Critical reading

A blog
  • Lessons from Alabama Communists in the 1930s

    Fascinating interview with historian Robin Kelley on the 25th anniversary of Hammer and Hoe, his classic study of Communists in the U.S. South during the Great Depression. More from Kelley here. --PG

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    What a Band of 20th-Century Alabama Communists Can Teach Black Lives Matter and the Offspring of Occupy

    Source: The Nation

    On the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking history, Hammer and Hoe, author Robin D.G. Kelley discusses the lessons Alabama’s forgotten black communists can offer today’s activists.

    By Sarah Jaffe
    August 31, 2015

    When historian Robin D. G. Kelley began work in the 1980s on what would become his classic work of radical history, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression, he was surrounded by activism. There was an uprising against police violence in Liberty City, Florida; multiracial coalitions propelled Harold Washington to the mayor’s office in Chicago; and the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson was gathering steam. As a young activist and campus organizer, Kelley was part of the movement that pushed the University of California system to divest from its holdings in South Africa, but he was also discovering a tradition of black radical organizing closer to home—that of the Communist Party in Alabama.

  • Why racism and specieism can't be equated

    Very good article by Sarah Grey and Joe Cleffie. A lot of critics misrepresent Singer's views—they take on what he actually says and show what's wrong with it. --PG

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    Peter Singer’s Race Problem

    Source: Jacobin


    We can’t equate the horrendous treatment of animals with the oppression of people.

    by Sarah Grey & Joe Cleffie

    On May 27, 2015, as the US Supreme Court deliberated about the marriage rights of same-sex couples and the legacy of the Voting Rights Act, a New York Times interview with utilitarian bioethicist Peter Singer, famous for his philosophical work on animal liberation, asked us to consider another kind of bias: speciesism.

    Speciesism, as Singer defines it, is “an attitude of bias against a being because of the species to which it “belongs” — in short, discrimination against nonhuman animals. “Humans show speciesism,” he explains, “when they give less weight to the interests of nonhuman animals than they give to the similar interests of human beings.”

    Singer does not think it is speciesist to think human life is more important than that of nonhuman animals in some instances. It is only speciesist to say human life is always more important.

  • Greece: the struggle continues

    After pushing brutal austerity measures through parliament on Wednesday, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has now sacked left-wing members of the cabinet who opposed him. But the fight against the new Memorandum imposed by Greece's European creditors is continuing both inside and outside parliament. --PG

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    New battle lines drawn in Greece

    Source: Red Flag

    17 July 2015 | Colleen Bolger

    The post-referendum political turmoil has reset the political situation in Greece.

    On one hand, the betrayal of the 61 percent who voted against the 26 June draft agreement has undone the pre-referendum momentum. The working class again has been demobilised.

    On the other, the beleaguered Tsipras now faces a revolt inside Syriza – precisely the situation he called the referendum to avoid. The mutiny began last weekend, when two MPs, Ioanna Gaitani and Elena Psarea from the Red Network in the Left Platform of Syriza, voted against giving the prime minister the authority to broker a capitulation to the country’s creditors. More than half a dozen others abstained, including parliamentary speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou. By doing so, they laid down the gauntlet; from there, opposition hardened among Left Platform MPs.

  • Unraveling the Greek crisis

    Very helpful analysis of the latest developments in Greece from Red Flag, newspaper of Socialist Alternative in Australia. --PG

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    Ruptures in Syriza, Greece and Europe

    Source: Red Flag

    12 July 2015 | Colleen Bolger

    In the early hours of Friday morning, the prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, won the consent of the Hellenic Parliament to pay off the blackmailers.

    He gave up the pensioners. He gave up the public servants still with jobs. He gave up the people who will not be able to afford food and coffee when the VAT is increased to 23 percent. He has given in and when he did, he gave up 61 percent of the population who resoundingly voted no to austerity in the 5 July referendum to an agreement that arguably is better than what he has proposed this weekend.

    German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker were livid after the no vote. They moved to tighten the strangulation of the Greek banking system and threaten Grexit – to punish the Greek people and to increase the pressure on Tsipras to buckle. It has worked.

    However, it is not clear that the European establishment will accept a Greek surrender. German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has called for a “time out”, a temporary Grexit.

  • The fight for water rights in Kenya

    Analysis of an environmental struggle in Kenya by Chris Williams. Go to the original for the accompanying photo essay by Maria Davis. --PG

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    Damming the future

    Source: Truthout

    The struggle to protect Kenya's Ewaso Ngiro river

    Wednesday, 17 June 2015 00:00
    By Chris Williams, Truthout | News Analysis

    "Had the local district officer not had a swimming pool filled with clean water, maybe there would have been more for us to drink."

    - Bildad Kaggia, Kenyan trade union leader and Central Committee member of the Mau Mau. Prisoner, 1952-61, Lokitaung, British isolation camp for political prisoners convicted of using, "their power and influence over the less educated Africans [to implement] this foul scheme of driving Europeans from Kenya." (1)

    "The future of Kenya is entirely in the hands of the indigenous people."

    - Kaunga, indigenous rights activist, organizer of the Camel Caravan

  • Sam Farber assesses the Cuban revolution

    Sam Farber on the accomplishments and limitations of the Cuban revolution. Also see Sam's recent reflections on whether Cuba should remain a one-party state. --PG

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    Cuba's Challenge

    Source: Jacobin


    What did the Cuban Revolution accomplish and where can it go from here?

    by Samuel Farber

    When in the 1950s, along with many of my high school classmates, I became involved in the struggle against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, one of our teachers remarked that we had no real reason to criticize the state of our country because so many other nations in the region — such as Bolivia and Haiti — were much worse off than us.

    His description of Cuba’s comparative position was accurate, but incomplete. On the eve of the 1959 Revolution, Cuba had the fourth highest per capita income in Latin America, after Venezuela, Uruguay, and Argentina.

    And although average per capita income is an insufficient, and sometimes misleading, indicator of general economic development, other indicators support his picture of the pre-revolutionary Cuban economy: in 1953, Cuba also ranked fourth in Latin America according to an average of twelve indexes covering such items as percentage of labor force employed in mining, manufacturing, and construction, percentage of literate persons, per capita electric power, newsprint, and caloric food consumption.

  • New evidence on origin of women's oppression

    A new study provides support for the Marxist view that sex inequality is not natural. More here. The study itself is here. --PG

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    Early men and women were equal, say scientists

    Source: The Guardian

    Study shows that modern hunter-gatherer tribes operate on egalitarian basis, suggesting inequality was an aberration that came with the advent of agriculture

    Hannah Devlin Science correspondent

    Thursday 14 May 2015 17.58 EDT
    Last modified on Friday 15 May 2015 03.46 EDT

    Our prehistoric forebears are often portrayed as spear-wielding savages, but the earliest human societies are likely to have been founded on enlightened egalitarian principles, according to scientists.

    A study has shown that in contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, men and women tend to have equal influence on where their group lives and who they live with. The findings challenge the idea that sexual equality is a recent invention, suggesting that it has been the norm for humans for most of our evolutionary history.

    Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.”

  • Mumia gravely ill—call prison & governor asap!

    Please call right away. More background here. --PG

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    Mumia's condition grave: Take Action

    Source: Prison Radio

    Dateline: Friday April 24th, 8:45pm

    Mumia Abu-Jamal was seen today by his wife and his condition has worsened. He, is gravely ill. We are asking everyone to call the prison. Right now. It may be late, but call whenever you get this.

    Mumia needs 24 hour care and supervision. He can not be in this condition in general population. In this state he may not be able ask for help, he may lose consciousness. He is too weak. (He was released from the infirmary two days ago).

    His condition: He is extremely swollen in his neck, chest, legs, and his skin is worse than ever, with open sores. He was not in a wheelchair, but can only take baby steps. He is very weak. He was nodding off during the visit. He was not able to eat- he was fed with a spoon. These are symptoms that could be associated with hyper glucose levels, diabetic shock, diabetic coma, and with kidney stress and failure.

    Please call these numbers, and any other numbers you have for the Prison and the Governor.

    Demand that Mumia Abu-Jamal see a doctor ASAP. Right Now!
    Demand that the prison officials call his wife Wadiya Jamal and his lawyer Bret Grote immediately.

  • What next for Greece?

    Important analysis by Stathis Kouvelakis. --PG

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    Greece: The Noose Tightens

    Source: Jacobin


    There are only three options remaining for the Syriza government.

    by Stathis Kouvelakis

    Events in Greece have taken a dramatic turn, and insolvency is at the gates. On April 20, the Greek government issued a decree forcing local authorities to place cash reserves at the Bank of Greece.

    Two days later, Dimitris Mardas, the deputy minister of finance in charge of state revenue, declared that €400 million were missing to pay for pensions and salaries at the end of the month. A few hours later, he said the money was found and that he was now trying to constitute cash reserves. But according to sources, Mardas informed Syriza members of parliament at a meeting that same day that the state reserves wouldn’t be able to make all payments in May.

    And that’s despite, in terms of debt payments, May being a relatively “easy” month, with only €750 million due to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), plus another 400 million in interest payments.

  • Eric Foner on Reconstruction

    Excellent summary of the importance of Reconstruction by the pre-eminent historian of the period. Foner is interviewed here "about growing up in a politically active family (both his father and uncle were blacklisted American historians), his encounters and interactions with figures from Paul Robeson and W. E. B. DuBois to Richard Hofstadter and Eugene Genovese, and his thoughts on contemporary politics." There is another recent interview here and here. --PG

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    Why Reconstruction Matters

    Source: New York Times

    By ERIC FONER MARCH 28, 2015

    THE surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, 150 years ago next month, effectively ended the Civil War. Preoccupied with the challenges of our own time, Americans will probably devote little attention to the sesquicentennial of Reconstruction, the turbulent era that followed the conflict. This is unfortunate, for if any historical period deserves the label “relevant,” it is Reconstruction.

    Issues that agitate American politics today — access to citizenship and voting rights, the relative powers of the national and state governments, the relationship between political and economic democracy, the proper response to terrorism — all of these are Reconstruction questions. But that era has long been misunderstood.

  • Chomsky on the role of racism in U.S. history

    Interview with Noam Chomsky on the deep historical roots of racism in U.S. society. --PG

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    Noam Chomsky on the Roots of American Racism

    Source: New York Times

    March 18, 2005

    This is the eighth in a series of interviews with philosophers on race that I am conducting for The Stone. This week’s conversation is with Noam Chomsky, a linguist, political philosopher and one of the world’s most prominent public intellectuals. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, “On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare,” with Andre Vltchek.

    – George Yancy

    George Yancy: When I think about the title of your book “On Western Terrorism,” I’m reminded of the fact that many black people in the United States have had a long history of being terrorized by white racism, from random beatings to the lynching of more than 3,000 black people (including women) between 1882 and 1968. This is why in 2003, when I read about the dehumanizing acts committed at Abu Ghraib prison, I wasn’t surprised. I recall that after the photos appeared President George W. Bush said that “This is not the America I know.” But isn’t this the America black people have always known?

  • Bolivia's fight against capitalism

    Excellent article by Chris Williams and Marcela Olivera on Bolivia. Check the original site for the photographs that accompany it. --PG

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    Can Bolivia chart a sustainable path away from capitalism?

    Source: Truthout

    Wednesday, 28 January 2015 10:04

    By Chris Williams and Marcela Olivera, Truthout | News Analysis

    As through so much of its history, the small Andean nation of Bolivia sits at the center of a whirlwind of political, social and climatological questions. Arguably, no other country thus far in the 21st century raises the question of an "exit strategy" from neoliberal capitalism more concretely, and with greater possibility and hope, than Bolivia. That hope is expressed specifically in the ruling party, MAS, or Movement Toward Socialism. The country's leader, former coca farmer and union organizer Evo Morales - South America's first indigenous leader since pre-colonial times - was overwhelmingly elected to his third term of office in 2014. Morales has broadly popularized the Quechua term pachamama, which denotes a full commitment to ecological sustainability, and public hopes remain high that he'll guide the country toward realizing that principle.

  • Explaining the U.S.-Cuba agreement

    Good analysis of developments in Cuba and what lies behind the recent shift in U.S.-Cuban relations. --PG

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    Cuba: coming in from the cold?

    Source: rs21

    February 2, 2015

    After 17 Cuban prisoners were freed by the US in December, Mike Gonzalez charts the recent deal between Washington and Havana and asks if this really is the end of an era with the lifting of the embargo

    As an internationally recognized artist, you would expect Leonardo Padura Fuentes, Cuba’s outstanding contemporary writer, to be aware of major changes in his own country. So it was odd to read in an interview with a Chilean newspaper that the announcement of an agreement between Washington and Havana came as a complete surprise to him, as it did to most Cubans, and indeed most Latin Americans. Even Cuba’s most important ally, Venezuela, was caught unawares, though it is now living through the extremely damaging repercussions of the deal.

  • Ian Birchall on secularism

    This article, written in 2005 by the British socialist Ian Birchall, is an excellent summary of a Marxist approach to religion and secularism, highly relevant to the discussions that have been taking place in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings. --PG

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    So what is secularism?

    Source: Grim and Dim

    This article appeared in What Next? No. 30, in response to Andrew Coates’s article “In Defence of Militant Secularism” in No. 29 Coates’s reply. “An Enlightened Response to Ian Birchall” appeared in No. 31

    Andrew Coates’ article ‘In Defence of Militant Secularism’ (What Next 29) calls for a reply. In attempting to produce one, I shall try to avoid the polemical style which Coates has adopted. Thus he puts the word ‘Islamophobia’ in inverted commas, as though no such phenomenon existed. (Anyone who doubts that Islamophobia as a phenomenon distinct from, though not unrelated to, racism, might consult

  • Spain: The rise of Podemos

    This is the first part of an analysis of Podemos, the new left-wing party in Spain. Part Two and Part Three are on the Left Flank website. --PG

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    Understanding Podemos (1/3): 15-M & counter-politics

    Source: Left Flank

    November 5, 2014

    By Luke Stobart

    What Podemos’s present success reveals is the breakdown, the crisis or the collapse (choose the term you prefer) of the Spanish party system. Because in reality the Transition regime is sinking like the Titanic and Podemos is merely the iceberg that caused this. So as soon as the cock crowed on 25-M, all the captains aboard began to jump ship: firstly [PSOE leader] Rubalcaba, then the King, later [the Catalan conservative] Durán, … It is a regime crisis because its previous dominant coalition, until now formed by an imperfect three-party set (PSOE, PP and [regional nationalists]), has lost the ability to impose its cultural hegemony.

    —Podemos critic Enrique Gil Calvo in El País, 18 August 2014

    Three years ago, the PSOE and the PP said to the people in the squares with 15-M that they should stand in the elections, and they don’t say this any more.

  • January elections in Greece

    Greece is heading to the polls in late January after its parliament failed to elect a new national president, with a strong chance that the radical left, anti-austerity SYRIZA coalition will win the most seats and form the next government. As Owen Jones explains in this article published before the election was called, the pressures on a SYRIZA government by Greek capitalists, the European Union, and international finance to abandon its program will be immense, and its success or failure will have a big impact on the prospects of the left internationally. More commentary from Costas Lapavitsas here. --PG

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    Greece’s radical left could kill off austerity in the EU

    Source: The Guardian

    Owen Jones

    If Syriza wins a possible snap poll in the new year, positive repercussions could be felt across Europe

    Monday 22 December 2014 01.00 EST

    Another war looms in Europe: waged not with guns and tanks, but with financial markets and EU diktats. Austerity-ravaged Greece may well be on the verge of a general election that could bring to power a government unequivocally opposed to austerity. Momentous stuff: that has not happened in the six years of cuts and falling living standards that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

    But if the radical leftist party Syriza does indeed triumph in a possible snap poll in the new year, there will undoubtedly be a concerted attempt to choke the experiment at birth. That matters not just for Greece, but for all of us who want a different sort of society and a break from years of austerity.

  • #BlackLivesMatter didn't kill the NYPD cops

    Great response to the predictable attempt by the right to blame the anti-police brutality movement for the murder of two New York cops on Saturday. More commentary here and here. --PG

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    NYPD Blues: The Anti-Police Brutality Movement Didn't Kill Any Cops

    Source: Ebony

    Jamilah Lemieux says the tragic NYPD shooting must not be blamed on the anti-police brutality movement

    By Jamilah Lemieux Senior Editor

    The #Blacklivesmatter movement (specifically, its current iteration in response to police killings of unarmed Black people across the country) has at no point suggested that murdering police officers is the answer to the unending abuses of people of color at the hands of law enforcement. To even have to say as much speaks volumes about the lengths that detractors have gone to in order to avoid actually understanding what this fight is about.

    Organizers and participants in the resistance movement were stunned and horrified by the murder of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos by Ismaaiyl Brinsley because it is antithetical to the work they have been doing and has created more trauma for a community that has already seen far too much violence and loss.

  • Sam Farber on the US-Cuban thaw

    Sam Farber analyzes last week's announcement that the US and Cuban governments will reopen diplomatic relations. --PG

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    The Alternative in Cuba

    Source: Jacobin


    The resumption of US – Cuban relations is a real victory. But Cuban workers face renewed economic liberalization with little political opening.

    by Samuel Farber

    On December 17, 2014, Washington and Havana agreed to a pathbreaking change in a relationship that, for more than fifty years, was characterized by the United States’ efforts to overthrow the Cuban government, including the sponsorship of invasions, naval blockades, economic sabotage, assassination attempts, and terrorist attacks.

  • California student workers' union backs BDS

    Great news from California. --PG

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    Victory: US student workers’ union backs Israel boycott in landslide vote

    Source: Electronic Intifada

    Submitted by Nora Barrows-Friedman on Thu, 12/11/2014 - 00:36

    Student workers at the University of California have voted by a landslide to support the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

    The votes, which were cast on 4 December by members of UAW Local 2865, resulted in 65 percent, or 1,411 members voting in support of a BDS resolution against 35 percent, or 749 members, voting against.

    UAW Local 2865 has thus become the first labor union in the US to join the BDS movement.

    The union represents 13,000 student workers in the University of California system. It joins a growing number of student governments, academic associations and activist organizations in the US which have pledged to hold Israel accountable for violations of human rights and to end the complicity by corporations and universities which profit from such violations.

  • The role of the police is protecting capitalism

    Important historical background on the role of the police. --PG

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    Origins of the police

    Source: Works in theory

    Posted by David Whitehouse
    December 7, 2014

    This is an edited text of a talk I gave in Chicago in late June 2012 at the annual Socialism conference. Audio of the talk is available at, but the text here corrects some mistakes I made back then. I’m also preparing a more-developed and better-documented article to appear in the International Socialist Review.

    In England and the United States, the police were invented within the space of just a few decades—roughly from 1825 to 1855.

    The new institution was not a response to an increase in crime, and it really didn’t lead to new methods for dealing with crime. The most common way for authorities to solve a crime, before and since the invention of police, has been for someone to tell them who did it.

    Besides, crime has to do with the acts of individuals, and the ruling elites who invented the police were responding to challenges posed by collective action. To put it in a nutshell: The authorities created the police in response to large, defiant crowds. That’s

    — strikes in England,

  • Naomi Klein on capitalism vs. the climate

    Naomi Klein's new book, arguing that we can't solve climate change without getting rid of capitalism, is getting major media attention. Here she explains the basics of her view. --PG

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    Interview: Naomi Klein Breaks a Taboo

    Source: The Indypendent

    By John Tarleton
    September 12, 2014
    Issue #200

    The fact that global warming is man-made and poses a grave threat to our future is widely accepted by progressives. Yet, the most commonly proposed solutions emphasize either personal responsibility for a global emergency (buy energy-efficient light bulbs, purchase a Prius), or rely on market-based schemes like cap-and-trade. These responses are not only inadequate, says best-selling author Naomi Klein, but represent a lost opportunity to confront climate change’s root cause: capitalism.

    This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, Klein’s much-anticipated new book, is both surprisingly hopeful and deeply personal as she deftly weaves in her story of struggling to conceive her first child while researching the potential collapse of the natural world. In the book, Klein challenges everyone who cares about climate change to strive for a seemingly impossible redistribution of political and economic power. This, she argues, is both necessary and offers the prospect of living in a more just and humane society than the one we know today.

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on racism and class war

    A remarkable op-ed from one of basketball's greats. --PG

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    The Coming Race War Won’t Be About Race

    Source: Time

    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar @kaj33 Aug. 17, 2014

    Ferguson is not just about systemic racism — it's about class warfare and how America's poor are held back, says Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

    You probably have heard of the Kent State shootings: on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on student protesters at Kent State University. During those 13 seconds of gunfire, four students were killed and nine were wounded, one of whom was permanently paralyzed. The shock and outcry resulted in a nationwide strike of 4 million students that closed more than 450 campuses. Five days after the shooting, 100,000 protestors gathered in Washington, D.C. And the nation’s youth was energetically mobilized to end the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, and mindless faith in the political establishment.

    You probably haven’t heard of the Jackson State shootings.

  • The decline of the longshore workers' union

    Important article on the recent history of the ILWU and why it won't survive if it continues its policy of collaboration with the bosses at the expense of its members. --PG

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    Unions That Used to Strike

    Source: Jacobin


    by Robert Brenner and Suzi Weissman

    The ILWU, once known for its militancy and political radicalism, faces a choice between nurturing rank-and-file power and a slow, painful death.

    In early July, 120 mostly poor and immigrant port truckers set up picket lines at three trucking companies in LA-Long Beach Harbor, extending their longstanding campaign to unionize. The next day, workers from the powerful and historically militant International Longshore and Warehouse Union honored the truckers’ picket by walking off their jobs, immediately shutting down three waterfront terminals.

    The dockworkers had found themselves contractually free to refuse to cross the port truckers’ line, when their union’s agreement with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) had expired a short time before.

  • What do socialists say about Hamas?

    Excellent analysis of why socialists should give Hamas unconditional but critical support in its confrontation with Israel. --PG

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    Towards a revolutionary perspective on Hamas

    Source: The Revolutionary Socialists (Egypt)

    July 31, 2014

    Article by Mostafa Omar

    This article is not a simply a response to the “Egyptian Zionists”, whether they are right-wing racists like Lamis Gaber, who is demanding that Egypt supports Israel in its barbaric war against the Palestinian people and seizes the funds of Palestinians resident in Egypt before deporting them – for her racism is so blatant that it deserves nothing more than condemnation – or whether they are like Mohamed Zaki al-Shimi, a member of the right-wing Free Egyptians who writes that Israel is not Egypt’s enemy. He is right about that in the sense that the ruling capitalist class in Egypt, as it depends on the interests of American imperialism which controls the Middle East, does not consider Israel – the greatest watchdog for American interests in the region – to be its enemy.

  • Ukraine: Imperial conflict led to MH17 tragedy

    The West has been quick to blame Russia for the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17, but the incident is just the latest tragedy resulting from imperial brinksmanship by the major powers in Ukraine and other parts of the world. --PG

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    MH17 and the new world disorder

    Source: Red Flag

    23 July 2014 | Alex Chklovski

    The Malaysia Airlines flight 17 tragedy is a new chapter in a conflagration that has cost more than 1,500 lives on both sides and displaced 100,000 civilians. It is a horrible, tragic waste. And it is the result of a conflict unleashed by the competing interests of the rich oligarchs in the region and the international jostling of Russia and the West.

    It is a conflict between a new right wing regime in Kiev eager to consolidate its rule and egged on by the US and the EU, and a group of armed adventurers eager to carve out their own space of influence by military means, looking toward and cautiously encouraged by Russia. The mass of ordinary people in Ukraine do not strongly back one side or the other, and largely stand by and attempt to deal with the path of destruction cut through their cities by the war.

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