May Day in a Time of Increasing Political Polarization: Some Thoughts on This Moment & the Road Ahead

mao-banner-betterTen years after May Day demonstrations in 2006 brought millions of immigrants and their allies into the streets of nearly every U.S. city to demand an end to deportation, undocumented people  have seen no relief. In the ten years since Latina/o immigrants led a May Day boycott that drove home the message that the struggles for immigrant rights and workers’ rights must be joined, three million more people have been deported. And the backlash intensifies, as Donald Trump’s promise to further criminalize undocumented immigrants and to build a border wall is attracting significant numbers of white workers to a self-defeating racist populism.   

At the same time, we see young African-American, Latino, Asian and white workers joining together in other struggles: Fighting for $15/hour; demanding that killer cops be brought to justice; marching for climate justice; and defending public schools. And our understanding of the present moment both gives us hope and demands that we sharpen our strategy, if we are to succeed in develop their efforts as a militant, class and race conscious force.  

On this May Day, we offer a few ideas that have shaped our thinking about this moment and how to move forward. In short, we see new possibilities for building a ‘strategic alliance’ that unites the working class, immigrant, and Black liberation movements in fighting back against our immediate common enemy, the New Confederacy, as a next step in building the longer-term fight against capitalism and for socialism.   Continue reading

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Posted in NEC Statements

Statement of Freedom Road’s National Executive Committee on the Death of Tim Thomas

Please join us in mourning the passing and celebrating the life of our comrade (James) Tim Thomas in Oakland, CA at the age of 71.  Tim was a revolutionary organizer, writer and educator who was beloved for his discipline and intellect.  Tim was born in August, Georgia on May 20, 1944, and grew up there and in Delaware.  He entered the military in 1963, which he described as having “spurred his national consciousness.” At George Washington University, Tim  became active in the Black Liberation and Marxist movement that remained his lifelong passion.  A self-described OG, Tim was a leader of SOBU (Student Organization for Black Unity) and later YOBU (Youth Organization for Black Unity).  He was also very active in the African Liberation Support Committee.

Tim Thomas (right) with family of Alan Blueford and community supporters on the one year anniversary of Blueford’s murder at the hands of OPD officer Miguel Masso.

Tim joined the Revolutionary Workers League in 1972 and later the League of Revolutionary Struggle (LRS), a New Communist Movement group that brought together in one organization Asian-American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, African American, and white communists who shared a vision of national liberation as a critical element of communist revolution. After that group dissolved in 1990, Tim and a number of former LRS comrades came into the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, where they continue to advance the theory and practice of self-determination socialism.

As Co-Chair of FRSO’s Oppressed Nationality Commission, Tim helped us live up to our commitment to building the Black Liberation Movement through its downturns and upsurges. He wrote extensively about Bay area peoples’ movements, organizing methodology, and developments in the Black Liberation Movement.  Tim saw to completion an extensive update of our Oppressed Nationality Unity Document, which was  passed just last month at FRSO’s 2016 Congress. Tim also chaired a FRSO working group on immigrant rights. At the time of his death, he was collaborating with comrades on a comprehensive paper about the Black Liberation Movement.

After doing rank-and-file labor and community organizing in DC and Chicago, Tim answered a call to move to Oakland in 1988. He became deeply involved in many Oakland community struggles, drawing on his experience to support new leaders and build united fronts. Tim helped to win environmental protections, good jobs and community oversight in the Port of Oakland redevelopment/base closing. As an organizer with Reclaiming Oakland through Organizing and Solidarity (ROOTS, formerly Occupy the Hood), Tim worked with the Stop Goldman Sachs Coalition and other efforts to developments that are driving out communities of color from Oakland.

Tim helped to build the movements against the police murders of Oscar Grant, Alan Blueford and other Black youth.  He was the former Community Building Manager at Habitat for Humanity East Bay and former Executive Director of the Emergency Services Network, where he did advocacy and service coordination for the homeless.  Tim served on the Boards of Urban Habitat and the Workforce Collaborative and was involved in the Black Left Unity Network.  Tim was also the father of a grown daughter and son, as well as a diehard football fan who was rarely without a team hat or jersey.

¡Tim Thomas, Presente!

National Executive Committee,
Freedom Road Socialist Organization/ Organización Socialista Camino para la Libertad

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Posted in Uncategorized

You’ve Got To Keep That Anger Inside You Smoldering


Myles Horton

Revolutionaries are moved, as Che Guevara famously pointed out, by great feelings of love for the people. But for many of us, the first impulse toward activism, and then the idea of socialist revolution, was something quite other—anger, even rage, at exploitation, oppression, racism, injustice, plunder, hypocrisy. And life in late capitalist society here in the belly of the beast, as José Martí named it, every single day produces reasons to experience that anger afresh.

But anger can be damaging, to us as individuals, to our loved ones and comrades and to the masses among whom we live and work. How then should we think about it and try to handle it? Here are some useful thoughts from the late and legendary Myles Horton, who in 1932 founded and led the remarkable Highlander Folk School in the mountains of Tennessee. Highlander (and Horton) went on to play a critical role in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, acting as what Aldon D. Morris calls a “movement halfway house.”

Myles Horton grew up at a time when most people outside of cities heated with wood fires, but his metaphor here is easy to follow. This is excerpted from his 1990 autobiography (co-written with Judith Kohl and Herbert Kohl), The Long Haul. It’s full of history and a lifetime’s accumulation of wisdom hard-earned in the struggle.

I had to turn my anger into a slow burning fire, instead of a consuming fire. You don’t want the fire to go out—you never let it go out—and if it ever gets weak, you stoke it, but you don’t want it to burn you up. It keeps you going, but you subdue it, because you don’t want to be destroyed by it.

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Posted in Culture

Official Slogans for Comrade Valentine’s Day 2016


To All Who Love the People, To All Who Fight Their Oppressors and Exploiters:

1. Let us take up the proletarian line of revolutionary romanticism laid down by Comrade Valentine as our bright red battle cry.

2. Let us struggle tirelessly and resolutely to roll back the poisonous tide of anti-woman and anti-LGBTQ reaction worldwide!!

3. Let us extend messages of revolutionary love and class solidarity to people’s fighters imprisoned by the enemy!!!

Folks wishing to honor the third of the 2016 slogans can write to prisoners using contact information on this list provided by the Jericho movement.


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Posted in Slogans

Cotton: The Fabric of Death

This review of Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History was originally published by Monthly Review.

I could not wait to read Empire of Cotton. For four years following the 2008 mortgage crisis, I worked as a cotton merchant for one of the “big four” trading firms—ADM, Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus. These shadowy giants, two of them privately held, maintain oligopoly control of agricultural commodity markets. From desks in Memphis, my colleagues and I purchased mountains of cotton in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, warehoused it, speculated on it, and sold it back to mills on those same continents. Our wood-paneled office was hung with quaint paintings of cotton fields and sepia photographs of the Old South. We sat at the pinnacle of a web of political and economic forces that funneled cotton into facilities we owned and cash into our accounts, but nowhere in the office was there a visible sign of the violence that made it all possible.

Too often liberal histories focus on a single period, territory, or class perspective, and end up obscuring the truth, severing the threads that tie a moment to its historical roots. Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton is different. Although a liberal historian, Beckert refuses to limit his scope in the traditional way. Instead, he follows the movement of cotton across time, space, and class, bringing forward the threads that bind the objects of an otherwise distorted past. Empire of Cotton is a history of the evolving relationships between city and countryside, toiler and owner, colonizer and colonized—all through the prism of cotton.

With this approach, Beckert joins the ranks of prominent scholars, such as Giovanni Arrighi, writing “global history.” He brings to a broad audience the iconoclastic lessons that have usually been the purview of marginalized academics, typically Marxist and oppressed nationality scholars. Empire of Cotton is a New York Times bestseller, book of the month on Amazon, and winner of the Bancroft prize. For a text that argues “Slavery, colonialism, and forced labor, among other forms of violence, were not aberrations in the history of capitalism, but were at its very core,” this is nothing to scoff at (441). It is a book that reaches beyond the audience of scholars and history buffs, and will no doubt make its way even into the hands of some of my former cotton-trading colleagues.

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Posted in Culture

Remembering Richard Levins’ Contributions to Forward Motion

The recent death of dedicated activist, environmental scientist and Marxist theoretician Richard Levins brought to mind that he had contributed to FRSO’s print magazine, Forward Motion. For instance, a quick search showed that he was mentioned in the note our editor appended to this letter, which was received at the Forward Motion office, and subsequently printed in issue 61, twenty years ago. The biting humor, shrewd eye for American mass culture and deft parody of Wordsworth makes it almost certain that Dick Levins was behind it.

Save Our Toxic Waste Dumps! “Isadore Nabi” in Forward Motion

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Posted in Presente!, Uncategorized

Richard Levins (1930-2016): Farewell to a Mentor

Richard Levins with math equations“Within the left, my task has been to argue that our relations with the rest of nature cannot be separated from a global struggle for human liberation, and within the ecology movement my task has been to challenge the “harmony of nature” idealism of early environmentalism and to insist on identifying the social relations that lead to the present dysfunction.”  (Monthly Review, January 2008)

It shouldn’t have surprised me that I couldn’t summarize the life work of Dick Levins—dialectical ecologist, anti-imperialist, revolutionary fighter—more succinctly than he already had.

It’s like one of the conversations with Dick that I was privileged to participate in, when he gave talks at the NY Marxist School and hung out afterward with its organizers. Dick would speak three or four sentences and it would take you five minutes to digest them. He wasn’t showing off or impatient or arrogant, and he was really interested in what you thought. It’s just that his mind made all these amazing connections and synthesized data, moving from pest population dynamics to public health to electoral politics to disagreements on the left, not one superfluous word, not one tendentious leap, nothing over-simplified.

I would say that I wish we could just replicate his brain if I hadn’t learned from Dick about the common theoretical error of reductionism: reducing a complex phenomenon to its smallest component unit and trying to explain or replicate its functioning in that way (e.g. human behavior is explainable by genes, or brilliant, revolutionary insights by a brain).

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Posted in Presente!

Wait a Minute! Two Obamas?

This was originally published on, reflecting on President Obama’s Last State of the Union Address on January 12, 2016.

President Obama gave an optimistic speech using his prolific oratory style.  He addressed a wide range of issues, attempting to direct his message to various sectors of American society. Throughout his speech it was obvious that he had tailored it to a conservative audience, making a point to appear as the great unifier, agreeing to disagree, but not too much. Also making it clear (in Obama’s opinion) that politics in America would be better if there was not so much polarization. He was referring to the hostile political climate in Washington DC between Democrats and Republicans. It was as though he was hoping for a Kumbaya moment, where liberals and conservatives could get along in spite of their politics.

During his speech we saw Obama the liberal and Obama the imperialist.  The language swayed back and forth between civil rights and the toughness of America and its military might. He follows a liberal tradition similar to presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, where they were considered champions of civil and democratic rights in the U.S. and pro-working class.  On the other hand Franklin was an imperialist, supporting Latin American dictatorships and the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps.  Kennedy attacked Cuba, supported the Bay of Pigs attack, and sent military personnel to Southeast Asia, engaging in an unpopular imperialist war, which polarized people in the U.S., being either pro or anti-war.

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Posted in Electoral Strategy

Interview with Bill Gallegos

This interview was originally published in Monthly Review.

As we veteran activists of the 1960s and early ’70s enter our años del retiro, it is time for reflection, summation, and most importantly sharing what we have learned with those reaching to grab the baton. Many of us, now grandparents, are getting questions from our grandkids and kids about our lives in the “golden age” of U.S. social movements. During this ten-to-fifteen-year stretch, those oppressed by U.S. racialized capitalism were speaking up and acting out. Inspired by the Black freedom movement in the South, all kinds of movements and organizations blossomed: Black Power, Black Panthers, Young Lords, Brown Berets, La Raza Unida, I Wor Kuen, Red Guards, Redstockings, Combahee River Collective, National Welfare Rights Organization, Gay Liberation Front, “Days of Rage,” Earth Day, and anti-war and anti-nuclear movements. There was insurrection in our auto plants—among Black workers centered around the earth-shattering Revolutionary Union Movements, RUM (Dodge RUM, Eldon Avenue RUM) and among predominantly white workers in such outposts as Norwood, Ohio. Socialism and communism, intense targets of the FBI and COINTELPRO, were re-emerging from both the McCarthy-era witch hunts and the Stalin revelations as legitimate options to achieve real democracy and power for the marginalized and working class.
Bill Gallegos has been an activist since the 1960s, when he became involved in Crusade for Justice, a revolutionary Chicano nationalist organization. He has since emerged as a leading socialist environmental justice activist, and is the former executive director of Communities for a Better Environment. He was born in Pueblo, Colorado where his family had lived for generations as campesinos in Greater Mexico. As local families lost their land and were colonized by the expanding United States, they went to work in the mines that were developed on their former lands. Several of Gallegos’s relatives, including his grandfather, died from Black Lung. Thus from an early age the intersection of class, conquest, and ecology were part of Gallegos’s life. Both his parents served in the Second World War (his mom was a nurse) and through the GI Bill his dad was able to become an accountant, and the family moved to the barrios of north Denver. Ask any activist and they will have an “A-ha moment!”—that life changing event when it all came together. For Gallegos it was taking a Chicano Studies class in 1969 and hearing Corky Gonzalez speak. “I realized that my family history was a part of our people’s history and struggle and that our freedom could only be complete when we ended capitalism and constructed a socialist system that would ‘flip the script’ on the U.S. history of genocide, enslavement, colonialism, racism and national oppression.” As the interview details, Bill’s life took him from factory to fields to community.The idea for this interview grew out of another Anne Lewis interview between Gallegos and Bill Fletcher that explores the relationship between the social justice movement centered in the workplace and that centered on ecological disaster. Continue reading
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Posted in Ecological Crisis, Oppressed Nationalities, Our History

Dialogue with Barbara Ehrenreich – Connecting White Privilege and White Death?

This article was originally published at Portside. It is framed as a response to a recent article by Barbara Ehrenreich called “What Happened to the White Working Class? The Great Die-Off of America’s Blue Collar Whites

A recent study by economists Deaton and Case shocked the nation: they found that death rates were rising for middle-aged whites. Working class whites with a high school education or less had death rates go up by a whopping 22% in 15 years. How are they dying? Suicide and substance abuse, brought on by “despair.”

We appreciate Barbara Ehrenreich’s examination of this important piece of our new reality in the Lost Angeles Times. Understanding what’s going among white workers is essential for thinking about organizing strategies. Her analysis is that white men in particular have lost jobs, income, and the personal power that comes with economic security. At the same time, she says, African Americans have made social gains due to federal support for desegregation that allow them access to public spaces and that they are “inching toward equality.” The perceived loss of white privilege – “shit, I’m no better off than a `bleep'” – is fuel to the despair of white workers; they have seen a cut in their psychological wage as well as their actual wages. It is excellent that Barbara has put out this position which can jump-start a conversation that white leftists need to have with each other, and with people of color, about race and class.

In that spirit, we beg to respectfully disagree.

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Posted in Intersecting Oppressions