USA: Enemy of the People of the World

KCNA

The Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army in a statement called upon the progressive people across the world to actively join the army and people of the DPRK in defending independence and justice, not blindly following the U.S. high-handed and arbitrary practices.

The U.S. ambition to hold sway the world has lasted for many years. Its aggressive nature became more undisguised after the Second World War.

In this regard, President Kim Il Sung stressed long ago the need to conduct a vigorous struggle against the U.S.-led imperialists. On August 6, Juche 60 (1971), he set forth a strategy for anti-imperialist and anti-U.S. struggle, the keynote of which is to dismember the U.S. imperialists in any places around the world.

The current situation, in which the U.S. high-handed practices have become more rampant in the Korean Peninsula and other parts of the world, represents the validity of this strategy.

The U.S. is intensifying its interference in China’s internal affairs, including the issues of Xinjiang Uygur, Tibet and human rights, and openly poking its nose into the territorial and territorial water disputes in Southeast Asia.

It has almost finished setting up European MD system against Russia and made use of Central Asia and Caucasia as a bridgehead for rounding off encircling regional powers.

U.S. forces are still present in western and southern Europe, Persian Gulf, the Mideast and Africa.

With its anti-Cuba blockades continued for scores of years, the U.S. has cooked up a wave of sabotage plots against the progressive governments in Latin America.

It will be a mistake for those countries to think that the U.S. provocation moves are committed only against the DPRK.

It is the DPRK’s will to put a definite end to the U.S. nuclear threat to other countries.

Kerry’s Middle East Tour Prepares Endless War for Afghanistan, Syria

Alex Lantier

US Secretary of State John Kerry left Kabul for Paris yesterday, after a Middle Eastern tour to Jordan and Afghanistan to plan broader wars across the region. In Paris today, he is expected to discuss arming opposition forces fighting Washington’s proxy war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with French officials.

During his unannounced two-day visit in Kabul, Kerry held a joint press conference with President Hamid Karzai, the leader of the American puppet regime in Afghanistan. He announced that US forces will remain in Afghanistan beyond the Obama administration’s 2014 withdrawal deadline.

Kerry and Karzai both called upon the Taliban to open an office in Doha, the capital of the US-allied Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, from which location they could negotiate with Karzai. To encourage the Taliban to accept the offer, Kerry stressed that the Taliban should not count on a US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Currently there are some 100,000 occupation troops in the country, including 66,000 US forces. American officials have reportedly discussed a lasting presence of roughly 12,000 US and European troops in Afghanistan.

Kerry also offered to hand over formal control of Bagram prison to the Karzai regime. This was apparently designed to allow Karzai to posture cynically before the Afghan people, claiming he is restoring Afghan sovereignty over the country. The US-controlled prison, notorious for the killings and torture of Afghan resistance fighters imprisoned there, has become a hated symbol of the NATO occupation.

This action was apparently aimed at smoothing US relations with Karzai, strained after the latter criticized Washington for “colluding” with the Taliban.

The handover of Bagram has nothing to do with ending US rule in Afghanistan, however. Karzai made clear that Washington would continue to effectively control detainees at the prison, promising that an Afghan review board would consider intelligence provided by US authorities before deciding to release prisoners. Afghan officials also reportedly gave “private assurances” that no “enduring security threats” would be released from Bagram.

By threatening to continue the bombing and occupation of Afghanistan, Kerry is pushing the Taliban leadership to negotiate a political settlement with Karzai that would include a lasting US protectorate in Afghanistan. Washington’s control would rest upon US air superiority and a permanent occupation force stationed in the country. It would be based on collaboration between Washington, the warlords backing Karzai and the Islamic fundamentalist leadership of the Taliban to suppress resistance to foreign occupation by the Afghan people.

The American ruling class sees Afghanistan as a launching pad for US operations in Central Asia, such as the hundreds of drone strikes Washington has launched in Afghanistan and neighboring countries. The New York Times commented, “The Obama administration has made a priority of reaching an agreement on an American military presence here after 2014 that will allow the United States to keep tabs on Iran and Pakistan.”

Significantly, Kerry had hoped to visit Pakistan during his tour, but decided against it. There is deep anger in that country over US drone strikes and the collaboration of the Pakistani army and intelligence with Washington. (See also: “UN says US drone war in Pakistan violates international law”)

Instead, Kerry reportedly met privately with Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Sunday, before traveling to Afghanistan.

Washington’s neo-colonial war in Afghanistan—like its proxy war in Syria, Iran’s main Arab ally—aims at establishing US imperialist hegemony over the Middle East and Central Asia. This involves not only controlling and manipulating the conflicts in Pakistan and broadly across Asia unleashed by the Afghan war, but also organizing regime change in Iran, an oil-rich state that Washington sees as the main obstacle to its interests in the Middle East.

Kerry’s visits both to Amman and to Kabul were clearly bound up with Washington’s war drive against Iran and its regional allies. As the Secretary of State left Jordan for Afghanistan, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the US is working in Jordan with Britain and France to train Syrian opposition fighters. These fighters then cross the border into southern Syria to carry out attacks.

The AP wrote that these forces were “secular” forces, apparently in an attempt to distinguish them from Al Qaeda-linked forces that provide the bulk of the Syrian opposition’s fighting forces. The wire service’s description of these forces made clear, however, that they are largely army deserters recruited on a religious or tribal basis.

It wrote, “The training has been conducted for several months now in an unspecified location, concentrating largely on Sunnis and tribal Bedouins who formerly served as members of the Syrian army, officials told the Associated Press. The forces aren’t members of the leading rebel group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which Washington and others fear may be increasingly coming under the saw of extremist militia groups, including some linked to Al Qaeda.”

The AP report came a day after the New York Times published an extensive report detailing how Qatar, Jordan and Saudi Arabia helped finance and arm the Syrian opposition for over a year. This took place under CIA supervision and after General David Petraeus, the CIA director until last November, “prodded various countries” to arm the Syrian opposition. The White House was regularly briefed on these arms shipments. (See also: “The CIA war against Syria”)

On Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest confirmed that the US “has provided some logistical nonlethal support that has also come in handy for the Syrian rebels.”

With Kerry now headed to Paris to discuss stepping up the war in Syria, the Arab League also joined in the campaign against Assad yesterday, formally seating Syrian opposition officials as Syria’s representatives to the Arab League.

Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani officially welcomed Moaz al-Khatib, the former imam of Damascus’ Umayyad Mosque who recently stepped down as the Syrian opposition’s official leader, to represent Syria. Al-Khatib was replaced by Ghassan Hitto, a US-based information technology executive. This move apparently aimed to present the opposition as less Islamist and reliant on Al Qaeda-linked forces from Libya, Iraq and Chechnya.

Al-Khatib’s speech at the Arab League made no secret of the Syrian opposition’s continuing ties to far-right Islamist elements. Denouncing Assad and supporting Hitto, he defended the presence of foreign jihadist fighters among the anti-Assad militias—though he awkwardly tried to downplay this by suggesting that if Islamist fighters’ families needed them at home, they should return to their families.

Remembering the Paris Commune

Happy Paris Commune Day

Dave Fryett

On this day, in 1871, the Commune was born, the best 72 days in history. It marks the beginning of what I like to call the Second Revolutionary Period [the first being 1789-1848] which ended by 1945 with capital’s decapitation of the workers’ movement. Thirty thousand Parisians were executed when the Commune was overrun, hundreds of thousands more revolutionaries than that, the cream of proletarian militancy, died at the hands of Franco, Hitler, Mussolini and others in an archipelago of camps stretching from Iberia to the Ukraine.

One might say that such a lengthy funereal procession is nothing to celebrate, but I think that it is fitting that we should commemorate our martyrs. It has indeed been a staggering start for those of us who seek a world free of exploitation and tyranny, but power has had millennia and a whole world in which to hone its ugly craft, we emancipators are just now taking our first baby steps. The defeats, as numbing and catastrophic as they have been, are not what matter. Rather it is the inextinguishable, dull, thumping ache for freedom and justice that we witness daily on this planet to which we should pay heed. That inexhaustible longing, which invariably surfaces whenever the existing order collapses, as happened in Paris in 1871, is the flame which cannot be doused. The bourgeoisie came to power in 1789, just yesterday, and it has been fighting for its survival ever since. It has only narrowly escaped extinction on more than one occasion. In historical terms, it cannot last much longer. However unlikely it may appear at any moment, its fate is sealed.

And it was the Communards of Paris who lead they way. They were the first. So they have my deepest affection, and my inexpressible gratitude.

A brief and unabashedly sentimental look at the Paris Commune of 1871 can be found here.

Maduro Counters Campaign to Discredit Venezuelan Electoral System

Ewan Robertson

The presidential candidate of the Bolivarian Revolution, Nicolas Maduro, yesterday counter-attacked the opposition’s campaign to discredit Venezuela’s electoral system ahead of the 14 April presidential election.

In recent days the Venezuelan opposition and allied media have been criticising the 14 April presidential election as not being held in “fair and transparent” conditions, in an apparent effort to discredit the Venezuelan electoral system ahead of the vote.

This campaign appears to have intensified following comments made on Friday 15 March by the US’s Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who said that it would be “a little difficult” for “open, fair, and transparent elections” to be held on 14 April.

The conservative opposition has also attempted to reach out to international opinion, with Diego Arria, a former Venezuelan diplomat, writing in the Huffington Post that Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) is “no more than a tool of the regime [sic: Venezuelan government] to maintain its power”.

This discourse marks a break with the opposition’s more conciliatory approach toward Venezuela’s electoral system last year, when the opposition MUD coalition asked the CNE to organise the opposition’s own internal elections, calling the CNE “an excellent example of democratic institutions in the country”.

Polling evidence suggests that the opposition is likely to lose the April election, called after the death of President Hugo Chavez on 5 March. Four polls released by private Venezuelan firms in recent days have given Nicolas Maduro an advantage over the opposition’s candidate Henrique Capriles of between 14 and 22%.

Yesterday, Nicolas Maduro, who is currently interim president, hit back at the opposition’s campaign to discredit the CNE, claiming that it was a strategy being used in light of the opposition’s “clear defeat” on 14 April.

Maduro repeated the claims of other pro-government figures, stating that the “ultra-right wing” within the opposition is also considering the withdrawal of Capriles’ candidacy “as a way of fleeing and then crying out [to the international community]”.

He further argued that his rival Capriles is caught between the opposition’s radical wing, who want to withdraw from the race in order to discredit the election, and the “apparently democratic” wing that wants to maintain an electoral strategy.

The interim president said the Venezuelan electoral system, “guarantees the sovereign decision of the voters” and that the campaign to discredit the CNE “will not favour” the opposition.

Directly addressing the opposition, Maduro said, “If you stay [in the electoral race]; welcome. We’re headed towards a great triumph, that’s how I feel. If you go, not so welcome. We will [still] have a great victory and we’ll maintain the political stability of the country; of that you can be sure”.

The difference in opinion within the opposition toward the electoral system has also become apparent in recent comments made to media.

Hard-line opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado called the Venezuelan government a “neo-dictatorial regime” with a “democratic façade” in an interview yesterday with conservative paper El Universal. She further said the CNE was full of “tricks and irregularities”.

Meanwhile, the president of opposition party COPEI, Roberto Enríquez, said in an interview today that the opposition “recognises” the accuracy of the Venezuelan electoral system.

However, he added, “Elections in Venezuela, like in all democratic systems, are and have to be perfectible”.

UNASUR

Today the CNE signed an agreement with the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) confirming that UNASUR will send an electoral accompaniment mission to Venezuela ahead of the 14 April election.

The mission’s aim, according to the head of UNASUR’s electoral council, Francisco Távara Córdova, is “to witness the electoral process within the framework of solidarity, cooperation and respect for sovereignty, with the aim of generating shared knowledge and experience in electoral matters”.

The mission’s head will likely be Argentine Carlos Alvarez, who led the UNASUR electoral mission to Venezuela for the October 2012 presidential election.

Several Venezuelan electoral NGO’s have also been invited by the CNE to observe the upcoming election.

France: Uproar Over Same-Sex Marriage

Workers Vanguard

The following article was translated from Le Bolchévik No. 203 (March 2013), which is published by the Ligue Trotskyste de France, section of the ICL. A law legalizing gay marriage and adoption, which was passed by the National Assembly on February 12, is due to be debated in the Senate in early April.

The LTF has joined in the recent mobilizations for “marriage for all,” which are aimed at winning some degree of basic rights for gay couples, including finally the right to adopt children. In fact, the first limited legal recognition of gay couples dates back only to 1999 with the introduction of the Civil Solidarity Pact [a form of civil union]. As Marxists, we support the right of homosexuals to marry—and to divorce freely—because we are for full legal equality and democratic rights for gays, just as we support any legal advances that the working class and oppressed can wrest from the capitalists and their state. At the same time, we fight for a society in which no one is forced into a legal straitjacket to get the basic rights that capitalist society grants only to those locked in the traditional legal mold of “one man on one woman for life.”

In the wake of parliament’s adoption of the new bill, the Communist Party (PCF) writes that “marriage is no longer (or not exactly) a patriarchal institution, outdated and reactionary” and that “the National Assembly has revolutionized the institution of the family” (l’Humanité, 13 February). On the one hand the PCF captures a certain truth: the law on gay marriage is intended to adapt marriage to the reality of how people live today in order to better defend the institution of the bourgeois family. As Jean-Jacques Urvoas, the Socialist Party president of the parliamentary law commission, stated in an interview in Le Monde (15 January): “It is mistaken to accuse us of attacking the family when what we want is to make all families secure.”

But until the day capitalism is destroyed, the function of marriage as a key pillar of the bourgeois family unit will not change. Like the oppression of women, the oppression of homosexuals is not primarily the result of right-wing reaction and social backwardness but is rooted in the institution of the family, whose historical function is to transmit private ownership of the means of production to “legitimate” heirs through inheritance. This is why France forbids single people and gay couples from using artificial insemination or medically assisted procreation (including in vitro fertilization) as well as surrogate motherhood. The family is also one of the means through which the ruling class seeks to instill respect for authority and obedience to its moral codes. Homosexuality is deemed “sinful” and “deviant” by the Catholic church and the bourgeois order because it deviates from the patriarchal structure of the monogamous one man/one woman family.

The PCF’s opposition to surrogate parenthood, a practice that benefits gay men in particular, also speaks to its faith in the institution of the family. Surrogate parenthood currently carries a fine of 45,000 euros and a three-year prison sentence. It was strongly denounced by Justice Minister Christiane Taubira and the PCF’s Marie-Georges Buffet during the parliamentary debates on gay marriage and is also attacked by feminists in the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA). They all argue that it commercializes women’s bodies: “Giving power to a third party over a woman’s pregnancy is a threat to the right to abortion. Moreover, the ability to alienate her body by a contract opens the door to the legalization of prostitution” (Tout Est à Nous! La Revue magazine, April 2011).

At bottom, they uphold the bourgeois model that decrees that it is the job of the woman (and not two men) to raise children. They also deny a woman’s fundamental right to choose what to do with her body. If a woman decides to carry a baby for someone else, that’s her decision and the state and its politicians should stay out of it. Likewise, if she becomes a prostitute to make a living rather than being exploited by some factory owner at a job where she breaks her back or suffers relentless harassment, that’s her business and not something for the capitalist state to legislate.

We stand for the decriminalization of prostitution, which we regard as a “crime without a victim,” like drug use, gambling, pornography, homosexual and intergenerational sex—activities that are generally illegal or heavily regulated under capitalist law. For us Marxists, the guiding principle in sexual relations is that of effective consent, not age, relationship, sex, number of people or degree of intimacy. This means nothing more and nothing less than mutual agreement and understanding as opposed to coercion. As long as those who take part agree to do what they are doing, no one, least of all the state, has the right to tell them they cannot. State out of the bedroom!

Homophobic Hysteria and the Fight for Democratic Rights

The church and the right-wing parties have mobilized hundreds of thousands of bigots in the streets against gay marriage. The level of homophobic hysteria can be so grotesque as to seem farcical. Take the diatribe by Dassault, a leading French capitalist, predicting the end of civilization if gay marriage became law: “There will be no more reproduction, so what is the point? Do we want a nation of gays? If so, in ten years there will be no one left; it’s stupid…. Look at history, ancient Greece; it is one of the reasons for its decline” (Le Monde online, 7 November 2012). But some things are more sinister. The youth group of the UMP [Union for a Popular Movement of former president Nicolas Sarkozy] of the Haute Garonne département [administrative division] published on its Web site a photo of a bare-chested young man hanging from a rope with the words above him: “You will not be a queer, my son.” All this will fuel violent assaults against gays and lesbians…as well as their kids. One out of every four homosexuals has been the victim of a physical attack over the last ten years, according to a poll conducted for the gay magazine Têtu. The gay rights association SOS Homophobie in its last annual report lists 29 murders in France during the past decade in which homophobia or transphobia was the motive.

A revolutionary party must vigorously make known to the workers movement all attacks and discrimination on homosexuals and every oppressed sector of the population, vigorously protesting against these assaults. Such attacks are ultimately aimed at weakening the entire working class and dividing it along sexual and racial lines, serving to strengthen the capitalist state’s repressive powers and maintain capitalist rule. The working class must come to understand that in order to liberate itself from the shackles of capitalist oppression and exploitation, it must seize its historic task: to abolish class society in order to open the road to human freedom for everyone.

But to mobilize the immense social power of the organized working class against capitalism necessarily means an intransigent political struggle against the leaders of the social-democratic parties of the Left Front, the NPA and others who take up the defense of the bourgeois family, albeit in its refurbished form. They promote the lie that if only sufficient pressure is applied from the streets, capitalism can be “revolutionized” and made more humane by means of a “left” government. In this way they work to preserve capitalist exploitation and the social reaction that goes with it.

Anti-Woman, Anti-Youth “Republican Values”

Given the reactionary rubbish being spewed by the right, the Socialist Hollande government has had little trouble appearing “progressive” by promoting “marriage for all” (which does not diminish its capitulation to the church and right-wing parties over in vitro fertilization). The government hopes to use this as political capital to get on with presiding over factory closures, criminalizing the trade unions and implementing the rest of its racist, anti-worker agenda without too much opposition. In Britain, it is the Conservative prime minister who has just steered a vote on gay marriage through Parliament in order to strengthen the institution of the family and also, as in Hollande’s case, to give itself a “social” cover in order to better push through its relentless austerity attacks.

Justice Minister Taubira declared of the new marriage law: “Marriage for everyone well illustrates the slogan of the Republic…freedom of choice, equality of all couples, fraternity, because no differences should serve as pretexts for discrimination by the state” (l’Humanité, 30 January). Talk about hypocrisy! The French state, whether run by the right or the left, has no qualms over breaking up families when it comes to the working class, immigrants and other oppressed layers. A gathering in Aubervilliers recently marked the first anniversary of the deportation of Changfeng Mo, an undocumented immigrant with two young children born and educated in France, who was deported after ten years living and working in the country. Full citizenship rights for all immigrants and their families! There is, of course, no sign of “fraternity” coming from cop minister Valls to reunite this man with his family.

Or take France’s latest département, the small island of Mayotte [part of the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean, near Mozambique], which in 2010 carried out 26,400 deportations, of whom 6,400 were children. This number was not far below the 33,000 immigrants deported from metropolitan France. Under Valls & Co., the deportation machine in Mayotte continues to operate at such a pace that kids frequently come home from school to find one or both of their parents gone, taken to the transit center to await deportation. There are also several documented cases in which children have been deported without their parents by being arbitrarily “assigned” to a stranger. Down with the deportations!

For months and months we have heard politicians of the left and right swearing that they have only the best interests of children and youth at heart when at the same time all of them work to maintain the capitalist class and its machinery of state repression—the real source of violence, crime and alienation inflicted on young people in this society. In France today, a quarter of those between the ages of 16 and 24 are jobless and see little immediate prospect of getting out from under the family roof to live independently. In many banlieue areas [minority and working-class neighborhoods on the outskirts of big cities], the jobless figures for youth have been at 50 percent (or more) for some years now. The 2005 banlieue revolt spoke to this despair, particularly among male youth of minority backgrounds, who see no future for themselves outside of a McJob or more likely the unemployment office or prison. And since 2005, the situation has only gotten worse.

Today the Peugeot company and Hollande are shutting down the Aulnay car plant, historically one of the main employers for youth—albeit on lousy temporary contracts—in the “93” [a heavily minority département northeast of Paris]. People like Arnaud Montebourg [Socialist minister of industrial recovery] wag their fingers in the tradition of their hero, [19th-century colonialist] Jules Ferry. They lecture the workers that they need to “try harder,” be more flexible and take jobs hundreds of miles from their homes. In fact, by doing that they are creating thousands more single-parent households with all the weight of oppression this implies, especially for women. Repeated deep cuts in education and health care budgets in recent years also weigh particularly on women and children. It is now common practice for municipalities to refuse school lunches to children of unemployed parents—sometimes their only hot meal of the day—with the state arguing that since the parents don’t work the kids can go home to eat. Thus they ensure that mothers (in the main) remain jobless and isolated in the home. Free school meals and quality, 24-hour childcare for all!

The Family as a Pillar of Capitalism

The only way to begin to do away with the deep-rooted chauvinism and violence generated by the capitalist profit system against youth, women, gays, immigrants and other oppressed layers is the struggle to overthrow bourgeois rule by socialist revolution. Through the expropriation of the productive property of the capitalist class, a workers government will lay the basis for a planned economy that qualitatively expands the productive forces, eliminates scarcity and vastly expands the range and depth of scientific knowledge. Making such a leap in social productivity presupposes the international extension of the revolution, crucially in the advanced imperialist countries. Socialist revolution can then begin to lay the basis for replacing the family by providing the material means to socialize and collectivize its household functions (for example, establishing communal 24-hour childcare, kitchens, cafeterias and laundries as well as free health care).

The family originated with the development of classes. Prior to that stage of history, it was not important who the father was since children were to a large extent raised collectively by the entire community. But the invention of agriculture made it possible for the first time for people to produce more than they could consume themselves. This led to the creation of a surplus and of private property, and thus of an idle class that lived off the labor of others. In order to pass down its fortune and property to the next generation, that class had to know who the father was. This is the origin of the institution of marriage, whose goal was precisely to restrict women’s sexual activity, enforcing monogamy for women (not men). Therefore by its nature the family is sexually repressive. Even today, if a woman in France wants to re-marry in the nine months following her divorce, she is legally obliged to undergo a medical examination to obtain a doctor’s certificate stating that she is not pregnant. This is in line with the Civil Code, which specifies that “if a child is conceived or born during the marriage, the father is the husband.”

French Revolution’s Legacy for Women and Gays

To understand that social progress will only come from revolutionary struggle, it is necessary to look back and study the significant advances won during such periods for women and homosexuals and other minorities. The French Revolution of 1789 was a bourgeois revolution preserving private property, which limited the changes it introduced. Nevertheless it brought monumental progress in women’s and homosexual rights, particularly during its most radical years.

As late as 1783 under the ancien régime, a monk was burned alive after being charged with conducting a sexual act with a boy. The penal code of 1791 removed the crime of sodomy from the books and declared it an “imaginary crime.” Police surveillance of known homosexual meeting places such as the Tuileries gardens diminished markedly in the wake of the revolution.

Women had no rights whatsoever under the ancien régime. The monarchy constantly sought to reinforce, consolidate and extend the father’s control over the marriage of his children. Women charged with committing adultery were sentenced to be publicly whipped, thrown in prison or, worst of all, sent to the convent for life. Men could not marry without parental consent, and if they married a minor (under 25 years for women) without that consent they could be sentenced to death, whether the woman consented or not. Marriage was indissoluble—a life sentence.

In 1792, the age of legal adulthood was reduced to 21 years for all and marriage without parental consent became possible. The divorce law enacted the same year was extremely liberal (even by today’s standards), allowing couples to divorce by mutual consent or through either spouse declaring incompatibility. It made divorce affordable even for the poor throughout the country. In the year following the introduction of the law, 70 percent of all divorces were initiated by women. Further, a 1793 decree gave illegitimate children the right to inherit from both the mother and the father. There was also legislation accepting “free unions,” so that, for example, unmarried partners of soldiers could receive government pensions. With one stroke, the institution of the family lost one of its main functions, i.e., to transfer property from one generation to another. As we wrote in “Women and the French Revolution” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 56, Spring 2001):

“The family was temporarily undermined in order to serve the needs of the revolution against its enemies, the feudal nobility and Catholic church. This is one demonstration of the fact that social institutions which seem to be immutable, to be ‘natural’ and ‘eternal,’ are in fact nothing more than the codification of social relations dictated by the particular economic system that is in place. After the bourgeoisie consolidated its power as the new ruling class, it re-established the constraints of the family. But nothing would ever be the same again. The contradictory reality of the French Revolution—the breathtaking leap in securing individual rights and the strict limits imposed on those rights by the fact that this was a bourgeois and not a socialist revolution—was captured by Karl Marx in The German Ideology:

“‘The existence of the family is made necessary by its connection with the mode of production, which exists independently of the will of bourgeois society. That it was impossible to do without it was demonstrated in the most striking way during the French Revolution, when for a moment the family was as good as legally abolished’.”

With the Thermidorian reaction many of these gains were diminished or overturned, but the situation of women had progressed qualitatively as it also had for homosexuals; there could never be a return to the total subjugation of women that existed under the ancien régime. The fight for women’s liberation was front and center during the Paris Commune decades later. With the establishment of the Napoleonic civil code in 1804, which consolidated the bourgeois order, various morality laws were reintroduced which were used in part to repress gay men, but there was no explicit criminalization of homosexuality in the penal code. This was why Oscar Wilde and other gay men settled in France in order to escape prison in their own countries.

Anti-Homosexual Repression After World War II

It was not until 1942 under Vichy that the Pétain government [quisling regime of the Nazi occupation] amended the law to once again explicitly criminalize homosexuality. Under the German occupation, the French police and the Gestapo rounded up homosexuals and sent them to the labor and death camps—crimes that were not recognized by a French head of state until 2005. These laws were not repealed but were reinforced under the early postwar governments under General de Gaulle and the PCF. This was the period of the “battle of production”: after the devastation of the imperialist war, there were enormous social expectations and great anger among the working class. The PCF labored to save French capitalism and supported de Gaulle’s “moral order.” They condemned strikes and pushed workers to toil harder and longer in order to produce more profits (and also to produce children that would later work in the factories…). In 1945, de Gaulle evoked the “12 million beautiful babies that France needs in 12 years,” and legislation was introduced to further strengthen the family.

In July 1945, the government voted to increase the age of consent to 15 for heterosexuals and 21 for homosexuals (previously set at eleven years old in 1832 and in 1863 at 13, for everyone). The following year, the government introduced a law targeting homosexuals whereby only people “of good moral character” could work in the civil service. In 1960, again under de Gaulle, a Gaullist parliamentarian denounced homosexuality as “a scourge against which it is our duty to protect our children,” and the need to “struggle against homosexuality,” alongside alcoholism, prostitution and certain illnesses like tuberculosis, was inscribed in law. This amendment did not produce the slightest debate.

It was only in the wake of the May 1968 upheaval that anything changed. In May ’68, youth rose up against de Gaulle’s stultifying moral order, sparking strikes and factory occupations that threatened the capitalist order. Women and homosexuals once again began to make advances in their democratic rights. Already during May ’68, attempts were made to create a Revolutionary Committee of Gay Action, but its leaflets posted at the Sorbonne university were torn down. In subsequent years, homosexual organizations such as the FHAR (Homosexual Front of Revolutionary Action) were set up, fighting centrally for gay rights but also for the right to abortion and contraception and in opposition to the age-of-consent laws. These organizations gave unprecedented visibility to the fight for gay rights. They participated in the labor movement’s traditional May Day demonstrations, although not without hostility from the leaders of the PCF at that time. Speaking of the FHAR’s participation in the 1972 May Day demonstration, the PCF’s Roland Leroy wrote in l’Humanité: “This riffraff does not represent the vanguard of society but the rottenness of capitalism in its decay.”

But it was the refusal of the workers movement (centrally the PCF) to embrace the fight for gay rights that led to the development of petty-bourgeois sectoralism, i.e., a view that the fight for gay rights was a separate issue, to be engaged mainly by those concerned. Today’s gay rights groups have few links with and are often hostile to the workers movement and class struggle, the only means by which gay liberation can be won. Finally in 1974, access to contraception was opened up, including for minors, and the Pill reimbursed by the national health care system. A year later, abortion was legalized. Then between 1980 and 1982, under [conservative president] Giscard d’Estaing followed by [Socialist president François] Mitterrand, the laws criminalizing homosexuality were also for the most part repealed at last.

The Russian Revolution and Social Emancipation

For Marxists, contrary to gay rights organizations like the FHAR in the 1970s or groups like Act Up today, there is no special program for homosexuals. The communist program includes demands that address the special oppression of gays, and we understand that the fate of homosexuals—like all other oppressed groups—is determined by the class struggle. But under capitalism, gains and advances are reversible and social reaction is always strengthened during periods of economic crises, as can be seen today.

Only a socialist revolution can lay the basis for definitively putting an end to social oppression. Our model is the 1917 October Revolution, led by the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky. Immediately after the seizure of power, the Soviet workers state began to undercut the old bourgeois prejudices and social institutions responsible for the oppression of women and homosexuals. The Bolsheviks abolished all legal impediments to women’s equality and all laws against homosexual acts and other consensual sexual activity. Their position was explained in a 1923 pamphlet by Dr. Grigorii Batkis, Director of the Moscow Institute for Sexual Hygiene, titled “The Sexual Revolution in Russia” (see also “The Russian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 59, Spring 2006):

“[The new Soviet legislation] declares the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters, so long as nobody is injured, and no one’s interests are encroached upon…. Concerning homosexuality, sodomy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality—Soviet legislation treats these exactly the same as so-called ‘natural’ intercourse. All forms of sexual intercourse are private matters.”

For the Bolsheviks, women’s emancipation was an integral part of the emancipation of the working class itself, not something subordinate to it. The Bolsheviks, informed by their Marxist program for women’s liberation, sought to build socialized alternatives to the family, within the limits of their capacity in backward Russia. The country had been bled white by World War I and the civil war that broke out soon after the October Revolution and was under the immense pressure of hostile imperialist encirclement. They struggled, amid the harsh economic situation, to provide the material and economic means to abolish the family unit and release women from the isolation of childcare and domestic work. These glimmers of a new society and an end to the oppression of women and gays later faded under the political counterrevolution led by Stalin in 1923-24 in the context of the isolation of the young workers state. In 1934 a law was passed punishing homosexuality with imprisonment, and in 1936 abortion was outlawed.

Sexuality is not in itself a political question. It is the bourgeoisie that politicizes this issue by victimizing those who do not fit the norms established by the family, church and state. We seek to carry forward the program of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks and to mobilize the proletariat in defense of the rights of all the oppressed as part of the fight to overturn capitalism through socialist revolution. To create genuinely free and equal relations among people in all spheres, including sex, requires nothing less than the destruction of capitalist class rule and the creation of a communist world. 

Erasing Rosa Parks’ Legacy

Rosa Parks may be lionized for her defiance on the bus, but that episode doesn’t do justice to her career as an organizer.

Samir Sonti

Black History Month just ended, which means grade schools nationwide recently celebrated how the Civil War abolished slavery, that George Washington Carver invented peanut butter, and, of course, how the Civil Rights Movement ended segregation and disfranchisement. Children everywhere rehearsed familiar narratives about how after enduring years of racist oppression, valiant African-American women and men like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. peacefully demanded and secured equal rights.

And in a bizarre reminder of the political significance the struggle for civil rights still carries, Barack Obama and John Boehner capped the month with a rare joint appearance to unveil a statue of Parks in the Capitol building on the same day that the Supreme Court heard a challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We can expect a ruling a few months before we celebrate the 50thanniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where, on August 28, 1963, King delivered his renowned “I Have a Dream” speech.

It’s sadly unsurprising to learn that Parks is the first black woman to be memorialized in Statuary Hall, space already occupied by such loyal patriots as John C. Calhoun, Alexander Stephens, and Jefferson Davis. But if Parks’ statue is a victory it’s rendered a bit less sweet by the myths told about her.

The big story hardly needs retelling. After refusing to give up her seat at the front of a Montgomery bus to a white man – and thus disobeying a municipal ordinance requiring blacks to stand so whites could sit – Parks was arrested, an action that sparked the city’s 1955 bus boycott, which introduced King to the world. The statue, predictably, is modeled off the classic photograph of Parks seated on the bus with her pensive gaze cast out the window.

But that the photograph was staged speaks volumes.

Parks may be lionized for her defiance on the bus, but that episode doesn’t begin to do justice to her remarkable career as an organizer. As Brooklyn College political scientist Jeanne Theoharis notes in her recent biography, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, “One of the greatest distortions of the Parks fable has been the ways it missed her lifetime of progressive politics.” Another great distortion is the extent to which it ignores the collective nature of Parks’s ostensibly individual action.

At the time of her arrest, Rosa Parks was Secretary of the Montgomery local of the NAACP, a branch that had deep roots in the city’s trade union movement. A few years earlier, as an advisor to the local’s Youth Council, she helped young African-Americans organize a campaign to borrow books from whites-only libraries. And just months before the boycott she spent time at the Highlander Folk School – a legendary leftist organizing academy supported by and influential in the growth of the CIO – as part of a program on how to organize in the climate fostered by the Supreme Court’s 1954Brown v. Board of Education decision. Suffice it to say she was no novice when she held her ground on the bus.

Moreover, her action wasn’t spontaneous but was planned in conjunction with the NAACP and area trade unions. Meeting her at the jail with bail money was E.D. Nixon, president of both the city’s NAACP chapter and the Montgomery local of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP). Nixon also recruited the 26-year-old newcomer to Montgomery, King, to speak in support of the boycott. In 1935, the BSCP, under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph, became the first African-American-led union to join the AFL after a grueling but ultimately victorious ten year campaign to organize sleeping car porters for the Pullman Company.

At the time, the Pullman Company was one of the largest private employers of African-Americans in the country. It was also the company that the American Railway Union, whose leadership included Eugene Debs, waged an unsuccessful national strike against in 1894, one of the more famous struggles in the late nineteenth century graveyard of labor strife.

Randolph himself was among the most important – and most often forgotten – civil rights leaders. For years he challenged the mainstream African-American advocacy organizations to support trade union struggles, a step to which they were initially cool (understandably, given the AFL’s history of racial exclusivity). In the early 1940s he spearheaded the March on Washington Movement, the predecessor to the demonstration two decades later, which pushed Franklin Roosevelt to sign an executive order desegregating defense production industries. And he was instrumental in orchestrating the 1963 march that drew a quarter million people to the National Mall demanding federal civil rights legislation. Indeed, while Randolph’s accomplishments are too numerous to document here, it’s without question that the Civil Rights Movement as we know it wouldn’t have occurred without him.

That Parks’ legacy is so completely sanitized of this collective, working-class backdrop teaches us at least two things. First, it testifies to the remarkable power of neoliberal ideology. It’s much easier to attribute the civil rights victories to a few entrepreneurial activists than to recognize that it was the product of years of struggle by thousands of people who organized at workplaces and in communities demanding economic and political justice. The “fable,” moreover, fits neatly within neoliberalism’s simultaneous celebration of diversity and intensification of inequality. As Adolph Reed recently put it, “The tale type of individual overcoming has become a script into which the great social struggles of the last century and a half have commonly been reformulated to fit the requirements of a wan, gestural multiculturalism.”

Second, and just as significant, it’s a reminder of how important a labor movement is to serious progressive politics. Parks’ action, the bus boycott it initiated, and the prominence to which it catapulted King, not to mention all the tireless and thankless work innumerable activists devoted to building the movement, wouldn’t have been possible without organizational and material support from unionized workers. That King was assassinated on a trip to Memphis in support of striking sanitation workers is a poignant reminder of how entwined the two movements were.

In February 1965, Bayard Rustin, a behind the scenes civil rights organizer and adviser to King, wrote an article for Commentary magazine entitled “From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement,” where he observed that, “The very decade which has witnessed the decline of legal Jim Crow has also seen the rise of de facto segregation in our most fundamental socio-economic institutions … At issue, after all, is not civil rights, strictly speaking, but social and economic conditions.”

Rustin’s point was that while the movement had dismantled de juresegregation, most African-Americans continued to face economic problems and, consequently, that those fundamentally working-class concerns needed to be the next target. If we in the twenty-first century are serious about challenging inequality, both economic and racial, we need to start thinking the same way.

Human Rights Watch Lies About Chávez and Venezuela

There is no leader anywhere else in the world over the past decade to more clearly receive the support of the vast majority of people in their country.

Liberation News

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez Frias has died, and true to form, the vultures are circling. The establishment press and so-called “human rights” organizations are dusting off all the old slanders and lies in new articles and reports. In this alternative version of history, Chávez was an incorrigible, populist autocrat, whose sunny-sounding vision of uplifting the poor was nothing but a façade covering a corrupt, decaying dictatorship offering only the opposite of its promises.

While a few pundits have the decency to obliquely mention a few of the achievements of the Chávez government, others have absolutely no shame. Human Rights Watch, for instance, self-appointed defender of all that is right and good, has truly outdone itself—publishing a denunciation of Chávez that, paying no attention to context, ignores all signals that point to social progress and speeds right past good taste.

In fact, despite the name, HRW has written a report that will be warmly welcomed in the camp of the serial violators of human dignity banded together in the Venezuelan opposition movement as well as in Western imperialist capitals.

What are ‘human rights’ anyway?

HRW opens the piece by saying in part:

“Hugo Chávez’s presidency (1999-2013) was characterized by…open disregard for basic human rights guarantees.”

This is, perhaps, the most laughable of all their claims. Starting from 1999, there has been a 37.6 percent decline in the poverty rate in Venezuela. If we start that measurement in 2004 after the consolidation of the Chavista movement in government, there has been a 49.7 percent reduction. Extreme poverty saw an even deeper reduction, 70 percent since 2004.

Such a massive reduction of poverty gives rise to a number of striking statistics. Just since 2011, 350,000 houses have been built, with a target of 380,000 in 2013, all part of a plan to provide an affordable and dignified home to all 3.7 million people in need of a home. In nine years, 1.5 million Venezuelans have received free eye surgery. In the same nine years, 1.75 million were taught to read.

Chávez’s impact on his nation can so easily be gauged that even the Washington Post admitted that the “poor masses”—that is, the majority of Venezuelans—mourned for Chávez. Hardly the response one would expect at the death of a hardened “autocrat.” Further, if access to decent housing, food and health care are not human rights, then what are they? Chávez based his entire term in office on providing rights like these. Viewed in this way, he might well have been considered the greatest guarantor of human rights in the entire hemisphere.

‘Attacking judicial independence’—the context

HRW also accuses Chávez of “attacking judicial independence.” Once again, this is a criticism devoid of context. Since the beginning of his presidency, the right-wing opposition has done everything possible to impede the progress of the Bolivarian process, despite that Chávez again, and again, and yet again had his leadership reaffirmed at the ballot box.

In April 2002, the opposition coalition, an assortment of the super-rich and others whose privilege was curtailed by Chávez, launched a coup. A cabal of military officers, the police, and almost every television and radio station lined up against Chávez, who was detained by the coup plotters. Mass protest caused the coup to fail and Chávez was returned to power. This incident highlights the fact that prior to most of Chávez’s most radical reforms, the opposition was more than willing to use extralegal methods to preserve their special privileges.

Further, between November 2001 and December 2002, there were four significant lockouts by business owners attempting to weaken the Chávez government, including the oil lockout at the end of 2002 that caused almost $20 billion in lost revenue for the government.

The lockouts came on top of efforts by many of the big food production companies to create shortages through hoarding—which they are again doing in the run-up to the April 14 presidential election. Year after year, hundreds and sometimes thousands of tons of goods, like sugar, milk, flour, coffee and other staples, were found in warehouses being held off the market deliberately, filtering into black market distribution networks that undermined government attempts to improve access to food. Despite these efforts at sabotage, the government programs, including discount stores and increased acreage under cultivation, have led to increased consumption, even in the face of shortages.

The Venezuelan rich have also shown a keen penchant for using their capital not to invest in their own country but to live large in Miami. Even pro-capitalist Business Week admits this phenomenon is all about hiding money from the government, not “bad economics,” in Venezuela itself.

So considering just this brief list of destabilization efforts (which have taken place with the active encouragement of the U.S. government and media), it seems clear that Chávez faced unbelievable headwinds in exercising his own elected mandate. In 17 elections, Chávez and the Bolivarian process have had their direction ratified. In the most recent presidential election, Chávez was victorious with a clear majority. There is no leader anywhere else in the world over the past decade to more clearly receive the support of the vast majority of people in their country.

With this context established, one can see that HRW’s objections to Chávez’s efforts are so much chaff easily separated from the wheat. HRW is particularly indignant that Chávez increased the size of the Supreme Court and that the new appointees were supportive of the revolutionary process.

The expansion of the Supreme Court must be seen in the context of both continued electoral success in conjunction with repeated attempts to derail the Bolivarian process. It is clear that Chávez had a broad mandate from the masses of people not only to create social programs but to transform society. Transformations upset the entire established order, and as history shows, those who lose their privileged position will fight desperately to regain it.

The Bolivarian process is about more than legality. It is a process of determining what sort of society Venezuela is to become, a process taking place on all levels, and whose broad support required any true representative of the people to pursue every avenue possible to secure the future. Thus the expansion of the Supreme Court was not some sort of “power grab” for the sake of more power, but a tactic in the broader struggle with the forces of the right who were determined to use both legal and illegal avenues to stop the Bolivarian process.

HRW would rather Chávez to have “respected” the “rule of law” than feed or house people. They could care less about whether or not the people of Venezuela live decently, and preach instead only about their legally defined “human rights”—as defined and vetted by world elites.

Repression?

HRW and others made quite a bit of noise about the case of one judge, Maria Lourdes Afiuni. Afiuni spent one year in jail, was allegedly tortured, and remains under house arrest. Again, context is important here. In the face of the glee with which the opposition pursued every method possible to overthrow Chávez, if the only real form of “repression” of the judiciary is the arrest of one judge, Chávez by all measures is remarkably non-repressive. Carlos Andres Perez, a former president of Venezuela, in just a few days in 1989 killed 3,000 people who were protesting against IMF austerity policies he imposed.

Further context in which actions occur should affect how we view them. Abraham Lincoln several times abrogated the constitutional rights of Confederate sympathizers in the North; at one point, habeas corpus was suspended in several states. However, almost no one (other than Confederate sympathizers) views that as any real stain on his legacy, given the context of the war to end slavery.

Suppression of press freedom

HRW takes Chávez to task for allegedly suppressing press freedoms, acting as if the media had simply been an innocent bystander as the Bolivarian process was unfolding. In fact, as mentioned earlier, the media openly played a key role in the attempted coup by deliberately spreading misinformation. RCTV, one of the companies most often mentioned as a victim of government “authoritarianism,” is headed up by a man who once worked with the CIA during the “dirty wars” of the 1980s.

In addition, it is absurd to suggest that Chávez purged the media of any criticism. Venezuelan state media had only a 5.4 percent audience share as of 2010, compared to 37 percent in France. Almost every major newspaper in Venezuela is hostile to Chávez as are an array of channels available via cable and satellite.

Hugo Chávez, presente!

Hugo Chávez was not an authoritarian; he was a revolutionary. He stood not on legal formality, but on revolutionary principle. This is why Human Rights Watch and others must slander him. Hugo Chávez was a living example that it is possible to take on the powerful and rally the hopes of millions across the globe to end oppression and exploitation. While Human Rights Watch will never admit it, Hugo Chávez was the greatest humanitarian of the last decade.