The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Issue no. 1070 — November 26 - December 10, 2018

Editorial:
Climate Change Caused by Capitalism

Nov 26, 2018

A group of thirteen federal agencies released its long-awaited climate report last week. Their findings were clear and conclusive: The world climate is being irrevocably changed by human activity. The pattern of changes, commonly recognized as global warming, will cause fluctuations in weather patterns that will make the weather and weather-driven catastrophic events now regularly occurring – fire, drought, floods, hurricanes, among them – even more common.

This report echoes one released last month by a United Nations panel, which said that irreversible disaster could take effect if the world’s average temperature increases by 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2040. It has already increased by 1.8 degrees, and it is well on the way to hitting the 2.7 mark. To prevent this, emissions would need to drop by 45 percent by 2030, and by 100 percent by 2100. In the words of one of the authors of the report, the world’s economy needs to “turn on a dime.”

The levels of heat produced by the way capitalist society operates are unsustainable and are altering the earth’s atmosphere and surface in a way that puts billions of people at risk. Even if the entire capitalist system is completely retooled immediately to stop the release of heat into the environment, we will continue to suffer from its accumulated effects. If the warming is not stopped and reversed immediately, in a matter of two decades it will almost certainly be irreversible and the earth’s climate damaged beyond repair.

The air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, the surface of the earth we walk on, the atmosphere around us, will deteriorate and will not support life systems, plants, or animals, as we know them. Trade and production could be crippled from the disasters. Food production could shrink, causing starvation around the world.

The Trump administration will no doubt push to reject or moderate the findings. But the problem is not just Trump. Everything that the world’s governments and corporations have done has been woefully short of the mark that is needed to avert disaster. Even the “best,” most highly-praised agreements – like the Paris Climate Accord – have been a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed.

That is because the fundamental problem is capitalism – a world where everything is subordinated to the profits of the wealthy class. If a company can make a profit by polluting, it will do so. If a company can make a profit by destroying a forest that removes carbon from the air – it will do that.

Capitalism is extremely wasteful. The production of food, energy, and industrial goods is shaped by profit – not by any kind of rational plan to meet people’s needs. Think about how many of us have to commute long distances to work. That’s because housing and jobs are shaped by capitalism – not by any kind of human plan.

The problem isn’t a technical one. There are plenty of solutions to address this crisis, from using energy sources that are less polluting across the board, to using existing and new technologies to scrub carbon from the air, to moving people away from dangerous areas and setting them up in safer ones. This work could provide needed jobs.

The global climate is like a bull hurtling toward a cliff, unable to stop. And the world’s governments are the farmer that stands by, pleading for it to stop. They have KNOWN for decades what has to be done – but they have not and will not do it.

Working people don’t have to wait for governments that defend profit over life to do something. The working class has no interest in protecting profit. We are the ones who make everything run, and we can run it to meet the needs of society – which includes stopping things on a dime to halt the process of climate change.

Pages 2-3

THIS Is What Democracy Looks Like?

Nov 26, 2018

Heightened attention before the November elections, followed by closely watched re-counts, shined a spotlight on voter suppression. In the wealthiest country in the world, obviously voting should be accurate and easy everywhere.

But in this election, in the working class and poor areas, in black and Latino neighborhoods, voter suppression was widespread and disgusting.

In Georgia, the person running the elections – the secretary of state – was also the Republican candidate for governor. Under his watch, a red-tape system was set up requiring an “exact match” between voter registrations and other records. A successful lawsuit revealed that when 53,000 were about to be denied the right to vote, 70 percent were black voters! Usually it was because a name had previously been misspelled on some government document.

In Florida, early votes and absentee ballots were disqualified because of no “exact match” on signatures.

Said one lawyer in Florida, “There is nothing in the Constitution that qualifies the right to vote with a consistent signature.” How a signature looks has come to not matter with electronic payments. But in 36 states, voting laws mandate signature matching! As was pointed out by the same Florida lawyer, “They are not effective anti-fraud measures.... They are disenfranchisement measures.”

Moving polling places and closing polling places has been another way to suppress voting. In the last 10 years, 15,000 polling places have been eliminated nationwide. In one slimy example from this year, the one polling place in the factory town of Dodge City, Kansas got moved so it was now one mile from the nearest bus stop!

During this election cycle, many people spoke up and exposed the voter suppression. That was how more evidence came to light. It made it blatant that just to have the most basic right to vote takes a fight.

These issues were supposedly settled 50 years ago with the passage of the Voting Rights Act – yet here we are. It says everything that in the country at the top of the capitalist slag heap, the country that supposedly is the bastion of democracy for the world, THIS is what their democracy really looks like!

Huge Corporate Donations Flow Upward
– to the Democrats!

Nov 26, 2018

Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has campaigned against financial loopholes that allow companies to give unlimited amounts of money to the politicians of their choice. Other Democratic candidates have said something similar.

Cuomo, who has been governor since 2011, has blamed the Republican hold on the New York state Senate for not stopping this loophole. Well, here’s a surprise – that is no surprise! Cuomo is actually the largest recipient of this kind of money – by a huge margin. Cuomo has gotten five times as much from these LLC companies as Republicans have gotten. And that doesn’t count direct corporate donations. In the 2018 primary, only one percent of Cuomo’s donations were less than $250 and some of them were $1 or $5 from people using the same address as his campaign offices!

New York has some of the “easiest” campaign laws in the country. One in four states limit individual donations to $5,000 for a single campaign. In New York, the limit is already $65,000. And the state allows LLCs, that is, limited liability companies, to be formed to give any amount in donations for political campaigns and these are completely anonymous!

Voters may want to push back against huge corporate donations, as they have shown in ballot initiatives and polls. But the better- known politicians, in both the Democratic and Republican parties, have obtained millions of dollars in campaign funding everywhere, supporting all kinds of media blitzes and television, newspaper and radio advertisements that are out of reach of newer political figures or those from third party campaigns.

Just one more example of political hypocrisy that makes the idea of “democracy” in voting a myth, not a reality.

Clinton’s Anti-Immigrant Stance

Nov 26, 2018

Hillary Clinton gave a speech last week in Europe, in which she said, “I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame.... I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message ‘we are not going to be able to continue to provide refuge and support,’ because if we don’t deal with the migration issue, it will continue to roil the body politic.”

Perhaps it is politically convenient for Clinton, the former Democratic candidate in 2016, to appear to be a wise advisor – to forget her role as Secretary of State in the Obama administration. She directly supervised the wars that have destabilized the entire Middle East and reduced whole countries to ruin: Iraq, then Afghanistan by direct U.S. bombardment, Central America by economic and military strangulation – wars that have resulted in the massive migration of millions who have no home – no country left to stay in.

Chicago Area Security Guard Killed by Cop

Nov 26, 2018

Jemel Roberson was a musician who played keyboard and drums at churches around the Chicago area. He was working as a security guard at a bar in the black suburb of Robbins around 4 a.m. on November 11, when someone came into the bar shooting up the place. Roberson did his job – he subdued the shooter and had him on the ground, with a gun on him, when the cops showed up.

But one of the cops from Midlothian, a neighboring, largely white suburb, opened fire on Roberson, and killed him.

The Illinois State Police tried to cover up this killing. They issued a report claiming Roberson was wearing black clothing with no indication he was a guard.

But numerous witnesses said Roberson was wearing a hat and other clothing that said “security.” They also said that bystanders and the other police at the scene shouted at the Midlothian cop, warning him that Roberson was a security guard, and not the shooter.

Witness Adam Harris summed it up: “Everybody was screaming ‘Security!’ He was a security guard. And they still did their job, and saw a black man with a gun, and basically killed him.”

Is it any wonder black people in Chicago think shooting black men is “basically” the cops’ job?

Pfizer/Trump Flim-Flam

Nov 26, 2018

After a July Twitter attack by President Trump, Pfizer, the giant pharmaceutical company, said it would put off raising prices on about 100 drugs it manufactures.

Trump said he had a plan for improving the cost of drugs in the U.S. health care system. There are no specifics yet, since neither Trump nor any other politician has dared to interfere with Big Pharma and their right to make all the money the market will bear! (Pfizer gained 16 billion dollars in profits for the year of 2017, and 14 billion in profits for the year 2016.)

Pfizer now announces it will raise the price of ONLY 41 drugs, on January 1, 2019.

The president can say he protected us. Pfizer can say it stepped back to help health care users.

What a win-win! Except for those who need the drugs and now have to pay more!

Pages 4-5

Paradise, California:
A Town Destroyed

Nov 26, 2018

The wildfire that destroyed the town of Paradise on November 8 is considered to be the worst in California history, leaving 81 people at the time of writing and hundreds more people missing.

This fire was not a surprise. Paradise sits in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where fire is a natural part of the environment. Throughout the ages, fires from various sources, such as lightning strikes, have been part of the natural cycle of life. Fires regularly burned up dead underbrush and trees, thus clearing the way for new growth. However, for more than a century, in order to promote both economic and real estate development, federal and state forest agencies have suppressed all fires, thus, allowing the build-up of dead trees and underbrush that eventually are turned into the fuel of gigantic, catastrophic wildfires.

Massive fires broke out in the area surrounding Paradise in 1927, 1943, 1951, 1961, 1964, 1990, 1999 and 2000. In 2008, tremendous fires buffeted the town and actually came right up to city limits and destroyed some homes. But until this year, Paradise was remarkable because wildfire hadn’t crossed city limits.

Paradise, a city of 27,000 people, is a fire trap. It sits on a hilltop, surrounded by canyons, with only two roads going in and out. Back in 2009, a grand jury that investigated the problems from the 2008 fires noted the area is “especially prone to disastrous wildfires” and concluded “additional evacuation routes are necessary.”

State and local officials did the exact opposite of what the grand jury recommended. The officials decided that in order to boost commerce they would narrow a portion of the main road through town from four lanes to two. So downtown Paradise got less traffic, more parking spaces, bike lanes, etc. But no other provisions were made for expanding the evacuation routes in case of fire. Instead of more car lanes for people to evacuate, there were fewer.

When the raging fire approached Paradise on November 8, city officials tried to compensate for the lack of escape routes and avoid deadly traffic jams by trying to evacuate the town in sections. So, they only notified the people in the part of the town that was closest to the fire. But the wildfire, fueled by high winds that blew burning ash and cinders onto the town, caused a massive conflagration, forcing everyone to try to flee at once. All 27,000 residents were stuck in traffic, going nowhere while the buildings around them were burning. Many died in their cars when the fire roared over them.

The fire destroyed 14,000 homes and left most of the survivors homeless, having lost everything. Today, they are crowded into shelters. Many are in tents, with temperatures getting colder by the day, and rain approaching. The occupants of one tent city, in a Walmart parking lot in Chico, were told that they had to leave within a few days. They don’t know where else to go. These refugees face hardship, disease and desperation. Judging from the extremely slow and inadequate government response to past disasters, they are in for a long haul, with few resources put at their disposal to alleviate their situation. Basically, they are on their own.

What is also striking is that this fire started as a small brush fire of a few acres. But at every step, decisions on how to deal with fires and how to evacuate the town were based on capitalist profit. And so an ordinary fire was turned into a catastrophe that directly impacts the lives of tens of thousands of people.

California Wildfires Likely Started by Downed Power Lines
– Again!

Nov 26, 2018

Power outage reports by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison suggest that the two utility companies may be responsible for starting two big wildfires, which have destroyed nearly 20,000 buildings and killed probably hundreds of people (as of Nov. 21, 86 people were confirmed dead, and more than 500 were still missing).

PG&E told state regulators that it detected two outages on the morning of November 8, near the towns of Paradise and Concow in Northern California. California officials have identified both locations as ignition points of the Camp Fire, which largely destroyed both towns and spread out to become the most destructive and deadliest fire known in California history.

On the same day, November 8, Edison reported an outage at 2:22 p.m., just two minutes before the Woolsey Fire in Southern California was first observed.

Both companies have already been implicated in other wildfires in California. Earlier this year, Cal Fire, California’s state agency in charge of fighting wildfires, announced that downed PG&E lines had caused more than a dozen wildfires in October 2017, killing more than 40 people and destroying thousands of homes. In eight of those cases, Cal Fire says, PG&E should be prosecuted for violating state safety laws. And in October, Edison admitted that it was partially responsible for the 2017 Thomas Fire, one of the largest in California history.

Faced with hundreds of lawsuits by people who lost their homes and loved ones, these huge, investor-owned companies asked the state of California for a bailout – and California politicians promptly obliged. The California legislature, controlled by Democrats, passed a bill that allows utilities to raise rates to pass fire-related legal liabilities on to their customers, and the Democratic governor of California signed it into law last September.

Barely two months later, after this year’s fires, PG&E says it will probably not have the money to cover all the court-mandated damage payments it will likely face – a shameless cue to their loyal servants, the politicians, asking for ANOTHER bailout!

And everything indicates that California officials are getting ready to deliver it again. PG&E stock, which had lost more than half its value in a week after the company’s admission of the two outages, jumped up more than 30 percent after the head of the California Public Utilities Commission said that allowing PG&E to go bankrupt “wouldn’t be good public policy,” and that “legislative action to relieve PG&E’s financial burden” might be necessary. And whatever other “options” some state politicians are suggesting, it all boils down to the state taking over the company at ratepayers’ and taxpayers’ expense, in one form or another.

Never mind that these companies have been neglecting maintenance and preventive measures, such as clearing vegetation around power lines and reinforcing poles, for years, to increase their already big profits. And all these politicians who keep bailing the companies out know this full well – they even included a provision in the recent bailout bill, mandating the state to pay for some of that work, which the companies are legally responsible for doing!

Leaving electricity, which we all need to live, and management of wildfires, in the hands of greedy capitalists and their loyal servants, the politicians, is a deadly threat for the whole society.

California Uses Inmate Firefighters

Nov 26, 2018

The State of California deployed about 1,500 inmates to fight active fires, like the Camp Fire, as it is called, the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history. Considering that a total of roughly 9,400 firefighters are currently engaged in such fires, these inmate firefighters' contributions are very important.

California relies on prisoners to fight wildfires more than any other state. The program of using inmate labor dates back to 1915, when the state first established labor camps that forced inmates to build highways and roads. In 1946, the state opened Camp Rainbow in Fallbrook, which housed inmates to fight fires. Today, 3,700 inmates work at 44 fire camps across the state.

But, the inmate firefighters are paid $2 per day, and another $1 per hour when they fight active fires, a pitiful wage for very dangerous work. Six inmate firefighters have died since 1983. One inmate firefighter, Amika Mota, told the New York Times:It is such a dangerous job. At a minimum, people should be paid a fair wage.”

California “saved” between 90 and 100 million dollars a year by using the inmate firefighters, as the state officials “proudly” reported. This is the monetary benefit from the state paying such pitiful wages to its inmate labor.

Also, although these inmates are trained for the firefighting, and California heavily relies on them to fight fires, they are not expected to be firefighters when they finish serving their sentences and are released: California does not hire convicts as firefighters.

The State of California, like any other capitalist institution, exploits its workers; it even avoids paying market wages, using the incarceration of thousands to its advantage.

California Wildfire Spreads Nuclear Waste

Nov 26, 2018

The devastating Woolsey Fire in Southern California began on the site of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), which is known to be contaminated by large amounts of radioactive nuclear waste and highly toxic chemicals.

For six decades, military contractors Rocketdyne and Boeing, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Air and Space Administration, built and experimented with rocket engines and nuclear reactors at Santa Susana, without paying any attention to pollution standards or safety standards. There were at least four nuclear accidents at the site, including a meltdown of a nuclear reactor in 1959.

The Woolsey Fire burnt much of Santa Susana, undoubtedly releasing significant amounts of radioactive and toxic chemicals into the air. But officials at the California Department of Toxic Substances Control were quick to announce – without even waiting for test results! – that the fire released no radiation or hazardous substances. And L.A. County and U.S. Department of Energy officials quickly followed suit, telling the public not to worry about the fire spreading poison or radiation.

But those officials were not fooling area residents. “We’ve learned not to trust anything DTSC says,” said Melissa Bumstead from nearby West Hills, whose daughter twice survived leukemia. For decades, the Department of Toxic Substance Control and other government agencies have lied to the public. They conspired to cover up the 1959 meltdown, for example, until, in 1979, some university students accidentally found documents mentioning that disaster. But after 1979 also, government and company officials broke practically every promise they made to the public. It was not until 28 years later, in 2007, that California politicians passed a law mandating a cleanup. And today, 11 years later, neither Boeing, the present owner of the site, nor any government agencies have even begun to clean up!

Executives of Rocketdyne and Boeing, and government officials who allowed these companies to massively contaminate and not clean up the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, have consciously chosen to put the profits of a few companies above the well-being of the population – just as capitalism dictates.

Wildfires may be a menace people have to reckon with, but the real threat to the future of humanity is the capitalist system.

Kim and Kanye’s Private Firefighters

Nov 26, 2018

When the 50-million-dollar Kardashian-West mansion was threatened by the recent California fires, a private firefighting crew sprang into action, saving the house.

And their house was not alone: at the peak of the fires, Wildfire Defense Systems had 53 engines protecting almost 1,000 expensive homes.

It appears that wealthy people get “private” fire protection because public fire services are not funded enough, especially in the face of the increasingly severe fires.

Two months before the recent round of fires started, CalFire had already exhausted almost its entire budget. The Forest Service budget for controlling wildfires has been cut year after year since the mid-1980s. Municipal fire departments have been facing the squeeze all across the country.

The wealthy class today has the wealth they’ve stolen from the rest of us to hire their own fire protection. If the rest of us want enough funding for the fire departments we depend on – we’ll have to take that wealth back!

Pages 6-7

2018 Elections:
A Referendum on Both Parties

Nov 26, 2018

The following article is the editorial from The Spark’s workplace newsletters, for the week of November 19.

The number of people who went out to vote reached record highs in many states – especially in Midwestern states which Trump won in the 2016 election. In Michigan, a higher percentage of people voted than in any mid-term election in half a century.

It was a referendum on Trump, even though he wasn’t on the ballot. Trump had inserted himself into the election – he campaigned in almost every state, saying he needed a vote for Republicans to show support for him and his administration.

He didn’t get the support he wanted. The vote put Democrats in control of the House of Representatives.

It was a vote AGAINST Trump. But was it a vote FOR the Democrats?

In fact, it followed a time-worn script: the political party that controls the White House often loses control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections. On the bigger scale, the party that controls the White House usually loses control of that after two or three terms in the presidency.

It’s not very surprising that voters are more motivated to get rid of one party than to put the other one in office. Does either party speak for the people who work every day for their living? Does either party, once in office, take up our problems?

It’s also not a surprise that most people don’t vote. Even with “record high” turn-outs in many states, this recent election was bypassed by over half the voting-age population. Most of the people who didn’t vote were laboring people: poor farming people, poor city people.

The Republicans claim to have the support of rural areas. In fact, the largest share of laboring people in rural areas didn’t and don’t vote. The Democrats claim to have control of big cites. But the fact is, the largest share of laboring people in big cities didn’t and don’t vote. In that sense, this election, like many others, was a referendum on both parties. Both parties were indicted.

The working people of this country – rural or city – have no party that represents us, that responds to our needs, that serves our interests.

The last time working people had a presidential candidate who represented workers’ interests and spoke about workers’ problems was nearly a century ago. In 1920, Eugene Debs ran for the presidency for the fourth time. He was in prison at the time, put there for traveling around the country speaking out against the so-called “patriotism” that led the U.S. into World War I. Charged with interfering with the draft in 1918, he indicted the capitalist parties, both Democrats and Republicans, who took the country into war. Threatened with prison, he said: “Years ago, I declared there was only one war in which I would enlist and that was the war of the workers of the world against the exploiters of the world.”

It was not the first time Debs had been in prison. He went to prison in 1894, as one of the leaders of the big railway strike at Pullman, which shut down railroad travel in the Midwest. He went to prison for speaking out in support of other workers’ strikes. He was threatened with prison for denouncing the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1914.

He may have been in prison, but working people – in rural areas and the cities – voted for him. They saw in Eugene Debs a true representative of their own class.

Working people today need our own Eugene Debs. But political leaders like Debs, who represent our interests, aren’t given to us. We will get them only when we build our own organizations.

We have to work to renew the unions, to make them organizations that can lead fights. We have to start working to build our own party, an organization committed to pushing a nation-wide fight of working people. We need, ourselves, to enlist in “the war of the workers of the world against the exploiters of the world.”

We have the forces that could run the country, but we have to organize ourselves.

National Harbor MGM Injury

Nov 26, 2018

The family of Zynae Green has sued MGM National Harbor, the casino outside Washington, D.C. This 6-year-old girl was critically injured after receiving a severe electric shock from a handrail at the casino. The lawsuit is also against the general contractor Whiting-Turner, and against Rosendin Electric.

The lawsuit argues that the lighted handrail she grasped had been defective for days. In fact, a video shows other people getting jolted by the electrified handrail before Zynae and her brother and sister were shocked by it. This means that even though MGM is blaming faulty wiring on the contractors, MGM knew something was wrong and did nothing.

The lawsuit further argues that there was pressure on the construction workers to finish the job quickly at the expense of safety so MGM could open and make piles of money.

How dare MGM claim this was a “tragic accident.” A precious little girl needs 24-7 care for the rest of her life. She can’t talk, can’t walk. No, this was not an accident. This was the result of greed.

Amazon Disaster

Nov 26, 2018

Two Baltimore area families will be mourning this Thanksgiving for loved ones killed in an accident at an Amazon distribution center on Broening Highway. During an unexpected tornado, a wall of the building fell on them.

One man was 54, working for a contractor, and the other was 37, working as a truck driver.

The storm on November 2 brought winds of 105 mph and did other damage in other areas around Maryland.

No one can control the weather. But we can predict there will be more severe storms. We need to demand that the buildings we work in are prepared to withstand them. And no one, whether Amazon worker or contractor, should be working when disasters are on the way.

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November 1918:
The German Revolution

Nov 26, 2018

In 1918, the workers’ revolution that had started in Russia a year before almost spread to Germany.

By the time World War I broke out in 1914, Germany was the most industrialized country in Europe. It was still ruled by an emperor, and it had a weak elected parliament. Capitalists in alliance with an old aristocracy formed the ruling class. And Germany had a huge working class, which was largely influenced by the Marxist tradition. German workers had built their own party, the Social Democratic Party or SPD. Before the war, the SPD had a million members. Its unions organized 2.5 million workers. It had gotten 34% of the vote in 1912, allowing it to have 110 delegates in the German parliament. Germany was the center of the world socialist movement.

In its early days in the late 1800s, the SPD had been a revolutionary party. It had defied the German government. The Social Democratic delegates in the German parliament had always voted against the military budget.

But its electoral successes had led a part of its leaders and activists to adapt to the dominant political system. That is why, in August 1914, when World War I broke out, the Social Democratic Party voted for the war budget and helped to lead the workers into the butchery of the imperialist war.

Resistance Grows

The Social Democratic Party required all its parliamentary deputies to go along with its support for the war. But in December of 1914, the deputy Karl Liebknecht broke this discipline. He, along with Rosa Luxemburg and a few other leaders who opposed the war, launched the Spartacist League, named after the slave who had defied ancient Rome. Their slogan: “The principal enemy is in our own country.” A similar movement started within the Social Democratic unions: militants against the war formed the Revolutionary Shop Stewards, who were influential in the factories.

In 1914, the patriotic and nationalist fever dominated. But by 1915, women demonstrated against the high cost of living. On May 1, 1916, the newly formed Spartacist League called for workers to demonstrate against the war. Liebknecht declared: “Down with the war! Down with the government!” The demonstrators confronted the police. Liebknecht was sent off to forced labor.

But workers rallied to the Spartacists. At the beginning of 1918, 400,000 Berlin workers went on strike against the war, at the call of the Revolutionary Shop Stewards. The strike spread to Kiel, Hamburg, and Cologne, before the Social Democratic leadership maneuvered to end it.

The Front Cracks

By September 1918, with military defeats accumulating, the German military commanders knew that they could not win the war. They needed an armistice, but they did not want to be associated with the defeat. The Social Democrats were offered a place in the government. The then army declared the Social Democrats responsible for the defeat.

The naval commanders wanted one last battle, for honor. The sailors, however, refused to be sacrificed for the honor of their officers, and on October 29, the crews of two ships mutinied. The officers regained control and arrested a thousand sailors, but the ships stayed in port.

At the naval base in Kiel, 50,000 sailors and 30,000 shipyard workers wanted to free their comrades. They took over the city and elected councils of sailors and workers. Soldiers sent to put down the uprising joined in the rebellion. That was on November 3 – the German revolution had begun.

The sailors dispersed throughout the country and spread the idea of councils. Workers and soldiers came together in councils that formed centers of power in the Ruhr, Stuttgart, the northeast of Germany, Munich, Saxony, Hesse, Franconia, Wurttemberg, Metz and Strasbourg.

The Revolution Comes to Berlin

On November 9, Berlin workers occupied the public buildings. Soldiers joined them. At 11 o’clock, the German Emperor stepped down. The SPD leader Ebert was left in charge. But he said, “I don’t want revolution. I hate it as much as sin.” In order to take the wind out of the sails of the Spartacists, the SPD declared the First German Republic at 2 o’clock.

The Spartacist leader Liebknecht proclaimed the Free Socialist Republic, and called for a fight for this demand. In support, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards called on the workers to elect representatives to an all-German congress of councils, to organize working-class power. But the majority of the delegates elected by the working class to the congress of councils were still attached to the Social Democratic Party. And they voted their confidence in the SPD leader, Ebert.

The army supported the SPD government against the Spartacists. Given that many of the troops supported the revolution, the military leadership formed shock troops composed of officers, adventurers, and far-right students to put down the Spartacists.

Strikes broke out. To cut them short, on November 15, the SPD union leadership signed an agreement with the bosses giving workers the eight-hour day and the right for their unions to operate and meet openly. This apparent victory disoriented the workers. The movement began to disintegrate as the army stepped up its attacks.

As Trotsky wrote in 1919: “The moment war broke out, and consequently when the moment arrived for its greatest historical test, it turned out that the official working-class organization (the Social Democratic Party) acted and reacted not as the proletariat’s organization of combat against the bourgeois state, but as an auxiliary organ of the bourgeois state, designed to discipline the proletariat.... The working class was paralyzed.... The hardships of war, its victories, its defeats, broke the paralysis of the German working class.... But the German proletariat remained without a revolutionary combat organization.”

In October of 1917, the Russian revolutionary combat organization, the Bolsheviks, had led the working class to power in the Russian Revolution. They looked to the German workers to join the fight. For the Bolsheviks, the revolution had to spread, or it would be strangled by the capitalists.

And in 1918, it seemed like the workers’ revolution might indeed spread. German workers, soldiers, and sailors overthrew the emperor. And they wanted more than a capitalist republic, with an SPD flavoring. They took many actions that raised the banner of workers’ power against that of the capitalists. But the German working class lacked a revolutionary party that could lead and coordinate its actions.

The only really organized party was the SPD. Marx and Engels had helped create this party in 1875, to fight for the emancipation of the working class. But it betrayed the working class and its own traditions, and was the main force that saved German, and world, capitalism.

Humanity would pay a terrible price for this betrayal in the decades to come. It led to the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the isolated Soviet Union. It opened the door for the rise of Hitler in Germany. It set the stage for the horrors of World War II. And in this capitalist world, today we are still paying the price.