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democracy

Book Review:

Smith, Page, “Trial By Fire. A People’s History of the Civil War and Reconstruction.” McGraw-Hill, NY, 1982. 995 pgs

Lincoln quote on labor

This is Volume 5 of Page’s series on history of America. There are a lot of facts in the book, but factual reporting is not his method. Mostly, he compiles diary entries from people on both sides of the period. He tries, that way, to reflect what people were thinking as the years passed.

It is particularly effective when we try to un-puzzle what happened during Reconstruction. Did it succeed or did it fail? Should they have even tried or would it be better to have left the Southerners to do what they wanted? Who were the good guys and who were the bad? What difference did it make at the time?

Nothing is clear-cut in political history. It’s all a matter of point of view and opinion. Reconstruction may have been a good idea at the end of the Civil War, but a lot of people were against it. As time wore on, fewer and fewer people in the North really cared. The Southerners were adamant, and they thought they could re-assert the same relationships they had before the war.

One reason that Southerners were so optimistic about re-asserting racist relationships is because President Johnson had 3 years to re-instate them after Lincoln’s death. If there’s a bad guy, I mean a really awful bad guy, it was Johnson.

If there’s a good guy, a really good guy, it was President Grant. When he assumed the presidency in 1868, he made a genuine effort to protect African American people and give them a chance to thrive. When his second term ran out, reconstruction was over. The Republicans just gave it up. The strongest of them were the abolitionists, who had pretty well died out by 1876.

Page’s account of Reconstruction is the bloodiest I have seen. Black people were murdered and raped all over the South all through the decades following the war. Some died fighting, but most of them were simply murdered. There were large massacres and small massacres, but the Southerners eventually prevailed and civil rights went from a hopeful era to very dark times that persist today.

—Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. We podcast it, and “Workers Beat Extra,” on Soundcloud. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site

Book Review: Bevins, Vincent, Jakarta Method. Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade & the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World. Public Affairs, New York, 2020

If one reads a little bit of news from abroad, or if one watches a few movies made somewhere else, one probably already knows that the United States government has participated in extermination programs. One doesn’t get an idea of the extent.

Appendix 5, pages 266-7, gives some of the numbers. If one adds them up, it amounts to 1,927,850 murders. Author Bevins explains on page 238, “As we have seen, in the years 1945-1990, a loose network of US-backed anticommunist extermination programs emerged around the world, and they carried out mass murder in at least twenty-two countries (see Appendix Five).

The numbers given do not include deaths from military engagements or even “collateral damage” deaths. These were murders. The body count doesn’t even include the people who were tortured, maimed, raped, or held in concentration camps. One of the Indonesians interviewed is quoted on page 246, “They needed to kill the communists so that foreign investors could bring their capital here.”

People who are still alive in America can remember when we used to read the words “non-aligned nations” in the official news. Activists talked about “the third world” and “new left.” These were ways of identifying with much of the world’s population that was neither in the First World American rich-people’s camp nor the socialist Soviet camp. They were trying to maneuver in between.

It was these “non-aligned nations” who experienced the Jakarta method. Jakarta was the capital of Indonesia, the fourth largest nation in the world and a major leader of the non-aligned movement. After three million unarmed suspected leftists were persecuted, and after a million of them were murdered, Indonesia aligned. They aligned with the United States, and so did almost all the others.

The actual method in the Jakarta method was to “disappear” dissidents. Suspects were rounded up, usually at night, tortured for the names of more suspects, and then murdered. A General Domingo in Brazil explains the process on page 215, “First we will kill all subversives, then we will kill all of their collaborators, then those who sympathize with subversives, then we will kill those that remain indifferent, and finally we kill the timid.”

As far as I know, Ronald Reagan did not personally strangle any of the victims. American armed forces were not called out, and America’s intelligence services contributed only a minimum of direct participation. America did these murders with sly propaganda, skillful political maneuvering, bullying, and, most of all, with money. America did not conduct these mass murders personally, they paid someone else to do it.

This book has the first comprehensive listing of those American atrocities I have ever seen. It is not easy to read because the truth is not always easy to take. By bringing together the horrors, and by showing how they interrelate, Vincent Bevins makes a great contribution to our understanding of where we are and how we got there. I don’t think it’s perfect, or even complete. For example, I don’t see Angola on the map in Appendix 5, but I can remember when Jonas Savimbi toured the United States to raise money for his terror campaign there.

It only covers part of the post-war period. I shudder to think what might be revealed from a longer view of history, and I shudder even more to think that, twenty years hence, we will be finding out what American “intelligence services” are doing in our names this very day.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. We podcast the program and other “Workers Beat Extra” material on Wednesdays on Soundcloud. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Why can’t they come up with a unifying plan for the 2020 elections? I don’t mean to insult hippies, nor anarchists, but politically they both share the same malady.

It helps explain why they have so many divergent and confusing attitudes about the current elections, as manifested every day on my social media news feeds.

Hippies and anarchists are really good people in that they sincerely want a better world. They are willing to go to great lengths to make that world happen. They often exhibit great courage in facing arrests and prosecution.

As they never really get anything done, the keepers of the status quo are more than happy to laughingly tolerate them. In fact, the 1% sometimes finds uses for hippies and anarchists to help them confuse and divide the progressive movement.

Hippies and anarchists don’t really like each other, so why am I insisting on throwing them into one big political category? It’s because of what they have in common.

Common Belief of Hippies and Anarchists

They believe that their idea of a better world should come about immediately. They don’t believe in periods of advancement or setback. They basically have one strategy and it is supposed to result in instant gratification — a better world.

Hippies and anarchists believe they already have everything figured out. The hippies take the really short route: they just start living as if the better world were already here. The anarchists take quick actions that are supposed to awaken the rest of us. The hippies don’t care how long it may take for everybody else to catch on, but the anarchists think that just one great “spark” will make their better world right away. The problem is just finding the right spark.

The long, hard work of informing and organizing ordinary people just doesn’t appeal to hippies and anarchists. The daily drudgery of defending democracy and trying to advance it isn’t part of their plan. It isn’t that they are stupid or lazy, maybe they just haven’t thought it through.

Dozens of Election Strategies

That’s why the hippies and anarchists can’t come up with a candidate or a unifying strategy in the 2020 elections. None of the choices, Biden or Trump or 3rd party or abstention, can give them the instant gratification that they consider their due. Eventually, most of the hippies will ignore the election. The anarchists will oppose it. Neither or them will bring anybody any closer to progress.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio program every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. They podcast it, and some other “Workers Beat Extra” podcasts, on Wednesdays. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

In October 1917, Vladimir Lenin was almost alone in calling for the Bolsheviks to take over Russia. Even after they succeeded, the arguments raged on, Menshevik against Bolshevik, revolutionary against liberal, and Social Democrat against Communist.

Lenin Statue in Seattle

Millions joined the revolutionary movement because the Bolsheviks succeeded. Millions left because of the Stalin-Hitler Pact. Millions joined because the Red Army defeated the fascists. Millions left because of the Khruschev revelations. Millions joined because of Cuba. Millions left when the Soviet Union imploded. All of them were misguided, and all of their arguments are irrelevant.

The Mensheviks and Social Democrats since 1917 have argued that the Bolshevik Revolution was bound to fail because they should have waited, no matter how long it might take, until they could be elected. Generations passed with the Social Democrats making the same arguments. When capitalism finally did bring down the Soviet Union in 1991, they changed to “I told you so!”

They weren’t really arguing history. The importance of the argument lies in the basic question of whether or not people, Americans for example, should engage in revolutionary struggle. Lenin and the Russian revolution are just metaphors in this fundamental disagreement. If one believes that the only proper way to change the world is by being elected, then Lenin is evil, Lenin is opportunist, and, most important, Lenin is wrong!

The metaphor may be gone, but the argument is still going on. If people want a better world, should they look for a revolutionary program or just a very good election campaign? It’s irrelevant.

It’s irrelevant, for one reason, because a revolutionary program would include a very good election campaign. Lenin knew that, and the Bolsheviks ran election campaigns every time it was permitted.

But it’s even more irrelevant because the situation in America today is far different from Russia in 1917. They didn’t have an almost completely educated populace. They didn’t have cell phones. They didn’t have the internet. They didn’t have worldwide information and communications.

We are misguided if we think that the tide of history is conclusively changed because of an individual or a passing event. The entire history of the human race shows that we get smarter and more capable of self-governance. Individuals don’t change that. Incidents don’t change it.

Even if revolutionaries conceded, because the Soviet Union lasted “only” 74 years, and said that the Bolsheviks should never have sought to break the power of the capitalists in Russia in 1917, so what? They weren’t us and we aren’t them! Today, each of us has an obligation to ourselves and to our species to think through what is needed and what we can do about it. Lenin can’t do it for us, and he couldn’t stop us if he wanted to. It’s up to us, now.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 Central Time. We podcast the radio show and other “Workers Beat Extra” commentaries on Soundcloud.com. If you are interested in what I really think, check out my personal web site

Labor needs an advanced program to meet today’s extreme challenges:

  • Six-hour day!
  • No corporate bailouts!
  • Democracy first!
  • Infrastructure!
  • Organize Everybody!

Nobody is prouder than I of the improvements in the AFL-CIO since the leadership change of 1995. We have reached new peaks this year with our May 1 celebrations and our taking sides with the movement for racial justice.

But the situation is changing so quickly and so dramatically that I believe the American labor movement needs very advanced thinking if we expect to be able to say that we truly represent the needs of all working families. There is little danger, in this extreme situation, of overreaching.

Six Hour Day!

Because of the ongoing unemployment crisis, now is the time to re-implement our old demand for shorter working hours. A six-hour day would help with unemployment and, most likely, increase labor productivity just as it did when the Fair Labor Standards Act came.

During the heyday of the CIO and for a while afterward, American unions demanded “30 for 40 with no cut in pay!” We wanted a 30-hour work week with the same pay we were making in 40 hours. I once checked the resolutions at conventions of the UAW and found that “30 for 40” was there every convention until 1957. That same year was also the peak of U.S. labor organizing. We had 37% of the workforce organized in America!

After 1957, shorter working hours was forgotten and it’s hard to find a union leader today that even knows about it. One exception is a former officer of a local of the United Transportation Union. The UTU is a railroad union. Tom Berry actually negotiated a contract with a 6 hour work day in it, and he will still talk to you about it any Saturday evening when his free speech forum takes place in Dallas. I’m proud he’s my friend.

Somewhere in my moldy pile of old books, I have one about the struggle for shorter working hours. I think it might be named “It’s About Time.” Just as one could make a case for the age old class struggle being a fight for democracy, one could also say it was about time.

Prior to the industrial revolution, most people worked from dawn to dusk. They were outdoors, varying their tasks, and doing their own pacing, so it may not have been nearly as hard for them as it was for factory workers after the industrial revolution. From the industrial revolution forward, working families have fought their bosses over working hours.

In 1886, we had worldwide strikes to try to win an 8-hour day. The main leaders of that movement in Chicago were rounded up and hanged, so we didn’t hear a lot more about it until the Great Depression. When unemployment soared, the Roosevelt Administration pushed for the Fair Labor Standards Act. It was finally passed on June 25, 1938.

The FLSA doesn’t guarantee an 8-hour day. It just mandates overtime pay for working over 40 hours in a given workweek. Bosses don’t like to pay overtime, so 40 hours became something of a norm on many worksites.

America’s overtime problem today rivals that of 1938, so everybody should be able to understand and get behind the demand for shorter working hours now.

Jobs and Infrastructure

Now is the time to demand trillions of dollars for infrastructure repair and advancement. Truly terrible unemployment may be with us for a long time if strong progressive action is not taken. Among the many pressing infrastructure problems is the need for fast internet everywhere.

Democracy Comes First!

Our political demands must be improved in the direction of defending and strengthening democracy, because working families need it most and the wealthy employers of today are not going to provide it. Our usual demands for fair wages, benefits and the right to organize, of course, must be pursued.

No More Corporate Bailouts!

Since 2007, most of the economic action of the government has been directed toward propping up employers with little regard for working families. It needs to stop. If a corporation can only survive by getting a government bailout, it doesn’t need to survive. If workers are displaced by corporate failure, they should be employed directly by government. Their efforts should go toward meeting human needs, not profits.

Corporations have shown and are showing that they cannot be trusted “middle men” to distribute corporate welfare as wages to their suffering employees. In the last crisis and the current one, corporations hid their windfalls from the public and, as soon as they could, redistributed the money to themselves!

They are in that same process with pandemic bailout money right now!

Organize Everybody!

American labor has done is doing a valiant job, especially considering our dwindling resources. In order to bring forward a truly progressive agenda, we are going to have to redouble our efforts to win over the general American population. Our on-line arm, Working America, is perfectly suited to doing this work, especially during the pandemic.

With a progressive program and a digital approach, American labor can organize everybody!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk who every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. We podcast it, and some of my other talks, on Soundcloud. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Book Review:

Hart, Bradley W. “Hitler’s American Friends. The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States.” St Martin’s Press, NY, 2018

A highly successful German spy and propagandist officed with a U.S. Senator in the Capitol. At least three senators cooperated in letting the spy use their franking privileges (envelopes with stamps) to disseminate articles from the Congressional Record from Senate speeches that were originally written by the spy himself!

Literally millions of Americans subscribed to fascist literature and radio broadcasts. One of the most popular men in America, aviator Charles Lindburgh, was the main spokesperson for Hitler’s American Friends.

Lindburgh, and a lot of the other people mentioned in the book, may have been more committed to non-intervention, pacifism, or isolationism more than they were to Hitler himself; consequently there is a lot of gray area. In the late 1930s, there were lots of non-interventionists, including many liberals and the Communist Party itself. There were also a lot of anti-semite Jew-haters, including Lindbergh and the great industrialist, Henry Ford.

In basic statistics, probably the largest part of Hitler’s American Friends were simply German immigrants who continued to favor their homeland, right or wrong.

Other than the many paid spies and saboteurs, most of the Americans who assisted Hitler could claim some other ideological motivation. Hardly any of them faced any serious punishment after the war.

One of the prominent persons who suffered only from a tarnished reputation was labor leader John L. Lewis, founding leader of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). His motivations seemed to be non-interventionism and dislike for President Roosevelt. Strike action during the war, when almost all unions took a wartime no-strike pledge, further subtracted from Mr. Lewis’ patriotic credentials.

How far did the pro-Hitler movement get? Author Bradley Hart speculates that the Republicans may have gone far if they had chosen Lindbergh as their presidential candidate in 1940. But who really knows?

I was more interested in the long list of U.S. corporations that cooperated with the Hitler regime. Henry Ford led the list. He is also named as Hitler’s largest American financial contributor in another very good book, “Who Financed Hitler.” Ford accepted Germany’s second highest medal of honor from Nazis! But General Motors, in Hart’s book, was hardly less guilty than Ford in cooperating with and profiting from the Nazi era. Coca-Cola and IBM were deeply involved, too. Did you know that Fanta was originally created for the Nazi Germany market?

History is probably not the main reason people will have for reading this book. We want to compare American fascism from another period with what is going on today. Right now, we want to know, how many Americans would accept fascism as the way to govern our country? Your guess?

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. They podcast the program and my other rants on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

We’re seeing a lot of articles and op-eds about how old crazy stupid Donald Trump keeps making terrible blunders that could cost him the election. But what if they aren’t errors? What if they are part of a deliberate plan?

Recently, Trump sticks up for the Confederacy, threatens to call out the army against protesters, attacks protesters so he can pose for a photo-op, advocates undermining Social Security, refuses to wear a face mask,  moves his convention so Republicans can risk COVID at a mass meeting, calls a mass meeting in the city best known for mass lynching, and tries to ruin the Post Office. These are unpopular actions. The pundits say he’s ruining his chance for re-election in November.

I want to add that Trump is actively opposing vote-by-mail, but that particular dangerous and unpopular stance needs to be considered separately.

What if Mr Trump is not worried about the November elections because he and his filthy rich supporters intend to cancel them? Here in America and among Americans, cancelling a presidential election may sound incredible. But dictators do it all the time!

It’s never happened in America, you might protest, but lots of things that have never happened in America are happening since Mr Trump took office.

The State of Georgia just held an election, and the word used to describe it was “chaos!” An earlier election in Wisconsin was the same. People on our side think that this chaos is shameful and must be remedied. People on Trump’s side don’t think so at all. They think that bad election precedents may provide a pretext for postponing the November presidential race.

In many states, including mine, politicians have already set legal precedent for postponing elections. The one we’re about to have in July was originally set for April. What’s to keep the Trump forces from postponing the one in November? Assuming the COVID pandemic keeps getting worse, which it is and is being worsened by deliberate political decisions, then “postponing” the November elections may seem more palatable to some unthinking members of the electorate, and to ALL of the supporters of the candidates that are expected to lose!

If vote-by-mail is allowed, and if the Post Office has not been destroyed, then the pandemic wouldn’t even make a decent fig-leaf excuse for postponing the November election. The HEROES Act, passed in the house and stymied in the Senate, would save the Post Office. Rightwing lawsuits to bar vote-by-mail are making their way to the Supreme Court right now. What do you think will happen?

Are today’s protests really going to change America? Will racism come to an end?

One thing I have really liked about the last 11 days of international protest is that it seems to be evolving from unfocused outrage toward serious demands. One recent local demand I’m hearing is to fire the Dallas mayor, city administrator, and police chief. I’m pretty sure there’s no real change in that one because we’d just end up with 3 new faces, just as likely worse as better.

The police themselves are coming up with some reforms. Dallas police, for example, say they will no longer use choke-holds against us and that they will announce their intentions before they shoot us. Individual police will be asked to restrain other police who are doing things illegally. The Democrats have a bill in Congress that would theoretically change police from “warriors” to “protectors.” All non-transitional reforms are welcome, but they don’t change the fundamental relationship between police and the population.

Most recently, I hear the demand “defund the police” and re-allocate the money to developing poor communities. According to today’s Dallas newspaper, some City Councilpersons seem to be in favor! That demand might actually be transitional.

When I was a Trotskyite, we argued that transitional demands were those that could not be met while capitalism remained intact. We used to say that our Vietnam anti-war demand “Out Now!”, a very powerful and successful demand, was transitional. The argument was that capitalism could not exist without successful imperialism. With hindsight, we have to say that we were wrong, because America withdrew from Vietnam and went right on with imperialism.

In the 1960s we had a similar youth movement. Possibly bigger, although it’s hard to tell because there are literally hundreds of smaller demonstrations every day. But that was during a time of prosperity. Those student activists had very little chance of actually connecting with the working class, and in truth we didn’t.

Today, we probably have at least fifty million American families in dire economic straits. Most of the world is even worse off. The young activists won’t find it very hard, if they try, to connect with the rest of the working class. Nobody, except the affluent, like what is happening and is about to happen in America.

As the American labor federation, AFL-CIO, has already called for a “Day of Action” on June 17, which will include a demand for racial justice, we are likely to find out sooner rather than later about this worker/youth connection.

Today’s young activists, if they try, will not find it difficult to connect with the rest of the world working class, either. The most impressive thing about today’s demonstrations is their worldwide reach!

Could local governments “defund the police” and still maintain capitalist control over our giant working class? That’s the question that makes it all so interesting!

I don’t think we’re going to find out because I don’t think that police are likely to be defunded anytime soon, even though the demand will not disappear. It’s more likely that this demand will be added to future consciousness-raising economic demands that, considered together, will truly change the world!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. The program is podcast along with “Workers Beat Extra” podcasts every Wednesday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

It is difficult to absorb the true gravity of today’s situation or the meaning of the protests in the cities of the world. Even though they have captured all the headlines and are undeniably important, I think they are only skirmishes in a battle that has yet to come.

From Wikipedia: “A skirmish is a term first used in the 14th century.[2] It meant a small-scale fight between two opposing forces or a preliminary battle involving troops in front of the main force.”

The main forces of the antagonists have not yet engaged. Only the advanced forces have begun the combat. The skirmishers on our side are the youth. They are more willing to fight, and they have more to fight for. On the other side, the skirmishers are police forces. They are the first line of administration for the people who run our society.

The main forces have yet to be committed. So far, the military has not been employed, at least not completely. Mr. Trump threatens to use them, and he certainly would, but he hasn’t yet. Organized labor, always defensive, is not likely to respond until there is no other choice. There is some hope that workers may organize outside the restrictions set up to cripple traditional unions. A general strike may not be so far in the future.

The economic situation makes the war inevitable. As American economic power decreased relatively, beginning in the early 1970s, the employers demanded more and more from the working class. For the workers, the situation has become intolerable. It is fight or die.

Class war is not new, but the circumstances have changed drastically. Workers are far better educated and far better networked than ever before. Employers not only have their traditional rifles and bayonets, but they also have nuclear weapons.

New strategies will come into play. It is unlikely that major working class forces will commit until the situation gets more desperate, but insightful people may be ready to fight now. The trick is to find each other and organize.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s ‘Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. The radio show and several “Workers Beat Extra” presentations are podcast every Wednesday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site..