The Spark

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

Issue no. 1115 — October 12 - 26, 2020

A Return to “Normal” Is Not Enough!

Oct 12, 2020

With Trump clowning in the White House, every day is a new show.

How many dozens of his staff and White House workers were infected by his reckless behavior? Is he really going to hold rallies after that? What about the aid package he said he won’t, no will, sign!

The list of questions is endless. Not to say it is not important. His callous disregard for the illness of millions and deaths climbing over the 214,000 mark, while bragging about being a superhero, is disgusting. As has been stated repeatedly, his tricks and cons and blustering are not working on the virus, which continues to work its way through the population.

But his tricks keep him in the news media, and they are setting the tone for the upcoming election in a way that is, without a doubt, beneficial for his opponent party, the Democratic Party.

Under his watch, the health crisis surrounding the coronavirus is deepening, not receding. In areas of the country that are dominated by the Republican Party, where sections of the population long felt immune to infection, the virus is spreading like wildfire. And there, whole sections of the population are now sick, without work and devastated by natural disasters on top of that.

There is talk this might result in a landslide victory for the party not in office, in this case, the Democratic Party. Trump is becoming more frantic as the polls reflect a shift across the country toward Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

But the crazy behavior of Trump is only a surface-deep reflection of the crises we are facing. Those crises weren’t created by Trump and the Republican Party, and they won’t be resolved by electing a Democratic president and a Democratic congress.

In a clarifying moment, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris told us just that in her debate with Vice President Mike Pence. Gone were the discussions of Medicare for All, and tackling environmental disasters with a Green New Deal. Gone were any “Defund the Police” and “Black Lives Matter” mantras.

What Harris presented was a platform clearly right-of-center, even law-and-order; a promise to fight the virus crisis and accompanying unemployment crisis with a return to the old normal, business as usual with promises of a better future.

But it was business as usual that ushered in the multi-crisis events that we are living through!

Yes, Trump is a monster, and yes, his platform to transfer money to the rich while supporting racists, misogynists, bigots from all walks, and mocking COVID-19 victims, is unacceptable and has to be rooted out.

But without drastic measures, without revolutionary changes to the society, to employment, to hospital and drug and medical systems, to food distribution systems, to school systems, to transportation systems, and on and on, we will remain victims of a crisis that is not temporary, but permanent, and worsening.

As comforting as it may be to hear kinder, gentler words from candidates, it is not enough. Because capitalism functions for profits, and kinder and gentler is not in the program of this upper class that continues to make mega-profits in the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis that is taking the lives of hundreds of thousands.

Today, there is no significant political party of the working class, no party that will fight for the working class to lead a struggle to take control out of the hands of the capitalists and the apologist politicians who lead for them. There is no mobilization of working people to pull capitalism down, and to force the transfer of billions of dollars out of the hands of the big capitalists and into the hands of the population—those who can fight to build new systems that benefit the majority.

But there are new political parties in two states that give workers a means to express these aspirations. They are the Working Class Party of Michigan and the Working Class Party of Maryland. These two parties have candidates who are themselves workers, and are giving voice to a message that says working people can reject capitalism and its functioning, reject the foundation that has created a never-ending environment breeding joblessness, poverty, racism, sexism, child illiteracy and devastating diseases, like the coronavirus. A return to the old, rotten normal is not enough!

Pages 2-3

California Governor Kills Job Rights Bill for Laid-off Workers

Oct 12, 2020

California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would require companies in the hotel, convention center, airport and janitorial services to rehire workers, whom they laid off during the pandemic, first; and to do it based on seniority.

For many of the hundreds of thousands of workers in the hospitality service industries throughout the state, the consequences can be disastrous. Workers who got laid off, including workers with decades of seniority, said management told them that if their employers rehired people in the future, they would have to reapply for the job and, if hired, they would have to start at the bottom with no seniority.

In other words, these big, profitable companies are taking advantage of the pandemic and the economic crisis to drive down the wages and benefits they pay their workforce; and they are doing it with the help of the Democrats, who control the California state government completely.

Workers were told by their union leaders to put their hopes in legislation that would give them a measure of protection. But the Democrats are an enemy of workers, just like the Republicans represent the interests of one social class, the capitalist class against the working class.

To protect our livelihood and future, the working class can only rely on its own forces.

Washington, D.C. Restaurant Workers Underpaid

Oct 12, 2020

Dozens of workers protested outside a downtown Washington, D.C. restaurant on September 30. They renewed a long-standing demand to end the so-called tipped minimum wage. Currently, wait staff in D.C. and many other places only receive a fraction of the minimum wage—around one third, which in D.C. is five dollars an hour now. If their tips don’t make up the difference between that and the full minimum wage, the restaurant is obligated to pay them the difference. But of course this doesn’t always happen, and many restaurant workers end up getting far less. In 2018 city residents voted to end the tipped minimum wage, but the city council repealed their decision.

Restaurant workers going hungry—another outrage of capitalist society, wholly supported by local politicians!

United States:
Leading the World in COVID-19 Deaths

Oct 12, 2020

With more than 214,000 dead and almost 1,000 more dying every day, the U.S. response to the COVID-19 crisis has been catastrophic, the worst of any country in the world. The U.S. has had twice the death rate from COVID-19 as Canada and fifty times that of Japan, with a much older population. Far more people have died here than in China, which has four times as many people and is where the disease originated. Countries like South Korea and Singapore, with earlier and more intense early exposure to the disease, were able to stamp out their outbreaks relatively quickly.

According to the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, this country’s COVID death rate is so high because the U.S. failed to take the necessary steps to protect the population.

After eight months, this country continues to fail to test effectively and isolate people exposed to the disease. We continue to lack sufficient protective gear for frontline workers. U.S. political leaders encouraged people not to take the obvious steps to protect themselves and others: quarantining when exposed, social distancing, wearing masks. In many parts of the country, even after more Americans have died than in all the wars since World War II, many people still refuse to take these steps.

No response was organized at the level of the nation to respond to the pandemic using this country’s considerable resources, including the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health. Instead, every state and locality was left to fend for itself, with varying success, but without sufficient resources anywhere.

And this country’s inability to rein in the virus has also increased the damage to ordinary life: while many other countries have been able to open up somewhat, the U.S. is still faced with extremely high rates of infection and deaths that keep people away from restaurants, bars, and other public gatherings. While in many other countries public schools are re-opening, in this country, most students are still stuck in front of computer screens.

In calling out the leaders of this country, the New England Journal of Medicine goes so far as to point out that “anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences.” We can go further. A system that cannot implement the most basic measures to protect human life has shown itself to be completely bankrupt.

Breonna Taylor’s Grand Jurors Speak Out

Oct 12, 2020

After a grand jury brought no charges against the cops who killed Breonna Taylor, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron claimed that they had done so because the grand jury agreed with his office that the cops were justified, acting in self-defense after Taylor’s boyfriend fired his gun first. Cameron said the grand jury was an “independent” body, and, “If they wanted to make an assessment about different charges they could have.”

But one member of the grand jury said that Cameron’s statement hung the jurors out to dry, and filed a motion in court requesting jury members be able to speak freely. A second juror has since also asked to be allowed to speak out.

Only after the first grand juror spoke out did Cameron agree to release partially-edited audio of the jury proceedings, with no written transcript. Only then did he admit he never recommended murder charges to the grand jury.

The grand jury audiotapes show that, in fact, the prosecution attempted to withhold information that would have allowed the grand jurors to make their own determination. One juror can be heard asking prosecutors if there is police bodycam video they can see. A prosecutor tells her there is 15 hours of tape and it would take too much time to review, to which she responds that the jurors have plenty of time.

With so-called ‘prosecutors’ like Cameron, cops don’t need defense attorneys. Breonna Taylor is one of many victims of murder at the hands of police in a situation where ‘prosecutors’ use grand juries as a cover to let the cops get off. And while Cameron is attempting once again to silence jury members, we can be certain Taylor’s family and community will not be silenced.

Amazon Profits, Its Workers Get COVID-19

Oct 12, 2020

A week ago, Amazon said that more than 20,000 of its frontline workers in the U.S. have contracted COVID-19 since March. Amazon currently employs 1 million workers.

While its workers are getting sick, Amazon’s profit of $5.2 billion gained over three months was its biggest since the company started in 1994. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, has seen his personal fortune climb by tens of billions of dollars this year, alone.

So, one of the largest and most profitable companies in this world, Amazon, and its CEO, are risking the health and lives of its employees, most of whom earn slightly above the minimum wage, so that this filthy rich company and its filthy rich CEO, Bezos, could make more money!

Small Strike over Big Issues

Oct 12, 2020

Workers from International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local 435 are on strike at two factories in Jackson, Michigan. Nineteen workers at Miller Tool & Die have been on strike since September 17th, and 35 workers at Albion Casters since September 25th. Their employers have decided to eliminate their pensions and reduce their sick days.

These workers, like workers in many different workplaces, often have accepted lower wages than the industry standard if a job offers a pension, and now, in the case of these workers in Jackson, the rug is being pulled out from under them.

They are fighting to keep their pensions and sick days. One worker at Miller Tool & Die said, “We think [the bosses] will start to feel it within a week or two. We’re not stopping. If we were going to give up, we would have taken the contract.”

These proposed cuts are common examples of the tidal wave of blows to the working class throughout this country. Many workplaces have already frozen or cut wages, announced massive layoffs, and taken away pensions.

And small strikes like this one in Jackson are probably happening in many different places in response to these attacks. Maybe these workers will end up losing their fight, because they are small and isolated. Or maybe what might start among a small group of workers, in one area, can be the catalyst for a wider response in the working class to fight. The strike has had community support as people drop off food, water and firewood to help the picketing workers.

Pages 4-5

Against Extreme-Right Violence, Working People Can Count Only on Themselves

Oct 12, 2020

Thirteen men, some self-identified as members of one of the Michigan militia organizations or of the “Boogaloo Bois” tendency, were arrested on charges detailing a plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer. According to the FBI, their aim was to stash her away in Wisconsin, where they would try her for “treason” before the November 3rd election.

Some of the individuals charged had been in raucous demonstrations by Michigan militias in the state’s capital during the spring, after Trump tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Groups from those demonstrations invaded the state legislature, carrying long guns as a statement of their so-called “Second-Amendment” rights. Most in the demonstrations went maskless, protesting Whitmer’s orders putting limits on businesses and requiring individuals to wear masks during the spread of the coronavirus. Trump called on his supporters to “LIBERATE” other states, i.e., force Democrats to “open up the economy.”

It was an electoral maneuver aimed at shifting blame for the crises affecting the population onto the shoulders of Democratic governors. The refusal to wear a mask became a show of support for Trump, and an assertion of one’s devotion to “individual freedom.” It soon became a centerpiece of extreme-right, social-media posts.

The charges concerning a plot to kidnap Whitmer are based on information gleaned by the FBI from two paid informants. Given the FBI’s long history, we have little reason to trust its version of “fact,” and much less to believe it will protect the population. But one thing these events illustrate is the existence of an extreme right in this country, committed philosophically to the idea of violence in pursuit of individualism.

The Extreme Right: More than Ideology

In the face of growing protests against police violence and racism, the extreme right tried to grab the spotlight away this summer, often posing as allies of the police.

Early on, anti-racist demonstrations broke out in small towns that had never before seen a demonstration. They were often organized by local people who felt compelled to register their opposition to the official violence that George Floyd’s death revealed. Some of them ran into problems from right-wing hoodlums roaring in on motorcycles with the intention to intimidate.

Some of this same national right-wing movement flooded into Kenosha, Wisconsin, after protests broke out there in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, with right-wing thugs posing as protectors of local storeowners.

In Michigan, the “Proud Boys”—the misogynist and racist organization Trump saluted in the debate—paraded through the center of Kalamazoo. With their hands adorned for a street brawl, they declaring their readiness to “sweep the streets clean” of all “rioters”—their term for protestors against police violence.

Finally, there is Portland Oregon, which people calling themselves Proud Boys turned into a street rumble, with periodic invasions. Allied with “Patriot Prayer,” which came from Washington State, they came into Portland from California, Idaho, even as far away as Arkansas. Over the last 18 months, out-of-state right-wing organizations invaded Portland at least 17 times, showing up with weapons, eager to intimidate by their presence and their readiness to brawl.

When Play-Acting Becomes Real

Despite the spectacular incidents gaining media attention, most of the right-wing exists essentially on social media. Its actions—so far—usually take the form of organized shows of force, like the truck caravans that drove through Portland with assault rifles dangling out their windows, or the anti-mask militia rallies in Michigan. The demonstrative bearing of arms seems little more than a game, boys playing with their toy guns.

But what is implicit in the “right-to-bear-arms” posturing has over the years turned into action by some individuals.

In 2019, according to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 42 fatal attacks carried out by people with political motives. People who identified themselves with the extreme right committed 38 of them: neo-Nazis, white supremacists, immigrant-haters, misogynists, Christian fundamentalists and other groups opposed to abortion. The deadliest of those attacks came in an El Paso Walmart. Declaring his intention to carry out a terrorist action to stop the “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” a 19-year old shot 46 people, killing 22 of them.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, people from the same extreme right milieus have been responsible for 330 deadly attacks in the last decade. In 2015, a self-described “white nationalist” killed nine people attending a black church in South Carolina. In Colorado, three people were killed and nine more injured in a shooting at a Colorado women’s health clinic where abortions were performed. In 2018, six women were shot, two mortally, in a yoga studio in Florida, by a self-described “incel,” an on-line misogynist movement. Self-styled “Patriots,” patrolled the border, with the aim of preventing migrants from making it across. There is no account of how many these ultra-nationalistic gangs may have killed.

Since the protests provoked by the killing of George Floyd, the violent attacks perpetrated by the right have escalated. According to police reports, there have been at least 50 incidents when vehicles purposefully rammed into “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations. Two people were killed, one in St. Louis, Missouri, one when a truck caravan roared into a Bakersfield California protest. Two people were murdered in Kenosha, by a self-identified supporter of the police. Shooters identifying with an extreme right current intent on starting a “civil war”—the so-called “Boogaloo Bois”—shot two security guards, killing one, from within the cover of “Black Lives Matter” protests in California, aiming to provoke the police to shoot on the protest. An 80-year old man was killed last week by another bar patron in New York state. He was only the latest in a string of people killed by someone whose violence was triggered by the demand to wear a mask.

The Extreme Right: A Potential Military Force

This violence raises the question of what should be done.

For many people, the answer is to get rid of Trump, to work to put a Democratic administration in office.

It’s true that Trump goes out of his way to encourage the extreme right. He justifies their violence—calling it “retribution.” He made Whitmer and, more recently, Kamala Harris the focus of misogynist rants, calling on his supporters to “liberate” themselves from these female “monsters.”

But the extreme right-wing existed long before Trump. It has been a nearly permanent feature of the American political landscape.

The extreme right is certainly not fascism today, despite what some leftists and anarchists claim. In most areas, it may even seem somewhat marginal. But it is an organized force, ready and often trained to use weapons. And a notable part of those active in it are vets or otherwise discharged military.

Historically, the extreme right has been a military force held in reserve by the capitalist class, but sometimes used when its own state apparatus proves insufficient to deal with a popular mobilization. This extreme right was long allied with or tied to the official forces of violence: police, immigration officials, other security agencies. Those links continue today.

During the long periods when the South was embroiled by popular movements, the KKK often led the attack on the black population and others. Starting at the end of Reconstruction, picking up during the agrarian populist fights of the 1890s, throwing itself against the attempt to organize unions in the 1930s, and going to war against the civil rights mobilization running from the 1940s all through the 1960s, the KKK was a prominent enforcer of the capitalist order.

So were the Pinkertons, who dominated the steel country of Pennsylvania and the coal country in Appalachia from the 1870s to the 1930s. These hired gunmen may have worked for a private security company, but they were effectively an extra-official military force, used against strikes and union militants.

Local chapters of the American Legion and other nationalistic social clubs did the same thing during and after World War I. Their lynch mobs were directed against miners and free-speech orators of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) in the Northwest, and radical immigrants in the East.

During the 1930s, the attempt to organize the CIO was met by the Black Legion and similar forces in the Midwest, adjuncts to company police and city police. Thrown against strikes, they also killed some union organizers and communist militants.

Such forces existed under both Democrats and Republicans. But the worst violence came during and was encouraged by the Democratic administration of Woodrow Wilson.

To look to the Democrats as protection from a violent extreme right means to disarm oneself in advance. Anyone who advocates this is telling the population that it’s not necessary for working people to organize in their own defense—that the Democrats will do it for them. There is nothing in the history of this country that supports such a blatantly false assertion—and everything which shows how wrong it is.

The capitalist class depends on many means of violence to defend its privileges, its wealth and its ownership of the means of production. The extreme right is only one of them.

Substituting Themselves for the Working Class

There is a small anarchist current, Antifa, that sprang up in some cities following the protests that broke out after the murder of George Floyd. Antifa comes from “anti-fascists,” since these people say they are acting to oppose what they call “the fascists,” which includes for them, the police. Having existed for some years, particularly in Portland and Seattle, they made those cities a kind of center for ongoing nightly skirmishes with the cops as well as occasional fights with right-wing invaders.

Antifa and other anarchists who think like them are correct when they say there has to be a response to the possibility of violence coming from the extreme right, as well as from police.

But, in a real sense, Antifa is the mirror image of those who say, “Depend on the Democrats,” except Antifa says, by its actions, “Depend on us.” When the extreme right announced it was sending troops to Kalamazoo, Antifa announced that its troops would be there—a little like two gangs that agreed to meet in an old-fashioned rumble.

Some of Antifa may believe they are setting an example, showing what to do. In fact, their actions drip with, at best, impatience, a search for a shortcut. At worst, they exhibit the same scorn for the masses as have the Democrats and, it should be said, the right-wing battlers for “individual rights.”

Working People Can Defend Themselves

It’s necessary that the working class understand this threat of violence—but more important, it has to understand its own capacities, its ability to organize a defense. That consciousness will develop only if there are organized revolutionary militants rooted in the working class who insist the working class has the means to defend itself, who draw on the history working people have already written, and who carry out the steady work alongside those ready to build organizations.

In the periods when the extreme right was driven back, it was the population that drove it back, not all those forces who, according to the propaganda, are there to protect people. Not the FBI, not the police, not any part of the state apparatus, not any administration, Democratic or Republican, and certainly not any self-appointed saviors. The KKK practically disappeared for a whole time after the vast black mobilization of the 1950s and 1960s put fear into those cowards hiding under their bed sheets. The Black Legion, the American Legion and other forces disappeared after CIO militants stopped calling on the police for help, knowing the police were on the other side of the fight. The movement for the CIO was built on the basis of its own organized defense guards, what the UAW called Flying Squadrons, and what the Teamsters in Minneapolis, led by militants of the SWP, called cruising picket squads.

That defense was organized by people where they lived, where they worked—with the people they knew, the ones they had confidence in, the ones they knew they could count on, the ones who shared the same perspective of where they wanted to go. And it always depended on there being militants embedded in the ranks of the poor classes, standing for such organization.

In fact, the most important example, the only complete one we really have, takes us back to the Russian Revolution, when workers, organized by the Bolshevik Party, not only defended themselves from the police and the right-wing “Black Hundreds,” they also took the offensive to tear down the old state apparatus, with all its violence, that the capitalist class depended on. Overcoming the violence of capitalist society, they were able for awhile at least to start building a socialist society.

If we want examples: let’s take those drawn from the history of the laboring classes.

Pages 6-7

Trump Got Sick—the System Remains in Crisis

Oct 12, 2020

The following article was the editorial in SPARK workplace newsletters of October 6.

So Trump was bit by the virus. It may seem like chickens coming home to roost, given how his irresponsibility put so many people at risk. But his hospitalization changes nothing about the situation confronting working people.

We face a virus that has already killed at least 208,000 people in this country. And Trump’s behavior certainly has been despicable, conning people into throwing away their masks, pretending the virus was nothing to worry about—when he knew better. But he is not the only one responsible for the widening path of the virus. Both parties, Democratic and Republican, repeatedly cut funds for the public health service in order to shower more money on the capitalist class.

We live in a society with a jobs crisis, and Trump certainly cut jobs at the hotels he owns. His administration cut government jobs, cut jobs at the VA hospitals, cut post office jobs. But Trump didn’t invent unemployment. He didn’t invent part-time or temporary work. He didn’t invent contract work. He wasn’t the only one to push fewer people to put out more work for less money. He wasn’t the first to hire immigrants, while pushing to keep their status “illegal.” He just used what had been done by all the capitalists before him.

We live in a racist society, and Trump was certainly vile in his attempt to stir up racist attitudes for political gain. But this society has been racist since its birth in slavery, reinforced by almost every political administration since. Trump based himself on the injustice produced by the so-called “war on drugs.” But that injustice was imposed long before him by legislation both Democrats and Republicans sponsored.

We live in a capitalist society that is rotten to its core. It is based on the exploitation of labor, for the benefit of the capitalist class. Its primary aim is to amass profit, draining off much of the wealth all working people create through our labor.

None of this has been changed because Trump got the virus—no matter what happens to him in the coming days or weeks.

In this capitalist society where money buys everything, there is no democracy for working people. Democrats and Republicans, who today ask for our vote in the election, tomorrow will work to serve the interests of the capitalist class, just as they did yesterday. These two parties are both responsible for the crises in which society is stuck.

Many people have given up on voting—out of disgust, or anger or feeling it doesn’t make a difference. Over time, non-voters have become the most important part of the population—bigger than the number who vote Democrat, bigger than the number who vote Republican.

Some people accuse them of throwing their vote away, saying they don’t use it.

But think about this: if you vote for one of these two big parties, thus reinforcing them, and afterwards they carry out policies harmful to you, haven’t you also thrown your vote away?

In both Maryland and Michigan there are parties on the ballot that base themselves on the needs and the interests of the working class. In both states, they took the name Working Class Party to show they owe their allegiance to the working class, the whole working class.

Both say that working people are not represented in today’s political system, that working people need their own party. Both say that workers will get that party only if they struggle to build it. Both say that workers have to fight against everything that divides us, especially racism.

Elections cannot change the situation we face, nor will elections let us overcome the crises that capitalism has sunk us in. To do that, we need to throw out the capitalist class that today drives society into disaster. We have to struggle to create our own society from the ground up.

But every vote for the Working Class Party will plant a flag. It will be a way to count how many workers want their own party, how many want to see a future their own class can create.

Page 8

Nagorno-Karabakh:
The Bombing Resumes

Oct 12, 2020

In Los Angeles, the home to a very large Armenian immigrant population, there have been numerous demonstrations protesting the bombing of Nagorno-Karabakh, or, as the demonstrators call it, the Republic of Artsakh. The following translation is adapted from an article in Lutte Ouvrière (September 30, 2020), the French revolutionary workers’ group, which explains what is behind this war.

On September 27, the bombardment of Nagorno-Karabakh resumed. For more than three decades, the population of this small mountainous region in the Southern Caucasus has lived through a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan that never really ended and has already cost the lives of 30,000 people.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an autonomous region with a largely Armenian population located inside the Republic of Azerbaijan. Under the former Soviet Union, the fact that Nagorno-Karabakh was separated from Armenia by a few dozen kilometers was not considered important. After all, Nagorno-Karabakh belonged to a much larger state that included dozens of different ethnic groups, who all coexisted.

But the political situation began to shift drastically in the late 1980s. The bureaucratic cliques at the head of the separate Soviet republics challenged the authority of President Mikhail Gorbachev and the central Soviet power. In Armenia and Azerbaijan the bureaucrats acted no different than all the rest. To gain support from the population, the bureaucrats posed as defenders of “their” nation against minorities who had lived there for centuries, calling them foreigners, and even enemies.

The Armenian and Azeri leaders soon began to fight over control of Nagorno-Karabakh. In 1988, the leaders of Armenia rejected what they called “forced Azerification” of Nagorno-Karabakh and demanded that the territory become a part of the Soviet Republic of Armenia. The Azeri bureaucrats responded with a pogrom of the Armenian population in Soumgait, an industrial city. Armenians were attacked and killed on the streets and in their apartments. The border of Nagorno-Karabakh was soon lined with trenches and barbed wire. Armenian troops began to annex neighboring Azeri territories. There was an even more deadly anti-Armenian pogrom in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, in January 1990.

At the end of 1991, the USSR broke up into 15 separate countries, including Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia carried out ethnic cleansing: 400,000 Armenians had to flee Azerbaijan and 800,000 Azeris were driven out of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azeris living in Nakhchivan, a landlocked enclave located between Iran and Armenia, were prevented from gaining free access to Baku by soldiers and new borders.

The slaughter that the people of this region have had to endure is only one example of the wars spawned by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Especially in the Caucasus, monstrosities have been inflicted on a mosaic of populations. These include wars in Chechnya and Ingushetia.

In 1994, there was a cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh. In 2008, a declaration calling for a peaceful settlement was signed by Armenia and Azerbaijan. But the fighting hardly ever stopped. In April 2016, 100 people were killed during the “four day war.” Last July, there was more fighting.

For more than 30 years, the leaders of Armenia have continually invoked Nagorno-Karabakh and the need for national defense in order to gain the support of the population, as well as make them forget their poverty and the greed and rapacity of the leaders at the head of the country. Azerbaijan, with its oil resources, is wealthier. But due to the crisis and the collapse of oil revenues, the Azeri leaders have also resorted to patriotic speeches in order to divert their own population. On July 15, the Azeri leaders staged a demonstration in Baku chanting “Karabakh is Azerbaijan” and called for armed intervention.

The big powers profit by arming both sides. Russia arms both Armenia, its declared ally, and Azerbaijan, its partner in world energy markets. Turkey, which is a rival of the Kremlin in the Middle East, Syria, and the eastern Mediterranean and Libya, trains and equips the army of Baku. Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, profits from his appeal to nationalism and brandishes his military credentials by praising the “brother state” of Azerbaijan for fighting “Armenian terrorism.”

The soldiers and civilians who are once more dying in the South Caucasus are not dying “for Nagorno-Karabakh.” They are the victims of their own leaders, who use the war to hold onto power, while states fight each other for regional leadership in a rivalry exacerbated by the crisis in the global economy and its repercussions in these countries.

Detroit Bus Drivers Walk Off

Oct 12, 2020

On Friday, October 2, Detroit bus drivers walked off the job, shutting down bus service until the following Monday.

Frustration and anger has been high for months. In April, Detroit bus driver Jason Hargrove died of COVID-19 after complaining in an online video about a passenger who openly coughed on his bus. On top of the continued risk of catching the virus, bus drivers complain of regular threats of violence from passengers who are themselves pushed past the breaking point—many of whom refuse to wear masks. Bus drivers also point out that they cannot use public washrooms, and the portable toilets they are forced to turn to are “trashed out.”

When a driver was suspended for 29 days after defending himself from a passenger who refused to wear a mask and approached close to him, bus drivers finally had been pushed too far.

In response to the walkout, the city agreed to put up more barriers on buses to keep passengers away from drivers, expedite arbitration for the suspended driver, and provide masks for passengers who don’t have them. It took a weekend-long walkout to even get these small steps that should have been taken months ago.