for Trump, and “identity politics”, practically implying that Black America is more elite than white America in class terms! Scarcely any visitor to the United States can hold this illusion for even a moment, but the rhetoric at present is indeed such among those born here that one would think the toilers of the United States were mostly white men.

But as I said, it is obvious they are not. During a conversation with another Turkish friend doing her PhD here recently, the subject of my revolutionary politics came up. She is a self-described bourgeois and not predisposed to sympathy for revolutionaries, although we are nonetheless very close, and the circumstances back in the memleket have a strong unifying effect. She was saying, only partially ironically, that circumstances in the US are rapidly beginning to resemble those in Turkey, and that I had better “make a revolution somewhere fast”, lest we remain caught between multiple countries rapidly descending towards the “state of nature”. I responded that I remained hopeful for Turkey for various reasons, but that “there’s no reason to have any hope for the US”. She responded that any communist revolution in the US would have to rely entirely on Black people, as “there aren’t any white workers anyway”.

My friend was obviously not speaking in a literal sense, but there is some truth behind this. No matter how the rhetoric among US citizens might be, it is a fairly obvious fact that the deeper one descends into the proletarian masses in the US, the blacker the faces one sees are. Naturally, we should ask ourselves why this is. The easy answer, which is not entirely untrue, is that the bourgeoisie in the United States has been effective in “dividing” the workers. But as Dad Commie himself responds: “Marxists would not be arguing that workers must be united if we did not think there was anything dividing them in the first place.”

But what is this division? Is it merely one of “race”? Certainly this is the term to which Commie Dad returns again and again in discussing the most salient contradiction of US society, that between “Black and White America”, dating back to slavery. But as slavery ended decades ago, why is this gap, both in social treatment and in economic class, still so real? Are people in the US simply that racist? Readers want to say “yes”, instinctively, but this does not really account for the really massive amounts of integration which do exist among many groups which were historically second-tier toilers in the United States, such as the Chinese. Further, in many countries in the Americas one finds historical racial-caste systems similar to the one in the US, by which the further up the social ladder one climbs the whiter the faces one sees are. But in countries like Mexico or Brazil, the sharp division between black and white has at least been blurred with a large “mixed” middle section of the society, a phenomenon which is conspicuously absent in the US (see my forthcoming thoughts on my time in Atlanta).

The real explanation for this sharp division, and what links “Black America” to other oppressed peoples, mostly “of colour”, in the United States, is their relationship to US imperialism. What seems missing in Commie Dad’s piece, which correctly understands the proletariat as divided into many identities which are themselves part of the proletarian struggle and not opposed to it, is mention of nation.

Now to be fair, Commie Dad does mention national liberation as one of the reasons we find Lenin to be an exemplary figure of 20th century history. Commie Dad does not explicitly deny the existence of nations in the US, and indeed mentions in passing the Black Liberation Movement (although as is perhaps the norm in the US, mentions the BPP to the exclusion of the BLA). But it is important we not merely allow for the existence of nations, but put national questions at the centre of our practice, particularly in an imperialist country like the United States.

So when Commie Dad goes on to say that racist ideology helps reinforce divisions between two groups, I don’t disagree. But the fact that Afro-Americans and Yankees are able to be so effectively divided does lead one to believe the problem is more than “skin deep”. As he himself mentions, there is a long history starting from the slave trade that accounts for the divisions. But the point is that over the course of this history, the divisions became real not only in terms of their material basis in privileges or relationship to the means of production, but also in terms of territory, language, levels of bourgeois exploitation (i.e., the existence of a separate black bourgeoisie), in short, the political, cultural, historical, and economic building blocks of a nation. It is not merely that racism is ideologically strong, but that in the US context, the racialised division is strong enough to have actually passed over from quantity into quality and become something else entirely: national oppression, wherein more or less the entire Afro-American nation, including much of the Afro-American bourgeoisie, is oppressed and exploited by the imperialist Yankee bourgeoisie.

I wish to state again that I liked and agreed with Commie Dad’s piece, and I presume he won’t even disagree with much of what I say here. This is the most comradely of criticisms, intended to bring into sharper focus a central issue to US politics specifically because, as he put it: “Marxism must [fight all] oppressions on their own terms.”

Recommended reading: the works of Harry Haywood, “Settlers” by J. Sakai, “Free The Afro-American Nation” by the Afro-American Liberation League and the Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson Collective (M-L), 1982, and if you can read Turkish or have a friend who can translate for you: Trump’un seçim zaferi-1: Siyah Amerika ve Cumhuriyetçiler, by me.

Also, for those of you willing to write to Boxholder, 607 Boylston St., Lower Level Box 464, Boston, MA, 02116 to order a book, “Toward Victorious Afro-American National Liberation”, by Ray O. Light

An Open Letter to Jill Stein on Behalf of the Kurdish People

Dear Dr. Jill Stein,

In light of the failure of the Sanders campaign, which has exposed more than ever before the Democratic Party’s hatred of even the most reasonable demands of their own voters, people in the United States are listening to you more than ever before. The fact that a frenzied media campaign has been launched against you (as a cypher for all those dare to speak truth to power in the United States) is only proof that the elite in the United States fear what your campaign represents.

In light of this, Dr. Stein, I would like to implore you to speak out in defence of the Kurdish Liberation Movement, which is fighting against ISIS in Syria, which is fighting against the fascist Erdoğan regime in Turkey, and which struggles in cooperation with other progressive forces on the ground against oppression and exploitation, against patriarchy, and against our alienation from our environment.

Speaking out in defence of the Kurdish people and their revolutionary leadership against the Turkish regime (whose fascist character was encouraged and funded by the CIA during the Cold War against the threat of the socialist movement in Turkey) is the right thing to do, as UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has long known. But it is not only Jeremy Corbyn, who is famous in Britain for his support for real liberation of peoples in the Middle East, who stands by this demand. The British Green Party likewise recognises the righteous demands of the Kurdish people and the heroic struggle of their revolutionary leadership, who are criminalised by the Turkish regime and its allies.

YSGP

The Turkish Greens and the Left Party of the Future likewise works together with progressive and democratic forces in Turkey (including the Kurdish Liberation Movement) as part of the HDK/HDP in the struggle for a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish conflict in Turkey, and speaks out in defence of the Kurdish people defending themselves against ISIS terrorism in Syria. They, like the rest of the democratic forces in Turkey comprised by the HDK/HDP, refuse to remain silent in the face of the Turkish state’s attempts to suffocate the Kurdish people’s resistance, which grows organically from the masses, in the neighbourhoods, from the women, and springs into action to build a new life for the people, in a region on the brink of sliding into medieval patriarchy and death. The Kurdish Liberation Movement and their allies are struggling against forces armed and funded by the Democratic and Republican mis-leadership of your country, which you also struggle against.

Please, Dr. Stein, take this opportunity to loudly and proudly proclaim your solidarity with the organic resistance of the Kurdish people and the progressive forces in Turkey and Syria which struggle alongside them. Show your own people that there is an alternative to US state-backed management of the world’s affairs (as represented by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the repressive and conservative Barzani regime), and that they too can struggle at a grassroots level to build up a movement for real change for the future of our shared planet and humanity, as the Kurdish people are doing, in spite of massive forces aligned against their will to struggle.

Please, Dr. Stein, take this opportunity to show the Kurdish people that there are people in the US who do not view their struggle with a disinterested eye for cold geopolitical manoeuvring, as the Democrats and Republicans do, but with a real and human compassion and belief in a common future. Please help the Kurds in the United States, who so often feel lost and alienated in a country where the name of their nation is only newly recognised, to connect with progressives like yourself in common struggle.

I know that many citizens of the US feel that your campaign gives them a voice in a country where corporate media conspires to silence them. Help give voice to the voiceless in Kurdistan, and help us to bring together the voices of all people in a cry for a future where people, and not profits, dictates our politics. Help us to fight for a new civilisation based on hope, love, and mutual respect, and not fear.

In struggle,
Muhsin Yorulmaz

The Tragic Quest for Education by Cindy Sheehan

Cindy

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?”

*     *     *

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?

*     *     *

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.

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:

CaseysGift
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.

Mothers
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!

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