Fund Our Schools Not the Massacre of Palestinian Children!

Another deadly night has passed in Gaza

Explosions rock the city, smoke obscures the blood.  The roar of tanks and gunfire almost drown out the wails of Palestinian mothers mourning the death of children, of hope – almost.  For nearly three weeks now, Palestine has been decimated by yet another invasion by the Israeli government of capital and settlements.  As of this writing, an estimated 1,100 Palestinians killed, 6,500 wounded, 400,000 displaced from their homes.  Nearly eighty percent of these casualty figures have been civilians and children.  Israel has suffered 48 deaths by comparison.  The invasion of Palestine by Israel is indeed a war crime.

In the U.S. we have been taught that America is the beacon of freedom to the world. But in the eyes of the world our nation is supporting a military machine that is massacring innocent families in Gaza. Since 2000, the U.S. has given $45 Bn in military aid to Israel. Our government knows full well that our tax money is allowing these massacres to occur. What else would Israel do with it?  Iran is presently contained.  Syria is in flames. The rest of the Arab world is too busy with the capitalist oil orgy to care.

It was Capitalist trade interests, that created this nightmare in the first place.  The highly praised, but deeply flawed, Balfour Declaration of 1917, said that Britain (with full U.S. support) favored,  “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”  This was done not for humanitarian reasons, but to protect trade through the Suez Canal, and to protect the most profitable British colony, India.  In essence, the Capitalists promised two ethnic groups, Jews and Palestinians, the same strip of land, laying the seeds of “divide and  conquer”, in the hopes of “free trade” and future profit.

The Palestinians were not consulted, nor would they have cared, about imperialist profit worries.  They had lived in Palestine since the end of the Crusades, farming, fishing, and raising generations of families.  It was only after the “Nakba” in 1948, that they formed so-called “militant” groups like the PLO.  Some of these groups had a socialist-leaning character, threatening Capitalism in the whole region ( also in the Arab countries).  As a reaction to that, islamist forces like Hamas were propped up by Capitalist governments.

It is important to understand that Capitalist Imperialism, Israeli, Arab and American alike, have no interest in either an end to the bloodshed, or a lasting peace.  For them it is paramount to feed the military-industrial beast with the blood of innocents, many of them children, to distract the Arab and Israeli masses from the real enemy.

American military equipment is sold to the Israeli occupation for the express purpose of slaughter.  Gaza is used as a proving ground for the latest military technologies. The U.S. and Israeli arms industries reap huge profits while drones stalk the skies over Gaza and Palestinian children burn.

It is important to note, that within the working classes of all three states, Israel, Palestine, and the U.S., there is vehement opposition to the current horror.  Daily protests in all three countries, with attendance in the hundreds and thousands, are growing rapidly.  In fact, right here in Philadelphia since March of 2014, there has been a monthly rally at the Israeli Consulate protesting an end to the massacre.  Even within Israel, opinion polls continue to indicate that a majority of the Israeli population supports the dismantling of settlements and ending the occupation. This is a touch of sunshine amidst the decay of yet another destructive imperialist war.

$45 Bn is a lot of money.  Money that could go a long way in rebuilding our crumbling schools and infrastructure, money that could go a long way towards strengthening our working class communities in Philly instead of being used to slaughter workers in Gaza. Why should we feed the capitalist war machine, when our own people are experiencing massive unemployment and hunger?

It is the duty of every Socialist, if not every human being, to speak out against these atrocities. To flood the streets, and airwaves, demanding an end to U.S. support of the occupation and massacre in Gaza. It’s time to build an international mass movement against war and terror, and an end to this system of exploitation and oppression. We have enough hell in this country, we don’t need to export it elsewhere.

Rally for the People of Gaza this Friday

August 1st – 4pm – Love Park

The “Socialist Senator” Speaks in Philadelphia

On July 24, 2014, two Philly SA comrades attended Senator Bernie Sanders’ talk at the 1199 Union hall. Bernie Sanders is an independent senator from Vermont, a member of the Senate Committees on Energy and the Environment, and the chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs—and a self-described democratic socialist. The event, drawing on interest in a speculated Sanders bid for the presidency, was well-attended by a diverse but generally older audience, including veteran unionists, social-movement activists, Democratic Party organizers and independent leftists.

Two organizations made their presence felt at the event. Outside the union building, the Democratic Socialists of America collected signatures on a petition calling for Sanders to run for President (with the nature of the ticket, Democrat or independent, unspecified), while inside, the Progressive Democrats of America petitioned and handed out stickers calling for Sander to run as a Democrat.

Sanders began his speech with a powerful description of the dismal state of economy inequality in America’s so-called “recovery”. He alluded to underreported rates of unemployment (as high as 40% for African American youth), the increasing concentration of wealth and especially financial wealth (of which the top 1% holds over a third, while the bottom 60% holds just 2.5%!), and the increasing precariousness of those new jobs which have been created. He made reference to the reproduction of this inequality by the infamous “school-to-prison pipeline” in working-class communities, and to the fact that the U.S. has the highest childhood poverty rate in the developed world. He pointed out the 40 million who remain uninsured despite what he called the “modest gains” of the Affordable Care Act, and insisted that healthcare must be regarded as a right of citizenship. He also discussed the country’s comparative lagging in college graduation rates, attributing to it to high tuition rates and student debt burdens compared to other developed countries with subsidized higher education.

Sanders cited three rationales for fighting economic inequality: moral, political, and economic. The moral rationale is perhaps too obvious to state for those of us who must work for a year to earn what many hedge-fund managers earn in a day. The political rationale concerned the vicious cycle by which the concentration of wealth allows powerful capitalists to control the political process and undermine democracy, which in turn fosters that very same concentration of wealth. Sanders reserved special ire for the recent Supreme Court decision in “Citizens United”, which upon naming elicited near-universal “boos”. “Citizens United” eliminated caps on corporate donations to political campaigns, which, Sanders argued, means that “the U.S. government is now for sale” to “oligarchs”. These same oligarchs also have disproportionate influence in the media, through their funding of “experts” who can sell an ideological program as a neutral, purely economic agenda.

Sanders’ economic rationale relied on a classical social-democratic trope: that inequality undermines the smooth functioning of capitalism. His drew attention to capitalism’s need for a broad base of consumption in order to provide demand for goods. He argued that the decline of the working “middle class” created by the labor-capital compact of the post-war years meant that the economy would find insufficient demand for its goods, an insufficiency which could not be shored up by the increased private consumption of the rich. The result: unemployment.

What goes unquestioned in this narrative is the fact that our jobs are dependent for their very existence on the ability of capital to find profitable outlets for investment, i.e. that capitalism is the necessary form of organization of our economy. However, from a socialist viewpoint, Sanders’ analysis does contain an important insight. Essentially, Sanders’ narrative tells us that the capture of the U.S. state by private financial interests, symbolically crowned by “Citizens United”, means that the capitalist state is no longer able to function in its “proper role” as, in Engels’ phrase, the “ideal personification of the total national capital” which looks out for the system’s long-term needs. We have a paradoxical situation where the short-term profit-seeking of individual capitalists, by undermining aggregate demand, has actually undermined the long-term stability of the system, and hence their own long-term profits—and, more importantly, our livelihoods. One cannot help but note the irony that that perhaps the most sane proposal for a “rational” management of capitalism in the U.S. legislature today is coming from a self-described socialist.

At the climax of the night, Sanders called for a “political revolution” of the working class against the oligarchs. It was clear, however, that what Sanders meant by this was more along the lines of a broad political realignment driven by a popular movement for social-democratic reforms than the destruction of the existing state as such. Hence, his calls to action centered around consciousness-raising and voter mobilization, aiming to create a movement that could put pressure on progressive politicians from below for key demands.

Sanders’ policy proposals might best be characterized as a broad platform of social-democratic reforms. They included:

  • a massive, federally-funded jobs program, paying living wages;
  • expansion of Medicare into a single-payer healthcare system;
  • a federal minimum wage set at the level of the living wage, beginning with a fight for $10.10 followed by fights for higher levels;
  • a Constitutional amendment (which Sanders recently introduced to Congress) to overturn “Citizens United”, and public funding of elections;
  • regulations on the energy industry to promote a shift from fossil fuels to sustainable energy, providing green jobs at living wages;
  • expansion of Social Security, and opposition to all attempts to privatize Social Security and the Postal Service

While this program hardly represents the overthrow of capitalism, it would undeniably mean a marked improvement in the lives of many working people across the country, and a welcome fightback to the unmitigated neoliberalism of the bipartisan establishment and the radical Tea Party right alike.

There was a conspicuous absence of discussion around foreign policy, especially the deteriorating situation in the Gaza strip. Sanders has drawn criticism from the left for voting, along with every other member of the Senate, for a resolution supporting the State of Israel as it defends itself against unprovoked rocket attacks from the Hamas terrorist organization”. In fact, it is precisely the financial and political support of U.S. imperialism for the Netanyahu government that allows the terrible violence of the occupation to continue. As a socialist, Sanders would do well to dissociate himself from such gestures of support for a vicious government of capital and settlements.

Those in the audience looking for a clear statement from Sanders on his much speculated-upon presidential campaign were disappointed. When pressed on the question by an audience member, he stated that he was “considering” such a campaign, but would only go ahead if he felt that he had a strong base of activists to support him. He made no mention of whether, if he chose to pursue a presidential campaign, he would run an independent socialist campaign or run as a Democrat.

Philadelphia Socialist Alternative calls on Senator Bernie Sanders to run an independent progressive campaign for the presidency. We believe that, as a prominent and independent progressive, Sanders is in a unique position to launch the kind of mass campaign that could crystallize progressive and working-class discontent with the system into a fighting, genuinely grassroots popular movement for a democratic political process and economic justice. We also believe that a decisive break with the parties of the 1% is necessary for the “political revolution” of the 99% Sanders has called for to come into its own.

Budget ‘Victory’? New Cigarette Tax Is No Solution To The Manufactured Crisis In Philadelphia Public Schools

Last week, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a state budget that once again fails to address the needs of the working class residents of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.  However, our state’s Democrats are lauding this budget and a “hard-fought” public school funding deal that lawmakers say will provide only $45 million to Philadelphia’s public schools as a legislative victory.

Philadelphia’s Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter, echoed state Democrats and called the cigarette tax deal “possibly one of the greatest turnarounds” in recent legislative history.  The cigarette tax deal pushes the burden of funding public schools further onto the backs of working people, characteristic of “sin” taxes on cigarettes and other controlled substances.

We need a more equitable funding formula for public schools across the state, not another sin tax.  Implementing regressive sin taxes on Philadelphia’s residents, the state’s poorest population, to fund our students’ constitutionally-guaranteed right to public education is THE LEAST our elected officials can do. The cigarette tax represents an abhorrent lack of imagination and complete lack of political spine from the Democratic politicians who tell us they represent the interests of the working class, while the state’s Republican lawmakers are more blatant with their attempts to defund urban schools. Neither of our political parties could do less to raise revenue for our schools.

Moreover, there is speculation that Democratic legislators may have traded votes with Republicans and agreed to gut public employees’ pension plans later this month. In essence, our elected officials won the permission to impose regressive taxes on workers in exchange for cutting workers’ retirement plans. We do not call this a win for Philadelphia workers or students– it’s yet another another false choice.

This backroom deal is also decidedly not, as Mayor Nutter called it, any sort of “turnaround” in the way our city and state has raised revenue for basic public services. We must be clear: this  cigarette tax deal is more of the same we’ve seen from Philadelphia’s politicians. Philadelphia’s Democratic leadership has aided and abetted corporate welfare at the expense of the working class interests for decades.

Democratic Philadelphia State Representative Jim Roebuck, who is the chairman of the House Education Committee, said in an email to his constituents, “I and other Democratic legislators have been working hard to find other ways to make sure Philadelphia schools can open safely this fall. The least the current majority [Republican] party can do is to allow our city to come up with more local funding.” Getting the Republicans permission to further exploit the working people of Philadelphia is all the Democrats are able to achieve. Both parties have failed.

Elected officials need to implement policies such as ending the millions of dollars in corporate handouts to Comcast and Shell, ending 10-year tax abatements to large real estate developers and wealthy property owners, and holding big banks like Wells Fargo accountable for the destabilizing interest-rate swap deals that continue to drain millions of dollars from our city and the School District of Philadelphia. Our lawmakers should renegotiate bad-faith and deceptive deals made with big banks to ensure our public money funds public institutions, not Wall Street’s profits.

We as Philadelphians must recognize that these unceasing and sweeping cuts to public services and infrastructure are not merely going to disappear by voting Governor Corbett out of office in November 2014. Cuts for the 99% are the agenda for both Democrats and Republicans. Both parties serve the interests of big business and big banks and will continue to make policies that allow the wealthy 1% and their corporations to dodge taxes, while saddling the poor with higher taxes for lower quality services–until we stop them.

The drive for profit over the needs of working class families, and the monopolistic power of the corporate few is inherent to the nature of capitalism. Capitalism doesn’t work for the 99%.

Now is the time to build mass opposition to these continued attacks on our living standards. The only way to do this is to build our own political power, including running candidates  independent of the Democrats and Republicans, to fight big business in the street and at the ballot box.

It’s time to build an independent, alternative, political party funded entirely by organized working people, backed by a mass grassroots movement of workers and youth. Socialist Alternative works to help build such a party and to give it a fighting socialist program which can win victories for the working class, like we showed in Seattle. Freed of the monied interests of corporate power, we will be able to challenge the neoliberal economic agenda that is stripping Philadelphia of its wealth.