The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

Issue no. 1135 — August 16 - 30, 2021

“Mandate” the Sweeping Away of the Capitalist System that Created a Covid Catastrophe

Aug 16, 2021

The call for vaccine mandates spreads. From Biden’s federal government, to state and local governments, to private industry, the rush to mandate is on.

Hanging over the unvaccinated workers’ heads is the threat of suspension or even discharge from work. Or the threat, at least, of serious inconvenience, requiring unvaccinated workers, for example, to get a test every week, and perhaps pay for the tests themselves.

A very real apparatus for mandates has been established, joined by a phalanx of well-known musicians, actors, sports figures, and social media personalities, and many journalists with the big media. They all march to the same drumbeat: “Get vaccinated, it is YOUR responsibility, YOUR obligation to other people.”

It’s a bludgeon hung over people’s head, a moral bludgeon, accusing them of social irresponsibility, but also a mortal bludgeon, a threat to take their livelihood away.

Yes, it’s true that vaccination rates are perilously low. After eight months and all the money it poured into the pharmaceutical companies, the federal government has been unable to direct the full vaccination of even 60% of the American population, 12 years of age and older.

It also seems to be true that in the midst of a dangerous pandemic, these vaccines appear to be the least problematic of the ways to respond to the spreading virus, once the virus has gotten this far out of control.

But that begs the real question: why is the population being put on trial? Due to their refusal or even just inability to get vaccinated, part of the population is being charged with responsibility for this whole enormous medical catastrophe. In reality, the responsibility belongs to the American capitalist class and its state apparatus.

This capitalist class, firmly resting on the “financial industry,” bought and sold off hospitals and hospital systems, making a tidy profit with each turnover—and leaving larger parts of the country without any nearby medical care. This capitalist class ensconced itself in the medical industry, turning it into a profit-making toy. In order to prop up the big banks, the state apparatus of this capitalist class drained public health entities of the funds they needed to regularly survey the population and organize to deal with contagious diseases.

This is why, when a new virus appeared, the public health system was totally inadequate, without equipment and supplies, without personnel, unable to meet the threat as it emerged. This is why, 20 months after the virus appeared, this country’s public health system is still completely inadequate.

Don’t let them blame the population for this. Don’t let them throw mandates at the population. And, as for those Republican governors, who get vaccinated themselves, but sit on both sides of the vaccine fence, pretending to speak for the “right of individuals to make their own decisions about their own bodies,”—hopefully their rear ends will get skewered by one of those fence posts on which they sit.

Yes, a mandate is needed. A mandate to get rid of all these politicians, no matter what political fence they ride on. A mandate to get rid of the capitalist class, which looks on medicine and public health as simply one more way to accumulate profit.

This is a mandate that only the working class can give, a mandate it can give only to itself.

The only force that has the means to sweep away this system is the working class. The only force that has the capacity to sweep it all down into the sewer where it belongs is the working class. The only force which can have the capacity to construct a new society, organized around the needs of the population, is the working class.

No, it is not doing that today, it hasn’t even begun to pull its forces together to make a fight that might address its immediate problems today. But tomorrow, all that can change—if there are people today who argue for what must be done. If there are people today who cleanly and precisely stand for a dictatorship of working people, imposed over all the old corrupt, filthy parts of capitalist society. If there are people today who stand for a communist society tomorrow.

Pages 2-3

Another Disaster in Haiti

Aug 16, 2021

On August 14, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit Haiti.

At the time of this writing, the number of deaths and the overall level of destruction are unclear, but they are surely dire. Homes, workplaces, and stores were reduced to rubble in the city of Les Cayes. The main supermarket and many smaller stores collapsed, leaving about half a million people with dwindling supplies. Underground pipes snapped, flooding the streets, cutting off water. All this while Tropical Storm Grace is predicted to bring heavy rains and high winds to the island starting Monday.

Geologists warned that the 2010 quake had made another powerful one more likely. And yet, millions still live in the same type of ramshackle structures that collapsed by the thousands 11 years ago, when a quarter of a million people died and 1.5 million were displaced, in this country of 11 million.

Haiti still lacks the most basic medical infrastructure to take care of the wounded. Officials estimate there are only about 30 doctors total for about 1 million people in the most affected area, and that all of the hospitals are damaged. Dr. James Pierre, a surgeon working at the general hospital of Les Cayes, said the hospital was lacking even gloves and IV needles. Doctors worked overnight to build a makeshift operating room made of tin sheets by the airport, which is now manned by one surgeon. He reported that he doesn’t even have antibiotics, and that they do not have the capacity to do lab tests.

On top of all that, Haiti is in the midst of a governmental breakdown following the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse, making any kind of effective, coordinated rescue operation even more unlikely.

Haitians are the victims of the earthquake, but they are even more the victims of the poverty imposed by centuries of imperialist domination. Ever since Haiti’s birth, in the world’s first successful slave revolt in 1804, first France and then the U.S. have been sucking the wealth out of this country. The U.S. occupied it from 1915 until 1934 and has been propping up corrupt dictatorships—and occasionally invading—ever since. Those dictatorships have allowed U.S. corporations to make huge profits from the labor of poor Haitians, while impoverishing the majority: today, about 60% of the population lives below the official poverty line of $2.41 a day.

The U.S. and other rich countries plus various charities pledged aid for earthquake victims. But don’t expect charity to help very much. In 2010, as images of the devastation spread around the world, millions of people pledged money to help. But little of it reached the desperate people who needed it. Ninety-three cents of every dollar stayed with the donor organizations and the contractors they used, in their home countries. Instead of building housing, hospitals or schools, the first projects funded were hotels in the capital, while more than a million slept out in the open. On top of all that, U.N. soldiers stationed in Haiti reintroduced cholera, a disease once eradicated there—almost 5,000 Haitians died.

Faced with another disaster wrought more by capitalism than the shaking of the earth itself, what is needed is the determination of those who live in the centers of imperialism like the United States to do whatever is necessary to overthrow this capitalist system that condemns Haiti to one disaster after another.

What Does this School Year Hold?

Aug 16, 2021

We’re well into back-to-school season—the second during this Covid-19 pandemic. And now we find ourselves in the midst of the Delta surge.

The debate raging around the country is whether masks should be required in schools. It’s a debate over a false choice—between safety and a better educational experience, when children obviously need both. And it’s a distraction from the utter failure of this society to educate its children in the face of the pandemic.

To provide an education safely during this pandemic, massive resources would be needed. Money for masking, cleaning supplies, custodial staff. Additional teachers and support staff, additional space so that students would have room. Upgrades to ventilation, to prevent the spread of this airborne illness in school spaces. This has been known—it’s obvious. And yet none of it was done.

Instead, students were thrown onto remote and “hybrid” learning, doing everything on the computer—even for those who got back into a school building. A parent of a five year old noted “the children now know very well how to navigate a computer. But did they learn anything?” The answer for too many is NO.

Parents find themselves stuck, without options. Out of frustration, many parents have pulled their children out of the public schools—perhaps more than a million all over this country. It’s true, this society did not provide an education through the schools, particularly for the youngest students. But there was no other answer at hand—unless you had a lot of money to spend.

This society was able to hand billions: to the banks, to the pharmaceutical companies. But it could not and did not lift a finger to maintain the education for the working class. They keep repeating “we’re all in this together.” It’s just that we’re not!

Climate Change:
A Result of Capitalism

Aug 16, 2021

Two recent reports warn of the huge climate change crisis threatening humanity.

One, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reports that this year is on track to be one of the hottest. In July 2021, the combined land and ocean-surface temperature was 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the 20th-century average. Furthermore, this past July was the hottest single month since recordkeeping began 142 years ago.

The second report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was commissioned by the United Nations, and found global warming has reached a point where it cannot be stopped or reversed for at least 30 more years.

That means that the catastrophic droughts, heat waves, wildfires, floods and fierce storms we have been witnessing in recent years will continue to happen. They will get worse. Hundred-year storms will happen every 10 years or 5 years.

Sea level will rise by one to two feet by the end of the century, forcing hundreds of millions of people living in coastal cities to move inland. Sea level had already risen about 8 inches since 1880. But since 2006, sea level rise has doubled.

The average global temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century. And that too has sped up over the last decade.

While it’s true the climate has changed dramatically over millions of years, this accelerated climate change—over the last 150 years—is increasing more rapidly. This is different from the slower planetary changes in climate that have occurred historically.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are greater today than at any time in the past two million years, according to the UN report. The extent of late-summer sea ice in the Arctic is lower than it’s been any time in the past 1,000 years. This speeds up warming because less of the sun’s energy is reflected away from earth and more is absorbed by the darker sea water. This, in turn, warms the water.

Each of the past four decades has been successively warmer than the previous one. Heat waves on land have become significantly hotter since 1950.

The IPCC concluded “human” activity is responsible for the rapid rise in the average temperature of the earth’s surface and atmosphere—in particular the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) for energy. For sure, the changes happening before our eyes are not what was “natural” for 2 million years. But saying that “humans” are the cause is not precise and is deeply problematic.

Saying “humans” are the cause implies that the decisions of individuals can turn things around. Just recycle and buy a Prius! No. The way that society is organized leaves little room for impact by individual choice. People need to drive cars to go to work. People must live in homes that use fossil fuels. We all live in an economy based on burning fossil fuels for energy. We all live in a society where the whole economy is organized around making enormous profits for a handful of people.

Power plants, factories, forest removal are the big sources of greenhouse gases. (Gases that trap the heat of the sun—heating up the planet.)

Capitalism caused the situation we find ourselves in. The bosses have known about this problem since the 1970s. They have done nothing to mitigate the impact of climate change, like increasing drainage capacity in cities so homes and streets don’t flood every time it rains.

The cause of climate change is the capitalist system and the drive for profit at all costs without regard for the future of humanity.

Pages 4-5

Human Disaster at the Border

Aug 16, 2021

U.S. agents arrested 212,672 migrants at the southern border in July, the most in 21 years.

These include many people from the Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, who have been arriving in large numbers for years, but also increasing numbers from countries like Brazil, Ecuador, Haiti, and countries in Africa. The influx of people who have had to manage even longer voyages is one indication of the increasing desperation of millions of people in countries around the world.

The Biden administration’s main response has been to use the legal excuse of the COVID epidemic to expel most people without giving them even the most basic legal proceedings migrants are supposed to get. This, even though Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas admitted that positivity rates of migrants tested for COVID are on par with, or lower than, U.S. community rates.

In addition to expelling large numbers right at the border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has begun flying Central American families deep into Mexico, dropping off hundreds of migrants—including small children—in remote Mexican towns without even the barest capacity to take care of them. Even Biden’s own representative to the U.N. refugee agency said that contrary to Biden’s legal excuse, these flights “heighten the risk of COVID-19 transmission across national borders.”

And thousands of children detained by CBP are still warehoused in shelters, which whistle-blowers and lawyer-observers call “shockingly deplorable.” And the U.S. is expanding the human wall keeping people out, reassigning 350 officers and staff to “help” CBP stop migrants.

So, in the face of this human disaster, the Biden administration is carrying out essentially the same policy as the Trump administration. Except instead of trumpeting its brutality from the rooftops, this administration hides it under cheap talk about addressing the “root causes” of migration, along with the same old lies about protecting the U.S. from COVID.

Fights within the Framework of Capitalism

Aug 16, 2021

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, publicly viewed as one of the more militant leaders of the union movement, has died.

Trumka was the son and grandson of coal miners. Trumka himself worked for 7 years as a miner, while he was also going to college to become a lawyer.

Trumka worked enough years in the mines to be eligible to run for union office in the United Mine Workers (UMW). In 1982 Trumka ran for UMW president as a “reform” candidate and beat the incumbent.

Trumka was the UMW president when UMW miners went on strike against Pittston Coal Company in 1989 because the company had eliminated retiree health care benefits. It was a militant fight by the miners and after a 10-month strike the company backed down. Unlike other union leaders then and now, he did not oppose the strike.

Trumka was still UMW president when miners went on strike against Peabody Coal in 1993. When the company threatened to bring scabs across the picket line, Trumka issued his own threat against the company.

Trumka became secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO and then was elected president in 2009. During his early years as president, Trumka emphasized organizing. He also took some stands different than other union leaders, for example, funding labor groups that were representing undocumented immigrant workers.

Later, Trumka’s primary focus became supporting the Democratic Party, especially the presidential election campaigns of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. He told workers that putting the Democrats in office would bring about positive changes for workers—despite all evidence to the contrary!

Trumka was similar to most union leaders in that his perspectives and policies kept workers within the bounds of this capitalist system. While personally militant, he believed that workers have to accept what this capitalist system will give them. He, among many others, fastened an acceptance of capitalism on the working class, while what was needed was to go further, to use the collective power of the working class to get rid of capitalism.

There was a period of time following World War II when the capitalists in this country, flush with profits from exploiting workers from around the entire world, were willing to give U.S. workers a little more—if the workers made a militant fight and demanded it. But those days ended decades ago, and, in fact, these gains made were not for everyone, but for a small section of the working class.

Now, as before, the capitalists are increasing their exploitation of the working class, year after year. The standard of living of the working class has steadily declined for the past 50 years.

The only way forward for the working class today is to disregard the rules set by the capitalists; to use their full power to make a fight to throw out the capitalist system and replace it with a new system of their own, run by and for the working class.

South Los Angeles:
“Separate and Unequal” Health Care

Aug 16, 2021

In some of the big working-class areas of Los Angeles, the rates of people getting vaccinated are much lower than those in higher income parts of the city.

An important reason for this is the “separate and unequal” health care system, which provides little or no funding for health care in low-income working-class communities.

Almost half of the working population in Los Angeles earns close to minimum wage, and few get on-the-job health care benefits. So, most workers have little choice but to be enrolled in Medicaid, called Medi-Cal in California, which is a third-rate health insurance that provides minimal coverage.

In South Los Angeles, with a population of over a million people, there are 10 times fewer doctors on average than in surrounding communities. That means there is a serious shortage of primary care physicians and a much greater shortage of specialists. South Los Angeles also has the lowest number of hospital beds (per 100,000 people) in the entire L.A. county.

In other words, more than a million people in South Los Angeles, many of whom are essential workers, live in the middle of what professionals call a “health care desert,” with little or no access to health care. Most of these essential workers and their families don’t even have their own doctor, with whom they have an established relationship.

This lack of health care is one important reason why life expectancy in South Los Angeles is 10 years shorter than in surrounding areas, with three times more diabetes, and very high, epidemic levels of chronic heart, lung, kidney disease, addiction, and mental health conditions.

The lack of health care and the poor health of many residents then multiplied the damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the very sick were funneled to Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital, a small 131-bed public hospital, with limited services: only emergency surgery is done there, the most common being amputations for diabetes patients. There is no pediatric care, no neonatal intensive care, no trauma center, no inpatient psychiatric or addiction treatment. By last January, at the height of the pandemic, MLK’s tiny 29-bed emergency room was overcrowded, packed with 104 patients, lining hallways or outdoor tents awaiting beds in the I.C.U. or medical wards.

Meanwhile, the sprawling, advanced medical centers nearby, such as UCLA and Cedars Sinai, refused to take MLK’s sickest patients, when doctors tried to transfer them. “Nobody wants their insurance,” doctors said.

Thus, the “separate and unequal” medical system condemned countless people to die needlessly.

People with preconditions fall more quickly to the virus and get sick and die more often.

While the authorities rush to blame the victims, obviously this failure to provide long term, readily available health care lies with capitalism and its for-profit non-health system.

Housing Costs through the Roof

Aug 16, 2021

The cost of housing in Chicago—as in the rest of the country—has gotten even more out of reach for most workers. This, even as the eviction moratorium is expiring.

Ordinary people can pretty much forget about buying a home these days. In June, the median cost of homes sold in the nine-county Chicago area hit a record of $319,000. That was up more than 20% compared to a year before. And prices are up in almost every neighborhood and suburb.

This is in part driven by a new housing bubble, with the government ensuring low interest rates and with finance capital speculating on housing, much as it did before the 2008 crash.

There’s also just an absolute shortage of affordable housing: Not only are the few new homes built almost always extremely pricey, but most of the construction that is done in Chicago actually destroys affordable housing. According to Geoff Smith, the director of the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University, “New constructions in Chicago are usually de-conversion jobs, where they turn a traditional two-flat into a single-family home.” In other words, they eliminate two apartments, in order to make one expensive single-family home.

While buying a home is impossible for many workers, renting is barely better. Overall, the price of rent in Chicago declined slightly during the pandemic– but that is misleading. The rent for expensive condo units came down, while rent in working class areas continued to rise. A Washington Post analysis found that in Chicago, rents for the highest-end homes dropped considerably, about 7.6% between the end of 2019 and the end of 2020—while rents for “lower quality” homes—the types workers are forced to live in—went up. This made rent even more unaffordable in the midst of the pandemic, all while thousands were being thrown out of work!

Banks, landlords, developers—all push to maximize their profits. And housing for the working-class majority is being pushed ever further out of reach—the insane result of a capitalist system.

Washington, D.C.:
Charter School Fat Cats

Aug 16, 2021

Bosses at the more than 60 companies running over 120 public charter schools in Washington, D.C. pay themselves top dollar. And they are being paid by the public-school budget.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Friendship Public Charter School Inc., running three schools, was compensated over $308,000 in 2017, $356,000 in 2018, and $390,000 in 2019. And the formally non-profit company compensated its Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operations Officer, Chief Accounting Officer, Chief of Staff, Chief of School Operations, General Counsel, Senior Director of Information Services, and three principals between $160,000 and $200,000 each.

Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, Inc., also formally a non-profit, compensated its CEO over $308,000 in 2017 and $320,000 in 2019, with a CFO, Chief Human Resources Officer, and two principals also receiving between $160,000 and $200,000. KIPP DC Public Charter Schools compensated its CEO over $343,000 in 2019 as well as compensating three other executives and two principals over $200,000 each.

Some of these charter schools have no library or gym, and they all keep lower-level staff benefits cut to the bone. Don’t even ask about the level of education made available.

But the city gives these bosses liberty to dig deep into school budgets to pay themselves.

Pages 6-7

40 Years of War and U.S. Maneuvers

Aug 16, 2021

On August 15th, it took only a few hours for the U.S.-backed Afghan government to collapse completely and President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country after the first insurgent Taliban forces had entered Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city.

Over the last weeks, as the remaining U.S. military forces had been leaving Afghanistan, the Taliban offensive against the U.S.-backed Afghan government and military had turned into a rout. The Afghan military, as well as U.S.-backed Afghan militias, had surrendered one major city after another, until Kabul fell without a fight.

Top U.S. officials and the news media had all expressed shock at just how quickly the Afghan military had crumbled like an empty, rotten shell. After all, the U.S. had been building up those forces, providing training, equipment and expertise for the last 20 years. And this was done at great cost: over 6,000 U.S. troops and private contractors had been killed, with tens of thousands wounded. And the U.S. government had poured well over a trillion dollars into this war effort, with the final cost expected to run two to three times higher, after all the bills are finally paid.

But the more the situation for the U.S.-sponsored Afghan government and military had deteriorated, the more the news has been filled with justifications by top U.S. officials, trying to make it sound like the 20 years of U.S. occupation had improved the situation for the Afghan people, with an elected government, more schools and better public health care. Not mentioned was the fact that the elections were fraudulent, and the government was dominated by murderous warlords, or that hundreds of thousands of Afghan people had been killed in an unending war, and that seven million Afghans had been forced from their homes in one of the worst refugee crises in the world. As for all of the promises from the U.S. about helping develop the Afghan economy, what has also gone unmentioned is that the economy’s main pillar remains the export of narcotics, with Afghanistan supplying almost all of the world’s heroin.

In fact, the main goal for U.S. government policymakers was never to improve the lives of the Afghan people, but to impose U.S. domination as the world’s superpower in Central Asia and the Middle East, where Afghanistan is located.

Using Afghanistan as a Pawn

The U.S.’s first intervention in Afghanistan dates back to 1979, in order to use Afghanistan and its peoples as a proxy against the Soviet Union. At the time, the Soviet Union was still the U.S.’s main superpower rival, and Afghanistan was part of the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. In mid-1979, the CIA tried to increase instability and social unrest in Afghanistan by funneling aid to small groups of Islamic fundamentalists, or mujahideen, that opposed the Afghan government. To bolster the Afghan regime, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, in order to prevent the pro-Russian regime from collapsing.

A war began against the occupiers, waged by the mujahideen, who were warlords relying on their own ethnic group, or even their tribe, and fighting in the name of Islam. This was the start of 10 years of war.

The brutality of the Soviet army’s intervention contributed to the recruitment efforts of the armed bands in rebellion, but most of the aid came from abroad. The United States took covert action, helping to arm, finance and train the fundamentalist militia to fight against the Soviet troops. It also recruited foreign fighters and organized them into terrorist groups to fight against the Soviet troops.

Ten years later, the last Russian troops withdrew, defeated, at the end of a war which had led to more than a million deaths.

But for the U.S. government, the war was a great victory, since it “gave the Soviet Union its own Vietnam,” as one official boasted. That is, the war had weakened the Soviet government.

But there was “blowback” from this war. Terrorist groups, like al Qaeda, funded or even created by the CIA to fight against the Russians, turned on the U.S. and carried out attacks in many places, from Saudi Arabia to Kenya to the United States.

There was also tremendous “blowback” inside Afghanistan itself. Afghan warlords, or commanders as they were called, used the arms and money that they had received from the U.S. to build up their own militias and armies. They preyed upon the Afghan population, engaged in various rackets, including drug smuggling, while invoking religious zealotry as a cover. With Afghan schools destroyed by the wars, millions of Afghan boys in refugee camps were educated across the border in Pakistani madrassas, or religious schools, where they were fed an extreme, violence-laden form of Islamic fundamentalism in textbooks paid for by Washington.

After Soviet troops left in 1989, a new period of bloody civil war began. Rival warlords fought first against the Afghan government, and then after bringing the government down, they fought against each other for power.

To restore order, U.S. imperialism’s client states in the region, the Pakistan military and the Saudi Arabian monarchy, created the Taliban in 1993–94 with its own brand of virulent religious fundamentalism. Former fighters in the mujahideen and young men in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan were recruited into the Taliban.

Over the next two years, the Taliban fought to impose its rule over the competing warlords. The Taliban held out the hope of ousting the much-hated warlords and mujahideen and provided a sense of order and security, thus gaining popular support. It also gained the allegiance of many local warlords and strongmen, who kept their own fiefdoms.

By September 1996, the Taliban controlled Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and began its reign. But it was never able to defeat all the warlords and mujahideen, as former enemies who had fought each other during the civil war banded together to form the Northern Alliance.

For the next five years, the Taliban imposed a dictatorship over a poor, backward country left in ruins and bled white by several wars. But the Taliban was never able to extend its rule to the north, which remained under the control of the Northern Alliance.

2001: U.S. Invasion and Occupation

This was the situation in Afghanistan when U.S. imperialism invaded the country after the 9/11 attacks.

The U.S. invasion was a spectacular show of U.S. force aimed at demonstrating to the world that the U.S., as the only superpower, was still to be feared. U.S. policy makers probably chose to invade Afghanistan because it appeared to be a pushover. One of the poorest countries on earth, largely rural, with the population scattered in small, impoverished villages, Afghanistan had already been devastated by 22 years of war and destruction, thanks to previous U.S. interventions. Moreover, the Taliban didn’t even control the whole country, and the U.S. could rely on the warlords and militias of the Northern Alliance to do most of the fighting.

Under the pretext of hunting for bin Laden and the surviving forces of al-Qaeda, or for Mullah Omar, the former leader of the Taliban, the U.S. and its allies reduced entire villages to dust. In five weeks, the Taliban regime was wiped out, at the cost of thousands of civilian deaths and the destruction of the country.

The U.S. proceeded to put together a new government and a new army for Afghanistan, a completely artificial creation, which owed its existence to the U.S. occupation. The U.S. granted the warlords of the Northern Alliance top positions in the new ministries, with their control extending down to the local governments. Their militias became the basis of the new Afghan military.

The warlords used their positions to smuggle, plunder, rob and rape, cloaking themselves in brutal religious fundamentalism. They got their hands on money pouring in from the U.S. invaders, and began to salt it away in bank accounts in such places as Switzerland, Dubai, and the U.S.

So, what the U.S. considered to be the Afghan government and military were completely artificial creations of the U.S. occupation, that couldn’t exist unless they were constantly buttressed by the U.S. military.

One War after Another

The Taliban had not at all been destroyed. Those who made up the Taliban had simply returned home or crossed the border into Pakistan and continued their existence underground. The U.S. and its Afghan allies set about rooting it out.

This campaign could only mean a new war against the Afghan population. When a village was suspected of harboring Taliban, or other insurgents, it was bombed. Entire villages were destroyed by “surgical” strikes. U.S. forces carried out night raids, assassinations, and mass arrests, filling prisons and detention centers, including the massive ones at the U.S. Bagram Air Base outside of Kabul and the Kandahar Air Base in the south, where they often carried out systematic torture. Some “high value” prisoners were shipped out to the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

This “war on terror” backfired on the U.S. occupiers. Former Taliban and other warlords began to take up arms against the Afghan government and the U.S. authority. And because the fighting had left the economy in a shambles, with so many people having lost their land and often their families, it provided a ready mass of people with no other prospects than to join up with local guerrilla commanders.

What was intended as only a rapid blitz soon turned into a very long occupation by hundreds of thousands of U.S., British, French, and other NATO troops.

Over the next 20 years, the U.S. tried to extricate itself from this war, only to be pulled by the growing conflict still deeper. In 2003, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, had already announced “the end of major combat operations.” Seven years later, the number of troops stationed had ratcheted up again to 100,000.

In November 2009, after having sent 30,000 additional soldiers to Afghanistan, Barack Obama declared that he wanted to put an end to the “endless wars” and promised a definitive withdrawal of U.S. troops by 2014. More than six years after that target date, 3,500 U.S. troops still remained in the country, plus another 6,000 from other NATO member states.

To this must be added all the personnel who allow the military bases to function, and the growing presence of “military contractors.” These mercenaries are commanded by former U.S. officers, hired by private companies like Academi (formerly known as Blackwater), DynCorp, and KBR, Inc. (formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton).

Growing Chaos

Twenty years later, the United States is once again trying to extricate itself from this conflict it created. But for the U.S. imperial power, the question is, how will order be imposed after it leaves? Obviously, its puppet Afghan government and military are proving that they cannot exist without a military occupation.

But the possibility of a new “Taliban” regime controlling the country may not be viable either. For what goes by the name “Taliban” is not one united force. After years of war, the number of jihadist groups with varying allegiances have multiplied, as have the armed bands led by different warlords and organized crime networks, which are sometimes the same.

What concerns the U.S. government and military is not that armed bands might continue to kill each other in Afghanistan after the U.S. forces leave, but that the instability there might spread to the entire region. The Taliban itself might only aim to impose an emirate based on Sharia law within the boundaries of the nation. But the same cannot be said for al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, which have already shown in places like Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and many other countries, that they have much wider ambitions to challenge and bring down other regimes.

If that happens, the U.S. military could very well find itself fighting new wars in the region.

U.S. imperialism has always tried to maintain its domination by relying on the most reactionary forces and fanning rivalries between regional powers. From Iraq to Syria to Afghanistan, the results can be seen: chaos continues to spread. The Afghan population is trapped between the dictatorship of U.S. imperialism, via the corrupt and venal government of Ashraf Ghani; the presence of the armed forces of the Taliban, who once in power will impose the same despotic regime as in 1996; and other forces which are just as reactionary.

Putting an end to this situation means taking on an entire system of domination, which includes imperialist interventions, local ruling classes, and militias acting autonomously. Overthrowing this system can only be done on the basis of a revolutionary, proletarian, and internationalist policy, making it the common goal of the exploited masses of the entire region.

Pages 8-9

SPARK Summer Festival Returned!

Aug 16, 2021

Last year, the SPARK was not able to hold its annual Summer Festival in Detroit, due to Covid lockdowns and restrictions. This year, after a year away, the Festival returned, and took place on August 8th.

With the Delta variant flaring up, we were still limited in what we could do—but we were able to bring workers together and share a meal, enjoy some games, some music, some comedy, and talk together—and just enjoy each other’s company in the same space together for the first time in over a year. It was something that all who attended appreciated very much.

The following are excerpts from two speeches given at the event (Sam Johnson: When We Stand Together, We Are a Force and Gary Walkowicz: A Crisis of Covid, a Crisis of Capitalism). They were followed by a lively discussion among a number of people who took part, about what the working class could do to turn things around.

Sam Johnson:
When We Stand Together, We Are a Force

Aug 16, 2021

I know people will fight. I saw it. In 1965 and ‘67, I saw all those workers come together in the street. I saw it then. People would fight. In California in 1965, there were black people out in the streets, but you had Mexicans and poor whites out there too. In 1967 in Detroit, the same thing. In Detroit, I guess those poor whites were as tired of the way things were just like we were. We were all out there in the street. There were three young whites in a building near me, I guess they saw blacks fighting and decided, why not us?

My last job before I left California, I started trying to bring us together. I already was getting the bigger picture, seeing where I fit in, where we all fit in. When I came to Detroit and worked in Chrysler plants, I saw what the problems are and who’s causing them. I saw that we produce everything that we need, we do it, we produce it all, but we do it for that capitalist class. We do it for them, for what they want, not for what we want.

But we can shut it down. We can be a force. We can get what we want. I already saw that in California, in Detroit. But fighting’s not enough. But we got to understand this capitalist system, understand everything about it.

The capitalists divide us in order to make their profit go up. They pay one worker less, then they pay the rest of us less. Because of the riot and ‘67, some of us got jobs, some got decent wages. Maybe a few of us still have good wages. But what about our family, our kids, our grandkids? Why should they have less than we do? All of us ought to have a better life.

But it’s going to take us to be the force to make that happen.

Today, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s fighting. But even a few people, when they get the bigger picture, they can talk to their family and friends, then more people will understand what it is they have to do. We all have family and friends.

It’s going to take us to do that. If we can make things run in this country, then we can make them run for us. We got the force to do that. I worked in a Chrysler plant, with workers from different countries. Some of us were black, some were Polish, some came from Yugoslavia and Yemen. When we wrote a leaflet, some of them wrote down what we wrote in Arabic and Yugoslav. And they were all part of passing them out at the gate. Then everyone could read it. That’s the working class. When we stood together, we could back the company off some. We can do much more.

When we see something ain’t right for us, we don’t have to accept it, we can stop it, we got the forces to do it. We do all the work. If we do all the work, we should do it for us. If it’s not for us, then we need to stop it. We can stop it and take over the whole thing. We can run it for us.

Why not? Who are the forces the capitalists use against us? The army and the police and the National Guard. Look at the army, that’s your brother and sister and cousins. That’s part of the working class. The capitalists use us against us to enforce their policy.

Those workers in the police and army and National Guard need to think about who’s running everything, who’s controlling everything. They can understand they are being used against their own family and friends. They can see they are being used against people just like them in other places, other countries even. Once their family is doing something and talking to them, asking them, what are you doing, they can get the bigger picture too.

Working people need to know, it’ll take us to change it. The bigger the number is who understand this, the closer we’ll be to build the world we want. We need to talk about the international level. There are workers all over the world. We need to stand together with working people in other countries. The capitalist class, they’re the number one problem all around the world. But we live all around the world, and we can be a bigger force than them—when we understand the force we have.

Gary Walkowicz:
A Crisis of Covid, a Crisis of Capitalism

Aug 16, 2021

For the last 18 months, our lives have been defined by the Covid pandemic. Some of us have gotten seriously sick. Many of us know people who have died or have been hospitalized from Covid. Our jobs, our ability to make a living, our children’s education, have all been disrupted. Our interactions and relationships with our friends, with our neighbors, with our family members, were changed.

It didn’t have to be this bad. It is inevitable that some viruses will infect the human population. But we live under an economic system, capitalism, whose political leaders have made conscious decisions to not do the things that would have allowed us to deal with Covid or other contagious diseases.

Over the past decades, they have made decisions in the name of profit. Decisions to cut funding for our public health care system. To cut jobs in hospitals. To not produce enough masks and protective equipment, so they weren’t available when Covid struck. And at the beginning of Covid, when they could have spent money on an infrastructure to widely test people for Covid and slow the spread of the virus, they chose not to do so.

Instead of public money being spent on health care, the leaders of this capitalist system, for decades, have chosen to raid the public treasury and send as much money as they can to the banks and the corporations and the wealthy. During this pandemic, the rich have only gotten richer. Meanwhile, in this country alone, over 600,000 people have died from Covid. Over 4 million people have died worldwide. That is the price we have paid for living under capitalism.

Today there are several vaccines being produced to protect people from getting seriously sick or dying from Covid. But today we are not close to being safe from Covid. Because the drug companies that produce the vaccine are only concerned about maximizing their profits. Other companies and other countries could be producing more of the vaccine today, but they aren’t able to do so because the governments of the wealthy countries protect the drug companies’ patents and their profits above all else.

According to the World Health Organization, in the wealthiest countries like the U.S., for every 100 people, there have been 100 vaccine doses administered. In the poorer countries, for every 100 people, only 1.5 doses have been given. It’s outrageous that all the politicians running the wealthy countries will lie to their populations and tell them that they can be isolated and protected from the virus when the rest of the world is not protected.

Today the Delta variant is rapidly spreading in the U.S. It came from India, a country which has the manufacturing facilities to produce the Covid vaccine—but it can’t produce enough for the needs of its own population, because the patents and profits of the U.S. and European drug companies are being protected. And so Covid spreads around the world, and the longer the virus spreads, the more chance there is that other variants will emerge. The vaccines could well be able to protect us from Covid, but the functioning of the capitalist system is standing in the way.

So far, the Covid vaccines seem to be working when people get it; they seem to be effective to keep people from dying or getting seriously ill.

But even in the countries where the vaccine is available, we can’t escape a capitalist system where people know that profit comes first, which has led to a lot of concern and controversy about the Covid vaccines. We have to admit that people have a reason to be skeptical—of drug companies that only care about profit, of a corrupt government, of politicians who tell lie after lie to the population. It’s understandable that some people today don’t trust what they are told about the vaccines, when it is being told to them by these people.

Some politicians create doubt about the vaccines for their own political advantage. Other politicians, along with corporate leaders and the owners of the media, are now trying to put the blame for the spread of Covid on those people who have not been vaccinated. The people who run this society totally failed in organizing an effective response to the Covid pandemic. Their capitalist system did not work when dealing with this issue of life and death. But they try to cover up their own failure and the failure of their system by blaming those ordinary people who have nothing to do with running this system.

And on top of that, they are now trying to divide the population, trying to pit those people who are vaccinated against those who are not. Trying to get us angry at each other. They are trying to shift the blame off their economic system, which has utterly failed to stop Covid.

But they are also trying to divide us for another reason. It’s the reason they always try to divide us. The wealthy people know that there are a lot more of us working class people than there are of them. They know that when we come together, we have a lot of power. And they know that we have many reasons today to use that power. All of us working people, whether we are vaccinated or not, are facing the same problems. We are living under a system that doesn’t work for us.

We are not just dealing with Covid. Low wages, high prices, a lack of affordable housing and not enough good paying jobs. This is what the working class is facing today. We are not just living through a Covid crisis. We are also living through a crisis of capitalism. It is a crisis that has been going on for decades and is only getting worse.

The only answer to this crisis is the same answer that the working class always has. We have to use the full power we have to make a fight to defend ourselves against the capitalist class that is responsible for the crisis.

The working class has to bring its forces together. We can’t let the bosses divide us, black and white, men and women, immigrant and native born, vaccinated and unvaccinated. And we have to make this fight on our own terms. We have to fight when we are ready, when enough workers are ready to start a fight that will pull other workers along behind them, and then we can use our full power.

We make everything run, so we can make everything in the capitalists’ system come to a stop. And because we make everything run, we also have the power to organize a different system, a system run for the health and the needs of all people, instead of a system run only for profit.

Pages 10-11

Society Lives under Rules Set by Capitalism, Not Science

Aug 16, 2021

The following editorial appeared the week of August 9, in SPARK workplace newsletters.

Biden, in calling on people to be vaccinated, says his administration is “guided by the science.”

On the level of science, vaccination should be an enormous step forward, a way to eliminate many diseases, or at least hold them in check, preventing them from decimating populations.

But science, including medical science and vaccination, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Carried out today in the midst of the capitalist system, vaccination is, before anything else, a way to enrich stockholders and executives of a few big pharmaceutical companies. That fact determines everything else.

Covid continues to harm large parts of the world’s population. But it has been a gigantic opportunity for a few big drug companies. Biospace—which calls itself an “information and news source for the life science industry”—reports that Covid vaccine sales should hit 67 billion dollars this year, and 61 billion dollars in 2022. Two companies alone, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are expected to grab 60% of that money.

The problem is not simply this outrageous amount of money. In the midst of a global medical catastrophe, these two companies used their control over a new scientific discovery to hold the whole world hostage. And governments not only defended their right to do so, they gave Pfizer and Moderna the means to do it.

The research that produced the scientific breakthrough for mRNA vaccines was carried out in publicly funded universities and institutes. It may have been publicly funded, but it was given to Pfizer and Moderna, two privately owned companies, to exploit.

Faced with the spread of the virus, governments in several countries, including the U.S., gave the two companies direct grants or advance purchase contracts in order to get vaccine production going.

Thus, Pfizer and Moderna were given the patents. They set prices as high as they wanted—regardless of what it cost them to produce the vaccine. Moderna’s current cost of production was only 4% of its total global sales—according to Moderna’s own annual report.

Oxfam, the advocate for the poor countries, estimates that this one privately-owned company takes in more than enough in one year to vaccinate all the people in all the poor countries of the world. The fact this wasn’t done means no one is safe.

Biden speaks about the “common interests of humanity” needed to overcome Covid. Well, whatever the U.S. government did to bring out vaccines, it wasn’t to protect all of humanity. Not even a part of humanity. Humanity was sacrificed to the needs of the capitalist class and the specific interests of the pharmaceutical companies.

This is the “science” that guides Biden, just like it was the “science” that guided Trump.

Today, many people still express distrust of the vaccine. Whatever else is behind this, and no matter how confused people’s way of expressing what they feel, this capitalist system gives enormous reason for distrust.

The domination of the capitalist class has disastrous consequences for all of society. Nothing, including science, is freed from the grip of capitalism.

But capitalism has created something else, what Marx called capitalism’s own gravedigger. The working class, because of its numbers and its place in the heart of the economy, is the force that can get rid of the capitalist class. The working class also has the capacities that will allow it to build a new society—one that truly will serve the “common interests of humanity,” and in which science can play its full role.

Culture Corner—Steel Drivin’ Man & Summer of Soul

Aug 16, 2021

Book: Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry: The Untold Story of an American Legend

Published in 2006, this under-the-radar work traces the true story behind the legend and song of John Henry, the railroad worker who “died with his hammer in his hand.” Extensively researched, the book tells in detail how the notorious “black codes” imprisoned many black men after the Civil War, and forced them into convict labor, laying rail and building tunnels through mountains. The book makes these heroic figures come alive by tracing the story and details of the injustice, the heroic bonds, the work-song music that set the life-saving pace, and the death-defying labor that built this country on their backs.

Video: Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) 2021 documentary, directed by Questlove

Currently on Hulu (free trial is available).

If you haven’t already seen this excellent documentary film, you are in for a wonderful experience. This film is a series of clips from six free concerts attended by over 300,000 people in 1969 Harlem. 1969 was a time of pain, racism, war, poverty, and repression, but nothing could stop people from celebrating their hard-fought victories and the possibility to win and win again, a celebration of their power and their struggles. Mahalia Jackson singing “…the storm!!! Lead me home!” Nina Simone representing Malcolm X, Sly and the Family Stone, Motown, the Staple Singers, Latin and African artists, and more, and the audience lifting them all up. Sad to say, the promise of victory was not fulfilled, but the film shows the energy and force needed to win permanent revolutionary change.

School System Remains Broken

Aug 16, 2021

In the spring of 2020, a prominent newspaper’s headline read: “For All Practical Purposes, School Stopped in March.” Because from the very beginning of the pandemic, since March of 2020, it was madness. Nothing was centralized. Nothing was standardized.

From school superintendents, individual teachers and other school personnel, parents, and students, every school district was supposed to figure out how to navigate this pandemic on its own. With its own resources, including from the pockets of teachers and parents. And the only central solution offered was to propose that school should be done remotely, or in some cases, in “hybrid” form, allegedly until schools were safe.

We see how that worked. It didn’t. A lost school year, for all practical purposes, academically and socially, for children of all ages.

And yes, no big surprise, there were even bigger losses for the children of the working class, and children living in smaller towns and rural areas. Their areas had weak or no wi-fi connection. Their homes had no or limited laptops, not to mention few adults at home who could automatically morph into teachers and coaches and counselors. Their parents were and are the essential workers.

Fast forward to today when the only proposal that is being made to return children to safe, in-person schooling is to mask. In Michigan, the State Board of Education proposes to let individual school districts decide! Once again, everything that is being proposed from on high does NOTHING to make our children and school staff safe. Does NOTHING to make sure kids are able to catch up academically, physically and socially.

Our kids are already behind. The damage of having fallen behind academically in the last year and a half has to be addressed with a plan that will guarantee safe and enriching and quality educational and cultural and social experiences in the future.

What is needed is a tidal wave of resources. To achieve social distancing, and therefore smaller class sizes, build more classrooms, renovate existing available buildings, and build new ones. Provide teachers and other school personnel with high salaries and benefits, and encourage and financially support more young people to become educators. Provide extensive nursing staff and mental health personnel. Upgrade ventilation systems in existing buildings and make them essential in the new buildings.

More school buses, more cleaning supplies, more of everything. These are the first steps in protecting and educating our children.

Page 12

Massive Power Outage in Southeast Michigan

Aug 16, 2021

Over 700,000 customers of DTE and another 150,000 of Consumers Energy lost power in Southeast Michigan after storms occurred over two recent days. For DTE, that amounts to one out of every three customers! Many were still without power days later and DTE did not even promise to have more than 95% restored until three to four days later.

This is the fifth time in two months that huge numbers of homeowners have lost power. At the same time many homeowners have had to deal with flooding. Since the earlier floods, many people put money out to buy pumps to keep the water out of their homes. Those pumps don’t work if there’s no power.

The latest outages occurred at the same time much of lower Michigan was under a heat advisory. Naturally, that means many people lost hundreds of dollars in food they had packed away in freezers. Not to mention having no air conditioning to deal with the heat. It was also more difficult to drive around the area due to traffic lights being out.

People are getting tired and angry as a result of going through floods and power outages over and over again. The power companies pretend they’re doing all they can to restore power, but over the years they’ve cut back drastically on paying workers to maintain and repair the power lines.

People shouldn’t count on state law to push the electric companies to move faster to restore power. If more than 10% of customers lose power the conditions are considered “catastrophic,” which allows the companies five full days before they would be required to reimburse customers for their electric bill for the month.

The CEO of DTE, Jerry Norcia, claims they’re doing all they can to prevent outages like this. He says they looked into burying power lines to protect them against high winds, but the costs to do so would be exorbitant. He openly says they’ve decided it’s cheaper to pay for aggressive tree trimming. That may be true, but if the power to hundreds of thousands of people is going out five times in two months, maybe they need to be a little more aggressive about trimming trees. In other words, hire more workers and fix the damn power grid!

House Viewing while Black

Aug 16, 2021

In broad daylight, a black realtor, Mr. Brown, showed a house for sale to a black potential home buyer, Mr. Thorne, on August 1st in Wyoming, Michigan, a working-class suburb of Grand Rapids.

The two were viewing the upstairs when Mr. Thorne’s 15-year-old son rushed to tell them about “a lot of police officers outside.” Looking out a window, the home buyer saw an officer pointing a gun at him.

When the three exited with hands up, they were handcuffed by five officers and placed in separate squad cars for questioning. The realtor was eventually able to show proof he had permission to be there. The three terrorized men were not arrested.

Police later released the 911 call. In it, an elderly woman tells a dispatcher, “last week Saturday, the police came out. There was a young Black man that was squatting in a home that was for sale. I know they came and took him away and towed his car away. Well, he’s back there again. The car is sitting out front.”

Said the realtor, “If we walked out of there, and I’d been a white lady and her white client and daughter, they would’ve dropped those guns in a heartbeat,” he said.

The home buyer, an Army veteran, grew up in Wyoming. He said afterwards, “It’s 100% guaranteed I’m not buying a house in that city.”

This incident became national news when the police video was released. In an official statement, the Wyoming Police Department had the nerve to say this was not racial profiling.

They don’t get to decide. The three men who had guns pointed at them know exactly what they experienced.

Heat Kills
—But Not Equally

Aug 16, 2021

High heat in much of the U.S. has been killing people. In fact, heat kills more people in this country than any other kind of extreme weather. But like almost every other problem, high temperatures are especially deadly for poor and working-class people.

Many workers—particularly black and Hispanic—live in neighborhoods that lack sufficient green spaces and trees, that have an excessive amount of hot road pavement, parking lots and buildings. They also frequently live in housing—both public and private—that lacks good ventilation and air conditioning.

These neighborhoods have summertime temperatures that average 5, 10 or even 15 degrees hotter than more affluent mostly white ones.

This is not coincidental. As one environmental consultant put it: “We didn’t get here by accident, and we’re not going to get it fixed by accident.” Especially since climate changes are making the situation worse.

Government housing and real estate regulations have always been drawn up to benefit real estate companies and wealthy people. Racist government housing policies starting from the 1930s caused residential investment in certain areas to be choked off, while nearby industrial investment was encouraged. Highways were also frequently run through or near these neighborhoods, bringing more heat and pollution.

This is the reason we are in this situation today.

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