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

Rodt Hammers Red Wedge Into Norwegian Politics

European elections have recently caught the  interest of Americans on the Left. Greece, obviously, and the election victory of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party in the UK. Now there’s one more, admittedly on a much more modest scale, to chalk up for the Left: Norway. On Monday, Rødt—Red in English—a party of communists and socialists (although not a classic communist party), had their best showing in years in the nationwide voting for provincial and local leaders there, while the ruling Conservative coalition took some big hits.

The Norwegian elections have not been widely covered in the mainstream media here, nor even in the English language blogosphere, so I spent Tuesday tracking down friends and friends of friends in Norway and grilling them to cobble together, from 5000 miles away, this rough, immediately-after-the-fact report.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Ferguson/October Weekend of Resistance

This video brings together footage from the Weekend of Resistance that took place in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, together with interviews of key leaders from the movement there. Thanks to Judith Roderick for filming all the footage and putting together this important video.

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Posted in Oppressed Nationalities

An In-Depth Look at the Ferguson Eruption: Organization for Black Struggle Leader Lays It Out

Montague Simmons. Photo from

Montague Simmons. Photo from

This spring, the New York/New Jersey District of Freedom Road sponsored a forum entitled “Ferguson: The Movement So Far and Lessons for Coming Struggles.” The first speaker was our comrade, Montague Simmons, Chair of the legendary Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis. These five videos, roughly 5 minutes each, provide an inside and in depth look at what up to the Ferguson eruption and what has been happening since the murder of Mike Brown.

Part 1

Montague Simmons tells how little the St. Louis area has changed since his childhood, explaining how it’s a long-term experimental laboratory in racial segregation.

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Posted in Oppressed Nationalities, Police & Prisons

keep movin’ directly


blue black
we still shoutin’/screamin’/prayin’/swearin’/tauntin’/crackin’/laughin’
beat down/bloody/hearts broke/weepin’/wonderin’/doubtin’
reachin’/teachin’/liberation preachin’
we enslaved today by empire and nightmare dreams
but we still matter and see tomorrow comin’
’cause what we do is resist is work is build somethin’ better
what we say we can do we can organize
we can posit/testify/sing/assert/announce/proclaim/flatfoot dance
our lives matter and
because we stand
we speak truth
we organize
we remember
we listen
we love and lift
we tired and still walk and run and wade and carry
’cause The Spirit don’t like ugly
we gon’ get where ol’ massas can’t go can’t turn us around
where you got to walk upright
on yo’ feet and nobody’s back
we go find our ways
croon new doo wops
create mo’ decent swags
shout hallelujahs
tell pimpin’ preachers “see ya!”
don’t cha worry
we gon’ matter ’cause
we always

M. Thandabantu is a veteran human rights activist, feminist, labor educator and writer; working and living in Aurora, CO

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Posted in Oppressed Nationalities, Poetry

Confronting the Matrix and Destroying the Knot of Oppression: “Black Lives Matter” and Building a Counter-hegemonic Movement

Current events bring to mind two stories which might be overlapping allegories about what this country is faced with in regard to the various movements against oppression and exploitation today. Almost six or seven years ago the movement that was flowing and cresting was the movement for immigrant rights, and at a time the movement of queer and trans folks.

At this moment the movement to dismantle white supremacy embodied in the Black Lives Matters has brought to the fore again the continued struggle of African Americans for survival, power and the acknowledgment of their human dignity. In the face of daily aggression and trauma leading up and including the violent loss of life. No need here to go over the trail of blood that has inflamed the Black Lives Matter movement. The allegories that come to mind are these. The story of the Gordian Knot and the story of the Matrix.

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Posted in Intersecting Oppressions

A Tragic Death Becomes a Xenophobic Assault on Immigrant Rights

On Friday, July 1, 2015 Kate Steinle was taking a casual stroll on Pier on San Francisco’s Pier 14 with her father, when the unthinkable happened, she was struck by a bullet randomly shot by a stranger. She died from the gunshot wound. This horrifying incident and her sudden death left her grieving family devastated with heartfelt pain, caused people to ponder the senselessness of her death, and has triggered political outrage about the circumstances of her death.

Shortly after the shooting a suspect was caught by police: Francisco López-Sánchez, a Mexican undocumented immigrant, whom the media reported as “five time deportee.” Donald Trump immediately chimed in, receiving national media attention, as he argued that this is proof of his point that Mexico allows its worst people to cross the border into the U.S. including “criminals and rapists.” A debate ensued, becoming less about the actual death of Kate Steinle, who was white, and focused on the fact that López-Sánchez is undocumented. This tragedy has become a soap box for Trump and his supporters to promote an anti-immigrant agenda, lumping all immigrants as criminals; and, attacking sanctuary city policies like San Francisco’s, which prevents local police from automatically detaining people on the basis of being undocumented. There are provisions, however that allow local police to surrender people who have criminal warrants.

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Posted in Immigration, Oppressed Nationalities