Nearly 4,000 US communities have higher rates of lead poisoning than Flint

By Jerry White
16 November 2017

In an updated study, Reuters news agency has identified 3,810 neighborhoods where recently recorded child lead poisoning rates are at least double those found in Flint, Michigan during the height of that city’s water crisis in 2014 and 2015. In some 1,300 of these “hotspot” communities, the percentage of children six and under with elevated lead levels was at least four times the percentage in Flint during the peak of the crisis.

In pockets of Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia, where lead poisoning has spanned generations, Reuters reported that the rate of elevated tests over the last decade was 50 percent or higher. An interactive map released with the study shows one census tract in Buffalo, New York—a former steel and auto center that, like Flint, has suffered decades of deindustrialization—where 68 percent of the children had high levels of lead.

Map of lead concentrations in the United States

The ingestion of any amount of the heavy metal, whether through tainted water, lead-based paint, contaminated soil or fumes and dust, can do irreparable harm to children. This includes impeding the development of the brain and nervous system, lowered IQ, memory loss, hearing and speech problems, and behavioral and attention-related problems. The toxin, which remains in the body and can be passed on for generations, is also responsible for a host of adult health problems, including decreased kidney function, high blood pressure, tremors and infertility.

In the year following the switchover of Flint to water from the polluted Flint River, which caused leaching from the city’s antiquated lead pipe system, five percent of the children who had their blood tested showed lead levels in excess of five micrograms per deciliter. This is the threshold requiring immediate public health intervention, according to the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which acknowledges that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

Reuters used data collected by the CDC based on neighborhood-level blood testing results for 34 states and the District of Columbia. As devastating as the results are, they do not provide a full picture. The CDC funds 35 state and local health departments for lead surveillance. Reporting is voluntary in the remaining states, many of which do not have staff to collect data. Despite the well-known public health hazard, the US government does not require reporting and does not oversee the systematic collection and analysis of data on lead poisoning.

Dr. Kim Cecil of the Cincinnati Lead Study shows how the brain isdamaged by lead poisoning

Reuters says this is the first look at data broken down by census tracts, which are small county subdivisions averaging 4,000 citizens, or by zip codes, with average populations of 7,500. In December, Reuters noted that far from being the exception, Flint did not even rank among the most toxic cities in America. It pointed to Warren, Pennsylvania, a town on the Allegheny River, where 36 percent of the children tested had high lead levels, to a zip code on Goat Island, Texas, where a quarter of tests showed poisoning.

The newest map includes additional data collected this year by Reuters from Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont, North Carolina, New York City and Washington, D.C. The newly identified areas with high levels of child lead poisoning include a historic district in Savannah, Georgia, areas in Rutland, Vermont near a popular skiing area, and a largely Hasidic Jewish area in Brooklyn, New York.

Like Flint, which has acres of land polluted by General Motors and other industrial firms, impoverished homes with peeling paint, and underground lead water mains and service lines, the areas throughout the US with the worst lead poisoning are invariably working class and poor.

There has been a sharp decline in poisoning since lead was removed from paint in 1976 and gasoline in 1995, the latter after more than a decade of resistance by the oil industry. The elimination of lead poisoning, however, is not possible due to lead pipes, residual lead paint in poor urban and rural areas, and former or current industrial sites polluted with lead.

T
he Flint River

“The dramatic decline in blood lead over the last several decades in the US is a public health triumph, resulting from control of lead in gasoline, paint, food, water, soil, consumer products and other sources,” said Marc Edwards, a professor of environmental and water resources engineering at Virginia Tech University, who was instrumental in exposing the lies of state and local officials who claimed that Flint’s water was safe.

He continued: “Before the increased use of lead in paint and gasoline, lead in water was once the dominant source of human lead exposure in the United States, and it was generally acknowledged to cause widespread lead poisoning, fatalities and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Flint is yet another reminder that we must remain vigilant to harm caused by all lead sources, especially lead pipes, which are out of sight and out of mind. It is also the only government-owned source of lead, which directly affects potable water, a product intended for human consumption. Flint is just the most recent example of how this inherent conflict has harmed people.”

The poisoning of Flint was brought into the national and international spotlight only due to the courageous efforts of the city’s working class residents and science professionals like Edwards and pediatrician and public health advocate Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. She was denounced by Governor Rick Snyder’s office for “slicing and dicing” the results of blood samples.

Flint became a symbol of everything that was wrong in America: corporate and political criminality and the indifference of both the Democrats and Republicans to the plight of working people. The media, celebrities and politicians from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders poured into the town and legal proceedings were initiated against several lesser figures involved in the crime and cover-up. More than three years since the switch to the Flint River, however, nothing has been done to make the residents whole.

The new report from Reuters has been largely ignored by the rest of the corporate-controlled media, which originally presented the Flint crisis as an anomaly, until it was unable to deny the massive and nationwide scale of the problem. Far from committing the necessary resources, including an estimated $500 billion to $1 trillion to replace the nation’s lead pipes, the Obama and Trump administrations have failed to provide any significant funding to address this public health care threat, even as they have squandered trillions on bank bailouts, military spending and tax cuts for the wealthy.

Trump’s 2018 budget request includes a $1.2 billion, or 17 percent, cut to the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/16/lead-n16.html

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The legacy of Obamacare: A five percent increase in heart patient deaths

15 November 2017

When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet  murder it remains. (Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1845)

* * *

A US government program supposedly devised both to improve medical care and cut costs has, predictably, succeeded in the latter while undermining the former. Research published Sunday in JAMA Cardiology (Journal of the American Medical Association) shows that an initiative introduced five years ago under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to induce hospitals to reduce Medicare readmissions for heart patients has resulted in an increase in mortality rates among those studied.

Under the ACA’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP), hospitals were penalized financially when heart failure patients were readmitted within a month. While the program has succeeded in reducing the number of 30-day readmissions, the number of patients who died within a year rose by 5 percentage points. According to one of the study’s senior authors, these findings could account for an additional 5,000 to 10,000 deaths annually across the US due directly to the program.

For the American ruling elite, HRRP and other schemes devised by bureaucrats at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are part of an agenda that is as deliberate as it is ruthless: Men and women in the US are living too long into old age and measures must be taken to cut costs associated with their medical care and shorten their life expectancy. This is the deadly price that must be paid to prop up a society that is one of the most socially unequal both in terms of income and the delivery of health care.

The statistics do not lie. Study researchers analyzed 115,245 patients at 416 hospitals in the American Heart Association’s Get With the Guidelines-Heart Failure registry from January 2006 to December 2014. They examined readmission and death rates before and after the program began in 2012.

* Readmission rates within one month fell from 20 percent before HRRP penalties to 18.4 percent after HRRP (down 1.6 percent). Mortality rates, however, rose by almost the same rate, from 7.2 percent before HRRP to 8.6 percent after (up 1.4 percent).

* Statistics for readmission and mortality within one year were even more damning. Readmission within one year fell by only about 1 percent, from 57.2 percent before HRRP to 56.3 percent after. But the mortality rate within one year rose from 31.3 percent before HRRP to 36.3 percent after—a shocking 5 percent increase. These figures show that there is a direct correlation between implementation of the Obamacare policy and preventable deaths.

HRRP penalizes hospitals up to 3 percent of every Medicare dollar for “excessive” repeat hospital stays. That is 15 times more than the 0.2 percent penalty levied against hospitals with high mortality rates. In other words, while hospitals with higher rates of mortality face a minimal fine, hospitals are being substantially penalized for failure to comply with a program that is resulting in increased deaths.

Compounding the misery, financial penalties from HRRP have been shown to fall disproportionately on academic medical centers and “safety-net” hospitals where “higher readmission rates are associated with the higher case-mix complexity and lower socioeconomic status,” according to the study, i.e., those treating poorer and sicker patients. In such settings, hospitals are incentivized to “game” the system by delaying admissions, increasing observation stays or shifting inpatient-type care to emergency departments, to the detriment of patient welfare.

The US mortality rate rose in 2015 in the first year-over-year increase since 2005, with life expectancy falling between 2014 and 2015 from 85.8 years to 85.6 years for men, and from 87.8 years to 87.6 years for women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this decline was due to an increase in eight of the 10 leading causes of death in the US, including heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and suicide.

With heart disease rising, there is no other way to interpret the penalties imposed by the ACA for early readmission of heart patients than a deliberate effort to see more men and women die. US corporations are already reaping a grim dividend from this downward trend, with at least 12 major corporations reporting this summer that they have reduced their estimates for how much they could owe in pension and other retirement obligations by a combined $9.7 billion due to shorter life spans.

It is fitting that the health care overhaul known as Obamacare was the instigator of HRRP, an irrefutable demonstration that the ACA was the first major volley in the bipartisan drive to restrict access to affordable health care and sharply reduce the length of workers’ lives.

As the World Socialist Web Site explained as early at 2009, the Obama administration’s health care “reform” established a framework for the insurers, the corporations and the government to drastically reduce the health benefits available to low- and middle-income individuals and families. The aim is to limit the amount that the government must pay out for health care and Social Security payments, as well as what corporations must pay in pensions and other retirement benefits.

Health care in the Obamacare era has nothing in common with quality, near-universal health care, as Obama initially pledged. It is based entirely on the for-profit health care system in America, including the insurance companies, giant hospitals, health care chains and pharmaceutical companies. Any repeal of the ACA—and its replacement with “Trumpcare” or any other legislation—will maintain the class-based delivery of health care and undoubtedly worsen it for the majority of Americans.

The empirical proof provided by research published in JAMA Cardiology that an ACA program has predictably caused increased deaths should serve as a stark warning to the working class. This Obamacare program is of a piece with the bipartisan attack on jobs and living standards, the attack on immigrants and democratic rights, and the drive to war.

This assault will inevitably provoke enormous social opposition among workers and young people. This opposition must be channeled into the fight for a progressive overhaul of the health care system that takes as its starting point an end to privately owned health care corporations and medicine-for-profit and the establishment of socialized medicine, democratically administered by a workers’ government, providing free, high-quality health care for all.

Kate Randall

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/15/pers-n15.html

How not to fight Judge Roy Moore

14 November 2017

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for US Senate in the December 12 special election in Alabama, is a diehard reactionary and enemy of the working class. He has a long record of ultra-right politics as a law-and-order prosecutor and a judge who claimed that the Bible and not the Constitution was the supreme law of the land. He is a political reactionary who would turn the clock back a century, if not more, in terms of the rights of women, blacks, gays and other minorities.

His campaign for the Republican nomination for US senator from Alabama, to fill the vacancy created by President Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, had the backing of openly fascistic elements such as former White House aides Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Bannon, the chief executive of Breitbart News. Opposing Moore in the runoff election is a right-wing Democrat, former US Attorney Doug Jones, who advocates increasing US military spending even beyond the stratospheric levels set by Trump and the congressional Republicans, in part to benefit the array of US military bases across Alabama.

The challenge in fighting against this choice of two reactionaries is to expose the politics of both capitalist parties: the ultra-right populism of Moore, who claims to be fighting for the predominantly rural population of Alabama against the “Eastern establishment,” and the mainstream corporate agenda of Jones, who has overwhelming support in the most affluent areas of Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery, where he is seen as a more reliable and respectable defender of propertied interests.

Something very different is happening now, however, with the intervention of the corporate media, beginning with a lengthy article in the Washington Postlast Friday depicting Moore as a sexual predator who attacked at least one victim when she was 14 and he was 32 and a county prosecutor. After a weekend media frenzy sparked by the initial report, another accuser has come forward charging that Moore assaulted her decades ago, when she was 16.

The media campaign has touched off a wave of declarations by leading congressional Republicans that Moore should withdraw as the party’s candidate and the election should be postponed so that a new candidate can be substituted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that Moore had been disqualified by the charges against him.

The conduct alleged against Moore is repugnant. But there has been no criminal indictment, no trial, no judicial procedure of any kind in which the accounts of his accusers, and Moore’s denials, can be tested in accordance with the rules of evidence. Given the nearly 40 years that have elapsed since the alleged offenses, there never will be such a legal proceeding since the statute of limitations has long since expired.

Even if the allegations against Moore did lead to a trial, one of the requirements of due process is that there remains a presumption of innocence for the defendant until a jury returns a finding of guilty. This is an axiomatic democratic principle that has been completely forgotten in the current atmosphere. In the wake of the torrent of accusations of sexual misconduct against numerous Hollywood figures, charges of sexual abuse and even rape are treated as indisputably true as soon as they become public.

Those on the American “left” who have embraced the anti-Moore charges, and the “me too” sexual abuse campaign more broadly, must confront the serious implications of the abandonment of the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”

It is not quite 20 years since allegations quite similar to those now rocking Hollywood and the Alabama US Senate race were leveled against a sitting president of the United States. The World Socialist Web Site was implacably opposed to the politics and policies of Bill Clinton, who as US president was the leader of world imperialism, waging a criminal war against Serbia, bombing Iraq, attacking Somalia and Sudan, and threatening war against North Korea and China.

But we opposed the witch hunt organized by the Republican right wing, using the investigation by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr into Clinton’s sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. We denounced the impeachment of Clinton as an attempted political coup, an effort by the Republican right to use issues of personal sexual behavior to overturn the results of two presidential elections. (In the event, the Republicans failed to obtain the necessary votes in the Senate to convict the impeached president, and Clinton remained in office.)

If we were transported back in time 20 years, knowing what we know about the subsequent evolution of the Clintons and the Democratic Party, we would take the same position that we took in 1998. Although it must be said, in the current atmosphere of sexual witch-hunting, Clinton would never have been elected in 1992 (in the face of the Gennifer Flowers scandal), and he would certainly have been impeached in his first term (when the Paula Jones lawsuit was filed), rather than winning reelection.

Those who wish to apply the principle of “guilty as soon as accused” to Judge Roy Moore must consider what precedent is being established for the future. What happens when a nominally left-wing candidate for president, say, Bernie Sanders in 2020, faces similar allegations and salacious reports? It is not difficult to imagine Breitbart, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal leading the charge, producing women to allege misconduct by Sanders in his college days or during his bohemian existence as a carpenter in Vermont before he turned to politics. In the present environment of hysterical piling-on, Sanders could expect mass desertions from his campaign and overnight political collapse.

The presumption of innocence is a democratic principle with far-reaching implications. If Roy Moore were to be removed as the Republican candidate by means of such allegations, after winning a clear victory in the party primary, how would this develop the political consciousness of working people in Alabama, or in the United States as a whole?

Those working people who mistakenly support Moore and the Republican Party, against their real class interests, would see rank hypocrisy, as a candidate was driven out of the race for offenses that were both unproven and not much different from those alleged against several presidents, including Clinton, Trump and even, most recently, the 93-year-old ex-President George H. W. Bush.

The successful use of such charges to achieve a political result would only encourage the proliferation of such mudslinging. American political life is already debased: Donald Trump is, after all, the elected president. To turn elections into a referendum on the alleged sexual practices of the candidates would only debase it further. And what debases political consciousness and drives public debate into the gutter aids only the right wing, which thrives in an atmosphere of ignorance, prejudice and slander.

It is noteworthy in this context that leading Republicans who have condemned Moore have done so on an explicitly antidemocratic basis. The 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, declared, “Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections.”

Roy Moore is a despicable right-wing bigot who supports the criminalization of homosexuality and has twice been removed as chief judge of the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to abide by such constitutional norms as the separation of church and state (as when he refused to move a three-ton monument to the Ten Commandments from the grounds of the state’s highest court), and for instructing probate court judges to continue to enforce a state law banning same-sex marriage that had been overturned by the federal courts.

But the struggle against such a political figure requires the political education and mobilization of the working class, including the impoverished white workers of Alabama to whom Moore addresses his appeals based on religious fundamentalism and social backwardness. A campaign against Moore based on unproven—and admittedly unprovable—allegations of sexual impropriety contributes nothing to—in fact, cuts across—the political education of working people.

Patrick Martin

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/14/pers-n14.html

Fight the disease of globalized corporate capitalism

Fight the Disease, Not the Symptoms

Mr. Fish / Truthdig

The disease of globalized corporate capitalism has the same effects across the planet. It weakens or destroys democratic institutions, making them subservient to corporate and oligarchic power. It forces domestic governments to give up control over their economies, which operate under policies dictated by global corporations, banks, the World Trade Organizationand the International Monetary Fund. It casts aside hundreds of millions of workers now classified as “redundant” or “surplus” labor. It disempowers underpaid and unprotected workers, many toiling in global sweatshops, keeping them cowed, anxious and compliant. It financializes the economy, creating predatory global institutions that extract money from individuals, institutions and states through punishing forms of debt peonage. It shuts down genuine debate on corporate-owned media platforms, especially in regard to vast income disparities and social inequality. And the destruction empowers proto-fascist movements and governments.

These proto-fascist forces discredit verifiable fact and history and replace them with myth. They peddle nostalgia for lost glory. They attack the spiritual bankruptcy of the modern, technocratic world. They are xenophobic. They champion the “virtues” of a hyper-masculinity and the warrior cult. They preach regeneration through violence. They rally around demagogues who absolve followers of moral choice and promise strength and protection. They marginalize and destroy all individuals and institutions, including schools, that make possible self-criticism, self-reflection and transcendence and that nurture empathy, especially for the demonized. This is why artists and intellectuals are ridiculed and silenced. This is why dissent is attacked as an act of treason.

These movements are also deeply misogynistic. They disempower girls and women to hand a perverted power to men who feel powerless in the global economy. They blame ethnic and religious minorities for the national decline. They foster bizarre conspiracy theories. And they communicate in the Orwellian newspeak of alternative facts. They claim the sole right to represent and use indigenous patriotic and religious symbols.

India, built on the foundations of caste slavery, has become one of many new neofeudal states, among them Turkey, Poland, Russia and the United States. Its neofeudal structure continues to carry out atrocities against Dalits—the former “untouchables”—and now increasingly against Muslims. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who as the chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat oversaw a vicious anti-Muslim pogrom, has defended sectarian discrimination and violence even though this year he made a tepid declaration that “[w]e will not tolerate violence in the name of faith” and issued other unconvincing appeals for religious peace. As prime minister he has employed threats, harassment and force to silence those who decry human rights abuses and atrocities carried out in India. He attacks his critics as “anti-national”—the equivalent of “unpatriotic” in the United States.

Modi, like his fellow demagogues in other parts of the world, including Donald Trump, speaks in the language of moral purity and promotes self-serving historical myth. Indians who eat beef—a huge number—are targeted, school history books are being rewritten to conform to right-wing Hindu ideology and its open admiration for fascism, and entertainers considered too political or too salacious are under attack.

There are within America’s corporate power structures individuals, parties and groups that find the hysterical, imbecilic and irrational rants of demagogues such as Trump repugnant. They seek a return to the polished mendacity of politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They hope to promote the interests of global capitalism by maintaining the fiction of a functioning democracy and an open society. These “moderates” or “liberals,” however, are also the architects of the global corporate pillage. They created the political vacuum that the demagogues and proto-fascist movements have filled. They blind themselves to their own complicity. They embrace their own myths—such as the belief that former FBI Director James Comey and the Russians were responsible for the election of Trump—to avoid examining the social inequality that is behind the global crisis and their defeat.

The 400 richest individuals in the United States have more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the population, and the three richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the U.S. population. This social inequality will only get worse as the weak controls that once regulated the economy and the tax code are abolished or rewritten to further increase the concentration of wealth among the ruling oligarchs. Social inequality at this level, history has shown, always results in these types of pathologies and political distortions. It also, potentially, presages revolution.

The short-term political and economic gains made by the Democratic Party and liberal class in the last few decades came at the expense of the working class. The liberal class, because of its complicity in globalization, has destroyed its credibility as well as the credibility of the “liberal” democratic values it claims to represent. Enraged workers, lied to for decades by “liberal” politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Obama, delight in Trump’s crude taunts and insults directed at the power structure and elites they loath. Many Americans are perhaps aware that Trump is a con artist, but he at least appears to share their disdain for the “liberal” elites who abandoned them.

It will eventually become apparent to some, perhaps many, of Trump’s supporters that he is cravenly in the service of the 1 percent and has turbocharged the corporate kleptocracy. The Democratic Party, busy purging Bernie Sanders supporters from its ranks, is banking on this epiphany to revive its political fortunes. The Democratic leadership has no real political strategy, other than to hope that Trump implodes. They are backing and funding opposition movements such as Indivisible and the women’s marches, as well as the witch hunt about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, all of which have as their sole focus removing Trump and restoring the Democratic Party to power. This form of resistance is sterile and useless.

But there are other resistance movements—the most prominent being the battle by the water protectors at Standing Rock to block the Dakota Access pipeline—that attack the disease. It is easy to tell the resistance from the faux resistance by the response of the state. During the women’s marches, Democrats, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were honored participants. The police were usually courteous and helped facilitate the marches; arrests were few and coverage by the corporate press was sympathetic. In contrast, during the long encampment at Standing Rock, which took place under the Obama administration, the nonviolent resisters were physically attacked by police, the National Guard and private security contractors. These forces used dogs, pepper spray, water cannons in subzero temperatures, sound machines, drones, armored vehicles and hundreds of arrests in their efforts to destroy the resistance.

Attack the symptoms and the state will be passive. Attack the disease and the state will be ruthless.

Once Trump’s base begins to abandon him—the repression in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a good example of what will happen—the political landscape will turn very ugly. Trump and his allies, in a desperate bid to cling to power, will openly stoke hate crimes and violence against Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, progressives, intellectuals, feminists and dissidents. He and his allies on the “alt-right” and the Christian right will move to silence all organs of dissent, including corporate media outlets fighting to restore the patina of civility that is the window dressing to corporate pillage. They will harness the power of the nation’s substantial internal security apparatus to crush public protests and to jail opponents, even those who are part of the faux resistance.

Time is not on our side. If we can build counter-capitalist movements that include the working class we have a chance. If we can, like the water protectors at Standing Rock, mount sustained acts of defiance in the face of severe state repression, we have a chance. If we can organize nationwide campaigns of noncooperation we have a chance. We cannot be distracted by the symptoms. We must cure the disease.

Chris Hedges
Columnist
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, New York Times best selling author, former professor at Princeton University, activist and ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 11 books,…
Mr. Fish
Cartoonist
Mr. Fish, also known as Dwayne Booth, is a cartoonist who primarily creates for Truthdig.com and Harpers.com. Mr. Fish’s work has also appeared nationally in The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Vanity…

The Place of the October Revolution in World History and Contemporary Politics

By David North
13 November 2017

On the last day of 1917, Franz Mehring—the great socialist historian, journalist and theoretician, who had, along with Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, opposed the German Social Democratic Party’s vote for war credits in August 1914—appraised the events in Petrograd, where only six weeks earlier the Bolsheviks had led the insurrection that overthrew the bourgeois Provisional Government. While recognizing the immense political implications of the Bolsheviks’ accession to power, Mehring emphasized that what had occurred in Petrograd would likely prove, in time, to have been only the beginning of a protracted and arduous struggle. He wrote:

Revolutions have a long breath, if they are real revolutions; the seventeenth-century English Revolution, the eighteenth-century French Revolution each took about forty years to work themselves out, and the challenges that confronted the English and even the French Revolution were almost child’s play compared to the tremendous problems that confront the Russian revolution. [1]

In fact, the seizure of power, which had been achieved almost bloodlessly in Petrograd, was immediately followed by an uninterrupted succession of political crises. First, there was the conflict over the formation of a government. This was followed soon after by the confrontation with the Constituent Assembly, which the Bolsheviks decided to disperse. Then came the bitter controversy over the negotiations with the Germans, and the decision—amidst bitter divisions within the Bolshevik leadership—to accept the drastic concessions demanded by the German imperialists and to sign the peace treaty. By the spring of 1918, Soviet Russia was being engulfed by full-scale civil war. In July, Lenin was shot twice by a member of the Socialist Revolutionary party, an assassination attempt that he barely survived. Nevertheless, in countless historical narratives, the Bolsheviks are presented as bloodthirsty fanatics, indifferent to even the most reasonable appeals. Their opponents, on the other hand, especially among the Mensheviks, are portrayed as paragons of compromise. This has little to do with reality. Let us review the first of the post-insurrection crises.

The Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary parties demanded at once that the Bolsheviks end their “adventure” and relinquish power. They declared that they would not even negotiate with the Bolsheviks unless the Military Revolutionary Committee—which had organized the insurrection—was disarmed. Its leaders (such as Trotsky) would receive temporary guarantees for their personal safety until their fate was decided by a future session of the Constituent Assembly. [2] Judging from their insolent demands, it seems that they did not really understand the balance of power in Petrograd.

The intransigence of the so-called “moderate” socialist parties, who were supported by the right-wing leadership of the railway workers union (known as Vikzhel), was encouraged by the presence within the Bolshevik Central Committee of a substantial faction, led by Lev Kamenev, who were prepared to make massive compromises in order to broaden the base of the government. In response to the demand by the “moderate” socialists and the City Duma that Lenin and Trotsky be excluded from leadership positions in a new coalition government, the Bolshevik Central Committee issued a statement (in the absence of the two principal leaders of the revolution) that “some reciprocal give and take on party nominations was permissible.” [3]

As explained by historian Alexander Rabinowitch, the position of the Central Committee, which was explicitly reiterated in a subsequent statement by Lev Kamenev, “was a signal that Lenin and Trotsky were not untouchable and that even a Bolshevik majority in a government which included all socialist parties might not be an absolute requirement.” [4] The Menshevik demand that Lenin and Trotsky be excluded from power was, in essence, a call for the political and physical decapitation of the working class. Theodore Dan, one of the main Menshevik party leaders, actually called for the disarming of Petrograd workers.

The anti-Bolshevik frenzy of the “moderate” socialists frightened a section of the more left-wing Menshevik-Internationalists, led by Martov. One representative of this faction, A. A. Blum, asked the right-wing “moderates:” “Have you given any thought to what the defeat of the Bolsheviks would mean? The action of the Bolsheviks is the action of workers and soldiers. Workers and soldiers will be crushed along with the party of the proletariat.” [5]

Despite the capitulatory sentiments within the Bolshevik Central Committee, there remained strong support for Soviet power among Petrograd workers. Lenin was unyielding in his defense of the insurrection and the establishment of a genuinely revolutionary government. In an explosive meeting of the Central Committee on November 1, 1917, Lenin unleashed a furious verbal assault against Kamenev and other capitulators in the Party leadership. He cited reports of the shooting by bourgeois Junker military officers of soldiers taken captive in Moscow, where bourgeois forces were bitterly resisting the revolution. Invoking the fate of defeated working-class uprisings, which had been drowned in blood, Lenin reminded the capitulators, “[I]f the bourgeoisie had triumphed, it would have acted as it did in 1848 and 1871.” [6] The historical references were to the massacre of Parisian workers by General Cavaignac in June 1848 and the shooting of at least 10,000 workers by the bourgeois army of the Versailles government during the suppression of the Paris Commune in May 1871.

Compromise and coalition with the very parties that had supported the Provisional Government was tantamount to renunciation of the October Revolution. Of all the members of the Central Committee, there was only one who unequivocally and forcefully defended Lenin’s refusal to accept a coalition with opponents of the insurrection: “As for conciliation, I cannot even speak about that seriously,” Lenin declared. “Trotsky long ago said that unification is impossible. Trotsky understood this, and from that time on there has been no better Bolshevik.” [7]

Lenin insisted that the Party was obligated, as the leadership of the working class, to defend its interests. Answering Zinoviev, who once again was allied with Kamenev in demanding compromise with the right, Lenin stated:

Zinoviev says that we are not the Soviet power. We are, if you please, only the Bolsheviks, left alone since the departure of the Social Revolutionists and the Mensheviks, and so forth and so on. But we are not responsible for that. We have been elected by the Congress of the Soviets. This organization is something new. Whoever wants to struggle enters into it. It does not comprise the people; it comprises the vanguard whom the masses follow. We go with the masses—the active and not the weary masses. To refrain now from extending the insurrection [is to capitulate] to the weary masses, but we are with the vanguard. The Soviets take shape [in struggle]. The Soviets are the vanguard of the proletarian masses. [8]

In support of Lenin’s position, Trotsky presented a clear and unsentimental appraisal of political realities:

We are told that we are incapable of building up. In that case we should simply surrender power to those who were correct in struggling against us. But we have already performed a great labor. We are told that we cannot sit on bayonets. But neither can we manage without bayonets. We need bayonets there in order to be able to sit here. One should imagine that the experience we have already gone through has taught us something. There has been a battle in Moscow. Yes, there was a serious battle with the Junkers there. But these Junkers owe allegiance neither to the Mensheviks nor the Vikzhel. Conciliation with the Vikzhelwill not do away with the conflict with the Junker detachments of the bourgeoisie. No. A cruel class struggle will continue to be waged against us in the future as well. When all these middle-class lice, who are now incapable of taking either side, discover that our Government is a strong one, they will come to our side, together with the Vikzhel. Owing to the fact that we crushed the Cossacks of [General] Krasnov beneath Petersburg, we were showered on the very next day with telegrams of congratulation. The petty-bourgeois masses are seeking that force to which they must submit themselves. Whoever fails to understand this cannot have the slightest comprehension of anything in the universe and, least of all, in the state apparatus. Back in 1871, Karl Marx said that a new class cannot simply make use of the old apparatus. This apparatus engenders its own interests and habits which we must run up against. It must be smashed and replaced; only then will we be able to work.

If that were not so, if the old Czarist apparatus suited our new purposes, then the entire revolution would not be worth an empty eggshell. We must create such an apparatus as would actually place the common interests of the popular masses above the proper interests of the apparatus itself.

There are many in our midst who have cultivated a purely bookish attitude towards the question of the classes and of the class struggle. The moment they got a whiff of the revolutionary reality, they began to talk a different language (i.e., of conciliation and not struggle).

We are now living through the most profound social crisis. At present the proletariat is effecting the demolition and the replacement of the state apparatus. The resistance on their part reflects the processes of our growth. No words can moderate their hatred of us. We are told that their program is presumably similar to ours. Give them a few seats and that will settle everything… No. The bourgeoisie is aligned against us by virtue of all its class interests. And what will we achieve as against that by taking to the road of conciliation with the Vikzhel?… We are confronted with armed violence, which can be overcome only by means of violence on our own part. Lunacharsky says that blood is flowing. What to do? Evidently we should never have begun.

Then why don’t you openly admit that the biggest mistake was committed not so much in October but towards the end of February when we entered the arena of future civil war. [9]

The struggle within the Bolshevik leadership raged for more than a week. It required the greatest effort by Lenin, with Trotsky’s support, to overcome the demands for a coalition government with the Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and other opponents of the Bolshevik-led insurrection of October 24-25.

What underlay the conflict within the Bolshevik leadership—which once again brought the party to the verge of a split—was the extent to which a substantial section of the Central Committee remained opposed, not only to the October seizure of power, but to the entire political orientation that had been introduced by Lenin following his return to Russia in April 1917. Kamenev’s demand that the Bolshevik Party accede to a coalition, even if that meant barring Lenin and Trotsky from positions in the new government, recapitulated the positions that he had advanced, together with Stalin, in the immediate aftermath of the February Revolution.

Let us recall that prior to the return of Lenin, the Bolshevik Party—under the leadership of Kamenev and Stalin—had adapted itself to the political arrangements that had emerged in the immediate aftermath of the February Revolution. It accepted the authority of the bourgeois Provisional Government. The newly formed Soviet was to do no more than attempt to assert left-wing influence on the formulation of the policies of the democratically refurbished bourgeois state. The inescapable corollary of the acceptance of bourgeois rule was support for the continuation of Russia’s participation in the imperialist war, which was repackaged, since the overthrow of the tsarist regime, as a war in defense of democracy.

The political perspective that underlay this initial Bolshevik response to the February upheaval was that Russia was undergoing a bourgeois democratic revolution, whose goal was the establishment of a parliamentary democracy, akin to that existing in Great Britain or France. The fight for a workers government—i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat—was rejected as historically and economically premature. Russia—economically backward and with a population whose majority was comprised of peasants—was not ready for socialism. To be fair to Kamenev and other Bolshevik leaders who held this position, they could—and, in fact, did—legitimately claim that their response to the February Revolution was based on the long-established Bolshevik program of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.

This program was, at best, ambiguous as to the class nature of the regime that was to arise on the basis of the overthrow of the tsarist government. Moreover, the program of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry differed fundamentally from the perspective of permanent revolution, which had been formulated by Trotsky during and in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution of 1905. As is well known, Trotsky’s theory anticipated that the democratic revolution against tsarism would develop rapidly into a socialist revolution, requiring the working class to take power into its own hands, begin the implementation of socialist policies, and make deep and even fatal encroachments on bourgeois-capitalist property.

Trotsky’s prediction that the coming Russian Revolution would assume a socialist character was dismissed by virtually all his political contemporaries on the left, including the Bolsheviks, as an unrealistic, even utopian, appraisal of Russian conditions. It was simply not possible to advocate the direct seizure of power by the working class in a country whose economy was not sufficiently prepared for socialist measures.

However, Trotsky’s critics paid insufficient attention to his underlying argument. Trotsky’s anticipation of a socialist revolution was derived, not from a nationally based appraisal of Russian conditions, but, rather, from an analysis of the twentieth century development of the capitalist world economy and its impact on the political life of all countries. The global development of capitalism, Trotsky had argued in 1907, “has transformed the entire world into a single economic and political organism.” The complex interlocking network of economic relations would inevitably draw all countries “into a social crisis of unprecedented dimensions.” The eruption of the unavoidable crisis would lead to the “radical, worldwide liquidation” of bourgeois rule. Trotsky’s analysis of the global crisis determined his strategic conception of the Russian Revolution. The “international character” of the capitalist crisis would open up “majestic prospects” for the Russian working class. “Political emancipation, led by the Russian working class,” Trotsky wrote, “is raising the latter to heights that are historically unprecedented, providing it with colossal means and resources, and making it the initiator of capitalism’s worldwide liquidation, for which history has prepared all the objective preconditions.” [10]

Prior to 1914, Lenin had rejected the strategic orientation that flowed from Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. But the outbreak of World War I, and the immediate capitulation of the Second International to national chauvinism, had a profound impact on Lenin’s conception of the Russian Revolution. To the extent that any one event could “change everything,” the outbreak of the world war was such a development. From August 1914 on, Lenin’s analysis of the causes of the world war and the betrayal of the Second International became the foundation of his understanding of all political developments. The war was not simply an event, after which, as Karl Kautsky hoped, everything would return, more or less, to what it was prior to August 1914. The world war signified, for Lenin, the beginning of a new epoch in world politics.

Just two years before the war, the delegates attending the 1912 Basel Congress of the Second International had passed a resolution in which they pledged to exploit the crisis created by the outbreak of war to carry out the worldwide liquidation of the capitalist system. One may safely assume that the vast majority of delegates viewed the resolution as nothing more than a politically meaningless rhetorical exercise. Lenin, however, viewed the resolution as a serious statement of policy, binding on all the sections of the Second International.

Moreover, as analyzed by Lenin, the war was not an accident, the outcome of the mistakes and miscalculations of one or another national government. The war represented nothing less than a devastating system-wide disruption of the economic and geopolitical equilibrium of the capitalist-imperialist world order. The outbreak of war, drawing millions of people into the vortex of horrific and unprecedented violence, was the response of the capitalist ruling classes of Europe to this system-wide failure. War was their method of a “system reset,” requiring a new division of colonial possessions and spheres of influence, upon which a new economic and political equilibrium would be eventually established.

In opposition to the capitalist solution, the necessary and unavoidable response of the working class in all the imperialist countries was world socialist revolution. The systemic breakdown that assumed, in the objective practice of the imperialist ruling classes, the form of war, would assume, in the objective practice of the international working class, the form of intensifying anti-capitalist class struggle and socialist revolution. The ending of the war required the overthrow of the capitalist classes, the abolition of the economic system based on capitalist property and the profit system, and the destruction of the nation state. It was to the conscious development of this objective tendency of social and economic development that the policy of the world socialist movement had to be oriented, both in program and practice.

From the standpoint of an understanding of the imperialist war from within this global framework, it was clear that those who argued that Russia—as an isolated “national” unit of world economy—was not “ready” for socialist revolution really missed the point. Lenin was not advocating a program of nationally based socialism. For Lenin (and, of course, Trotsky) Russia comprised a critical front in what was a worldwide struggle. A complex set of circumstances had placed before the Russian working class the task of opening up the first great front in the world socialist revolution.

Once Lenin returned to Russia, he was compelled to conduct an intense political struggle against all those tendencies within the Bolshevik Party who viewed the revolution in a national framework. Lenin opened the Seventh All-Russia Conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, on April 24, 1917, with the following statement:

Comrades, we are assembled here as the first conference of the proletarian party in conditions of the Russian revolution and a developing world revolution as well. The time is approaching when the assertion of the founders of scientific socialism, and the unanimous forecast of the socialists who gathered at the Basel Congress, that world war would inevitably lead to revolution, is being everywhere proved correct…

The great honor of beginning the revolution has fallen to the Russian proletariat. But the Russian proletariat must not forget that its movement and revolution are only part of the world revolutionary proletarian movement, which in Germany, for example, is gaining momentum with every passing day. Only from this angle can we define our tasks. [11]

Lenin continued:

From the point of view of Marxism, in discussing imperialism it is absurd to restrict oneself to conditions in one country alone, since all capitalist countries are closely bound together. Now, in time of war, this bond has grown immeasurably stronger. All humanity is thrown into a tangled bloody heap from which no nation can extricate itself on its own. Though there are more and less advanced countries, this war has bound them all together by so many threads that escape from this tangle for any single country acting on its own is inconceivable. [12]

Even after Lenin had won the party to the perspective of the struggle for power, he continued relentlessly to stress the internationalist foundations of the party’s strategy. He explained in articles, speeches at mass rallies and in scholarly lectures that the war and the revolution in Russia arose out of the crisis of world imperialism. In a lecture delivered on May 4, 1917 on the subject of “War and Revolution,” Lenin declared:

The war which all capitalists are waging cannot be ended without a workers’ revolution against these capitalists. So long as control remains a mere phrase instead of deed, so long as the government of the capitalists has not been replaced by a government of the revolutionary proletariat, the government is doomed merely to reiterate: We are heading for disaster, disaster, disaster…

The only way to end this war is by a workers’ revolution in several countries. In the meantime, we should make preparations for that revolution, we should assist it. [13]

The Bolshevik decision to take power was a demonstration of extraordinary political courage and, one must add, political “will,” in the best sense of the term. In this historical situation, the Bolshevik “will to power” was not the expression of any sort of subjective voluntarism, but the necessary alignment of political practice with objective reality. Critics of the October Revolution, even those professing sympathy with its socialist aspirations, argued that the decision to take power involved too many risks. Given the fact that Lenin and Trotsky believed that the fate of Soviet Russia depended upon the extension of the socialist revolution into Central and Western Europe, and especially Germany, was it not dangerous, even reckless, to base Bolshevik policy on the conquest of power by the workers of another country? Were the Bolsheviks not placing too great a bet on the successful outcome of the German revolution? Would it not have been wiser to delay revolutionary action in Russia until the development of the revolutionary movement in Germany made the prospects for success less problematic?

This skeptical outlook betrays a poor understanding of both the historical process and the dynamic of the international revolutionary struggle. In a pamphlet written shortly before the October Revolution, titled Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, Lenin mocked those who were prepared to sanction a social revolution only “if history were to lead to it in the peaceful, calm, smooth and precise manner of a German express train pulling into a station. A sedate conductor would open the carriage door and announce: ‘Social Revolution Station! Alle aussteigen!” [14] Everyone must leave the train.

Lenin also cited another argument that was often raised against the taking of power. The revolution would be a highly recommended course of action if the political situation were not so “exceptionally complicated.” Barely restraining his sarcasm, Lenin replied to the “wise men” urging that the Bolsheviks wait for the emergence of an “uncomplicated” situation.

Such revolutions never occur, and sighs for such a revolution amount to nothing more than the reactionary wails of a bourgeois intellectual. Even if a revolution has started in a situation that seemed to be not very complicated, the development of the revolution always creates an exceptionally complicated situation. A revolution, a real, profound, a ‘people’s’ revolution, to use Marx’s expression, is the incredibly complicated and painful process of the death of the old and birth of the new social order, of the mode of life of tens of millions of people. Revolution is the most intense, furious, desperate class struggle and civil war…

If the situation were not exceptionally complicated there would be no revolution. If you are afraid of wolves don’t go into the forest. [15]

History in general, and revolutions in particular, would be very simple affairs if they always offered clear-cut alternatives with absolutely predictable outcomes, and if the most farsighted and progressive courses of action were always the least dangerous and least demanding. In reality, great historical projects present themselves in the form of excruciating problems, demanding painful decisions, involving great risks and requiring immense sacrifices.

The October revolution, establishing the first workers’ state, was precisely such a great and, if I may use the word, complicated project. Let us keep in mind certain important conditions affecting the course of events in October 1917 and the months and years that followed. The revolution occurred in the midst of a global conflagration that accelerated the disintegration of a vast and archaic empire that sprawled across one-sixth of the land surface of the earth. The scale of the geopolitical, social and economic crisis that overwhelmed Russia in 1917 determined the astonishing pace of events between February and October. When Lenin warned of an “impending catastrophe” in the autumn of 1917, there was not a trace of exaggeration in his choice of words. The bourgeois Provisional Government and its allies among the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries in the Soviet were unable to formulate, let alone implement, any coherent set of policies to deal with a crisis of such a monumental magnitude. In his only comment on the centenary of the October Revolution, Vladimir Putin voiced the regret that a more peaceful solution had not been found to the crisis of 1917:

We have to ask the question: was it really not possible to develop not through revolution but through evolution, without destroying statehood and mercilessly ruining the fate of millions, but through gradual, step-by-step progress? [16]

One can imagine Putin, had he been alive in 1917, as a functionary in some police-connected department of the Provisional Government, indignant over the popular repudiation of the old institutions of the state, horrified by the violence in the streets, disappointed by the failure of General Kornilov to restore order, and bitterly hostile to the Bolsheviks.

An evolutionary and peaceful solution to the crisis was simply not to be found in 1917. The failure of the Provisional Government and the entire reformist perspective of the “moderate” socialist leadership of the pre-October Soviets testified to the fact that the crisis could not be solved on a capitalist basis, or within the framework of Russian nationalism.

The program of world socialist revolution, advanced by Lenin and Trotsky, was the only viable strategic response to the systemic breakdown that began with the outbreak of the European war. Notwithstanding her own criticisms of certain aspects of Bolshevik policies, Rosa Luxemburg wrote: “That the Bolsheviks have based their policy entirely upon the world proletarian revolution is the clearest proof of their political farsightedness and firmness of principle and of the bold scope of their policies.” [17]

Had history been kinder to the Bolsheviks, the conquest of power by the working class in Germany would have preceded, or, at least, occurred simultaneously with the October Revolution. But, as Trotsky was to write, history was not kind. It was a “wicked stepmother.” The betrayal of the German Social Democratic Party foreclosed that possibility. That betrayal not only delayed the German revolution; it also introduced confusion and division into the German working class.

Particularly in the aftermath of the attempted counterrevolution by General Kornilov in the late summer of 1917, it had become clear that only by overthrowing the Provisional Government could the revolution be saved. Thus, the Bolsheviks were placed in the position of assuming state power under conditions of political isolation. They confronted the dual task of defending the revolution against counterrevolutionary forces within Russia (which received the backing of world imperialism) and, at the same time, doing all that was possible to advance the cause of the world socialist revolution. These two inseparably connected aspects of their revolutionary policy found expression in the creation of the Red Army and the founding of the Communist (Third) International. The first congress of the Comintern was held in Moscow in March 1919. The next three congresses—whose debates and resolutions remain to this day essential elements of the theoretical and political education of revolutionary Marxists—were held on an annual basis, in 1920, 1921 and 1922.

The survival of the revolution—particularly under conditions of the defeats suffered by the working class beyond the borders of Soviet Russia—would not have been possible without the creation of the Red Army. And here it is necessary to refer, if only briefly, to the critical role of Trotsky as commissar of war and the Red Army’s principal commander. Historian Jonathan D. Smele, the author of a valuable study of the Russian Civil Wars (he uses the plural), writes that “Trotsky’s transformation from a propagandist, with a few month’s experience as a war correspondent in the Balkans in 1912, to the organizer of a multimillion-strong army was remarkable.” Smele calls attention to “Trotsky’s ability to inspire loyalty” and his “ability to choose wise advisers” as important characteristics of his leadership. [18]

In another study, Colonel Harold W. Nelson (who taught at the United States War College) stresses Trotsky’s exceptional skills as a military strategist and leader. “He had a more perfect understanding of the need for speed rather than tactical victories, and he sensed the importance of massing troops in the critical theater rather than detaching troops to take political objectives.” His earlier writings on the Balkan Wars revealed an intense interest in the impact of war on those who were compelled to fight. Trotsky “wanted to know what men did in combat and he hoped he might discover what combat did to men. His was not the idle curiosity of the observer, but the passionate interest of the student… This passionate interest in vital social problems was Trotsky’s nature, and he studied war with the same consuming desire that he had brought to his earlier contacts with economics, languages and revolutionary theory.” [19]

Trotsky possessed extraordinary administrative and organizational abilities. But the key element of Trotsky’s leadership of the Red Army was his unequaled historical and political comprehension of the complex interaction between social forces operating within Russia, the ever-shifting geopolitical and economic interests and antagonisms that were operative within the world imperialist system, and the influences of all these global processes upon the class struggle within different countries and the development of the world socialist revolution as a whole. Within this process, moreover, the struggle of the working class and, especially, the political initiatives of the Marxist vanguard played a significant and, under certain exceptional conditions, decisive role in determining the course of world history.

As he directed the struggle of the Red Army against multiple enemies and across numerous military fronts that spanned thousands of miles, Trotsky was continuously seeking to understand the place of the October Revolution within the global development of socialist revolution. Despite setbacks in one sector of the vast battlefield of world revolutions, strategic opportunities for a breakthrough might arise in another sector.

After the defeats of uprisings in Germany and Hungary, the Bolsheviks realized that the victory of socialist revolution in Europe would be a more protracted process than they had originally hoped. However, the stirring of the masses in the East, awakened to political life by the victory of the Bolsheviks, provided new possibilities for the development of the world revolution. In August 1919, Trotsky sent a lengthy memo from his military train to the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (as the party had been renamed). He wrote:

There is no doubt at all that our Red Army constitutes an incomparably more powerful force in the Asian terrain of world politics than in the European terrain. Here there opens up before us an undoubted possibility not merely of a lengthy wait to see how events develop in Europe, but of conducting activity in the Asian field. The road to India may prove at the given moment to be more readily passable and shorter for us than the road to Soviet Hungary. The sort of army which at the moment can be of no great significance in the European scales can upset the unstable balance of Asian relationships of colonial dependence, give a direct push to an uprising on the part of the oppressed masses and assure the triumph of such a rising in Asia…

Our military successes in the Urals and in Siberia should raise the prestige of the Soviet Revolution throughout the whole of oppressed Asia to an exceptionally high level. It is essential to exploit this factor and concentrate somewhere in the Urals or in Turkestan a Revolutionary Academy, the political and military headquarters of the Asian Revolution, which in the period immediately ahead may turn out to be far more effectual than the Executive Committee of the Third International. [20]

The setbacks suffered by the working class in Europe in the period between 1919 and 1921 made it clear that the development of the socialist revolution would be a more protracted process than the Bolsheviks had originally expected. This did not mean that the decision to take power in Russia was based on an incorrect appraisal of European conditions, as bourgeois historians generally claim. In fact, the October Revolution contributed to an immense radicalization of the working class in Europe, and there were uprisings (as in Germany and Hungary) and massive strikes (as in Italy). But the defeat of these movements required the reworking of certain elements of the revolutionary perspective.

Crucial lessons had certainly emerged from the October Revolution and its aftermath. First, that the victory of the socialist revolution is dependent, to a degree that could not have been appreciated prior to 1914, upon the existence of a revolutionary Marxist party capable of providing leadership to the working class. The fact that the fate of the revolution for an extended political period could be decided within just a few critical days imparted to the issue of leadership an extraordinary political and historical significance. Second, the experience of the October Revolution had made more acute the capitalists’ fear of socialist revolution.

Once the ruling elites realized that the Bolshevik victory would not be overturned and recognized what it meant to lose power, they were determined to prevent at all costs a repetition of the experience. This heightened awareness of political danger led to an enormous mobilization of counterrevolutionary violence against the working class and its political vanguard. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered in Berlin in January 1919 during the bloody suppression of the revolutionary Spartacist uprising. Fascist movements were built up throughout Europe.

The bourgeoisie, Trotsky warned in July 1921, “attains its greatest concentration of forces and resources, of political and military means of deception, of coercion, and provocation, i.e., the flowering of its class strategy, at the moment when it is most immediately threatened by social ruin.” The epoch of capitalist crisis and breakdown finds expression in the flowering within the bourgeoisie of its counterrevolutionary strategy, which Trotsky characterized as “the art of waging a combined struggle against the proletariat by every method from saccharine, professorial-clerical preachments to machine-gunning of strikers…” [21]

How was the working class to respond to the determination of the bourgeoisie, using all methods at its disposal, to destroy all threats to its rule? Trotsky answered: “The task of the working class—in Europe and throughout the world—consists in counterposing to the thoroughly thought-out counterrevolutionary strategy of the bourgeoisie its own revolutionary strategy, likewise thought out to the end.” [22]

* * * * *

The years between 1921 and 1924 marked a critical period of political transition in the Soviet Union. During the previous seven years, from 1914 to 1921, Russia had experienced a staggering level of political and social upheaval. The defeats of the working class in Europe meant that the political and economic isolation of the Soviet Union would continue, though it was still hoped that the time frame would involve Union would last years, if not decades. The introduction of the New Economic Policy in March 1921 involved substantial concessions to capitalist market forces, which were justified, and entirely legitimately, as a necessary retreat. However, the ensuing strengthening of capitalist forces, interacting with the growing bureaucratization of the Communist Party and the state apparatus and the temporary stabilization of capitalism in Western Europe, had significant political consequences. By late 1922, there were growing indications that the revolutionary spirit present in the early years of the Soviet state was ebbing. This found political expression in the resurgence of national chauvinist tendencies within the Party leadership.

Lenin had suffered a serious stroke in May 1922 and did not return to political activity until October 1922. He was shocked by the change in the political environment within the party leadership. Lenin vehemently objected to Stalin’s disrespectful treatment of representatives of the Communist Party of the Soviet Georgian Republic, and described him as a “Great Russian chauvinist bully.” In one of his last political acts, in March 1923, Lenin threatened to sever all personal relations with Stalin. But just a day later, he suffered a massive stroke that ended his political life. On January 21, 1924, Lenin died.

In October 1923, the Communist Party squandered another major revolutionary opportunity in Germany. Another major failure occurred in Bulgaria. These defeats were widely interpreted as the end of the period of revolutionary upheavals in Central and Western Europe that had begun six years earlier in Russia. Within the Russian Communist Party and broad sections of the working class, there was a loss of confidence in the possibility that a victorious revolution in a major capitalist country would end the isolation of Russia and provide resources for the development of a socialist economy.

With Lenin now removed from the scene, Leon Trotsky—who more than any other leader personified the link between October and the World Socialist Revolution—was increasingly isolated within the Russian Communist Party. The publication of Lessons of October in the autumn of 1924, in which the leader of the insurrection reviewed the political struggles within the Bolshevik Party that preceded the insurrection, unleashed a venomous political attack on Trotsky and the theory of permanent revolution. Not only was Trotsky’s central role in the organization and success of the insurrection and the subsequent victory of the Red Army over counterrevolutionary forces denied. His enemies in the Political Committee of the Communist Party—principally Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin—claimed that his theory of permanent revolution was a revision of what was now being referred to as “Leninism” and had nothing whatsoever to do with the strategy pursued by the Bolshevik Party in the preparation of the struggle for power.

Lenin’s political struggle against the line of Kamenev and Stalin in April 1917 was dismissed as nothing more than a minor squabble. They claimed that the perspective introduced by Lenin’s April Theses developed logically from the old Bolshevik program of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry and had nothing whatsoever to do with the conceptions of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution.

The era of the “Big Lie” had begun. A lengthy report given by Kamenev in November 1924, entitled Trotskyism or Leninism, initiated the unrestrained falsification of history, aimed at discrediting and demonizing Trotsky. This was to become the chief characteristic of Soviet political life. Trotsky, Kamenev asserted,

did not understand the basics about the Leninist theory of the relations between the working class and the peasantry in the Russian revolution. He did not understand this even after October, and he did not understand it at each turning point made by our party, when it maneuvered to achieve the dictatorship of the proletariat without any separation from the peasantry. He had been prevented from understanding this by his own theory, which, in his opinion, had been ‘confirmed entirely.’ If Trotsky’s theory had proven correct, this would have meant that any kind of Soviet power in Russia would have long since ceased to exist. [23]

The political and theoretical essence of Kamenev’s assault on Trotsky and denunciation of the theory of permanent revolution was an attempt to restore, within the context of the New Economic Policy, the nationally oriented perspective that had been rejected in 1917. Kamenev’s attack was directed, above all, against Trotsky’s insistence on the primacy of the perspective of world socialist revolution in the determination of national policy. Kamenev objected to Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution because it “would make the workers’ government in Russia wholly dependent on the immediate proletarian revolution in the West.” [24] What was particularly objectionable about Trotsky’s theory, Kamenev asserted, was its insistence that there can be no solution to the problem of Russia’s capitalist development “within the framework of a national revolution.” [25]

Kamenev’s denunciation of Trotsky in November 1924 cleared the way for Stalin’s explicitly nationalist revision, in December 1924, of the perspective and program of the October Revolution. In an article titled “The October Revolution and the Tactics of Russian Communists,” Stalin called attention to Trotsky’s pamphlet, Our Revolution, published in 1906, in which Trotsky had written: “Without the direct State support of the European proletariat the working class in Russia cannot remain in power and convert its temporary domination into a lasting socialist dictatorship. Of this there cannot for one moment be any doubt.” Stalin continued:

What does this quotation mean? It means that the victory of socialism in one country, in this case Russia, is impossible “without direct state support from the European proletariat,” i.e., before the European proletariat has conquered power.

What is there in common between this “theory” and Lenin’s thesis on the possibility of the victory of socialism “in one capitalist country taken separately?”

Clearly, there is nothing in common. [26]

Stalin’s substitution of a form of national messianism in place of revolutionary internationalism was summed up with the following indictment of Trotsky’s views:

Lack of faith in the strength and capacities of our revolution, lack of faith in the strength and capacity of the Russian proletariat—this is what lies at the root of the theory of “permanent revolution.” [27]

The 1924 assault on Trotsky and the repudiation of the theory of permanent revolution signified the resurgence of the nationalist tendencies that Lenin had fought as he sought to break the party’s adaptation to national defensism and direct attention toward the international revolutionary struggle against imperialist war. The promulgation of the program of socialism in one country marked a decisive step in the alienation of the Soviet Union from the World Socialist Revolution, from which it had emerged. As Trotsky had warned, this nationalist regression—which found political support in a rapidly growing bureaucratic elite—separated the fate of the Soviet Union from the fight for world socialism. The Communist International, which had been founded in 1919 as the central strategic headquarters of the world socialist revolution, was degraded into an appendage of the Soviet Union’s counterrevolutionary foreign policy. Trotsky’s expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1929 symbolized the rupture between the bureaucratic regime and the World Socialist Revolution. Ensconced in his Kremlin office, Stalin ruled a national state with the support of the secret police. But Leon Trotsky, in exile, led and inspired the continuing historical process of world socialist revolution with far more powerful weapons: his ideas and his pen.

* * * * *

Stalin’s treacherous and disorienting policies led to devastating defeats of the working class in Germany, France, Spain and many other countries during the 1930s.

Within the Soviet Union, the counterrevolutionary nationalist reaction assumed the form of the destruction of the entire generation of Marxist-educated workers, party activists and revolutionary intellectuals and artists who had been politically educated on the basis of socialist internationalism. The Moscow Trials and the Great Terror between 1936 and 1940 were a form of political genocide, specifically targeting for physical annihilation all those who had been identified with the internationalist program and intellectual culture upon which the founding of the Soviet state was based.

It is critical to understand the relationship between the October 1917 Revolution and the Soviet Union. The latter emerged out of the former. But the October Revolution and the Soviet state were not coequal phenomena. The October Revolution marked the beginning of the historical epoch of World Socialist Revolution. The history of the Soviet state was a major episode of that epoch. The recognition of the distinction between October Revolution as the expression of an epoch and the creation of the Soviet state as a specific political episode was reflected in political language. Anticipating the future overthrow of the capitalist system in their own countries, revolutionaries would speak not of their future “Soviet Union,” but of their coming “October.”

Of course, the achievements of the revolution within the Soviet Union were immense. The October Revolution radically transformed what had been the Russian Empire. Prior to the revolution, approximately 80 percent of the population had been illiterate. Within substantially less than one generation, illiteracy had been virtually eradicated. The nationalization of the means of the production, a product of the October Revolution, made possible significant economic advances. The possibility of establishing an advanced society on a non-capitalist basis was demonstrated in the course of the 74-year history of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union was not a socialist society. As Trotsky explained in The Revolution Betrayed, it was a transitional regime, between capitalism and socialism, whose fate was still to be decided. The nationalist policies of Stalin, implemented on the basis of savage terror, were a mockery of socialist planning, which requires the workers’ democratic control over decision-making processes. What Trotsky described as the “irresponsible despotism of the bureaucracy over the people” resulted in a horrifying waste of human life, which was as needless as it was brutal, and the grotesque squandering of material resources.

The Stalinist bureaucracy, which had usurped political power and utilized its control of the organs of state repression to assure for itself a privileged position within society, violated the most basic principles of socialist egalitarianism. Stalin, who personally ordered and directed the torture and murder of former comrades and countless Marxist revolutionists, ranks among the worst criminals in history.

The Fourth International founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938 defended all the social conquests that were achieved as a consequence of the October Revolution. But its defense of those achievements—that is, the elements of social and economic progress made possible by the Revolution—was carried out on the basis of implacable opposition to the Stalinist regime, by fighting for its political overthrow.

* * * * *

What we have celebrated this year is the centenary of World Socialist Revolution. It is within this historical context that we have examined and explained the momentous events that occurred in Russia between February and October 1917. These lectures have provided a vital political and intellectual antidote to the endless falsifications and slanders of the reactionary academics and the antisocialist mass media.

The dissolution of the USSR in 1991 was hailed as a momentous victory for world capitalism. At long last the specter of communism and socialism had been eradicated. History had come to an end! The October Revolution had ended in ruins! Of course, such proclamations were not supported by a careful examination of what had occurred during the previous 74 years. No account was given of the enormous achievements of the Soviet Union, which included not only its central role in the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, but also the immense advances in the social and cultural conditions of the Soviet people.

But aside from the efforts to obliterate from collective memory all recollection of Soviet achievements, the essential falsification of twentieth-century history has been the effort to define the fate of socialism on the basis of a nationalist narrative of the October Revolution, in which the Bolshevik seizure of power is presented as an aberrant, illegitimate and even criminal event in Russianhistory. The original Bolshevik conception of October must, in turn, be either ridiculed or ignored. No enduring historical and political relevance can be attributed to the October Revolution.

This reactionary narrative, aimed at divesting the October Revolution of all legitimacy and relevance, depends, however, on one small thing: that the world capitalist system has resolved and transcended the contradictions and crises that gave rise to war and revolution in the twentieth century.

It is precisely here that the efforts to discredit the October Revolution and all future efforts to realize socialism fall apart. The quarter-century that has passed since the dissolution of the USSR has been marked by intensifying social, political and economic crisis. We live in an age of perpetual war. Since the initial US invasion of Iraq in 1991, the number of lives destroyed by American bombs and missiles easily surpasses one million. With geopolitical conflicts intensifying, the outbreak of a third world war is seen more and more as inevitable.

The economic crisis of 2008 exposed the fragility of the world capitalist system. Social tensions are mounting against the backdrop of levels of inequality that are the highest in a century. The three richest people in the United States, it has recently been reported, possess greater wealth than the bottom 50 percent of this country’s people. The rich are not merely “different.” They all but live on a different planet, utterly remote from the reality that the great mass of people lives every day.

They themselves know that this state of affairs cannot go on forever. The ideas and ideals of social equality and democratic rights are too deeply embedded in mass consciousness. As the traditional institutions of bourgeois democracy are unable to bear the pressure of escalating social conflict, the ruling elites turn ever more openly to authoritarian forms of rule. The Trump administration is merely one disgusting manifestation of the universal breakdown of bourgeois democracy. The role of the military, police and intelligence agencies in the running of the capitalist state is becoming ever more open.

Throughout this centenary year, innumerable articles and books have been published whose aim is to discredit the October Revolution. But the declarations of the “irrelevance” of October are belied by the tone of hysteria that pervades so many of these denunciations. The October Revolution is treated not as a historical event, but as an enduring and dangerous contemporary threat.

The fear that underlies the denunciations of the October Revolution found expression in a recently published book by a leading academic specialist in historical falsification, Professor Sean McMeekin. He has written:

Like the nuclear weapons born of the ideological age inaugurated in 1917, the sad fact about Leninism is that, once invented, it cannot be uninvented. Social inequality will always be with us, along with the well-intentioned impulse of socialists to eradicate it… If the last hundred years teaches us anything, it is that we should stiffen our defenses and resist armed prophets promising social perfection. [28]

In an essay published in the New York Times on October 27, columnist Bret Stephens warned:

Efforts to criminalize capitalism and financial services also have predictable results… A century on, the bacillus [of socialism] isn’t eradicated, and our immunity to it is still in doubt.

On the centennial anniversary of the October Revolution, the anti-Marxist hysteria of the ruling elites acquired a distinctly homicidal character. Finally abandoning the post-1991 pretense of the irrelevance of socialism, the New York Times published a column by Simon Sebag Montefiore, the author of an admiring biography of Stalin. He wrote:

The October Revolution, organized by Vladimir Lenin exactly a century ago, is still relevant in ways that would have seemed unimaginable when the Soviet Union collapsed…

One hundred years later, as its events continue to reverberate and inspire, October 1917 looms epic, mythic, mesmerizing. Its effects were so enormous that it seems impossible that it might not have happened the way it did…

The [Provisional] government should have found and killed him [Lenin] but it failed to do so. He succeeded. [29]

With this statement, published in the most influential American newspaper, the difference between liberal anticommunism and fascism is all but obliterated. Lenin, who was the popular leader of a mass working-class movement, should have been murdered. He should have been dealt with, Montefiore writes, with the approval of the liberal editors of the New York Times, as the fascists dealt with Luxemburg and Liebknecht. What is the message? To the extent that socialism threatens capitalism, hunt down the leaders of socialist movements and kill them. So much for the “End of History” and the triumph of liberal democracy!

Statements such as that of Montefiore testify not only to the moral degeneracy of the intellectual defenders of bourgeois society, but also to their demoralization and desperation.

Despite all efforts to discredit Marxism, socialism and communism, working people still yearn for an alternative to capitalism. A newly published poll shows that among American “Millennials” (people below the age of 28), a greater percentage would prefer to live in a socialist or communist society than in a capitalist one.

Franz Mehring was right. Revolutions have long breaths. The October Revolution lives not only in history, but in the present.

* * * * *

Throughout this centenary year, the International Committee of the Fourth International has celebrated the anniversary of the October Revolution by studying and explaining its origins and significance. It has conducted this important historical work as the only political tendency in the world that represents the program of international socialism upon which the October Revolution was based.

The Fourth International is the contemporary expression of the program of World Socialist Revolution. In the present period of insoluble capitalist crisis, this program once again is acquiring intense relevance.

We call on workers and youth throughout the world to join the fight for world socialism.

Long Live the Example of the October Revolution!

Long Live the International Committee of the Fourth International!

Forward to the victory of the World Socialist Revolution!

**

Notes

[1] “Neujahr 1918,” in Franz Mehring Gesammelte Schriften, Band 15 (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1977), p. 759.

[2] Quoted in Alexander Rabinowitch, The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd (Bloomfield: Indiana University Press, 2007), p. 28.

[3] Ibid, p. 27

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid, p. 29

[6] Session of the Petersburg Committee of the Social Democratic Labor Party of Russia (Bolshevik), November 1 (14), 1917, cited by Leon Trotsky in The Stalinist School of Historical Falsification, accessed at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1937/ssf/sf08.htm

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid. The bracketed extrapolations are in the transcript published in The Stalin School of Falsification.

[9] Ibid

[10] Leon Trotsky, “Introduction to Ferdinand Lassalle’s Speech to the Jury ,” in Witnesses to Permanent Revolution, edited by Richard B. Day and Daniel Gaido (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009), pp. 444-45

[11] Lenin, Collected Works, (Moscow: Progress, 1977), Volume 24, p. 238

[12] Ibid, p. 238

[13] Lenin, Collected Works (Moscow: Progress, 1977), pp. 416-19

[14] Lenin Collected Works (Moscow: Progress, 1977), Vol. 26, p. 119

[15] Ibid, pp. 118-19

[16] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/06/revolution-what-revolution-russians-show-little-interest-in-1917-centenary

[17] https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1918/russian-revolution/ch01.htm

[18] The “Russian” Civil Wars 1916-1926: Ten Years That Shook the World(Oxford: University Press, 2017), p. 131.

[19] Leon Trotsky and the Art of Insurrection 1905-1917 (London: Frank Cass, 1988), pp. 63-64

[20] The Trotsky Papers 1917-1922, Volume I, edited and annotated by Jan M. Meijer (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1964), pp. 623-25

[21] The First Five Years of the Communist International, Volume Two (London: New Park, 1974), pp. 2-4

[22] Ibid, p. 7

[23] Trotsky’s ChallengeThe “Literary Discussion” of 1924 and the Fight for the Bolshevik Revolution, edited, annotated and introduced by Frederick C. Corney (Chicago: Haymarket, 2017), p. 244

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid

[26] Ibid, p. 442

[27] Ibid, p. 447

[28] The Russian Revolution: A New History (New York: Basic Books, 2017)

[29] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/06/opinion/russian-revolution-october.html

WSWS

US brands RT a “foreign agent:” A chilling move against free speech

11 November 2017

On Thursday, RT America, the US-based subsidiary of RT (formerly known as Russia Today), announced that it would, under pressure from the United States government, register as a “foreign agent” under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

The Justice Department’s demand that RT register as a “foreign agent” is aimed at delegitimizing RT as a news source, intimidating its journalists and guests, and setting the precedent for taking similar actions against other news outlets.

The US government has given no public justification for its demand, which will require that RT America provide information on its finances and on individuals involved in directing the news outlet. RT clearly reflects the views of the Russian government and avoids criticism of the Putin regime. However, the US has made no similar demand in relation to other outlets that have government financing and backing—the BBC, for example. Moreover, the United States operates a vast network of news agencies that work, officially and unofficially, to promote the interests of the American ruling class all over the world.

The US government’s motivations are entirely political, bound up with the effort to present all opposition within the United States as the product of the actions of Russia. In its reporting, whatever its reasons may be, RT provides a platform for voices critical of the policy of the American government.

The United States outlined the political reasons for moving against the broadcaster in the January 6, 2017 report by the US Director of National Intelligence on “Russian intervention” in the 2016 elections.

The report alleged, “RT broadcast, hosted, and advertised third-party candidate debates and ran reporting supportive of the political agenda of these candidates. The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham.’”

The Director of National Intelligence report further denounced favorable coverage by RT of the Occupy Wall Street movement, declaring, “RT framed the movement as a fight against ‘the ruling class’ and described the current US political system as corrupt and dominated by corporations.”

More recently, US politicians—led by the Democratic Party—have developed a narrative that Russia, through outlets like RT, has worked to “sow divisions” within the United States, as if the American people need RT to know that the political system is corrupt and dominated by corporations.

The campaign has been used to demand a regime of Internet censorship, with technology giants including Google, Facebook and Twitter taking measures to block or demote content from a broad range of websites.

Earlier this month, Google removed RT from its list of “preferred” channels on YouTube, while Twitter blocked all advertising by the channel. In addition to its crackdown on RT, Google has made sweeping changes to its search engine and news service that have dramatically slashed traffic to left-wing, antiwar and progressive web sites, including the World Socialist Web Site, which has had its search traffic from Google fall by 74 percent since April.

Precisely because of its ties to the Russian government, the US State Department has chosen it as its first target in its drive to persecute, criminalize and ultimately outlaw all oppositional journalists.

Will RT’s hosts, including Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges and veteran interviewer Larry King also be forced to register as “foreign agents?” Will all of RT’s guests, which have included prominent left-wing journalists, politicians, academics, and even celebrities, get a knock on their door demanding that they file paperwork with the Justice Department? Will all of these individuals now be opened to questioning about their collaboration with a “hostile foreign power”?

This month, an organization calling itself the European Values Think-Tank, funded by the US embassy and foundations associated with billionaire George Soros, published just such a list, including the names of 2,300 RT guests, grouped into US and UK politicians, journalists, academics, and celebrities. These individuals are, according to the think-tank, “useful idiot[s]” for a “hostile foreign power.”

The list includes journalists Julian Assange, Max Blumenthal, Seymour Hersh, Jeremy Scahill, Ed Schultz, and Matt Taibbi, as well as the academics Noam Chomsky and Stephen Cohen, together with actor Russell Brand and filmmaker Oliver Stone.

Amid soaring social inequality and an ever-escalating military buildup, the US government is moving to silence any alternative to its closely monitored and vetted establishment media outlets, including the major newspapers and broadcast networks.

The fact that RT is being targeted because of its political positions sets an ominous precedent. It means that “foreign propaganda” is being defined by political views, laying the groundwork for a much broader range of news outlets to be labeled as promoting “Russian propaganda,” blacklisted, and ultimately criminalized.

Andre Damon

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/11/pers-n11.html

Genetic study demonstrates that racial classification by skin color has no scientific basis

By Philip Guelpa
9 November 2017

A new study, published in the journal Science (“Loci associated with skin pigmentation identified in African populations,” 12 October 2017), elucidates the genetic mechanisms controlling human skin color and demonstrates that racial conceptions regarding skin color and its supposed marking of distinct groupings of human beings have no scientific foundation.

The traditional view has been that early humans had dark skin as an evolutionary adaptation to protect themselves from the dangerous ultraviolet radiation of the harsh African sun. As humans spread to other continents and higher latitudes, where solar input was less intense, lighter skin developed to permit greater production of vitamin D, an essential nutrient, which is produced in the skin using sunlight. However, the actual geographic distribution of populations with varying skin tones does not neatly fit this simple scenario. The new research, while not denying this mechanism, reveals a much more complicated picture.

Until recently, while the basic factor leading to variation in skin tone due to differing concentrations and kinds of the pigment melanin was known, there was very little understanding of the biological basis of how an individual’s skin color was determined, and most of that was based on studies of European populations, providing only a very narrow view of the total range of variation. As the birthplace of humanity, Africa has the most diverse human gene pool (populations there having had the longest time for genetic variation to develop) and is, therefore, likely to provide useful data on genetic variation, including that influencing skin color.

The data used in the new research, conducted by a team of nearly 50 co-authors from more than a dozen different institutions in the US and several African countries, was derived from a study of 2,092 volunteers in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Botswana, of diverse ethnic and genetic backgrounds. Their skin color was measured and the genomes of 1,570 people were analyzed in detail. This resulted in the identification of six genetic regions (genes) that are, in combination, significantly associated with determination of an individual’s skin color, collectively accounting for 29 percent of the observed variation. Each of the gene loci has variants (alleles) associated with different skin tones, ranging from relatively lighter to darker. The results were then compared with existing genetic data from West African, Eurasian, and Australo-Melanesian populations.

The fact that 71 percent of the variation is unaccounted for by the genes identified so far strongly suggests that the genetic determination of skin color is even more complicated than the current research has disclosed. Significantly, most of the variants, for both light and dark skin, were found to have originated in Africa. It is also important to note that the identified genes are located on several different chromosomes, indicating that their transmission is not closely linked in reproduction.

The actions of the various genes were tested by introducing them into lab mice and zebrafish, and observing the results.

The finding that skin color is controlled by multiple genes, each with a range of variants, demonstrates conclusively that any individual’s coloration is the result of a complex mix of multiple factors, dialectically interacting with each other. Each person’s exterior appearance (phenotype) is the expression of a balance resulting from the combination of this genetic color palate (genotype). Furthermore, this may not simply be an additive process. As with so many other biological characteristics, some gene variants, singly or in combination, may be dominant in their expression over others, known as recessive, making the outcome even more complex.

In addition to clarifying the genetic mechanisms controlling skin color, the analysis also provides insights into the evolutionary history of these mechanisms. According to the study, at least some of the variants are quite old, having evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago. With regard to variants associated with lighter skin color, seven are at least 270,000 years old and four are over 900,000 years old. One of the latter is found both in Europeans and San hunter-gathers of Botswana.

Among the significant implications of this finding is that these variants either coincide with or substantially predate the appearance of modern humans, which occurred 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. In other words, a complex variation in skin color has been part of human evolution for a very long time.

Another finding is that at least some skin color genes have changed significantly over time. Three of the variants that produce the darkest skin appear to have evolved from lighter color versions. Another variant, which originated relatively recently among people in Europe and the Middle East, has spread into Africa, possibly in association with migrations of early agriculturalists.

It is likely that the wide range of skin color variation originally evolved as small early human populations adapted to a myriad of local environments, influenced by many different selective factors. Subsequent population movements, spanning hundreds of thousands of years, including interbreeding between modern humans, Neanderthals and perhaps other local populations, mixed and remixed the genetic pool, creating an array of physical characters that often were only partly reflective of the environmental settings where they wound up.

As one of the study’s authors, Sarah Tishkoff, points out, chimpanzees, our closest living evolutionary relatives, are light-skinned below their body hair. So, it is likely that early hominins were similarly light-colored and that darker skin developed later, once they moved from forested areas onto the savannah.

The multiplicity of genetic controls over skin color means that there are no fixed categories based on this essentially superficial characteristic. The myriad array of skin tones that currently exists across the globe merely reflects a moment in the constantly changing variation that has typified human evolution over millions of years.

As with numerous other scientific studies, this latest research confirms, yet again, that the concept of race among humans is a social construct without any objective biological basis. Those who view skin color as a marker of distinct racial groupings, associated with other characteristics such as intelligence, choose, consciously or unconsciously, to ignore the vast range of variation that exists among contemporary humans. The study published in Sciencedemonstrates forcefully that the genetic control over the color of a person’s skin is extremely complex and, therefore, not susceptible to simplistic classification.

That is not to say, however, that racism has no objective basis, although it is social and not biological. In capitalist society, racial, ethnic, religious, and linguistic distinctions have been and continue to be a weapon in the hands of the ruling class to keep workers divided in the face of class-based oppression.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/09/skin-n09.html