The Devil is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and their Battle for Freedom, by James Green

Book review

By Tom Mackaman
18 August 2015

The Devil is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and their Battle for Freedom, by James Green. Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2015. ISBN 978-0-8021-9209-7.

Workers in Appalachia are maligned. The myth has it that for generations, past and to come, they gladly endure poverty in the name of God and country. The history of the class struggle in America shows how false this portrayal is.

Labor historian James Green’s new volume The Devil is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and their Battle for Freedom, documents the bloody struggle to establish the United Mine Workers union (UMW) in West Virginia from the 1890s through the 1930s. The book demonstrates the role of socialists in leading the struggle for industrial unionism, and the solidarity among white, black, and immigrant coal miners. It is not Green’s intention, but he also illustrates some of the fatal limitations of trade unionism in workers’ “battle for freedom.”

The book’s most important—and timely—contribution is its revelation of the startling level of violence that characterized class relations in an earlier period. Today, the repeated exoneration of police who brutalize and murder workers should be taken as a warning that the old methods of class rule are being revived.

It is not possible in a short review to convey what took place in West Virginia in the decades of Green’s study, but the book meticulously catalogues dozens and dozens of murders and false imprisonments of miners, instances of the imposition of martial law, as well as numerous examples of miners arming themselves and resisting the repression. It was, in the words of President William Taft, a “state of industrial war.”

Coal mine owners—“operators” they were called— insisted that miners were individuals freely entering into a contract that handed to the employer the right to hire, fire, determine conditions, and set coal tonnage rates. West Virginia miners responded by attempting to build the UMW, which had by the first decade of the 20th century successfully organized the vast bituminous “soft coal” fields stretching from western Pennsylvania to Iowa, and the anthracite “hard coal” mining area of northeastern Pennsylvania. To protect its gains in these regions, the UMW was compelled to organize the southern West Virginia fields and their superabundance of cheap and high-quality bituminous coal.

Kempton, a West Virginia company town.

The operators ran the coalfields like dictatorships, a state of affairs abetted by judges and politicians, who bestowed on them virtually unlimited control of mining towns “owned” by outside capital interests. A mine operator could, Green explains,

[s]ummarily evict families [and] inspect miners’ houses without a warrant… He hired and fired his hands at will. He built the schools and selected the teachers, built the churches and selected the ministers, built the store and selected the store manager. He owned or leased every acre of land… He controlled access to the town and all activity within it, and hit down with a heavy hand on any activity that might menace his business… West Virginia mine managers issued their own private currency, called scrip, redeemable only at the company store.

Green notes that these company towns housed 79 percent of West Virginia coal miners, as opposed to only 24 percent of coal miners in neighboring Ohio. Coal miners who sought to organize faced summary firing, eviction, and beatings and even murder at the hands of private mine guards and Baldwin-Felts “detective” agents.

A Baldwin-Felts Detective

On top of this there was the brutal work itself. Every day underground brought the threat of death or maiming through cave-ins, explosions, and other accidents. For those miners who avoided these, and large-scale disasters like the Monongah explosion of 1907 that killed at least 361 men and boys, there awaited a retirement of chronic pain and ailments including “black lung” or coal pneumoconiosis.

Coffins line the street after the Monogah disaster

It was in response to these conditions that West Virginia coal miners banded together and took up arms. Green documents numerous examples of this, culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, in which some 10,000 armed coal miners set out to free miners who had been imprisoned in Mingo County under a martial law decree. The miners were dispersed under attack by the US Air Force, “the first and only time,” Green notes, “American citizens were subjected to aerial bombardment on their own soil.”

Guns seized by National Guard from miners in Paint Creek and Cabin Creek mine war, 1912

A component of the portrayal of Appalachian workers as backwards is the claim that the white workers among them are racist. Yet Green documents many instances of interracial cooperation among coal miners, and there is nothing in the volume to suggest unbridgeable barriers.

There were, first of all, the native West Virginians, who were drawn from the state’s poor rural population and were the grandchildren of the generation that separated from Virginia when it seceded from the Union in 1861 and joined the Confederacy to preserve slavery in the Civil War. There were also a large number of African Americans, drawn out of the Jim Crow South to the state’s mines, many recruited by mine operators hopeful of fomenting racial divisions among the miners. Finally there were eastern and southern European immigrants, especially Italians and Hungarians.

Their shared exploitation fused the miners. Green notes that although coal firms attempted to segregate workers to promote racial divisions, “African Americans, Italians, and Hungarians never lived more than a few hundred yards ‘up the hollow’ from native born whites, with whom they worked every day in close proximity and mutual dependency.”

Three coal miners of the Lorain Coal Dock Company in Lorado, West Virginia in 1918

It is noteworthy that the word “redneck,” a derogatory term usually reserved for poor and rural whites, emerged in the West Virginia mine wars, where it was first used to describe the red bandana worn by armed coal miners to differentiate their own from detectives, mine guards, and strikebreakers. Green further notes, “the fact that many of these workers were socialists probably added meaning to the epithet.”

Green’s focus is not on socialism among the workers, but neither does he elide it. If the volume has protagonists, they are Fred Mooney and Frank Keeney, who rose to be the leading union figures in the southern West Virginia coalfields. Both drawn from rural West Virginia families, for the first decades of their careers they believed that the struggle of the coal miners required a break with both capitalist parties.

Green also notes that Eugene Debs drew large crowds on his campaign visits, and the Socialist Party managed to win some local elections in West Virginia, including in 1912 when its “candidates swept the Cabin Creek district, outpolling the Democrats and Republicans combined.” Mary “Mother” Jones, a socialist and another central figure in the book, earned her moniker “the coal miners’ angel” on her trips to the state. Green alludes to the influence of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or “Wobblies”) and its revolutionary syndicalism, especially among Italian miners.

Fred Mooney, left, and Frank Keeney

American socialism before WWI was, to be sure, not the socialism of Lenin and Trotsky. It was socially and politically undifferentiated. The Socialist Party was heavily influenced by reformist and middle-class layers, though its healthiest elements were among the industrial working class in the factories, mills, and mines. Here Green’s book adds still more evidence pointing to the immense influence of socialists in the struggle for industrial organization among America’s workers. In West Virginia’s coalmines, just as was the case among the garment workers of New York City and Chicago, it was socialist workers that led in the building of the first unions.

Green has not set out to critically analyze trade unionism, though he does acknowledge the national trend towards the bureaucratization of the unions in the period:

During the early 1900s most American trade unions were democratic institutions governed by officers elected by their fellow workers; but as these unions became formal organizations dedicated to institutionalized bargaining with employers and to the thankless task of “policing” no-strike contracts, a cadre of career-minded officials emerged. Once elected or appointed to office, many ambitious workingmen clung to their positions, isolated their critics and assembled political machines to ensure that they would not have to return to the drudgery of wage labor… In most cases, discontented members could be silenced or co-opted, and internal movements for union democracy could often be Red-baited and defeated.

Here Green is juxtaposing figures like Mooney and Keeney to national bureaucrats such as John Mitchell, a famed early president of the UMW, and John L. Lewis, who consolidated his hold over the union during WWI. Yet in spite of their self-identification as socialists and their militant tactics, both Mooney and Keeney supported American entry into WWI and the de facto no-strike pledge given the Wilson administration by the AFL and its head, Samuel Gompers.

This was no mere personal failing. Mooney and Keeney, in spite of their democratic and socialist sympathies, behaved as nearly all union officials did in WWI, in the US and Europe. They broke with the most basic of socialist principles and fell in line behind their “own” capitalists in the fratricidal conflagration that killed millions.

Acting on behalf of the no-strike pledge and believing that they would be rewarded after the war for their efforts, Mooney and Keeney critically undermined the necessary organization in southern West Virginia at great cost to the UMW and the coal miners.

After the war mine operators refused all concessions—part of a massive antiunion and “open shop” campaign in the wake of the first Red Scare. Mooney and Keeney felt betrayed, Green shows. The union cause for which they had fought was thrown back years, and reaction prevailed in West Virginia as it did throughout the US in the 1920s.

Historians take on risks in choosing when they begin and end their studies. Green sensibly begins his volume in the 1890s, with the rapid growth of West Virginia’s mining industry, its domination by finance capital, and the emergence of class conflict in the coalfields. His choice of an ending, however, serves an interpretive agenda that would be undone had he gone farther. Green’s final chapter deals with the establishment of the UMW in the 1930s after the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In this he would have it that the miners’ “battle for freedom” had finally been won.

The victory of the UMW in southern West Virginia no doubt led to improved conditions and better wages for a time. But it in no way resolved the oppression of the coal miners and the poverty of West Virginia.

The industry’s decline in the wake of World War II accelerated and Appalachia remained one of the regions largely passed over by the limited gains of the long post-World War II boom.

The UMW, which like the rest of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) embraced anticommunism after WWII and subordinated the workers it represented to the Democratic Party, had no answer for the decline of coal. John L. Lewis declared there were “too many mines and too many miners” as the union rejected any call for the nationalization of the industry and accepted Depression-like mass layoffs due to mechanization in the 1950s.

The 1960s and 1970s saw repeated rebellions by the coal miners against Lewis’s successors, culminating in the 110-day strike in 1977-78 when miners defied UMW President Arnold Miller and the Taft Hartley back-to-work order by US President Jimmy Carter.

The 1980s—a decade of union busting and mass layoffs—culminated in the betrayal and defeat of the 1989 Pittston strike in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky. The UMW bureaucracy, led then by current AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, collaborated with the coal interests and Democratic politicians to isolate and crush the Pittston miners and the tens of thousands of miners who came to their aid in wildcat strikes in defiance of the UMW.

The history of this betrayal and the decades-long degeneration of the UMW leading up to it, is told in the volume Death on the Picket Line: The Story of John McCoy by WSWS writer Jerry White. The defeat of the last major coal strike led to a further attack on miners’ jobs and their conditions, which today increasingly resemble the type of exploitation seen in the first years of the last century. The UMW today is nothing but a hollow shell—which “represents” a mere 20,000 workers in 2014, and few, if any, in its former strongholds of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

What is thus revealed by the long struggle of the West Virginia coal miners—including the history brought forth in The Devil is Here in These Hills, in spite of Green’s own conceptions—is that their “battle for freedom” is not to build trade unions, but for a movement that articulates their class interests, that is, the fight for international socialism.

The Tianjin explosions and the discrediting of capitalism


15 August 2015

The official death toll from the massive explosions that devastated a substantial area of the port of Tianjin on Thursday night has reached 57. The number of fatalities is expected to rise significantly, as hospitals try to save critically injured patients among the more than 700 being treated across the Chinese city of 14 million people.

The information filtering out as to the cause of the disaster has triggered open recriminations against the regime of the Stalinist Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Reports indicate that a warehouse operated by Rui Hai International Logistics, a company started in 2011, was storing up to 700 tonnes of highly dangerous sodium cyanide and unspecified quantities of calcium carbide. Containers holding these substances will explode when heated. The fire-fighting crews sent to combat a blaze at the warehouse were not told about the chemicals. At least 21 emergency workers died in the blasts that followed.

Hundreds of port workers were sleeping barely 600 metres away in overcrowded dormitories. Some 90,000 people live within a five kilometre radius of the warehouse. If the explosions had taken place during the day, when the streets and buildings surrounding the docks were bustling with human traffic, the carnage would have been far worse.

The CCP government in Beijing is nervous over the public reaction to the Tianjin explosions, which have demonstrated again the consequences of the unchecked capitalist development over which it has presided for more than 35 years. According to official reports, Rui Hai International Logistics was storing deadly chemicals without the knowledge of, or intervention by, any authorities. The company’s owners and management are being hunted down and arrested. They will more than likely face execution or draconian prison sentences after highly public trials, in an effort to deflect any scrutiny of the broader issues posed by the disaster.

The claim that “no-one knew” about the chemicals has been greeted with disbelief and anger. The popular outrage, expressed on social media and in comments to online news reports, has only been heightened by the fact that this flagrant and criminal indifference to public safety took place in Tianjin.

Tianjin’s port is the tenth largest in the world and the seventh largest in China. It receives the largest number of imported cars of any Chinese port, as well as massive quantities of iron ore, coal, oil and other natural resources needed to supply the industrial complexes and power plants of northern China.

The city itself is China’s fourth largest and, due to its strategic and economic importance as the transport, industrial and technical hub for the capital Beijing, is under the direct political administration of the Housing Ministry of the central CCP government.

In the regime’s propaganda, Tianjin, along with Beijing and the adjoining Heibei province, will be developed into the world’s greatest continuous “mega-city” by 2020, with a population of 130 million people who will purportedly be able to enjoy the best jobs and highest incomes in China.

Thursday’s explosions have sheeted home the social reality: whether in Tianjin or a remote village, the well-being of the Chinese working class is subordinated by the regime to the immediate requirements of transnational and national corporations, and the accumulation of profit for the capitalist elite who own them.

Since the CCP initiated the restoration of capitalist relations in 1979, it has utilised its military and police apparatus to brutally repress all opposition by workers to ruthless exploitation and facilitate China’s transformation into the centre of global low-wage manufacturing.

Substandard safety practices are the norm, not the exception. Andy Furlong, director of policy at the Institution Chemical Engineers in London, told theGuardian: “The view expressed to us very recently by Chinese experts was that in the field of chemical storage their technologies are outdated, some of the equipment they use is primitive, safety management is poor and employee training is not up to scratch.”

Similar comments could be made regarding every sector of the economy and the human cost is staggering.

In 2014, 68,061 Chinese workers were killed in workplace “accidents”—more than 185 per day—and hundreds of thousands more injured. In just the last 24 hours, a gas explosion in a coal mine in Guizhou province has killed 13 miners. In Shaanxi province, 64 miners and their families have been buried alive inside poorly built dormitories by a landslide triggered by a deluge of rain.

According to state media, some 1,600 people, mainly better paid professionals, die at their place of employment each day from the phenomenon known asguolaosi, or extreme overwork.

The air, soil and water systems are thoroughly contaminated in most urban centres due to unchecked industrial operations and development, to the extent that it is estimated that more than 4,400 people die each day—1.6 million per year—from the effects of pollution.

Scandals have wracked food safety, with contaminated milk powder sickening more than 300,000 people and killing six babies in 2008. The capsize of a ferry on the Yangtze River in June, killing more than 400 people, was only the most high profile of regular transport disasters that are generally linked to safety violations.

All the CCP’s promises that the Chinese masses would ultimately benefit from rampant capitalist development over the past 36 years are in tatters. The regime’s legitimacy is already under question, rocked by the slowing economy, a stock market collapse, a slump in property prices, environmental crises, endemic official corruption and ever widening social inequality. The CCP’s rule, along with the capitalist market itself, will be further discredited by the Tianjin disaster.

The political fall-out from the Tianjin explosions is being watched no less anxiously by transnational corporations and banks, as well as by governments around the world. Any disruption to the corporate profits extracted from the Chinese masses by the development of large-scale social unrest will deepen the economic slump internationally and potentially trigger panic in financial markets. For global capitalism, in other words, any effort to change the conditions in China that give rise to disasters such as the Tianjin explosions would be a catastrophe.

That fact underscores the historic bankruptcy of the profit system and the urgency of forging the unity of the Chinese and international working class, in the common political struggle to end capitalism and establish a world planned socialist economy.

James Cogan

Chicago Public Schools announces hundreds of teacher layoffs, spending and pension cuts


By Kristina Betinis
14 August 2015

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) released its 2015-2016 budget Monday, including $200 million in spending cuts and 479 additional teacher layoffs. In June, the district announced 1,400 layoffs.

Despite the cuts and layoffs, the district still has a $480 million operating budget gap. Republican governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner has offered to advance $500 million to help fill the gap, dependent on additional CPS “reforms”, including an end to district contributions to teacher pensions. But these funds are by no means guaranteed. Based on the current operating deficit, it is likely additional cuts will be announced. A $676 million pension payment is due this school year.

In line with Rauner’s request, CPS announced the end of pension “pick up” August 4, telling teachers to shoulder their own pension contributions. This will create a significant cut to teacher take-home pay—an estimated 7 percent. The district had “picked up” 7 percent of teacher pension contributions, an agreement made in 1981, in exchange for lower pay raises in subsequent years.

About 21 percent of the $200 million budget cut is expected to negatively affect the more than 50,000 special education students in the district, through a change in the funding formula giving principals a lump sum for special needs students, rather than a guaranteed number of staff.

In recent days, the newly appointed Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool has made a series of public statements on what the city will demand from teachers in what is to be a multiyear contract negotiation. Claypool was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in July to head the district after the resignation of his predecessor, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who stepped down in the midst of a federal corruption investigation involving more than $20 million in CPS contracts. Before being appointed to head CPS, Claypool oversaw the Chicago Transit Authority and supervised the Chicago Park District, where he became known for cutting operating costs.

Claypool also announced the end of an informal agreement the district had with the Chicago Teachers Union to work on a one-year agreement. The length of the contract now under negotiation has not been disclosed.

Earlier this week, CPS also proposed to phase out contributions to the pensions of non-union office employees, other district employees and non-union support staff by 2018, and eliminate pension contributions for new hires. This cut is supposed to save about $21 million in those three years, affecting 2,100 workers, excluding principals and assistant principals.

CPS teachers have been without a contract since June 30 and the district still has more than 1,400 teaching vacancies to fill before the start of the school year in early September. The board of education is set to vote on the annual budget August 26.

As Republican Governor Bruce Rauner proceeds with his offensive against the public sector, the Chicago Teachers Union is seeking to more closely align itself with Democratic mayor of Chicago and former Obama administration official Rahm Emanuel.

CTU president Karen Lewis spoke to Chicago magazine August 4 to absolve Emanuel of responsibility for the education “reform” policies his administration—working together with the White House—has made notorious, including school closures and mass layoffs of teachers and staff.

In speaking of the 2012 teacher contract negotiations and the public education policies that led to the first teachers strike in the city in 25 years, Lewis fully accepted the official claim that there is no money to fund basic social services in order to cover for Emanuel and peddle the lie that there is no money:

“I think part of the problem we had last time is that Rahm had an agenda that was pushed by other people, including [Gov. Bruce] Rauner that I don’t know if Rahm even truly believed in. A lot of it was kind of like, ‘Put the union in their place and dah dah dah.’ The elephant in the room is the budget and not having any money. So then it becomes a matter of what your priorities are, what your vision is. And I think we have yet to see that, but I think [Rahm’s] thinking about it.”

In September 2012, 30,000 Chicago teachers went on strike to oppose school “reforms” that included closures and layoffs, expanded use of standardized tests to erode teacher seniority, and fewer restrictions on firing. The strike, which placed teachers in a political standoff with the education policies of the Obama administration just ahead of the 2012 presidential election, was shut down after only one week by the CTU, who conceded to all of Emanuel’s essential demands in a three-year contract, paving the way for the closure of 50 public schools and the layoffs of thousands in 2013.

As the WSWS reported when he was elected, Emanuel both campaigned on education “reform” and opened his first term with similar plans for schools and city operations. Lewis’s comments highlight the role of the CTU in preventing teachers and other workers from making a break from the Democrats, as they now work to advance the bipartisan assault on essential public services in the state.

Not only does money exist for schools, monopolized by Chicago’s many multimillionaires and billionaires, the financial aristocracy is taking windfall profits in the form of interest payments being made by the cash-strapped city on municipal bonds, including CPS bonds now at junk status.

Matt Fabian of Municipal Market Analytics told the Chicago Tribune in July, “The situation in the city will compromise the ability to keep quality schools, to keep the streets clean. But for investors who can stomach the ups and downs that are probably coming for Chicago, (the bonds) give an attractive amount of income.”

The series of city credit rating downgrades by Moody’s and Fitch signaled to investors higher bond yields and interest rates. Unlike distressed corporate debt, distressed municipal debt is guaranteed by the citizens who can be made to weather cuts and tax hikes in order to make payments. Relieving the debt burden usually takes place through debt restructuring or bankruptcy of one or more city agencies.

The Tribune also reported that the $347 million in tax-exempt bonds Chicago sold in July “offered investors yields of up to 5.69 percent—almost unheard of for tax-backed debt issued by a city.”

Those who invested in Chicago’s bonds earned up to 50 percent more than those who invested in Philadelphia bonds issued in July, the Tribune notes.

The credit downgrades mean Chicago will pay something like $150 million more in interest payments based on restructuring pensions or raising property taxes, or both.

What is the pseudo-left?


30 July 2015

The events in Greece over the past several months constitute a major strategic experience of the Greek working class and youth that is having a significant impact on political consciousness around the world.

The so-called “Coalition of the Radical Left” (Syriza)—despite its use of radical-sounding phraseology and its nominal opposition to austerity—has capitulated entirely to the European banks and institutions. The Syriza government is now implementing policies that will dramatically increase social inequality and turn Greece into a virtual colony of German and European imperialism.

These developments are a striking confirmation of the analysis made by the WSWS over several years, going back well before Syriza was elected in January of this year. In a resolution adopted at the Socialist Equality Party (US) Congress in July of 2012, for example, it was noted that “as soon as Syriza was faced with the possibility of coming to power, its leader Alexis Tsipras rushed to Germany to assure the banks that his party had no intention of withdrawing from the euro zone. It has sought nothing more radical than the renegotiation of the European banks’ austerity program.”

Throughout the spring of this year, the WSWS organized a series of meetings in which the nature of Syriza was analyzed and warnings were made of its plans to fully accept the austerity demands of the European banks.

In the aftermath of Syriza’s final capitulation, many readers have asked how it is that the WSWS was able to predict so precisely the course of events. This experience is a vindication of the Marxist method, which analyzes political tendencies not on the basis of what they call themselves, but on the basis of their history and program and the social interests they represent.

Over the past several years, the WSWS has developed the conception of an international political tendency that we have described as “pseudo-left,” of which Syriza is only one example.

We would like to call our readers’ attention to the analysis made by WSWS International Editorial Board Chairman David North in the Foreword of his newly-released book, The Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and the Politics of the Pseudo-Left: A Marxist Critique. North includes a concise and more detailed “working definition” of the “pseudo-left” that will help provide an orientation in the struggle against the influence of these reactionary movements. He writes:

* The pseudo-left denotes political parties, organizations and theoretical/ideological tendencies which utilize populist slogans and democratic phrases to promote the socioeconomic interests of privileged and affluent strata of the middle class. Examples of such parties and tendencies include Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Die Linke in Germany, and numerous offshoots of ex-Trotskyist (i.e., Pabloite) and state capitalist organizations such as the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA) in France, the NSSP in Sri Lanka and the International Socialist Organization in the United States. This list could include the remnants and descendants of the “Occupy” movements influenced by anarchist and post-anarchist tendencies. Given the wide variety of petty-bourgeois pseudo-left organizations throughout the world, this is by no means a comprehensive list.

* The pseudo-left is anti-Marxist. It rejects historical materialism, embracing instead various forms of subjective idealism and philosophical irrationalism associated with existentialism, the Frankfurt School and contemporary postmodernism.

* The pseudo-left is anti-socialist, opposes class struggle, and denies the central role of the working class and the necessity of revolution in the progressive transformation of society. It counterposes supra-class populism to the independent political organization and mass mobilization of the working class against the capitalist system. The economic program of the pseudo-left is, in its essentials, pro-capitalist and nationalistic.

* The pseudo-left promotes “identity politics,” fixating on issues related to nationality, ethnicity, race, gender and sexuality in order to acquire greater influence in corporations, the colleges and universities, the higher-paying professions, the trade unions and in government and state institutions, to effect a more favorable distribution of wealth among the richest 10 percent of the population. The pseudo-left seeks greater access to, rather than the destruction of, social privilege.

* In the imperialist centers of North America, Western Europe and Australasia, the pseudo-left is generally pro-imperialist, and utilizes the slogans of “human rights” to legitimize, and even directly support, neo-colonialist military operations.

North concludes the Foreword to his new book by noting, “The analysis and exposure of the class basis, retrograde theoretical conceptions and reactionary politics of the pseudo-left are especially critical tasks confronting the Trotskyist movement in its struggle to educate the working class, free it from the influence of the petty-bourgeois movements, and establish its political independence as the central progressive and revolutionary force within modern capitalist society.”

The publication of the Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and the Politics of the Pseudo-Left: A Marxist Critique marks a significant step toward this goal, and the volume will serve as a valuable aid in the coming struggles of the working class.

The WSWS Editorial Board

Is America Undergoing a Major Political Sea Change?

 Inside the Rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump

The political spectrum doesn’t want more conventional thinking.

Photo Credit:

America’s political center, if it ever really existed, appears to be shrinking.

On the left, Bernie Sanders’ issue-oriented presidential campaign of economic justice is drawing the crowds and generating the most passion, eclipsing his more moderate competitors. And on the right, Donald Trump’s loud promises to use his dealmaking moxie to fix the country, with a dose of racist comments thrown in, has pushed him to the top of the polls in 2016’s early states.

There’s no shortage of pundits writing off their surges. Surely, you’ve heard them all, which amount to saying that when the campaign gets serious, they will seriously falter. The latest analyses from this past weekend’s polling noted that both were doing well in two of the whitest states—Iowa and New Hampshire—but not in bigger, more diverse ones. So now these hallowed presidential proving grounds prove nothing?

But there is one explanation you won’t find among the politicos who are parsing the interior numbers in polls—such as the negative approval ratings, or appeal by race and gender. That explanation is that the political spectrum is changing, or stretching toward its blunter extremes, which also accounts for the muted enthusiasm for both party’s leading establishment candidates, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

A shifting electorate is the last thing many pundits want to confront. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, pointing to four recent polls, merely says Hillary should worry about her rising unpopularity. He does not touch the deeper question: is she out of tune with what’s engaging the public now? His colleague, Phillip Bump says she’s lagging among whites in Iowa and New Hampshire, but climbs back up in later states where she appeals to non-whites. Sanders and Trump aren’t doing that, he said.

At Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, another go-to site for reporters to get zeitgeist quotes, the reflex is to dismiss both Trumps and Sanders for different reasons, rather than probe how the electorate may be shifting. Trump’s surge, according to associate editor Geoffrey Skelly, is because he’s well-known, loud, in a crowded field, and keeps getting press coverage. Even worse, the GOP idiotically tied participation in its upcoming presidential debate to how candidates are polling, he said, where Trump will be “attacked from all sides.”

One can go very far in political analysis by being cynical. But that does not mean you’ve got your finger on a changing pulse. Politico’s  piece on Trump’s latest rise in New Hampshire and Iowa points to the politics of anger, especially against Washington power-brokers, which includes the GOP’s congressional majority.

“Just 16 percent among all Republicans (15 percent of Republican registered voters… [and] 50 percent of Democrats (51 percent of Democratic registered voters) feel that they are [well] represented in the nation’s capital,” it reported. “Among independents, just 27 percent feel well-represented.”

What are people angry about? Who is giving voice to their problems, or offering solutions? CNN says the top concerns facing voters are the economy (44 percent), health care (20 percent) and terrorism (12 percent). If those numbers are accurate, it is not surprising that Sanders and Trump, on the left and right, have captivated voters because they are speaking outside the safe centrist political box.

Trump’s bragging that most of politics comes down to being the best negotiator has an appeal when the Republican-controlled Congress is bumbling at best. His slaps at immigrants are ugly, but there have always been racists in modern Republican ranks. Today’s GOP is not the party of Lincoln, nor is it Teddy Roosevelt’s anti-corporate reformers. Most of their 2016 candidates have been recycling Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric or predictable policies benefitting the upper classes.

While it remains to be seen what broad new agenda will emerge on the right, it is not surprising that the cliché-ridden remedies spouted by a field of predictable candidates isn’t creating much excitement, even as they try to out-do each other on the far right. Trump’s rise strongly suggests something in the GOP’s base is shifting.

Bernie Sanders’ surge is more easily traced, and also shows shifting voter sensibilities. His messaging has been saturated with specifics, from his speeches to e-mails. On Monday morning, he sent out a long missive seeking $3 donations that listed 12 issue areas and his solutions: jobs, jobs, jobs; raising wages; wealth and income inequality; reforming Wall St.; campaign finance reform; fighting climate change; health care for all; protecting our most vulnerable; expanding opportunity and equality; dismantling structural racism; college for all; war and peace. This is not political fundraising as usual.

It is easy to say that Sanders, like Elizabeth Warren before him, is pulling the Democrats closer to their progressive heart. But Sanders would not be as successful as he has been if Democrats in the electorate were not embracing his message. As one of Iowa’s leading pro-Democrat bloggers,, wrote this weekend, “Bernie Sanders continues to draw the largest crowds in Iowa–including roughly 1,200 people in West Des Moines on Friday—and polls indicate that he is cutting into Hillary Clinton’s lead among likely Democratic caucus-goers.”

Clinton still led Sanders by 29 points, 55 percent to 26 percent, with Martin O’Malley at 4 percent and Jim Webb at 2 percent, it reported, citing the latest polls. But “his message is resonating with a sizable part of the Democratic base, as anyone could see on Friday night during his town-hall meeting at West Des Moines Valley High School. I challenge any Democrat to find one substantive point to disagree with in Sanders’ stump speech. Many people who attend his events are already ‘feeling the Bern.’ My impression is that the undecideds who show up walk away giving him their serious consideration. I doubt anyone leaves a Sanders event thinking, ‘I could never caucus for that guy.’”

BleedingHeartland continued, “Listening to Sanders on Friday, I was again struck by the senator’s distinctive way of speaking. He packs a lot of facts and figures into his remarks without sounding wonky. He conveys a lot of passion without raising his voice often. Compared to many candidates, he says very little about his children and grandchildren. Still, his feelings about family come through loud and clear when he contrasts Republican ideas about ‘family values’ (a ‘woman shouldn’t be able to control her own body’) with what family values should mean (for instance, a mom and dad having paid time off from work so they can get to know their new baby). Although the Sanders stump speech is overly long—pushed well past the one-hour mark by many interruptions for applause—he keeps his listeners’ attention. Even my 12-year-old was still engaged….”

Next years’ presidential caucuses are a long way off, and the November election is even further away. It’s easy for pundits to dismiss Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, for different reasons, with respect to their eventual prospects. But doing so can overlook what’s happening now, which is the assumed frames, views and mood of the electorate are shifting, or stretching, or changing, and favoring the blunt and unconventional.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

Kids Count report: 22 percent of US children live in poverty


By Tom Hall
22 July 2015

Twenty-two percent of all children in the United States live below the federal poverty line, significantly higher than during the height of the 2008-2009 economic crisis, according to a report issued Thursday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The latest edition of the Kids Count Data Book found that the number of children living in poverty rose by almost 3 million between 2008 and 2013, the latest year included in the data: from 13.2 million to 16.1 million. The US child poverty rate remains four percentage points higher than it was in 2008, when it stood at 18 percent.

“Especially worrying” to the authors is the fact that the percentage of children in high poverty neighborhoods has risen from 11 percent in 2006-2010 to 14 percent in 2013, the highest level since 1990. The report notes that children living in high-poverty areas are more likely to drop out of school or develop behavioral or emotional problems.

The percentage of children in high-poverty neighborhoods is significantly higher in former industrial centers such as Detroit, where 81 percent of children live in poor neighborhoods. This figure is also higher for African-American, Native American and Latino children, at 32, 30 and 24 percent respectively.

The report reflects the fact that Obama’s economic “recovery,” which has seen a massive increase in stock values and profits of major corporations, has been a catastrophe for the American working class, who have seen their living standards and those of their children decline precipitously during this period.

“Although we are several years past the end of the recession, millions of families still have not benefited from the economic recovery,” said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation. “While we’ve seen an increase in employment in recent years, many of these jobs are low-wage and cannot support even basic family expenses.”

“Only the most highly educated and highly paid workers have seen their wages grow, while inflation-adjusted wages for the lowest-income workers have slowly but gradually fallen,” the report states. This shift toward unskilled, low-paid professions since the “recovery” has led to an additional 1.7 million children living in “low-income working families” between 2008 and 2013.

It is widely acknowledged among researchers that “at a minimum, families need an income of at least twice the federal poverty level to cover basic expenses,” the report states. A total of 45 percent of all US children lived beneath this threshold in 2013.

The bleak job situation facing the US population “remains one of the primary obstacles to further reducing economic hardship among children and families,” according to the report. In addition to low wages, the number of jobs created after the 2008 financial crisis has not been sufficient to keep pace with the natural growth of the labor force. Thirty-one percent of children in 2013 had parents that lacked access to secure employment, defined as having a full time, year-round job. This is an increase from 27 percent in 2008, or 2.7 million additional children.

Income levels for US workers remain far below what they were prior to the recession. Median household income fell by 8 percent between 2007 and 2013, according to figures from the Federal Reserve.

Even industries which were once associated with a decent standard of living, especially those in manufacturing, have now been opened up as low-wage platforms. In a move spearheaded by the Obama administration’s auto restructuring, auto makers have institutionalized a “second tier” of employees who now make less, in real terms, than autoworkers a century ago. Wages have been lowered to the point where manufacturers are now “insourcing” some production back into the United States, eager to exploit the emerging and highly profitable low-wage economy.

The difficult economic conditions faced by American children are among the worst of any country in the industrialized world. A report by UNICEF last year found that the United States has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the developed world, as measured by the percentage of children beneath the median national income. The United States has the sixth-highest child poverty rate out of the 41 countries in the study, lower only than countries such as Mexico and Greece.

The social crisis has hit major urban centers particularly hard. An earlier reportalso released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that child poverty had risen in 35 of the 50 largest cities in the United States since 2005. In six American cities: Detroit, Cleveland, Miami, Milwaukee, Fresno and Memphis, the child poverty rate was higher than UNICEF’s figures for Greece, with Detroit and Cleveland topping 50 percent.

Even as the incomes of US workers have plunged, the profits of major corporations and the value of the stock market have soared. Major US stock indices have tripled since 2009, despite the fact that the real economy is still mired in slump, with the US economy barely growing over the first half of the year.

The wealth of the super-rich, meanwhile, continues to grow. A recent Forbesreport found that the wealth of the world’s billionaires, 536 of whom live in the United States, surged past $7 trillion earlier this year for the first time.

Even as millions of people have slid into poverty, the White House and Congress have slashed funding for social programs year after year. Total cuts to food stamps implemented over the past two years alone have added up to $13.7 billion. Meanwhile, federal extended unemployment benefits have been continually slashed, resulting in a smaller share of the unemployed receiving jobless benefits that at any point in the history of the program.

The Nazi past of Germany’s post-war political elite


By Verena Nees
7 July 2015

Fifty years ago, the Brown Book: War criminals and Nazis in the Federal Republic—in government, business, administration, the army, the judiciary and science was published on July 2, 1965.

In its first edition, the Brown Book listed the SS ranks and former Nazi membership of 1,800 business leaders, politicians and senior officials of the Federal Republic of Germany. In the third edition in 1968, more than 2,300 individuals were listed—including 15 ministers and state secretaries, 100 generals and admirals of the Bundeswehr, 828 judges, state prosecutors and top judicial officers, 245 leading officials of the foreign office, and 297 senior police officers and employees of the intelligence service. The veracity of the data was supported with detailed statements and quotations from legal, military and Gestapo archives, often accompanied by copies of incriminating documents.

“The whole system is infested with Nazis,” said publisher Albert Norden at an international press conference at the time. The Brown Book sparked a deep political crisis and led to the resignations of numerous officials and government ministers.

It played an important role in the protest movement of the 1960s. Suddenly it became clear that there had never been a “zero hour”—that is, a new beginning for German society after the end of World War II, as announced by the government of Konrad Adenauer. Despite adoption of the Basic Law (German constitution) and the official denazification campaign, key positions in the state apparatus, the government and posts for its representatives abroad were occupied chiefly by former Nazis.

The Brown Book set the ball rolling. After 1965, many more former Nazi perpetrators were unmasked in the German civil service. One thinks of the Baden-Württemberg Minister President Hans Filbinger, who served as a naval judge until the final days of the war, delivering death sentences that were only revealed in 1978.

But the book dealing with the continuity of Nazi cliques in post-war West Germany is not only an historical document. It is also strikingly relevant today, because it alarmingly exposes the tradition that has generated current German foreign policy, the massive rearmament of the army and its involvement in NATO’s war manoeuvres against Russia.

The Brown Book does not merely list names and professions; it brings to light the aggressive aims of German imperialism expressed in the quoted communiqués of particular Nazi functionaries and army officers during World War II. The tone of many of these statements bears a striking resemblance to that characterising today’s calls for Germany’s assumption of greater military responsibility in the world.

In the early stages of the attack on the Soviet Union, when the general staff still reckoned with a quick victory, further plans for world domination were already being discussed. Special task forces in Ribbentrop’s foreign office undertook aproject to take over countries in Africa and Asia under the control of the colonial powers of England and France. At issue were the objectives of the “permanent exclusion of England from the Near East and the permanent securing of German control over the oil resources there,” according, for example, to a record compiled by the then-undersecretary of state Ernst Woermann, relating to the work of Fritz Grobba’s special task force and dated November 6, 1941. Many of the participants in that task force were again employed in the German Federal Republic’s diplomatic missions abroad after 1945.

Wilhelm Grewe, the Nazi law professor and “researcher of the East” at the Friedrich Wilhelm University (now Humboldt University), who published his views in numerous political journals, called for German hegemony, not only in Europe but also throughout the world. The Brown Book states that he wrote in the International Journal of Political Science (vol. 103): “The struggle is now only a question of whether we are entering into an “American century”, where governance of the world falls to the United States—or whether the new world order represented by the powers of the tripartite pact prevails.”

In 1940, Grewe also agitated through the Journal for Politics (German Journal of Research in Human Resource Management, ZfP, p. 233) for the “destruction of all Paris churches, palaces, theatres, hospitals, academies, conservatories, courthouses, halls, victory arches, colonnades, the stock exchange, the bank, the city hall and bridges as a consequence of realistic thinking.” In 1941, he celebrated in the same journal (p. 749) the invasion of the Soviet Union as the beginning of a “world-historical mission.” After 1945, Grewe headed the legal department and then the political affairs department of the foreign office in Bonn, after which he became West German ambassador in the US and later a NATO representative in Paris.

The Brown Book was edited by Albert Norden, Humboldt University professor of modern history from 1953 to 1955 and leader of investigations into war and Nazi crimes for the politburo of the former Stalinist Socialist Unity Party of East Germany (SED). Son of a rabbi and a long-standing member of the German Communist Party (KPD), Norden had contributed to the Brown Book in relation to the Reichstag (Nazi parliament) fire and Hitler’s terror regime as early as 1933. He collaborated with East Berlin attorney Friedrich Karl Kaul, who also made a name for himself as a lawyer in numerous anti-Nazi proceedings in West Germany—such as the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial, which coincided with the publication of the Brown Book, as well as the Dora court case in Essen and the Treblinka proceedings in Düsseldorf. A large part of the research for theBrown Book was carried out by Norbert Podewin, who was a history student at Humboldt University from 1961 and who died last year. In 2002, Podewin published the extended 1968 edition of the Brown Book.

Following the founding of the Federal Republic, the Adenauer government terminated the denazification process in 1948 on the grounds that it was necessary to draw a line under the Nazi past. Amnesty laws in 1949 and 1954 made possible the pardoning of tens of thousands of Nazi criminals. During the drafting of these laws, former staff members of the Hitler Reich’s (Nazi “empire”) Ministry of Justice, like Werner Best and various war and special court judges, were involved. In addition, the federal parliament legislated the so-called Regulation 131, which granted the right of public sector employment to anyone claiming during denazification proceedings to have been merely a Nazi fellow traveller.

Media and political circles reacted hysterically to the Brown Book’s publication. Kurt Georg Kiesinger, who rose to chancellor at the head of the grand coalition in 1966 and had himself been unmasked in the Brown Book as a leading Nazi, denounced it as “a work of communist propaganda” and saw to it that the second edition was impounded in the course of a spectacular police operation at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1967. Kiesinger, a confidante of both Ribbentrop and Goebbels, had been in charge of foreign propaganda in the occupied territories until 1945. The revelation of his Nazi past played a major role in the protest movement challenging the Emergency Laws of the grand coalition.

The information provided by the Brown Book was later proven to be almost 100 percent correct. Although the facts it presented were officially denied in the West German media, numerous officials resigned from their posts, including Attorney General Wolfgang Fraenkel, whom the Brown Book proved to have been responsible for 50 death sentences delivered by the Nazi court in Leipzig, and minister for displaced persons Hans Krüger, whose bloodstained reputation as a Nazi judge in Chojnice, Poland was exposed.

The latter’s predecessor, former Gauleiter (regional Nazi Party leader) of East Prussia, Theodor Oberländer, who had also been Reich director of the Association of the German East and later an intelligence officer in the West German army, was dismissed from his post in 1960, having been proven guilty of war crimes by the Stalinist East German government. Oberländer had also set up the “Nightingale” militia battalion, consisting of Ukrainian fascists who massacred of thousands of Ukrainian civilians in Lviv and other cities in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

The head of Adenauer’s federal chancellery, Hans Globke, resigned in 1963 before publication of the Brown Book, having been accused by the East German authorities of involvement in the drafting of the Nuremberg race laws. In 1969, former federal president Heinrich Luebke, who had claimed since 1945 to have been a resistance fighter, also finally resigned from office. TheBrown Book had uncovered his past as a concentration camp architect and construction manager in the Peenemünde army research centre, as well as a Gestapo confidante.

The Brown Book continues to be a veritable mine of information and serves as a crucial source for historical research. The chapter of the Brown Bookconcerning “Ribbentrop’s diplomats in the Bonn government’s foreign service”, was thus incorporated into the 2010 investigation titled “The Office and the Past”, which an historical commission emanating from the foreign office itself had appointed. The details covered in this chapter, which were substantially confirmed in 2010, revealed that no fewer than 520 Nazi diplomats were working for the West German Republic in 1965, including over 30 in top positions, and that former Gestapo members were scandalously in charge of the department of eastern affairs.

Particularly politically explosive are the entries concerning fathers of today’s politicians and senior military officers—for example, Lothar Domröse, father of current Bundeswehr (German military forces) General Hans-Lothar Domröse, who now directs the NATO manoeuvres in Eastern Europe on the borders of Russia and agitates for war preparedness and military rearmament. His father, whom the Brown Book exposed as an aide-de-camp to General Blumentritt (Hitler’s army commander-in-chief) prior to 1945, attempted to help war criminal Hermann Hoth evade conviction by swearing to a false affidavit at the Nuremberg trials in 1948. This did not prevent the federal government from appointing him head of the defence ministry press office in 1966.

Another such case is that of Ulrich de Maizière, father of current Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, who persistently calls for comprehensive upgrading of the police force and secret services. The Brown Book states: “De Maizière enjoyed the special confidence of Hitler and the fascist Wehrmacht (German army) leadership. He was called to serve in the Führerbunker (Hitler’s Berlin air-raid shelter) in February 1945. There, as a lieutenant colonel and staff officer of the general staff’s operations department, he regularly reported to Hitler on the deteriorating situation and arranged for the effective administration of Hitler’s, Bormann’s and Goebbels’ beleaguered ‘command post’.”

After 1945, de Maizière’s father was on the staff of the so-called “Office Blank”, the covert predecessor of the federal defence ministry that was eventually inaugurated in 1955. It was from Office Blank that the rebirth and rearming of a German army were initially driven. Ulrich de Maizière strove to secure the involvement of infamous Hitler generals such as Adolf Heusinger and Hans Speidel in the project.

Fifty years after publication of the Brown Book, the upper ranks of today’s military and members of the political establishment are still dominated by a caste whose ancestors were deeply involved in the worst crimes known to humanity. These forces are intent on following in their footsteps of their forebears.