The Spark

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

Issue no. 1120 — January 4 - 18, 2021

Capitalism Can’t Even Deliver This Vaccine

Jan 4, 2021

“I feel hopeful today, relieved.” These were the words of a Queens, New York critical care nurse, Sandra Lindsay, after she got the first shot of one of the new COVID vaccines.

Certainly, vaccines are the answer to viral diseases, the only really efficient one that medical science has found so far. And the two vaccines already given FDA approval show early promise in the rapid trials they have been put through.

Isn’t that reason to be hopeful?

Unfortunately, it is not. This disease will not be felled simply by the discovery of a vaccine, no matter how effective and safe it turns out to be. What is required is the simple, time-consuming, well-organized, well-funded work to deliver the vaccine. In other words, to put it into people’s arms.

But the population is already discovering that the vaccination process has become delayed and entangled in the system.

On January 3, less than 14 million doses have been distributed, and fewer than three million people have received an inoculation or “shot in the arm.” At this rate, it will take an estimated 10 years to inoculate a big enough share of the population to begin to overcome this virus.

Trump says it’s not a federal problem. He says distribution is a “state problem.”

With no coordinated federal policy, the states are expected to coordinate a defense with whatever they get from the drug companies, whenever they get it. But this isn’t just a Trump problem. State government systems are not staffed and supplied with the tools they need to function at this level.

State public health systems have been destroyed by years of funding cuts, job cuts—as well as the usual graft connected to the health system, with vast sums of money funneled off to the corporations and, finally, to Wall Street and the hereditary families that constitute the ruling class.

More unbelievable yet is the idea that the privately-organized hospital and medical systems will make up for that deficit. These systems, most of which are today organized around the need to make profit, have been shredded by years of cuts, followed by even more cuts this year when the virus hit. And the people who do the actual work of caring for patients and carrying out other essential work are decimated by sickness and fatigue in their own ranks.

Still more unbelievable is the idea that big, for-profit, major pharmacy chains will not only pick up more of the difference, but also inoculate all the people in nursing homes and other facilities for the elderly.

It’s not impossible to confront and conquer a medical problem of this magnitude. But it requires huge amounts of money, put into a public system which prioritizes the health of the population. It requires a system that is organized and directed centrally.

Where is the funding? For all these months, while politicians quibbled over who is in charge, shamelessly little money has been assigned to the problem. The new aid package contains eight billion dollars “earmarked” for vaccine distribution—which only means it is earmarked to go into the profits of the pharmaceutical companies, the profits of big distribution networks like UPS, the profits of pharmacy chains, the profits of privately-owned nursing homes—in other words, it will be falling into the same misuse and graft that regularly happens with medical expenditures.

Capitalism is functioning as it always does. Its system is designed to maximize profit to the biggest sharks. They cannot and will not use their capital to save the population. That’s why the pandemic will continue to ravage the population—even if scientists have discovered an effective vaccine.

These billionaires and their mouthpieces are criminals and murderers. They need to be rounded up and put out. Restrained—bodily, if need be—from any further decision making. Restrained from any further profit making. Their stolen fortunes need to be taken back and administered for the public good.

The representatives of their system have failed miserably. They and their bosses all need to be replaced by the organized self-activity of millions of regular people, including professionals and workers, who will put human life first over all.

Capitalism is a broken system. It needs to be uprooted, torn out and replaced in order for us to have a chance at anything approximating a normal life. With decades of baggage that will weigh down the future ahead of us, only a new social and political system built on the basis of socialism and communism can promise a future of any quality for the population.

Pages 2-3

The Latest COVID Relief Package:
Another Bailout of Big Business and the Wealthy

Jan 4, 2021

Members of Congress took a lot of credit for passing the $908‑billion COVID‑19 relief package in late December, claiming it provides much needed income to those most in need.

But the payouts in the relief package to working people are extremely small. Both the 600 dollar stimulus check and the 11 weeks of enhanced unemployment benefits at 300 dollars a week are half the size of the CARES Act that Congress passed last March. So workers are getting much less and for a much shorter period of time (much later than they needed it).

Adding insult to injury, 14 million workers were forced to go without any benefits for a full week because Trump didn’t sign the bill until their unemployment benefits had already run out and Congress did nothing to make up the difference.

Neither does the COVID relief package stem the rising tide of layoffs and worsening unemployment, since it provides almost no funding to state and local governments that have already cut more than 1.3 million jobs since February, including teachers, public health employees, and firefighters. So, millions more of the very essential workers the entire society depends on continue to be in danger of losing their jobs.

It is no accident that Congress has done little or nothing to stop the worsening crisis to slowly squeeze the working class. Congress is merely aiding big business and the capitalist class to take advantage of the crisis facing the working class by lowering what businesses pay workers, and thus increase their profits and wealth at the expense of the entire working class. Government officials do this as well in order to cut what they pay their workforce in wages and benefits.

Follow the Money

Contrary to what Congress and the news media advertise, most of the money contained in the COVID relief package doesn’t go to those hardest hit by the crisis ... but the capitalist class and big business. As the New York Times (December 22, 2020) exposed in an article entitled, “Buried in Pandemic Aid Bill: Billions to Soothe the Richest,” tucked away in the spending bill that Congress passed is a single tax break for big business and the wealthy worth 200 billion dollars in a single year. There are dozens of other tax breaks that are worth tens of billions of dollars more to different business sectors that Congress passed at the same time.

Besides that, there are 325 billion dollars in new loans that the Federal government plans on handing out to businesses, most of which big business will never have to pay back.

High‑income business owners have had tax benefits and unprecedented government grants showered down upon them. And the scale is massive,” said Adam Looney, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former Treasury Department tax official in the Obama administration.

No, the only real “relief” in the COVID relief package is aimed at benefitting the capitalist class.

Fueling Inequality

This is no different from the CARES Act that Congress hastily put together last spring after the pandemic first hit, just as employment and the entire economy spiraled into a stark and brutal free fall. Even though Congress and the news media advertised the CARES Act as much needed relief for the poor and working population, only one-fifth of the four trillion dollars that Congress budgeted constituted relief for workers and their families. Twice as much went to big companies and the very richest people in the country. “An avalanche of U.S. grants and loans helped the wealthy and companies that laid off workers,” wrote the Washington Post (October 5).

Is it any wonder that the richest people in the country have seen their fortunes increase by trillions of dollars, while big parts of the working population sink into worsening poverty and despair?

Global Inequality Includes Vaccine Access

Jan 4, 2021

The first doses of the vaccines for COVID-19 are now being produced—but the drug companies say that they lack manufacturing facilities to produce the vaccines in sufficient quantities to supply people across the whole world.

It all comes down to money, and profits. The companies making the vaccines only produce what they know they can sell at a high price. These companies were guaranteed billions in profit up front by the governments of the wealthier countries like the U.S., Britain and the European Union—so that’s where they’re sending those doses.

Some of the actual production of the vaccine by the pharmaceutical companies is being done in poorer countries, like India and South Africa. But the vaccines produced there will be shipped to other countries where it can be sold for a bigger profit. The workers actually producing the vaccine will not get access to it anytime soon.

To try to address that, a group of countries led by India and South Africa went to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and proposed that the WTO waive patent protections so that poorer countries could manufacture affordable versions of the vaccine for their own populations.

That proposal to the WTO was shot down and denied by the United States, Britain and the European Union. Why? Because the governments of these countries refused to do something that would reduce the profits of the big pharmaceutical companies.

Global capacity and production COULD be ramped up so that everyone could receive the vaccines that we all need, around the world. But the capitalist system and the governments that protect it put the profits of a few billionaire owners before the lives of billions of people across the world.

Millions Facing Danger of Becoming Homeless

Jan 4, 2021

A major housing crisis is building up in this country. Nationally, an estimated 14 million households, with at least 30 to 40 million people, are at risk for eviction, according to the New York Times. So far, the big wave of evictions has been forestalled because of a temporary federal moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on residential evictions. The CDC issued this moratorium to prevent the spread of COVID‑19 through people isolating themselves in their homes. But this moratorium is set to expire at the end of January, with some states, like New York and California, extending the moratoriums for a few months more.

But for the 60,000 families that have already been evicted this year, the crisis has already begun. Some renters were evicted before the moratorium started in early September. Some failed to qualify for the moratorium because they did not sign a declaration of their inability to pay, or because their landlord challenged their claim to financial hardship. Some renters have had to leave their homes despite the ban being in place.

Currently, estimates are that renters owe close to 100 billion dollars in back rent. The problem is that once the moratoriums end, the renters who are behind with their rent will be required to come up with the lump sum that they owe. For most workers, this will obviously be impossible. That could mean the start of waves of evictions throughout the country ‑ much bigger than the terrible housing crisis that struck during the last big recession in 2007 to 2008. It could mean record levels of homelessness.

Of course, the news media is blaming this latest housing crisis on the pandemic. But the fact is that there was a terrible housing crisis long before the pandemic hit at the beginning of the year. Every year there were on average about 3.7 million evictions. In many parts of the country, especially the big urban areas, rents were rising much faster than incomes. Around 21 million renter households (close to 50% of all renter households) were already considered “rental cost‑burdened.” And when the pandemic began, 11 million renter households (25% of all renter households) were already spending over 50% of their income on rent each month. This pandemic only made the ongoing housing crisis worse.

Needless to say, the Federal government, which has spent trillions of dollars over the last year in bailout after bailout, has done almost nothing to alleviate this problem. Almost all of the bailout money has been used to bail out big companies and the super‑rich.

Under capitalism, the sole right is the right to profit at all costs. This capitalist system does not recognize housing as a social right. Only a fight organized by the workers against this system can save our homes and our survival.

Triple-Dip Stimulus for the Rich

Jan 4, 2021

In the first pandemic stimulus bill that Congress passed last spring, hundreds of billions of dollars went into the pockets of wealthy people. For example, much of the 523 billion dollars of the Paycheck Protection Program that we were told was going to small businesses actually ended up in the pockets of big companies. It was called a loan, but the companies were allowed to keep all the money as long as they kept their businesses going and paid their employees.

But these big companies were not satisfied with getting free money just once. So when the second stimulus bill was being written, these same companies went to their friends in Congress and were allowed to deduct from their taxes all the free money they had gotten in the spring. We guess that’s called a double dip.

And then there’s the triple dip. The new stimulus bill allows for a 6.3 billion dollar tax write‑off for so‑called business meals. You know what those are. That’s when the corporate bosses meet their politician friends for lunch and discuss how to take the tax money paid by working people and put it in the pockets of rich people.

That’s called capitalism at its finest.

Pages 4-5

Justice Denied for Tamir Rice

Jan 4, 2021

Today, six years after Tamir Rice was killed in Cleveland, Ohio, the federal Justice Department announced it would not pursue charges against the cops involved.

Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old black child playing with a toy gun, when a witness called 911 to report that someone was brandishing a weapon in a park. The caller told the dispatcher that the person involved was “probably a juvenile” and the gun was “probably fake.” Yet the cops drove right up to where Rice stood, and within two seconds of their arrival, officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed the boy.

Loehmann was fired by the police department. Not for the shooting, however, but for falsifying his job application. His partner received a slap on the wrist, a 10-day suspension, for driving right up to the boy. A grand jury refused to indict anyone involved in the murder of Tamir Rice.

When racist murders at the hands of the cops provoke protests, politicians often hold out hope for those outraged by promising to send the case to the Justice Department for possible prosecution of civil rights violations. While Trump’s DOJ has been more open in its support for racist cops, the DOJ’s refusal to act in this case is just another in a long line of similar misdeeds. It similarly refused to act in the murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott, among others.

In fact, an investigation by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review found that between 1995 and 2015, the Justice Department refused to bring charges in 96% of cases alleging civil rights violations against cops. By comparison, DOJ prosecutors only rejected 23% of referrals in other criminal cases.

All workers need to oppose racist murders by the police. But when we do, history shows the politicians’ promises that the Justice Department will investigate for civil rights violations are just a method of stalling to cool down people’s anger. We shouldn’t fall for their fake promises.

Handcuffed Naked by Chicago Police in Her Own Home

Jan 4, 2021

In February 2019, while she was naked in her own apartment on Chicago’s Near West Side, a dozen police broke down Anjanette Young’s door and stormed inside. Instead of allowing her to put on some clothes, the police handcuffed Young, leaving her standing naked while they ransacked her home.

Body cam video shows cops parading past her, one standing for some time directly in front of her, while she insists they are in the wrong house. Eventually, a cop drapes a coat over her shoulders that doesn’t even cover her body. After more than a minute, they drape a blanket over her—that she cannot hold closed because she is handcuffed. They do not let her put clothes on for twelve minutes.

As Young herself pointed out, breaking into a woman’s home and handcuffing her naked, while a dozen men parade around her; “In any other context, that’s sexual assault.”

The man the cops were looking for turned out to have no connection to Young—the warrant for this “no-knock” raid had been based on bad information.

The raid took place while Rahm Emanuel was still mayor. But it was Lori Lightfoot’s administration that denied Young’s request under the Freedom of Information Act to see the body cam video. It was Lightfoot’s Law Department that tried to block CBS from airing the footage this past December, and that threatened Young and her lawyer with sanctions for violating a “court confidentiality” order. Mayor Lightfoot herself was untruthful when she said that Young had never submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the city.

This case only came to light because Anjanette Young was willing to go up against the police and the entire machinery of the city government for almost two years. Young could do this, in part, because she is a social worker, with no record and some resources. How many similar assaults against the dignity of black women must take place in Chicago every day?

COVID Catastrophe in Los Angeles Bears the Stamp of Capitalism

Jan 4, 2021

The COVID-19 crisis in Los Angeles County has turned into a major catastrophe, completely overwhelming the hospitals and health care staff in the county—even though California and L.A. have had some of the strictest pandemic restrictions in the whole country.

But in fact there is a reason why L.A. has become the new epicenter of the pandemic, with such catastrophic consequences. Besides being a major travel hub connected to all parts of the world, L.A. has one of the highest rates of poverty and some of the densest neighborhoods in the whole country. “That’s what’s come home to roost: that Los Angeles has the combination of poverty and density that leads to a virus like this being able to spread much more quickly and be more devastating”—that’s a quote from none other than L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti!

So even when the L.A. area overall seemed to have lower rates of COVID infections in the beginning, the virus was festering in L.A.’s working-class communities—home to the region’s millions of essential workers.

L.A. County has an enormous manufacturing sector and the two biggest ports in the U.S.—industries where people are typically forced to work in close quarters, in a way that enables the virus to spread. Not having the luxury of working from home, millions of workers instead showed up to work daily in these industries, where companies continued to cram workers into crowded workplaces without proper safety and sanitation measures, and government authorities let them—because they would not stand in the way of profit!

And when workers get infected at work, they bring the virus home to their families—and sometimes to other families living with them as well. The astronomical rents in L.A. have been forcing working-class families of four, five or more, or more than one family, to share small apartments. Among the 25 biggest metropolitan areas in the U.S., L.A. has the highest percentage of homes classified as overcrowded, according to 2019 U.S. Census data.

But a virus does not stay in one area—now it has finally spread, uncontrollably, into the general population of the whole region.

L.A. County is a very large, advanced economy, where a lot of wealth is created. But instead of elevating the living standard of the workers who create it, the bulk of the wealth goes to a tiny part of the population—to the biggest capitalists who control the economy. And this everyday double standard of capitalist society, which leaves workers behind in normal times, can turn absolutely deadly in times of crisis—first and foremost for the working class, but also for the whole society.

Child Labor Making a Comeback in Illinois

Jan 4, 2021

Child workers can be found throughout the industrial workforce in Chicago’s suburbs.

According to a report by ProPublica, they work in food processing plants, metal recycling centers, warehouses, and auto parts plants, often starting as young as thirteen or fourteen. Many work twelve-hour, overnight shifts, six days a week, then try to go to school during the day. When they get hurt at work, or nod off in class and a teacher complains, no one wants to look deeper—not the companies that profit from their labor, not the government agencies supposedly responsible for enforcing child labor laws, and not the children themselves.

These teenagers come from Guatemala. After more than 100 years of domination by the United States, Guatemala is one of the poorest and most violent countries in the Americas. Since 2014, tens of thousands of children have been fleeing it to come to the United States and apply for asylum, many of them unaccompanied by any adult.

In order to make the trip, these young people have to borrow money from often violent loan sharks. If they don’t start paying quickly, those debts fall on their impoverished families who are still vulnerable in Guatemala. So these children need to work.

Throughout the Chicago area, there are temporary staffing agencies willing to hire these desperate children, that don’t look too hard at whatever papers they are handed. These temporary agencies profit by taking a cut out of the wages of those they find work for. Many are fly-by-night businesses, operating out of a store-front in an immigrant neighborhood. They offer a very useful service for the bigger companies: in addition to providing a flexible workforce, the temp agencies shield those companies from the risk of workers’ compensation claims when someone gets hurt, or the legal risks that come from employing undocumented immigrants ... or children.

Many of the factories they work at are themselves subcontractors—sometimes, subcontractors of subcontractors—which again shields the big companies from any legal obligations to these workers who make, move, or pack their products. In this way, parts made in Illinois by thirteen- or fourteen-year-olds can find their way into cars produced by some of the biggest, most famous companies on the planet.

Squeezing Profit from Nursing Homes

Jan 4, 2021

The private equity firm Portopiccolo Group bought more than 20 nursing homes in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and other states during the pandemic. Their answer to the financial difficulties that came along with the deal was to cut workers’ pay and benefits to squeeze more profit from them.

Workers in Maryland lost paid time off, including for major holidays, and got worse health insurance plans. The new owners ended hazard pay for some workers and laid off others who had been cleaning and taking temperatures. A woman working 30 hours a week while taking classes was told she had to work more hours to keep her health insurance. In 2019 the company told a bank it expected to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in North Carolina by making similar cuts in worker benefits.

These takeovers and cuts have absolutely nothing to do with providing better health care. They have everything to do with maximizing exploitation and profit for the owners.

Purple Line Streetcar Mess in Maryland outside D.C.

Jan 4, 2021

In December, Maryland officials voted to pay 250 million dollars to several corporations so they would resume building the Purple Line streetcar in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, and drop a lawsuit. Politicians call this disorderly relationship a “partnership.” It’s more like extortion.

The 16‑mile Purple Line will be a tiny trolley with a monster price tag. The streetcar will move slowly and create a traffic hazard because it will run along congested roadways and stop at red lights. But the projected cost of all the horribly disruptive construction—and then of privately operating the line for 30 years to come—has already nearly doubled from the original estimate of five billion dollars.

Governor Hogan insists that partnering with private companies is the way to go. It’s the way to pad pockets instead—whatever the damage to the population!

Pages 6-7

Our Comrade, Rose Alpert Jersawitz (Dorothy), 1935–2020

Jan 4, 2021

Rose Alpert Jersawitz was born August 3, 1935, in New York City. She died December 3, 2020, in Paris, France. Many of us knew her as Dorothy, a nickname given her many years ago.

“No One Spoke the Same English ...”

Rose was the child of Jewish immigrants who came to this country like so many others in the early years of the 20th century, trying to escape the poverty and anti-Jewish pogroms that swept across areas of Eastern Europe ruled by the Russian czars. They arrived in a country where poverty, anti-Semitism and nativist attacks relegated them to impoverished ghettoes on this side of the Atlantic.

Rose was the youngest of five children. Her first years were spent in East Harlem. The kids she played with lived in families migrated from somewhere else. They came from Puerto Rico, from Southern rural Black areas, from southern Italy, from Ireland—and Rose’s Yiddish-speaking family from East Europe. “No one spoke the same English as our teachers in school spoke,” she said in her memoirs, “but we all understood each other.”

Her father had worked first in a tannery near Boston, from which he was driven out after trying to organize a union. In New York, he worked as an itinerant plumber. Her mother worked in a garment factory, until she was no longer able to keep up with the speed of the sewing machines. Then she took in washing. It was the ordinary life in that immigrant quarter, where no one made enough money to survive. In Rose’s own words from her memoirs, “all the kids stole,” and the ones who survived learned they had to fight to defend themselves.

Toledo: Picket Lines and Protest

Rose’s father died when she was six or seven. Her mother took the three kids still left at home, and moved to Toledo, Ohio, where she again took in washing. Eventually she remarried. Toledo was the place where Rose discovered strikes and picket lines. Her stepfather worked at the Jeep factory; her sister-in-law, at one of the glass factories.

In high school, she tried to organize a picket line to support a favorite teacher, who had been fired in the 1950s anti-communist crusade. Together with three other girls, she refused to be tracked, with boys into “shop” and girls into “home economics.” She was having none of it, and got herself into “wood shop.” She was expelled from school after punching a girl who threw an anti-Semitic slur at a friend of hers. And she discovered what deep roots racism had when her family was kicked out of their apartment after she brought home some friends, including a black student and another Jewish student—who looked “more Jewish” than Rose did, with her blond hair. As young men from her high school—boys, really—were being drafted, she started to pay attention to what was happening in the world. The U.S. war on Korea outraged her. “This big country making war on a little country,” she called it. And she read. Her brother, working at a newspaper in Toledo, was opening up the world to her with books.

On Her Own in New York at 15

Rose finished high school early, when she was only 15, then took the leap to go back to New York by herself. Winning a scholarship at NYU, she discovered college did not deliver on the hopes she had in education, and she slid into a kind of bohemian milieu in the West Village. It was there she met Jack Jersawitz, who challenged her on many of her ideas, and first of all on the fact that she followed the rituals of religion, even when she no longer believed. He was the first person she knew who called himself a “socialist” in the midst of McCarthy-period conformism. He conveyed to her his hopes for a communist future. And he got her in the habit of going to the public library.

It was at that point she was “kidnapped,” by two U.S. marshals, who took her to California, where her mother now lived. Effectively, she was arrested for being on her own while not being an adult. She was 16.

For six months she lived with her mother and sister’s family in one of the new “developments” springing up out in the desert near Los Angeles. Her health may have improved since she was eating regularly, but she felt like a prisoner. She executed a “prison break” from her family in the way that some young women still do—by getting married!

The marriage as such didn’t last a long time, but her association with Jack is what first opened her up to grappling with political ideas, and it was through him that she met comrades of the Socialist Workers Party, the Trotskyist organization led by James P. Cannon. She joined the SWP in 1953, when she was 18.

In the Midst of Anti-Communist Hysteria

On June 19th of the same year that Rose decided to be a communist militant, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, members of the Communist Party, were put to death in the electric chair, convicted in a show trial of spying for the Russians. Hundreds of other communists and socialists were going to prison, including some in the SWP. The SWP, along with several hundred other organizations, was declared to be “subversive,” making membership grounds for expulsion from unions, government jobs—even working as street sweepers—teaching jobs, military commissions and even military pensions. Many unions or locals were dissolved. Tens of thousands of people lost jobs or places to live—unionists, strikers, communists, socialists, anarchists, organizers of rent strikes—anyone whose devotion to organizing working people made them suspect in the middle of the McCarthy period. The most interesting writers and actors were driven from Hollywood. Schools and universities purged their faculties. People who lost their enthusiasm were deserting organizations.

A Militant in the Middle of Repression

This was the situation in which Rose Jersawitz became a communist militant—the first person to join the SWP in California in four years. In the “Foreword” to her memoirs, entitled A Communist on Both Sides of the Atlantic, Rose explained that she could go against the reactionary winds of the time period because she knew nothing of what was going on in the country. Maybe. But her early life grounded her, giving her allegiance to her class, and so did her commitment to the socialist tradition she found. But she also had something that is essential in the makeup of a militant. She was not afraid to take an “unpopular” position, or to be practically alone, if that was necessary. In so doing, Rose brought others along with her.

In the darkest days of the witch hunt, she sold her newspapers, lost jobs, went to picket lines, found other jobs, stood up on crates to make a speech, was kicked out of apartments, went to protests against the police, found people to be in a class series about Marxism, found someone who put her up for awhile, convinced other people to join the SWP. In all of this her devotion was to the future she knew was embodied in the working class.

Her life ever since was lived in the same way. The SWP sent her to New York to help assimilate a group of youth who had quit another organization to join the SWP. Then she was sent to Chicago to help the group with a similar organizational problem. Eventually, she went back to California, where she ran as a candidate for city council in Berkeley in 1963.

From the SWP to the SL to Work in Paris

By then she had become disturbed by the actions of the SWP giving priority to the various middle class movements that were beginning to pop up, a tendency that found its parallel on the political level, as the SWP began to consider the Cuban revolution a new road to socialism—built without the participation of the working class—seeing Castro as some kind of “unconscious” Marxist! She left the SWP and joined the Spartacist League, whose militants she thought had left the SWP based on the same criticism. Instead, she discovered that the SL not only seemed to be unable to approach the working class; it also seemed unwilling to her even to recognize the necessity of doing that.

In 1966, she went with other members of the SL to an international conference in London. There she met comrades of Voix Ouvrière, the predecessor to Lutte Ouvrière, the French Trotskyist organization. With the agreement of the SL, she was to stay in France for a month or two. Instead, she stayed for almost two years, working on an everyday basis with VO, going to public meetings, going to classes, taking part in meetings, passing out newsletters and selling VO’s paper at the plant gates and in the markets—and regularly sending reports back to the SL, the U.S. organization she was still part of.

In the 1960s U.S. that Rose came from, the left, “old” and “new,” had either equated the working class with the unions—or written it off. Rose discovered, working with VO, that it was possible to carry out political activity in the ranks of the working class, her class.

When she came back to the U.S. in early 1968, she didn’t come with the aim of starting a faction fight. She wasn’t carrying a franchise from Voix Ouvrière. But based on the work and discussions she had with them, she hoped to engage others in political work toward the working class. Quietly, without a lot of fuss. Nonetheless, she and others she interested in starting such work were soon shown the door.

The Beginning of a Group

She hadn’t started down this long path with the perspective of declaring a new organization. But it was necessary to begin work, based on what she knew.

She and several others moved to Detroit, where they all were hired into auto plants or in the phone company’s main operator office. Rose was hired into Chrysler’s Cut and Sew plant. Eventually, four, then five, then six newsletters were started in these workplaces.

While working in one factory, trying to establish a small network inside as the basis of each newsletter, each militant was at the same time distributing a newsletter at the gate of one of the other workplaces. And, of course, each of them also did the technical work to produce one of those newsletters—on manual typewriters and old-style mimeograph machines. Luckily, they all were graced with energy.

In 1971, after three years of work, Rose and the others decided it was necessary to define themselves politically—effectively, they had become an organization. They took a name for themselves, the Spark. They declared that their intention was to carry out political activity in the working class; that they based themselves programmatically on the Communist Manifesto, on the first four Congresses of the Third International and on the Transitional Program of the Fourth International.

In 1974, Rose moved to Baltimore, where she worked with comrades who were newer to the Trotskyist tradition. In 1985, she spent some months in San Francisco, as the result of an agreement between the Spark and Socialist Action to exchange militants.

Illness, A Constant Companion

Rose was beset most of her life with illnesses, one after the other. As the years went along, this made activity more difficult. At the same time, her long-time job in print shops was being wiped out as new technology took over.

Comrades of Lutte Ouvrière, with which Rose and the rest of the Spark organization have always maintained close ties, suggested that she might be able to find a niche in Paris, allowing her to go on contributing as a militant.

Up until that time, Rose had never settled long in one place—the longest was her 11 years in Baltimore. She was used to having her life turned upside down. But she was no longer a spring chicken. At 51, she would be moving to another country, speaking another language.

That meant learning late in life really to speak French, getting used to customs and cultural assumptions different than ones deeply imbedded in her own being. She took time to decide, but when she finally decided, she did it. For the rest of her life, the next 34 years, she functioned as a militant in France.

The Working Class Is International

Rose still returned every year to the States, when Spark had its annual conference. She came back to help in 1988, when militants of Spark were involved in an election campaign together with a number of union activists. She sat in an old office in a nearly deserted building, contacting the media, arranging interviews and articles. She did the same thing in 2014, when Spark ran a directly communist election campaign with five of its militants.

Each spring, she was at the Spark booth in Lutte Ouvrière’s annual fete, talking to all those who came around, hoping to interest one of the young Americans, talking to them about the necessity of being a communist in the U.S.

Spark remained the organization she helped found, but French political life became her life. Whether in English or in French, she always acted on this necessity, which she expressed at the end of her memoirs: “I’ve always found it very important to tell people about socialism, about communism, about the possibility of changing things. That was almost a given, that was the basis of my life.... I had to talk to people, that meant I was doing something positive and that was important to me.”

Rose is the human link that ties all the rest of us to the Trotskyist tradition, the tradition that stretched back nearly 100 years, and which itself stretched back through Lenin to Marx.

Pages 8-9

Russia:
Crisis and Brutal Impoverishment

Jan 4, 2021

The following is a translation from Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the revolutionary workers organization active in France.

Authorities in major Russian cities have said they may run out of bread in the New Year, as demand is soaring. Many consumers use bread to compensate for the fruits and vegetables, sugar and meat they have to do without, the prices of these staples having sometimes doubled, tripled, or even more, in a few months. This comes against the backdrop of a sharp drop in income.

The Russian authorities estimate the drop in purchasing power over one year at 4%. In reality, it is much more, while 30% of Russians, according to the polls, say they are in poverty.

Putin wanted to appear indignant about it during a recent television talk show. He threw it back on the mayors and governors, blaming the messengers for this. He ordered them to safeguard the purchasing power of the population by capping the prices of certain commodities. The consequence is, for example, that sugar at regulated prices has disappeared from stores, while only cane or higher quality sugar can still be found—at a much higher cost, because it is not regulated.

On television, Putin did not say anything about another effect of the crisis: the accelerated depreciation of the ruble, which makes imported products more expensive, without wages following.

The global crisis has hit Russia in a visible way: continuous decline in industrial production, decline in oil and natural gas exports ... In a few months, millions of workers in industry and services found themselves on short‑time working with laughably low salary compensation. Many others have lost their jobs altogether. And the loss of income that went with it drove entire sections of the working class into poverty, as well as sections of the petty bourgeoisie such as small businesses, and independent professionals.

It is in this context that strikes are multiplying for wage increases, or for the simple payment of wages, as was the case in the 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR.

Over ten days in December, to name only big cities and big companies, this provoked the strike of the workers of an automobile factory in Novokuznetsk (6 million rubles in arrears of wages), of a paper-cardboard mill in Ussuri (four months of unpaid wages), of the employees of public transport of Rybinsk, of the workers of an oil extraction site in Rosneft, of caregivers from Vladimir, Samu and various other cities.

To make people forget the worsening social situation, the Russian authorities boast of having been the first in Europe to launch, on December 4, a vaccination campaign with its own vaccine, Sputnik V.

In addition to the questionable effectiveness of the vaccine ‑ refused even by the Belarusian ally and client Lukashenko, the population knows that it has been left without aid in the face of the virus, tossed between orders and counter‑orders from employers and authorities for months. The epidemic continues to flare up, to the point that hospitals, saturated in the provinces but also in the richest region, in Moscow with its 12 million inhabitants, can often no longer accommodate patients. Paramedics and caregivers denounce it ¼ and sometimes they too are fighting for their jobs and their salaries.

Israel‑Palestine:
Unequal Prisoners in the Face of the Coronavirus

Jan 4, 2021

The following is a translation from Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the revolutionary workers organization active in France.

Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails will not be entitled to the coronavirus vaccine until further notice.

These are the instructions of Likud Minister of Internal Security Amir Ohana, given on December 26 to the Israeli prison service. This instruction concerns high security prisoners, who are in fact all Palestinian political prisoners, a large part of whom are placed in administrative detention by arbitrary decision of the Israeli authorities—without charge or trial.

This discriminatory decision comes on top of the deadline set by the Israeli government for the vaccination of the inhabitants of the Palestinian territories. However, they are more vulnerable if only because of the high population density in West Bank cities, East Jerusalem and Gaza, which will also depend on Israel for vaccination.

However, in terms of vulnerability, Palestinian political prisoners are on the front line, given their conditions of detention, overcrowding, and their frequently poor state of health. Gilboa prison, in the northeast of the country, has also been closed due to the spread of infection among inmates.

The government prides itself on being at the forefront in the fight against COVID-19, having been one of the first to launch large‑scale vaccination, starting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The political maneuver of the Minister of Internal Security appears even more clearly for what it is: an element of the campaign of the right wing in power in an electoral context. The Knesset, the Israeli parliament, has in fact just been dissolved following the breakup of the coalition between Netanyahu and Gantz, respectively at the head of the Likud and the Blue‑White party. A new legislative election, the fourth in two years, should therefore take place in March 2021. To sweep in the direction of the militarist, religious, racist and pro‑colonization far right, the hunt for the most reactionary votes is therefore open.

Palestinians in general and political prisoners in particular will suffer the consequences, as the government also begins a third lockdown in an attempt to stem the circulation of the virus. This episode recalls once again the scandal of the continued detention of 4,400 Palestinian political prisoners. Their release would be the first necessity!

Argentina:
Women’s Movement Overturns Abortion Ban

Jan 4, 2021

Overnight on December 28, millions of women in Argentina who support the right to abortion, and their allies, stood vigil in the streets in more than 120 cities and towns. Much of the country watched as a 12-hour debate on women’s healthcare rights was held in the legislature. At 4 a.m. on December 29, the Senate voted in favor of free, legal abortion. Crowds cheered and sobbed with relief. Argentina’s president will soon sign the bill into law.

This law will allow legal abortion during the first trimester for any reason. Argentina is now the largest Latin American country to legalize abortion, joining Cuba and Uruguay. The Roman Catholic Church and evangelical Protestant churches joined forces to oppose the legislation, but a growing movement of younger women pushed hard for change.

The symbol of the movement, green handkerchiefs, were waved everywhere by crowds, as they celebrated this victory. There was music and dancing all night. It was the culmination of years of grass roots organizing.

“I’m very emotional for all those who couldn’t be here today,” said one 29-year-old office worker. She explained that her friend, Marisa Sanchez, had died from an illegal abortion back when they were in high school.

The impact of this vote is expected to ripple across Latin America. Green handkerchiefs have begun showing up in other countries when young people have poured into the streets, demanding the right to abortion and demanding an end to violence against women. The fight continues!

Malaysia:
No Safety for PPE Workers

Jan 4, 2021

Top Glove, one of the biggest manufacturers of rubber gloves, is doing booming business these days by supplying PPE to the world. The Malaysian company is also the site of Malaysia’s largest coronavirus outbreak.

Over 5,700 out of 11,215 workers at one of its complexes outside Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, tested positive for the coronavirus. The explanation is simple: a lack of social distancing, long shifts, and cramped dormitory housing in worker hostels mean an environment ripe for the virus to spread. Thousands of Top Glove workers migrate to Malaysia from countries in South Asia to work fourteen hour shifts for $300 a month. Many take out a loan to get to the country, and end up working in near-slave conditions to work off that loan.

Top Glove’s response to the outbreak has been to try to cover it up. One worker was fired for taking pictures showing the conditions in the factory. A 29-year-old security guard from Nepal died from Covid. Top Glove ignored his family’s pleas to return his body.

Top Glove’s profits are way up compared to last year—they cleared nearly 600 million in their most recent quarter. The owners make millions—by risking the skins of their workers.

Pardoning Murderers

Jan 4, 2021

Just as other presidents have done in their final days, Donald Trump has been busy handing out pardons. He has pardoned some of his cronies, henchmen, gangsters and the father of his son‑in‑law. Trump also pardoned four murderers.

During the war in Iraq, the U.S. government hired private security companies like Blackwater to supplement the U.S. military. In 2007, four of these Blackwater mercenaries went on a rampage. Using machine guns and grenade launchers, they slaughtered 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including two children. In 2014, seven years later, these murderers finally faced some small measure of justice. They were convicted of charges ranging between first degree murder and manslaughter and sent to prison. Now Trump has pardoned them for their vicious murders.

Maybe Trump pardoned them because the founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince, is an ally of Trump and because Prince is also the brother of Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

And maybe Trump is just continuing the U.S. policy toward Iraq. In 2003, the U.S. government invaded Iraq on the pretense of “weapons of mass destruction,” which never existed. Under several presidents of both parties, the U.S. has continued that war in Iraq. It is estimated that a half million Iraqis have died in that war, as well as over 4,500 U.S. troops. Many tens of thousands of the Iraqis killed have been unarmed civilians. By freeing these four murderers, Trump is just continuing the horror the U.S. government has inflicted on the Iraqi people.

Pages 10-11

The Virus Is Deadly, the Profit System Deadlier

Jan 4, 2021

The following is the editorial from SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of December 14, 2020.

This country is embarked on what has been called “the most ambitious vaccine effort to date.”

Just as it was getting started, a senator from Wisconsin invited two witnesses to a committee hearing he chaired. Those witnesses trotted out some of the unsubstantiated anti‑vaccine theories that float on the internet, based not on rigorous scientific study, but on someone’s “intuition.” He said he wanted all views to be heard.

No, he wanted to make a name for himself, and if he could do it by dredging up all the anti‑scientific prejudices in society, well so be it.

He won’t be the one to die from what these medical quacks push. When he got sick with Covid, he had access to the best medical treatment in the world—that’s what this government supplies for its politicians. But not for its population.

He is just like all those other politicians who made a big show of not wearing a mask, in order to build up their own political following. Politicians who said, don’t worry, if you get it, it’s not bad.

Unfortunately, some people believed them, people who got sick from the virus. Some may not have gotten all that sick, but they spread it to their older relatives, who got really sick and died. There were even people who came into hospitals with Covid—insisting they didn’t have it, they couldn’t have it. Right up to the day they died from it, they were convinced Covid doesn’t exist.

Yes, it’s true that not everything is known about this disease, about masks and now about the vaccine about to be distributed. There are many things science can’t yet know for sure: exactly how effective will the vaccine be? Will inoculation protect only those who get it, or will it prevent the virus’s spread? How long will protection last?

In one sense, we are all guinea pigs in a great big research project. But we have no choice. We don’t choose the time and the space we live in. We are all constrained by our time and space. What constrains us today is this virulent disease.

There are lots of half‑baked theories floating on the internet and in the big media. But science, as imperfect as it is, still is our best hope.

The virus that causes Covid was unknown until about a year ago. It produces a disease with this difficult characteristic: people who never even have symptoms are nonetheless developing the disease and spreading it to others.

In the face of such a tricky enemy, vast resources should be rushed to the medical scientists who focus on such problems and to public health departments, which are the ones that have the expertise in collecting data about diseases, who also are the ones who know how to trace and inhibit the spread of a contagious disease.

The newly elected president turned his campaign around the spread of Covid, saying, “trust the science.”

Unfortunately his actions spoke louder than his words. During all his years in public life, he joined with other politicians to cut the money going to medical science and to public health—directing the money instead to subsidize profit.

The CDC touts this vaccine as a lifesaver. It’s very possible it will be. But if so, it will not do so in the quickest, most direct way possible, impacting the largest number of people. The government responsible for funding the venture has not organized it with these as its only priorities. It set up vaccine development and distribution so that big companies will make a profit—pharmaceutical companies that developed it with government money; delivery companies that will move it to storage centers; hospital systems that will be paid “facility fees” for administering the vaccine; the pharmacy chains that will inoculate people in nursing homes.

The virus may be deadly, but the profit system which distorts every aspect of society, including science, is a mortal threat to everyone. To free up science, to make the population’s health a priority, we need only one goal: to rip out, tear up and throw away this profit‑making system.

Los Angeles:
8x8 Sheds for Homeless ... for $130,000 Each!

Jan 4, 2021

Little, 8-foot by 8-foot aluminum sheds, which Los Angeles politicians call “tiny homes”—that’s these politicians’ latest idea of supposedly helping the city’s homeless, 40,000 by official count, but in reality certainly many, many more.

Far from an answer to homelessness, it’s an abomination to call sheds the size of prison cells “homes” of any kind. Nonetheless, the price tag for the first 39 of these “tiny homes” is $5.2 million, or a whopping $133,000 per shed. In other words, it’s just another big gift to big companies.

On the other hand, the City of L.A. has thousands of empty lots and, by their own declaration, $2 billion to deal with the homelessness problem. If all city politicians are offering are these “tiny homes,” it’s obvious that they are not interested in doing anything about this big social problem.

But this “tiny homes” project, with its far overblown price tag, is sure giving a boost to corporate profits—which, in the end, is what these city politicians do, using every excuse they can find, including the enormous human crisis of homelessness.

Page 12

Government and UAW Settle

Jan 4, 2021

The UAW and the federal government announced a consent agreement after years of investigations and accusations of corruption against top union leaders. What does this settlement mean?

First of all, the agreement is an admission by the government that, despite all the plea deals it made with those officials who were charged, it couldn’t find the widespread corruption in the UAW that the Feds and parts of the media had alleged for the past several years. The government couldn’t impose what it wanted.

The agreement imposes outside monitors to watch the financial dealings of the UAW, similar to what the current UAW leaders had already done themselves. But the federal government had been pushing for a racketeering charge and complete takeover of the UAW, like they did to the Teamsters years ago. Why did the government agree to something much less? Maybe because the Trump‑appointed U.S. Attorney knew he would soon be out of office and wanted to save face.

Yes, there were some UAW leaders who used their positions to line their own pockets or take privileges. But the vast majority of union leaders were not part of this. But still, the UAW has been weakened. A lot of union leaders had their names dragged through the mud. And, in the future, if any UAW leaders organize a big fight against the companies, these outside monitors are in a position to go after them.

A lot of UAW workers were rightfully angry at those union leaders who were corrupt. But we shouldn’t ever believe that the government came in to help us. The government is always on the side of the bosses. Just remember how the government and some media ramped up their attack on the UAW right at the time the union called a strike against GM in 2019.

There are problems with our top union leadership. But the main problem is not corruption. The problem is that the leadership has had a policy of partnership with the companies, a policy that has led us down a path of concessions. That policy needs to change. But it will be up to the UAW members to change that policy and elect leaders who are ready to lead a fight against the companies.

101 Years Ago:
Attacks on Those Who Wanted a Better Society

Jan 4, 2021

The current government administration is only one of many which have attacked immigrants or people with socialist, communist or anarchist views. One hundred and one years ago, this January, the attorney general, Mitchell Palmer, directed raids leading to thousands of arrests and hundreds of deportations of people without citizenship.

The Palmer raids took place in Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s administration, starting in 1919. Wilson had already shown his many prejudices. He had said in 1915 that such people with their “passion, disloyalty and anarchy ¼ must be crushed out.”

Attorney General Palmer turned the actual raids over to a new division called the Bureau of Investigation, led by 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover. They began raids on November 7, 1919, a date chosen exactly because it marked the anniversary of the Russian Revolution two years earlier.

Wilson and Hoover, among many politicians all over the world, paid attention to the Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks had led the overthrow of the Russian capitalists who owned the largest factories and banks. Capitalists in the rich countries all took note of this revolution and feared that the horrible conditions facing much of the world’s populations would lead to revolutions in their countries. And five long years of World War I butchery and brutal conditions of exploited labor certainly might have led in that direction.

The laboring population in the United States was actively trying to improve its working conditions, sometimes under the leadership of socialists and communists. In February 1919, Seattle was the scene of a five-day general strike. In April, miners went on strike for the right to organize a union. Activists planned on organizing the giant U.S. Steel conglomerate, set in place by J.P. Morgan capital and totally anti-union. The steelworkers went on strike in September.

Hoover had carried out raids starting in November and then again on January 2, 1920, arresting and detaining people in 30 large cities over the next six weeks. Attorney General Palmer claimed, “There is no time to waste on hairsplitting over infringement of liberty.”

Ten thousand people were arrested. While 6,500 were let go quite rapidly, one person died, having been pushed out of a window by federal agents in New York.

Finally, 556 people from these raids were deported because they were not citizens and Congress had passed a harsh immigration law in 1918.

Today is vastly different from 100 years ago. There is very little union organizing and the ideas of socialists, communists and anarchists are almost unknown to most of the population. One hundred years ago, many thousands proudly proclaimed they wanted an end to capitalism and a better society. In the 1920 presidential election, almost a million men voted for Eugene V. Debs, a socialist then held in prison for opposing World War I. Debs said, “We are going to destroy all enslaving and degrading capitalist institutions and recreate them as free and humanizing institutions.” The need to complete this work is still ahead of us today.