For the Record – Flawed Methods, Unnecessary Divisions

OCTOBER 9, 2013 – Charlie Kimber and Alex Callinicos (2013) have written a defence of the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a party wracked by crisis since late 2012. This crisis was precipitated by the response, on the part of the SWP leadership, to allegations of rape and sexual assault. However, Kimber/Callinicos assert that “all those involved … have agreed that the case itself should be treated as ‘closed’” and therefore barely address issues of sexual violence, sexism, women’s oppression – the substantive issues that have generated the current crisis.

Others will, no doubt, respond to Kimber/Callinicos on these points. This contribution concerns one specific aspect of their text. To illustrate one point in their article, the authors cite a passage from a 2001 Callinicos pamphlet, The Anti-Capitalist Movement and the Revolutionary Left (2001), a pamphlet which was to circulate quite widely in the years which followed, prominently featured on the SWP website until late 2009 (SWP 2009). This is a very questionable text, in 2013, to be used as an authoritative source.

The first 6,000-word portion of Anti-Capitalist Movement is relatively straightforward. It paints a picture of the political terrain at the turn of the century, the birth of a new left, and a reflection on what Callinicos sees as a parallel period – the radicalization of the 1960s. The concluding 6,000-word portion is completely different. The year of the pamphlet’s publication, 2001, was the year that the SWP argued for and won the expulsion of the U.S.-based International Socialist Organization (ISO) from the International Socialist Tendency (IST). The final 6,000 words of Anti-Capitalist Movement are entirely devoted to justifying this expulsion.

It is a justification based upon three very flawed methods: inflated rhetoric, careless use of historical analogies, and a misleading political economy. Many of us – who at the time were convinced to support the SWP leadership’s drive to expel the ISO –with the benefit of hindsight know now that we were quite wrong. Two years ago, for self-clarification, this author drafted, but did not publish, a critique of Anti-Capitalist Movement. With this 2001 pamphlet now resurfacing as a part of current debates, perhaps these notes – slightly revised – will be of interest to others. So, for the record …


The political environment at the turn of the century was shaped by anti-corporate activism. In 1999, a coalition of young anti-globalization activists and veterans of the trade union movement disrupted the annual meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO) held that year in Seattle, Washington (Bakan 2000a; Bakan 2000b). Ralph Nader called this Seattle moment a “fork in the road” (1999) – a watershed pointing towards new waves of struggle against corporate globalization. In the years that followed, hundreds of thousands challenged the symbols of corporate capitalism – in Genoa, Quebec City, Prague and elsewhere.

The first section of Anti-Capitalist Movement documents the emergence of the anti-globalization wave of protests. Callinicos argues that “there has crystallized in the advanced capitalist countries a politically active minority that sees global capitalism as the source of the world’s ills”. He lists the key moments in the “new cycle of protest” which had emerged since the Seattle events, including demonstrations in “Washington (16 April 2000), Millau (30 June 2000), Melbourne (11 September 2000), Prague (26 September 2000), Seoul (10 October 2000), Nice (6-7 December 2000), and Washington again (20 January 2001)”. Even larger protests were to occur in the months following the publication of Anti-Capitalist Movement – the huge 300,000 strong mobilization in Genoa and the 80,000 who challenged the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City (George 2001; Ritsema 2011). For those of us who participated in various of these protests against corporate capitalism, reading through the history outlined in Anti-Capitalist Movement is a useful reminder of their importance. For others, it might provide a good summary and history of an historic movement.

With the benefit of hindsight of course, some of the analysis needs to be modified. Twelve years ago, many of us, including Callinicos, saw Seattle as the central fact in the new movement. But Seattle did not emerge in a vacuum. Its organizers had been deeply influenced by Global South mass movements against neoliberalism and imperialism, movements which – from January 1, 1994 – exploded onto the world scene with the anti-neoliberal uprisings in Chiapas, Mexico. Seattle needs to be seen as one link in a bigger chain – in part, being an echo of the mobilizations against neoliberal globalization and imperialism that emerged out of Latin America in the 1990s, going back to the Zapatistas and beyond. Even after the events of 9/11, this radicalization continued, with the 2002 mobilization against the attempted coup in Venezuela and the massive uprisings associated with the gas wars in Bolivia in 2003 and 2004. Both of these events served as part of the immediate background to the election of Evo Morales in 2005.

Another aspect of the analysis in Anti-Capitalist Movement needs to be re-examined. In a comparative evaluation of the Al-Aqsa Intifada and the Seattle protests, Anti-Capitalist Movement asserts that the Intifada “is driven by the Palestinians’ burning resentment of the oppression they suffer at the hands of the Zionist state … but the system itself is not at the centre of their consciousness”. This implies that the Seattle-inspired movements were at a higher level, being directed against the system as a whole. But the Al-Aqsa Intifada was a key spark for the radicalization in the region, not least in Egypt, a radicalization which exploded in 2011 in the Arab Spring. For many in the Arab Spring revolutions, both Palestine and “the system itself” were very much at the centre of their consciousness (Barghouti 2011). It does not seem credible, more than a decade later, to see the post-Seattle anti-globalization protests as existing at a higher level than the Al-Aqsa Intifada. The Global North protests in Seattle, Prague, Genoa, Washington and elsewhere were significant. But looking back from the second decade of the 21st century, it is clear that the main streams of mass movements and radical change since the 1990s have flown through the Global South – Chiapas, Caracas and Cochabamba; Palestine, Egypt and Tunisia. However, hindsight is always 20/20, and this contribution by Callinicos is a worthwhile part of an ongoing discussion.

Inflated Rhetoric

In the second half of the pamphlet – announced with the headline “An American Tragedy: the International Socialist Organization” – Anti-Capitalist Movement takes a quite different turn. Prominent throughout the next several thousand words are examples of what Leo Panitch has called “inflated rhetoric” (1987) – the exaggeration of differences to the point of caricature through the use of highly-charged language. The SWP and the ISO disagreed as to the significance of the Seattle protest. Anti-Capitalist Movement elevates this disagreement far above a mere question of tactics. According to Anti-Capitalist Movement, the Seattle events revealed “the ISO’s metastasis into a sect”. The ISO had “become so ossified that they are unable to relate to the revival of the left for which they have waited for decades”. It argues that there had been a long history of “sectarian degeneration” in the ISO, that there was, in various of the writings of the ISO, “evidence of a deep-rooted sectarian mentality”, and that even when there were moments of health, there was a recurring tendency of “retreating into the sectarian bunker”. Already, during the Balkan Wars, “we can see the ISO displaying the attitude that by which Marx defined a sect”.

Anti-Capitalist Movement does not hesitate to amplify, arguing that the “ISO leadership’s urge to differentiate … is reminiscent of some of the worst sectarian aberrations of the 1960s, for example, the refusal of the orthodox Trotskyist followers of Gerry Healy and Pierre Lambert to participate in the student and anti-war movements”. Raising the ghost of the late Gerry Healy is a strong clue signalling where the argument is headed. Perhaps no left group more captured the essence of sectarianism than Healy’s Socialist Labour League (SLL) and its successor the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP). These were formations on the British far left, known among other things for their adulation of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, and for the scandal of sexual abuse which ultimately shattered both Healy’s reputation and the current which he had led.[1] Phrases such as “sectarian bunker” have a known content in the socialist movement, clearly intended to identify a group which has turned in on itself and retreated from the reality of day-to-day life and struggle – hence the reference to Healy.

This use of inflated rhetoric was characteristic of the whole debate. An earlier letter to the ISO (drafted by Callinicos and Tony Cliff), argued that the ISO had “failed the test of the 1999 Balkan war” (cited in Birchall 2011, 548). This accusation – “failing the test of war” – also has a known content. The phrase emerges from debates triggered by the First World War. The socialist left was a mass, united movement in the first years of the 20th century. August 1914, this unity was shattered, when the world’s largest socialist party, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), voted for war credits and gave its blessing to the horrors of patriotic war. The German SPD, and most other member organizations of the Second International “failed the test of war”. This led to profound isolation for internationalists such as Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin, forcing on this minority the necessity to, from scratch, begin again the project of constructing an international socialist movement. Taking this known term from the World War One era, and applying it to tactical differences over the war in Kosovo, is an extreme case of inflating the rhetoric.

The invective had the effect of sharply polarizing the discussion along apparently irreconcilable lines. The engaged realistic activist was counter-posed to the sectarian. The anti-war socialist was counter-posed to those who had supposedly capitulated to patriotism. But was such rhetoric and extreme polarization actually necessary? It is really very difficult to discover any meaningful political differences, at the turn of the century, between the ISO and the SWP. In his biography of the late Tony Cliff, leading SWP intellectual Ian Birchall argues that “[i]n principle the different assessments of the anti-capitalist movement could have been contained within the international tendency” (2011, 549). The ISO, like the SWP, participated in the Seattle protests, and many of the other anti-globalization mobilizations. The ISO, like the SWP, took a clear position against NATO’s bombing of Kosovo. There were differences, not over matters of principle, but rather over matters of expectation, nuance and tactics. What are the prospects of this new movement? This is about expectations. Should the movements be characterized as anti-capitalist or anti-globalization? This is a nuance. How do you combine opposition to NATO’s bombing campaigns with criticism of Serbia’s attacks on Kosovo? This is a tactic. All are appropriate subjects for reasoned discussion and debate. When they become wrapped in distortion and extreme invective, that discussion and debate becomes difficult, and the value of diverse views becomes lost in an urge to silence disagreement.

The SWP leadership, however, insisted on the limitations of the ISO, and the urgency of isolating and then expelling the organization from the IST. At a 2001 meeting of the IST, held in London U.K., the ISO was formally expelled.[2]

Careless Use of Historical Analogies

It would be fairly straightforward if this use of inflated rhetoric could be ascribed solely to problems of etiquette. Bad manners can be addressed and corrected fairly easily. However, the inflated rhetoric was, at least in part, a linguistic expression of a second problematic method. Argument by way of careless historical analogy – drawing too straight a line between the Russian Revolutionary era and our own – is a central method employed by Anti-Capitalist Movement.

Callinicos argues that the new movements in the wake of Seattle demanded the adoption of new modes of work, and the abandonment of old ones from a different era. To make this point, he quotes Trotsky. “[I]f in the preceding period too many elements of inertia have accumulated in the leading organs of the party, then the party will prove itself unable to fulfill its leadership at that supreme and critical moment for which it has been preparing itself in the course of decades. The party is ravaged by a crisis, and the movement passes the party by – and heads toward defeat”.

The quotation is from Trotsky’s work, The Lessons of October, an analysis of the challenges which confronted the European left in the context of revolutionary upheaval in 1917 and 1918. Callinicos says that it represents Trotsky “reflecting on the experience of the Bolsheviks”. That is not entirely accurate. In the paragraph from which the selection has been culled, Trotsky contextualizes his analysis. “On the basis of our experience – even taking only one year, from February 1917 to February 1918 – and on the basis of the supplementary experience in Finland, Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, and Germany, we can posit as almost an unalterable law that a party crisis is inevitable in the transition from preparatory revolutionary activity to the immediate struggle for power” (1937, 4). These words are absent from Anti-Capitalist Movement.

Surely we should be careful about the applicability to our times of any analysis thinking through the challenges faced by socialists “in the transition from preparatory revolutionary activity to the immediate struggle for power”. Further, look at the parties Trotsky was analyzing, – parties based in Finland, Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, Germany and Russia. Unlike the small organizations which comprise the IST, the key parties on this list were real, mass parties. According to Tony Cliff, the Bulgarian socialist group which “voted to affiliate to the Comintern” in 1919” was a mass party with 35,478 members in 1920” (1979, 10–11). In Germany, the communists numbered some 50,000 until December 1920, when they were joined by the left-wing of the Independent Social Democrats to create a party of 350,000 (1979, 11). The Hungarian Party was significant enough to be at the centre of a 133-day “Soviet” republic in 1919 (1979, 12). When the Italian Socialist Party voted to affiliate to the Comintern it had 300,000 members (1979, 10). As for the Bolsheviks, they were formed in 1903 and two years later were confronted by a revolution involving the birth of workers’ councils. Years of defeat and reaction followed, then the horrors of world war, then the two revolutions of 1917 and the working class seizure of power. In those tumultuous years, the Bolsheviks were variously a group of dozens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands and eventually hundreds of thousands(1975, 98–138; 168–182; 235–252; 352–366). It is a rich and complex story. But from the standpoint of the 21st century, it is little more than just that … a story. Anti-Capitalist Movement tells this story selectively. It insists that lessons appropriate to mass organizations in conditions of autocracy, confronted with the transition to state power, are directly applicable to the experience of small left formations confronted with demonstrations and movements in the context of liberal democracies.

Britain and North America in the 21st century have no mass socialist organizations. There are no workers’ soviets (self-governing popular councils). We do not at the moment have a Tsarist-like reaction forcing the left and organizers underground. Russia between 1903 and 1917 could not really be more different than Britain and North America between 1989 and 2001, or, for that matter, 2013. It is not at all clear how lessons from the one period could be applied to the other, except in the most general manner. To offer real lessons from the Russian Revolution, demands paying careful attention to specific contexts and precise differences. A method based on selective out-of-context quotation is the mark of internalized factionalism. It does nothing to contribute to clarity.

Anti-Capitalist Movement reduces the key lesson from this complex story to Lenin’s leadership method of “bending the stick”; “of focusing on the key tasks in the current situation to the exclusion of all secondary factors and indeed to the point of exaggeration … the price of failing to develop this approach is sectarianism”. The argument is crystal clear. The ISO did not “bend the stick” towards the Seattle movement, and hence became sectarian.

Contemporary research is calling into question this whole take on Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Lars T. Lih has argued that Tony Cliff’s biography of Lenin, where the “bend the stick” thesis is advanced, took one moment in Lenin’s life quite out of context (Cliff 1975; Lih 2006, 22–27). Further, even were we to agree that Lenin frequently did exaggerate to make his point, what exactly does this imply for the very different circumstances we confront in the 21st century? Until 1917, Lenin was almost always in exile. Trade union and party organizers inside Russia operated underground. Activists faced frequent arrests, jail, exile and deportation. The Russian state was a repressive, Tsarist nightmare. The Bolshevik movement in 1905, and then again from 1912 until 1917, was a mass movement, with deep roots and real influence in the working class. Navigating this situation must have been extremely difficult. There would be a premium on tacking and turning, avoiding traps and obstacles, looking for the key next step. Perhaps we might label this tacking and turning, “bending the stick”.

But for small left currents and individuals in the context of advanced capitalism and liberal democracy in the 21st century, it is not at all clear how this has relevance. When groups are on the margins, have little influence, can at best participate in struggles, but rarely lead them, then to invoke “bending the stick” is unlikely to mean much in practice, unlikely to be a factor in changing the direction of the mass movement. In the absence of being able to “bend the stick” in action, there is only one choice left. The stick bending is done in words. The invective and the inflated rhetoric take flight. At best, it is just pretentious. At worst, it becomes a justification for yelling and verbal abuse.[3]

Misleading political economy

The third flawed method underpinning the analysis of Anti-Capitalist Movement is an extremely misleading political economy. Callinicos defends the practice, current in the IST since the early 1990s, of using – in the U.K., North America and elsewhere – the decade of the 1930s as an analogy for the decade of the 1990s (albeit in “slow motion”) (Callinicos 1994; Cliff 2000, 81–82). In 2012 and 2013, for Greece and some of the other countries in Southern Europe, the 1930’s decade has certainly returned as a point of reference. However, the situation in Greece in 2012 and 2013 is one thing and the situation in North America and Britain in the 1990s is quite another. The ISO leadership challenged the 1930s in slow motion framework, Callinicos acknowledges, pointing “to the American boom of the 1990s as a decisive counter-example to the ‘1930s in slow motion’ analysis”.

Surely the ISO leadership had a point. Let’s try to get a picture of the 1930s, and then contrast it with the 1990s. The most basic measure of economic health is the value of GDP (output) per capita, adjusted for inflation. When that figure is rising, then the economy is growing. When that figure is shrinking, so is the economy. The first chart here takes the output per capita for the U.S. in 1929 as 100, and then shows the trajectory of output per capita in the years which followed, from 1930 until 1940. It is an extraordinary picture of decline. By 1933, output per person was almost 30 percent below what it had been in 1929. It was this kind of economic collapse which led to mass unemployment, soup kitchens and bread lines. By the end of the 1930s, output per person was slowly increasing, inching back to where it had been in 1929. But we now know that output per person was finally able to surpass the 1929 figure, and the economy could return to growth, only because of manufacturing gearing up for World War II.

If that is the profile of the 1930s, how does it compare to the 1990s? The second chart applies the method of the first to the decade of the 1990s, and includes three countries, the U.S., the U.K. and Russia. 1990 is used as a baseline, output per capita that year expressed as “100”. For one of the three countries, the 1930’s analogy clearly has some relevance. The chart documents the catastrophic decline of the Russian economy in the 1990s. By 1998, output per capita was barely half what it had been in 1990. The end of Stalinism in Russia and the transition to the market were very big stories in that decade. But Russia’s experience was qualitatively different from that of the U.S. and the U.K. There was decline in 1991 for the U.S., and for 1991 and 1992 in the U.K. But from that point on, the story is the opposite of the 1930s, output per capita rising in both countries. By 2001, output per person, in both countries, was 25 per cent greater than it had been in 1990. Clearly, for those two countries at least, any analogies with the Great Depression of the 1930s would have to be treated with some suspicion. If a fourth country had been added to the picture, the entire analogy would have collapsed. The spectacular economic take-off in China was well underway in the 1990s. In 2001, output per capita in China was an extraordinary 162 per cent greater than it had been in 1990.

Anti-Capitalist Movement insists that, in using the analogy with the 1930s, they were “very careful to stress the differences between the 1930s and the 1990s”. The truth is, once the 1930s analogy had been put on the table, being “careful” was going to be difficult. The problem with invoking the 1930s, even with many qualifications, is that, for millions of people, the phrase has real, and instant meaning. It is not ambiguous. “The 1930s” is a headline signifying social and economic collapse. The decade of the 1930s was one of catastrophic economic decline, catastrophic levels of unemployment, catastrophic collapse of living standards, the rise of fascism, the occupation of the factories in the United States, civil war in Spain, horrendous war and social collapse in China – and ultimately the beginning of the Second World War. It was a decade of wars and revolutions, of socialism or barbarism. In that context, Trotsky argued that the objective basis for capitalist crisis was clear for all to see, the objective material for socialism was at hand, but what was lacking was subjective – the organized, experienced cadre in the leadership of mass socialist organizations. “The crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership” (Trotsky 1981, 2). This was a desperate formulation from a desperate decade, misleading but perhaps understandable given the horrors of fascism and the stark failure of the Stalinist parties. That was then. When the analogy with the 1930s was (quite wrongly) applied to the 1990s in the U.K. and the U.S., in such a way as to imply that the only barrier between the 1990’s generation in those two countries and the move towards socialism was a subjective one – in other words, when the bar was raised so high that success was absolutely impossible – then the finger-pointing and divisions soon followed. It became a political economy justification for the inflated rhetoric, invective, factionalism and splits, which proved to be very damaging.

It is also not hard to see the way in which a viewpoint fixated on the lessons of the 1930s might also lead to unrealistic expectations. Anti-Capitalist Movement argues that, “in the second half of the 1990s the long downturn in class struggle drew to an end”. This would be a logical expectation flowing from a focus on the 1930s – a decade which opened in North America with a deep downturn in working class struggle, a downturn which finally came to an end, in both the United States and Canada, through an explosive wave of strikes and factory occupations (Preis 1972; Dobbs 1972; Palmer 1992, 214–267; Jamieson 1968, 214–275). But while there have been important moments of struggle in Britain and North America, a sober assessment of the state of the workers’ movements in both places would indicate that Callinicos’ assessment was rather inaccurate. This would certainly be the case for the first few years of the 21st century in the United States, where strike levels remained at historic lows, and where most years the rate of unionization was lower than the year before.

The final chart accompanying this article is not the last word on this issue, but it needs to be seriously examined as part of the discussion. By a very basic measure of working class combativity – days not worked because of strikes and lockouts – a clear picture emerges for the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. There is considerable combativity through the 1970s, underpinning the deep radicalization of that decade. But this slowly declines in the 1980s, then falls precipitously in the 1990s, remaining at very low levels into the 21st century. There is an interesting and important spike in 2000 in the U.S., the year after Seattle. But it is not sustained, and it certainly does not provide – at least as it concerns these three countries – confirmation for the assertion that “the long downturn in class struggle drew to an end”.


Twelve years ago, just before the expulsion of the ISO, this author (at the time a member of the IST) and Paul D’Amato (a leading member of the ISO, and managing editor of the International Socialist Review) both travelled to Jakarta, Indonesia, to participate in a small anti-globalization conference. The conference was physically attacked by an armed group of right-wingers, aided and abetted by the armed forces of the Indonesian state. Paul and myself, along with some 30 other activists – after a long ride through the crowded streets of Jakarta, crammed onto the back of an army truck – ended up spending a night on the floor of a Jakarta police station, our passports seized and under threat of arrest (Wearmouth et al. 2001). Following a weekend of protests both inside and outside Indonesia, we got our passports back, and the threat subsided.

But at the time, in the face of the overwhelming Global South challenges confronting the poor and the working class in Indonesia, the Global North differences between the IST and the ISO receded into the background. In fact it was impossible to even begin to explain the nature of the division to the activists in Jakarta. They participated with us in conference discussions, formal and informal, worked with us shoulder to shoulder against the repression of the Indonesian state, and drew the quite correct conclusion that our politics were, for all intents and purposes, identical. If there is one single lesson from the last twelve years, that experience in Jakarta probably frames it best.

Sometimes there are meaningful political differences. But to sort out the meaningful from the meaningless, we need to reject methods which serve to artificially inflame and exaggerate. In other words, we have to reject the methods employed in Anti-Capitalist Movement.

In 2006, three Palestinian rights’ activists, leaders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)  movement, outlined a helpful alternative approach. “The roots of sectarianism” they said “lie in fetishizing minor programmatic differences and organizational forms ahead of the interests of the movement as a whole”. As an alternative, “[w]e need to change the way we relate to each other, realizing that building unity in practice is our most powerful weapon. … [T]he best political line is something developed through a common political practice – not bequeathed to the movement from historical texts” (Hanieh, Jamjoum, and Ziadah 2006).

© 2013 Paul Kellogg


[1] Those who wish to understand just how sectarian Healy was, should examine the little pamphlet, Politics as Religion (Hallas 1974) written by the late Duncan Hallas, a key article from which “Building the Leadership”, is now available online (Hallas 2008).

[2] There was another key issue involved late in the dispute, an allegation that the ISO was involved in a split in the Greek section of the IST (Birchall 2011, 549), an allegation which pushed many to vote with the SWP CC. In 2012, I had the privilege of attending an ISO public meeting addressed by Antonis Davanellos (2012), leading member of one of the groups in question, the International Workers Left (DEA). This connection with the DEA was invaluable in providing material for an article on the crisis wracking the Southern Mediterranean (Kellogg 2012). It also made it quite clear that, in 2001, we were all operating with very partial information. In any case, the bulk of the polemic in 2001 was focused on the issues discussed here, Seattle and anti-war work.

[3] This analysis relies on research developed by Abigail Bakan (2009).


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———. 2000b. “From Seattle to Washington: The Making of a Movement.” International Socialism II 87 (Summer): 85–94.

———. 2009. “Party, Movement, Class: Gramscian Reconsiderations and the Case of the BDS Movement.” Conference Paper, Seventh International Conference, Rethinking Marxism: New Marxian Times. University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Barghouti, Omar. 2011. “BDS: The Global Struggle For Palestinian Rights.” Socialism 2011. Chicago:

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———. 2008. “Building the Leadership (October 1969).” Marxists Internet Archive. February 24.

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———. 1981. The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International [1938]. New York: Labor Publications.

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———. 2012b. “GDP, at Constant 2005 Prices – National Currency.” National Accounts Main Aggregates Database. Washington, D.C.: United Nations Statistics Division.

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The colour line in the U.S. presidential election

OCTOBER 15, 2012 – In the run-up to the November 2 presidential election in the United States, polls are indicating an almost evenly divided electorate. As of this writing, support for President Barack Obama was standing just above 46%, support for Republican challenger Mitt Romney just above 47% (RealClearPolitics). Given these figures, imagine entering a room of 200 randomly chosen U.S. voters, with people sitting at tables by party-affiliation, but with no table signs to indicate which party-table was which. To avoid a night of tea-party polemics, you might reasonably wish to find a table of Obama supporters, and you figure the odds aren’t too bad – roughly 50-50. This is statistically true, but sociologically misleading. There is a straightforward way to qualitatively improve your chances of finding a table of Obama supporters, and avoiding a table of Romney supporters. The U.S. remains an extremely racially-divided society, and your encounter with an Obama supporter would be made much easier, with just a little research.

Follow, for a moment, the logic represented by Table 1, starting with Column 1, Share of Total Population.

According to the latest figures in the U.S. census, the country’s population breaks down as follows: approximately 1.2% are indigenous, 13.1% identify as African-American, 16.7% as of Hispanic or Latino origin, 5% as Asian, and 63.4% as white (Caucasian, excluding those who identify as of Hispanic or Latino origin) (United States Census Bureau 2012).

But this is not representative of the actual “voting universe” of the U.S. population. Fully 5.8 million U.S. citizens of voting age are excluded from voting – disenfranchised – because of laws in certain states which prohibit those with a criminal record from casting a ballot. Because of the widely-acknowledged, deeply racialized nature of the criminal justice system in the U.S., these laws disproportionately impact African Americans. For non-African Americans, these “felon laws” have the effect of excluding 1.8% of voting age adults. For African American citizens, the excluded percentage jumps to an astonishingly high 7.7% (Uggen, Shannon, and Manza 2012, 1).

To fully understand the intent and origin of these laws, examine for a minute where their effect is the most pronounced. “In six states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia – more than 7% of the adult population is disenfranchised.” In Virginia and Kentucky, the figure is 20% or one in five. In Florida the figure is 23%, almost one in four (Uggen, Shannon, and Manza 2012, 1–2). Five of these – Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia – were part of the old, racist Confederacy where plantation slavery was deeply entrenched until the Civil War. Kentucky was a border state with divided loyalties. In the post Civil War era, the old white racist power structure found many methods to continue the disenfranchisement of African American citizens. Laughlin McDonald, Voting Rights Program Director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is quoted in The Huffington Post, saying: “There’s no question this has a basis in race discrimination. It’s part of the history of the racial minorities in the South. The Southern states adopted a whole variety of measures to take away the right to vote after Reconstruction” (McLaughlin 2012).

Column 2 displays this 7.7% figure for African-Americans, while “1.8%” has been entered for all others, as the only two categories for which we have readily available statistics are “African-American” and “non-African American”. But given the enormous weight of African-Americans in the U.S. prison system, this will not appreciably distort the statistics. Column 3 shows the way in which this reduces the percent of the African-American population available to exercise their franchise, Column 4 expresses this as a percent (of all adults who are not excluded from voting by the ‘felon laws’).

Another adjustment has to be made (Column 5). There are quite different patterns of voter participation depending on ‘race’ or ethnicity. A reasonable benchmark would be the last (2008) presidential election. In that election, just 47.0% of Asian Americans voted, 49.9 percent of Hispanic-Latinos, 65.2% of African-Americans, and 66.1% of non-Hispanic Whites. We do not have accurate figures for Indigenous voters and “others”, so for those two categories, the overall turnout rate of 63.6% has been entered (Mark Hugo 2009). Column 6 shows the resulting percentage of actual voters by ‘race’ and ethnicity, while Column 7 expresses this as a percent of all adults who are likely to vote.

Using these statistics, Table 2 attempts to compare and contrast the voting tendencies of these groups, beginning with the raw data for each candidate listed in Columns 1 and 2.

For Indigenous people, we do not have reliable information. In poll after poll after poll, when it comes to national politics, “Indian country is invisible,” in the words of Mark Trahant (2012). But given the fact that nearly 90% of indigenous voters in 2008 supported Obama (and given the tea-party base behind the Romney campaign), it is not unreasonable to expect an overwhelming majority to also support Obama in this election (Native Vote Washington 2008). Among African-Americans, support for Obama is also overwhelming. One recent poll had 94% of African-Americans supporting Obama and none supporting Romney (Murray 2012). More reasonable, probably, are figures from Gallup showing support for Obama at 88.5% and Romney at 4.5%. According to the same Gallup poll, among the Hispanic-Latino population, support for Obama runs at 61% compared to 26% for Romney. But for non-Hispanic whites, only 38% support Obama, compared to 54.5% who support Romney (Newport 2012). For the 0.6% who fit into none of these categories, we can, for the purpose of argument, arbitrarily split their vote 50-50 between Obama and Romney. This will not significantly change the results.

Two more steps are necessary to complete the voting profile for each candidate. The percentage figures, above, do not add up to 100, because they include those who support neither candidate, those who do not intend to vote, and those who have no opinion. The task here, however, is to restrict this to a universe of only Obama and Romney supporters. This is reflected in Columns 3 and 4, figures for each candidate adjusted so that their total adds up to 100 for each category. That done, we get our close to final results in Columns 5 and 6. There you can see the results for each candidate, by category, adding up to 46.3% for Obama and 47.3% for Romney.

Table 3 translates this into percentage terms (the percentage of supporters for both Obama and Romney who come from each of given categories of U.S. citizen).

Look first at the column for Romney. An astonishing 88.5% of his supporters are white. The television images from the Republican convention were not misleading, when they portrayed an audience so white, that wearing sunglasses while you watched them on television was not a bad idea. No other category makes it to double-digit support. Just 1.24% of his supporters are African-American, 7.42 percent Hispanic or Latino, 1.93 Asian, and 0.26 Indigenous.

Contrast this with the support base for Barack Obama. More than one-quarter of his voting base (26.72%) is African-American, more than one-fifth (20.43%) Hispanic or Latino, 4.27% Asian and 2.40% Indigenous. White supporters for Obama make up less than half (44.51%) of his voting base, almost exactly half the percentage figure for Romney.

Finally, we can go to our room of 200 randomly chosen U.S. voters, and orient ourselves much more easily. A seating plan which divided the room between tables of Democrats and tables of Republicans would clearly reveal the colour line which continues to mar U.S. society. Of the 200, 102 would be Romney supporters, 98 Obama supporters. Of the 102 Romney supporters, fully 90 would be non-Hispanic whites, there would be no Indigenous people, 2 Asians, 8 Hispanic, and 1 African-American.

The 44 white supporters of Obama, would be outnumbered by the combined presence of 26 African-Americans, 20 who identify as Hispanic or Latino, five with an Asian background, and two Indigenous people.

There is another factor that needs to be taken into consideration – gender. More women support Obama (50%) than Romney (42%), but this is only because Obama has the overwhelming support of African-American women (89%) and Hispanic-Latina women (66%). When the universe is restricted to white women, Obama has the support of only 42% compared to 51% for Romney. Given the Republican positions on gender issues, this is a rather shocking statistic.

Let’s save the worst for last. In the universe of white men, Romney leads overwhelmingly with 58%, Obama far behind at 34%. Think about this. Just one white man in three supports Barack Obama. When the universe is restricted to those who are going to vote either Democrat or Republican, virtually two-thirds of the white men in that universe will be voting for Romney.

So go back to the room of 200 randomly chosen U.S. voters. If you are looking for a conversation about improving accessibility to health care, then scan the room, and avoid the table which is all white. Odds are that two-thirds of those at the table will be Romney supporters, and avidly opposed to “Obamacare” (and same-sex marriage, tax increases for the rich, regulation and control of the sale of semi-automatic weapons, etc. etc.). If it’s a table of white men, you’re in even more trouble.

You will quickly pick out the multi-racial table. Grab a chair, and you can have a dinner conversation, as opposed to a tea-party polemic. Not that there won’t be some arguments. While you’re discussing healthcare and choice on abortion, it would probably be a good idea to raise, for instance, the question of the use of drones for extra-judicial and illegal bombing, assassination, and the killing of civilians in Global South countries. The dinner might get uncomfortable as a result, but it’s an important issue to raise nonetheless.

In 2008, Obama won because his base enthusiastically mobilized. In 2012, his re-election is in jeopardy, because big sections of that base have become disillusioned. Obama’s whole presidency has been about taking his base for granted, and trying to look “moderate” to increase his support in the largely white Republican world. It’s a dangerous strategy, because a) there is little evidence that the white Republican base is about to shift in numbers and b) without a big turn-out from his own base, he could lose.

This is particularly true because Romney has no such qualms. His disgusting remark writing off 47% of the U.S. electorate was based on the realization that he has little hope of breaking out of his white citadel. His whole strategy now is to do everything he can to mobilize that base, increase its turnout at the polls, and swamp the Democrats with a mobilized, angry, anti-Obama (white) vote.

In 1903, the great African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois picked up a term used earlier by Frederick Douglass. “The problem of the twentieth century,” he wrote in one of his masterpieces, The Souls of Black Folk, would be “the problem of the color line” (Bois 2005, chap. The Forethought). Our brief examination of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, shows that this colour line remains a problem in the second decade of the 21st century.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg


Bois, W. E. B. Du. 2005. The Souls of Black Folk. Kindle. New York: Bantam Classics.

Mark Hugo, Lopez. 2009. Dissecting the 2008 Electorate: Most Diverse in U.S. History. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Centre.

McLaughlin, Michael. 2012. “Felon Voting Laws Disenfranchise 5.85 Million Americans With Criminal Records: The Sentencing Project.” Huffington Post.

Murray, Mark. 2012. “NBC/WSJ Poll: Heading into Conventions, Obama Has Four-point Lead.” First Read.

Native Vote Washington. 2008. “Obama Draws Nearly 90% of Native Vote.”

Newport, Frank. 2012. Obama Remains Women’s Presidential Pick; Romney, Men’s. Washington, D.C.: Gallup.

RealClearPolitics. “2012 – General Election: Romney Vs. Obama.”

Trahant, Mark. 2012. “Elections 2012: Invisible in the Polls – Why Indians Don’t Count.” Indian Country Today Media

Uggen, Chirstopher, Sarah Shannon, and Jeff Manza. 2012. State-Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 2010. Washington, D.C.: The Sentencing Project.

United States Census Bureau. 2012. “State & County QuickFacts.”

‘!Obama, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!’

On a hot evening in July 2011, myself and a few other visitors from Canada, found ourselves in a cavernous meeting room in a hotel near a Chicago airport. A panel discussion in that room was set to begin at 7:30pm, and after a long day we wanted to arrive early and make sure we got good seats. What followed was unexpected, and extraordinary. A group of young people gathered in the centre of the room, stood on chairs, and in chorus began a chant. “!Obama, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” This great slogan – “Listen up Obama! We are in struggle” – from the 2010 march for immigration reform in the United States,[1] was soon being joined by the voices of the 1,000 people packed into the hall. Young, old, Hispanic, African-American, white, male, female, straight, lesbian, gay, trans – the hall rocked to this and other chants – for abortion rights, against the death penalty, and for boycott, divestment and sanctions against apartheid in the state of Israel. These were the voices of activists from many struggles. The enthusiastic chanting delayed the meeting by almost half an hour, but no one cared. You had a sense that here, in the belly of the beast, there were movements of the left, willing to challenge capitalism and imperialism, whether fronted by George W. Bush or Barack Obama.

The occasion for this enthusiastic display of movement politics was the Saturday plenary of the annual “Socialism” conference, running form July 1 to July 4, organized by the International Socialist Organization (ISO). The Saturday plenary when it happened – “Revolution and imperialism in the Middle East” featuring Ali Abunimah, Egyptian activist Mostafa Omar and Ahmed Shawki (editor of International Socialist Review) among others – was informative and inspiring. But it was already clear before Saturday evening, that the conference as a whole would be a special event.

Friday evening – up against five other meetings – 130 people attended David Whitehouse’s talk, “Will China rule the world?” There are two traps in any discussion of China. First – assuming that it is or was a socialist state. Second – dismissing its current rise in the global economy as being completely derivative of its relationship to the United States. Whitehouse’s presentation avoided both traps, and prompted an intense and interesting discussion.

Saturday morning – up against nine other sessions – Michael Fiorentino and Abbie Bakan spoke to 60 people on the topic of “Israel: Watchdog of imperialism.” As well as two informative and politically incisive presentations, the session was marked by the prominence of the call to build a movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against apartheid in the state of Israel. The discussion carefully worked through the use of the label apartheid, a term that originated in the context of racial segregation in South Africa, and which has now been extended to help analyze the Jim Crow era segregation in the U.S. south, and the ghettoization of Palestinians in Israel/Palestine. Bakan argued that what is emerging is a rich new field of scholarly and activist research – comparative apartheid studies.

Again on Saturday morning – up against 10 other sessions – a panel of activists spoke to 140 people on the topic “Wisconsin: The end of the one-sided class war.” At least 70 people who had been active in the great eruption of struggle against austerity in that state, had made their way to the Socialism conference.

The profound interest among attendees in the issue of Palestine was made clear again in the first session Saturday afternoon. With nine other sessions happening simultaneously, 170 folks came to hear Ali Abunimah – editor of the invaluable web site “The Electronic Intifada” – speak on “Palestine and the Arab Spring.” It is now a recurring theme on the left to argue that with the emergence of mass struggle in Egypt, the Middle East’s biggest economy, there is new hope for the besieged people of Palestine. But Abunimah made the point that this is a two way street – the long, bitter resistance of the Palestinian people was a key spark for what we now call the “Arab Spring.”

And in the last session of the afternoon, 140 people came out to hear a panel on “Lessons of February 1917: Spontaneity and organization” with nine other sessions happening concurrently. The panel featured an interesting discussion between Jason Yanowitz and Paul D’Amato on the relative weight of spontaneity and organization in the February revolution in Russia in 1917. This author was the third person on the panel, presenting research on a forgotten wing of the socialist movement of that era – the “Mezhrayonka” or “Inter-District Committee” – rank and file trade unionists and socialists who resisted sectarian advice from the Bolshevik leadership in exile, and insisted on finding methods of work which would unite and not divide activists in the movement.

One of the highlights of the event was the extraordinary book room, with hundreds and hundreds of titles available at very reasonable cost. You might have missed the conference, but you can still get the books through the Haymarket books web site. In particular, make sure to order Omar Barghouti’s new book, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights. Barghouti was one of the featured guest speakers at the conference, part of a three country speaking tour beginning in Britain and ending in Canada. Also keep your eye on the conference web site. Many of the talks were videoed, and they will gradually be made available as time permits.

And remember – this is an annual event. Details won’t be out for a while for the 2012 conference, but it’s likely to be in July, and it definitely is worth the trip to Chicago.

Part of a series of articles based on a recent trip to the United States

Previous article …
Debt crisis in the U.S. – the issue is warfare, not welfare

© 2011 Paul Kellogg


[1] Miguel E. Andrade, “”Obama Escucha!, Estamos en la Lucha: March for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” Media Mobilizing Project. March 23, 2010.

Debt crisis in the U.S. – the issue is warfare, not welfare

JULY 26, 2011 – As July came to an end, the United States central government had come up against its congressionally mandated debt ceiling. Without an agreement to raise that debt ceiling – last set at $14.3-trillion – the U.S. central government will be unable to borrow money to pay its bills. The consequences could be extremely serious – soaring interest rates, a collapse of the U.S. dollar, not to speak of social security stipends, pensions and salaries going unpaid.

The barrier to raising the debt ceiling comes from the sudden rise of a new right-wing in the Republican Party. The 2008-2009 Great Recession has not yet, unfortunately, led to the creation of a mass new left in the United States. Instead, anger against capitalism has been politically captured by the far right in the so-called “Tea Party” movement. Deeply reactionary and with barely disguised racist undertones, the Tea Party conservatives have a simple answer to the ills facing the U.S. – too much government, too many taxes.

This simplistic message captured first the Republican Party, and then the House of Representatives, last year’s congressional elections seeing the House fall under the control of a Tea Party dominated Republican Party.

These Tea Party Republicans will not countenance raising the debt ceiling unless big steps are taken to deal with the U.S. deficit. And they are insisting that this happen without any increase in taxes.

There is an enormous deficit problem in the U.S. central government. The $14.3 trillion debt figure, so much in the news, is the result of a decades-long practice of spending, every month, far more than comes in from revenues. The chart at the end of this article documents this clearly.[1] Through all of the 1980s and most of the 1990s, deficits as a percent of receipts became quite high, twice reaching annual rates of 30 percent. For comparison’s sake, that would be like an individual making $3,000 a month, and every month supplementing that with about $1,000 on a credit card.

In the context of the economic boom of the 1990s, there was a brief reversal of this trend, the last four years of the Bill Clinton presidency and the first year of the presidency of George W. Bush actually seeing revenues exceed expenditures. But from 2002 to the present, there has been a return to deficit spending, peaking first during the height of the Iraq war, and then soaring in the context of the 2008-2009 recession. At its peak in 2009, deficits soared to 70% of revenues. Remember that person bringing in $3,000 a month? Now s/he would be taking out cash advances of $2100.

But is it really credible to try and fix this problem without tax increases? The key taxes that need to be addressed are not those paid by individual, but rather those paid by corporations.

In the 1950s, corporations paid 39% of all income taxes. By the 1970s this had fallen to 25%. In the first nine years of the 21st century, the figure was 19%.[2] Making corporations simply pay the share of income tax they did in the 1950s, or even the 1970s, would make a huge dent in the deficit. And in 2011, corporations have the money to pay new taxes. Story after story in the press documents that Corporate America is sitting on record piles of cash.[3]

The Tea Party Republicans will not look at these facts. Instead they are insisting on reducing the deficit strictly through cuts in expenditures. After President Obama’s dramatic speech to the U.S. July 25, CNN commentators summarized what that means – cuts to “the Big Three: medicare, medicaid and social security.”

But what about the “Big One” – warfare? In Canada, about eight per cent of central government expenditures goes towards warfare. That is enough to rank Canada quite high on the list of arms spenders in the world, 13th in the world, according to arms spending experts in Sweden.

But the United States is in a whole other league. Fully 43% of all money spent on arms in the world is spent by the United States government.[4] It means that instead of 8%, a shocking 20% of its budget goes towards the military.[5] But the military establishment is barely part of the discussion for the Tea Party right wing.

Here’s the big problem. If the Tea Party right wing won’t talk about raising corporate taxes and cutting the bloated military budget, neither will President Obama.

In his speech July 25 he talked about “the tough challenges of entitlement and tax reform.” By entitlement, he means exactly what the CNN commentators headlined – medicare, medicaid and social security. The “Grand Bargain” that Obama tried to win this month involved billions of dollars in cuts to these vital social services.[6] He, like the Tea Party Republicans, will not raise the issue of the biggest driver of expenses in the United States – the war machine.

Unlike the Republicans, he does talk about tax increases. But listen closely. He quite rightly wants to roll back the wildly generous tax breaks given, by George W. Bush, to the richest citizens of the United States. But he is not putting on the table the really big item – the need to seriously tax the corporations.

The bitter truth is that both Democrats and Republicans – for all their differences – share two fundamental viewpoints. Both agree that corporate power needs to be nurtured as the only way to drive the economy. And both agree that the U.S. needs to maintain its imperial interests abroad, an empire which will come unstuck without a truly massive arms budget.

Instead, both are insisting that ordinary citizens pay for the deficit and debt – even though these twin problems were created by handouts to corporations, and trillions wasted on sending young men and women to die for corporate profits abroad.

The deficit/debt problem can be dealt with – by taxing the corporations and by attacking the warfare state.

But those demands will have to come from new social movements, independent of Obama and the Democrats.

Part of a series of articles based on a recent trip to the United States

Read next …
‘!Obama, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!’

© 2011 Paul Kellogg

Chart referenced in article

Publishing History

This article has been published as United States: Debt crisis – the issue is the war machine, not welfare,” Links, 27 July.


[1] Compiled from Financial Management Service, A Bureau of the United States Department of the Treasury. “MTS: Monthly Treasury Statement: Quick Links – Monthly Receipts, Outlays, and Deficit or Surplus, Fiscal Years 1981-2010.” June 2011.
[2] According to Julie Snider, Investigative Reporting Workshop. “Graphic: Who pays the taxes?” What Went Wrong: The Betrayal of the American Dream. February 7, 2011
[3] For a recent news story covering this phenomenon, see John Melloy. “Firms Have Record $800 Billion of Cash But Won’t Hire.” CNBC. June 22, 2011.
[4] Compiled from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). “SIPRI Military Expenditures Database.” 2011.
[5] Based on calculations in Paul Kellogg, “From the Avro Arrow to Afghanistan: The political economy of Canadian militarism.” In Greg Albo and Jerome Klassen, eds. Empire’s Ally: Canadian Foreign Policy and the War in Afghanistan. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, forthcoming).
[6] Lori Montgomery. “In debt talks, Obama offers Social Security cuts.” The Washington Post. July 6, 2011.

Focus on Tiger Woods – The Issue is Racism

December 11, 2010 (Last in a series of articles, “Reflections on 2010”) • Eldrick “Tiger” Woods might have lost his top spot in golf rankings in 2010, but he kept his place at the top of search engines around the world, coming in, for instance, at seven out of 10 for the year on searches carried out by Yahoo Canada.[1] Of course what drove this was not his golf game. For the first time since 1995, Woods did not win a tournament, let alone a major. The year 2010 saw his record 623-week reign as the world’s number one ranked golfer come to an end. No, what drove interest in Mr. Woods was the publicity generated by the very public break-up with his wife, Elin Nordegren. Now it is not actually news that a celebrity athlete gets married, has a few affairs, and then has marital difficulties. However most do not receive the massive outpouring of media scrutiny experienced by Mr. Woods. But Woods, you see, is black. His wife, and his girlfriends, were white. That combination still touches a raw nerve throughout much of the Global North, particularly in the United States. The extraordinary obsession with the personal life of one golfer is a reflection of deeply held racist ideas, ideas which permeate modern society.

At the peak of the story, in the Autumn of 2009, the quantity of coverage of this one golfer’s personal life was by any standard, phenomenal. Take New York City. It is not surprising that in the wake of 9/11, that city’s New York Post would devote considerable coverage to the attack on the twin towers. In fact, 9/11 appeared on its front page for 19 consecutive days, and until 2009, that was a record for any one story in the paper’s history. But in 2009, coverage of Mr. Woods beat that record. For 20 consecutive days, the tabloid screamed out, on its front-page, headlines concerning his private life.[2] That is worth emphasizing – nineteen front pages for the attacks on the World Trade Centre which triggered wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 20 front pages for the marital difficulties of a golfer. This treatment of Woods was not from some marginal publication. The New York Post is one of the oldest continuously published media outlets in the United States, having been founded in the early 1800s by Alexander Hamilton.[3] In 2009 it was the sixth most widely circulated newspaper in all of the United States.[4]

It’s not that it was a “slow news” autumn. In that span (November 29 to December 18, 2009) there were a few other choices for an editor to feature on her/his front page. A quick glance at The Globe and Mail for that period offers a few possibilities: on November 30, the crushing debt problems of once booming Dubai;[5] on December 2, President Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan;[6] or December 17, the president’s dilemma at the Climate Change talks in Cophenhagen.[7] Quite possibly the financial crisis, the war in Afghanistan and Global Warming could be considered more newsworthy than Mr. Woods’ personal life.

When the Woods’ Affair first broke, US Magazine lent its weight to the discussion, publishing a list of “12 Unforgettable Sports Scandals.”[8] The list includes one white man (Pete Rose for gambling in Baseball) and two white women (Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan – Harding having organized an assault on her fellow skater Kerrigan). All remaining nine were men of colour, eight of them African American. For seven of these nine men of colour, the “unforgettable scandal” involved their relations with women. For the top three, it involved their relations with white women.

Among the detritus of sports-coverage on the Internet, one oddity is a poll conducted by The Q Scores Company, designed to reveal the most liked and the most disliked athletes. The focus on Woods’ personal life saw his standing in this survey plummet, to the point that he quickly shot to the bottom as one of the six “most disliked” athletes in the U.S. Who were the other five? LeBron James, Michael Vick, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, and Kobe Bryant. What do they have in common? They are all African American males. [9]

But surely it is clear why Michael Vick, for instance, is so hated. After all, he was a grown man who organized illegal dog-fights, and surely that deserves opprobrium. Fine, but what about the grown men all throughout professional sports who organize legal man-fights? Thousands have seen the video of professional hockey player Todd Bertuzzi hitting Steve Moore from behind, ending Moore’s hockey career.[10] No one was put behind bars for that. The latest fad to sweep the sports pages is the gladiatorial “sport” called Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), a barely disguised street brawl. No one is sent to jail for that. Is it that we value dogs more than people? Or is something else behind the selection of who is hated and who is not? Think of the white faces not on the list of the most hated. Former cycling champion Floyd Landis, stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title for illegal doping[11] is not there, nor is disgraced multiple Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, himself also facing charges of illegal drug use, nor any number of white male athletes whose actions, or alleged actions, might well have qualified them for consideration.

The “most disliked” ratings story of basketball player LeBron James is quite revealing in this regard. In January 2010, James’ “positive score … was the highest we had ever seen it” said Henry Schafer, executive vice president of The Q Scores Company. But when he decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, and sign with the Miami Heat, he became an extraordinarily hated man – not just in Cleveland (where fans were understandably disappointed about losing one of the best athletes on the planet), but inexplicably across the entire United States. The switch of teams made him “the sixth most disliked sports personality” in the United States.[12] But just as Woods is not the only athlete to have marital difficulties, James is not the only athlete to abandon one team for another in search of more money and a championship. Roy Halladay’s decision to leave baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays for Philadelphia comes to mind. But Halladay didn’t, as a result, join Woods and James on the list of hated athletes. Instead he has been singled out for respect and praise on a fan-based web-site called “Thanks, Roy.”[13] Halladay, as you might have guessed is white. And don’t think the love for the now departed Roy is because Toronto is polite, while the United States is rude. Vince Carter was a sports idol in Toronto when he played for the Toronto Raptors, and nothing but an object for hatred since deciding to leave. [14] Vince Carter is not white.

There is only one explanation for the cluster of African Americans at the bottom of the “most disliked category” in 2010. It reflects attitudes towards African American males as a group. The obsession with Woods’ personal life has to be put in this context.

There are other issues in the Woods’ story that could be highlighted. Just before his fall from grace, Woods was in the news, not for his marital difficulties, but as “Sports’ First Billion-Dollar Man” – the first athlete in history whose lifetime earnings would top $1 billion.[15] Given this, there are some very progressive individuals who argue – because these are the troubles of a rich man, they just don’t matter.[16] Others see his comeuppance as an exposé of a sexist lifestyle. Martha Burk, for instance, quite rightly organized a boycott of the 2003 Masters event, because its venue, Augusta National, is a male-only preserve. Commenting on Mr. Woods’ choice of the Masters as the place for his return to golf after a self-imposed absence, she said: “I think this is a safe haven for him … They’re all chauvinists themselves. It’s a perfect fit.”[17].

But class and gender are not the main issues at stake here. Golf is a particularly “white” sport. Eldrick Woods – a black man – is arguably the greatest golfer ever to play the game. It is right to critique Augusta National and its showpiece annual event the Masters, the most prestigious golf tournament among the annual events sanctioned by the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). But what is most clearly revealed when one opens that door, is a stark picture of systemic racism.

The PGA “customarily excluded blacks from becoming members since its inception in 1916” and in 1943 made that exclusion official by inserting a clause – “widely known as the ‘caucasians-only clause’” into its constitution in 1943. That membership restriction was only removed in 1961.[18] As for the Masters, until the 1975 participation of Lee Elder, no black man had ever been allowed to play in the tournament. Until 1982, to get on the course at all as a black man, you had to be a caddy. In fact, until 1982 – when for the first time PGA tour golfers were allowed to bring their regular caddies – every caddy on the course was black. This was no accident. Clifford Roberts, founder of the tournament, is quoted as saying: “As long as I’m alive, golfers will be white, and caddies will be black.”[19] And even when, through the 1970s and 1980s, some golfers and some caddies were allowed onto the course, membership in the club itself remained white-only. Only late in 1990, in anticipation of new 1991 PGA guidelines “requiring private clubs that want to host tournaments to demonstrate that their membership policies are not discriminatory,” did Augusta National finally remove its “white-only” colour bar.[20]

This is worth emphasizing. We are describing a venue where until late in the 20th century, to golf you had to be white, and personal service on the golf course had to be performed by black men. That venue’s principal tournament was called “The Masters,” and its locale was in the former Confederate state of Georgia, a state which only abandoned the barbaric practice of slavery after suffering military defeat, and which became one of the centres for the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow, and all manner of racist reaction in the post Civil War years. (This, by the way, somehow failed to make it to the US Magazine list of “Unforgettable Sports Scandals.”)

The attitudes shaped by this history of racism are by no means of only historical interest. Return to the coverage of Mr. Woods’ personal life. Toronto’s mass-circulation tabloid, the Toronto Sun, like many other media outlets, has used a considerable amount of ink to cover Woods, on subjects other than his golf game. Those familiar with Toronto would know that any interest displayed by that paper in Mr. Woods’ relations with women will quite likely have little to do with women’s rights. The Sun is, after all, notorious for its long-standing practice of objectifying women through its “Sunshine Girl” feature. But that paper’s editorial decision on February 20, 2010, to craft a front page around Mr. Woods’ public apology for his indiscretions, spoke volumes. The front page headline, that day, on its Saturday edition, was comprised of two enormous capitalized words – “NO BALLS,” two words which filled most of the page, accompanied by a photograph of a contrite looking Mr. Woods, his eyes lowered to the ground. This front page, far from being a source of controversy, was more likely to be seen as a “funny.” That, for instance, was the response of Ontario sportswriter Paul Svoboda, who “loved the headline.” [21] Mr. Svoboda notwithstanding, the headline is objectionable on many levels, not the least being the adolescent-level standard of its “humour.” But more importantly, the headline taps a nerve just below the surface in North America – a mixture of racism, violence and sexuality, about which serious journalists should be aware.

For their files we can compile a short dossier. The sport of golf, as documented, above, has only recently emerged from Jim Crow era segregation. That era was one where racism often took the form of violence, violence mixed up with sexuality and black-white relations. This took extreme forms after the defeat of the racist Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War

The separation of blacks and whites was essential to Southern whites who were determined to retain supremacy after the Civil War; consequently the “mixture’ of people of European ancestry and people of African ancestry became a much more serious taboo. Because it was the men among the former slave population who gained suffrage rights and a measure of political power – and who therefore had the potential to destroy the racial caste system – whites focused on the taboo of sex between white women and black men with new urgency.[22]

There was, in other words an “equation of political rights and black manhood.” Throughout the U.S. south, “extreme white anxiety over sexual liaisons between white women and black men was linked to fears of black men’s political and economic independence.” It meant that for the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, “the greatest violence was reserved for black men.”[23]

Some of this violence is well-known. “Lynching” – the extra-judicial killing, usually by hanging, carried out by racist white mobs – was a violent method by which white supremacy was enforced in post Civil War United States. Between 1882 and 1968, one source documents 3,446 black deaths from lynching – 539 in Mississippi, 352 in Texas, 335 in Louisiana, 299 in Alabama, 257 in Florida, 226 in Arkansas, 204 in Tennessee, 156 in South Carolina, 142 in Kentucky, and 492 in Georgia, home of the Masters.[24]

There were less publicized, but equally gruesome forms of violent assertion of white supremacy. For black men accused of sleeping with white women, castration was often the weapon of choice. The issue of black-white liaisons was often really only the surface excuse for this barbaric violence. The horrifying story of Henry Lowther brings this out in stark relief. Klansmen were after him for political reasons. “They said I had taken too great a stand against them in the republican party,” he said. The dispute escalated until, “[a]s Lowther remembered the scene, almost two hundred Klansmen arrived in the middle of the night, and twenty of them carried him away to a swamp. ‘The moon was shining bright, and I could see them,’ Lowther recalled; all the men were Democrats. There the Klansmen castrated him.”[25] Klansmen would resort to castration and other forms of “sexual mutilation for any act that struck them as demonstrating political or economic power on the part of black men, whether or not they tacked on an accusation of sexual misconduct.”[26] Had they known this history, perhaps the Toronto Sun editors would have reconsidered their choice of front-page headline for Feb. 20, 2010.

The shadow of this racist violence was visible late into the 20th century. It was reflected in laws which existed in many states prohibiting marriage between blacks and whites (so-called “miscegenation”) “Laws prohibiting miscegenation in the United States date back as early as 1661 and were common in many states until 1967.”[27] Laws are themselves reflections of attitudes. Even when the Supreme Court in 1967 ruled definitively that it was unconstitutional to prohibit intimate relations between blacks and whites, attitudes reflecting that prejudice persisted, often with tragic results. In New York City, in the summer of 1989, “a young black man named Yusuf Hawkins was shot and killed by a group of young white men, who thought Hawkins was going to visit a white girlfriend. … Only one white man was convicted for the murder … the others were convicted of lesser charges or acquitted.”[28]

This history needs to be understood, if we are to arrive at an explanation for the otherwise bizarre focus on one man’s personal life. There are celebrity figures in the spotlight because of violence or alleged violence in their personal lives. There have been no suggestions anywhere that Mr. Woods has been violent with any of his partners. There are other rich men who have had marital troubles. For most of them, the story remains a private matter – or at best, something which involves 15-minutes of infamy, and then a return to the back pages. Think David Letterman. But with Mr. Eldrick Woods, the media frenzy has lasted more than a year. The obsession with one man’s personal life can only be explained in the context of the grim history of racism briefly sketched out above. Mr. Woods’ spectacular success in a white man’s game and his pattern of marrying and/or dating white women, touched a deep nerve in North American society. The backlash against him is an exposé of the still deep racism which systemically permeates that society.

© 2011 Paul Kellogg


[1] “2010 Year In Review: Top Searches.” Yahoo! Canada News. Accessed 11 December, 2010.
[2] Kyle Koster. “New York Post puts Tiger Woods on cover for 20th straight day.” Chicago Sun-Times. 18 December 2009.
[3] Nicholas Tan. “New York: The History behind the New York Post.” (Accessed 12 December 2010)
[4] “2009 Top Media Outlets.” BurrellesLuce. .
[5] Patrick Martin. “Soaring debt brings Dubai back to Earth.” The Globe and Mail. 30 November 2009: A1.
[6] Paul Koring. “Bold troop surge, early exit: Obama makes Afghan war his own.” The Globe and Mail. 2 December 2009: A1.
[7] Konrad Yakabuski. “Obama’s climate challenge starts here.” The Globe and Mail. 17 December, 2009: A1.
[8] “Unforgettable Sports Scandals.” US Magazine. 11 September 2009.
[9] Darren Rovel. “LeBron’s Q Score Takes Huge Hit.” CNBC. 14 September 2010.
[10] “Todd Bertuzzi Sucker Punches Steve Moore.”
[11] “Landis says clenbuterol use widespread in cycling.” Merced Sun-Star. 29 November 2010.
[12] Darren Rovel. “LeBron’s Q Score Takes Huge Hit.” CNBC. 14 September 2010.
[13] “Thanks Roy.”
[14] See Adam Proteau. “How our love for Vince Carter turned to hate.” 20 April 2007
[15] Kurt Badenhausen. “Sports’ First Billion-Dollar Man.” 29 September 2009.
[16] Representative of the latter is Liam Macuaid. “Tiger Woods – a Marxist analysis.” 13 December 2009.
[17] Cited in Neil McLeman. “Tiger Woods a sexist pig.” Mirror. 2 April 2010.
[18] Marvin P. Dawkins. “Race Relations and the Sport of Golf: The African American Golf Legacy.” The Western Journal of Black Studies. Vol. 28, No. 1. 2004: 328.
[19] Cited in Rick Reilly. “Strokes of Genius.” Sports Illustrated. 21 April 1997.
[20] Jaime Diaz. “Augusta National Admits First Black Member.” The New York Times. 11 September 1990.
[21] Paul Svoboda. “Tiger should get into acting.” Paul Svoboda. 22 February 2010.
[22] Martha Hodes. “The Sexualization of Reconstruction Politics: White Women and Black Men in the South after the Civil War.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 1993, vol. 3, no. 3: 403.
[23] Hodes: 404 and 407.
[24] Charles Chesnutt. “Lynchings: By State and Race, 1882-1968.” The Charles Chesnutt Digital Archive. Accessed 14 December 2010.
[25] Hodes: 407.
[26] Hodes: 408.
[27] Bárbara C. Cruz and Michael J. Berson. “The American Melting Pot? Miscegenation Laws in the United States.” OAH Mazaine of History Vol. 16, No. 4. (Summer, 2001): 80.
[28] Hodes: 417.

Colombia crisis strengthens Venezuela, isolates U.S.

APRIL 7, 2008 – War preparations that might have involved three or more Latin American nations, came quickly to a halt March 7 at the Rio Group Summit in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. A Venezuelan-brokered deal ended a crisis that began with a Colombian military incursion into Ecuador. The great fear in Venezuela was that such a war would have ended up pitting Venezuela against U.S.-backed Colombia, the proxy war against the U.S. that has been feared for years. Instead, the resolution of the deal has weakened the hand of the U.S., and strengthened the prestige of Venezuela throughout the region.

The crisis began March 1, when Colombia’s air force attacked a training camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a camp based over the border in neighbouring Ecuador. According to the Colombian military, the raid killed 17 FARC guerrillas, including Raúl Reyes, a senior FARC leader. Colombian defence ministry spokespeople called it “the most important strike yet” against the FARC.[1]

There are not many countries in the world that can bomb a neighbour, kill and maim dozens, and then boast about it. The fact that Colombian government spokespersons could so boast, gives an insight into the role Colombia plays on the northern edge of the South American continent. Colombia is a military client state of the world’s biggest imperialist power. The U.S. currently gives Colombia more than $600-million a year in military aid,[2] a rate of arms shipments that has been ongoing for years. From 1999 to 2004, U.S. military aid to Colombia totalled $3.6-billion, an average of just under $600-million a year, and the most of any country in Latin America – in the world trailing only Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan.[3] With good reason, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez referred to Colombia as the “Israel of Latin America.”[4]

And just like in Israel, this aid does not come without strings. In exchange for these billions (more than $3-billion a year in Israel’s case), both Israel and Colombia are expected to act as “proxies” for the U.S. So in 2006, when the U.S. was testing the waters for an expanded war beyond the borders of Iraq, it was its client state, Israel, which (unsuccessfully) opened a second front in Lebanon.

Colombia plays the same role in Latin America. It is no secret that the U.S. would like to see the back of Chávez, but it is also no secret that, bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is in no position to carry out his overthrow directly. But, as happened in the 1980s against Nicaragua, a proxy war waged by U.S. allies has always remained a possibility. The most likely proxy has always been Colombia.

So hard in the wake of Colombia’s bombing raid in Ecuador, the war drums were beating throughout North America. Canada’s Globe and Mail did not warn against the attack on Ecuador’s sovereignty. Instead, it talked about “Chavez’s role in terrorism” saying that laptops recovered in the raid showed that Chavez had been a “state sponsor of terrorism.”[5] Chávez denied funding the FARC telling the newspaper El Universal “I would never do it.”[6] The issue of the funding of the FARC is a little wide of the mark in any case. We already know that the U.S. backs Colombia to the hilt, and the terror of the Colombian government’s use of this money is widely documented. As of one year ago, at the time of a state visit by Bush to Colombia, eight congressmen, “all tied to the president” had been “jailed for working with right-wing death squads.”[7]

But the crisis evolved in a direction that caught Bush and his supporters completely by surprise. Ecuador of course cut diplomatic ties with Colombia, but so did Venezuela, joined on March 6 by Daniel Ortega’s newly-elected government in Nicaragua. Ecuador expelled Colombian diplomats, as did Venezuela. Ecuador of course sent troops to the region attacked by Colombia, but again, they did not stand alone – March 2, Venezuela ordered 10 battalions “usually amounting to at least 6,000 troops”[8] to the border with Colombia.

The “Israel of Latin America” suddenly found itself completely isolated, surrounded by neighbours who are increasingly confident to act in defiance of the United States, and unwilling to sit by while a U.S. client-state blatantly violates the sovereignty of a neighbour with a murderous bombing raid.

So it was that, just one week later, a chastised Colombian president Uribe had to agree to a resolution backed by the 20 member Río Group, which “included a rejection of the violation of Ecuadorian territorial sovereignty and an endorsement of the resolution of the Organization of American States (OAS), which had denounced Colombia’s attack.”[9] If this represented a profound humiliation for Uribe, it was even more humiliating for the United States. March 18, the OAS approved the Rio Group resolution by a vote that would have been unanimous except for the United States, which expressed “reservations.”[10] U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said, “we believe they [the Colombians] were acting in a justifiable way.”[11]

Of course Negroponte thought they were justified. As U.S. ambassador to Honduras, he was closely associated with the barbaric violation of Nicaraguan sovereignty in the 1980s, the proxy war carried out by the right-wing “contras”. But twenty years later, the U.S. stands completely alone.

We know from the long and bloody history of imperialist intervention into Latin America, that there are two big dangers facing any government attempting to break imperialism’s grip – coup d’état and invasion. In 2002, one million of the poorest in Caracas took to the streets and prevented a right-wing, U.S. supported coup against Chávez. Now in 2008, a proxy war with Colombia has been averted by solidarity between Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua, backed ultimately by every country in the Americas except the United States.

The reach of the U.S. in Latin America has weakened, and the new movements towards sovereignty and independence, without question led by Venezuela, are gaining strength.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

Publishing History

This article was published as Colombia crisis strengthens Venezuela, isolates U.S.Axis of Logic, 8 April.


[1] Cited in Simon Romero, “Colombian Forces Kill Senior Guerrilla Commander, Official Says,” The New York Times, March 2, 2008,
[2] According to Romero, “Colombian Forces Kill Senior Guerrilla Commander”
[3] The Center for Public Integrity, “U.S. Military Aid Before and After 9/11,”
[4] Associated Press, “Chavez: Colombia has become the Israel of Latin America,”, Marcy 7, 2008,
[5] Editorial, “Chavez’s role in terrorism,” The Globe and Mail, March 7, 2008
[6] Cited in Alexei Barrioneuvo, “U.S. Studies Rebel’s Data for Chávez Link,” The New York Times, April 7, 2008,
[7] Juan Forero, “Colombia’s Uribe Faces Crisis on Death Squads,” All Things Considered, NPR (National Public Radio), March 16, 2007,
[8] “Venezuela troops ‘move to border,’” BBC News, March 5, 2008,
[9] James Suggett, “Venezuela and Ecuador Resolve Differences with Colombia at Regional Summit,” March 8, 2008, – The Rio Group “was created in 1986 to be a political forum for Latin American heads of state.”
[10] Kiaraz Janicke, “OAS Rejects Colombia’s Military Incursion into Ecuador,” March 18, 2008,
[11] DPA, “OAS rejects Colombian military incursion in Ecuador,” Thaindian News, March 18, 2008,

Democracy spells trouble for U.S. in Pakistan

When John Negroponte travels abroad, he expects to be listened to. The current U.S. deputy Secretary of State, formerly Director of National Intelligence (appointed in 2005), made a name for himself in the 1980s, as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. He was intimately involved in the brutal war against Nicaragua conducted by the “contras” as a proxy for Negroponte’s boss, Ronald Reagan.[1] But when Negroponte and assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher landed in Pakistan March 24, they were given the cold shoulder.

The visit came just after the spectacular election defeat for dictator (and U.S. ally) Pervez Musharraf, whose party received just 20 per cent of the vote.[2] Two anti-Musharraf parties – one led by Asif Ali Zardari (widower of Benazir Bhutto) the other by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif – are in the process of forming a coalition government.[3] But Negroponte and entourage arrived “before the new government had a chance to form itself” with key positions like foreign minister and interior minister still vacant. The Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was only sworn in March 26. A U.S. visit coming in this context fuelled “paranoia in the country about being ruled from Washington.”[4]

“ ‘To my mind, it seems ham-handed insensitivity that brought Negroponte and Boucher to Pakistan. Because certainly no one has welcomed their visit here,’ said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor of physics at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University and one of the country’s leading political commentators. ‘It’s a sign of panic, anxiety, of things slipping through their hand.’”[5]

The Pakistani press was full of outright hostility to the U.S. delegation. A March 26 editorial in The News, one of the most widely read English dailies, was titled “Hands Off Uncle Sam.” It was a reflection of what was going on behind the scenes. “Nawaz Sharif was unable to give him [Negroponte] ‘a commitment’ on the war on terror, stating it was unacceptable that Pakistan had become a ‘killing field.’” Husain Haqqani, a Pakistani government adviser who attended the meeting with Negroponte described their content this way: “If I can use an American expression, there is a new sheriff in town.”[6]

The new anti-Musharraf coalition government is forcing Negroponte to scramble to reposition the U.S. attitude. As recently as November 7, 2007, Negroponte described the dictator Musharraf as an “indispensable” ally in what the U.S. administration calls their “war on terror.”[7] But when he left Pakistan March 27, he said, “Any debate or any disposition as regards his (Musharraf’s) status will have to be addressed by the internal Pakistani political process.”[8] That’s diplomats’ talk for “we’re throwing him overboard.”

The U.S. is in trouble. Its intervention in Iraq has been a disaster for the Middle East, and its intervention in Afghanistan has been a disaster for Central Asia. Now it no longer has in Pakistan, a pliable dictator with which to do business. The U.S., of course, is not above tying to undermine a democratically elected government that they do not like. With Canada’s backing, they very successfully isolated and undermined the democratically elected Hamas government in Palestine.

But Pakistan is not Palestine. Palestine has a small population, and is economically isolated, suffering under a long and brutal Israeli occupation. But Pakistan is a large and important Asian country that has been fully sovereign for 60 years. Tactics which might have worked in Palestine will be very much more problematic in Pakistan.

Bush and Negroponte will try, of course, to buy and pressure their way into the new government’s confidence. They will try to keep onside an indispensable ally in the region. But the hostile reception received by Negroponte shows that the terrain has now become much more difficult. That may be bad news for Negroponte and Bush (and their allies Harper and Dion), but it is good news for all who want to see an end to imperialist meddling in the Middle East and Central Asia.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] Michael Dobbs, “Papers Illustrate Negroponte’s Contra Role,” Washington Post, April 12, 2005, p. A04,
[2] Editorial, “Pakistan’s democracy outbreak,” Middle East Times, April 3, 2008,
[3] Associated Press, “Anti-Musharraf parties form Pakistan coalition,” msnbc, March 9, 2008,
[4] Saeed Shah, “U.S. visit to Pakistan shows ‘panic,’ expert says,” The Globe and Mail, March 28, 2008, p. A17
[5] Cited in Shah, “U.S. visit to Pakistan shows ‘panic’”
[6] Jane Perlez, “New Pakistani Leaders Tell Americans There’s ‘a New Sheriff in Town,’” The New York Times, March 26, 2008,
[7] Associated Press, “U.S. official: Pakistan’s Musharraf ‘indispensable’ ally,”, November 7, ,2007,
[8] Cited in Mumtaz Iqbal, “Is Musharraf toast?The Daily Star, April 5, 2008,

‘I wouldn’t call it radical – I’d call it being Black in America’

Old sermons by Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor, have caused a storm of outrage to sweep through the presidential campaign in the United States. It is really a storm of hypocrisy. The outrage should be saved for the conditions faced by African Americans, conditions that remain appalling long after the end of slavery and Jim Crow.

In one of the sermons, Wright says: “The government gives them [African Americans] the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.”[1] An ABC news reporter asked parishioners whether they thought Wright’s views were extreme. One said: “He spoke the truth, he continues to speak the truth, and people can label that as radical, but I say it’s insightful.” Another said, “No, I wouldn’t call it radical, I’d call it being Black in America.”[2]

The United States Census tells us something about being Black in America. Black men are twice as likely as Whites and Hispanics not to finish high school, and Whites and Hispanics are twice as likely as Black men to graduate from university with a Bachelor’s degree or more. Unemployment for Black men is in double digits, twice that of Black and Hispanic men. For Black women, unemployment rates are more than twice that of White women. The poverty rate for Blacks in 2001 was 23 percent, compared to 8 percent for non-Hispanic Whites. Put this figure another way – one poor person in four in 2001 was Black, far in excess of their share of the population.[3]

The American prison system tells us something about being Black in America. Black men in America are more than six times as likely as White men to end up in prison. For White men in 2006, 487 out of every 100,000 were in jail. For Black men the figure was an appalling 3,042 per 100,000.[4] For young Black men, the figures go from appalling to barbaric. One in nine black men, ages 20 to 34, are serving time in prison.[5] Put this in the terms used earlier – for every 100,000 young black men in America, eleven thousand, one hundred and eleven are in prison. These numbers only hint at the terrible reality faced by these young people. American prisons are cauldrons of rape. In the first ever survey of sexual abuse in the prison system, the group Stop Prisoner Rape reported that in 2007 alone, approximately 60,500 inmates were “subjected to sexual abuse.”[6] “God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.”

These are the facts. But these facts notwithstanding, Wright’s comments have put Obama on the defensive. “I completely reject” them Obama told a town-hall meeting at a high school in Plainfield Indiana, March 15.[7] Obama is up against the racism in American society from a different front. The more his candidacy has emerged as a credible one, the more the campaign inside the Democratic Party has polarized on racial lines. Obama’s campaign has captured the hope of millions. But to get elected, he needs to speak to a section of the electorate that does not want to hear about America’s systemic racism – and that means distancing himself from Wright.

According to John Ibbitson, in the Globe and Mail, “in early primaries, Mr. Obama often took a majority of the White vote, or at least of White male voters; in Mississippi’s primary last week, Mr. Obama took 92 per cent of the Black vote but only 26 per cent of the White vote.”[8] These kinds of statistics will figure prominently in the selection of the Democratic standard bearer.

Neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton can win enough delegates through the remaining primaries and caucuses, to secure the candidacy. Each will need to win over the non-elected delegates to the convention, the several hundred “super delegates” — party elders and full-timers – who will hold the balance of power. There is a real possibility that these super delegates will give the candidacy to Clinton, even if Obama has won more states, more delegates and more popular vote than her. There will be many of those super delegates open to an argument that a Black candidate cannot win the votes of substantial numbers of white American voters.

Obama’s campaign is in a double prison. First he is up against the deep racism of a society founded on slavery and only recently emerging from apartheid-like conditions in the American South, a society then that is deeply racist. Second, he is trapped inside a Democratic Party whose origins and history are dripping with that same racism. It was the Democratic Party “Dixiecrats” who for generations tried to preserve White privilege in post Civil War United States, the Democratic Party which has taken turns with the Republicans waging racist wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.

But even if the campaign of one man inside an old, establishment party will not transform this grim reality, we need to angrily reject the indignant howls of those “offended” by the comments of Obama’s pastor. Let them learn from Wright to direct their rage against the prison system, the education system, and the economic system, which remain to this day stained top to bottom with racism.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] Cited in Daniel Nasaw, “Controversial comments made by Rev Jeremiah Wright,”, March 18, 2008
[2] ABC News, “Obama’s Preacher: The Wright Message?” accessible on Youtube,
[3] U.S. Census Bureau, “The Black Population in the United States: March 2002,” April 2003,
[4] U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Prison Statistics: Summary findings,”
[5] Editorial, “Prison Nation,” New York Times, March 10, 2008,
[6] Stop Prisoner Rape, “First Ever National Survey of Prisoners Shows Widespread Sexual Abuse in Detention,” press release, December 16, 2007,
[7] Tom Raum, “Obama Decries Racial Rhetoric,” Associated Press, March 16, 2008
[8] John Ibbitson, “Racial resentments threaten to split Democrats,” The Globe and Mail, March 18, 2008, p. A15

No campaign for poor men (or women)

Democracy – a word we derive from the Greek: demos (the common people); kratos (rule) – hence democracy: rule of the common people.[1] Except there is nothing very common at all about the obscene wealth being used to try and “democratically” elect the most powerful man (or woman) in the world. The average cost to date in the race to become the Republican candidate for U.S. president is $32,283,430. This isn’t surprising, as the Republicans are the “right-wing” pro-corporate party. But their union-backed “alternative”? Average cost per candidate to date is $44,847,149 for the Democratic Party.[2] Let’s be clear – this is no campaign for poor men (or women).

Here’s the breakdown. The Republican candidates have to date raised $258,267,439 to spend on their various campaigns, led by the rich (but hapless) Mitt Romney ($90,076,402) and followed by the rich (and vacuous) Rudy Giuliani ($61,645,421). Both these rich white men have dropped out, put in their place by John McCain whose campaign has so far raised $42,094,077.

But these guys have nothing on the Democrats. Hillary Clinton leads the way with receipts of $118,301,659 followed by Barack Obama at $103,802,537. Total receipts for the Democrats so far – $313,930,041. Now, when you total up the money raised for both parties and throw in the $140-million raised by the Democratic and Republican National Committees, then the total cost to date to select a candidate for these two parties is – $712,634,261. Let’s say that in words – seven hundred twelve million, six hundred thirty-four thousand, two hundred sixty-one dollars.

Now remember – we’re just getting started. These campaigns are not over, and once they are – the real campaign begins, the actual contest for president. The final tally for both parties will be well over $1-billion. It will be even higher next time around, because if you look back at previous campaigns, it is clear that the cost of being president is going through the roof. In 1996, total cost for both parties for primaries, conventions and election campaigns was $478-million, in 2000 it was $649.5-million, in 2004 it was $1,016.5-million.[3]

Time to introduce another couple of Greek words: arkein (rule) and oligos (few)– hence oligarchy: rule of the few. Given how few of us travel in the world of seven, eight and nine-figure fund-raising, it might be a better fit.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] All derivations from the Greek taken from William Little, The Oxford International Dictionary (Toronto: Leland Publishing Company Ltd., 1957).
[2] All figures for the 2008 campaign derived from CNN, “ElectionCenter2008 Primaries and Caucuses: Money
[3] Federal Election Commission, “Presidential Pre-Nomination Campaign Receipts Through December 31, 2004

Ten years of PNAC barbarism

It is now a decade since the establishment of the Project for A New American Century (PNAC) – the neo-conservative think tank whose ideas formed the backbone for the two administrations of George W. Bush. The central legacy of PNAC will undoubtedly be the war on Iraq. It is, put simply, a legacy of barbarism.

Some of the signatories on the original PNAC “Statement of Principles” were hard to take seriously (remember Dan Quayle, the vice-president who couldn’t spell “potato” – or Francis Fukuyama who thought that history had ended?). But others – Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld in particular, would rise to prominence in the regime of George W. Bush, and cause nightmares for millions. By 2006 of these three, only Cheney remained in high office – Wolfowitz sent out to haunt the halls of the World Bank and Rumsfeld quitting to focus on writing his memoirs. The departure of these two PNAC advocates is not a coincidence. The entire PNAC vision has come crashing down around the heads of the U.S. administration, and Iraq is the poster child for its failure. But serious or not, disgraced or not, their advice provided the main justification for the attack on Iraq, and we are today living with the consequences.

The June 3, 1997 “Statement of Principles” by PNAC reads like a wish list for right-wing utopians. Its authors argued for a “Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity.” Such a vision “may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next.”[1] When it came to Iraq, its goals were clear. In 1998 they urged then-president Bill Clinton to “act now to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction.”[2] Of course we now know that such a threat never existed. In the same year, in a letter to Newt Gingrich (remember him?) and Trent Lott, they warned of the consequences of not attacking Iraq. If the U.S. didn’t attack Iraq, then “We will have suffered an incalculable blow to American leadership and credibility” and “The administration will have unnecessarily put at risk U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf.”[3] Nine years later, the U.S. has followed their advice, and U.S. credibility is at an all-time low, and nearly 4,000 dead U.S. soldiers have been flown back to the U.S. In 2003, one day before the horrible opening of “Shock and Awe”, they wrote that “Regime change is not an end in itself but a means to an end – the establishment of a peaceful, stable, united, prosperous, and democratic Iraq free of all weapons of mass destruction.”[4] Again, the latter part was easy – the WMDs never existed. But “peaceful, stable, united, prosperous and democratic” – no one, anywhere can maintain that any of these goals have been achieved.

One estimate in November, 2006, said that 1.8 million Iraqis had fled to neighbouring countries, while at least half a million had been internally displaced since the 2003 invasion.[5] According to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), by April 2007, there were more than 4 million displaced Iraqis around the world (including those displaced before 2003), 1.9 million of who were still inside Iraq. “By 2006, Iraqis were once again the leading nationality seeking asylum in industrialized countries.”[6] By September 2007, the situation was even worse, the number of refugees in the region rising by close to 200,000, the number of internally displaced by 300,000 so that there were an extraordinary 2,256,000 internal refugees inside Iraq.[7]

Those were the ones who lived. We have no idea how many Iraqis have been killed. Iraq Body Count, basing its statistics on “cross-checked media reports, hospital, morgue, NGO and official figures,” estimated as of December 2007, that between 78,743 and 85,813 Iraqi civilians had met a violent death since the 2003 invasion.[8] This is the low end of estimates for civilian deaths. An authoritative 2006 study estimated that “approximately 600,000 people” had been “killed in the violence of the war that began with the U.S. invasion of March 2003.”[9] And in September 2007, a British polling firm produced an estimate of a minimum of 733,158 deaths since the war began. But, ORB indicates, the actual figure could be as high as an unbelievable 1,446,063.[10]

That is the legacy of PNAC – a country in ruins, body bags by the thousands, and the U.S. more isolated internationally than at any time since the end of the Second World War.

Sections of the U.S. elite are bitterly aware of PNAC’s failure. December 2007 is another anniversary – the first anniversary of the publication of the Iraq Study Group Report.[11] With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the report represented a watershed in U.S. ruling class thinking about wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, and the beginning of an attempt to find a way to retreat from the mess. But, as the Duke of Wellington is often quoted as saying, “The hardest thing of all for a soldier is to retreat.”[12]

This call for a retreat was not because its authors were converts to the cause of peace. James Baker, one of the two principal authors, was a high-up Reagan and Bush loyalist in the 1980s and 1990s, who “helped orchestrate the international coalition that opposed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait” in 1991, and directed the campaign of George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential elections. [13] Baker is an empire loyalist from way back. His concern was the way in which the Iraq debacle was undermining the empire’s credibility.

The report’s authors said that their “most important recommendations call for new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region, and a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly.”[14] They warned against a policy of putting more troops into Iraq. “Sustained increases in U.S. troop levels would not solve the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq … adding U.S. troops might temporarily help limit violence in a highly localized area. However, past experience indicates that the violence would simply rekindle as soon as U.S. forces are moved to another area.”[15] They warned against a strategy of partition. “The costs associated with devolving Iraq into three semiautonomous regions with loose central control would be too high. Because Iraq’s population is not neatly separated, regional boundaries cannot be easily drawn. All eighteen Iraqi provinces have mixed populations, as do Baghdad and most other major cities in Iraq. A rapid devolution could result in mass population movements, collapse of the Iraqi security forces, strengthening of militias, ethnic cleansing, destabilization of neighbouring states, or attempts by neighbouring states to dominate Iraqi regions.”[16]

It is a little ironic, then, that Bush’s response to the report was to a) increase troop levels through the so-called “troop surge” which had the effect of b) accelerating the mass population movements, ethnic cleansing and de facto division of the country into three regions.

In the end, the U.S. will have to leave Iraq. The troop surge cannot last, the allies are withering away, and whoever is elected president in 2008 will be under tremendous pressure to “declare victory” and leave. But this could still mean years more of death, destruction and misery for the Iraqi people, while a divided U.S. ruling class decides how to retreat without losing face.

There remains only one way to begin the reconstruction of Iraq – an unconditional, immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops.

© 2007 Paul Kellogg


[1] Elliot Abrams et. al., “Statement of Principles,” Project for a New American Century, (account suspended – available at, June 3, 1997
[2] Elliot Abrams, et. al., “Letter to President Clinton on Iraq,” Project for a New American Century, (account suspended – available at, Jan. 26, 1998
[3] Elliot Abrams, et. al., “Letter to Gingrich and Lott on Iraq,” Project for a New American Century, (account suspended – available at, May 29, 1998
[4] Ronald Asmus, et. al., “Statement on Post-War Iraq,” Project for a New American Century, (account suspended – available at, March 19, 2003
[5] “Iraqi Refugee Crisis: International Response Urgently Needed,” Bulletin: Refugees International,, December 5, 2006.
[6] UNHCR, “Statistics on Displaced Iraqis around the World,” April 2007,
[7] UNHCR, “Statistics on Displaced Iraqis around the World,” September 2007,
[8] “Iraq Body Count,”
[9] Gilbert Burnham et. al., The Human Cost of the War in Iraq: A Mortality Study, 2002-2006 Bloomberg School of Public Health, John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland,
[10] ORB, “More than 1,000,000 Iraqis murdered,” September, 2007,
[11] James A. Baker, Lee H. Hamilton, Iraq Study Group Report, United States Institute of Peace, Dec. 6, 2006
[12] “Quotes of the Duke of Wellington,” Napoleonic Guide,
[13] “Baker, James Addison, III,” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online .
[14] Baker and Hamilton, Iraq Study Group Report, page 6.
[15] Baker and Hamilton, Iraq Study Group Report, page 30.
[16] Baker and Hamilton, Iraq Study Group Report, page 31.