Fight Back! - News and Views from the People's Struggle This newspaper exists to build the people's struggle! We provide coverage and analysis of some of the key battles facing working and low-income people. es More signs of economic weakness showing up <p>San José, CA - On Thursday, January 20, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the number of new claims for unemployment insurance rose for the second week in row, to more than 280,000 for the week of January 10-15. This is up almost 40% from the beginning of January. While much of this may be caused by the spike in COVID-19, there have been other signs of economic weakness that started to show up in December.</p> <p>Signs of economic weakness and growing concerns about rising interest rates also slammed the stock market last week. For the second week in a row, stocks fell. The U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve, has made it clear that it will raise interest rates sooner rather than later because of the rising inflation, which hit 7% year over year in December. Higher interest rates have usually been bad for stocks, especially for fast-growing companies and more speculative stocks. The technology heavy NASDAQ entered correction territory last week, falling more than 10% from its peak. More speculative financial assets like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies were slammed, with Bitcoin continuing to drop and ending the week down almost 50% from its record high.</p> Las Luchas del Pueblo Capitalismo y Economía COVID-19 Unemployment Sun, 23 Jan 2022 16:41:16 +0000 Fight Back 9450 at Colorado: King Soopers strike in 2nd week <p>Denver, CO - On Monday, January 17, grocery workers represented by UFCW Local 7 entered day six of their Unfair Labor Practices strike against King Soopers. King Soopers is a subsidiary of Kroger.</p> <p>Over the weekend, the UFCW Local 7 bargaining committee had three days of intense negotiations with Kroger resulting in very little movement. “We spent the first day of negotiations listening to corporate executives scream, yell at the [union] members, and show utter disdain and disrespect for the workers - the people that make every penny of profit,” said Local 7 President Kim Cordova.</p> <p>“I think things are going better on our side than theirs,” said striking worker Logan Muller, “Most customers are choosing to shop at Safeway instead - they’re making record sales over there.”</p> <p>Morale on the picket line was high, with many of the workers reporting that they were glad for the fights their union waged during the financial difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic. A source of a lot of frustration for many of the workers was the current round of King Soopers commercials airing which promote King Soopers as a high-paying and fair employer. Most of the employees called the advertisements “disgusting,” with one worker even saying “Figures, King Soopers has money for new commercials, but not better pay.”</p> Las Luchas del Pueblo King Soopers strike Strikes Sun, 23 Jan 2022 01:47:37 +0000 Fight Back 9448 at WAMM still saying ‘No to war’ - 40th anniversary celebration <p>Minneapolis, MN - Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) is still saying “No to war” as the group celebrates 40 years of organizing and fighting back.</p> <p>On January 16, 2022, people gathered on the spot where WAMM held its first demonstration in 1982. They stuck signs in the snowbanks and fences, and their chants were heard for blocks around, “Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation!” “Coups and sanctions cost lives, we don’t believe the media lies!”</p> <p>Back in January 1982, more than 100 women attended the WAMM’s founding conference where they decided, “No meeting without action!” Kristin Dooley, WAMM’s director, described the first-ever march, “They braved the ungodly cold weather to walk along University Avenue near the University of Minnesota.” A <em>New York Times</em> reporter happened to drive by, took pictures and published the story. Soon newspapers across the country read about the group of women holding signs from Moms Against Bombs and Women Against Military Madness.</p> <p>Dooley continued, “WAMM helps educate and helps us see the world and see the kind of things the U.S. government tries to pull here at home and abroad.”</p> <p>People walking by the protest got to read all the signs WAMM has made over the years, “No tax money for war,” “Fund human needs not war,” “Abolish nuclear weapons,” “Stop U.S. bombing of Syria,” “Hands off Cuba,” “Hands off Ukraine,” and “Let Palestine live! End U.S. aid to Israel.”</p> <p>Chants continued, “Money for jobs, not for war, end all sanctions now! Money for COVID relief, not for war, end all sanctions now!</p> <p>Statements from founding members of WAMM were read to the crowd.</p> <p>Founding member Polly Mann, now aged 102, had outlined her vision for the group, “We would have to get a grant to hire a staff person who would create an inventory of all the women's groups in the country who have peace as an objective. This should include national offices of all U.S. churches. With such an inventory a national meeting would be held at which the subject of world peace would be the objective. For example, details should be sought such as recommended reading material, conferences, etc.”</p> <p>Dorothy Van Soest, longtime member of WAMM and author of the recent novel <em>Nuclear Option</em>, paid homage, “<em>Nuclear Option</em> would not exist if it were not for the WAMM women whose unstoppable demands for a peaceful and just society have inspired and called me to action for 40 years. I am deeply grateful to Marianne Hamilton and Polly Mann who founded WAMM at Loretta’s Tea Room in Minneapolis in the fall of 1981 by bringing together eight other women – Cathy Anderson, Pam Costain, Moira Moga, Eleanor Otterness, Pat Powers, Mary Shepard, Lucille Speeter and Mary White – who, like them, were committed to challenging the shift in national priorities taking place at that time from human services to military spending. The spirit of that day is imbued within me and reflected in the character of the unstoppable protagonist of <em>Nuclear Option</em>, as well as in several other characters.”</p> <p>Through the years, WAMM saw the importance of linking issues locally, nationally and internationally. They worked alongside many groups at the forefront of many social, economic and racial justice issues. Community members came to salute WAMM’s long history and honored them with praises.</p> <p>Meredith Aby-Keirstead, Anti-War Committee member stated, “WAMM sees the relationship between U.S. foreign policy and the need to struggle for human rights here at home. We have walked on the picket lines together for nurses here in this city, marched together for Black lives and protested together against Line 3. WAMM knows our solidarity with other countries needs to extend to solidarity with others here at home.”</p> <p>Dave Logsdon, president of Vets for Peace Chapter 27, said, “We Have one of the best and most vibrant chapters in the entire country. We'd be nowhere without the energy, knowledge and support of WAMM.”</p> <p>Erica Zurawski of MN Immigrant Rights Action Committee said, “WAMM has been with us step by step in our struggle for immigrant rights since our founding in 2006. You have radical politics and don’t let that fade or die and never compromise your values. WAMM, you have taught us well.”</p> <p>Sarah Martin, member of WAMM’s Middle East Committee, thanked everyone for being out and supporting WAMM today. She described how this committee came to be and how supporting the heroic people of Palestine and their struggle helped turn the tide on U.S. public opinion regarding Palestine. Martin proudly exclaimed, “WAMM is still saying no to war and declaring, ‘We demand justice, we demand peace!’”</p> <p>The anniversary rally ended with a group photo and a march that continued down the block, intermingling with University of Minnesota Gopher’s fans as they were leaving the basketball game and hearing supporting honks from cars in the street.</p> <p><em>Kim DeFranco is a member of Women Against Military Madness</em></p> Las Luchas del Pueblo Antiwar Movement Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) Sat, 22 Jan 2022 00:40:06 +0000 Fight Back 9447 at Chicago: Community and labor organizations mobilize for voting rights <p>Chicago, IL - On Martin Luther King Jr Day, January 17, the family of Dr. King led a march for voting rights across Frederick Douglass bridge in Washington DC. At the same time, a coalition of over a dozen community organizations and labor unions organized a caravan of over 100 cars up King Drive in Chicago for the same purpose. Activists in both cities and across the country have voiced their support of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement (JLVRA) Act.</p> <p>In a statement on the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression website, NAARPR executive director Frank Chapman said, "Getting these bills passed means stopping the reactionary Republican Party from suppressing the right to vote, from blatantly denying masses of Black, brown, and poor people the right to vote. This is a racist, Republican-engineered war against our people. And unless we stand up and fight back it will be a one-sided war."</p> <p>Republican lawmakers have passed 34 laws restricting voting rights in 19 states in 2021 alone. These laws are a part of a decades-long push by the right wing to erase the gains made by Black people and other oppressed nationalities in the U.S. during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.</p> <p>With wind whipping their signs and the windchill at ten degrees, a press conference was held before the caravan. Bishop Travis Grant, executive director of Operation Rainbow PUSH, said the Republican lawmakers “are in the spirit of Bull Connor and George Wallace, blocking the [JLVRA] Act, the George Floyd Justice Act, and the Freedom to Vote Act.” Bishop Grant also pointed to the regressive policies of these same lawmakers regarding health care, education and labor unions. Erica Bland, executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, linked the ongoing struggle for voting rights to the democratic struggles Black people fought during Reconstruction: “We are here to say that labor is with the movement. One day longer, one day stronger.”</p> <p>Bland and other speakers called out Democrat senators as well, particularly Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, as being the “white moderate stumbling blocks” Dr. King referred to in his <em>Letter From a Birmingham Jail</em>. Dr. Lashawn Lattrice with Make Noize for Change said, “we are holding these politicians accountable by forming coalitions across the country to say that we will not stand for voter suppression.”</p> <p>Reverend Jamie Fluker with Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL) also connected the modern struggle for voting rights to the legacy of Dr. King, as well as other civil rights icons such as Fannie Lou Hamer. “Today we invoke their spiritual courage and their persistent thirst for justice,” Reverend Fluker said.</p> <p>The final speaker was Bertha Escamilla, mother of torture survivor Nick Escamilla and member of the MAMAS, an organization of mothers and other family members fighting to free torture survivors and other wrongfully convicted people. Escamilla spoke on the link between struggling for voting rights and the fight against the criminal legal system that incarcerated her son.</p> <p>Other organizations that endorsed at the rally were NAACP, BLM Chicago, the Arab American Action Network, the US Palestinian Community Network, the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, Justice for Nick, Indivisible Chicago, and Indivisible Chicago South Side. This coalition is one of many across the country organizing together with chapters of NAARPR to fight against systemic racism.</p> Las Luchas del Pueblo African-American Martin Luther King Jr Day National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR) Nacionalidades Oprimidas Wed, 19 Jan 2022 01:01:37 +0000 Fight Back 9446 at Dallas rally demands justice for murdered Kerala student leader Dheeraj Rajendran <p>Dallas, TX - On January 16, progressives gathered downtown at Dallas City Hall to demand justice for Dheeraj Rajendran, an engineering student and member of the Student Federation of India, a mass student movement connected to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), murdered in the Indian state of Kerala by members of the Kerala Students Union and the youth wing of the Indian National Congress.</p> <p>Dheeraj was murdered by the local branch of the Youth Congress because he was poised to win local school elections at the Government Engineering College of Idukki.</p> <p>The protest was called by the Dallas Anti-War Committee, and attended by members of several organizations, including CODEPINK and Democratic Socialists of America. Signs at the rally called for justice for Dheeraj Rajendran.</p> <p>After the rally, participants gathered around the steps to City Hall to hear more about Dheeraj Rajendran, as well as information related to the political situation in Kerala and in India in general, from Rick Majumdar, an engineering student and activist leader at The University of Texas at Arlington and who was an online acquaintance of Dheeraj.</p> Las Luchas del Pueblo Dheerah Rajendran India Tue, 18 Jan 2022 18:26:30 +0000 Fight Back 9445 at UPS Teamsters demand MLK Day become paid holiday <p>Washington, DC - UPS Teamsters across the country mobilized on January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day to demand UPS make MLK Day a paid holiday, end two-tier jobs, create more full-time jobs, and pay part-time employees a living wage. UPS Teamsters held parking lot rallies and gathered petition signatures at UPS warehouses. </p> <p>"People forget that MLK was as strong an advocate for the labor movement as he was for the civil rights movement, and it's important that we honor MLK day to re-establish that legacy in the labor movement," said Emily Butt, a part-time package handler and steward from Lansing, Michigan.</p> <p>The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) passed a resolution at their 2021 convention stating that the IBT will launch a campaign to make MLK Day a paid holiday in all Teamster contracts. The resolution was initially proposed by General President-elect Sean O’Brien. Sean O’Brien and the Teamsters United slate won a landslide election against the Hoffa-backed Teamster Power slate late last year. Sean O’Brien and the Teamsters United slate will take office later this year in March.</p> <p>"People fought hard for MLK day to be a national holiday. It's time the Teamsters observe it and make it a paid holiday. The workers deserve it," said Adam Gerado, a part-time package handler from Jacksonville, Florida.</p> <p>The push to make MLK Jr. Day a paid holiday is the first action of many signaling that a Teamsters United administration will not be business as usual. The Teamsters United slate ran on a platform of winning better contracts, organizing key workplaces like Amazon, and bringing the fight back to the Teamsters union. </p> <p>“Dr. King's dream is still unfulfilled when we still have part-timers working for poverty wages with no access to full-time jobs. By fighting to make MLK Day a paid holiday UPS Teamsters are saying it is time we all be treated with respect,” said Eliza Schultz, a part-time package handler from Chicago.</p> Las Luchas del Pueblo International Brotherhood of Teamsters MLK Day Teamsters Obreros Tue, 18 Jan 2022 01:21:47 +0000 Fight Back 9444 at Retail sales drop in December <p>San José, CA - On Friday, January 14, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that retail sales dropped 1.9% in December 2021. This number was called “terrible” by economists, who expected a very slight drop of 0.1%. Since the retail sales report is not adjusted for inflation, sales discounting higher prices fell almost 2.5%. </p> <p>Many news reports tried to blame the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, which began to surge in the United States in December. But online sales, which usually go up when people don’t want to shop in stores because of the pandemic, fell a much sharper 8.7% in December, more than four times the overall drop in sales. Restaurants and bars, which do worse when people stay home, only fell 0.8%, or half the average drop in sales.</p> <p>More likely is that the surge of sales in 2021 has begun to fade. Even including the December drop, retail sales at the end of 2021 were almost 17% higher than the end of 2020. This reflected the trillions of dollars in federal government monies to fight the recession of 2020. But this aid has ended piece by piece. The last relief checks went out early in 2021. The federal eviction moratorium ended in August. Expanded unemployment insurance benefits ended in September. </p> <p>With last expanded federal Child Tax Credit payments going out in December, only the federal student loan moratorium remains. State and local government budgets are starting to go into the red, so cuts will start to be more frequent this year. This trend towards more government austerity, combined with the Federal Reserve Bank’s commitment to start raising interest rates as soon as March, will put two brakes on the economy.</p> <p>While the economy surprised many by bouncing back from the recession in 2020 and 2021, it is more likely to surprise to the downside in 2022. One sign of growing negative economic views of the future among wealthy investors is that the stock market began the year with back-to-back weekly drops.</p> Las Luchas del Pueblo Capitalismo y Economía Economic Crisis Omicron Mon, 17 Jan 2022 00:40:59 +0000 Fight Back 9443 at Inflation hits a 40-year high as record corporate profits roll on <p>San José, CA - On Wednesday, January 12 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that prices of consumer goods rose 7% in 2021. This is the highest rate of inflation in 40 years. With workers’ wages only up by 4.7% last year, the purchasing power of workers’ earnings fell by more than 2%.</p> <p>One important cause of higher prices was the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While spending on services, which involve more human contact and a greater possibility of infection lagged, spending on goods surged. This was the case for used cars, where prices went up 37.3% last year, as travel on mass transit declined. In New York City, transit rides were still 50 to 70% lower than before the pandemic.</p> <p>The pandemic is continuing to cause disruptions in supply, which are also contributing to higher prices. Shortages of computer chips is a disruption of new cars, each of which can use a thousand chips or more. Limiting the supply of new cars also limits the number of used cars for sale as people hang on to their current cars.</p> <p>The growing power of a handful of giant corporations that monopolize more and more markets is also contributing to higher inflation. Take a look at beef prices, which rose 18.6% in 2021, more than twice as fast as food prices in general, which rose 6.3%. Four giant meat-packing corporations now control 85% of the market for beef, up from 36% 40 years ago. This market power allows them to raise prices for consumers while at the same time keep down what they pay ranchers for cattle. This has led ranchers, who once got about 60 cents for every dollar spent on beef, last year getting less than 40 cents. While ranchers are going out of business, meat packers are making massive profits.</p> <p>Federal government borrowing and spending in this latest crisis was about three times as large as the stimulus after the 2008 financial crisis. This came in the form of support for businesses, the unemployed, and relief checks for most of the population. Almost all of this was available for spending, unlike 2008, when large amounts of aid went to ailing financial institutions.</p> <p>Last but still important was the massive money printing by the Federal Reserve. In the six years after the 2008 financial crisis the Fed created about $3.5 trillion in money to buy U.S. government and mortgage-backed bonds. But most of this money, about $2.6 trillion, just sat in banks as “excess reserves” meaning that the money wasn’t being lent out and spent. This meant low inflation. In just two years since the start of the pandemic, the Fed has printed even more money, about $4.2 trillion. Again about $2.6 trillion of this is sitting in banks, but much of that money created is being loaned out and spent, at five times the rate after the 2008 financial crisis, contributing to higher inflation.</p> Las Luchas del Pueblo Capitalismo y Economía inflation Sat, 15 Jan 2022 01:49:31 +0000 Fight Back 9441 at Day 1 of Colorado King Soopers strike: Interview with a striker <p><em>Fight Back! interviews Carol McMillian, a bakery worker from Denver currently on strike against the unfair labor practices of King Soopers, a division of Kroger.</em></p> <p><em><strong>Fight Back!:</strong></em> Why are you out here today on the picket line?</p> <p><strong>Carol McMillian: </strong>The reason we are out on the picket line today is because of the company’s unfair labor practices. That is our dispute with King Soopers.</p> <p><em><strong>Fight Back!: </strong></em>Can you go into a little more detail about what those unfair labor practices are?</p> <p><strong>McMillian: </strong>The unfair labor practices that the company is participating in right now is, first of all they have attempted to hire [people at] temporary wages at $18 per hour when regular KS employees are hired at minimum wage. That’s a contract violation.</p> <p>There’s a lot, it's a whole lot. The company is negotiating in bad faith. They’re presenting one contract to the members but there’s more to the contract in negotiations. They’re not being transparent in their negotiations.</p> <p><em><strong>Fight Back!: </strong></em>What is different about this decision to strike compared to other contract renewals?</p> <p><strong>McMillian: </strong>What's different between this contract renewals and others has to do with the economy right now, store conditions. There’s a lot of things involved in why it's different right now. It's a whole, totally different atmosphere.</p> <p><em><strong>Fight Back!: </strong></em>Can you speak to what that atmosphere is and what the relationship with corporate has been in the past year that has led to this decision to strike?</p> <p><strong>McMillian: </strong>We’ve been through two years, going into three years, of a global pandemic. Workers are overworked, underpaid, stressed out, sick, tired, very very tired, feeling neglected and disrespected by KS.</p> <p><em><strong>Fight Back!:</strong></em> What are you hoping to win out of this strike when it's all said and done?</p> <p><strong>McMillian: </strong>At the end of the strike, we just would like the company to respect us, protect us, and pay us. Our goals are fair wages, affordable healthcare, and a safe working environment.</p> Las Luchas del Pueblo Denver King Soopers Kroger strike Strikes Sat, 15 Jan 2022 01:28:16 +0000 Fight Back 9440 at Reflections on the 30th anniversary of the end of the Soviet socialist project <p>Last month marked the 30th anniversary of one of the most colossal events in history. On December 26, 1991, the Soviet Union formally dissolved itself, bringing an end to the 70-plus year project of building socialism, and reintroducing capitalism to nearly a fifth of the world.</p> <p>The Soviet collapse marked the rock-bottom low point for 20th century socialism, but it also wasn’t alone. Both before the events in Russia and for nearly a decade after, socialist countries in Eastern Europe saw sweeping counter-revolutions that brought down the ruling workers parties and restored rule by the richest 1%. Large protests, military intervention and ambivalent responses from disloyal or hopelessly despairing party leaders - these were the superficial hallmarks of the era.</p> <p>In some countries like Bulgaria, the communist party put up a fight and actually won elections under the new capitalist-friendly constitution - a sin that quickly got them outlawed by the new ruling classes, no matter their empty rhetoric about “free and fair elections.” For Albania and Yugoslavia, it took outright military intervention by NATO members well into the 1990s to finally put the proverbial nail in red coffin.</p> <p>It’s all worth reflecting on because of the untold misery brought about by monopoly capitalism in the last 30 years. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, bringing death and widespread economic suffering to working people in the U.S. and around the world, there’s a growing collective sense that something has to give. This system, ruled by billionaires and banks who get rich off of the labor, land and resources of the rest of us, can’t go on. But as people explore alternatives to the capitalist hellworld of our time, the Soviet socialist project remains an important experience from which to draw lessons.</p> <p>Let’s be clear on this: the collapse of the Soviet Union and the overthrow of socialism in eastern Europe was a catastrophe for workers and oppressed people around the world. Born out of the carnage and destruction unleashed on the world by monopoly capitalism, the Soviet Union became the first socialist state in history. It was a society ruled by the working class in alliance with the peasantry, who exercised political power through the communist party. Over the 20th century, revolutions—usually born out of similar conditions of war and devastation—saw other workers parties come to power, eventually encompassing nearly half the world’s population.</p> <p>That’s fine history, but what was so significant about socialism in the Soviet Union?</p> <p>Socialism is just a better system for the vast majority of people than capitalism. We know this because it has actually existed for over a century and still exists today in several countries. As the first socialist country in history, the Soviet Union represented a light in the dark for workers and oppressed people around the world. It showed plain as day that capitalism—with its obscene inequalities, rampant poverty and exploitation, war, disease, famine and oppression—was not the only possible way. The working class could take power for themselves <em>as a class</em> and use it to build a new type of society based on freedom and solidarity.</p> <p>Here’s what the Soviet Union achieved in more than 70 years of building socialism: They created an economy free from unemployment, inflation, poverty, recessions, homelessness and massive income inequality. This wasn’t ‘sharing poverty’ either, as so many liberal and right-wing historians alike allege. The Soviet economy grew at a breakneck pace for most of its existence, mainly due to socialist planning, and increased its people’s living and consumption standards faster than any other country before it.</p> <p>When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, Russia’s industrial output was 12% that of the United States; 50 years later, it had risen to 80% that of the U.S.—and 85% of the U.S.’s agricultural output. That kind of economic growth is transformational, but it wasn’t growth for growth’s sake or for the private enrichment of a few at the top. In the Soviet system, the people as a whole—ordinary working people of many nationalities—enjoyed the benefits of the growth that their hard work made possible.</p> <p>At a time when inflation in the U.S. is at its highest rate in decades—especially for necessities like housing, gas, food, health care and utilities—it’s shocking to think that rent in the Soviet Union never exceeded about 3% of the family budget. Utilities ran only a bit higher at 5%. Certain luxury goods cost a lot more, but through central planning, the socialist state set prices for food and other necessities lower than their equivalent ‘market value.’</p> <p>In the socialist bloc, workers had a guaranteed right to a living-wage job. Soviet workers in the mid-1970s took an average of a month’s paid vacation every year, traveling to state-sponsored resorts and neighboring countries with their families. Every worker had paid sick leave if they took ill. There were no health insurance companies, expensive premiums, high deductibles and co-pays or hospital bills at all. Health care was free for everyone.</p> <p>It may come as a surprise to know that the Soviet Union had twice as many practicing doctors per person as the U.S. for most of its existence, but it shouldn’t. Education was also completely free, from elementary schools to post-graduate university programs. Soviet college students mainly came from working class backgrounds, but they never had to take out a crippling loan from a bank. The state provided living stipends for students, which meant more people could pursue their interests, talents and passions for sciences and arts. That produces more doctors and nurses, but it also produces world-class engineers, mathematicians, filmmakers, authors, architects and more.</p> <p>All workers in the socialist bloc also belonged to a union, which administered their job benefits and protected them from over-zealous managers and job hazards. It’s tough to imagine in the United States, but unions in socialist countries exercise an enormous amount of institutional power on the job, over the economy and in the government. In the Soviet Union, for instance, unions could unilaterally veto discipline, including terminations, issued by managers. Workers could actually discipline or fire their supervisors and managers by recall petition through their unions.</p> <p>But perhaps most staggering of all to reflect on 30 years after its collapse is the level of income inequality—or lack thereof—in the Soviet Union. Few features better encapsulate the fear and loathing of life in the United States than its gargantuan wealth gap between the top 1% and the rest of us. “The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90%—And That's Made the U.S. Less Secure” read a <em>Time Magazine</em> headline from September 2020—and its only gotten worse.</p> <p>While working people struggle to make ends meet, stay healthy and keep the lights on at home, corporate vultures like Jeff Bezos and dumbasses like Elon Musk—both billionaires—are presented by the establishment media as icons of success and innovation. In this seemingly forever-COVID capitalist system, they have succeeded—in robbing the rest of us blind. Corporate CEO pay in 2020 clocked in at 351 times that of an average worker, according to an Economic Policy Institute report in August 2021. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the enormous wealth gap has led to higher risk of COVID infections and death among the poor and working class, particularly Black workers—although plenty of studies have proven the link anyway.</p> <p>Just to say, what little income inequality did exist in the Soviet Union is unrecognizable by today’s standards in America. There was no class of millionaires or billionaires in the Soviet Union. People couldn’t own stock in companies they never worked for, collect dividends off the hard work of others and call that a job. Everybody who could work did work. Some people made more than others, but not in the way we’re used to in a capitalist country.</p> <p>The highest earners in the Soviet Union were teachers and college professors, scientists and engineers, writers, artists, and public administrators. They might take home as much as 1500 rubles every month. Government officials made a little less than half of that at roughly 600 rubles. Industrial directors who headed up particular enterprises made somewhere between 190 and 400 rubles per month, largely depending on the industry and its performance. Workers earned between 150 and 200 rubles. In other words, even at its most egregious, the top-paid earner in the Soviet Union only made about ten times the income of an ordinary worker.</p> <p>This widespread social and economic equality had other impacts too. The Soviet Union and the socialist countries in eastern Europe produced some of the most interesting, groundbreaking films of the time—even as American studios and theaters refused to show most of them. Ordinary working people packed movie theaters to take in everything from science-fiction like <em>Solaris </em>and <em>Stalker </em>to intense war films like <em>Come and See</em>—all three of which are regarded today as some of the greatest films ever, even in America. Artists produced unique, original art for working people, and state support for the arts insured that workers had unprecedented access to take it in, enjoy and learn. Most households had extensive personal libraries full of books, journals and art. It comes as no surprise that “Soviet citizens read more books and saw more films than any other people in the world,” according to a UN report from the 1980s.</p> <p>Of course the impact of the Soviet Union and the socialist countries extended far beyond its own borders. Whatever its particular shortcomings or policy mistakes, the Soviet Union unquestionably served as a counter-weight to U.S. imperialism. Along with the Soviets, countries like German Democratic Republic (East Germany) provided tremendous material and diplomatic solidarity to liberation movements around the world fighting colonialism and national oppression. Socialism in action gave oppressed people around the world a living, breathing example of a society free from capitalist exploitation. Titanic freedom-fighters like Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro drew inspiration—and support—from socialism in the Soviet Union, as did countless Black revolutionaries, organizers and activists in the United States.</p> <p>Driven by an unending desire for greater profit, the monopoly capitalist countries seized on the collapse of the socialist bloc as an opportunity to sink their teeth deeper into Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. Even Yugoslavia, which had split sharply with the Soviet Union shortly after World War II, saw itself carved up by NATO in the aftermath. The ongoing ‘forever wars’ of the U.S.’s so-called War on Terror are unimaginable without the overthrow of socialism in the Soviet Union.</p> <p>Of course, capitalism’s restoration plunged working people in Russia and eastern Europe into a torrent of poverty, disease, starvation, unemployment, inflation and countless other miseries. Old national and religious prejudices sprung out of the hellscape ushered in by the overthrow of socialism. Vicious armed conflicts broke out among nationalities and ethnic groups that had lived fraternally for nearly seven decades under socialism. Hateful neo-Nazi and right-wing nationalist movements saw a massive resurgence, no longer held at bay by the socialist state. In no uncertain terms, the overthrow of socialism in the Soviet Union made the world a much, much worse place.</p> <p>The Soviet socialist system wasn’t perfect. Starting in the 1950s, the Communist Party began to stray from its commitment to Marxism-Leninism and walk back important parts of its practice. The reasons for this shift, to revisionism and opportunism are myriad, but over time a deeply compromising ideological trend came to predominate among the Soviet party’s leadership. Many other communist parties in eastern Europe and elsewhere followed suit. Party leadership began tolerating and eventually encouraging economic and social trends that weakened the socialist system and strengthened the forces committed to bringing back capitalism. The re-emergence and rapid growth of the black-market ‘second economy’ helped lay the groundwork for the events of 1991. Outside pressures by the imperialist counties led by the United States had a hand in this too.</p> <p>Thankfully though, the fall of socialism in the Soviet Union is not the end of the story. Facing a reversal of fortune for socialists everywhere, a few countries took a different path and resisted the tidal wave of capitalism’s return. Cuba stands strong, even after suffering under the U.S.’s barbaric economic blockage for more than six decades. Just last year, Cuba stunned the world with its ingenuity and efficiency in developing its own COVID vaccine and distributing it to more than 90% of people, giving it one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. Vietnam, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Laos have all seen similar success in the fight against COVID while protecting the livelihood of their people.</p> <p>Socialist China and its unprecedented, roaring economic success stand out as a particularly important part of this story. Like it did in the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc, the grim reaper of capital eventually visited China in the form of the 1989 Tiananmen protests, which were plainly aimed at overthrowing the socialist system as similar protests had done elsewhere. A section of the Communist Party even supported these aims. At the decisive moment though, the party did the right thing and put its foot down. They used the socialist state to stop the slide back into capitalist oblivion and misery. For whatever mistakes and errors these parties have made in the last 30 years, their decision to continue building socialism has made life better for the vast majority of working people, both in their countries and around the world.</p> <p>Point-blank, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc was a catastrophe for the working class around the world. Workers in countries like the United States might not have seen it that way at the time, but monopoly capitalism’s largely unimpeded 30-year reign has made life worse for all of us.</p> <p>Between the carnage and torture of endless wars for oil, economic crisis after economic crisis, rampant police crimes and racist vigilante violence, the apocalyptic weather events brought on by climate change, and the explosive spread of COVID-19, it’s all too clear that December 26, 1991 did not represent “the end of history,” as liberal academic Francis Fukuyama famously wrote. The same class struggle that drove workers, soldiers, sailors, peasants and oppressed people to overthrow a centuries-old monarchy in Russia rages on in 2022.</p> <p>People committed to ending our collective misery and creating a better world for ourselves and our children should look at the Soviet experience and learn from it. Socialism is not an elaborate system neatly worked out in the brains of intellectuals and academics, nor is it a political science checklist. Workers and oppressed people of many nations have built and are continuing to build socialism. It exists, past and present, for us to learn from its victories as well as its defeats in the hopes of building a future world worth living in.</p> <p><strong>Editor’s note:</strong> For those interested in learning more about the causes and history of the Soviet Union's collapse, Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny's book<em> Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union</em> remains a must-read English-language account. Several of the points in this essay are drawn from their book, which is still as thought-provoking and important for socialists to read as it was in 2004 on its release. For an equally insightful account of China's experience in the same period with the Tiananmen protests of 1989, as well as the CPC's different response, readers should check out Mick Kelly's<a href=""><em> Continuing the Revolution is Not a Dinner Party: Looking Back at Tiananmen Square, the Defeat of Counter-Revolution in China</em></a>.</p> Las Luchas del Pueblo Socialism Socialism Soviet Union USSR Thu, 13 Jan 2022 21:39:28 +0000 Fight Back 9439 at